Desperate Housedogs

Desperate Housedogs
Sparkle Abbey

November 2011   $14.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-050-3

In posh Laguna Beach, murder has gone to the dogs.

The Pampered Pets Mysteries, Book 1

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Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt

When Caro Lamont, former psychologist turned pet therapist makes a house call to help Kevin Blackstone with his two misbehaving German Shepherd dogs, she expects frantic dogs, she expects a frantic dog owner, she even expects frantic neighbors. What she doesn’t expect is that two hours later the police will find Kevin dead, his dogs impounded; and that as the last person to see Kevin alive (well, except for the killer) she is suddenly a person of interest, at least according to Homicide Detective Judd Malone.


Reviews

"...really charming cozy mystery...stands out as one of the best" -- Tracy Farnsworth, Round Table Reviews

"…one of the best books I have read this year. Sparkle Abbey is actually two authors who, using the names of their rescue cat and dog, know how to tell a great story. Aside from some of the most fun, entertaining and easy to like characters, they know how to create suspense and mystery. The ending … took me completely off guard…and it was brilliantly done. Cozy fans will enjoy this book. You will be entertained page after page. I know I was left wanting more after the story ended. The good news is GET FLUFFY is out …and I already have my copy!" -- Dawn Roberto, Love, Romances, and More Blog

"...lots of Hollywood dirt, excellent advice.sexual tension. and a couple of male hunks. A sassy and fun mystery!" -- Shelly Glodowski, Senior reviewer at The Midwest Book Review

"Desperate Housedogs is a wonderful, fun-filled mystery brimming with hope and humor. Lamont and Malone are unique, strong-willed characters that are…destined to drive each other crazy for many books to come, a howling good time." -- Lois Greiman, award winning author of Uncorked

"…suspects to keep you guessing… a great sense of humor… quirky supporting characters." -- Alison, Cozy Crimes Blog

"…this is a fun lighthearted murder investigation… Sub-genre fans will enjoy her antics…" -- Harriet Klausner, The Midwest Book Review

"...kept me turning the pages...amusing banter and comedic antics." -- The Cozy Chicks, Cozy ChicksBlog

"You'll be howling with laughter!" -- Kathy Bacus, author of Calamity Jane


Excerpt


The dogs were desperate and so was Kevin.

He was clearly at the end of his rope. Or would that be leash?

Kevin’s two German Shepherd dogs circled and barked and circled and barked while the television blasted above the din, and Kevin Blackstone shouted at me.

"They've been at this for two whole days.”

That was Kevin.

"Bark. Bark.”

"Bark. Bark.”

That was the dogs.

"Come in for the spring clearance sale at Orange County European Motors.”

The TV announcer.

It had been going on since I’d arrived at Kevin’s and it was enough to make me desperate.

"I’ve tried everything to get them to stop. They continually run to the patio doors but there’s nothing out there.” Kevin was a good-sized guy and had a strong grip on their collars, but clearly the dogs were distraught. Kevin looked like he hadn’t slept in days.

"Bark. Bark.”

"Bark. Bark.”

"Breaking news: The body of a man found at Crystal Cove State Park has not yet been identified. Authorities are releasing few details but TV 10 News will talk with hikers who discovered the body.”

Kevin continued shouting over the clamor. "I tried letting them outside thinking it was maybe a squirrel or something but at first they wouldn’t go. They just stood in the doorway and growled.”

I didn’t approach the dogs just yet. "Tell me about what’s been going on? Has anything changed in their routine?”

Shepherds aren’t a nervous breed. When they bark, they’re barking at something.

"No, nothing has changed.”

Or at least I think that’s what Kevin said.

Between the bark, bark and the "Now we go live to...” from the television, I could hardly hear myself think, let alone carry on a conversation.

"Kevin, sugar, would you mind turning the television off?”

"What?”

I pointed toward the super-sized wide screen TV.

"Oh.” He released his hold on the dogs, picked up a manly remote, and clicked the TV off.

