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Authors: Spencer Quinn

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BOOK: Thereby Hangs a Tail
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M
ost of our meetings with Metro PD took place in the parking lot of Donut Heaven. We’d park cop style, Bernie’s door facing the driver’s side door of the cruiser, steam rising out of the open windows from their paper cups.

“Chet like crullers?” Lieutenant Stine said.

Humans, at a moment like this, often say, “Does the bear shit in the woods?” Not totally sure why, and I’ve never seen a bear, except on the Discovery Channel, and that was close enough.

“He just had a treat,” Bernie said. “I don’t think he’s really hungr—” But by that time I’d kind of left the shotgun seat and was more or less leaning over Bernie, my nose just about out his window. Lieutenant Stine tossed a cruller through the small space between the cars, and I caught it. I’m a pretty good catcher—Bernie and I have this great game we play with a Frisbee. Once we entered a contest, and if it hadn’t been for this squirrel appearing at the most unlikely—but maybe I’ll have time to get to that later. I took the cruller back to my seat and had some quiet time.

“Who’s working the Borghese case?” Bernie said.

Lieutenant Stine, chomping on a big mouthful, pointed to himself. Bernie started telling him all about our get-together at the count’s ranch. So complicated, even the second time around. I held on to the essential details: Adelina and Princess were missing, two grand a day.

“What is a count, anyway?” said Lieutenant Stine.

“Some kind of nobleman,” Bernie said.

“Nobleman,” said the lieutenant. “Christ.”

“Yeah,” said Bernie.

“That means he’s rich?”

“Wild Bill Hickok stayed at that ranch,” Bernie said.

“That makes him rich?”

“I’m just saying it’s an important ranch in terms of our history,” Bernie said. “But thirty thousand unspoiled acres, plus a co-op in Manhattan and a villa in Umbria, and God knows what else—that’s what makes him rich.”

“What does he do? Where does all that money come from?”

“Probably inherited it,” Bernie said. “That’s the nobleman part.”

They sipped their coffee. I polished off the cruller. Delish.

“Did he mention a rival?” Bernie said.

The lieutenant flipped through his notebook. “Babycakes?”

“I was thinking of the owner, Sherman Ganz. You look into him?”

“Huh?” said Lieutenant Stine. “Guy sets up a felony kidnapping, possible life sentence, on account of he wants to win a dog show?”

“Exactly,” Bernie said.

“Don’t pull my chain,” said Lieutenant Stine.

Once a very bad guy named Gulagov—now sporting an orange jumpsuit up at Central State—got a chain on me. Bernie was the best, but I sided with the lieutenant on this one.

“When someone rich gets kidnapped, I think ransom,” the lieutenant went on.

“Any ransom demand?”

“Not yet,” said the lieutenant. “Doesn’t mean it’s not on the way.”

“Maybe you’re right,” Bernie said. “What else?”

“Nada,” the lieutenant said. “Went over the limo. It was clean. Questioned the driver and that trainer lady. They didn’t see diddley.”

That caught my attention. Bernie was a big Bo Diddley fan, sometimes played “Hey Bo Diddley” on his ukulele around the campfire. Was Bo Diddley a suspect in the Borghese case? That was going to get Bernie upset.

A voice crackled over the lieutenant’s radio. He spoke into his mouthpiece. Then came some back-and-forth I missed, partly from the sound being so unclear, partly because of how caught up I was licking cruller dust off the seat. The radio went quiet. “Get that?” said the lieutenant.

“Some gas station guy spotted a dark green pickup outside Rio Loco?”

“Going a hundred and ten.” The cruiser’s engine started up. “Wanna come check it out?”

“No sense both of us driving out there.”

Lieutenant Stine tilted up his cup and drained it. “Meaning?” he said.

“We’ll just poke around a little.”

“Poke anything interesting, I need to know.”

“Likewise,” said Bernie.

“Likewise isn’t the way it works,” the lieutenant said. “You should know that by now. I’m the law and I’ve got needs. You’re not the law and all you’ve got is wants.” They gave each other a long look, not particularly friendly. “Enjoy the day,” said Lieutenant Stine.

Of course I would. Went without saying.

