Hound Dog Blues

Hound Dog Blues
Virginia Brown

February 2012 $13.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-097-8

In the land of the King, she is the queen of sleuths.




 
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Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt

She’s Named After A Motorcycle. Her Dad’s An Elvis Impersonator. Her Mom Talks To Spirit Guides.

Someone’s Kidnapped The Family Dog—Named King, in Elvis’s Honor. There’s a Ransom Note.

And Then Things Really Get Weird.

Memphis tour guide, Harley Jean Davidson, is about to enjoy a rare day off when her parents call with news that King, their border collie, has been dognapped. Harley Jean’s mom insists the culprit is Bruno Jett, their next door neighbor. Harley Jean would rather run over her own foot with a motorcycle than talk to him. He’s drop-dead gorgeous—with a dangerous attitude she’d like to avoid.

But King has to be rescued, so she sets off to find him. Harley Jean gets more than she bargains for when she finds a body, as well. Bruno Jett is definitely involved, but how?

The Memphis P.D. wants to pin the murder on Harley Jean’s Dad. Now it’s up to her to clear his name . . . and avoid becoming the killer’s next victim.

Virginia Brown is the author of more than fifty novels, including the bestselling Dixie Diva mystery series.

Reviews

"If you enjoy funny who dunnit stories this book is for you. I would love to read more books by Virgina Brown." -- Rhonda Laney, Readalot

Excerpt

One

"King’s been kidnapped.”

Harley Jean Davidson shifted her cell phone to her other ear and sighed. "Diva, what do you mean, kidnapped. Wouldn’t that be dognapped?”

Sitting in the drive-thru lane of the Taco Bell across the street from the buff brick building where she worked, Harley ignored the cashier leaning out the stainless steel window and kept sorting through a pile of change with her free hand.

"Harley,” her mother said, "this is serious. He didn’t come home yesterday. Your father’s beside himself.”

That seemed true. In the background, Yogi was yelling something about calling PETA to report the local medical school for abducting dogs for their research.

"Tell Yogi not to call PETA again,” she said quickly, "they’re getting tired of hearing from him. I’ll come by later.”

Leaning out of the car window, she deposited the exact change for her burrito supreme with extra salsa and cheese into the cashier’s outstretched hand. Fingers closed over the money, and the arm and cashier disappeared.

"You need to find King,” Diva said, and there was the slightest tremor in her tone that indicated her own distress. "He’s in danger. I sense great trouble if we don’t find him soon.”

Harley swallowed an exasperated sigh and said instead, "I have to stop by the office first, and then I’ll be right there. Okay?”

"Hurry,” Diva said plaintively. "We just got a ransom letter.”

"A ransom letter—for King?” Her voice went up on the last word, high-pitched and incredulous. "Who’d want that goofy dog?”

"Yogi.”

Oh yeah. That was true. Her father adored that maniacal mutt. Harley blew out a sigh and mumbled that she’d get there as soon as she could. It boggled her mind that anyone would willingly take a dog that gleefully dug holes in flowerbeds, dumped garbage cans, and—despite being neutered—went on regular romantic sprees through the neighborhood. Of course, taking the dog could be a form of protest against his depredations. That, she’d understand. After all, it wasn’t like her parents had money. Just the opposite. They lived in a small house her father had inherited from his parents when Harley was only fourteen, and eked out a meager living by selling junk and homemade kitsch at the weekly flea markets in the area. No, taking King had to be a protest of some sort. It was more likely the ransom letter was a list of demands, with keeping King inside a fence at the very top.

A car horn honked behind her, and Harley took the white sack being held out to her, and then shifted the Toyota into first gear. Jeez, she’d planned on taking the afternoon off. Now she’d have to deal with the damn dog. What a waste of sunshine on a dog that was probably in the holding pen at the Memphis Animal Shelter. Still, it wasn’t even noon yet and if she found him quickly, she could still manage several hours of sun and relaxation. Stress busters.

Cutting across eight lanes of traffic on Poplar Avenue took the nerve of a Navy Seal and the skill of a NASCAR driver, but she managed it, pulling into the parking lot of Memphis Tour Tyme offices without causing any wrecks or being seriously injured. She nosed the silver ’91 Toyota into the comparative shade of a hedgerow that ran along one side of the lot, and then sat back for a moment to think about her options.

She had to show up to look for the dog or guilt would overwhelm her, so it was a good thing she didn’t have a tour group this afternoon. As a charter tour bus driver and general flunkey, it was sometimes feast, sometimes famine. So she’d decided she’d bask in the sun to recover from the week before and rest up for the week ahead. Memphis in May was always a hectic time of year. This year she’d be ferrying people to or from the airport, to Beale Street and the annual world-famous barbecue, out to Graceland, and down to Jerry Lee Lewis’s home in Nesbit, Mississippi, and even down to Tupelo, Elvis’s birthplace. It wasn’t a bad gig, all in all, though on occasion—such as when she’d taken an entire Australian soccer team on tour—it’d get a little crazy. In mid-August, when thousands of Elvis fans descended upon Memphis and Graceland for the anniversary of Elvis’s death, tour groups ran three shifts and it’d be insane. The candlelight vigil on the anniversary eve would be the busiest night. A new job might be called for by then. Or maybe a convenient coma.

"Hey baby,” Tootsie greeted her when Harley stepped into the receptionist area offices on the second floor, "you’ve got some messages.”

Harley leaned her arm on the ledge a foot above Tootsie’s desk. "I’m just stopping by to go ahead and clock out for the day. Diva called. King’s missing again.”

Leaning back in his chair, Tootsie grinned. "It must be garbage day in their neighborhood. You know he likes to supplement Diva’s vegetarian cuisine with his own version of takeout.”

"Yeah.” Harley picked up the pink squares of handwritten messages and shuffled through them. "She claims she got a ransom letter for him this time. He’s probably being held hostage by Neighborhood Watch until they promise to keep him fenced.”

"Or he’s locked in Mrs. Trumble’s garage again.”

"Please. Even the thought of that crabby old lady makes my hair stand up.”

"Not today.”

She looked up and caught Tootsie staring at her hair. Annoyed, she raked a hand through the short blond strands, disgusted when it fell softly over her fingers. "Yeah, I know, I got up late and didn’t have time to gel it into submission.”

"That’s not necessarily a bad thing. You usually look like Rod Stewart in drag.”

Harley made a face at him. "Look who’s talking—the original drag queen. Wasn’t it just last weekend I saw you dressed as Julia Roberts?”

"And I was lovely.”

"Yeah, I have to admit, you really were. It’s humiliating that you’re more beautiful than most women. Not to mention that your boobs are bigger than mine.”

