Authors: Ellen Miles
Oops. Lizzie shook her head.
Dad sighed. “Well, what I was saying was that we should probably find a collar for Noodle, so we can take him for walks on a leash. And then we really need to think about how we’re going to find his family. They must be worried sick.”
Charles spoke up. “Sammy said we could use one of Goldie’s old collars,” he said. “I already told him all about Noodle.”
“Sounds good!” Dad said.
“Sammy also said that to solve the mystery we should go back to the scene of the crime,” Charles said. “Like the police do. That’s how you find clues.”
crime?” Lizzie asked. She was confused. It wasn’t like they had
Noodle — although she might have been tempted!
“I think what Sammy means is that we should go back to Loon Lake Park, where we found Noodle,” Dad said. “You know, that’s actually not a bad idea. Mom has a newspaper story to work on this morning, but I could take you down as soon as we finish breakfast. How about it?”
Sammy came over just in time to help polish off the last of the pancakes. On weekends, Sammy almost always had two breakfasts: one at home and one at the Petersons’. Then Charles read the funnies to Buddy and Noodle; that was
Sunday tradition. Finally, they all piled into the van and headed for Loon Lake Park.
Soon Lizzie was standing on the shore of the icy lake again, remembering how scared she’d been when she first saw Noodle swimming out in that open patch of water. “But you made it,” she said to the puppy, who was standing next to her on
the other end of the leash. She held on tightly. Noodle wasn’t going
without her, Lizzie thought. She already loved him too much to even
of him in danger again. Now Noodle tugged on the leash.
Come on! I know this place. I’ll show you around.
Lizzie followed the pup as he pulled her along the shoreline. Before long she had traveled much farther than she and Buddy had gone the day before.
“Lizzie! Where are you going?” Charles yelled from the dock, near where he and Sammy were playing fetch with Buddy.
“Ask Noodle!” Lizzie yelled back. “He seems to know!”
Noodle pulled Lizzie past the picnic areas, past the campground, even past the row of tall pines shading a point of land jutting into the lake.
He pulled her through prickly sticker bushes, through patches of dirty snow, over hummocks of tall, rustly dried grass, and around the big gray boulders that lined the shore.
Suddenly Lizzie realized that they’d come almost all the way around the lake. They were in sight of the cabin with the moose antlers! She had never even
that far from the park area. “Noodle!” she said. “Would you mind telling me —”
But Noodle wasn’t pulling anymore. He sat back on his butt and started barking.
Look! Look! That’s mine! See why I brought you here?
“Noodle!” Lizzie said, panting a little. “What is going on?” Then she followed his gaze and saw what he was barking at. Just ahead a fallen tree lay on its side, with its roots and trunk on the shore and its bare branches hanging just over
the icy lake. Tangled in one branch — the one farthest out over the ice — was a faded purple collar.
“What’s that?” Lizzie stared at the collar. Noodle danced around, barking loudly. “Are you telling me that’s your collar?” Noodle barked some more.
Lizzie looked out at the collar. It would only take a few steps to get to it, but there was no way Lizzie was going to risk walking on the frozen lake. She was not interested in falling in like Noodle had. But she had to get that collar! Lizzie tied Noodle’s leash to a nearby tree so he couldn’t run off. Then she scrambled up onto the fallen tree trunk and began to inch her way out over the ice.
The tree trunk got smaller and smaller as Lizzie moved along. Lizzie had always been good at climbing trees, but she had never climbed a
Suddenly, the tree shifted beneath her weight.
“Whoa!” Lizzie grabbed on to the tree and froze
in place. She looked down at the icy surface below. It looked solid, but what would happen if she tumbled onto it? She pictured the cold, black water that had nearly swallowed Noodle the day before. Suddenly, she felt too scared to move.
Lizzie did not like being stuck out there, hanging over the ice on that tree trunk. She took a deep breath and inched backward until she felt safe again. Phew! That was better. But her job was not done. She looked out at the collar. Even if she stretched, she would not be able to reach out and touch it.
Lizzie glanced back across the lake, to where her dad and the boys were waiting. Should she go get help? No! She could do it herself.
Lizzie thought for a second. Then, holding on to the tree with one hand, she reached out and broke off one of its long, dead branches. Perfect!
