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Authors: Laurien Berenson

Tags: #Suspense


BOOK: Watchdog
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“No bones about it, Berenson expertly mixes dogs, suspense and murder.”
—The Plain Dealer
“Delve into the world of show dogs and glimpse fascinating stuff about pedigrees, breeding and judging—with a good solid murder.”
—Mystery Lovers Bookshop News
“Funny and sweetly entertaining. Three stars.”
—The Detroit Free Press
“Laurien Berenson's decidedly light hand keeps the plot moving in
Characters are well drawn and the dialogue is crisp. Bright and breezy.”
—The Florida Sun-Sentinel
“Melanie, Aunt Peg, Davey and four-footed Faith are an entertaining quartet. The fourth Melanie Travis mystery takes Best in Show!”
—I Love A Mystery
“A delightful and entertaining series with humor, fun characters and a nice dash of murder and chicanery to boot.”
—Pen And Dagger
“Mystery lovers take note—a new Melanie Travis mystery has been released and once again you will page quickly from chapter to chapter trying to figure out ‘Whodunit?' ”
—-The Advocate-Messenger
“Written with a casual and inviting style ... this is a sound start to a promising mystery series.”
—Murder & Mayhem
“A promising first novel involving the dog-eat-dog world of championship breeding.”
—Mostly Murder
Books by Laurien Berenson
Published by Kensington Publishing Corporation
Laurien Berenson
Kensington Publishing Corp.
All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.
Acquiring a dog may be the only opportunity a human has to choose a relative.
—Mordecai Siegal
Never lend money to relatives. It isn't one of the Ten Commandments, but it ought to be.
So when my brother, Frank, came to me with his hand out, I didn't have to think twice about what to say. I turned him down flat. Unfortunately, with Frank it's never that easy.
“Trust me, Mel,” he said. “It's the opportunity of a lifetime.”
The opportunity of
lifetime, maybe. Mine? I doubted it.
For more than a quarter century, ever since he was old enough to walk and talk, I'd watched my little brother maneuver himself into and out of tight spots. He was bright, charming, and impetuous. What he'd never been was practical.
That was my job apparently. I was the diligent big sister who, more often than not, had to stay behind and pick up the pieces when Frank dropped whatever he was doing and went barreling on to his next grand scheme.
“At least let me tell you what it's about,” he said. “You can't turn me down without giving me a fair shot.”
“Sure I can. Watch me. N-O.”
“I'm not listening.” Frank raised his hands and put them over his ears. “I can't hear you.” With a maturity level like that, you can see why he would come to me rather than going to a bank.
I glared at him for a moment, but the effort was half-hearted. It was 8:30 on a weekday morning. In the normal way of things, I wouldn't have expected my brother to be out of bed yet, much less across town and standing in my kitchen. He must have really thought this was important.
“You've got ten minutes,” I told him. “No more. Davey's bus already picked him up and I was just on my way out the door. You're not making me late for school.”
Davey was my son, six years old and filled with all the joy and wonder and mischief of his age. In short he was a great kid, at least in his mother's eyes. He'd started first grade a month earlier and was delighted to be riding to school on the bus.
The year before, we'd commuted to Hunting Ridge Elementary together. I'd been employed there for the last six years as a special education teacher. Over the summer, however, I'd taken a new job at Howard Academy, a private school near downtown Greenwich. Four weeks into the school year, I was still trying to make a good impression.
“Relax.” Frank glanced at the clock over the sink. “You've got plenty of time.”
My brother is an expert at relaxing, probably because he gets so much practice. I was tempted to drum my fingers on the countertop.
People meeting us for the first time often comment that we look alike. Though we have many of the same features—straight brown hair, hazel eyes, and the strong jawline often associated with stubbornness—I've never been able to see the similarity. Maybe I don't want to see it.
While I waited for Frank to get to the point, I walked to the back door and looked out. The small yard behind the house was enclosed, and Faith, Davey's and my Standard Poodle, was having a last bit of exercise before I left for the day. When I opened the door, she raced across the short distance between us and bounded up the steps.
“That is one strange looking animal,” Frank said as Faith came sliding into the kitchen, did a quick turn on the linoleum floor, then jumped up and waved her front paws in the air waiting for the biscuit she knew I'd be holding.
