Vato had the girl cornered, but he was the one who was trapped. On one side of the stall was an angry streak of fresh paint, and on the other stood the girl with the tamale. A whole tamale! His stomach growled. His head buzzed. He should follow the trail of the vandal who made that mess. Bad enough the vandal had gotten in here on his watch, if he didn't catch him, Vato would rather eat a bowl of bad menudo. He'd be kicked off the rancho before he'd even spent a whole week here. But the dripping grease from the tamale beckoned him like an old friend.
“Come closer," the girl said. "I’m not going to hurt you.”
Chale! The only way this chica could hurt him was if she ate the tamale herself. She shifted from one foot to the other. It made him uneasy. He did not know why she looked so nervous or spoke to him in a voice higher than a chacalaca, but maybe she knew a fierce watchdog when she saw one. Not like the other loca watchdogs on the rancho. They called him “weiner dog” and “fat chorizo on four legs.” They had treated him like roadkill since he and Patton had got there.
“Go get it, boy,” she whispered.
Without a second thought, he scrambled after it, sliding on the scratchy hay. After he scooped up the last piece of beef and deliciousness, he looked for the girl to ask for more, but she was gone. He ran outside.
The barn door caught his eye, as did a saddle with the Lone Star engraved on it. Heavy streaks of paint covered them too. Vato hung his head. He knew he should have chased after that vandal instead of eating that pile of temptation. His old Jefe had gotten rid of him because he was a bad watchdog, and Vato had no doubt the same thing would happen on this rancho. He sat on his haunches and sighed. He might as well throw himself on top of a barbecue pit and light a match.
A loud noise near the chicken coop made Vato jump. He stared into the darkness and zeroed in on a slight movement inside the coop. It could only be one thing, coyotes!
His heart thumped against his chest. He barked to check if it could be one of the other watchdogs but no one answered. Vato’s thoughts raced.
There was no time to call for help. It was up to him to catch those evil chicken killers. No tamale could distract him now. If he caught those coyotes, he would prove to everyone he deserved to be on the rancho. He would prove he was a good watchdog and they would never want him to leave.
Vato puffed out his chest and hurried to the coop. Holy guacamole! He could fight those coyotes and be on them like chili on carne. He darted past the corrals and the goat pen, his stride confident, his nose high. It was only when he saw the shadow of his swinging stomach did he think that maybe he wasn’t a good enough watchdog after all.
When he approached the coop, he crept closer. Something rustled inside. Vato whipped around and bared his teeth. “Show yourself, or I will squash you like a chancla on a cockroach!”
“Chale! It’s only a little chicken,” Vato said, giddy with relief. “Hola, little pollito. I’m Vato, a new watchdog. I saw a shadow inside the coop and thought it was a coyote.”
The chicken on the other side of the fence laughed. “What kind of watchdog mistakes a chicken for a coyote?”
He stepped back. How dare she make fun of him? He growled. “You should be lucky I just ate or else I would wrap you in a corn tortilla and call you an embuelto!”
The chicken scurried into the shadows. Her voice cracked. “I didn’t mean to upset you. I’m sorry.”
“You should be,” Vato cried, trying to look big and brave, when all he felt was small and useless. “Who are you?”
“They call me, ‘Tiny’, because I am so little.” She stared at the empty nest next to her. “Everything about me is little. Even the eggs I lay.”
“Do you know what happens to chickens who lay little eggs?” asked Vato.
“Wh-What?” Tiny whispered.
“They get covered in rice,” he said, narrowing his eyes. “Haven’t you heard of arroz con pollo? Chicken with rice is my favorite.”
Tiny gasped. “That’s a terrible thing to say. I can do other things. I tell funny jokes. Here’s one. It took me all day to think of it. What do you do with a broken egg?”
“Eat it,” Vato said automatically.
“Nothing!” she laughed. “Because it’s not what it’s cracked up to be! HAHAHAHA!”
He snorted. “Chale! If that took you all day, maybe you should spend your time laying eggs. Even if they are small, you are better at it.” He noticed her disappointed face. “Why do you tell jokes anyway?”
“It makes everyone forget how angry they are at me when I am in trouble,” she said softly.
“That works? I think your jokes could make them madder,” said Vato. “That wouldn’t work with me. I don’t forget anything, especially food.”
Tiny shrank back. “I know. The goats told me.”
Vato coughed. Maybe he shouldn’t have told them he could never forget the taste of goat meat. He loved cabrito. He stood straighter. “I wouldn’t pay attention to anything they tell you. But what else did they say?”
“They say they don’t mind Patton because he is nice.” Tiny started, wringing her wings.
“Of course he is nice. He is my best friend.” Vato swatted a gnat. “But our Jefe thought he was too old to be a watchdog so he gave him away too. What did they say about me?”
“They say you would rather eat us than protect us,” she croaked before she covered her face with her wings and quickly added. “They don’t think you can protect anything.”
“I would protect you if you were worth eating,” he snapped. “But there isn’t much of you to eat. Now, those coyotes won’t care. They would eat their own shadows if they could. They eat anything. They would even eat you.”
Tiny shrieked and jumped into her nest. “Go away! Leave me alone.”
He stuck his nose through the chicken wire fence. “It’s my job to watch you, pollito. Let’s hope I don’t get hungry because I might have to eat you for a snack.”
A horrified shriek shook Tiny’s nest and she buried her face in her wings. When he was satisfied he had scared the chicken down to her gizzards, he sauntered away. That will teach her to make fun of him. He burrowed a hole at the base of a mesquite tree to keep an eye on the coop, just in case a coyote decided to attack after all.
“That wasn’t very nice, Vato,” a gravelly voice said from beneath a bougainvillea shrub. A silvery Labrador raised his head. “You shouldn’t have scared her.”
“Carnal, fear means respect. At least that is what our Jefe used to say when he beat us. I respected him more than a moving truck.”
“It would be best to forget about our old Jefe and that awful rancho. You want to be respected the right way,” chided Patton. “This is our new home. We should try to make friends.”
Vato groaned. “Why do I need be friends with a chicken?”