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Authors: Spencer Quinn

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Thereby Hangs a Tail (23 page)

BOOK: Thereby Hangs a Tail
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“What did Adelina think?” Bernie said.

“Adelina believes whatever the count tells her. She’s crazy about him.”

“Yeah?” said Bernie. “I was about to ask whether there’s anything between you and Adelina.”

Aldo’s eyes closed to slits. “Trying to pin something on me? For a moment there I thought you were straight up.”

“Only trying to solve the case,” Bernie said.

“The usual bullshit,” Aldo said. That again? I smelled none. “But to satisfy your sick curiosity, there’s nothing going on between me and Adelina, never was. We knew each other as kids.”

“How come she let you get fired?”

“She fought him on that.”

“But Borghese’s the boss?”

“Wouldn’t say that. But he’s the love of her life, like I said.”

“How did they get together?”

“She went to Italy after college, studied art for a year.”

“And he owned some famous paintings?”

“The count? He owned shit. One day she took a riding lesson and he was the instructor.”

Bernie rose, dumped the wadded-up paper towel in the trash.

“You a good shot, Aldo?” he said.

“Why do you ask that?”

“Saw you cleaning that thirty-ought-six in the barn the other day.”

“Not a particularly good shot, no,” Aldo said. “And the gun’s not mine.”

“Whose is it?”

“Adelina’s.”

“Don’t tell me she’s a hunter.”

“An animal lover like Adelina? Never. But there’s sometimes target shooting when guests stay here, Coke bottles on a fence rail.”

Shooting bottles off a fence rail: I loved that. Would it be happening soon? Some action would be nice.

“Is she a good shot?” Bernie was saying.

“Adelina? About like me.”

“And the count?”

“Worse.” Somewhere above in the house a phone rang a few times, then stopped. Aldo looked up. “Where do you think she is? What happened?”

“Don’t know,” Bernie said.

They talked some more, but I stopped listening, caught up in seeing Adelina’s face again, with the ants. I went over and lay down by Princess’s tiny silver bowls.

TWENTY-ONE

B
ack on the road, Bernie said, “Reminds me of Shakespeare.” Shakespeare? I didn’t recall the case. We’ve cleared a lot of cases, me and Bernie, and who could be expected to remember every one? “All that intrigue, like at some royal court, I’m talking about,” he added sometime later. The truth is, I don’t know much about court, have been in a courtroom only once. I was Exhibit A. Not sure what that is, exactly, but it meant I had to walk across the room—with some uniformed guy, not Bernie—and on a leash. The leash is something I can do if I really, really have to, and afterward Bernie gave me a Polish sausage. Never had one before or since, but it did look like a pole, except much shorter, and tasted great. Exhibit B was a .44 Magnum I dug up out of some perp’s flower bed. He’s probably still wearing an orange jumpsuit at Central State.

A lovely day for driving: blue skies, clean air, Elmore James coming through the speakers. The trumpet is my favorite instrument but right behind comes the slide guitar. The feeling that goes from deep in my ears and down my neck all the way to my tail—and then sometimes back up the other way, meeting the next feeling already zooming down!—hard to describe. Bernie sang along—“The Sky Is Crying,” “Mean Mistreatin’ Mama,” “It Hurts Me, Too”—but kind of softly, and he didn’t do his usual air guitar thing on the steering wheel, which actually made for a safer trip. “I got a bad feeling,” he and Elmore James sang. Bernie has a real nice voice—have I mentioned that already?—but Elmore James has a voice a lot like the slide guitar, a voice that could do things to me inside.

“The blues, Chet,” Bernie said. “Nothing like the blues.”

No doubt about that, at least not in my listening experience. But what with Elmore James’s voice and the slide guitar both doing shivery things inside me at once, there was only so much of the blues I could take, and I was kind of glad when Bernie switched it off. Not long after that, we were on a desert track I remembered, the lopsided buildings of Clauson’s Wells rising in the distance.

“Square one,” Bernie said, as we hit the hard-packed main street of the ghost town. I’d heard him use that expression—square one—before. It meant we weren’t doing well. The town was quiet, no one in sight. The wind rose, blew a plastic scrap across the street. We parked in front of the saloon and went through the swinging doors.