We’d driven to Vegas before, me and Bernie. Ages and ages to get out of the Valley, then a stretch of open desert where Bernie’s hands relaxed on the wheel, and maybe we had some music—in this case “Sway” by the Stones, over and over, Bernie singing at the top of his lungs, something about demon life, and then saying, “Mick Taylor, Chet, listen to that—they were at their best.” All beyond me, and I would have preferred Roy Eldridge and his trumpet, but it was always nice to see Bernie having fun. Pretty soon the open stretch closed in, and we hit Vegas. The sun was setting and the sky turned all sorts of colors, not my strong suit. We drove down a broad street lit up even wilder than the sky. Bernie’s hands were tense again. He hated Vegas. “All this is just a mirror, Chet,” he said. “Reflecting what? Good question. Some horrible corner of the human soul—there’s no other answer.” I came so close to getting that! Mirrors I knew, of course, had barked at what turned out to be myself in them more than once.

Not long after that, we stopped at a gate in a quieter part of town, tile roofs showing over the tops of walls, tall palm trees everywhere. A guard let us in. We followed a long curving road, parked by a fountain in front of a huge house. Lit-up jets of water flew in the air, fell splashing down into a pool. Was that a big fat fish swimming around in there? I’d never actually caught a fish before—never even had a fighting chance, to tell the truth—so this seemed like a real stroke of—

“Che—et?”

The big fat fish flicked its tail and swam away, not fast, very catchable. But maybe this wasn’t the time. Soon we were in the house, following a maid through a bunch of enormous rooms. I smelled one of my guys right away. The smell got stronger and stronger, and then we entered a room lined with books from floor to ceiling. A gray-haired man with a trim gray beard sat on a leather chair in one corner, a book in his hand, and one of my guys—one of my guys who looked a lot like Princess—in his lap. We’d found her already? We were getting good, me and Bernie.

“Mr. Ganz?” Bernie said. The gray-haired man nodded and said something back, missed by me, because at that moment I caught the scent of the little lap guy, quite different from Princess’s, missing a peppery something in hers that I realized I kind of liked. I was taking a deep sniff or two when I got the feeling they were talking about me.

“Oh, yes,” Bernie was saying. “Perfectly safe with small dogs.”

“Babycakes?” Mr. Ganz said. “Want to play with the nice big doggie?”

Babycakes had big dark eyes, maybe not as a big and dark as Princess’s but more liquid. They turned on me like deep shadowy pools; then Babycakes made a tiny little squeak and snuggled deeper in Mr. Ganz’s lap. “Poor Babycakes,” said Mr. Ganz, stroking that golf-ball-size head. He looked up at Bernie. “We can’t have any sort of emotional upset,” he said, “not with the show coming so soon.”

“Understood,” Bernie said. “Just a few questions and we’ll be on our way.”

Mr. Ganz’s voice, soft to that point, got much harder. “Maybe you don’t understand,” he said. “I was referring to Babycakes’s state of mind, not my own. You can ask
me
as many questions as you like—poor Adelina, I quite admired her—although I don’t see how I can be of any help.”

Bernie pulled up a footstool, sat near Mr. Ganz but not quite facing. One of his techniques, and he had a reason for that not quite facing part, but I couldn’t quite dig it up. I sat on the floor next to him, my ears pointing straight up. Babycakes tried to retreat further into Mr. Ganz’s lap but ran out of room. Mr. Ganz drew the corner of his book over Babycakes, leaving only that damp-eyed face showing.

“We’re starting from zero, Mr. Ganz,” Bernie said. “Almost anything you can tell us will be helpful. For example, the fact that you admire Adelina. Or admired her, as you put it.” Bernie smiled. This was a real quick smile Bernie had sometimes, like a knife flash. Bernie had some violence in him, deep down. Me, too. “Know something we don’t, Mr. Ganz?” he said.

Mr. Ganz’s gaze, big and liquid, not unlike Babycakes’s, met Bernie’s. “A safe bet,” he said. “But about the circumstances of her disappearance or her present whereabouts, I know nothing. As for the ugly implication of your question, please don’t say you were just doing your job.”

All of that blew right by me; I only knew one thing for sure: I didn’t like Mr. Ganz. Was this interview going to end with me grabbing him by the pant leg? I was ready.

As for Bernie, he was still smiling, but now in a more friendly way. Kind of a surprise, but I don’t claim to understand Bernie 24/7, whatever that means. I simply trusted him to be the smartest human in the room. My job was to take care of everything else.

“Just fishing,” Bernie said. “Sometimes you get lucky in this business.”

Fishing? Did that mean hopping into the pool for the briefest second would have been okay after all? Or maybe we could still do it later? Something to look forward to: I loved that feeling, and, to tell the truth, felt it almost every day.

“Not this time,” said Mr. Ganz, scratching lightly at the back of Babycakes’s head, looking like he knew what he was doing. Hey! I wanted some of that.

