The Girl with the Dachshund Tattoo

The Girl with the Dachshund Tattoo

Sparkle Abbey

October 2014 $13.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-466-2

The Pampered Pets Mystery Series, Book 6

 
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Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt

Back Cover Copy

She has to stay low. Ears to the ground. Danger’s nipping at her heels.

Mel’s tracking a killer in the world of racing dachshunds.

Wiener takes all at the Laguna Beach Dachshund Dash. Melinda Langston, owner of Bow Wow Boutique, and her quirky assistant, Betty Foxx, are on hand to root for their favorite racers. But before the starting gun goes off, hated dachshund owner, Richard Eriksen, is found dead, and gun-toting Betty is suspect number one.

Determined to clear Betty’s name, Mel quickly picks up the scent of the cutthroat world of Doxie racing. Cheating. Doping. Gambling. Controversy lies at every turn. It seems everyone has a secret—including Betty. The killer is hot on Mel’s heels. Can Mel expose the truth before the killer catches her?

Sparkle Abbey is the pseudonym of two mystery authors (Mary Lee Woods and Anita Carter). They are friends and neighbors as well as co-writers of the Pampered Pets Mystery Series. The pen name was created by combining the names of their rescue pets—Sparkle (Mary Lee’s cat) and Abbey (Anita’s dog). They reside in central Iowa, but if they could write anywhere, you would find them on the beach with their laptops and, depending on the time of day, with either an iced tea or a margarita. Visit them at sparkleabbey.com.


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Excerpt

Chapter One

WE WERE ABOUT to experience more waving, cheering, and crying than a TV audience during the crowning of Miss America.

Doxie Dash. Wiener Race. The Great Dachshund Derby. The name wasn’t important. The crux of all the events was the same: running dogs, excited families, squeaky rubber toys, frantically waved treats, and a mega trophy for the winner. True, a trophy is not as glamorous as a tiara, but we can’t all be beauty queens.

"Are you Team Zippy or Team Pickles?” Betty Foxx raised her grape- colored eyebrows expectantly. "I bet it’s going to be a real smack­down. Their bitter rivalry has been all over the news.”

Yes, you heard that correctly. Grape eyebrows. My eighty-some­thing assistant had yet to explain the occasional lipstick-painted eye­brows, and I’ve wisely refrained from questioning her makeup applica­tion process. I have my own hang-ups. Who am I to judge her eyebrows?

Our race, the Laguna Beach Dachshund Dash, was an outdoor event at the local dog park. With a smattering of food booths and a slew of pet-related vendors, playful contestants and pumped-up fans had plenty to do throughout the day. The aromas of funnel cake, chili, and deep-fried mac and cheese collided in the air. My stomach rumbled, craving for a sample of everything.

Betty had nagged me to donate the official doxie jersey, which is how Bow Wow Boutique ended up with a vendor booth for the first time since the race had arrived in Laguna three years ago. What can I say? I’m a sucker for an assistant in silk pajamas, pearls, and lipstick eyebrows.

She had insisted the event organizers promise to pitch our booth, a shelter canopy with three sidewalls to display merchandise, adjacent to the racing lanes. They weren’t as easily persuaded by Betty’s pleas as I was. We were nowhere near the track.

I stepped around my sleeping bulldog, Missy. She looked dead, stretched out on a small patch of grass, bathing in the morning sun. Don’t worry—she was alive and well, with a puddle of drool watering the grass. That dog could sleep through an earthquake.

I tossed a stack of lime canine jerseys on the display table and quickly separated them by size. The material felt a little thinner than I’d have liked, but, overall, the uniforms were darling.

"You do realize the feud is all media hype? Their rivalry is about ticket sales and money.” I tried to hide my amusement at her insistence that the two dogs were enemies.

Of all people, Betty understood the power of the almighty dollar. Her retail background and quirky personality had boosted sales for my pet boutique since I’d hired her last Christmas. The success had gone to her head. Now she was convinced she was the Rainmaker of pet accesso­ries. She concocted outlandish plans almost weekly, "guaran­teed” to generate more sales. I adored her, but she was a handful to manage.

