The Barker Street Regulars

BOOK: The Barker Street Regulars
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Praise for Susan Conant’s Dog Lover’s Mysteries


“A study in good humor that will delight devotees of dogs and of Sherlock Holmes.”

Boston Globe

“Sherlockians especially will enjoy Conant’s latest dog mystery. Clever and eloquent …”

Publishers Weekly


“An intimate knowledge of Alaskan malamutes isn’t necessary to appreciate Susan Conant’s
Stud Rites
.… Conant’s characterizations are dead-on and her descriptions of doggy kitsch—most notably a malamute-shaped lamp trimmed with a dead champion’s fur—are hilarious.”

Los Angeles Times

“Conant’s doggy tales … are head and shoulders above many of the other series in which various domestic pets aid or abet in the solving of crimes.… Should appeal to everyone who is on the right end of a leash.”

The Purloined Letter


“A fascinating murder mystery and a very, very funny book … written with a fairness that even Dorothy Sayers or Agatha Christie would admire.”

Mobile Register


“Conant’s dog lover’s series, starring Cambridge freelance dog-magazine reporter Holly Winter and her two malamutes, Rowdy and Kimi, is a real tail-wagger.”

The Washington Post


“Highly recommended for lovers of dogs, people, and all-around good storytelling.”

Mystery News

“Lively, funny, and absolutely premium, Conant’s readers—with ears up and alert eyes—eagerly await her next.”

Kirkus Reviews


“Conant infuses her writing with a healthy dose of humor about Holly’s fido-loving friends and other Cambridge clichés. The target of her considerable wit clearly emerges as human nature.”

Publishers Weekly


“Swift and engrossing.”

Publishers Weekly

“Invigorating … Conant gives us a cool, merry, and informative look at academic Cambridge.”

Kirkus Reviews


Creature Discomforts
Evil Breeding
Animal Appetite
Stud Rites
Black Ribbon
Ruffly Speaking
Gone to the Dogs
Paws Before Dying
A Bite of Death
Dead and Doggone
A New Leash on Death

To Lynne and Dan Anderson in honor of the Alaskan malamutes they love, especially the rescued malamutes who exemplify the sweet nature and raw courage of the breed. Alaskan malamutes Jazzy, Nikki, Bones, and many others have survived exploitation, brutality, and neglect. Some, like Katy, have perished. Faced with overwhelming challenges, none has backed down. May we human beings share the strength of the dogs we struggle to save.


A number of years ago, a reader sent me a striking photograph of a gigantic dog under an even more gigantic tree. Kind reader, although I have lost your name and address, I want to thank you for suggesting the element of this book that you will recognize as your contribution. For the appearance of Alaskan malamutes Ch. Kaila’s Paw Print (the late Tracker) and Ch. Kaila The Devil’s Paw (Narly). a legendary grandsire and his magnificent young grandson, I am grateful to Chris and Eileen Gabriel, who will, I hope, forgive the use that Holly makes of Tracker’s famous name.

Many thanks to Bruce Southworth, B.S.I., the best guide since Watson to the world of Sherlock Holmes. Any Sherlockian errors contained herein are entirely my own fault. For welcoming me to the world of therapy dogs, I want to thank Sally Jean Alexander of the Pets & People Foundation, as well as the real Rowdy, Frostfield Perfect Crime, CD., C.G.C., Th.D., my perfect girl. For the unfailing strength that drives our little team, Rowdy and I rely on the stalwart wheel dog in our lives, her half brother and my perpetual puppy, Frostfield Firestar’s Kobuk, C.G.C.

I also want to thank Jean Berman, Judy Bocock, Fran Boyle, Dorothy Donohue, Roo Grubis, Roseann Man-dell, Janice Ritter, Cathy Shea, Geoff Stern, Margherita Walker, and Anya Wittenborg, as well as the editor who always takes Best of Breed in my book, Kate Miciak.

Chapter One

referred to the Sacred Writings, I naturally assumed that she meant the American Kennel Club
Obedience Regulations.
She didn’t. What Althea had in mind—what Althea held perpetually in the forefront of her considerable intellect—was
The Complete Sherlock Holmes.
is quite right, however, except perhaps in the nuptial sense of
to have and to hold.
Althea loved and cherished Holmes’s adventures with a passion that admitted only the richer and the better, and entirely discounted the possibility of the poorer or the worse. As to the bit about
from this day forward,
if you count Althea’s six preliterate years of dependence on parental voices, she’d been reading Sherlock Holmes for ninety years.

This is to say that soon after Rowdy and I first entered Althea’s room at the Gateway Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, she and I recognized each other as kindred spirits, women with passions: in her case, Sherlock Holmes; in mine, dogs. Not that I disliked Holmes. On the contrary, the ill-used hound of the Baskervilles was
one of my favorite literary characters, as I was quick to tell Althea, who pretended to bristle at the suggestion that the beast had been other than real. And not that Althea disliked dogs. Indeed, Althea’s mild fondness for dogs was the reason Rowdy and I began to visit her in the first place. When she referred to my gorgeous Alaskan malamute as a “big husky,” however, I pretended to take umbrage. In other words, Althea knew about as much about dogs as I did about Sherlock Holmes.