"It’s magic. I could show you a trick or two, if you like.”

She grinned back at him. "Thanks, but I’ll pass. I seem to remember you once telling me that it all has to do with duct tape, and I don’t think that sounds very comfortable. Or appealing.”

He wasn’t at all abashed. "Duct tape’s not too bad,” he said. Slender, with long auburn hair that he usually wore pulled back into a ponytail at work, he dressed in slacks and silk shirts during the day, but nights and weekends often found him in sequined gowns and full makeup, a stunning female impersonator who’d once opened for the rock band KISS at a local concert. While Thomas "Tootsie” Rowell was five seven, one hundred and fifty pounds to her five six, one hundred and twenty, he’d been known to borrow her clothes at times. Not often, however. Harley preferred jeans and tee shirts to silk and sequins.

"I’ll still pass,” she said in reference to the duct tape.

"At least you don’t have hair on your chest, baby.” Tootsie pulled the wire mouthpiece of his headset forward, and then punched at buttons on the phones. "That can be a real bitch. Good morning, Memphis Tour Tyme, how may I direct your call?”

Harley went down the short hallway to her office. It’d been a storage closet in a previous incarnation, but was now used by the drivers. There was just enough room for a desk with an old computer, a chair, and a bookcase. On the wall next to the door hung a metal box containing the security system brain. Below it was a small keypad similar to one out in the receptionist area. She’d hung a large mirror on the wall next to the box, more for the illusion of space than for any sense of vanity.

She hung the van keys back in their allotted spot, signed out her daily log, and considered taking home the schedule for the coming month before deciding against it. Her New Rules for A Peaceful Life specified that she not worry about tomorrow. Today was usually enough to give her stomach cramps. It was a personal rule she hadn’t made lightly. Leaving corporate banking for a job free of stress had been a matter of survival. So here she was, in her late twenties and burned out, but finally in a job she didn’t have to take home with her at night. It was a good trade-off—most of the time. At least, when she didn’t have to deal with her family it was.

Right now, she’d find that damn dog to appease her parents, then go home and relax.

In the short time she’d been inside, heat had built up inside her Toyota. It smelled like a Mexican restaurant when she opened the door, waves of bean burrito and salsa rushing out in a gush of air. Her stomach growled audibly. She slid into the driver’s seat, started the car and let it idle a moment while she rifled in the sack. Nachos and chips in a little plastic container sat at the bottom, and she pulled it out to sit it on the empty passenger seat, flicking up the top. Gobs of unnaturally yellow cheese oozed over the sides. She scooped it up with a salty triangle of chip and popped it into her mouth. Then she put the car in reverse, backed from the slot and nosed out into the traffic streaming down Poplar Avenue, a main city thoroughfare that angled east from the bluffs of the Mississippi River all the way into the next county.

Turning at the next intersection, she scooted down Highland toward the neighborhood and house where she’d spent her teen years, an older area of town on the fringes of the University of Memphis. She had her own place now, an apartment near Overton Park Zoo that was her refuge, but this area was a lot more familiar. It was a tidy little pocket of houses just across the railroad tracks from the sprawling university, with neat green lawns and big trees shading slabs of concrete sidewalk. During the years, the area had gone through several metamorphoses, from families to hippies to retirees. At the moment it consisted of head shops, tattoo parlors, a Catholic school and church, a music store and a McDonald’s, along with the hard-core older residents, an influx of college students, and young professionals buying their starter homes.

Harley knew many of the residents, though the inevitable changes drew the pocket tighter and tighter. It’d been home since she was fourteen. Nearly fifteen years was a lifetime. Long enough, she figured, to know where to find a renegade dog.

Most of the emptied garbage cans had already been removed from the curbs, but a few still stood with tops thrown back. A trail of broken eggshells, limp paper towels, coffee grinds, and other flotsam left behind by sanitation workers littered the curbs, but there was no sign of a black and white dog gorging on forbidden delicacies. Uneasy suspicion knifed through her, ignited by Tootsie’s reminder of her parents’ cranky neighbor: Mrs. Trumble.

Whatever it was that drew King to the old widow’s house might still hold true so she had to check, though if Mrs. Trumble had seen him first, King may well be on his way to the pound at this very moment. A quick turn down Spottswood took her to the two-story white clapboard house at the corner of Patterson, the scene of King’s worst crime to date. It looked quiet, with no sign of the dog or Mrs. Trumble. That could be good or bad. It was a toss-up.

Slowing down, Harley debated stopping and knocking on the door. Mrs. Trumble had taken out a restraining order on Yogi the month before, but it was restricted only to him and Diva and not to her. All because of that damned demented dog and a ’59 Chevy. Who’d have thought a dog could do so much damage in such a short time? Those old cars were built like tanks, even the seats, but King had been accidentally locked inside Mrs. Trumble’s garage with no way out and had made himself a nest in the Chevy’s back seat, tearing up most of the upholstery. Afterward, Mrs. Trumble had met Yogi on the sidewalk with a rake, and the problem escalated from there. Now there was a restraining order and ill will that made the two blocks between the houses seem much closer.

Still... what would it hurt to ask the old lady if she’d seen King?

"What the hell do you want?” Mrs. Trumble greeted her through the screened door, and Harley dredged up a smile that she hoped was placating.

"Uh, I just thought I’d ask if you’ve seen my father’s dog, as he’s—”

"No.” Mrs. Trumble glared at her over the top of her rimless glasses. "And you tell your father that I’m calling the cops on him.”

Harley took a step back. "Why would you do that? I’m just looking for King, and—”

Shaking with fury, Mrs. Trumble fumbled with the door latch, hand quivering and gnarled fingers plucking at the metal hook. The door popped open and Harley leaped back as stiff yellow broom straws poked at her. The old lady’s white hair frizzed wildly around her head, and her eyes were narrowed and bright blue behind her bifocals.

"All that money,” she screeched, "I’m gonna sue!”

"All right, all right,” Harley said hastily, and retreated across the yard and toward her car parked at the curb. "Jeez, it’s not like Yogi didn’t pay you for the damages.”

When it looked like Mrs. Trumble intended to follow her with the broom, she got into her car and slammed the door, hitting the electric locks. Amazing how much agility and energy little old ladies could have. Age hadn’t slowed Mrs. Trumble down any—she looked like exercise guru Richard Simmons if he dressed in a blue flowered house dress and clunky, sensible shoes.

Mrs. Trumble apparently intended to be sure Harley didn’t linger. She whacked the Toyota with the broom a few times, just to speed Harley on her way. Crazy old bat.

