Pepe may have soft white fur, big brown eyes, and macho attitude—but he’s no furry fashion fad. Pepe can talk—even if his new owner, Geri Sullivan, seems to be the only person who can understand him.
When Geri takes her first assignment for a quirky private investigator named Jimmy G and stumbles over a Seattle millionaire’s corpse, Pepe proves to be worth his weight in liver treats. Suspicion falls on the not-so-grieving widow who wants to finance a reality TV show, Dancing with Dogs.
Normally, Pepe wouldn’t be caught muerte in a sparkly costume. However, he has to sniff out the real killer and keep Geri safe. Lesser dogs might flinch. But Pepe isn’t the kind to turn tail and run . . .
“Pepe is a delight!” —RT Book Reviews, 4 stars
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Apparently the fad was over. All those actresses and models who thought a miniature dog stuffed into a Versace shoulder bag was so cute were now abandoning their furry "accessories" in record numbers. The Los Angeles shelters were so full of Chihuahuas they had to fly them to other parts of the country. My new pet was one of forty Chihuahuas who had been shipped to Seattle.
At the Humane Society, the Chihuahuas were all in one cage. Most were milling around or throwing themselves at the bars, barking. One dog sat by himself, away from the others. A ray of sunlight fell through the opening high in the cinder block wall and illuminated his white fur.
I knew as soon as I looked into his big, dark eyes that he was mine. He held his head high but he looked forlorn. It was a feeling I could totally understand.
My divorce had just become final. My ex had already bought a new three-bedroom house with his fiancée, while I was scraping by in a one-bedroom condo with his cat. To make things worse, the real estate market was crashing, and my career as a stager was in jeopardy. After suffering through a series of disastrous dates, I decided to adopt a dog. I was in need of some unconditional love.
My new pet was quiet during the drive home but he turned into a little white tornado when I set him down on the carpet inside my front door. He raced around the living room, sniffing around the edges of the furniture. Luckily I had locked Albert, the cat, into my bedroom before I went to pick up my new companion.
While he was exploring, I went into the kitchen to set up a water bowl and food dish for him. I opened a small can of Alpo Gourmet, hoping he'd like beef and vegetables with gravy. At the snick of the can opener, he scampered around the corner, his nails clicking across the tile floor, before I could even spoon the food into his dish.
Poor little guy, I thought, he must be terribly hungry. But instead of wolfing down the Alpo, he paused in front of his dish and just stared at it.
Maybe he didn't like beef and gravy. Maybe he didn't like vegetables. But I'd been in a hurry to get to the Humane Society before they closed and had just picked up the first can of dog food I saw at Pete's Market. Maybe I should have bought an assortment of flavors.
I was about to tell my new companion that I'd get him a flavor he liked, when he looked up at me and said, "Muchas gracias."
"De nada," I replied as he began gobbling up the food like he hadn't eaten for a week.
Wait a minute ... he couldn't have spoken to me. And in Spanish, no less. I'd been alone too long. That was it. I was under a lot of stress. I was late with my homeowner's dues and late with my mortgage payments. I had started looking for work on Craigslist, but so far I wasn't making much progress. Thirty resumes out, but only one interview. That interview was with the owner of a private detective agency. Jimmy Gerrard had a sleazy appearance, a shabby office, and a weird way of talking about himself in the third person. Still, I was desperate and had tried to convince him I would make a good investigator. I have an eye for detail, I'm a good judge of character, and I speak a little Spanish.
The dog had emptied his food bowl and was licking his lips with his long pink tongue. He looked out toward the living room. "Tu casa es hermosa, muy hermosa."
"What?" I agreed that my home was pretty, but I didn't expect to hear it from him.
"Tu casa es mi casa," he said approvingly. He got it backwards, but I got the point: he felt at home.
He trotted into the living room and started looking around, more slowly this time. I poured myself a glass of Chardonnay and followed him. He seemed to like what he saw, his head bobbing up and down as he poked his nose into the corners. I sank down on my chocolate brown sofa and set my wineglass on the end table. Before I knew it, I had a Chihuahua in my lap. He proceeded to give my crotch a series of vigorous sniffs.
"Stop that," I scolded.
"I am a dog," he said. "What can I do?"
I was about to shoo him away, when he lay down in my lap and curled up, snug as a kitten. He was so soft and cuddly, his short fur like warm velvet. His long ears were shell pink where the light shone through them.
I mused aloud, "What shall we call you?"
"My name is Pepe," he answered in Spanish.
"Sí." He got off my lap and stood on the couch beside me, his huge brown eyes looking directly into mine. "And your name, senorita?" he continued, still speaking Spanish. "How are you called?"
"I'm Geri Sullivan," I told him.
"Bueno," he said, with a wagging tail. "I am now, with great pride, Pepe Sullivan."
I took another sip of my wine. This was too much.
Pepe looked me up and down. "You are muy bonita, Geri!"
I blinked. "Really?" It had been a long time since anyone had complimented me on my appearance.
"Sí! Your dark, curly hair gleams like the wing of a raven. Your lashes are as long and thick as a camel's. And your curves are as sultry as the Yucatan."
