Dixie Hemingway has a knack for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The day she happens upon the dead body outside a fancy mansion is no different. She's had her fill of homicide investigations, so she leaves the gate-keeper's corpse to be found by somebody else. Unfortunately, that somebody else sees Dixie leaving the scene of the crime, and the fatal bullet might have even come from her own gun! To make matters worse, the owner of the mansion is Dixie's new client—a scientist who is either a genius, insane, or both—whose pet iguana is under her charge. All that, plus a feisty calico kitten that needs some TLC, means that time is running out for Dixie to catnip this case in the bud… and collar the killer.
About the Author
BLAIZE CLEMENT originated the Dixie Hemingway mystery series, starting with Curiosity Killed the Cat Sitter and Duplicity Dogged the Dachshund. She collaborated with her son John Clement on the plots and characters for forthcoming novels. Blaize lived for many years in Sarasota, Florida.
Read an Excerpt
Christmas was coming, and I had killed a man.
Either of those facts was enough to make me want to stay in bed and pull the covers over my head for a long, long time.
Not to mention the fact that I was having feelings for two men, when I'd never expected or wanted to love even one man again, ever.
Not to also mention the fact that I'd agreed to take care of an unknown freewheeling iguana today.
It was all too much for any one person, especially this person. I figured I had every right to put the brakes on my life and refuse to go on. To just stand up and yell, "Okay, time out! No more life for me for a while. I'll get back to you when I'm ready."
Instead, I crawled out of bed at 4 A.M., just like I do every friggin' morning, and gutted up to face whatever the day would bring. It's a genetic curse, coming as I do from a long line of people who just keep on keeping on, even when anybody in their right mind would step aside for a while.
I'm Dixie Hemingway, no relation to you-know-who. I'm a pet sitter on Siesta Key, which is a semitropical barrier island off Sarasota, Florida. Until almost four years ago, I was a deputy with the Sarasota County Sheriff's Department. My husband was a deputy too. His name was Todd. We had a beautiful little girl. Her name was Christy. We were happy in the way of all young families, aware that bad things happened to other people but blocking out how exquisitely tenuous life really is. That all changed in a heartbeat. Two heartbeats, actually — the last of Todd's and Christy's.
I've read somewhere that excavators in Siberia found an intact woolly mammoth that had been entombed in ice for millennia. A butterfly was on the mammoth's tongue. I think about that woolly mammoth a lot, because life's like that. One second you can be blissfully standing in golden sunshine with butterflies flitting around you, and the next second — whap! — the world goes dark and you're totally alone and frozen.
I went a little bit crazy when that happened to me. To tell the truth, I went more than a little crazy. My rage was so great that the Sheriff's Department wisely decided that sending me out in public with a gun on my belt was like dropping a piranha in a goldfish bowl. But grief held too long eventually becomes a memorial to yourself, and you have to let it go.
When I was able to function again, I became a pet sitter. I like pets and they like me, and I'm not often in situations where I might revert to the old fury that buzzed in my veins for so long. I can't say I'm completely free of either the grief or the craziness that goes with it, but I'm a lot better.
At least I was until I killed that man.
Not that he didn't need killing. He did, and the grand jury agreed that he did. Actually, they agreed that I had killed him in self-defense and that it was a damn good thing I had, given the awful things he had done and would have done again, but that didn't change the fact that I have to live with knowing I've killed somebody.
Killing changes a person. Ask any combat veteran responsible for enemy deaths. Ask any cop who's had to take out a criminal. You can justify it, you can know that it was your job, that it was necessary, and that you'd do it again in the same circumstance, but it still changes you, even if nobody else knows it.
That, plus the fact that Christmas would be here in exactly twelve days, was causing me to avoid almost all human contact.
In my line of work, avoiding human contact is actually pretty easy. If a pet client is new, I have one meeting with its humans when we sign a contract and make sure everybody understands exactly what I will and will not do. I'm pretty much a pushover when it comes to pets, so I'll do whatever they need, but I try not to let the humans know that right up front. They give me a key to their house and a security code number if they have an alarm system, show me their pet's toys and favorite hiding places, and tell me what they want done in the event they both die while they're away. Living in a retirement mecca where the majority of the inhabitants are over the age of sixty-five makes that an issue that comes up more frequently than you'd think. Sometimes it's the other way around; they tell me what they want done with the pet in the event it dies while they're away. That also happens more frequently than you'd think. Once we've all made sure we're in accord about what's best for the pet, they leave and I don't have any more contact with them until they return.