"You tell your father I’m gonna call the cops on him,” Mrs. Trumble yelled as Harley got the car started, "and then he’ll be sorry he messed with me.”

The car lurched forward as she shoved it into first gear, and she took the corner so fast the jogger on the curb was just a blur. She saw no sign of King in the two blocks to her parents’ house on Douglass, and by the time she parked out front, it had occurred to her that Mrs. Trumble seemed too irate to still be griping about her now refurbished car. Had something else happened?

Yogi just blinked at her when she asked him that question. His worried green eyes went wide and innocent. "I don’t know what you mean.”

"Oh God,” Harley said, and tossed her backpack to an overstuffed chair. "I have a feeling you know very well what I mean. Did you violate the restraining order?”

Yogi spread his arms out at his sides. "Now Harley, why would I go over there?”

Hands on her hips, she stared hard at him. Tall, rangy, with a potbelly not very well hidden under a ragged tee shirt that said Flower Power over a screen-print of marijuana plants, her father still resembled the cartoon bear of Jellystone Park fame for which he’d been nicknamed by his peers some time in the sixties. Shabby sandals and a pair of cutoff jeans that brushed his knobby knees completed his customary attire. Gray-streaked brown hair framed his angular face, short on top, long on the sides and with a ponytail down the back. Stylish.

"I don’t know,” Harley said, "why would you go there? Looking for King, maybe?”

Yogi raked a hand through his hair so that it stood up atop his head like a rooster’s comb. "Well, I was out looking for him yesterday, but that was before we got the letter this morning.”

Diva appeared in the doorway to the kitchen. Tiny bells tinkled on her long skirts, and her pale blond hair was pulled back and held in twin ponytails by strips of ribbon edged with tiny bells. At fifty-two, Deirdre "Diva” Davidson was still a classical beauty, with high cheekbones and a straight, slim nose. She looked like Bo Derek and acted like Sylvia Browne. And her wide, cornflower blue eyes also had some magical power to render Harley motionless. How daunting.

"It’s true, Harley,” she said. Her husky voice drifted across the living room cluttered with balls of yarn, half-finished dream catchers, burning incense, and chunks of crystal and wire atop tables and the slipcovered couch. Hound Dog by Elvis played on their CD player. Yogi must be really stressing. An Elvis fanatic, even his dog was named after the late singer, King referring to Elvis’s nickname as The King. Now Yogi played his favorite Elvis song while Diva added from her pose in the doorway, "King’s been missing since yesterday. I sense darkness, anger, and even... danger.”

Melodramatic to the core, that was Diva.

"All of that follows King wherever he goes,” Harley said flatly. "The dog is a menace. I’m amazed no one’s shot him yet.”

"This is different. He’s been abducted this time.”

Diva glided toward her. It was spooky how she could do that, and how her naturally husky voice could get even lower, blending a tinge of mystery like Harrison Ford in drag. She stopped in front of Harley and held up a folded sheet of paper and an envelope.

"All right. Let me see the letter.” When Diva held it out, Harley took the sheet of typing paper and flipped it open, expecting a notice from the city animal shelter. Crude letters cut out of magazines and newsprint met her startled gaze:

BrINg WHaT YOU KnOw We WaNT Or ThE DoG diEs

Do iT Or YoU GEt YoUR DOg BAcK A LItTLE At a TimE

A huge clump of black and white dog hair clung to some of the pasted letters. "Oh, this is stupid,” Harley said irritably. "It must be some kind of kid’s prank. What do you have that anyone could possibly want?”

"Nothing.” Distress mixed with anger in Yogi’s voice, and he flapped his arms in the air in frustration. "There’s no reason for anyone to take my dog.”

While she could think of a dozen different reasons, Harley stuck to diplomacy. "Did you see who left this letter? Where’d you find it?”

"It was in the mailbox on the front gate,” Diva said, "but I don’t think the mailman left it.”

"Well, he’d certainly have a strong motivation to see King gone since he gets chased every time he delivers the mail,” Harley pointed out.

"It’s the cheese,” Yogi said indignantly. "He’s always delivering some kind of Cheese of the Month Club to old man Burbage down the street, and King can smell it in his bag.”

"Still, he’s had to Mace King twice just to deliver your mail. Why do you think the post office no longer delivers to the front porch like they used to? Never mind—that’s not the issue here. This may be a prank, or someone’s trying to make a point. Did you talk to the neighbors? You know Mrs. Shipley sees, knows, and tells everything that happens within a two mile radius.”

"Not this time,” Diva said with a shake of her head that set the tiny bells tinkling. "But our new next-door neighbor is involved somehow. It’s not his fault. Destiny brought him here. Still, it’s really too bad Mrs. Sherman had to sell her house and go into the nursing home.”

Harley stared at her mother. There were times that Diva’s belief in karma and her psychic abilities was more irritating than enlightening. In fact, most of the time. It didn’t help that she was right often enough to validate those beliefs.

"Bruno Jett has King,” Yogi said with a dark glance out the front windows as if their new neighbor skulked on the front porch. "He has to. He’s made some threats before.”

That wasn’t good—she’d met the new neighbor. Bruno Jett was tall, dark, and dangerous in a good-looking, rough sort of way. "Threats? To you?”

"No,” Yogi said, "but he did threaten King.”

"Oh, well, that’s understandable.”

"And he had a gun.”

"That’s not. Damn, Yogi, why didn’t you tell me about this before now? No one should be allowed to go around waving a gun at people.”

"He wasn’t exactly waving it, Harley, but I saw it. And he did say my dog was a menace and I needed to keep him up before there was trouble.”

"Oh.”

"You’re supposed to go talk to him, Harley,” Diva said softly.

Eying her mother, Harley bit her tongue to keep from asking why. She was sure she didn’t want to know. Not that it did her any good. Diva reached out to take her hands, holding them snugly between her palms. Heat radiated from her long graceful fingers. Her eyelashes fluttered, a precursor to one of her psychic conversations that were usually obscure and always irritating.

"My spirit guides tell me that there’s a strong connection with him and King’s abduction. I believe it’s ordained that you speak with Mr. Jett.”

"No, I don’t think so.” She pulled gently free of Diva’s grasp, but managed a smile. "Tell your spirit guides to stop meddling.”

"Rama and Ovid don’t meddle, they advise.” Diva smiled back to show there were no hard feelings. This was a familiar argument. "Speak to Mr. Jett. I think it’s vital.”

"If you’re looking for a confession,” Harley said, "I doubt you’ll get one. If anybody took King, it’s probably Mrs. Trumble. Why is she still so mad after you paid for her car’s repairs? Are you sure you haven’t been back down there?”