Bernie’s smile faded. “Tell me about the rivalry,” he said.

“Rivalry?”

“Between Princess and Babycakes.”

“Who told you there was a rivalry?”

“Count Borghese.”

“Is he really paying you?”

“Yes.”

“Then you should be aware he styles himself Count
di
Bor-ghese.”

“Styles himself ? Meaning he’s not a count?”

Mr. Ganz shrugged. “Italian counts are a dime a dozen. Got fifty grand? You can be a baron.”

No idea what that was about, but not to worry—whatever fifty grand added up to, we didn’t have it.

“He bought his title?” Bernie said.

“I didn’t say that,” said Mr. Ganz. “His title is legitimate, as far as I know, may even be an old one. But the point is, there’s nothing noble about him. Take this supposed rivalry, for example. It’s all in his mind. And in Princess’s.”

“Not sure I follow,” said Bernie.

“Isn’t it obvious?” said Mr. Ganz. “Babycakes and Princess have gone head-to-head in ten shows in the past two years and Babycakes—ooo, you good little girl—has been champion every time. A one-sided rivalry is a contradiction in terms.” Babycakes was gazing off into space, one tiny ear bent back in a weird way.

“I thought Princess won the Balmoral,” Bernie said.

“The Balmoral?” said Mr. Ganz. “Don’t talk to me about the Balmoral.”

“Why not? Isn’t it the biggest dog show in the world?”

“Oh, very much so, but what about the concept of fair play?”

“What about it?”

“I can see your employer hasn’t given you the whole story.”

“Fill me in.”

“Amazed you don’t know about this,” said Mr. Ganz. “They kneecapped Babycakes at the Balmoral.”

Bernie hardly ever looked surprised; so seldom that for a moment, I didn’t recognize the expression on his face. “Say again?” he said.

“What word didn’t you understand?”

“Kneecapped, for starters,” said Bernie. “I’m not sure we can even say that dogs have knees.”

Of course we don’t. Human knees are pretty ugly, make their legs looks kind of weird. Our legs are—although it’s not for me to say—elegant.

“It’s a metaphor,” said Mr. Ganz.

“For what?”

“Simply the single worst atrocity I’ve witnessed in my entire life.”

“Which was?”

Mr. Ganz stroked Babycakes. “I don’t even like to revisit the trauma, not in front of her.”

“I understand,” Bernie said.

“Do you?”

Bernie nodded, this tiny nod he had, hardly a movement at all, and my personal favorite of all the nods: it was real.

“I believe you do,” said Mr. Ganz. He took a deep breath. “I suppose you’ve met the trainer, Nancy Malone?”

“Yes.”

“She worked for me once—did you know that?”

“No,” said Bernie. “How did it end?”

“Not relevant to this discussion,” Mr. Ganz said. “The point is that on day one at Balmoral—hadn’t even started, we were still backstage—Nancy Malone sidled over and—” He lowered his voice—“stamped down on Babycakes’s poor little foot. Viciously. Knocked her out of the competition—she limped for days and days.” Mr. Ganz’s eyes seemed to get even wetter. And Babycakes’s eyes, too. Plus her ear was bent back further. “So, yes, Princess won the Balmoral, if you call that winning.”

“What happened after?” Bernie said.

“After what?”

“After Nancy Malone stepped on Babycakes.”

“Crocodile tears, of course.” Crocodiles, also on the Discovery Channel, but at Balmoral, too? The case was getting complicated. Had to be prepared for anything: we were in a tough business, me and Bernie.

“What do you mean?” Bernie said.

“She was all contrite, claimed it was an accident, apologized profusely—even had the gall, if you can believe it, to pick up Babycakes and try to comfort the creature. I put a stop to that.”

“Any chance it could have been an accident?” Bernie said.

“Absolutely not.”

“Did you actually see it happen?”

“As a matter of fact, no, my view was blocked—it was chaotic back there, giving her the opportunity in the first place. But I have it on excellent authority.”

“Whose?”

“Someone with a clear view.”

“Does that someone have a name?”

“I don’t believe I want to get into that.”

“Why not?”

There was a long silence, and during the silence, I noticed a small silver bowl over in the corner, and in the bowl what looked a lot like steak, cut into tiny bits, possibly for a tiny mouth. Or possibly, in a hospitable sort of way, for anyone who happened to be around, a guest for example. A few moments later I found myself still sitting straight and alert, but somehow much closer to the small silver bowl.

“I have no further comment,” said Mr. Ganz.

BOOK: Thereby Hangs a Tail
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