That's my modus operandi and it's practically set in stone. The fact that I'd deviated so much from it when I agreed to take care of an iguana that day was a mystery. His owner had called the night before and talked me into taking the job even though he wasn't one of my regular clients, and even though it is absolutely against my professional standards to take on a pet without first meeting both pet and owner. We'd had a bad connection and I'd had to strain to hear him. To this day, I'm not exactly sure what he said that was so persuasive — the husky Irish accent, maybe, not full-blown faith-and-begorra Irish but with enough of a lilt to make my mouth want to smile. Or maybe it was just that I have a soft spot in my heart for iguanas because my grandfather had one.
I said, "The iguana is in a cage?"
"No, no, he runs free. I don't fancy cages."
I nodded at the phone. My grandfather had felt the same way.
He said, "Somebody will be there to let you in. All you have to do is put out fresh vegetables. He dotes on yellow squash, and there's some romaine and red chard. I'm forever in your debt for doing this, miss. Leave me a bill and I'll get a check off to you the instant I get home."
"You want me to go just the one time?"
"Yes, that's all. Oh, and this is very important — his name is Ziggy. Zig-ee."
He gave me his address on Midnight Pass Road and rang off before I could get a phone number. When I looked at the notes I'd scrawled, they were pathetic. I'd written Ken Curtis (?) Vegs Yellow sqsh Ziggy.
Except for the address, that was it. I hadn't even verified the caller's name, and he had said it so fast I wasn't sure I'd caught it right. I pride myself on handling my business in a professional manner, but any half-assed amateur could have handled that call better. I consoled myself that it would be an easy twenty bucks. Iguanas don't have to be walked or groomed, so all I'd have to do was put out some veggies for him and I'd be out in no time.
The weather for the last few days had been what Southwest Floridians call cold and wintry, meaning night temperatures had dipped into the high fifties, and the days' highs hovered just below seventy. For tourists and seasonal snowbirds, the cold weather was a major disappointment. For thin-blooded year-round locals like me, it was an aberrant misery.
My apartment is above a four-stall carport, with a long covered porch running its length. The porch faces the Gulf of Mexico, where time and capricious tides have carved a narrow hiccup of beachfront property that shifts and transforms itself every few months, making it an undesirable spot for developers and investors. When I opened the French doors that morning and stepped out on the porch, it was so chilly I could see my breath in the pale light of a coconut sky. Rain clouds were building purple mountains over the Gulf, but they looked several hours away. At least that's what I told myself when I decided to take my bike instead of the Bronco. The truth is that at that pre-dawn hour, when the birds are still sleeping in the palms, oaks, pines, and sea grape, I feel invincible on my bike, gliding down empty streets and breathing in the salty air as if I were a bird myself.
Siesta Key is eight miles long, north to south, with one main thoroughfare named Midnight Pass Road. Sarasota Bay lies on our east side, and the Gulf of Mexico is on the west. Two drawbridges connect us to Sarasota, each with a bathroom-sized bridge house where a tender pushes buttons and flips switches to open the bridge when a boat needs to pass through. The entire operation only takes about ten minutes for one boat, but if several boats sail through, it takes a lot longer. One of our favorite bitch topics is how long we had to wait for a sailboat to pass, but the bridges also make for great excuses for being late to appointments. All we have to say is, "The bridge was up," and people roll their eyes and groan in understanding.
About seven thousand permanent people call the key home, but during the season, from October to May, our population swells to around twenty-four thousand. Except for times when our streets are clogged with sunbemused snowbirds, tourists, or carousing students on spring break, we're a fairly laid-back bunch.
I live near the south end so I always begin the day working my way north, just taking care of dogs. Dogs can't wait for you the way other pets can. Once all the dogs have been walked and fed and groomed, I retrace my route and call on the pets who don't have to pee outside — cats and hamsters and rabbits and guinea pigs and birds. Not snakes. I don't take care of snakes. I'm not exactly snake-phobic, but it makes me go swimmy-headed to hold a squirming little mouse above a gaping snake's mouth, so I refer those jobs to other pet sitters.