"Not true,” she said. "The new reporter from Channel 5 News, Callum MacAvoy”—Betty took a breath long enough to shoot me her "hubba-hubba” face before she continued—"well, he’s been talking about the bad blood between them for weeks. At the last race, Pickles almost closed the gap, but Moby bumped Pickles out of bounds before they crossed the finish line. Pickles was disqualified, and Zippy was declared the winner.” Betty danced in place, about to burst the seams of her tiger-print silk pajamas any second.

I laughed at her outdated dance moves. "Are you done?”

She snagged a stack of size-small jerseys and stacked them at the far end of the table. "Who are you backing, Cookie?”

My name wasn’t Cookie. I’m Melinda Langston. Mel, to my friends. For reasons only known to Betty, she refused to call me by my name.

Unlike my spry assistant, I’m not as well versed in the drama of wie­ner racing. What few rules I knew would fit on a sticky note.

No running alongside your dog.

No loud horns or laser pointers.

The dog must cross the finish line within the boundaries and without help.

If Betty had the story straight, Pickles had a difficult time staying in bounds. Sounded like someone else I knew. I eyed my assistant, who stood with a hand on her hip, white sneaker firmly planted in the freshly mowed grass, waiting for an answer.

Oh, I almost forgot the most important rule. You have to pick up after your racer. I’m amazed at the number of people who "forget” that last one.

"If I have to choose, I guess I’m Team Pickles.”

Betty wrinkled her nose in disapproval. "You would pick the dog named after food. I’m Team Zippy. He’s the favorite. If I were a bettin’ gal, I’d put my money on him. A win today would be his fourth title in less than a year.” Betty scurried behind me to rearrange the display rack of collars hanging on the sidewall.

"What can I say—I love an underdog.”

Wiener racing was a little different than, say, horse racing or even greyhound racing. Wiener enthusiasts adorn themselves in over-the-top doxie-themed outfits, with an occasional superhero cape for added dra­matic flair. Winners break into victory dances, while geeked-out fans storm the grassy area to demand a photo op with their favorite racer. That’s the humans.

Then there are the dogs. Adorable low-riders with long, wiggly bod­ies, who race fifty yards toward their beloved human or favorite toy. As they sprint down the track, doggie tongues hang from their mouths, like Miley Cyrus mugging for the camera.

The majority of the pack has absolutely no idea what they’re doing and ends up plowing into one another, reenacting the Puppy Bowl. But there are a few true competitors who can concentrate on the finish line for more than eight seconds. They’re the ones who sprint down the field, all heart, for a photo finish.

That’s where my best friend, Darby Beckett, comes in. As the offi­cial Dachshund Dash photographer, her job was to document the win­ner of each race. The number of prima donnas who dispute the final results, certain their pup had won by a nose, would surprise you.

By the end of the day’s events, there will have been five heats, in three different weight classes, with one winner in each category: minia­ture, lightweight, and heavyweight.

Betty shoved an empty box under the table. "It’s almost nine. The contestants will arrive any minute.”

"Great. We’re ready for them.” I pushed a stack of extra-large jer­seys to the front of the table.

"Oh, make sure you’re here at ten o’clock.”

I stared at the faux innocent expression on Betty’s face. "Why?”

"We have an interview.”

Unpleasant memories of my last year in the beauty pageant world sprang to mind. I shook my head. "No. Not going to happen.”

Her grape eyebrows shot upward. "What do you mean ‘no’?”

"I don’t like reporters.”

In my experience, reporters were neither balanced nor impartial. Their goal was to tell a titillating story. Facts and truth were not neces­sary. To be fair, Betty didn’t know that my mama had "persuaded” a male judge to vote for me during my Miss America run. Nor did she know about the wacky publicity that had resulted from my melodramatic disqualification. If she had, she’d understand my distrust of reporters.

"She’s a filmmaker, Cookie. She’s shooting a movie. Besides, it’s free publicity.”

Bless Betty’s naïve soul. "Nothing’s free. We don’t even know what the film’s about.”

"What’s there to know? It’s a dogumentary. A wiener racing biopic. The Long and the Short of It.” Betty barked out a laugh and slapped her thin thigh in amusement. "That’s the best title.”

I groaned. "That’s an awful title.”

"When she comes around, I’ll do the talking,” Betty announced. "And don’t stare at her.”

"Why in the world would I stare?”

Betty tossed a sassy smile over her shoulder. "She’s not sexy like us.”