"Maybe just a little,” Yogi said after a moment, and his face crumpled. The Elvis CD changed to New Age pan pipes and bells. "King was gone all night. I thought maybe he’d gotten locked in her garage again somehow.”

"Oh, Yogi.” Harley shook her head. "She’s probably calling the cops on you right now.”

"Call Bobby. He’ll help us out,” Diva said, then turned to Yogi and took his hands in hers much as she had Harley’s only a moment before. A look passed between them that made Harley feel invisible. There were times still that they were more like the runaway teenage lovers they’d once been, rather than middle-aged and holding on to the comfort of a world that had long since passed from the scene and become questions for Trivial Pursuit games.

"I don’t think Bobby will get involved,” Harley said, "He’s a homicide detective. I can’t ask him to look for a dog. But I can ask him if Mrs. Trumble has filed charges again.”

Really, there were times her parents asked too much of her. Calling Bobby was one thing. They’d been friends since they were both kids, and he was familiar with her parents’ eccentricities. Bruno Jett was an unknown entity, however. He hadn’t been especially friendly since he’d moved in last month, barely acknowledging Diva’s neighborly overtures. Not that she blamed him there. Diva’s idea of being neighborly involved principles of feng shui and an offer of a tarot reading. It could be daunting to the uninitiated. To be fair, Jett looked like he could use some good advice, or at least a shove in the right direction.

"So, you’ll go talk to Mr. Jett, won’t you?” Diva said. "Just to set Yogi’s mind at ease.”

"I don’t think he’s home,” she lied, hoping for the best. She needed a distraction, anything to get her out of this, but before she could invent one, the front door swung open and her younger brother arrived home from his morning classes at the university. Reprieve.She actually smiled at him.

Slouching into the living room, tall and lanky and almost too thin to cast a shadow, Eric blinked in surprise at her obvious pleasure in seeing him.

"Hey chick.”

"Hey dude.”

Their standard greetings over, she eyed his hair with interest. It was bright blue, almost matching his sleepy eyes. An improvement over last week, when he’d dyed it purple.

"You’ll be bald before you’re thirty if you keep abusing your hair,” she said next, and he shrugged.

"I’m thinking of shaving my head anyway.”

"Great. Another interesting look. What’s that?”

He lifted his hand, stared down at the chain with neon green plastic strips woven into the metal links, then said as if just remembering, "Oh yeah. I found this on the curb in front of scary dude’s house.”

Yogi’s hand shook slightly as he reached for it, and Harley recognized the shape of the required rabies tag on its S hook dangling from the end of the chain. Uh oh. This could not be good.

"It’s King’s,” Yogi choked out, fingers closing on the chain. "So Jett does have my dog.”

All eyes turned to Harley.


 

Two

"Maybe King just lost his collar,” she suggested, but not even she believed that. "It could be true. It could. Really.”

It was obvious they thought otherwise. Yogi turned toward the kitchen, and Harley heard him mutter something about finding a tire iron. Alarm bells rang in her head.

"Uh, Yogi, I hope you remember you’re a pacifist,” she called after him, but the slamming of the door leading to the screened porch was his only reply. Oh holy shit, she thought, and gave her mother a pleading glance.

"Perhaps you’d better talk to him,” Diva said softly, and Harley wasn’t sure if she meant Yogi or Bruno Jett, but decided not to take any chances. Yogi first, then Jett only if she had to. Her brother was right. The man really was kinda scary.

Harley glanced toward her brother for help, but he was already on his way to the kitchen. Private moments eluded him, as he dwelled in a world of art classes at the university and his own diverse entertainments, which usually included a baggie of weed at some point. His real name was Eric but his friends called him Toke, for obvious reasons. He’d be no help, that was plain.

She found Yogi in his workshop sorting through piles of discarded wire and coffee cans full of the crystals Diva used to make her dream catchers, beaded jewelry, and sun catchers for the windows. They took the stuff to the local flea markets every week or so and made a tidy sum that Yogi then hid somewhere. His trust in banks was on par with his trust in the Federal government—at a very low level. If not for the fact he’d inherited this house from his parents, they’d probably still be living in communes out in California.

Communal life was a memory she’d tried hard to forget, but occasionally it reared its ugly head at unexpected times. Tarantulas stood out vividly in her mind, as did foraging rats as big as raccoons, and a near-fall from a high cliff while looking for the outhouse in the dark. The move to Memphis had been one of convenience for her parents, and an Act of a Merciful God for her. She thrived on things like clean sheets and indoor plumbing, even though Diva had never seemed to mind having the stars for night-lights. But Yogi had been as glad as Harley to move into a real house, she thought, and seemed happiest making his metal sculptures and jewelry out here in his workshop behind the garage.

"Hey,” she said, and Yogi glanced briefly up without pausing in his search through wire, crystals, and half-finished pieces of jewelry, "what are you looking for?”

Empty McDonald’s hamburger wrappers fell onto the floor from the big plastic trash can, and he picked them up quickly and stuffed them back into the bin. So much for sticking to Diva’s vegetarian regime. No wonder he liked hiding out here so much, with King always at his feet hoping for crumbs, no doubt. A couple of closet cow carnivores.

"A weapon,” Yogi muttered. He stopped when he found an iron bar as thick as his thumb. Anger flickered in his eyes. "Someone took my dog. If it wasn’t the new guy next door, then who’d do such a thing?”

"I don’t know, but I’d say Mrs. Trumble’s a pretty safe bet.” She let Yogi absorb that for a moment, then added gently, "If you’ll stay here, I’ll go talk to Jett first. Okay?”

After a tense moment, he nodded. "Okay.”

"Good. Give me the tire iron.”

"It’s part of a hydraulic jack,” he said, but handed it over and she tucked it under her arm with a relieved smile. Most of the time Yogi adhered to his pacifist leanings, but as there had been a few notable exceptions that were still sharp in her memory, there was no point in taking any chances. Especially when it came to his dog, a maddening creature with absolutely no redeeming qualities that Harley could see—save for inspiring such intense devotion from her father.

That knowledge sent her tromping through the front yard a few moments later. This small section of real estate comprised Diva’s ecological statement. Crabgrass, dandelions, chickweeds, and nutsedge grew right along with four o’clocks, asters, purple coneflowers, and cannabis. The latter was cultivated in the backyard, lovingly tended right next to the tomato plants. Salsa with a real buzz, another holdover from the sixties counterculture.

While the Davidson house on Douglass was comfortable, a bungalow style built in the thirties, with a wide front porch, thick stone columns painted white, and a stained glass transom over the front door, Mrs. Sherman’s former house was smaller, a two bedroom deal with wrought-iron bars on the front windows, and a small front porch.