She stretched out again along the tree trunk and pointed the stick at the collar. The tip of the
branch just barely brushed the tags hanging from the collar, and they jingled — but the collar stayed put.
Back on shore, Noodle would not stop barking and dancing around. He
wanted her to get that collar.
Lizzie tried again, poking the stick carefully beneath the collar and jiggling it free from the tangle of branches. On her third try, she hooked the collar! Now all she had to do was pull it back toward her — without dropping it down onto the ice.
Lizzie concentrated. Carefully, she guided the collar closer, until she could grab it. Then she dropped the stick and inched backward, clutching her prize.
Finally, Lizzie was back on solid ground, next to Noodle. She had tree bark in her hair, her hands were scratched, and there was a new tear on the front of her jacket that Mom would
be happy about.
But she had the collar.
Noodle came sniffing over.
Mine! Mine! I knew it! Oh, this smells like my people! Maybe we’re getting closer to them!
The puppy’s tail wagged double-time as he nuzzled the collar. “Well, I guess it must be yours,” Lizzie said. “Why else would you act like this?” She turned the collar over in her hands. There were blond, curly hairs stuck in the nylon material — Noodle’s hairs! They matched his coat exactly. The collar was definitely his.
So, in one second, when she read the tags, Lizzie would know who Noodle’s owners were. That was good, right? Then why did Lizzie feel like there was a rock in her stomach?
She reached out to scratch Noodle’s head. She kissed the soft fur just behind his ear. “Maybe I’m just not quite ready to give you up,” she whispered. Noodle licked Lizzie’s cheek, and when she
smelled his sweet puppy breath she felt as if her heart might burst.
Lizzie had never thought she could love any puppy as much as she loved Buddy. But Noodle was a very special dog. She didn’t love Buddy any less — but there was definitely room in her heart for this puppy she had helped to rescue.
Noodle nudged Lizzie’s hand, and the tags on the collar jingled. Lizzie took a deep breath. Yes, Noodle was special. But that probably meant that his owners loved him very much, too. And it would be wrong to wait any longer to let them know he was safe.
Lizzie turned over one of the tags. It was the kind that proves that a dog has had all the shots it needs. “Rabies vaccination,” she read. “Expires — hey!” She looked closely at the date. “That’s, like, two
ago!” She looked at Noodle. She wasn’t sure of his exact age, but he was definitely not two years old. Quickly, she turned over the other tag. The writing on it was almost worn
off, but she could just make out some letters. “B-L . . . K-I-E,” she read. “Blackie?” And there was a phone number, or at least part of one.
“Blackie!” Lizzie said. “But — why would anyone call
Blackie?” She stared at Noodle, then back at the collar in her hand. The gold hairs trapped in the cloth glinted in the sun.
“Ohhh,” Lizzie said. “I get it.” Suddenly, she figured it out. This
the collar Noodle had been wearing. But it had once belonged to some other dog. Obviously, Noodle’s people
love him. They didn’t even care enough about him to get him his own collar, with his own tags. They must have thought that a faded old hand-me-down was good enough.
Lizzie was disgusted. She gathered Noodle onto her lap and gave him a big hug. “You deserve better than that,” she whispered into his ear. “You deserve the best collar in the world, with shiny new tags that say
name.” Noodle licked Lizzie’s cheek and nibbled on her chin. Lizzie
laughed. “Okay, I get it. You don’t really care, do you? But I do. I care a lot.”
She got to her feet and Noodle jumped up, too, eager to go wherever Lizzie was going. Together, they walked all the way back around the shore of Loon Lake, back to where the others were waiting.
“Look what Noodle found!” Lizzie said. Dad and Charles and Sammy were perched on a picnic table, throwing sticks for Buddy.
Lizzie climbed onto the table and handed the collar to Dad, telling him all about where she’d found it.
“I’m not sure your Mom would be thrilled to hear about you climbing sideways trees over the ice,” he said. But Lizzie could tell he was kind of proud of her.
Then Dad took a closer look at the collar, with Charles and Sammy leaning over his shoulder. “Interesting,” he said. “It sure looks like Noodle
was wearing this, even though I can’t imagine anyone calling him Blackie. Plus, it looks way too big for Noodle.”
