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Skye Donovan just landed her first big shoot—calendar photos for The Pet Place, a national chain of pet stores—but when the owner of the doggie talent, Frank Johnson, is killed, Skye's life is thrown into chaos. The investigating detective is her on-again, off-again lover and he's threatening to close down the shoot until he finds the killer. Unable to convince him to let the shoot go on, Skye tries to speed it along by diving headfirst into the case. From his former partner who thinks Frank cheated him out of ...
Skye Donovan just landed her first big shoot—calendar photos for The Pet Place, a national chain of pet stores—but when the owner of the doggie talent, Frank Johnson, is killed, Skye's life is thrown into chaos. The investigating detective is her on-again, off-again lover and he's threatening to close down the shoot until he finds the killer. Unable to convince him to let the shoot go on, Skye tries to speed it along by diving headfirst into the case. From his former partner who thinks Frank cheated him out of his part of the business and his neighbors who have been complaining about the noise from his kennel to Skye's friend Lily, it seems a lot of people had a reason to want Frank dead. As Skye juggles photo shoots and a shaky love affair, the list of suspects keeps growing.
"Don't be silly, Skye. You'll do fine."
"No. I won't do fine. I've never even photographed animals before, and these layouts call for lots of animals." I flipped through the layouts. "There are at least a dozen dogs and probably as many cats. There's a parrot and little birds and a really scary lizard-looking thing."
"Iguana," Connie said.
"The lizard is an iguana and they aren't scary at all."
"Well, of course they aren't scary to you! You'll be in the Caribbean lying on some beach getting skin cancer and wrecking your liver with Bahama Mamas while I'll be taking my life in my own hands trying to take a picture of the beast."
"Skye, I'm getting married."
"Connie, you can't get married. You aren't even engaged." Connie Nishimoto had become a good friend last year when I took it upon myself to replace my boss on a fashion shoot that she was art directing. She'd liked my photography and we'd liked working together so she started asking for me when she booked a shoot. I didn't understand how she could do this tome as a friend or as an art director. Possibly I was being a little unreasonable, but it was only because of the panic that had set in. We'd only been friends for less than a year, but we were close. I'd know if she had gotten engaged.
"Well, I am now. Tyreese asked me to marry him yesterday."
"Who the hell is Tyreese?" I asked.
"Oh, Skye, he's wonderful. He's everything I've ever wanted in a man and could never find. I can't wait to become his wife."
"That's a lousy excuse." I gritted my teeth. "People get married all the time. And they schedule it around the rest of their lives. Don't the bridal magazines recommend at least a year to plan a wedding?"
"I don't have time to plan a wedding for a year. We want to get married now. Oh, Skye, it was love at first sight. I met Tyreese at a beach party in the Cayman Islands, then we went to Jamaica. It's been so romantic. We want to celebrate our love where it began, so we're going back to the Cayman Islands for the wedding."
"There's no such thing as love at first sight, Connie. It doesn't happen. Not even in the Cayman Islands." I knew it didn't happen because I'd thought it was love at first sight when I met my ex-husband, Craig, at the tender age of nineteen. After twenty-two years of marriage, turns out he was gay. Don't talk to me about love at first sight.
"You're just being a bitch because you're afraid. Don't worry. You'll do a wonderful job on this shoot."
"Aren't you going to get fired for not showing up? Isn't your boss going to have your ass in a sling for dereliction of duty?" I sounded a little hysterical, even to myself.
"I am the boss, Skye. Remember? I opened my own agency? Then I hired you to do this shoot because I knew you could handle anything whether I was there or not." Connie's voice had taken on that overly patient tone that mothers use with toddlers.
"You are so full of ... hold on, my other line is ringing." I punched the hold button and then the flashing button on the new phone system and hoped I hadn't accidentally cut her off.
"Hey, darlin', how you doing?" Bobbi Jo's soft Texas drawl had a calming effect on me, which was probably a good thing right then.
"Hey, Bobbi Jo. I'm kind of busy right now. What's up?" I didn't want to just cut her off in case she was calling to tell me she was in labor. Bobbi Jo had discovered she was pregnant shortly after her husband died. It had been a surprise to everyone. Actually, Edward's death had been a surprise even though he'd had a terminal illness. Before he could pass from natural causes, Bobbi Jo's stalker had murdered him. The pregnancy had been a really big surprise, too, since Bobbi Jo and Edward had tried to have a baby for years with no success. His poor health had prevented them from having marital bliss for several years, but it turned out that Edward had one good night left in him at the very end and Bobbi Jo was now close to delivering her first child at the age of thirty-nine.