The last time she’d been on this porch had been to retrieve poor Pooky for reburial in Mrs. Sherman’s back yard after King had thoughtfully dug up the dead cat and put it on her porch—an event that had immediately preceded Mrs. Sherman going into a nursing home. But then the door windows hadn’t been blacked out like they were now. It looked a little eerie. Some kind of dark curtains hung in the front bay window, as if Bruno Jett didn’t want anyone peering in, not even the sun. What was he, a vampire?

Dredging up her rapidly flagging courage, she opened the screen door to rap sharply on the front door. Nothing. She used the brass door knocker. The sound seemed to echo through the house. He had to hear it if he was home. She knocked again. Hope flared. Maybe she’d been right after all and he wasn’t home. Maybe he was having trouble getting the coffin lid up—

The front door jerked open. Not exactly short herself, Harley had to crane her head way back to see his face. Her eyes widened, probably looking a glow-in-the-dark green by now.

He stared down at her with a scowl normally reserved for someone finding a bug on their fried bologna sandwich. Or half a bug. It took her back, but she didn’t intend to leave without at least asking about King.

"Mister Jett,” she said in an embarrassing squeak that made his eyebrows go up, "have you seen the dog that belongs next door?”

It was difficult to stay focused on his face. Not only was she getting a crick in her neck, but she was far too aware that Bruno Jett was one nice hunk of masculinity. He had a chest and broad shoulders that were unencumbered by any hint of a shirt, a washboard set of abs she’d only seen on TV commercials, and stonewashed Levi’s unsnapped at the waist and suggesting even more raging masculinity below a nonexistent belt. Jeez, at close proximity, this guy was sexy enough to give her night sweats for a month.

As she’d expected, he denied seeing King. His voice seemed to come from his toes, deep and raspy: "Not since I chased his ass away from my garbage cans.”

"Was that recently?”

"Yesterday. Can’t you keep him inside a fence?”

"He’s very resourceful. So, you haven’t seen him today?” Bruno Jett made her fidgety. He had black hair in need of a trim, a beard-shadowed jaw line, and dark blue eyes that seemed to see things she didn’t want him to know. Like the way her heart had started beating double time and her breathing went shallow. Lean, hard muscle seemed to do that to her lately. She really needed a steady boyfriend. It’d been way too long.

Straightening from his lazy slouch against the doorframe, he shook his head. "I don’t keep up with neighborhood pests. That includes my next door neighbors.”

Her brows snapped down over her eyes and she opened her mouth to say something sharp, when a sparkle of rainbow light behind him caught her attention. She stood with her mouth open, coherence vanishing like smoke.

A pile of glittering stones lay heaped in the middle of his coffee table, gleaming in the light through the open door. Necklaces and bracelets—diamonds, sapphires and emeralds, all winked in the shaft of sunlight that warmed a black velvet cloth on which they lay. It took a moment for her sluggish brain to absorb the implications, and by then Bruno Jett obviously came to the conclusion that she’d seen more than he liked.

His hand closed on her wrist and he yanked her close, the screen slamming against her. He towered over her, a wall of muscled intimidation that left her reeling and scrabbling for a way to get out of what could be more trouble than she’d anticipated.

"What do you really want?” he demanded harshly, his eyes narrowed and spearing her with accusation. "You didn’t come here looking for a damn dog.”

Yunh huh, she wanted to say, yet though the spirit was willing, nothing emerged from her mouth but a whoosh of air. And worse, as if drawn by a magnet, her eyes kept straying to the coffee table and pile of glittering jewels, despite her efforts to pretend they didn’t exist.

He still held her wrist trapped in one hand, and he gave her a little shake. "Well? What’s up with you?”

The shake dislodged the strange paralysis of her tongue, and she said, "There’s nothing up with me, but I don’t think you can say the same thing.”

"Yeah? How d’ya figure that?”

Pulling free, she rubbed at her wrist, feeling a little better when he crossed his arms over his chest and abandoned brute force. Momentarily distracted by the smooth flex of tanned muscle on his bare chest, her eyes crossed and her lungs emptied of air. Wait. He’d asked her something, and seconds ticked past while she tried to marshal her thoughts into a semblance of coherence. Oh yes. He wanted to know why she thought he was up to something.

Taking a deep breath, she said, "Well, that pile of stuff on your table, for a start.”

For a minute he just stared at her with narrowed eyes and his mouth thinned into a tight line. Tension vibrated in the air, and she had the uneasy thought that she’d made a grave error in judgment. Oh damn. Was that the butt of a gun sticking up from the back of his Levi’s? Why hadn’t she kept her mouth shut and pretended not to see anything?

Then Jett relaxed a little, apparently deciding she was harmless. "Yeah, well just so you don’t get any wrong ideas, it’s costume stuff. Cheap knockoffs.”

She glanced again at the coffee table. In the dim light, the jewelry certainly looked real, but she wasn’t exactly an expert. That didn’t explain the gun, however. Was he licensed to carry concealed? Was it considered concealed if he was in his own house? Did she really want to know?

"Okay,” she said, ready to be agreeable at all costs, "I didn’t know you’re a salesman.”

"So now you do.” He reached behind her to push the screen door wide. "I also like my privacy. Do us both a favor and remember that. And don’t come snooping around here anymore.”

Common sense prompted her to accept his invitation to depart and she did so, but with a parting shot once she was safely in the front yard again, "If you’ve done anything with King, you’ll be sorry.”

His reply was a derisive snort and slamming of the door. She heard the bolt shoot home with a loud click. Interesting. And if he was a jewelry salesman, she was Nancy Grace.

At any rate, she’d eliminated him as a suspect in dognapping. He definitely wasn’t the kind of man to send hokey ransom notes. Now she had to call Bobby in case Mrs. Trumble had already contacted the police to file a complaint. As a detective in the West precinct, Bobby might be able to head off any major problems. Unfortunately, he could also be cranky at times, and a challenge to motivate. But first—she had to deal with her parents.

"So what are we going to do now?” Yogi asked, pausing in his relentless pacing to fix her with a tragic gaze when she told them their neighbor didn’t have King.

"We aren’t going to do anything, Yogi. I’ll see what Bobby suggests, okay? Just give me some time. I’ll find King, I swear I will. No one will keep him too long.” Without strangling him, she added silently, but knew better than to even hint at that fate.

He looked relieved. "Okay. So you’ll go down to Trumble’s house to look for him, too?”

She hesitated, then nodded. "Yeah, I’ll go down there. If she’s got him, I’ll call Bobby. So you stay here and don’t go back down there.”

"Sure.”