"Is that so?”

"She’s a behind-the-camera kinda person. Smeared eyeliner, ratty short hair, ripped jeans. You know, I should offer the poor girl pointers on her eyeliner.”

I ignored the comment about eyeliner. "Sounds like any eighties glam band after a long concert.”

Betty nodded excitedly as she moved the treat jars from the top shelf to a shelf at eye level. "So you’ve seen her?”

"How often have you talked to this filmmaker?” I resisted using air quotes, my skepticism obvious.

Betty patted my arm reassuringly. "Don’t you worry, Cookie. I’ve got it all under control.”

I’d experienced Betty’s version of control. Lord help us all. We were in trouble.

"HEY, MEL. THE booth looks great.” Darby’s blond curls brushed her shoulders. Her normally pale skin already sported a SoCal tan. We were dressed alike—jeans and the event T-shirt Betty and I had designed. The shirts had turned out great—a sunshine yellow material with the words "Wiener Takes All” in brown above a smooth-haired dachshund. All the vendors had agreed to sell the shirts, the profits to be donated to the rescue group, Doxie Lovers of OC.

As my best friend, Darby knew my drink of choice and handed me a chai tea latte from the Koffee Klatch.

"You are a lifesaver.” I inhaled deeply, savoring the aroma of carda­mom, cinnamon, and vanilla. "Where’s Fluffy?” Fluffy was Darby’s Afghan hound who has a superiority complex. I imagine she thought a doxie race was beneath her.

Darby slipped the strap of her soft leather messenger bag over her head, then laid the bag on the table. "I left her at home. This isn’t exactly her idea of a good time. Where’d Betty run off to?”

"She took Missy to check out the other vendors. Ensuring we can beat the competition. You know how she gets. The boutique never sells enough of anything.”

Darby sipped her favorite drink, a white chocolate mocha latte. "When are you going to tell her you don’t need the money?”

She referred to my "Texas money.” Montgomery family money I rarely touched, much to my mama’s displeasure. Mama would prefer I attended charity balls and wasted my days "stimulating” the economy by buying junk I didn’t need nor want. I preferred to work for a living.

I shrugged. "Not today. What have you been up to?”

She pulled her camera from her messenger bag. "Snapping candid photos. I got some great shots of the protesters. I found Zippy and Richard out front signing autographs. I thought I’d grab Betty and see if she’d like to join me.”

"Wait. Did you say ‘protesters’?”

She nodded, brows furrowed. "A dozen people with picket signs. One woman had a poster-sized photo of a dachshund racing in a wheel­chair. To be honest, at first I found the idea inspirational, but the longer I looked at the picture, it became a little... disturbing.”

"This is the first I’ve heard about any opposition to the race.”

"They’re part of a local animal activist group concerned about the pos­sibility of back injuries. As the popularity of racing grows, they think the dachshunds may have the same overbreeding issues as greyhounds.”

We sipped our drinks in silence. Darby took a couple of random pho­tos. I felt a little uncomfortable. I’d never given any of those con­cerns a second thought. Could that controversy be the impetus behind the dogumentary? I was about to ask Darby if she’d seen the filmmaker when I caught a glimpse of my trusted assistant.

"Here comes Betty,” I said.

We watched her stroll up the vendor aisle as she cast sly glances to­ward the other merchants. Missy waddled behind. With her short nose and bulky frame, she looked completely out of place around all the wie­ner dogs. The second Betty caught sight of Darby, she transformed into The Prancing Grandma.

"Darby, you’re slacking,” she announced. "As the official photogra­pher, you should be taking pictures of the booths. Start with ours.” She shoved Missy’s leash in my hand, then scooted around the table. She struck a pose in front of a rack of merchandise. "Make sure you get the sweaters. They’re on sale.”

Darby snapped pictures as Betty acted out her interpretation of a su­permodel photo shoot. I watched, amused, as I drank my breakfast.

"I saw Zippy,” Betty said. "I don’t like his owner. He tugged on Zippy’s leash and made the poor dog walk in circles, backwards. I think Zippy hurt his leg. I saw him limping. Instead of Ricky-Dicky being concerned, he yelled at him to stop whining. He made me so mad. I’ve switched teams.”

Ricky-Dicky? Since when had she started calling Richard Eriksen Ricky-Dicky? Betty suddenly struck an awkward wide-legged stance and threw a punch.