"Oh, I just wanted to talk for a bit. Did I tell you I got the nursery all done up? Oh, my gawd, Skye, it's just so sweet. Makes me want to cry every time I look at it. Actually, I really do cry every time I look at it. A lot of other times, too."
"Listen, I'm on a long distance call right now. Let me call you back." I felt immeasurably guilty about brushing off my best friend when she was in the throes of gestational irrationality, but I had business to attend to. I had to talk some sense into Connie.
"Oh, sure, darlin'. Hey, you want to come over for dinner? I haven't seen you for over a week. Lily said she was making some kind of chicken dish, and she always makes enough to feed an army. See you around seven, okay? And bring Sheridan if she's available."
"I'll be there. I don't know what Sheridan is doing, but I'll check with her."
Bobbi Jo had managed to swing from tears to planning a small dinner party in the span of a few seconds. Bless her heart. I scrawled seven on my notepad and punched the button to reconnect with Connie, only to be rewarded with giggles and suggestive murmurings.
"Connie? Are you there?"
"I'm here, Skye." Connie giggled softly and whispered something that I couldn't quite make out but I was pretty sure I heard the words beach towel, champagne, and midnight. I could imagine what they had planned, and a part of me completely understood why Connie wasn't ready to come home. But marriage? That was just ridiculous. And I still needed her for the photo shoot.
"Listen, I can't do this shoot without you. You need to get your butt on a plane back here. Now."
"That's ridiculous, Skye. You know exactly what I want. And you have my layouts. Just shoot to the layouts, and maybe get me a few candid shots, and I'll be there in a couple of weeks to look at the film."
She gave me freaking dial tone. I stared at the phone. Shoot to her layouts? Sure. Fine. No problem. But who was going to tell the dogs and cats that they had to pose according to her layouts? Working to layouts with human models was one thing, but shooting animals was something else entirely. At least I assumed it would be. I'd never photographed animals before, but it stood to reason that their understanding of directions would be limited. I had no idea how it would go and I really wanted my art director to be there. Besides, she hadn't stayed on the line long enough for me to tell her that we weren't shooting in the studio, but on location at K-9 Stars.
My art director was in lust with some Rastafarian in the Caribbean and evidently determined to stay there to celebrate her nuptials. Normally, Connie was the most down-to-earth, sensible person in the world. I could only wonder about what she'd been smoking to put her in this frame of mind. I also wondered who this Tyreese guy was. For all I knew, he could be some beach bum who was marrying Connie just so he could move back with her and live off her. He could be involved with white slavery and just romancing her to later sell her to some sleazy person who would ship her off to a foreign country and I'd never hear from her again.
"What?" I screeched when someone dared to knock on my door.
The door opened and an enormous white animal bounded across the room and pushed his snout into my crotch. From that behavior I was pretty sure it was a dog. Although it could have been a sheep. The thing stood almost three feet tall and was covered in white dreadlocks, some of which were splayed over my chino-covered thighs while the animal made my acquaintance doggie-fashion. I scooted back in my chair, but the padded vinyl back prevented a full retreat.
The dog removed his snout and turned to the man standing in my office doorway. Evidently, the dog was pleased because his long, dreadlocked tail wagged back and forth, sending dust and fuzzy dog hair flying everywhere. I waved my hand to clear the air and sneezed.
"May I help you?"
"Frank Johnson," the man said. He removed his white cowboy hat and nodded to me. "You the gal that's taking pictures for that pet calendar?"
Gal? I clamped my lips together to prevent any unseemly words from popping out and held out my hand. Frank appeared to be in his midfifties, tall and lean, with a shock of silver hair. He wore jeans and a blue western shirt with brown boots that were polished to a gleam.
"You're the owner of K-9 Stars."
"That I am." Frank snapped his fingers and the dreadlocked dog bolted to his side and sat.
"And who is this?"
"O Captain, My Captain. That's his AKC name. I just call him Captain. He's a komondor, a Hungarian sheepdog."
