Authors: Jackie Kabler
THE DEAD DOG DAY
A Cora Baxter Mystery
When your Monday morning begins with a dead dog and ends with a dead boss, you know it's going to be one of those days. And breakfast TV reporter Cora Baxter has already had the weekend from hell, after the man she'd planned a fabulous future with unceremoniously dumped her.
Now Cora's much-hated boss has been murdered â the list of suspects isn't exactly short, but as the enquiry continues the trail leads frighteningly close to home. Why is Cora's rival, glamorous, bitchy newsreader Alice Lomas, so devastated by their boss's death? What dark secrets are Cora's camera crew hiding? And why has her now ex-boyfriend vanished?
The race to stop the killer striking again is onâ¦
For my sister Deborah, 1970-2010.
I miss you.
There are so many people who contributed, knowingly or not, to the writing of this novel. These are just some of them.
The late, great GMTV legend Billy Pond, who told me the dead dog story. He swore it was true. I was never quite sure, but it was always one of my favourites.
My friends Judith, Sophie, Dione, and Gillian, who inspired the characters of Rosie, Nicole, Wendy, and Sam. Simon, Jason, and Chris, my longest-serving crew in my GMTV years, who may recognise little bits of themselves in Nathan, Rodney, and Scott. There's also a smidgeon of some of my other favourite crew members Ted, Pete, and Mick in those characters. I miss you all and I couldn't have done it without any of you!
My darling husband JJ, who always believes in me even when I doubt myself.
My mum who, when I was seven, was told by one of my teachers that I would âgo far in English', and who says she always knew I would.
My beloved Cheltenham â Cora's home town as well as mine.
And of course my agent, Robin Wade, and everyone at Accent Press. You all made a little girl's dream come true and a big girl very happy.
âTHE DOG IS DEAD? ARE YOU
, CHRISTINA? HOW THE BLOODY HELL CAN THE DOG BE DEAD?'
The furious voice of Jeanette Kendrick rang across the newsroom, and everybody froze. It was 4 a.m. and the usual pre-programme hum, which had been building nicely, faded to a whisper, and then to silence. Cora Baxter, who was on Monday morning newsreader duties, suddenly stopped scrolling through the running order, her heart pounding. She had been on the receiving end of a Kendrick rant once or twice before, and it was pretty hellish.
She swivelled in her chair. Down at the far end of the long room, just visible behind the piles of DVDs and newspapers stacked on every desk, the breakfast TV programme editor was standing outside her glass-walled corner office, hands on Armani-clad hips. In front of her Christina Evans, a young trainee producer, was visibly shaking.
âI'm really sorry, Jeanette, but â¦ well, I just rang the hotel to confirm the 6 a.m. car pick up, and â¦ and â¦ the guest said he'd just woken up and found the dog dead next to him, in the hotel room â¦ he's in a terrible state, I mean â¦ what can I do?'
âBUT IT CAN'T BE DEAD!' Jeanette was roaring now, her piercing blue eyes burning into poor Christina. âIT'S THE BLOODY 8.10, GODDAMN IT!'
Cora gulped and turned back to the running order on her screen. Jeanette's reaction was way over the top, but everybody knew that, at this hour of the morning, losing the item planned for 8.10 was not good. It was the most watched slot of the programme, following as it did the eight o'clock news, and it was always saved for the biggest talking point of the day.
âWELL, WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?'
Jeanette was showing no signs of calming down. She took a step towards Christina and stamped her foot. She was shod as always in beautiful Jimmy Choos, silver-grey today to match the tailored Armani suit. Christina cowered backwards.
âWell â¦ erm â¦ erm â¦ well â¦' She was stammering now, and sounded close to tears.
Cora quickly scanned the 8.10 link on the running order. The story was about a Newfoundland which had won an international âhero dog' award after rescuing dozens of people from a passenger boat disaster in France the previous year. The dog, plus owner, was supposed to be on the
sofa to help launch a âBritain's Bravest Pet' competition. The contest was sponsored by the show, and viewers would be voting for their favourite animal. No wonder Jeanette was so mad â phone-in competitions made big money for the breakfast programme, and this could scupper the whole thing.
Down the newsroom, Christina had started to sniffle.
âI'm sorry, Jeanette, I don't think there's anything we
do,' she said, and let out a little sob.
Jeanette glared at her, but the tears had done the trick. She took a deep breath and ran her hands through her elfin-cropped, dark hair.
âOK, Christina, I'll tell you what
going to do, shall I?'
She'd stopped shouting, but the newsroom still held its breath, waiting to hear the magical solution she was about to produce.
are going to do, Christina, is ring the man back, give him our deepest condolences for the death of his dog, and then ask him to bring it in anyway. We'll pretend it's asleep.'
She turned on her four-inch heels and marched back into her office. Wide-eyed with horror, Christina stared after her. Everyone else in the newsroom gaped at each other, aghast. She couldn't be serious â could she?
