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Authors: Carol Lea Benjamin

This Dog for Hire

BOOK: This Dog for Hire
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This Dog for Hire

Winner of the Shamus Award for Best First PI Novel

“A strong female character and lots of action … Snappy dialogue and a fast-paced story will hold readers' attention.” —
School Library Journal

This Dog for Hire
will grip you and hold you like a puppy with a rag.” —John Lutz, author of
Tropical Heat

“[A] spirited debut … Benjamin writes with a wit nearly as sharp as Dash's teeth.” —
Publishers Weekly

“Joy! Rejoice! Carol Lea Benjamin has arrived and
This Dog for Hire
will be celebrated by murder-mystery buffs, the hydrant set, and all eclectic readers.” —Roger Caras, former president of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

The Dog Who Knew Too Much

“Delightful … Rachel brings to mind a young, wisecracking, East Coast Kinsey Millhone.” —
Publishers Weekly

“Crisp, clean, and focused, with a great heroine and canines; an enjoyable read.” —
Library Journal

A Hell of a Dog

“Expertly blend[s] dog-training lore with an excellent and satisfying mystery.” —
Publishers Weekly

“The writing is excellent, as always, with a nice touch of humor.” —
Library Journal

“Boasts appealing human and canine characters, light humor, an attractive New York City setting, and a readable pace.” —

This Dog for Hire

A Rachel Alexander and Dash Mystery

Carol Lea Benjamin

For Judy Nelson,

wherever you are, honey.


Ordinary Secrets

Greenwich Village is a place full of secrets, back cottages hidden from view behind wrought-iron gates and down long brick passageways and little Edens way up high, secret gardens growing not on the ground but on the roof, retreats concealed from the prying eyes of strangers.

There are other secrets here as well, sexual secrets, passages across the gender lines that I thought, once upon a time, were immutable facts of life. But in this neighborhood of writers and artists, the facts of life were long ago rewritten, familiar images redesigned.

And more and more of late, the secrets indigenous to this place, once visible only to willing participants, are coming out, out of the closet, out of the clubs, out in the open for all to see. Even those who'd rather not.

Still, it's usually a case of live and let live.

But not always.

We have our ordinary secrets, too, the kind every neighborhood has, envy, jealousy, greed, lust, anger, all seething unseen under the surface. And like the other secrets lying doggo among the twisty, tree-lined streets between Washington Square Park and the Hudson River, these too are invisible, until one day they fester up to the surface.

Secrets are what interest me, particularly the ones that eventually compel seemingly normal people to start obsessing about murder.

My name is Rachel Alexander. I'm the Alexander in Alexander and Dash, private investigation. I get first billing, but Dash, my partner, is the real teeth in the operation. He's a pit bull.

Before I got Dashiell, I worked as a sneaky, lying, low-life, underhanded undercover agent, betraying the confidences of people who befriended me in order to get the information I needed to solve cases. The work suited me, and I liked the odd hours, but after a couple of years I decided I was no longer willing to split the client's check with an agency. That's when I started my own business, doing all of the above and worse, but exploiting myself instead of having it done for me by strangers.

I don't know how to explain my occupation any more than I can explain anything else about my life. I just have always been more interested in what's in the hamper than what's neatly folded in the dresser drawer. It's not that I don't ask myself, particularly when Dash and I are out on an especially seedy stakeout, what's a nice Jewish girl like you doing in a place like this? but I tend to think it wouldn't be all that different had I gone to medical school. Only then I'd be asking it while delicately sticking a gloved finger up some poor guy's ass.

That's one of the few places I haven't had to look for evidence. So far.

It had finally stopped snowing, and I was getting ready to take my dog out for his afternoon constitutional. I had one of my Timberlands half on when the phone rang.

“Get that, will you?” I told him, hopping in the direction of the phone.

Dash took the phone off the receiver and walked toward me with it in his mouth.

?” I asked.

He dropped it on my unlaced boot. Thank God for reinforced toe boxes.

I cradled the phone in my neck, barked “Hello,” and kept struggling with my boot until I figured out the good news. It was work.