"So, you're a fan of Walt Whitman."
"Who?" Frank's brows lifted.
"Walt Whitman. He wrote the poem 'O Captain! My Captain!'"
"You don't say. I never knew where it came from. Just sounded like a good name for my buddy here." Frank laughed and sat in one of the leather chairs in front of my desk. Captain jumped up on the other one and I tried not to imagine what his nails might be doing to the leather.
"Now, Captain, did the nice lady say you could sit on that chair?" Frank asked his dog in a tone that made me wonder if he expected a verbal answer. Captain jumped down and curled up at Frank's feet. I wondered if I should have said it was all right for the dog to sit on the chair, but suffering Benjamin Steinhart's wrath for having scratches on the new leather chair didn't seem worth it. Besides, the dog looked perfectly comfortable on the floor. Benjamin Steinhart owned the photo studio where I worked. He'd given me a job as a photographer's assistant last year even though I didn't have any experience. I think he was impressed by my willingness to do just about any kind of grunt work he wanted done in order to be in the studio. Benjamin was a superbly talented photographer who was beginning to make a name for himself in art circles. He'd had the photo studio for commercial work for years and now hired photographers to do the work for his clients while he explored his artistic side. He was also a demanding and picky person.
"I suppose Captain is one of the dogs I'll be shooting?"
"No, no. Captain's my companion dog. He goes everywhere with me. The other dogs are the talent."
"I see. Did you have any questions about the photo shoot?"
"Well, I wanted to get a few things clear. I've had problems with photographers who haven't worked with my talent before."
"I want this to be a pleasurable experience. For everyone involved. What do I need to know?" I tried to sound enthusiastic rather than apprehensive. Photographing animals was going to be difficult enough without a lot of restrictions imposed by Frank.
"I've only got one person to handle the dogs right now, so we'll need to shoot in half-day sessions." Frank shook his head. "I wish I could be more accommodating, but Peter has another job so he can't be available all day long."
"I see. I suppose we can accommodate that." It meant at least eight half-day sessions instead of four full days, but that was only a guess. Having never done this kind of job before, I didn't really know how long it would take. I'd set aside two weeks just in case I ran into problems. "As long as the stylist is available, it shouldn't be a problem."
"That's good. I'll have the handler give you a schedule of when the talent takes their breaks. And there's no makeup allowed. Some of the dogs have had allergic reactions, so I just can't take the chance." He laughed and winked at me. "They're my bread and butter, after all. I have to keep them healthy."
"That won't be a problem. We want the dogs to just look like dogs." Makeup on a dog? I couldn't imagine how you'd put blush or mascara on a dog, but Frank appeared to be serious about it.
"Are you using any of Miss Kitty's talent?" Frank asked.
"Yes, we are. She's providing all the cats and kittens for the photos."
"Well, I don't mind if you shoot them on the same day, but Miss Kitty will be having a fit about it. She's real particular about those cats. Thinks the dogs upset 'em." He shook his head. "Total nonsense, if you ask me. My dogs are very well behaved. It's her cats that are so finicky."
"Thanks for that information. I'll make sure to schedule the cats for a different day. Except for the shots that involve cats and dogs together." I thought of Miss Kitty Romano as the Cat Lady. She looked like the stereotypical elderly woman who lived with a bevy of cats. Short and plump, she wore her gray hair in a bun, and her fashion choices ran to floral cotton dresses and sensible shoes. At our first meeting, I'd learned she was also a pretty sharp businesswoman.
"I'm surprised she agreed to that," Frank said.
"It wasn't easy to talk her into it, but she seems to be fond of your handler."
"Peter." Frank nodded. "I remember she took to him. Seems to think he's a cat person, although he works with dogs. Go figure."
I nodded and smiled. "She said that as long as she was present and Peter was handling the dogs, she'd give it a try. I'm trying to accommodate everyone's needs on the shoot."
"Best to avoid conflict when you can, I always say." Frank stood, put his hat on, and slapped the side of his leg twice. His dog, Captain, rose from his position at Frank's boots. "Nice to meet you, young lady." He turned and left, the dog following at his left side.