Bernie looked around: the long bar, the cracked mirror, the stool lying on the dirty floor. And what was this? Among all those stale and dried-out coyote turds, a single fresh one. I sniffed around the room, picked up a scent, followed it to the big hole in the back wall—coyote, been and gone—and returned to Bernie.

He was setting the stool upright. “Lester Ford sits here,” he said. “Earl comes up from the corner in the back. Set up real nice, Chet. Question is, then what happened? I woke up the next morning in a cell.” He gave me a pat. “How about you? What’s your story?”

All of a sudden I was up on my back legs, front claws kind of pawing at Bernie, a total no-no.

“Hey, what is it, boy? What’s wrong?” Bernie gave me a hug and I felt better, whatever it was that had gotten into me now under control. I went over and sniffed at the rickety stairs leading up to the floor above.

Bernie followed me. “Want to go up?” he said. “Doesn’t look safe.” I started up the stairs. Bernie laid a hand on my back. “Hold it,” he said. I stopped. He moved around me. “I’ll go first.” Bernie go first? No way. He was a pretty big guy. What if something bad happened? I pushed past him. “Chet!” But Bernie wasn’t going up first and that was that. I charged ahead, flew over the missing stair, one more big lunge and I was at the top, spinning around to watch Bernie. He came to the missing stair, stepped over it, but not easily, in fact landing heavily, and a look of pain crossed his face, there and gone in a flash, but I caught it—his wound from the war—and then came splintering sounds and the whole staircase collapsed in a slow-motion kind of way, with Bernie scrambling up at the same time in slightly faster slow motion. He fell beside me, safe.

“Chet, get off, for God’s sake.”

I got off. Bernie rose, looked down over the edge, dust rising from below.

“Guess we’re stuck here forever,” he said.

Oh, no. What would we eat?

Bernie peered down the corridor, light from the broken window at the end shining on his face. There were lines on his skin I didn’t remember ever seeing. “Been up here before?” he said.

We moved along the corridor, side by side. First came the doorless room, all cobwebby, then the closed door. Bernie opened it. “Sometimes there is a God,” he said. I looked inside, saw nothing but a ladder. I don’t claim to understand every single thing he says.

We came to the next door, the one partly open. I smelled that peppery smell, very, very faint, and went right in. And there in a shadowy corner, just like before, lay Princess’s pillow, not her satin pillow, but the stained and filthy one. I sniffed it to make absolute sure. No doubt. I stood up straight and barked.

Bernie came over, crouched down beside the pillow and sniffed at it. “Don’t smell a thing,” he said. It had taken me a long time to reach this point, but I believed him. He picked up the pillow, looked underneath; nothing underneath to see. Bernie turned the pillow over and gave it a shake. A few long silver-tipped white hairs floated loose, drifted to the floor. Bernie picked one up, held it to the light. “Princess?” he said. “Princess was here? Here the whole time?” He took out a baggie and put the silver-tipped white hairs inside. “You went up and found her, didn’t you, boy?” A strong breeze sprang up in the room, and not too long after that I realized it came from my wagging tail.

Bernie rose. “But you got separated. First question—how did that happen? Second question—” He went to a closet at the other side of the room, yanked open the door real quick, like he was trying to surprise something inside: but empty, except for a single wooden hanger on a rail. “—was Adelina here, too?” The breeze at my back died away.

We left the room, walked down the hall to the broken window. Bernie gazed at the pointed shard sticking up from the bottom, raised one foot, and kicked it out. Smash! Crash! And a tinkling sound from down below. I loved when Bernie did things like that, loved smashing and crashing in general.

He bent down and stuck his head out the window. I stuck my head out, too. Hey! I could see pretty far. Straight ahead rose those low hills with the cabin and the pool of water, the roof of the cabin just visible. To one side, beyond the sagging barn where I’d found all the tire tracks, lay a wide stretch of desert, marked by tall saguaros. On the other side, more desert, but greener, with lots of low plants, and cutting through them a dirt track, dust rising from a big boxy vehicle, kind of like . . . kind of like an RV. And not just any old RV, but an RV with a rainbow paint job, an RV I knew.

