WHEN THE CLOCK STRIKES MIDNIGHT
by Tulio (2003)
That was the last straw. Carface was asking for it big time. Charlie B. Barkin, mixed-up pup of New Orleans, Louisiana, was brewing a major plan to get back at the double-crossing bulldog known as Carface. He paced the floor of Itchy’s shack in aggravation as night fell on the junkyard outside.
“Boss, why don’t you give it a rest?” Itchy moaned, trying to sleep while Charlie’s toenails clicked incessantly across the rickety wooden floor.
Charlie ignored the dachshund and continued pacing, muttering incoherently. Itchy knew the German shepherd was planning something. He wasn’t sure what and he was afraid to ask, so he didn’t. Instead, he pulled a pillow over his head in an attempt to muffle Charlie’s noise.
Charlie’s sudden exclamation caused poor Itchy to leap up with a frightened yelp. Charlie was too pleased with himself to apologize for startling his friend. He only grabbed one of Itchy’s long ears and pulled him close.
“Itchy, I’ve got it,” he whispered with a sinister snicker, “It’s perfect! I’ll fix Carface good this time.”
“Boss, why can’t we just leave Carface alone?” Itchy whined, “He’s dangerous and mean and scary and--”
“Nah, I’m not going to leave him alone,” Charlie interrupted, “He’s had this coming to him for a long time, the greedy, double-crossing--”
“Does this plan require my aid, Boss?” Itchy questioned warily.
“Of course,” Charlie answered, “I’m going to need you and Flo and anybody else willing to help me with this. You are going to help me, right?”
“Oh...well...yeah, sure,” Itchy said after a moment’s hesitation, “I guess so.”
“You guess so?” Charlie asked, “What kind of friend are you?”
“Well, can’t I hear your plan first?” Itchy whimpered, “Then I’ll make a definite decision whether I’m in or not...okay?”
“Okay,” Charlie grinned, “Here’s the plan: In the dead of night, you and I rally Smiley, Vera, Flo, and the gang, we sneak into Carface’s casino, wait until midnight, and then we snatch one of his gang members. We’ll make it as if he vanished into thin air.”
“So how’s that going to fix Carface...exactly?”
“Will you let me finish?” Charlie snapped, exasperated, “Listen. We’ll pick his gang off one by one--a thug disappears every night when the clock strikes twelve--until only Carface remains...all by himself. We’ll target the mutts farthest away from him in the pack and close in every night. The last goon we snatch will be that four-eyed idiot, Carface’s personal lackey and doormat. What was his name?”
“Killer...I think,” Itchy replied after a moment’s thought.
“Right,” Charlie chuckled, “We’ll nab him last.”
“What about Carface?”
“Ah, this is where it gets fun,” Charlie rubbed his paws together evilly, “When fat boy starts noticing he’s missing some gang members, we’ll start making noises at night on the ship. Ghostly noises! We’ll make him think his joint is haunted!”
“Ghosts?” Itchy whimpered, “I don’t like this idea at all, Charlie. Mm-mm! Not one bit!”
“Are you in or not?”
“No,” Itchy answered curtly.
“No, Charlie,” Itchy repeated, “I don’t like ghosts or Carface. I don’t want to.”
“Aw, come on, Itch,” Charlie pleaded, trying to manipulate his friend, “I can’t do this without you, pal. I need you. Please?”
Itchy’s biggest mistake was making eye contact with Charlie. The German shepherd’s pleading look convinced him to go along with the deceitful, scary plan.
The following night, the plan went into action. Charlie managed to rally Smiley, Vera, Flo, and even the orphan puppies from the old church and they all agreed to help him in his vengeful plan, although some were just as reluctant as Itchy.
The gang approached Carface’s hideout late--about eleven o’clock--that night and Charlie led the entire group down through the ventilation system. They traveled silently through the steel pipes and didn’t stop or speak until Charlie made it clear that it was all right.
“Okay,” he whispered upon reaching a vent grate just near the main entrance to the casino, “Here’s how it’s going to work: we’ll wait here in silence until exactly midnight, then we’re going to nab that fat slob guarding the door.”