Benjamin Steinhart would have a fit if he saw the dog walking on his cedar floors. I'd only been working as a photographer for Steinhart less than a year and I'd never have gotten such a plum job as the calendar for the Pet Place if Connie hadn't insisted. Fortunately, she had insisted, and since she threw a lot of work his way, Steinhart hadn't argued with her. He usually gave me the really crappy jobs and called it paying my dues. I knew he did that because the photographers who had been there longer would refuse to do those jobs. They might even quit and start their own studio if they were stuck with too many low-end jobs. Steinhart knew that, too. He was making a name for himself with the art photography, but he still needed the revenue from the photo studio and he wasn't going to risk losing one of his more experienced photographers if he could give a crap job to me. That was just a fact of life at the bottom of the totem pole, which was only a little better than life at the bottom of the food chain.
But at least this time, I'd snagged the plum assignment, thanks to Connie. It wasn't the most artistic shoot, but it was great for my reputation. I'd get a credit on every page of the calendar. Millions of people would see my name-well, tens of thousands, anyway. I gathered the layouts Connie had done for the calendar shoot and some contact sheets I needed to look at later tonight, and stuffed them into my tote, then I shut down my computer and sent my phone to voice mail. It was already five thirty and I wanted to go home to change before I went to Bobbi Jo's for what was sure to be a delicious dinner.
* * *
"Are you sure you don't want to come with me?" I asked Sheridan.
"I wish I could. But this paper is due soon and I've barely started on it." My daughter set a stack of textbooks on the coffee table and lined up six recently sharpened, bright yellow pencils next to them. She opened a spiral-bound notebook and plucked the little paper scraps from the wire, rolled them into a ball, and tossed them into the trash can next to the table. I watched her move each item until everything was lined up to her idea of perfection and wondered if that slight obsessive-compulsive-disorder activity was inherited from her father. My ex-husband, Craig, had exhibited the same kind of behavior the entire time we'd been married. Sheridan only did it when she was under a lot of stress. A control issue, no doubt. And I worried about her when I thought she was stressed. I tried not to. After all, she would be nineteen soon and she considered herself an adult. I tried very hard to let her believe it even though I still thought of her as my little girl. I probably always would.
"Maybe you should lighten your load a bit," I suggested. "You're taking a lot of classes, plus your singing lessons, and the theater group." I walked to the sofa and turned on a lamp so she wouldn't go blind from reading in the dark.
"Great idea, Mom." Sheridan looked up at me and grinned. "And don't forget my social life. Hey, maybe I could give up my social life entirely. And you're probably right about the singing and the theater." She threw an arm over her eyes and collapsed back against the sofa. "Why, I don't know how I've managed this far." Her voice had taken on an affected drawl. "How can I ever thank you for pointing out my folly?"
I picked up a cushion from the sofa and threw it at her, scattering her carefully aligned pencils.
Excerpted from Let Sleeping Dogs Die by Liz Wolfe Copyright © 2009 by Liz Wolfe. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted June 5, 2009
Photographer Skye Donovan is euphoric as she has been hired on her first big assignment; pictures for an eighteen month calendar for The Pet Place national chain of pet stores. The models are mostly trained cats and dogs, but there is also an iguana and a snake in the mix. Her friend Connie who got her the shoot is getting married to r in the Caribbean leaving Skye worried about doing the calendar shoot without her assistance.
The session takes place on the estate of the Pet Place CEO Frank Johnson. The venue is perfect and everything is smooth until Skye goes to the house to get some water when she finds Frank dead with marks on his neck indicating strangulation. Skye's boyfriend Portland Police Detective Scott Madison leads the investigation, which gives the pair a chance to rekindle their on and off and now on relationship. They both learn that the victim had numerous enemies; neighbors who were irate over his canine population that allowed no one to sleep; a business partner who believed he was cheated out of his fair share of the profits; and a client who was outraged when Frank failed to sell him the puppy he was promised. Scott wants Skye to stay out of the case not in his bed; while she agrees with the bed but investigates anyway like a bulldog placing herself at risk.
Besides dealing with the animal antics, Skye copes with her hysterical friend who is giving birth in a week or so and with her back on boyfriend. The romance between the detective and the photographer adds realism to the mix as they find out that Frank messed with seemingly half the population of the northwest making it difficult to choose who killed him. Fans will enjoy Liz Wolfe's delightful police procedural=amateur sleuth combo.