"And don’t go next door, either,” she added, a little suspicious at his quick capitulation. "Promise me.”

"I promise, Harley. I won’t go next door.”

"Next door being Mrs. Sherman’s old house—say it.”

A little peeved, he repeated it just as she insisted, and she gave a satisfied nod. Now she’d committed herself to one more visit to Mrs. Trumble, but it saved a bushel of trouble.

When she drove up, a big black Lincoln was parked in the driveway leading to Mrs. Trumble’s one-car garage in the back yard of the house, and Harley sat indecisively for several moments. The old lady had been unpleasant enough alone. With reinforcements, she could get downright nasty. Maybe now wasn’t such a good time. Jeez, what a coward she was, afraid to face a little old lady with a hefty swing.

Well, maybe a trip to Bobby first to find out if charges had been filed was the best course of action for the moment. It beat the heck out of dodging a broom.

"You gotta be kidding.”

Bobby Baroni looked at her like she was nuts. It was a look with which she was familiar, and Harley patiently tapped a finger on the sheet of paper.

"The person who sent this is serious.”

Bobby smoothed out the paper she’d brought in to the West precinct on Union Avenue. It was crudely done with letters clipped out of newspapers and magazines, a parody of every bad TV program ever shown. "This is stupid,” he said, the expert opinion of a Memphis detective.

"Not to Diva and Yogi.”

"Yeah, well, your family’s never been wrapped too tight.”

"Is that an official opinion?”

Bobby gave her another "you gotta be kidding” look and forbore an answer. Just as well. She pretty much knew some people suspected her parents were kooks. And Bobby Baroni was in the unique position to confirm that suspicion. After all, he’d practically lived at her house when they were horny adolescents, despite his strict Catholic parents’ every effort to keep him home.

"So, Mrs. Trumble hasn’t filed any charges against Yogi?” she asked.

"Not since the last time. He hasn’t been down there again, has he?”

Ignoring that, she said, "Look, Bobby, Yogi’s threatening to track down the person who has King. Do you really want to risk the mayhem he could cause if he runs amuck?”

"Shit.” Bobby looked disgusted. And a little bit worried. "How serious can this be if they aren’t asking for anything?”

"But they are. Look.” She dragged a finger over the pasted words in the first line:

BrINg WHaT YOU KnOw We WaNT Or ThE DoG diEs

"So what the hell do they want?”

"Damned if I know. Yogi says he doesn’t know either.”

"Bring it where? Harley, this letter doesn’t say anything. It was probably written by kids, or someone who knows that the dog’s missing and is trying to get something from your parents.”

"Like what? Jeez, Bobby, what could they have that anyone could possibly want?”

"Not a damn thing that I can think of, unless they’re growing opium in the back yard, too.” A pointed reference to the fact that he knew about the wacky weed growing beside the tomatoes. "But it’s probably just a way to get rid of the dog. It could be any of your neighbors.”

"True enough. But what about this?”

She plucked a wad of black and white dog hair from the envelope. Bobby sneezed. She’d forgotten about his allergies.

There were things she did remember about Bobby, though. He still looked like the cocky kid he’d been when she first met him, although he’d grown taller and muscled up and wasn’t the gangly boy he’d been then. But he still had a thick head of black hair with a slight curl to it, and heavy-lashed brown eyes—the gorgeous looks of a movie star and the swagger of a rock star.

"What about it?” he said between sneezes. "It’s freakin’ dog hair, Harley.”

"It belongs to King. There’s a lot of it here.”

"How can you tell one clump of dog hair from another?”

"I can’t. But Yogi can.”

"So it’s dog hair. How bad can that be?”

"Read the last sentence. It has Yogi ready to go on a search and destroy mission.”

He squinted at the letter again.

Do iT Or YoU GEt YoUR DOg BAcK A LItTLE At a TImE

"Still sounds stupid. Just some kids playing a mean trick.”

Harley sighed. "You’re not going to be much use to me, are you?”

Bobby managed a watery grin. "Babe, you gotta know better. I can still be useful if you feel the need.”

Once they’d shared a very close relationship, but that was years ago, a trial-type thing that hadn’t worked for long. They’d both enjoyed each other and moved on without recriminations or regrets when the time came.

"What about Angel?” she asked, scooping up the dog hair and the letter and sticking it all back into the envelope.

"She has nothing against my old friends.”

"Maybe. Maybe not. She looks like she could be tough if she wants to be.”

"Hey, someone in her career has to be.”

"It’s hardly what I’d call a career, Bobby. She dances stark naked at Platinum Plus.”

"She’s not completely naked. The law requires that she wear shoes.”

"Oh yes, what was I thinking? And to answer your original suggestion, no, I don’t think so. We’ve both moved on.”

"Besides,” Bobby said, obviously still focused on Angel’s choice of career, "she’s not dancing anymore.”

"No? Is that good?”

"Yeah. I get private lap dances now.”

"Swell.”

"And the couch dances—”

"Listen Bobby, don’t say anymore. I don’t care for the unsavory images this conversation is conjuring up.”

He grinned. She suspected a case of arrested development. Maybe he was right and she hadstarted him on a life of sexual perversion. French kissing at fourteen was pretty erotic stuff.

"So you haven’t heard from Mrs. Trumble yet,” she said. "I thought she’d have called the cops on Yogi again by now.”

"That’s becoming a weekly thing. As long as he doesn’t violate the restraining order, he—oh damn. Don’t tell me.”

"Okay, I won’t. It’s probably best neither of us knows the truth. If you haven’t heard from her yet, expect a call soon. I’ll try to head things off, but you know how Yogi is about that dog. I can’t guarantee anything.” She folded the ransom letter around the wad of dog hair and stuffed it back into the envelope. Not looking up, she said, "What can you tell me about some guy named Bruno Jett? He moved into Mrs. Sherman’s house last month.”

"Is that a real name?”

"As far as I know.” She looked up then, smiling brightly to hide her motivation. It was always best to be cautious with Bobby. He often forgot old friendships and went all cop on her. "I just need to know if he’s the kind of neighbor that might make trouble.”

Or the kind who might be involved in fencing stolen jewelry. That made more sense than anything else she’d been able to think of since seeing that pile of jewels on his coffee table.

"What are you up to, Harley?”

"Why do you always think—”

"Hey. This is me, Bobby, you’re talking to. I’ve known you too long not to recognize when you’re trying to pull a scam on me. What do you really want?”

"Okay.” She leaned forward, voice lowering. "I’ve got a hot tip for you. Know all those home burglaries and jewelry thefts in East Memphis recently? I think Jett’s involved somehow.”