“Chet? What’s up, boy? See something?”

I kept barking.

“You want to go up that hill again, take another look at the cabin?”

Was I pointed at the cabin? No. I was pointed at the rainbow RV, now on the move, getting smaller and smaller. I leaned way out the window—felt Bernie’s hand on my collar—and barked my head off, lined up from the tip of my tail to the tip of my nose on the RV.

“The RV?” Bernie said. “Something about the RV?” I barked, but just once more, not loud. “The RV it is,” he said.

Not long after that, Bernie was lowering the ladder out the window. “Next comes the tricky part,” he said. But we got down no problem, except for a bit of a tumble at the end, followed by landing together in a pile. I popped up right away, shook off the dust; and so did Bernie. Bernie shaking off the dust was a sight to see. We could handle the tricky parts, me and Bernie.

“That’s the Old Trading Post Highway they’re on,” Bernie said, in the Porsche, fishtailing away from the saloon. “We’ll have to double back all the way to . . . but wait a minute—isn’t there a shortcut by the . . .” He went silent, at the same time spinning the wheel. We shot down an alley between some crooked buildings and came to a stony flatland. Bernie slowed down, steering around rocks and bushes, bumping along until we reached a shallow gully. We drove beside it for a while, then came to a grade, not steep, that led right down inside. Bernie headed into the gully, kept going. “Dry wash,” he said. “But guess what.”

I had no idea.

“When Coronado came through here, this wash was a river, running twelve months a year.”

Coronado again. His name came up now and then—Bernie didn’t like him, not one little bit—but we hadn’t run across him yet. I sat straight in the shotgun seat, still and silent, ready in case Coronado was lurking somewhere up the line.

The sandy bottom of the dry wash was hard and smooth, and we went pretty fast. From time to time Bernie spoke: “Imagine what it must’ve been like,” and “If there was a time machine, I’d be . . .” And other things I didn’t understand. All I knew was how great things were here and now. The sun, the breeze, a few real trees growing alongside the wash, and what was that flashing by? One of those pincushion plants? Painful, I knew, but their skinny red fruits tasted great, if only you could get at them, which I’d tried to do plenty of times, only tasting one once, when Bernie picked it for me. But right now, way more important: poking around the pincushion plant what was that? Javelina? Yes, a big fat one. I twisted around and—

“Chet?”

Not too long after that, another shallow grade appeared off to one side, and we followed it up and out of the wash. Almost right away, we came to a hard-packed track with lots of tread marks on it. Bernie stopped the car. “Old Trading Post Highway,” he said. “Via shortcut, courtesy of your latter-day Kit Carson.” Kit Carson: another dude who’d come up before. Was he in cahoots with Coronado? No clue. But Bernie looked pretty pleased about something, so I felt pleased, too. “Now we wait.”

We waited, for what, I didn’t know. Bernie stuck a cigarette in his mouth, then dug around under his seat for matches, and guess what he found. Matches, yes, but also a big biscuit from Rover and Company. I’d been smelling that biscuit for ages, had done some digging for it myself, unsuccessful. When it comes to biscuits from Rover and Company, old ones taste as good as new ones, maybe even better. We had a nice time waiting, Bernie smoking, one arm resting, relaxed, on the top of the door frame, me working on the biscuit, and hoping Bernie would blow some smoke rings. Loved watching smoke rings, but he didn’t blow any.

Still, nothing wrong with watching smoke drifting away, even not in rings, and I was happily doing that when I heard a distant motor. I gulped down the rest of my biscuit, stood up on my seat, head turned toward the sound.

“Good boy,” Bernie said. He tossed his cigarette butt away, started the car, and revved the engine. Vroom vroom: I could listen to that all day.

A dust cloud rose way down the Old Trading Post Highway and soon I spotted the rainbow RV down under that cloud. The rainbow RV came closer and closer, got noisier and noisier, and slowed down as it went by, the two guys in front turning to look at us, and at that moment I got a real good look at them: Crash and Disco! I barked. Did they see me? Couldn’t have, because they kept going—even speeding up—instead of stopping for a get-together. Bernie gunned it. We swerved onto the track and took off after the rainbow RV.

BOOK: Thereby Hangs a Tail
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