I got to my feet and began lurching along as fast as I could, away from the elevator and toward the bright sunlight of Irving Place, a dozen or so paces away.
“Come on, Flasher!” I said to myself. “You can make it!”
But my foot must have been more hurt than I realized, because just as I was about to reach the exit and safety, I stumbled again and fell with a thud to the floor of the lobby.
Turning to look behind me, I gasped in terror as the dogs bounded down the last steps of the staircase and hit the shiny lobby floor.
Moby Dick was leading the way.
He stopped, and the pack behind him stopped. He looked around slowly, searching with his little black eyes. I lay still, and held my breath. He seemed to look right at me, but did nothing. His pure white body glowed in the relative darkness of the lobby. Then, looking around, he caught sight of my discarded jacket, and scampered down the hallway, stopping with his little nose inches from the jacket, sniffing and smelling.
As I and the silent pack watched, Moby Dick walked all around the jacket, sniffing at its circumference.
He was thinking. Remembering. Scheming.
Then he raised his head and began to howl! It was a wild sound that seemed impossible from so small a thing. Spittle flew from his upturned muzzle and his white coat shook with exertion. His button eyes bulged beneath his bangs as he howled and howled.
Now the pack rushed at the jacket and pounced, tearing and ripping in horrible violence as Moby Dick continued to howl his evil song of vengeance and death.
Suddenly from behind I felt strong hands under my arms and I was lifted to my feet! I turned to face Javier, who had returned to help when he discovered I was not behind him, running for our lives on Irving Place.
“Rapido!” he cried. His panicky eyes darted from me to the dogs. “Rapido!” he hissed again, tugging at me.
“Madre de Madres!” I answered. “I’m with you, mate!”
Javier started running. All I could do was hop, my foot being hurt, and I had difficulty keeping up. I called out but Javier didn’t hear me. He kept running towards Fourteenth Street. At the intersection, he turned the corner and was gone!
He turned in the opposite direction, I noticed, from Empire Messenger Service.
A few paces along Irving Place, I stopped and collapsed onto a public bench. My foot ached and I was exhausted. My shaking hands vainly searched for a cigarette, until I remembered smokes and lighter were in my discarded jacket. My fallen comrade jacket, torn to shreds in the lobby of a midtown apartment building by a snarling pack of vicious lapdogs.
Lapdogs led by a devil.
With a sigh I dropped my head into my hands and stared down at the pavement. I was tired, and a little dizzy. I must have looked a sight, too. My jacket was gone, my pants were torn and dirty, my foot was a soggy, reddish mess.
Then a little dog trotted into my field of vision. It stopped and sat down, looking up at me.
“Bloody hell!” I screamed, forgetting where I was and thinking I was back in the lobby. “Get it away from me! Argh!”
“Control yourself, young man!” barked a feminine voice.
“Huh? What?” I said, looking up. There stood a large, matronly woman, staring down at me. She glared at me in a haughty fashion, obviously disgusted by the sight of another bum or drug addict on her neighborhood bench. She wore an expensive fur coat. In her bejeweled hand was a leash, on the other end of which was her tiny pet, a black and gold Silky Terrier, also bejeweled. It was he who had trotted into my field of vision and sat down to stare at me. I’d mistaken him for a member of Moby Dick’s gang.
“Drug addict scum,” snarled the woman. Her eyes glinted with animosity and behind that, deeper but perceptible, glowed a kind of sadistic delight. One could see she believed that whatever misfortune was heaped upon you in life, it was your own damn fault and you were getting what you deserved!
A pitiless creature. Even to herself, probably.
“Come, Petronius,” she commanded in her haughty tone. She gave a little tug on the leash.
Ah, but Petronius, who had his pride too, was loath to leave, and stubbornly sat where he was.
“Petronius!” she repeated louder. “Come!”
With a second good tug that brought a cry of surprise from pop-eyed Petronius, she turned and they were on their way, looking more like a grizzly bear leading a rat on a string than a well-heeled dowager with her tiny dog in tow.
I laughed in disgust. I was angry. Angry at the dowager who’d mistaken me for a drug addict. Angry at Mrs Harp and Moby Dick and the dogs of apartment 2C who’d tried to kill me. Angry at Javier for slamming the door on my foot. Angry at the boss who’d sent me to Irving Place. Angry at New York City where I couldn’t get a break in animation.
Angry at myself for trying to catch my dreams.
Then I started laughing.
Aw, what’s the use, I thought, in being angry? It wasn’t anyone’s fault that things sometimes go wrong. So what if a few crazy dogs had tried to eat me? I’d lived through it, hadn’t I? This was New York City, after all, and you had to expect a few ups and downs now and then.
Have a beer and get over it.
After resting a few minutes, I hobbled to the station and caught the subway home.