"Pepe," I said, "you are quite the flatterer." Although I was still pondering the comparison to a camel. Was that a compliment?
"I do not flatter," he said. "I speak only the truth. I can recognize a hot mama when I see one."
"Well, thank you." I said. They say dogs are man's best friend, but this one was definitely woman's best friend. He made me feel way better than any of the losers I had dated since the divorce.
"Geri," Pepe asked, "have you any other dogs?"
"No, I don't." I said. For some reason, I was reluctant to tell him about Albert. Just as I was reluctant to let Albert know about the dog.
"Buenísimo!" He nodded approvingly. "That makes me el jefe."
I didn't think Albert would agree with that and was about to tell him so, when my cell phone rang. I got up and fished it out of my brown leather purse.
I expected it to be my best friend and business partner, Brad. I had promised to stop by his shop to show him my new pet. So I was shocked when the caller introduced himself as Jimmy Gerrard, the owner of the Gerrard Agency.
"Jimmy G. has good news!" he said. "You're hired." It had been three weeks since the interview. I had long since given up hope that he would hire me. So it took me a moment to recover. "Great! When do I start?"
"What do you mean right now?"
"Jimmy G. means what he says. Right now. We've got a case!"
"OK," I said. I really wanted to spend my time getting the dog settled but I couldn't afford to pass up this opportunity. "Do you want me to meet you at the office?"
"You're on your own for this one," he said. "Jimmy G. is in Portland. On another case. Tailing a suspect. But we got a call from a woman who lives on Capitol Hill. Her husband is missing, and Jimmy G. needs someone to get over there to interview her. She's expecting you. Told her you could be there by 4 PM."
I looked at the clock. It was 3:30. "But I've never done this before," I said. "I have no idea what to do —"
He cut me off. "You'll be fine. Find out what she wants. Take some shorthand." I wanted to tell him shorthand went out in the fifties, but he kept on going. "We can go over your notes when Jimmy G. returns."
Pepe was still standing on the sofa, listening to me as I spoke on the phone. After I hung up, I turned to him and said, "That was good news, Pepe. I've got a job. I'm a private investigator, and I'm going out to interview a client." It seemed OK to brag a little, especially to a dog.
"I will go with you," he said.
"No, you have to stay here," I said as I slid my cell phone back into my purse.
I shook my head. "I'm not going to blow this chance just because I'm hallucinating a talking dog. You are a figment of my imagination."
"I am no figment," Pepe told me. "I am flesh and fur and blood. Am I not standing here before you?"
"Yes, but —"
"Oh, so you bring me home only to deny me." He turned away and walked to the other end of the couch, where he stopped, his head hanging low. "I am offended."
Poor guy. I went over and stroked his smooth back. "Pepe," I said, "I'm sorry. But it could be dangerous." I didn't really think so, but it made my life seem more glamorous. Although I wasn't sure why I was trying to impress my dog. But don't we all want to impress our dogs?
Pepe perked right up. "Dangerous, eh? I could be of help."
"You're just a little Chihuahua."
"I am full of machismo."
I smiled. "That's all well and good, but —"
"Trouble is my middle name," he told me. "Do you know that I have faced the bulls in Mexico City?"
"Sí." He paused. "Well, truth be told, I only by accident fell into the bull ring — but I dodged el toro better than the matador. The entire crowd cheered for me."
"Sí. Now can I go with you?"
"No, Pepe. You have to stay here." I headed for the door. But I hadn't gone more than a few steps, when Pepe scampered after me.
"I have also worked as a search and rescue dog in Mexico City."
"It takes a small dog to search small spaces after an earthquake. Tight places, dark places, dangerous spaces. But I am very brave."
"That's fine, but —"
"So now can I go?"
"I'm sorry," I told him. "I'll be right back. I'll only be gone about an hour."
He planted himself in front of the door.
"Additionally," he said, "I have worked with the federal authorities in the battle against the Mexican drug lords."
"Cut it out, Pepe. How could you have done all that? How old are you anyway?"
"Old enough to have done these things, and many more," he said.
I shook my head.
"You doubt me? I will show you. I have a good nose."
He headed for the living room and went straight to the black lacquered Chinese cabinet underneath my TV. I followed him.
"Here," he said, standing on his hind legs and scratching at the dangling gold tassel on the cabinet doors with his tiny pink paws. "Drugs."
I was stunned. "There aren't any drugs in there."
"No?" He sniffed at the drawer, his nose quivering. "I beg to differ. Sí. It is marijuana for certain."
"Oh, all right. But it isn't mine."
"Really. Jeff must have been left it behind —"
"So," Pepe interrupted, "I have proven myself. Now you must take me along."
"Fine, fine," I said. "I give up. I'll go get the leash."
"There's a leash law, Pepe, we —"
"How can I protect you if I am all tied up?" he asked. "Do not worry. I promise to walk only at your side. To heel, as it is called."
"OK, OK," I said. "But we have to go right now or we'll be late."
"Sí. Vámonos," he said, leading the way to the door. "But I have to do one thing before we get into the car."
"What's that?" I said, as we went outside.