"He’s lucky I didn’t show him my new moves. You girls should have seen me in that self-defense class I took a few months ago. I was a rock star.” Betty acted out what could have been a scene from a Jackie Chan movie. Birdlike arms flailed in front of her face; her right knee jabbed the air.

"Boom.” Step. "Boom,” she shouted.

"Settle down, girlfriend, before you attack the rack of dog collars.” I guided her away from the merchandise.

"You don’t get it. If anyone pulls a gun on us again, I’m ready for them.” Betty struck a Charlie’s Angel stance, complete with clasped hands imitating a gun.

Last Christmas, Betty and I had been held at gunpoint, a life-changing moment for both of us. Apparently, she’d gone on the defensive, whereas I had decided to cross a line without thought about the repercussions. More on my poor decision later.

"That was a fluke,” I said.

"You don’t know that,” she insisted.

For everyone’s benefit, I’d better be right. "Let’s finish the pic­tures.”

"Stand next to the sign,” Darby ordered. "I want the boutique’s name in a couple of shots.”

"Good idea. Cookie, get over here.”

Betty’s previous kung-fu impersonation over, Missy and I reluc­tantly obeyed. I set my half-empty cup on the table.

Darby slowly lowered her camera. "Mel, where’s your engagement ring?”

Was the undertone of concern in her voice real, or had my own inse­curities surrounding my personal life made me oversensitive? That line I’d just mentioned? Well it involved my fiancé, Grey Donovan, and he couldn’t seem to get past my impulsive decision. He had every reason to be angry. I’d messed up. But that wasn’t the real problem. The real issue was that, presented with the exact set of circumstances, I’m pretty sure I’d make the same decision. Yeah, not good.

By the look on their faces, you’d think a hairy wart had bloomed on my finger. I resisted the urge to cover my bare left hand so they’d stop staring at it. If I were an accomplished liar, I’d claim wearing a six-carat sapphire heirloom to a wiener race wasn’t practical. But Darby knew I didn’t possess one ounce of practicality.

I settled for a half truth and prayed she would drop the subject. "I ac­cidently left it on the bathroom counter this morning.”

Darby placed her camera next to my chai. "There’s only been one other time you’ve been without your ring. Last year when you two ‘took a break.’ Is everything okay?”

I swallowed hard. "There is nothing for you to worry about.”

"Where is that sexy man of yours?” Betty yanked on the elastic waist­band of her pants, hiking them higher up. "I wore my new outfit for him. I got it off of that all-night shopping TV channel.”

I rubbed my ringless finger. "Grey flew to New York.”

Grey’s secret life as an undercover FBI agent had, by default, be­come my secret life too. What my friends and family believed to be gallery business trips were a cover for his real job.

He was actually in DC, preparing for a new white-collar case involv­ing counterfeit wine. By definition, white-collar crime (lying, cheating, and stealing) was considered nonviolent. In Grey’s case it was the under­cover aspect that created the danger—raids, arrests, and, frankly, desper­ate criminals who didn’t want to go to prison, and who had a tendency to act out in violent ways.

He’d promised me the most dangerous situation he’d come across while in New York was a hangover. I was holding him to it.

"He’ll miss the race. He sounded like he was looking forward to it,” Darby said.

He had been, until my little stunt. After that he looked forward to time apart to clear his head.

Thank the good Lord, Luis and his long-haired doxie, Barney, walked up to our table, saving me from further discussion about Grey and my missing engagement ring. Barney’s tail wagged double time when he noticed Betty.

"You’re the first to arrive.” I blinded them with my brightest smile.

Betty grabbed her orange clipboard from under the table and checked them off our list. Darby snapped a photo, and I handed Luis a jersey for Barney—an extra-large.

"Mel, the uniforms are great.” Luis was your average guy. He wore an event T-shirt with a pair of cargo shorts and sneakers. Nice, unassum­ing, and he loved his dog. Bless his heart. He didn’t hold Betty’s nagging about Barney’s need to drop a few pounds against either of us.

Betty bent over and patted Barney’s head. "You’re looking good.” She straightened and eyed Luis. "You still use too much of that dog cologne. He smells like a fifteen-year-old boy going out on his first date.”