The caller identified himself as Dennis Keaton. He was a pretty unhappy-sounding guy, which isn't unusual: Happy people don't usually hire detectives. He asked if he could see me right away about an urgent matter.

I told him he could.

I had an urgent matter myself. I was dead broke.

I could never see the sense in wasting money on an office when most of the work I have to do is done elsewhere. In winter I meet new clients at James J. Walker Park, on Hudson Street. There's a ball field there where the neighborhood dogs gather to play when it's off-season. It seems to me the proper ambience for my work, even when people do scoop.

Dashiell was dancing impatiently at the door, so I told this Keaton fellow where to meet me, grabbed my coat, my camera, and a notepad, and headed downtown.


It Began to Snow

Dennis Keaton entered the park, carefully adjusted the gate so that a garbage can would keep it from blowing open, and looked around for a second, then, with a walk that announced his sexual orientation, headed in my direction.

He was tall and reedy, but not your typical what-a-waste, gorgeous gay guy. First of all, his nose was much too big. His skin was okay, but pale, even for midwinter in New York. His eyes, which according to the rest of his coloring should have been a to-die-for blue, were an unrevealing steely gray. His uncombed mop of curls reminded me of an apricot-colored standard poodle I had trained for a lady rabbi, the Reverend Janet, back when I was the Kaminsky of Kaminsky and Son Dog Academy. Bernie, the Golden I had then, was the son. That was before I got married, before I got divorced, and before I decided to go from getting growled at to getting shot at, escalating what my shrink called my rabid counterphobia.

“Rachel Alexander?”

As soon as he opened his mouth, I saw that his teeth were crooked, too.

I was leaning against the back fence and patted the spot next to me in response.

He wore a brown leather bomber jacket, a small loop of red ribbon, carelessly attached with a safety pin, a long white aviator scarf around his skinny neck, and, despite a temperature in the low thirties, no hat. The rest of his ensemble deviated from code—shapeless corduroy overalls and ancient brown oxfords, both dappled with spots of black paint.

He took a deep breath and let it go. “A friend of mine, Clifford Cole, has been murdered,” he said. “I was told you might be able to help me find out who did it.”

He looked to be in his mid-thirties, but who knows. In this neighborhood, there's more illusion than reality. For all I knew, I was looking at the aftermath of a face-lift, a dye job, a perm, and liposuction.

“That's police business,” I said. “Why would you want to pay for something you can get done free?”

I glanced at Dash, who was doing the doggy two-step with a flirtatious husky bitch.

“It's been two weeks since Cliff was killed—perhaps you saw it in the paper, if you had a magnifying glass. There's been virtually no interest and no progress.”

I nodded. Most people talk more freely if they have evidence that someone's actually listening. The more information I can get before I start asking a lot of questions, the more revealing it tends to be, though it could take a while to figure out precisely what has been revealed.

“Since … the body was found on the Christopher Street pier, the police are treating it as a gay bashing.”

“And you say?”

“Cliffie never cruised the waterfront. He has, God, I'm still having a lot of trouble with tense, he
a lover, but even before Louie, he didn't. It just wasn't his style. Besides, there are other things that signal it wasn't a random killing. The hour, for one thing. The estimated time of death was between four and six in the morning. Cliff was a painter. He has the loft above mine. He was a day person, up with the sun and right to work. It always floored me, because I'm up early trying my best to avoid working for as long as possible. And I quit as soon as I can manage to without excessive guilt. But Cliff was one of those people who could go on and on. His stamina was phenomenal. The energy in his work was just enormous, but well controlled. After he worked, he'd get cleaned up and then he'd go out with Magritte, they'd go out for hours. That's the other thing,” he said, his voice suddenly sounding as if he were in a movie on television from which off-color words had been bleeped. “Magritte is missing. He wasn't at the loft, and he wasn't with Cliff when he was found.”

He took out a handkerchief and blew his big nose.

“Magritte? The train coming out of the fireplace? And the pipe?
Ceci n'est pas un pipe
, right?”

“Yes, but this Magritte is a basenji. The barkless dog?”

BOOK: This Dog for Hire
10.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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