Before I say anything else about Althea or about the subsequent murder of her grandnephew, Jonathan Hubbell, I want to state outright that in taking Rowdy on pet therapy visits to the Gateway, I wasn’t engaged in a mission of noble altruism. I’m ordinarily thrilled to have my self-serving motives mistaken for saintly wishes to help others, but this is a story about trickery—fakery, fraud, artifice, subterfuge, call it what you will—and I feel impelled to dissociate myself from the deliberate effort to deceive. In fact, Rowdy became a therapy dog only because I’d taken him to an obedience fun match that also offered therapy dog testing, and I’d had him tested because I knew he’d breeze through and because I thought I’d found an effortless way to get him a new title. Hah! Well, Rowdy aced the test, but as I discovered only when I registered him with Therapy Dogs International, that organization takes ferocious objection to having its initials, T.D.I., used as a title. Why? Because of an utterly irrational suspicion that certain despicably title-hungry dog owners might see T.D.I. only as an easy new title and, once having obtained it, might selfishly refuse to take their dogs on therapy visits. So there I was with a certified therapy dog and no new title when I heard about a local Boston-area group called Paws for Love, which did a thorough
job of screening dogs and training handlers for therapy work, and—not that I cared, of course—would bestow on Rowdy the title Rx.D. when he had visited his assigned facility fifteen times.

Continuing in the spirit of full disclosure, I should mention my realization if I were ever to end up in a nursing home, the only thing that would cheer me up would be a visit from a big, friendly dog. I nonetheless entered the Gateway with the prejudices characteristic of most human beings and entirely foreign to dogs. First fear: The place would smell of urine. It didn’t, but if it had, Rowdy would have considered the stench a fabulous bonus. Second fear: Everyone would have Alzheimer’s, and ten seconds after we’d left, no one would remember we’d been there. Some people did have Alzheimer’s. One was a woman named Nancy, whose body had reached a state of advanced shrinkage in which her weight in pounds equaled her age in years: ninety-three. As I learned only after our first visit to her, the Gateway staff had never before heard her utter more than a word or two. I had to be told that Nancy didn’t usually speak. The first time I led Rowdy toward her wheelchair and asked whether she liked dogs, she ignored me, but croaked to him, “Beautiful! Beautiful dog! Come! Come here, beautiful dog!” Her hands were like a bird’s feet. She perched one on top of Rowdy’s head. He licked her face. She giggled like a child. “I love him,” she said to me. “I love him.”

Nancy’s hearing was poor. I’d been warned to speak loudly. “I love him, too,” I bellowed awkwardly. “His name is Rowdy.”

On our second visit, with no prompting, Nancy called out Rowdy’s name and repeated it over and over: “Rowdy. Rowdy. I love him. I love him. Rowdy. Rowdy.” Licking her hands and face, Rowdy reminded
me of a burly wolf tending to an emaciated feral child. Nancy suddenly looked away from Rowdy and directly at me. Her eyes were a faded hazel. She had more wrinkles than she did actual face. “God’s creature,” she said.

“Yes,” I agreed.

Entering the Gateway for our regular Friday morning visit, Rowdy and I always found a group of five or six sociable women in the lobby, their wheelchairs arranged in a welcoming half circle across from the elevators and next to the big dining hall. As soon as I’d signed in, pinned on my volunteer’s badge, and hung my parka in a closet rather alarmingly marked
I’d take Rowdy to the lobby, where the women made a fuss over him and helped me to train him to offer his paw gently and never to bat at people. The elderly, I’d been advised, have thin, fragile skin. On our first few visits, Rowdy himself proved more thin-skinned than I’d expected. He whined a few times and stayed so close to my left side that an obedience judge would have faulted him for crowding. Rowdy had been around wheelchairs before, but never so many as he encountered at the Gateway. And although he was used to the chaos of dog shows, the newness of everything at the nursing home taxed him.

Leaving the first floor, we took the elevator to the third. Near the nursing station, we always found a beautifully groomed woman who owned an enviable wardrobe of handsome business suits, silk blouses, and flower-patterned scarves. She never spoke a word to me. It took me a couple of visits to realize that although she didn’t want a big dog anywhere near her, she enjoyed looking at Rowdy from a distance of two or three yards. There was a tidy brown-skinned man named Gus whose wheelchair was always stationed in the TV room
on the third floor. Gus liked to tell me about the German shepherd dogs he’d had. On every visit, he told me about his shepherds in the same words he’d used the last time I’d been there. Rowdy didn’t lick Gus’s face. Gus wouldn’t have liked it. “Shake!” Gus would demand. Rowdy would offer his paw, and he and Gus would exchange a dignified greeting. Then Gus would look back at the television screen, and Rowdy and I would move on, pausing in the hallways and stopping here and there in people’s rooms. In the corridors and elevators, the staff of the Gateway and people who lived there commented on Rowdy. Again and again, people reached out to touch him. There was an almost religious fervency about that need to lay a hand on him. I imagined the Gateway as a deviant yet orthodox temple and Rowdy as a canine Torah.

Big, vibrant, and boundlessly affectionate though Rowdy is, there was never enough of him to go round. To avoid overburdening Rowdy, I’d been ordered to limit my first visit to twenty-five minutes and to lengthen our stays gradually. In thirty minutes, we could have given one minute each to thirty people, five minutes each to six people, a rich fifteen minutes to two. No one got enough. No one except Althea Battlefield, who wasn’t even wild about dogs.

BOOK: The Barker Street Regulars
13.81Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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