Luis face reddened. "He likes it.”

"He stinks.”

She was right. Barney’s cologne overpowered any smell within twenty yards. My eyes watered a bit. "He looks like he’s lost a little weight. Has he been training?”

Luis rubbed his chin as he studied his dog. "A little. He has a lot of energy. He really likes to socialize with the other dogs. Running at the park seemed like a good idea.”

"Which heavyweight heat is Barney in?” I asked.

"The first one. We’re on our way there now. To check it out. Are you going to watch us race?”

"Absolutely,” Betty and Darby said in unison.

"Wouldn’t miss it,” I said. "Did you bring the fried chicken? He’s definitely motivated by food.” A character trait I could relate to.

Luis nodded, a huge smile split his thick lips. He patted the fanny pack hidden under his belly. "Right here. So, I guess we’ll see you there.” After a quick wave, Luis ducked his head, and the two made their way toward the west end of the field.

Betty shook her head in pity. "The minute Barney takes his eyes off that chicken he’ll forget all about the race and meander out of bounds.”

I wanted to disagree, but she was right on the money. Barney pos­sessed only one speed—distracted. The big guy wasn’t a natural competi­tor. He liked to roam, explore, and hang out with his pals. Fried chicken was his only chance at victory.

Within minutes, a line of contestants stood in front of our table. Happy chatter blended with excited barking as we processed the racers. Darby disappeared into the noisy crowd of humans and dogs to photo­graph the day. An hour quickly passed, and we’d handed out over half the jerseys. Presently, the line was only a half-dozen people deep.

Betty held her clipboard in front of her tiny body like a drill ser­geant. "Name?” she barked out.

"Pickles.” The man’s voice was as thick as his bulging biceps. I looked at the black-and-tan wire-haired dachshund he cradled gently.

I won’t lie; inappropriate jokes sprang to mind, one right after an­other. I pinched off the natural impulse to verbalize them.

"I got two dogs named Pickles,” Betty said. "One’s racing with the miniatures. The other must be you. You Lenny Santucci?”

Lenny looked like an angry frat boy who was minutes away from dis­covering his "brothers” were about to expel him due to anger misman­agement. I changed my opinion about Lenny and Pickles being the underdog.

"That’s right.” He adjusted Pickles so the dog rested on one gi­gan­tic forearm.

Betty scoffed as she checked his name off her list. She mumbled something inappropriate under her breath about a man naming his dog "Pickles.”

"Size?” I asked.

"Medium.” It was a dare, not a statement.

"There’s no way he’s a medium.” Betty pointed a boney finger at Pickles. "A large.”

"You tellin’ me my dog is fat?” Lenny leaned closer. His hips bumped the table, and his upper lip curled with intimidation.

Betty inched up on her toes, meeting him halfway, undeterred by his surliness. "I’ve seen fat dogs. Pickles is knocking on the door of tubby. Doesn’t matter, these things run small.” She grabbed the large uniform I handed her and held it toward him. "Here. If he can’t fit into a large, tell Cookie here. She’ll hook you up with a bigger size.”

I hid an amused smile. Betty always spoke her mind, unconcerned with what someone might think. And at her age, who wanted to stop her? Frankly, I was thankful she was finally comfortable pushing some­thing other than paw-lish. Even if it was free jerseys.

"Aren’t you the sweetest little guy?” Betty held out her hand for Pickles to sniff. "You’ve got winner written all over you.”

He squirmed to get closer to Betty as she tried her darnedest to pet the little bugger, but Lenny wasn’t cooperating. He kept his pooch just out of Betty’s reach.

Lenny jutted his chin. "That’s right. This time those pesky Eriksens and their juiced dog, Zippy, are going down.”

As Betty had mentioned earlier, Zippy was the three-time champ. I’d heard some scuttlebutt about a group of contestants who’d filed a lawsuit against the race organizers in an effort to force the judges to declare Zippy ineligible to give the other dogs a fair shake at the champion­ship. I’d dismissed the talk as pure gossip. Seriously, who sues over a wiener race? But Lenny presented a whole new level of crazy.

"What do you mean ‘juiced’?” I asked.

"Exactly what it sounds like. The Eriksens dope Zippy.”

Betty gasped, then quickly gathered herself and gave him the stink eye. "You got any proof?”