I sighed. At least one din-producing item down. The dogs continued to bark, but the noise level was a bit more tolerable.

Okay, where were we?

I’d worked with Kevin’s dogs before. About a year ago they’d had a problem with chewing up his new furniture. The doggy therapy seemed to have done the trick. At least the furniture I could see from my vantage point appeared to be intact.

"Tell me again, when did this start?” I asked.

"Two days ago.”

"Tell me specifically when you first noticed the dogs’ behavior problems.”

"Well, I’d been at the gym. I came home and they came to greet me like they always do. No jumping up.”

He saw my raised brow.

"Then they just started going ape-shit. Running to the patio door and then back to me. Patio door—me. Patio door—me.” Kevin flung his arms back and forth for emphasis. "I let them outside and they ran out there. They ran around and barked and then ran back to me. I finally had to bring them inside for fear Mandy next door would turn me in to the homeowners’ association for noise pollution.”

Ruby Point was way over the top about their association rules. Apparently Kevin had gotten sideways with Mandy Beenerman, his next door neighbor, a few months ago over a non-conforming mailbox he’d put up. It had been LA Lakers purple and gold, and Mandy, who was a former Celtics cheerleader turned super-snob, had turned him in.

I thought it probably had more to do with spite than good taste. But I could see where Kevin Blackstone might occasionally need a reminder.

To tell you the God’s honest truth, I wasn’t sure what Kevin Blackstone did for a living, but the same could be said for a lot of my clients. None of my business, you know. All I knew was he lived alone in his huge, multi-level, modern contemporary mansion, and he asked me out at least once a month. I turned him down just as regularly.

While the house was tastefully decorated, I’m certain it had been professionally done with little input from Kevin because he, today as most days, sported really bad plaid shorts paired with a loud orange-colored polo. Who knows, maybe the guy was color-blind.

And me? Who was I to judge? I guess today I sure didn’t look like I knew Dior couture from the Dollar Discount store. It would drive my mama insane, but then pretty much everything I did drove her bananas.

Anymore I dressed more for comfort than fashion. Jeans, t-shirt, tennies. My vocation often required rolling around on the ground with puppies or crawling behind ten-thousand dollar couches to retrieve recalcitrant kitty cats. I loved to get gussied up on occasion but lately those occasions had been few and far between.

Kevin raked a meaty hand through his reddish hair. "They’re always such good dogs. I thought maybe they were just stir-crazy so I took them for a walk, but drama princess Shar was outside with her dinky dog. She claimed ‘her baby’ was being traumatized by Zeus and Tommy Boy, and told me if I didn’t get my dogs under control, I’d ‘be sorry.’ Woo, Shar, I’m so scared.” Kevin held up his hands and did a fake frightened look.

His neighbor a few mansions down the street, Shar Summers, had a tiny Chinese Crested named Babycakes. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the breed, they are delicate, very needy pooches that look more like small alien creatures than dogs. Easily traumatized. A toy poodle would do it, let alone Zeus and Tommy Boy and their bark-fest.

Bottom line, Kevin’s housemates were out of control and if the barking continued there was the distinct possibility someone (probably Mandy) would lodge a neighborhood complaint and Laguna Beach Animal Control could impound the dogs. In lieu of an explanation, we’d start with behavior modification.

"Bring me their treats.” I’d been ignoring the dogs. The last thing you want to do when dealing with bad behavior is inadvertently reinforce it. Unfortunately that’s exactly what a lot of pet owners do under the mistaken impression they’re comforting the animal.

Kevin returned with a box of Bowser Treats from my cousin Mel’s shop, the Bow Wow Boutique. Their favorite.

"Okay, here’s what we’re gonna to do.” I picked up one of the treats, closed my hand over it, and turned my back on the dogs.

When they stopped barking, I spun around and gave it to them. It worked only for a moment and then they were back at it.

After a few more tries, I handed the box to Kevin. "You try.”

He mimicked my ignore/reward method and eventually the spans between barking spates increased.