"I need to mark my territory."CHAPTER 2
A cold, wet breeze was blowing from the south as we approached my green Toyota sedan, which was parked on the street. The day, like most April days in Seattle, had been fickle: rain showers alternating with sun breaks. But now a huge, black cloud hovered over the gray waters of nearby Lake Union, promising to fulfill the weatherman's prediction of a cold and stormy night.
"Are you sure we are in Seattle?" Pepe asked, as he sniffed at a dozen different spots on the grass of the parking strip. "It feels more like Nome, Alaska," he added with an extended shiver.
"I suppose I should get you a rain coat," I told him, fishing my car keys out of my purse. It was one of the things I was anticipating with pleasure. Chihuahuas look so cute when they are dressed up.
"No." His tone was authoritative.
"Real dogs do not wear coats." With that, still shivering, he went to my car's rear, curbside tire, lifted his hind leg and peed all over the hubcap.
"Pepe! Stop that!"
"I had to mark my territory," he said, walking up to me.
"Fine," I said. "But you didn't have to do it on my tire."
"It is the very best place, Geri."
"Why is that?"
"It is a little trick I picked up from my cousin, Chico," he explained. "If you park your car near our hacienda, all the senoritas in the neighborhood will soon know that I live here. But your car, it also gets around — this means that senoritas all over town will know of Pepe el Macho. It is simple."
I couldn't argue with his logic, but I told him, "Don't do it again."
"If it makes you unhappy, I will not do it anymore. I solemnly promise." He said this with an overblown sincerity that made me nervous. "Now can we get in the car already?" he asked, shivering mightily. "I am freezing my tail off."
I opened the rear passenger door for him, but he didn't budge.
"I ride only in the front," he said.
I didn't have time to argue with him.
I closed the rear door and opened the front one. "OK, you win. Just get in," I told him, then remembered how short he was. "Here," I added, bending down, "I'll help you."
"I can do it myself." With a mighty leap he launched himself from the pavement to the floorboard of the car, and from there another jump took him to the passenger seat.
I got in and started the engine. As I put on my seatbelt, I looked over at my canine passenger and had to say that he looked quite handsome. He sat up straight, his head lifted, though I doubted he could see over the dashboard.
"Well," I asked him. "Ready to go?"
"Sí," he answered. "But there is just one thing."
"Crack open my window a bit, por favor," he said. "I get carsick."
The woman I was supposed to interview, Rebecca Tyler, lived on Fourteenth Avenue East, a street also known as Millionaire's Row, because it's lined with huge, turn-of-the-century mansions built by Seattle's early merchants and timber barons. It was a wide, stately street, lined with tall elms and horse chestnut trees. The houses were set back behind manicured lawns and wrought-iron fences, all well preserved in styles of the past: Southern colonial, Tudor revival, neoclassical. The people who built them had big money back then; the people living in them now had big money today.
I didn't know much about my client, just that her husband was missing and instead of calling the police she had called Jimmy Gerrard. Perhaps her husband had run off with another woman, and she didn't want to expose herself to the public scrutiny a police investigation would involve.
As we pulled up in front of the Tyler residence, Pepe, who had been talking non-stop the whole way there, said, "Are we here? Is this the place?"
"I think so." I took out my notes to double-check the address.
Pepe stood, putting his forelegs on the armrest so he could see out the window. "The house number — what is it?"
"It's 640," I told him. The house sat behind a wrought-iron fence with pointed barbs. Huge stone pillars flanked the driveway with the house number displayed in tile on either side.
"Sí," Pepe told me. "Seis cuatro cero. This is the correct casa."
Casa seemed a misnomer, I thought. It wasn't just the biggest home on the block, it was a gigantic white wedding cake of a mansion. Four huge white Corinthian columns on either side of the entryway supported a gracefully curved upper deck. Gold-painted lion statues guarded the wide stairs leading up to the front door.
"I do not like those big lions," said Pepe.
"They're not real."
"Still, they give me a sense of unease."
"Fine. Just be quiet for a minute," I told him. "I want to make sure I'm prepared." I grabbed my big brown leather purse and rooted around to find my pen.
"You tell me to be silent? I am insulted."
"Look, Pepe, your mouth hasn't stopped during this whole trip. You talk more than any dog I ever knew." I stopped, realizing how absurd that sounded.
He hung his head. "Perhaps it is because you are the only person who has ever listened to me in my whole life."
That stung me — I certainly knew what it was like when nobody would listen to you. I gave him a gentle pat on the head.
"I apologize," I told my tough little hombre with the delicate feelings.
He perked right up, his tail wagging. "Then I can talk?" "Yes, you can talk."
"Look there, Geri," he said, looking out at the house again. "The front door — it is ajar. Is that not strange?"
"Yes, it is," I said. I watched the door for a minute, but saw no sign of activity. "You stay here." I opened the car door. "I'm going to check it out."
"Me, too." Before I knew it, Pepe had scrambled across my lap and out of the car. He ran up the stairs and into the house in a flash.
Excerpted from "Dial C for Chihuahua"
Copyright © 2012 Waverly Curtis.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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