A million years ago, I’d come from the beauty pageant world. I under­stood true competition, and how the need to win could drive even the most honest person to color outside the lines. Even today, the desire to compete pumped through my veins.

But doping? Really? Well, that was one allegation I never thought I’d hear in conjunction with dachshund dashes. What did he think the Eriksens were doing? Slipping the dogs creatine shakes? Shooting them up with steroids?

Had our fun event turned into a bad reality show?

"I got plenty of proof. In fact, I sent the dogumentary filmmaker af­ter those cheaters.” His eyes gleamed with satisfaction.

Lenny Santucci didn’t seem like a guy above unleashing a little contro­versy in order to secure a first-place win. It was time to pick a new team.


 

 

Chapter Two

"YOU’RE A LIAR!” A tall curvy brunette shouted it from the back of the line.

Talk about a facelift gone awry. At one time she had probably been very beautiful woman. Today, she looked like ten miles of Texas back roads.

Gia Eriksen. One of Zippy’s owners. I recognized her from the pro­gram. She sliced through the mini-crowd in a preposterous pea­cock-colored jumpsuit. With each angry step, her spike heels stabbed the lawn. It sounded like she took exception to Lenny’s claim that she drugged her dog.

"No one believes your ridiculous lies,” she bit out, stroking her long mud-colored hair. She pursed her lips and tsked. "Speaking of ridicu­lous, Pickles looks a little sad.”

I looked at the tail-wagging pup gently cradled in the crook of Lenny’s arm. His brown eyes sparkled and his ears perked up at the sound of his name. The dog. Not the owner. Pickles looked particularly joyful. Lenny, on the other hand, radiated frenetic energy.

He pulled Pickles back in a protective move. "Shut. Up.”

Going out on a limb here, but I got the feeling these two didn’t like each other.

Gia smiled wickedly. "Oh, I’m sorry. Is he still depressed about sec­ond place? Again. For the fifth time?”

"I’m warning you, lady.”

"You wouldn’t be interested in a friendly wager on the race would you? No, I guess you wouldn’t. When are you going to learn? Your dog’s a loser.”

Lenny’s pooch suddenly yelped. Missy, who’d been snoozing under the table, lifted her head and barked.

"You’re squeezing your Pickles.” Betty lunged across the table. I quickly grabbed her by the waist and held her back as she wiggled to get free.

What the heck? "Put down the dog,” I ordered.

Lenny snapped out of his dark thoughts, and set Pickles on the grass.

"I’m watching you.” Betty wagged a finger at Lenny.

"Will you behave?” I asked my assistant.

She grunted something unintelligible under her breath. I took it for an agreement to calm down. Assured she wasn’t about to start a riot, I released her. Missy ambled out from under the table to view the action. I shooed her back to her resting spot.

Gia’s pouty lips turned in Lenny’s direction. "Poor Lenny. Have you thought about therapy?”

"You rabid porcupine.” His menacing voice made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. "You know we’d have won that last race if Pickles hadn’t been pushed out of bounds. We’ll see who’s crying at the end of the day.”

Gia scoffed, completely unaffected by Lenny’s wrath. "The same per­son who cries after every race. You. And your little dog.” She tossed an artificial smile over her shoulder, then slinked away.

The veins on Lenny’s forehead popped. "I hate her.”

I couldn’t blame him. Lordy, I was exhausted. It wasn’t even noon, and there had already been way too much drama. Everyone needed to take a deep breath and relax. This was supposed to be a fun day.

An announcement over the loudspeaker informed the crowd the first race was about to begin. Lenny stomped off, muttering about how much he despised the Eriksens. Betty and I channeled our energy to work our way through the line of folks who still needed to pick up their jerseys.

Surely, the day could only get better.

WITH A SHOT, The Dachshund Dash started.

Instantly, the park filled with triumphant cheers mish-mashed with cries of disappointment. We couldn’t see the race, but we were close enough that we could hear the rhythmic squeaking of the toys at the finish line. The closer the dogs drew to the white line, the faster the cadence of excited clapping, and the louder the cheers and whistles from the fans.

As the morning passed, people swapped shopping at the vendor booths for watching the wiener races. Since foot traffic was dead, Betty had rearranged our entire stock of merchandise to pass the time. My mind was still on Lenny and Gia’s public dogfight. Pickles and Zippy were sweet, adorable pooches, but after their owners’ immature squab­ble, I wanted any other contestant to outrun them today. I had a low tolerance for bad sportsmanship.