Christina was rooted to the spot. âBut â¦ Jeanette â¦
â¦ I just can't! He was in tears â¦ he'll never agree to it â¦ really, do you
want me to tell him to bring it in? I mean â¦ it's
âDo it, or find me another 8.10,' said Jeanette dismissively, and slammed the door. A moment later she snapped down the blinds on the glass wall facing the newsroom â her usual signal that the conversation was over.
Christina, still open-mouthed with shock, scurried off. Drama over, the newsroom hum started up again, although it was somewhat subdued. Everyone knew that when Jeanette blew once, it could happen again at any moment, and nobody wanted to be next in the firing line. Cora, who was still feeling fragile from a fairly traumatic weekend, suddenly had an overwhelming urge to laugh hysterically. Muttering something about tea under her breath, she leapt from her seat and ran out of the newsroom, nearly barrelling into somebody coming the other way in the corridor outside. She reached the grubby little kitchen down the hall at the same time as her friend, and today's senior programme producer, Samantha Tindall, who'd been hot on her heels.
âSam!' gasped Cora. âDid you hear that?'
Sam nodded, shaking with suppressed laughter. She grabbed Cora's arm and dragged her into the windowless box of a kitchen, slamming the door behind them. They collapsed on the grimy lino, howling.
â“Tell him to bring it in anyway, we'll pretend it's asleep!” Have you ever heard anything like it?' There were tears running down Cora's cheeks.
Sam was wiping her eyes. âOh my goodness, that's the funniest thing I've heard in weeks. Bring it in anyway! Bleedin' thing will have rigor mortis by now â can you imagine it, stiff as a board on the studio floor â¦' She buckled again, choking with laughter.
Cora clutched her stomach. âStop it, stop it, I can't bear it! Picture Alice on the sofa, having to coo over the poor exhausted sleeping dog â¦ imagine her face! And the lights â it would probably start to smell and everything â¦'
Sam wrinkled her pert little nose, imitating newsreader Alice Lomas â who was covering the main presenter's job on the sofa today, hence Cora's call to replace her at the news desk â and they shrieked again, clinging to each other.
They were just starting to pull themselves together when the door burst open and Wendy Heggerty skipped in, red Irish curls bouncing.
âNo need to ask what you two have been talking about!' said the graphic designer. âWow, Jeanette has lost it this time, hasn't she? Scary bitch boss from hell â¦ I saw poor old devoted Clancy drop her off this morning. At this hour! Seriously, I don't know
she puts up with her.'
Clancy Carter was Jeanette's long-term love. Both big players in the television world, Jeanette's star had somewhat eclipsed her civil partner's in recent years â Clancy was head of Chrysalis Productions, a production company responsible for some of the rather less successful TV reality shows. And, while Jeanette's reputation was terrifying, Clancy was known as a bit of a sweetie. Few could understand how they'd ever got together.
Still tittering, Cora and Sam heaved themselves off the floor, and Cora bent down to give Wendy a hug.
âHello, dwarfy. Great to see you.' Cora was on the road as a roving reporter for much of the time, so it was always a treat to be called in to cover news reading duties. It meant she could have a long overdue catch up with her friends, who nowadays were all too often just voices on the end of a phone, discussing time slots or graphics ideas for her live reports.
âYou too, you big giraffe.' Wendy's pale blue eyes grinned up at Cora. Just five foot two, Wendy was buxom and curvaceous, all wild hair and heaving boobs. Today she'd encased them in a tight green jumper.
âYou look fab, Wendy.' Cora grinned at her friend.
âShe always does.' Sam was crouching in front of the microwave, attempting to use its door as a mirror as she tried to wipe the rivulets of mascara off her cheeks. âI don't know how you do it, Wend â I always look like a dog on nightshifts.'
She straightened up, pushing her wavy caramel bob back out of her eyes, and started to smirk again. âI wonder where poor Christina got to?'
âOoh, I'm dying to find out what happened â but you'll have to update me later. I'm just here for a cuppa â got a load of maps to do for the news yet,' said Wendy, reaching for a polystyrene cup. âBut I'll see you both later, OK? And we need to rip that ex-man of yours to shreds too, Cora.'
She stuck a tea cartridge into the machine, and the boiling water streamed into the cup underneath. She grabbed it, splashed in some milk, and headed for the door, just as a pale-looking Christina wandered in.
âAlright, Christina?' Wendy grimaced at Cora and Sam as she left, wildly making a âcall me' sign with her free hand. Christina didn't seem to hear her. She shoved a coffee cartridge clumsily into the slot, and stood staring into space as the hot liquid gushed out.
âEr â Christina â
you OK? What did the guest say?' said Sam, tentatively. âDid you â erm â call him back, about the dog? Christina?'
Christina twitched slightly, as if suddenly registering that there were other people in the room.
âOh, hi, Sam â¦ Cora. No, thank God, Gerry from showbiz saved me. Went in and told Jeanette if we had a dead dog in, it was bound to get in the papers and we'd get a right mauling. He's called in a favour and got that new barmaid off
to come in to fill the slot at short notice â you know the one, she's about to have an affair with David Platt?'