"You do.” Bobby nodded seriously, and the teasing light in his eyes had vanished. "And why would you think that?”

"Look, before I say anything, we need to make a deal here. I just paid off Wells Fargo for my motorcycle and that wiped out all my savings. Crime Stoppers is offering a nice cash reward. So, anything you find out, you have to share with me, as long as I gave you the info to follow up on. Deal?”

"Not in a million years. You tell me what you know, and if possible, I’ll tell you what I don’t mind you knowing.”

She sat back. "That’s not a deal. That’s extortion.”

"No, extortion is—”

"Don’t give me a damn definition, Bobby. This isn’t police cooperation. Never mind. I’ll just keep my information to myself and share it only with Crime Stoppers.”

"So, this Bruno Jett—you think he’s fencing stolen jewels?” Bobby scribbled something on a yellow pad, ignoring Harley when she protested, then asked, "What did you see or hear to lead you to that conclusion?”

"He had an emerald as big as a walnut stuck in his belly button when he was dancing naked on the front lawn.”

Bobby looked up at her. "Cute. Where’s your civic spirit?”

"Sitting in Wells Fargo’s vault. I need that reward, Bobby. I’m broke. You tell me what you know, and I’ll tell you what I know.”

He smiled. "Ah, I like my version of that game better.”

"I was fourteen. ‘You show me yours’ had more attraction then. Well?”

He considered a moment, then nodded. "Within reason. So talk.”

"He had a wad of jewels big enough to choke a mule lying right in the middle of his coffee table. He tried to tell me it was costume stuff, but it wasn’t.”

"How do you know that?”

"Costume stuff doesn’t have the same kind of sparkle. I’m sure I’m right on this, Bobby. Check him out. I’m willing to bet he’s got a record.”

"Loose jewels?” Bobby looked skeptical.

"No. Necklaces and bracelets—diamonds, sapphires, and emeralds. If the stuff is real, it’s worth a fortune.”

"And he just let you in to look at it?”

"Of course not. I knocked on his door to ask him if he’d seen King, and even though he tried to block the door, I... uh... looked around him and saw it lying on the table.”

"So, a jewel thief—or fence—sits in his living room with a fortune in jewels lying on the table, and opens the door wide enough for any stranger to see it? Doesn’t wash, Harley.”

She glared at him. "Well, maybe he was expecting someone else. Maybe he was stoned. Or maybe he’s just stupid.”

"Or maybe it was costume jewelry.”

She stood up, slinging her backpack over her shoulder. "Right. Thanks for the help. If this is how the MPD solves cases, it’s a wonder any crooks are ever caught.”

"Aw Harley, don’t go away mad.”

"I know—just go away. The least you could do is look up his name and see if he’s some kind of ax murderer living next door to my parents. Is that too much to ask?”

Grinning, Bobby shook his head and leaned toward his computer. "Guess not. Not that I expect to find him listed, but since his name isn’t that common... hm.” He’d been tapping away at the keyboard, and something flickered on the monitor screen. Light played over his face as the screen scrolled. Finally, he said, "You may be on to something.”

"Really? Oh, I just knew it. I’m right, aren’t I? Oh yeah, I’m right. Remember, share and share alike here. If this leads to a bust, I get the reward. I need it.” She smiled. "Maybe I’ll go back over there, sneak around and see what I can find out about Jett. That’d probably help out, wouldn’t it?”

Not taking his eyes from the monitor, Bobby just nodded absently. When he finally turned to look at her, his eyes were guarded. "Wait. No. Stay away from there, you understand?”

She blinked. "Why? Is he... that dangerous?”

There was a moment of taut silence, then Bobby said, "I’ll show you the printout.”

Harley didn’t know what to think when he gave her several pages listing charges that ranged from simple assault to embezzling and even theft. It wasn’t just unnerving, it was... well, disappointing. It wasn’t that Bruno Jett meant anything to her; it just seemed a waste, that’s all. A man with a killer body like his shouldn’t really be a killer. She looked up at Bobby to find him watching her with an appraising look in his eyes. She frowned.

Wait a minute... she’d seen that look before. It was his poker stare, the one he used when he had a pair of fours and was trying to bluff her down from a full house. She studied the papers again. There had to be a catch.

The name on the printout said Bruno Jett. The description looked the same, and he’d been arrested for fencing stolen jewelry. It had to be the neighbor. Yet... she flipped through pages and then looked up at Bobby.

"Where are the last few pages? It says there are nine pages, but there’s only six here.”

"There are only six pages.”

"Right. That’s why it says ‘one of nine, two of nine—’ don’t play cute, Bobby. Where’re the other pages? Why don’t you want me to see them?”

He stood up. "I’ve got to be in a meeting in two minutes. If you find out anything, let me know, and I’ll keep you posted if I hear anything.”

"You’re a lyin’ dog, Bobby Baroni. I can always tell when you’re lying.”

He smiled, plucking the pages from her hand as he turned her around toward the door. "I gotta go. So do you. Bye, Harley.”

Oh yeah. There was more to this than he was telling. But what?

When she reached her Toyota, she saw a ticket stuck to the windshield. Illegal parking. Where had that Reserved for Police sign come from? It hadn’t been there when she’d parked, she was sure of it. Damn. Since it was pretty unlikely the sign had been sunk in concrete in the half hour she’d just wasted talking to Bobby, the odds were pretty good she just hadn’t noticed it. Now she did. And obviously, so had a cop. Double damn.

What a great addition to her day. Now she had to tell Diva and Yogi the police weren’t going to get involved in King’s abduction. Like she hadn’t known that before she’d ever walked into the precinct.

It went just about like she expected.

Yogi stared at her in disbelief. "You mean they’re not going to do anything? Are these the same police who arrest citizens for littering and conducting peaceful protests? Shit, it’s just like living in Bosnia.”

"Exactly. But without the minefields and massacres.”

Ignoring Harley, Yogi turned away, shoving his clenched fist into his other palm. "My dog is going to be killed if somebody doesn’t do something. This is incredible.”

"Yogi, we don’t know that. If they were going to kill him, they’d have sent more than a clump of hair with the letter, don’t you think?”

"You must be able to do something, Harley,” Diva said calmly.

"Oh no, let her go. She doesn’t care if King is slowly hacked to bits by some madman.” Yogi choked slightly on the last words.

Harley sighed. "Do you have any idea what it is they want? The letter says you know.”

"How would I know? How would I know?” He looked a little wild with his hair straggling from a ponytail on his nape to frizz out around his head. "Anyone could have him. If it’s not Jett or Trumble, who could it be? I may never see him again. You’ve got to find him!”