"I like the water bowls and treats up front.” Betty rested her hands on her hips and scrutinized her handiwork.

"Do you realize the filmmaker never showed?” I asked.

She spun around. "Oh, yeah. Do you think she heard about the fight? Maybe she secretly filmed it. That would make great TV.”

I pulled a couple bottles of water out of the cooler and handed one to Betty. "You never mentioned her name.”

Betty shrugged. "She didn’t tell me.”

I wiped a dollop of water from my chin. "You didn’t ask her?”

"It never came up. She wanted us to be in her movie. That was all that mattered to me.”

"Did she give you a business card?”

"Sure.” Betty rummaged through her Michael Kors straw handbag and pulled out a bright orange camera-shaped card. "Bright Eyes Films.”

I grabbed it and looked for a clue about the filmmaker. No name, no phone number, no street address. Just a generic email address that could belong to anyone. I didn’t have a good feeling about this woman.

"If you see her again, let me know.” In the meantime, I’d dig around on my own to find out if this was a legit operation. I pulled out my smartphone and launched the Internet.

"I’m checking on Zippy and Pickles,” Betty said.

"I’m sure they’re fine,” I muttered, distracted by what I’d found online. Or more accurately, the lack of what I’d found.

"I’ll be back.”

My head snapped up. "What are you up to?”

"Ricky-Dicky mistreats Zippy. I’m going to make sure someone’s there to protect that pup.” The determination in her voice rang in my ears.

Could this really be the same woman who’d walked into my shop last December and declared she didn’t want a canine and only barely tolerated cats? Something had turned her into a pet activist. Or at least a dachshund activist.

"Look, I’m not sure what you think you saw, but if he had truly hurt Zippy, his nightmarish wife would have taken him down.”

Betty stared at me, her gray eyes unblinking. "I know what I saw. I’m not blind. I don’t even wear glasses. He dragged that poor helpless dog around by his leash.”

Now that she pointed out her lack of eyeglasses, I wondered when she’d had her eyes checked last. Sidetracked by Betty’s eyesight, I missed what she’d said.

"What’d you say?”

"I’ll be back,” she announced.

I sighed. She was like a dog with a bone. "Do I need to come?”

Betty huffed, offended. "I don’t need a babysitter.”

I held up my hand. "I was just asking. Do us all a favor and keep a low profile.”

"What does that mean?”

"You know exactly what it means. Stay out of trouble.”

I don’t know what I was thinking, but I should have known better. Betty Foxx and trouble were joined at the geriatric hip.

IT WAS ONE O’CLOCK, and Missy and I had been alone for over an hour. As much as I didn’t want to act like the overly concerned em­ployer, I was troubled that Betty hadn’t returned. The miniature and lightweight races had wrapped up, and the emcee had recently an­nounced over the loud speaker that the heavyweight races would start in an hour.

"Do you want to go for a walk, girl?”

Missy lifted her head and grunted. She stood up, stretched, then shook off her boredom.

Bark. Lick, lick.

Missy-speak for "Let’s hit the road.”

I snapped on her leash with a loud click. We ambled around the park. Missy relieved herself, and I people-watched. It was a great turn­out. The warmth of the sun was like a promise of good things to come. The energy in the air, palpable. I grabbed a gyro, eating lunch as we threaded ourselves through the crowd.

"Hey, there’s Zippy,” a young boy yelled out in excitement.

I looked in the direction he pointed and caught a glimpse of what looked like Betty jumping around like a toad on hot Texas pavement. The concentration on her face suggested there was more to her determina­tion to see Zippy than fandom.

Zippy and his human, Richard Eriksen, were immediately sur­rounded by demanding fans. They were far enough away that I could only hear bits and pieces of the conversations over the chatter of the crowd. The longer they stayed, the more people appeared. Missy and I moved closer.

Richard, or as Betty liked to call him, Ricky-Dicky, was a tall lanky man with a forced smile and a rigid stance.

"Get back,” he shouted.

"Don’t be an ass. They want his autograph.” Gia’s bossy voice sliced through the commotion.