No matter who else is on my daily list of calls, I always start with Billy Elliot. Billy's a former racing greyhound who lives with Tom Hale in the Sea Breeze condos. Tom's a CPA whose spine was crushed a few years ago when a wall of lumber at a home-improvement store fell on him. Then, to make his misery complete, his wife left him and took their children and most of their possessions. Eventually, Tom got his act together, moved into the Sea Breeze, and started doing whatever it is that CPAs do at his kitchen table. He and I trade services. I go by twice a day and run with Billy Elliot, and Tom handles anything having to do with me and money.
With all that had happened to him, Tom was about as closed off from the world as I was, but when I got to his condo that morning, there was a big Christmas wreath on his door. It wasn't just a generic wreath, either, but a customized affair with a sassy red velvet bow and a toy greyhound perched above a nest of gilded pinecones. I stood a moment gaping at the thing before I unlocked the door and let myself into the dark foyer where Billy Elliot was nervously prancing on the tile floor. We kissed hello, I clipped the leash on his collar, and we slipped out of the apartment as quietly as thieves. On the ride down in the elevator, I considered asking him what had possessed Tom to have such a fancy wreath made for his door, but I thought it might hurt Billy Elliot's feelings, seeing as his facsimile was the focal point of the wreath.
We ran tippy-toe across the downstairs lobby and went outside to the parking lot for our run. Billy Elliot knew the routine — run fairly slowly and pee on selected bushes until we come to the oval track encircled by parked cars, and then stretch out and run like hell, full out, galloping like crazy, just like when he was a young dog chasing a mechanical rabbit while crowds cheered and bet money on him. Except this time he had a wheezing blond human slowing him down because her thigh muscles weren't nearly as strong as his. When he had finally run out all his nervous energy and I was about to fall over from breathing so hard, we ran at a slower pace back to the Sea Breeze's front door.
A woman with a corgi on a short leash was just coming out, and we stood aside while they passed. The woman nodded, but the corgi was embarrassed on account of wearing a pair of miniature deer antlers and an ermine-trimmed red velvet jacket, so he kept his head averted. Billy Elliot and I exchanged a can-you-believe-that? look, but we didn't let on how dorky we thought it was.
Upstairs, I could smell coffee brewing in the kitchen, and the lights were on in Tom's living room. I hadn't noticed it before, but there was a lavishly decorated Christmas tree in the corner. Now that I knew it was there, I could smell it, too, a pleasant balsam odor. My gosh, not only a wreath but a real Christmas tree! Tom and I don't always talk when I pop in and out of his apartment, but you'd think something like plans to buy a Christmas tree would have come up at least once. I wondered how he'd managed to get the top ornaments on. To tell the truth, I felt a little put out that he hadn't asked me to help him. I mean, I didn't want a tree of my own, but if he wanted to have one I would have been happy to help him with it.
I yelled toward the kitchen, "Morning, Tom! Nice tree!"
He wheeled into the living room with a curious grin on his face and his mop of curly black hair looking slept on. Instead of his usual sloppy sweats, he wore a snazzy red velour bathrobe. He looked a little bit like the corgi.
I said, "Wow, you've really got the Christmas spirit, don't you?" I could hear the little defensive whine in my voice, but I couldn't do anything about it.
He grinned even wider and made some inarticulate sounds that sounded like he was trying to deny it and claim it at the same time. Clinking sounds came from the kitchen, the sounds of mugs being removed from a cupboard, and a silky woman's voice called, "Darlin', did you ask me something?"
Oh. Now I understood. Tom hadn't been hit by the Christmas spirit, he'd been hit by romance. And he hadn't told me. He hadn't said, "Hey, Dixie, I've got a woman in my life now, so when you come to run with Billy Elliot, you may meet her."
For some reason, that made me vaguely angry, which was stupid, because Tom's personal life wasn't any of my business, and I was actually glad that he had a girlfriend after being alone for so long. But I was still sulky at the change in him.