After an hour of working with Zeus and Tommy Boy (and Kevin), I felt like we’d made some progress. I bent and hugged the two dogs, partly to assess their tension and partly because I sincerely liked the guys.

Initially, the times they weren’t barking were very few, but eventually there were longer gaps. I tell you, I’ve worked with a bunch of barkers and I’d never seen anything quite like it.

"You said you let them out on the patio?”

"I did the first day,” Kevin said. "I thought maybe they’d smelled a wild animal or something. But there was nothing. Nothing I could see, anyway.

"Well, let’s try it again.” Maybe there was a dead bird or squirrel and they’d picked up the scent. Could be it was the nose thing. Their super nose is why German Shepherd dogs make such great police K-9s, sniffing out drugs at airports or during traffic stops.

Kevin opened the door and the dogs were out like a shot. They loped around the pool and after a circle or two, tramped through his flowers, and then headed down the side yard. We followed and got to the edge of the house just as the dogs galloped through the open gate.

I looked at Kevin.

He shrugged his line-backer shoulders in denial. "I didn’t leave it open.”

If the dogs were running loose, there was an even better possibility they’d end up in doggie jail. I started after them, thanking my lucky stars I’d worn my running shoes instead of the really cute Marc Jacobs sandals I’d just bought. Still, Kevin got to the front of the house before I did.

I could see the dogs halfway up the street and took off after them. A landscape worker, or, I suppose in Ruby Point he would be called a "horticulturist,” worked in one of the brick planters that lined the boulevard. Zeus and Tommy Boy were headed his way.

I yelled, "Stop those dogs.”

He looked up.

"The dogs.” I gestured so emphatically it’s a wonder I didn’t dislocate something.

He continued to stare.

Sheesh. How dense can you be?

Zeus and Tommy Boy ran up to him. Each grabbed a pant leg and held on.

He swung his shovel at them, narrowly missing the two furry heads.

Oh. No.

Zeus growled and adjusted his hold on the guy. Judging by the look on his face, dog teeth had reached flesh this time. He continued to swing the shovel.

Kevin was within earshot and used the commands we’d practiced.

"Zeus, Tommy Boy. Off.”

The dogs released the worker, but looked disappointed. I didn’t really blame them. I mean, seriously, what would you do if someone came after you with a shovel?

I finally caught up with them.

"Are you okay?”

"Are you an idiot?”

Kevin and I spoke in tandem. His was the voice of concern, mine the ill-mannered one.

Hey, I’m from Texas and we don’t cotton to stupidity. Especially where it concerns our horses or our dogs.

The guy had crawled up onto the planter. Clearly not a dog person and these were some big dogs. Okay, so maybe he’d reacted out of fear but still—a shovel?

Zeus and Tommy Boy sat at attention but continued to eye him with interest.

"Are you hurt?” I addressed the man but rested my hand on Tommy Boy’s back. I could feel the tension in his body, but both dogs stayed in place.

The guy was young and wiry. His spiky black hair and multiple piercings suggested a latent punk rocker look. The legs of his blue jeans were ripped but I think they might have been before his encounter with Zeus and Tommy Boy. He jumped down from the planter and rubbed his leg.

"You need to keep your killer beasts under control.” His dark eyes were hard and his posture tense.

If the dogs had actually broken skin and he went to the emergency room, it would definitely be the canine slammer.

"Well for cryin’ in a bucket, let me take a look.” I reached for his leg.

He jerked backward as if he thought I might bite, too.

"I’m fine.” His voice was as tight as a fist.

Zeus and Tommy Boy both growled a deep rumble.

I looked at Kevin hoping he understood the seriousness of the situation. "Do you have a first aid kit at your house?”

He nodded.

"Let’s take the dogs home and I’ll grab the kit.” I turned to the gardener. "You sit and catch your breath. I’ll be right back. Then we can take a look at your leg.”

The guy continued to glare. With his dark, spikey hair, he kind of reminded me of one of those Texas horned lizards that puff up so they’re all spiny when they’re upset.

