Cracker! by Cynthia Kadohata Read Free Book Online

Book: Cracker! by Cynthia Kadohata Read Free Book Online
Authors: Cynthia Kadohata
caught the catlike reflectiveness of her eyes. For a second, those eyes seemed to bore into him, and even through him. Man, she was a beaut. “What am I going to do with you?” he asked. She stepped back a touch, making the reflectiveness disappear. She threw down her paws to play.
    He said, “Cracker, come!” And, to his surprise, she did. She followed him out to a grove of trees. He pointed to one. “Tree!” he said. He pointed to another tree. “Tree!” he said.
    Cracker already knew what a tree was. She didn’t know whether he was trying to tell her what one was or whether he was asking her because maybe he didn’t know. Then he started running back and forth between two trees, all the while shouting out, “Run. Run between the trees!” She looked around. It could be he was crazy. She had seen a crazy man when she lived in Chicago. He lived in a different alley from where she lived, but Willie had told her he was crazy.
    Then Rick pointed at yet another tree and said, “Cracker! Run to the tree.” And then she got it. She ran to the tree and looked back at him. He cried out, “Good girl!” He pointed to another tree and said, “Run to the tree!” She ran to the tree. “Good girl!” Then he directed her to run among a whole bunch of trees. And they heeled, sat, lay down, and did every single thing they’d been working on for weeks. When they were finished, she was panting but felt elated.
    Rick felt elated too. He was also panting. He threw his arms around her. “Good girl,” he said. “Good, good girl.”
    And for the first time since he’d ever said it, she knew he meant it. It made her feel wonderful.
    Rick kenneled her and caught his ride back. Jeez, he couldn’t believe this dog could have been put down.
    After that night, training got better and better. In fact, Rick started lying in bed thinking about the day’s triumphs instead of the day’s failures. It didn’t happen all at once, but after a while it seemed to Rick that they were in maybe the top 25 percent of the class. Not that this trophy business meant anything—they were all in this together. But there was nothing wrong with being the best.

    Every day the instructor told the men the same thing: “When you get to Vietnam, you will do everything with your dog. Don’t take a leak without your dog. Don’t have a smoke without your dog. If you sneeze, I want that dog at your side. In Vietnam entire companies of men will rely on your dog to save their lives. But your dog isn’t working for those companies, your dog is working for you. I want you to bond with that dog until you don’t know where the dog ends and you begin!”
    Rick had heard this twenty times already. Since that night running among the trees, he had started taking Cracker with him everywhere. It turned out she was a real people dog. She hated being alone, and he started to feel guilty when he did take a leak without her. Sometimes, even when he got leave and went into town, he would catch himself wondering what Cracker was doing.
    Training was actually starting to get fun. Sometimes the platoon would go out on the road and jog with their dogs heeling at their sides. If they ran into civilians, the civilians always wanted to take pictures. One hot day they sweated down the road as a couple of gorgeous girls called out, “They’re so cute!” The sarge halted the platoon so the girls could take pictures of the dogs. That gave all the guys new respect for their dogs: They were not only well-trained animals, they were outstanding girl-catchers.
    Other times when a civilian wanted to take pictures, the sergeant would rage, “These dogs are not pets. These dogs are specialized military equipment.”
    Rick noticed that some of the dogs weren’t as good in various ways as Tristie, Bruno, and—now—Cracker. One dog refused to jump over a wall when told. Another dog bit his handler several times. That dog finally got cycled out and went to wherever such dogs went,

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