Peering through the grate, all the dogs could see the big thug guarding the door, though he appeared half-asleep. Charlie knew that would make things even easier.
“I want him bound and gagged immediately,” Charlie continued, “No fooling around. No nonsense. Any questions?”
“Do we have to do this, Boss?” Itchy moaned desperately.
Charlie gave him a warning glance and turned to the others.
“If anything happens--another goon comes down to investigate or something--”
“We nab him too?” Smiley asked.
“No,” Charlie answered urgently, “No, we let him go, but we make a lot of scary noises; howling, crashing, screaming...stuff like that. Scare him off.”
“We can make the noises!” the fat pup grinned mischievously.
“Yeah, we’ll scare the fur off of them!” the pink female pup chimed in.
Charlie chuckled quietly, pleased with their enthusiasm. As agreed, they all fell silent and waited for the clock to strike midnight.
An hour later, the group heard the sound they’d been waiting for. The sound of twelve chimes that told of midnight’s arrival. Charlie silently gestured for Smiley and Itchy to follow him into action.
As swift as lightning, they seized the guard dog and bound him with leashes Flo and Vera had brought for just the occasion. They then gagged their victim with a bandana. Charlie also found it in order to blindfold him. For this, they used an old rag Itchy had discovered in the pipes.
“Mission accomplished!” Charlie snickered, exchanging hi-fives with his male comrades.
“Somebody’s coming, Boss!” Itchy whimpered as they heard footsteps drawing near.
Charlie only grinned and nodded to the pups, who immediately set to howling and rattling the pipes, causing a frightening racket.
“Ghosts!” the dog outside cried as he scrambled away.
The pups didn’t stop making noise until they were certain that that cowardly dog wasn’t coming back. Then Charlie signaled everyone to head out, which they did, dragging their captive behind them.
The next few nights that followed all ended with a successful dog-napping, but word had gotten back to Carface about the mysterious disappearances and he was suspicious. He wasn’t scared yet, but suspicious.
“Head-count says we’ve lost five from the gang in the past five nights,” Killer reported, “That means one dog is disappearing every night, Boss.”
“I know what it means,” Carface snarled, “What kind of fool do you think I am?”
“How many kinds are there?” Killer asked, but he didn’t dare push the issue when Carface hurled a steering wheel at him.
“I want you guys to be on your toes,” Carface continued, “High state of alert. Got it? We’ve got to find out who is responsible for the disappearances.”
“Right, Boss,” Killer nodded, “What are the orders for tonight’s watch?”
“Put two dogs on the main entrance,” Carface instructed, “And I want two more posted at the back door. Put another sentry at the foot of my staircase and you guard my door.”
Killer followed the orders and repeated them to the rest of Carface’s cronies, then positioned himself in front of his boss’s office door to await whatever midnight might bring.
“Oh Charlie,” Flo whispered, concerned, “Carface has put two dogs at both doors now.”
“Looks like this is the end of your game, Boss,” Itchy smirked, glad that this may bring things to a halt.
“Good,” Charlie answered Flo, much to Itchy’s disappointment, “That’ll make it more fun. We’ll nab two dogs tonight. He’s only got six thugs left. We get two tonight, he’ll only have four left. If he puts two at each entrance tomorrow night, we’ll knock off two more. He’ll be down to three and he’ll have to go back to putting one on each door.”
“But how are we going to get two dogs at once, Charlie?” Itchy whined.
“Simple,” Charlie shrugged, “Flo and Vera will take on the smaller of the two guards and we’ll take on the bigger one. The pups can help the girls, of course.”
“Good,” Vera snorted, “It’s about time we got to do something exciting on this mission.”
“Everyone clear on what’s to be done?”
As everyone nodded, Charlie gave them the go-ahead. They successfully seized both guards and took them out. This time, no dogs dared to investigate, so that left the pups disappointed that they had no one to scare.
“It got two of them last night, Boss!” Killer cried, bursting through Carface’s door the next morning in a state of panic.
“You’re kidding,” Carface grumbled.