I flipped the peanut butter tidbit into the air and watched Faith catch it on the fly. “Nine minutes. You know, most people hoping to borrow money from me wouldn't start by insulting my dog.”
“With that hairdo? The comment wasn't an insult, it was a statement of fact.”
All right, so Faith's appearance was a little odd. It wasn't my fault. At least, not entirely. She'd been a present from my Aunt Peg, a devoted Standard Poodle breeder whose Cedar Crest Kennel has produced a number of top winning Poodles over the years. Like her ancestors before her, Faith was a show dog.
Accordingly, her hair was being maintained in the continental clip, a modern descendant of an old German hunting trim, and one of only two clips adult Poodles were allowed to wear in the ring. Faith's dense black coat was long and scissored into a rounded shape on the front half of her body. At the same time, most of her hindquarter had been clipped down to the skin. There were pompons over each of her hip bones and just above her feet on all four legs. A bigger pompon wagged at the end of her tail.
Because the topknot on her head was nearly a foot long and needed to be kept out of the way when she wasn't in the ring, I'd sectioned the hair into a series of ponytails, which were held in place by brightly colored rubber bands. The long, thick fringe on her ears was protected by matching plastic wraps, which were doubled under and banded in place.
Standards are the biggest of the three varieties of Poodles. Faith is twenty-four inches at the shoulder, which means that she and Davey stand nearly eye to eye. Maybe that explains why they get along so well; or maybe it was just that kids and Standard Poodles are a great combination.
Faith also has wonderfully expressive dark brown eyes. Sometimes I could swear she knows exactly what I'm thinking. Like now, as she gazed at Frank with her head tipped to one side. No doubt she was wondering what he was doing there and why I hadn't left for school yet. I reached down and gave her chin a scratch.
“Fine by me,” I said to Frank. “You want to discuss the dog's trim, it's your eight minutes.”
“Nine,” he said, probably hoping to impress me with his counting skills. “I've still got nine.”
I waved a hand. It wasn't worth arguing.
Frank waited until I was still, then made his grand announcement. “I'm starting up my own business, Mel. This is your chance to get in on the ground floor.”
Probably just where I'd remain, too.
“What kind of business are you going into?”
It wasn't an idle question. In the half decade since college, my brother has held a variety of jobs—everything from bartender to sales clerk to general handyman. If he had chosen a career path, I had yet to see the signs.
“I'm opening up a coffee bar. You know how popular they are. Everyone's looking for a neighborhood hangout, and I've managed to secure a great location.”
From the sound of things, Frank was going to need every minute of the time I allotted him. I went back to the table and sat down. Faith hopped up and draped her front legs across my lap, then angled her head upward so her muzzle rested just below my shoulder.
As she settled in, I could feel the creases being pressed across the front of my skirt. Luckily I buy most of my clothes at Eddie Bauer and L.L. Bean, so they can take a few knocks. I burrowed my fingers through the Poodle's thick coat and rubbed behind her ear.
“Where is it?”
“Right here in north Stamford. Remember Haney's General Store out on Old Long Ridge Road?”
I nodded, picturing a small clapboard building with a wide porch and room for four or five cars to park out front. In the early fifties when the farms and open acreage of north Stamford were being developed into affordable housing to accommodate the post-war family boom, Mr. Haney had opened his small general store. It served as a convenience for harried mothers who hadn't wanted to run all the way into town for a carton of eggs or a bottle of milk. In those days, he'd done a thriving business.
But as the city of Stamford continued to grow by leaps and bounds, supermarkets and strip malls had sprung up within easy reach of almost every shopper. Mr. Haney grew older and the wares that he stocked weren't replenished nearly as often. It had been at least two years since I'd been to his store, and even then the building had begun to look run-down.
Signs covering the front windows advertising the weekly specials couldn't disguise the fact that the glass needed a good cleaning. The red paint on the front door had faded to a musty pink. To top it off, the gallon of milk I'd purchased had been sour. I hadn't been back since.
“Is he still in business?” I asked.
“Not anymore. That's what I'm trying to tell you. As of last month, Mr. Haney retired and moved to Florida. I'm the new owner.”
“Owner?” That got my attention. “Frank, how could you afford to buy a building?”
“Maybe partial proprietor is a better term. I don't exactly own the place.”
No surprise there.
“I have a long-term lease, and I'm doing renovations. Haney's General Store is going to become Grounds For Appeal. By Christmas we'll be ready for the grand opening.”