I said, "Oh, excuse me," and beat a fast retreat, knowing all the time that Tom would feel bad at the way I acted, but not able to do anything about that, either. I didn't even hang Billy Elliot's leash in the hall closet before I left, just left it sloppily looped over the arm of a chair.
The nasty truth was that I was jealous. Not like a woman jealous that another woman is with a man she wants, but jealous that Tom had found the strength to let his old love go and be happy with somebody new. I wasn't sure I'd ever be able to do that, and I was afraid I would self-destruct if I didn't — and soon.
An hour later, the sky was beginning to go lemon as I led a miniature beagle from her driveway to the sidewalk. Funny how I remember the moment so well, as if that were the real beginning of all the awfulness to come. It wasn't, of course, but it seemed so at the time.
A flurry of fish crows flew overhead, and the beagle and I both looked up to watch their flight. Either by accident or design, I was never sure which, a miniature English bulldog careened around the hedge by the driveway and almost collided with the beagle. The bulldog was white, with a brown hand-sized mark on his back, another covering his right eye, and a wrinkled, squashed face so ugly it was adorable. The two miniature dogs lunged toward each other like long-lost cousins, with lots of tail-wagging and butt-sniffing and leash-tangling.
At the other end of the bulldog's leash was a tall woman whose back and shoulders were so erect and squared that the open smile she gave me was a little surprising. By the time we'd got the dogs separated and they were at our feet panting and grinning — and drooling, in the bulldog's case — the woman and I were as friendly as the dogs, except without the tail-wagging and butt-sniffing.
I guessed her about five years older than me, which would make her around thirty-seven, with the long-boned, athletic, Katharine-Hepburn-type beauty that always makes me feel short and dumpy. She was wearing jeans and a hooded gray sweatshirt that hid her hair, but I had the impression the hair was dark, like her eyes. I noticed she wore the same kind of Keds I wore, the washable kind you can get at Sears for twenty bucks. The only unusual thing about her was that she had a nervous way of looking over her shoulder, and her dark eyes tended to dart from side to side as she talked, as if she were checking to see if somebody lurked behind the thick foliage lining the street.
In one of those husky voices that make every word sound full of portent, she said, "I guess the cooler weather has made Ziggy friskier. He's usually not so aggressive."
"Your dog's name is Ziggy?"
She laughed. "Ziggy Stardust, actually. I'm a big David Bowie fan."
"That's the second time I've heard about a pet named Ziggy."
Her smile flashed again. "Another dog?"
"No, an iguana."
Excerpted from "Even Cat Sitters Get the Blues"
Copyright © 2008 Blaize Clement.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Interesting to follow Dixie's slow return to the human race. She is beginning to decide to live again after the death of her husband and daughter. She finally adopts a calico kitten that she has bedn worrying over because the kitten's owners were going to have her declawed. She has also been worrying over an iguana that someone pretending to be the owner tricked her into taking care of. The household where the iguana lives is very odd with all kinds of undercurrents.
Former Florida Deputy Sheriff Dixie Hemingway remains on administrative leave as she struggles with the deaths of her husband Todd and their daughter Christy. She earns a living as a pet sitter in Siesta Key, a barrier island off Sarasota, in an attempt to remain as far away from law enforcement as she can. Although she has not been as successful as she would have liked having recently been forced to kill an assailant. Although she would prefer to hide in bed from the world for two reasons: that killing even if the Grad Jury ruled self defense and worse the loneliness of Christmas without Todd and Christy. However, she pushes herself to go to work and quit the self pity. At the gatehouse to a client¿s mansion, Dixie spots a dead body. Deciding she wants nothing to do with a corpse, she leaves without informing anyone. However, whether it is guilt or concern over the mad scientist who owns the mansion, Dixie, in between caring for his pet iguana, investigates the homicide. ---- Readers will appreciate the third Dixie Hemingway whodunit (see CURIOSITY KILLED THE CAT SITTER and DUPLICITY DOGGED THE DACHSHUND) as the reluctant former cop works a case that she would prefer not to get involved. Besides sleuthing, Dixie struggles with her feelings of guilt that she should not feel attractions for Police Lieutenant Guidry and attorney Crane. Thriller elements due to her client, the mad scientist not the iguana, enhance an entertaining mystery. ---- Harriet Klausner