"All right, all right, calm down. Jett doesn’t have him, so I’ll go talk to Mrs. Trumble again.”

"No,” Yogi said quickly, putting his hands in the air palms out. "Stay away from there. She... she’s crazy.”

"She’s always been crazy. She’s a neighborhood legend. Don’t worry. I’m used to cranky citizens. I have Mace if she gets too violent.”

"Harley—” He paused, staring at her, his eyes white-rimmed and dilated. She frowned at him when he shook his head, his arms falling to his sides. "King’s not there.”

Alarmed, she said, "You went down there again?

"It doesn’t matter. Someone else has him. They have to. Diva’s seen things.”

Harley’s attention shifted to her mother. Diva stood with her hands clasped in front of her, a calm expression on her face. "I’ve made a psychic connection, Harley. King is in a dark place. Small, cramped... he can hear us but can’t see us.”

It took a supreme effort not to roll her eyes. Harley settled for saying, "So tell him to get his scruffy ass home.”

"He’s being held against his will.”

"Right.” She’d given up a sunny afternoon for this. There should be some kind of reward other than a pounding headache.

"You’ll rescue him,” Diva said after a moment. "I know you will.”

Maternal confidence. Or a major guilt trip. Harley sighed.

"I’ll try.” It was the best she could do under the circumstances.

When she left, she drove past Mrs. Trumble’s house again on the off-chance that the dog would be in the yard. The black car she’d seen earlier was gone, and the back porch light was on even though it wasn’t near dark yet. Afternoon shadows clung to the side of the garage, and limp towels still hung on the clothesline that stretched between two metal poles. It looked quiet and still. Too quiet for King to be there, that was certain.

She walked up to the back of the house, hopping over the cracks in the sidewalk with the weeds growing through, and opened the screened door. Several sharp raps on the door’s peeling paint managed to give her a splinter, but failed to summon the old lady. Probably inside calling the cops. Determined, she knocked again, harder.

"Enough is enough, Mrs. Trumble. Answer the door. I know you’re here. You’ve still got clothes on the line.”

When there was still no answer she rattled the door knob in frustration, and to her surprise, it swung open. She paused, considering. What was one more restraining order?

Two steps into the kitchen, she yelled for her again. "Mrs. Trumble. It’s Harley Davidson, and I’ve come to talk to you for a few minutes. Hey, Mrs. Trumble? You okay?”

No answer, just an odd sound like someone coughing. She inched further into the kitchen. It looked a mess. Dirty dishes were stacked in the sink and on the stove. The smell of turnip greens hung in the air, a peculiarly strong stench that she’d never gotten used to. It had to be something you grew up with to truly appreciate. A pot sat on the stove with the greens still in it. A black iron skillet of golden corn bread had been upended on a plate, with one pie-shaped wedge missing. A plastic prescription bottle sat beside it. She picked it up, frowning when she saw the label. Give one twice daily for sedation, it read. Now this was very interesting—and suspicious.

"Mrs. Trumble?” It was eerily quiet. The strange coughing sounded again, and she thought the old lady might be having some kind of fit. She eased through the kitchen to a dim hallway and called for her again, not wanting to sneak up on her and scare her into a heart attack. This time, when the strange coughing sounded, she realized it was more like a bark. A bark?

Her head jerked up. Pills for sedation—he was here. She called King’s name and this time the sound was distinct. A definite bark. She made her way down the hall opening doors, calling his name, and when she came to a locked door with frantic barking on the other side, she pulled out her trusty little metal pick. Those formative years helping Yogi in his work shop came in so handy at times, she thought, as she got it unlocked and open in a matter of seconds.

The first thing that hit her was the smell. The second was a black, white, and pink thing lunging at her, smelling like dog shit and deliriously happy to see her. Excited barks and whines filled the air. Staggering backward under the assault of canine joy and excrement, she managed to keep King from knocking her down. Barely.

"Down, you wretched mutt.”

He barked at her, turning in circles. He didn’t look so good. He looked like he’d been attacked by a bevy of boll weevils. A Border Collie mix, he had long shaggy hair. Usually. Now, huge patches of fur were missing, and pink bald spots as big as her palm splotched his body like crop circles. Other than that, he looked fine except for dried poop clinging to his back legs. Apparently his ordeal hadn’t curbed his exuberance. Relieved, she found herself grinning like an idiot. Stupid dog. She shouldn’t be so glad to see him relatively unharmed.

"Well, won’t Mrs. Trumble be surprised when she gets home to find her hostage missing,” she said to King, and he barked an excited agreement. "Yep, serves her right, the scary old bitch.”

She peeked into a room off the hall, but there was no sign of Mrs. Trumble. King raced down the hallway, barking dementedly. If she was here she was as deaf as a post, that was for sure.

"King,” she said severely when he disappeared into another room, "stop that. Come here. Come here, you goofy dog.” She followed him, grabbing at him when he skidded across the floor and up under a dining table. He barked again, spinning in a circle like a wind-up toy possessed by demons—Chucky’s dog. She resorted to cooing sounds to coax him closer, but he avoided her. She grabbed at him again, barely missing him as he raced past, barking crazily. She landed on her knees, swore loudly, and glared at the deranged dog still racing in circles. This wasn’t going well.

She looked around. The room was messy, with newspapers and magazines strewn on the table, and scissors lying on pages that looked like rats had chewed them. Drawers were open and stuff thrown on the floor like Mrs. Trumble had been in a hurry or looking for something. Big dark furniture squatted against the walls and in the middle of the floor. Musty light penetrated windows closed off by heavy drapes. It smelled old. Rusty.

King darted past again, barking his fool head off. This was getting ridiculous. She should have left him in the closet. Why on earth did Yogi love this insane creature so much? He was the most annoying animal she’d ever encountered.

"Come on, little shit,” she cooed, snapping her fingers, and when he came close, she made another grab for him but got only a fistful of hair. As if he had some to spare. "Okay, this is war,” she said when he darted past again. She got to her feet and waited, looking everywhere but at the dog, and when he made another circle through the dining room, tongue lolling out the side of his mouth and his eyes gleaming with joy, she lunged again, but tripped over a pile of old clothes on the floor near the wall. Falling flat this time, she banged her knees and elbows.

"Shit!” she yelped, glaring at the manic dog as he zipped past her again in another mad circle. Shoving her hands against the floor to rise, she kicked at the pile of clothes. It didn’t budge or yield. She turned to see why. Among towels and a blanket, was something familiar.

Oh shit. Her heart tripped into overdrive. She recognized that blue and white flowered dress. Last time she’d seen it, it had happened to be on Mrs. Trumble. It still was—on a very dead Mrs. Trumble.

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