Kevin gave the command for the dogs to follow and the four of us trouped back down the street toward his house. The dogs periodically glanced back as if to make sure the guy was staying put.

It took very little time for Kevin to find his first aid kit and for me to head back to where we’d left Mister Angry Pants, but by the time I returned to the planter, the landscape worker was nowhere to be found.

What a fruitcake. I guess he must have been okay or he would’ve stuck around. Heading back to Kevin’s to gather my things, I looked for one of the landscaping company’s trucks, but didn’t see a vehicle of any kind. On second thought, in such a fancy schmancy community they don’t often leave the maintenance trucks out in plain sight. Maybe he’d needed to move on to another area of Ruby Point.

The morning had warmed up. I stopped back in at Kevin’s and reminded him to keep up the behavior modification. I felt sure it would eventually work. Sometimes dogs can get into a barking cycle and you have to break that cycle. I left with a promise to Kevin I’d check in tomorrow to see what kind of progress he’d made.

I pulled out of the drive and drove a short ways down the street to my friend, Diana’s, house. Er, castle.

Diana’s showcase abode dwarfed Kevin’s, and her graceful flower-filled front entrance always made me think of the magic and glamour of a bygone era in Hollywood. The era that brought us stars like Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren, Katherine Hepburn and yes, Diana Knight.

You might recognize the name. Diana Knight had been a perky heroine in a series of big screen romantic comedies a few decades ago and, though it turned out her leading man had been gay, the public still loved her. In fact, there had been a recent nostalgic resurgence of interest in her movies. She was still perky, at least in the personality sense.

In the physical sense, not so much.

Diana was a widow, I believe for the fourth time, having out-lived a college sweetheart, a fellow actor, a banker, and finally a business tycoon. She’d recently been keeping company with a local restaurateur though she claimed it wasn’t serious. She no longer acted but now used her considerable celebrity to advance her first love—rescue animals.

We’d met because Diana volunteered at the Laguna Beach Animal Rescue League, and I did, too. We were in the throes of planning the annual "Fur Ball” which was a "cough-up some cash” black-tie affair for the ARL. Diana had chaired the event for the past few years, and somehow this year I’d been roped into being her co-chair.

Being a co-chair with Diana meant there really wasn’t much heavy lifting involved because she had it down to a fine science. She and I had spent a day last week calling corporate sponsors and setting up the advertising, which in most cases Diana’d been able to get comped. It was near impossible to tell this woman no.

Since I was in the area, I decided to drop off the final ad copy I’d picked up the day before from the graphic designer. I thought it had turned out great.

The picture was a handsome Doberman in a tux waltzing with a classy Siamese in a ball gown under a title that said: "Fur Ball—Cough Up Some Cash for the Laguna Beach ARL” and then gave all the details of the event. It was a picture the graphic designer had manipulated via magic software, you understand. I can assure you no animals were embarrassed in the making of this ad.

I was sure Diana would love it but still this was her big event and so I wanted to run it by her.

I rang the doorbell and her housekeeper answered the door.

"Hello, Bella. Is Diana here?” I asked.

"No, I am sorry. She is not in at the moment. Can I give her a message?” The dark-haired beauty raised her soft musical voice to be heard over the cacophony of barking in the background.

Diana often took the more difficult rescue cases and at times had up to a dozen dogs in the house. Canine chaos.

"Bella, honey, I don’t know how you do it.” I patted her arm. "Would you give her this, please?” I handed over the ad copy.

Bella took the folder and promised to see that Diana got it.

"Tell her I’ll give her a call tomorrow.”

Back in my car, I waved at the Ruby Point guard, and then left the gated community. I turned in the direction of Main Beach. Heading down Broadway, I made a quick stop at Whole Foods, and then pointed myself toward home.

My home is an eclectic blend of styles. It’s nothing like my mama’s house, which is always ready for a feature spread in House Beautiful. My house is hardly ever ready for its close-up. Not because I hadn’t been raised right but because I basically didn’t care about fancy things. It was clean, it was comfortable, it was mine.