“No, Boss,” Killer insisted, “I’m dead serious. The two dogs we put on the main entrance last night vanished without a trace.”
Now Carface was a little nervous, but he wasn’t about to openly show it. Instead, he got more gruff and demanding than ever. He grabbed Killer by his nose a blew cigar smoke in his face.
“Put one dog at the main and one at the back,” he ordered, “Keep that one at the foot of the stairs and you stay put.”
Killer carried out the orders, but when midnight struck, both the dog covering the main entrance and the one at the back disappeared. Carface ordered that Killer and the other dog keep their positions, but that following night, the dog at the foot of the stairs was gone as well.
“One more to go,” Charlie snickered as he and his comrades studied a blueprint layout of the pipes to find the best route to get to Killer where he stood guard, “After tonight, Carface is on his own and, after tonight, we’re going to have a lot of fun scaring him.”
With everything planned out Charlie and the gang set off down the pipes and, in no time flat, they were standing near a vent grate directly above where Killer sat, looking fearful and spooked as ever. Charlie had just silently pulled the grate cover off and was about to drop down on the mutt when he suddenly got up and left to go into Carface’s office.
“Blast!” Charlie hissed, replacing the grate cover.
Moving through the pipes, he and the others followed Killer into Carface’s office. They were directly above where the two villainous dogs were talking.
“Boss, remember that time we busted into the pound and took all that dog-catching stuff?” Killer whimpered, “The nooses and nets and everything?”
“Yeah,” Carface growled, “What about it?”
“What if the thing responsible for the disappearances around here is...the ghost of a dog-catcher?” Killer fretted, “Like a...dog-snatching phantom?”
“What?” Carface snapped, “Where’d you get a psycho idea like that?”
“I don’t know,” Killer shrugged, “I was just...thinking out there and...”
Charlie didn’t care what else Killer had to say. He had an even better idea now and it would go into action as soon as Killer was out of the way.
The gang moved back to the pipes outside the office quickly as Carface chased Killer out with a sledge hammer, ordering him to put the silly ideas out of his mind and focus on guarding the door.
“I’ve got a really good idea,” Charlie told the others as he removed the grate again, “Once we get old Four-Eyes out of the way, I’ll explain.”
Itchy and Smiley held on to Charlie’s tail as he dropped down and slipped a looped leash around Killer’s neck, then slapped a paw over his mouth and the other paw under his chest and pulled him up into the ventilation system.
“Got him,” Charlie snickered, shoving the latest victim over to Smiley, who quickly restrained him while Flo and Vera set to tying him up.
“Charlie!” Killer hissed, “I should’ve known it was you. You and your no-good--”
“Shut up,” Charlie snapped, wrapping a leash around Killer’s pointed muzzle.
Itchy quickly stepped in to blindfold Killer, but Charlie stopped him with a sly grin.
“We don’t need to blindfold him,” he chuckled, snatching Killer’s glasses, “All we have to do is get rid of these.”
Of course, Killer was protesting wildly in muffled screams, but Charlie ignored him and had Smiley and Itchy haul him off.
“Oh, are you ever in for it now, Carface,” the German shepherd snickered evilly as they passed the grate above the bulldog’s office.
“All right, Killer,” Charlie demanded, speaking to the dog he had tied upside-down to the rafters in Itchy’s shack, “Where’s the loot from the pound you said you and your boss got?”
“Why should I tell you?” Killer spit crossly.
“Because if you don’t,” Charlie replied coolly, tossing Killer’s glasses up and down, “Your vision goes bye-bye...permanently!”
That was all the prompting Killer needed to spill his guts.
“The stuff is in the Boss’s vault,” Killer spoke up rapidly.
“It’s a safe behind the car door hanging on his office wall,” Killer continued, “Lock combination is 54 to the right, 70 to the left, 12 to the right, 26 to the left.”
“Itch, right that down,” Charlie ordered, turning back to Killer, “You’re such a sap.”
He then tossed Killer’s glasses on the workbench and left the shack with Itchy to begin part two of his vengeful plot.
TO BE CONTINUED...