The crowd parted enough for me to see a young boy, no more than ten years old, reach out to pet Zippy. Richard yanked on the leash, drag­ging Zippy backwards. The dog’s feet slipped on the grass, dropping him to a sit position.

"They can stop by the winner’s circle after the race. Right now, we have to get to the waiting area,” Richard argued.

"It’s bad luck to celebrate before a win.” I heard Betty’s reedy voice drift through the crowd.

Please behave. Please behave.

"Not when you know you’ll come out on top.” Gia shoved her way into the middle of the group. She reached for Zippy’s leash, but Richard refused to relinquish it. Directly behind Gia stood a woman of average height and build with a video camera. Our missing filmmaker? Missy and I slowly inched closer. Her face was obstructed, but I could see her bad haircut clear as day. For once, Betty hadn’t exaggerated.

"How would you know that unless you’ve stacked the deck in your favor?” someone from the crowd shouted.

"Who said that?” Gia shrieked.

"We don’t need to stack the deck.” Richard’s chest puffed with in­flated confidence. "Champions are built. Zippy loves to train. Right boy?”

Zippy, who’d been obediently sitting during this entire exchange, barked on cue.

Everyone cheered, and the circle tightened as people rushed to get closer to the dog.

"Back away,” Richard growled. "He needs air. He must stretch.”

"Your stupid ritual can wait. His fans want to meet him,” Gia screeched.

Husband and wife squared off like two tomcats ready to defend their territory. Not exactly the picture of a healthy relationship.

The reigning champion wiggled his long body between a young ad­mirer’s legs eager for some well-deserved attention. Richard mumbled a mouthful of colorful language, then tugged on the leash, dragging the pooch beside him.

"Hey,” Betty yelled. "You’re hurting him.”

"He’s fine. Mind your own business.”

Betty shot Ricky-Dicky a hateful look. "I’ve seen how you tug on the leash and yank him around. Just because he doesn’t whimper doesn’t mean he’s not hurt. You’re choking him.”

Missy and I moved faster trying to reach Betty before she said some­thing she’d regret, but the crowd blocked us from any forward progress. A couple of young surfers tossed me a disgusted look. What was their problem? It wasn’t as if I was trying to cut to the front of the Taco Bell line.

"Did I ask for your opinion?” Ricky-Dicky’s face turned a dark shade of red. His cold brown eyes bored into Betty. "That’s right, I didn’t.”

"I’ve been watching you. You’re mean to that sweet dog. You don’t deserve him. Either of you.” Her voice grew more agitated.

I’d never heard her so angry. My stomach knotted. She’s wasn’t a spring chick. Someone his size could easily hurt her.

I picked up Missy, worried she’d be stepped on, and elbowed my way into the crowd. "Excuse me, I need to get through.”

A handful of people let us through, but the majority refused to let us get closer.

"Are you the one who’s been following us today?” Gia’s unkind laugh filled the stunned silence.

I hoped Gia was mistaken, and Betty hadn’t followed anyone.

"He took away his food. When Zippy wanted a drink, you took away his water bowl,” Betty yelled.

She was too short for me to see if she was in physical danger, but I im­agined her balled fists at her side, ready to defend herself or the dog. I continued to shove my way through the crowd, praying I’d reach Betty before one of the Eriksens hurt her.

"You need to get your eyes checked, you pajama-wearing wacko. Have you looked in the mirror?” Ricky-Dicky bellowed.

Betty sucked in a breath. "You two are the crazy ones.”

"Stay out of my business. You don’t know what you’re talking about.” He pushed past the group of gawkers.

I got a quick peek of Betty as she stepped directly into his path. "You don’t deserve that dog.”

He muttered something as he pushed Betty aside. She stumbled back­ward and fumbled for her handbag.

"Hey,” I yelled, propelling myself forward. "Don’t touch her.”

"You’re insane, lady. Put away the gun.” Ricky-Dicky’s tone was no longer angry, but scared.

Gun?

Chaos erupted. People screamed and ran directly into my path. Crap. Protecting Missy the best I could, I took off toward the crazy lady in silk pajamas, who pointed a handgun at a perfectly normal-looking man and his dog.

I half expected to hear gunshots over the frightened screeching any second. But by the time I reached Betty, she was alone. Everyone was gone.

And Betty’s gun along with them.


 

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