“Exactly,” Lizzie said. “That’s probably why it slipped off. It’s a hand-me-down collar.”
“So now we can just call the number on the tag and find Noodle’s owners!” Charles ruffled Noodle’s ears. “That’s good news.”
Lizzie did not exactly agree, but she kept that to herself. How many times had she told Charles that he “just had to understand” that they weren’t going to be allowed to keep the foster puppies they cared for? Now here she was, wishing more than anything that she could keep Noodle forever.
“That may be easier said than done,” Dad said, peering at the tag with the phone number on it. “This number is kind of worn off.”
When they got home, Dad took the name tag off the collar. Mom joined them at the kitchen table
while they passed it around, looking at it under a magnifying glass. The Bean squirmed his way onto Lizzie’s lap so he could see.
“Ugh! Mom, the Bean is really starting to stink!” Lizzie said. “Can’t we
wash his Fur?” She didn’t even want to
it. Was that toothpaste all down the front? And a piece of gum stuck to one sleeve? Gross.
“No!” the Bean said firmly.
Mom shrugged. “I did tell him it was his choice,” she reminded Lizzie. “I have to stick to that. It’s only fair. May I remind you that you ran around in pink cowboy boots and a tutu for pretty much the whole time you were three? Why? Because I agreed that you could. A deal’s a deal in my book.”
“Deal!” Bean agreed, nodding hard. His lower lip was stuck out far enough to trip on. Any minute now, he might start wailing.
Lizzie sighed. “All right! Sorry! Forget I said anything! It’s okay, sweetie, don’t worry.” She
patted the Bean’s back, trying to avoid the crustiest spots on his Fur.
Dad was still looking at the dog tag. “So, I can read the last part of this phone number all right,” he reported. “I think it’s five-five-five, seven-two-two-seven. But the area code is just about totally gone. I think it starts with eight, though.”
“So — how many area codes can there be, starting with eight?” Charles said. “No big deal. We’ll just try them all.”
Charles’s plan made sense to Lizzie. And she knew that trying to find Noodle’s owners was the right thing to do. So right after lunch, she sat down and started dialing. She was using the kitchen phone, because Dad’s cell phone — which the whole family usually used for long-distance calls — had completely run out of power, and Dad
couldn’t find his charger.
Lizzie swallowed hard, suddenly realizing that she should have thought about what she was going to say
she dialed the first number on her list. She had started with area code 802, Vermont. She could have tried 801, but that was
Utah, and that seemed
too far away for Noodle’s owners to live.
“Um, hello,” she said. “I was just wondering, do you have a dog named Blackie? Or, I mean, did you
to have a dog named Blackie, and now you have a puppy? Like, um, maybe a golden doodle? But he’s missing?”
“Excuse me? Is this some kind of prank call?” The woman on the other end of the line sounded completely confused, and Lizzie couldn’t blame her. But obviously this was not Noodle’s owner. Otherwise the name Blackie and the mention of a missing puppy would have meant something to her.
“Never mind,” Lizzie said quickly. “Wrong number, I guess.” She hung up and looked at the list of numbers on the pad by the phone. Then she crossed off the first area code: 802. There were at least fifteen more to try.
Lizzie sighed. To be honest she didn’t really
to find Noodle’s real owners. She glanced over at the dog bed in the corner of the kitchen, where Noodle was snoozing after his own lunch. His puppy belly was full and round, and his big soft paws were twitching. Lizzie knew that meant he was probably dreaming about running.
“Chasing squirrels, Noodle?” she said softly. She could have watched him all day, even when he was just lying there sleeping! He was such a sweet puppy.
Noodle’s nose twitched, and he opened one eye to look back at her. Lizzie laughed. That made Noodle jump right up and gallop over to say hello.
Hi! Hi! Hi! How about some pats? I love the way you pat me. It reminds me of the way my people pat me. Think I’ll see them again soon? I sure hope so. I mean, I like you a lot, but as nice as you are, you’re not my people!
Lizzie reached down and pulled the little pup onto her lap. “You are the
she said. “I mean, next to Buddy, that is.” She kissed the top of his head. “And you smell so good! Especially compared to the Bean.” They really had to do something about that Fur.