Beauty salons were the best, better than restaurants.The lapdogs were tied to the railings, yippy and shivery, and mad that they weren’t getting their own $200 facials. It didn’t take much to scope them from across the street, then walk past and slice the leash, or even unclip it. He could pretend to be a dogwalker, not that these things could walk. If the dog was wearing a fancy coat, he’d shove it into his own coat, one hand over its muzzle to shut it up. Down here, on Park Avenue or Madison Avenue, they hardly looked at a Latino kid in a black jacket and jeans. Some thought they saw a bus boy on his break, but most saw nothing at all.
The lapdogs were smaller than the squeaking _cuy_ that people in Guayaquil would roast for Easter. Who knows, maybe you could fatten them on alfalfa for a few weeks, shove a stick up their asses and roast them pink and crispy over charcoal, like the guinea pigs. But instead he’d keep them for a few days in a box in his room, feed them leftovers and treats, then scout Central Park for the reward posters.
F.Scott or Babette was worth more than an Easter guinea pig. Some tearful rich lady would make up posters, and she’d send someone out to plaster the lampposts in the park. Sometimes the posters begged the dogs themselves to come home, as if they could read; as if they’d run off with some guy from CBGB’s or Spanish Harlem just to piss off mama.
So he’d call from a payphone. “Lady, I think I found your dog.” And he’d take a kid from downstairs, or down the street, six or seven years old, and give him a dollar or two to come with him and cry as he handed over the dog.
“Don’t cry, Papito. Maybe we’ll get you another puppy some day,” he’d say, crouching down to the kid’s level. And then he’d turn to the lady and look up from petting her dog and his fake little brother. “He just needs a minute to say goodbye. He was so excited when he found your dog by the ice rink. He always wanted a puppy.”
He knew what to do because he’d been the fake little brother once. That’s how tricks got passed on. Sometimes the ladies were suspicious, but others, you could see it never even occurred to them that you could steal a dog for a reward.
Only once, he’d taken a dog and no one had put up a reward poster. He searched the park, even the block where he’d taken the dog, and there was nothing. He searched for a week, then two. Maybe the lady had been bored with it already, and happy to see it gone. It yipped furiously in the box beside his bed, _un mamao._ He thought about setting it free, but it was so stupid and helpless that the pigeons would eat it within an hour. Eventually he took it to the pound.
Twenty years later, he sometimes thought about that Chihuahua.