I walked in and kicked off my shoes.

Dogbert, my rescue mixed-breed mutt, bounded across the room to greet me. He’s part Spaniel, part Terrier, and parts unknown. He’s the most adorable mutt alive.

Always faithful, always thrilled to see me. He is the love of my life.

I sat on the floor for some serious puppy hugs and flipped on the TV.

I have an incredible view of the Pacific out my patio doors and an open floor plan that takes full advantage of it. I’d paid a pretty price for my gorgeous view but I’d never regretted it.

Promising a long walk later, I gave Dog a final tummy rub and got to my feet. The television in my family room is visible from my kitchen, allowing me to monitor what’s happening in the world as I prepare dinner. I use the term "prepare dinner” loosely.

I unpacked the organic mayonnaise I’d just purchased and opened a can of tuna. Sad, I know. Here I am within view of the ocean. You’d think I could get some fresh fish.

I was soon swarmed by Thelma and Louise, my two cats. I dumped half the tuna into a bowl and set it on the floor. Dogbert hurried over but was too late.

"None left for you, boy.” I smiled at his resigned sigh. Upstaged by the felines again.

National news shifted to local news and I listened for an update on the weather as I stirred some fresh cilantro and mayo into what was left of the tuna.

"Police are on the scene of what officers are calling an ‘unexplained death’ in the upscale gated community of Ruby Point.”

That got my attention.

Not just Diana and Kevin but practically all of the residents of Ruby Point are clients or acquaintances of mine.

A female reporter, in a long-sleeved business suit that was much too warm for Southern California, and a hairdo that was much too big for this decade, gave the live report.

"The body was found this afternoon and police are at this time going door to door speaking to residents. Officers have not yet identified the individual, but the investigation centers around the house you see behind me.”

I tried to see the home behind Big-Hair but couldn’t quite make out the property. The homes in Ruby Point are all so different and individual that if I could get a glimpse I might recognized it, but I just couldn’t see enough to tell.

The pounding on my door startled me. "Well, for cryin’ in a bucket! I’m coming and by the way I have a doorbell.” I stomped to the door and yanked it open.

The doorway was filled with the poster boy for People’s Sexiest Man Alive. I’m not often speechless, but short of asking if Christmas had come early, I was at a loss for words.

"Carolina Lamont?” His voice had a deep serious-as-a-heart-attack timbre.

"Yes.”

"Detective Judd Malone.”

Uh-oh. I was pretty sure this was about my earlier break-in. I wouldn’t put it past Mel to call the police. But for the Laguna PD to send a detective? Really?

"Do you have identification?” I asked.

He hadn’t offered a badge or an ID and though I didn’t truly think serial killers looked like Brad Pitt’s brother and stalked pet therapists, you just can’t be too careful.

He reached inside his jacket pocket and handed me a card.

Apparently business cards had replaced badges.

"May I come in?” He spoke awfully proper for a tough guy detective but, hey, I’m from Texas so it always seems to me that folks are puttin’ on airs.

I opened the door a bit further and he shouldered past me.

Judd Malone smacked of attitude. He wore black jeans, a black leather jacket and a chip on his shoulder. He scanned the room, his baby blues taking in my overstuffed couch, easy chairs and crowded bookshelves. Thelma and Louise, perched in the windowsill, replete with tuna, each opened an eye and then, unimpressed, went back to their beauty sleep. Dogbert climbed from his doggie bed, trotted over for a sniff, but then also dismissed Malone and went back to his nap.

"Can I get you something to drink?” Some southern hospitality is automatic. Even when you have an unannounced guest. Even a guest who might arrest you. "Coffee, coke, iced tea?”

He shook his head and continued his scan.

"Well, then. What can I help you with, Detective Judd Malone?”

"I understand you visited Kevin Blackstone today?”

Okay, maybe not about the brooch. "Yes, I did. What about Kevin?”

I had a really bad feeling about this.

"Kevin Blackstone is dead.”


 


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