“Grounds For Appeal?” I frowned. “It sounds like a cut rate law office.”
“That's not set in stone yet,” Frank said quickly. “I'm still working out some of the details. You could help. Like I said, things are just beginning to get moving. Now would be the perfect time for you to invest.”
“Why?” The question seemed to puzzle him. “Well, to be perfectly honest, because I could use some cash.”
As if I couldn't have guessed. “Actually, Frank, I was wondering why you think this would be a good idea for me.”
“Because once the coffee bar gets up and running, I'm going to be making a ton of money. What kind of a brother would I be if I didn't offer my only sister to have the chance to get in on it?”
“Solvent?” I ventured. I checked my watch. If I wasn't out the door in five minutes max, I was going to miss the first bell. “Look, I don't really have time to discuss this right now. And as you know perfectly well, I don't have any extra money. At least not the kind you're looking for.”
“You've got Bob.”
Bob was my ex-husband and Davey's father. After a four-year absence from our lives, he'd shown up unexpectedly in the spring looking to get reacquainted with his son. At the same time, he'd reinstated the child support payments he was supposed to have been making all along.
Thanks to his contributions, Davey and I were a good deal better off than we had been. We'd been able to have the house painted and take a modest vacation over the summer. We were not, however, in any position to be looking for investments.
“Bob went home to Texas, Frank. He has a new wife there.”
“He also has an oil well.”
“That's his money, not mine.”
“You could ask him for some.”
“I could,” I said, nudging Faith off my lap so I could stand. “But I'm not going to. Whatever you've gotten yourself into this time, you're just going to have to take care of it without my help.”
“Okay, if that's the way you want to be. Most people would jump at the chance to get into a deal with Marcus Rattigan, but if you're not interested, I guess that's your business.”
I was halfway to the door but I stopped and turned. “Marcus Rattigan? What do you have to do with him?”
“He's the guy who bought the building. Didn't I mention that?”
He knew perfectly well he hadn't.
Marcus Rattigan was a local entrepreneur whose influence in the construction and development business was well documented in Fairfield County. Over the last decade more than a dozen apartment complexes had sprung up in surrounding towns, their signs sporting the familiar blue and gold logo of his Anaconda Properties.
Rattigan was known for buying up tracts of land, then bending local zoning laws to the breaking point in order to accommodate the greatest possible housing density. He supplied my newspaper with a steady stream of front page stories, and town officials in most municipalities kept a wary eye on the proceedings while fervently wishing him elsewhere.
“Marcus Rattigan bought Haney's General Store? Why would he be interested in a little place like that?”
“Dunno,” said Frank. “But he snapped the place up when Haney sold out. The way things have grown up in north Stamford, the store is surrounded by houses now. It's a nonconforming property in a two-acre zone. He can't build on the lot or enlarge the building that's there. I guess that's why he was happy to let me have the lease.”
“He knows you're planning to turn the place into a coffee bar?”
“Sure he knows. I certainly couldn't do it without his approval. He and I are partners on the deal.”
“Partners. You and Marcus Rattigan?” It was all a little much to take in.
“Sure. Fifty-fifty. He supplied the building. I supply the know-how.”
Interesting. As far as I knew, my brother didn't have any know-how.
“He even co-signed my loan at the bank.”
“He did?”
“Yup. Happy to do it, he said. Seeing as we were going to be partners and all.”
I stared at Frank suspiciously. “If you have a bank loan, what do you need me for?”
“As it happens, I'm running a little low on funds. You know how it is with construction. Estimates never seem to cover the final cost. In the beginning—”
“The beginning? How long ago did you get involved in this project?”
“It's been about six weeks.”
“And I'm just hearing about it now?”
Frank shot me a look. As siblings went, we weren't close. Though he only lived one town away, we'd never spent much time together. Our temperaments were just too dissimilar for us to really enjoy each other's company. In fact, now that I thought about it, bad news was much more apt to bring us together than good.
“It seemed like the right time,” said Frank. “You know, with the opportunity for you and all. It's not like I need the moon. I figure five thousand should do it.”
“Five thousand
I'd always suspected he was daft. Now I knew. There was no way I had that kind of money lying around, and if I did, I certainly wouldn't have trusted Frank with it. “Where on earth would you think I'd get five thousand dollars?”
BOOK: Watchdog
11.06Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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