When a break-in at the Pet Palace robs Sue Patrick of more than her beauty sleep, she intends to tidy her ransacked doggy daycare and spa before making any rash decisions. But after Sue abandons her better instincts to rescue a petrified pug stranded at a lighthouse in the Delaware Bay later that morning, she’s lured off mainland Lewes long enough for a freshly murdered body to get dumped in her driveway . . .
Aided by Lady Anthea Fitzwalter, her practically royal business partner from across the pond, Sue sniffs out clues about the yappy pug with a complicated history and the old car spotted at both crime scenes in hopes of IDing the culprit. As the investigation leads them back to the bay, the ladies soon find themselves immersed in a case trickier than a canine agility course—and chasing after a well-groomed killer who will do anything to maintain a perfect reputation . . .
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I had been certain that it was the sound of barking dogs that had yanked me from a deep sleep, but I was wrong. I bolted upright in my bed and grabbed the ringing cell phone. I hit the button, and a man was saying, "We have an alarm going off at the Buckingham Pet Palace. The police department has been notified." He was going for a reassuring tone, but it was way too late for that. I thought about my nighttime employees and the dogs in our care.
In a move somewhere between levitation and acrobatics I was out of bed and pulling on yoga pants and a sweatshirt over the t-shirt I'd slept in. "Call the police — oh, wait, you said you did. I'm on my way."
"What is your password?" he asked.
I hung up without answering, because I had no idea what my password was, and shoved my feet into running shoes and crammed the laces into the sides. My business is at the entrance to the subdivision in Lewes, Delaware, where I live, and in half-formed thoughts I decided I could get there faster running than by getting the Jeep out of the garage and driving over. Abby, my pepper-and-salt Standard Schnauzer, opened her eyes. Her curiosity and intelligence had her tracking my frenetic movements. She would stay awake but saw no need to get excited. Her natural, that is not-cropped, ears were cocked at an angle that told me what she was thinking. Dogs can tell time and she knew three o'clock was too early for a go-out or for breakfast, but since hope springs eternal she was on the lookout for any hint that her bowl might be filled early. I sprinted out the door, shutting down that possibility.
I had my cell phone in my hand and it rang again as I raced down the street. It was one of my night part-time hostesses. Buckingham's employed four of these young mothers, who job shared. They worked two at a time while their husbands were at home, saving babysitter costs, and they were back at home in time to get their kids on the school bus.
"Sue! Have the police called you? Do you know what's happening here?" Taylor Dalton said in a panicked whisper, hardly audible over the high-pitched alarm I heard in the background. "We think he's gone."
"I'm almost there. Are you all right? You're upstairs, aren't you? Did you turn off the elevator?" I hadn't given her time to answer any of the questions, but then I had asked for the most important information last. We had never had a burglary in our three years in business, but we had a plan for the night-timers to follow if someone did break in. Since they spent the night upstairs with the boarding dogs, they were to lock up the elevator, call 9-1-1 and stay put. The door to the back stairway was locked so they didn't have to worry about that point of entry.
I didn't hear the rest of what she said now that I was closer to the wailing of the alarm. From the glow of the Victorian-style streetlights, I saw a small car pull out of Buckingham's parking lot on tires best described as insignificant, causing the bottom of the car to scrape the asphalt as it turned onto Village Main Boulevard. Exhaust fumes billowed out the back of it. For the sake of my health, I held my breath. Even with the alarm going off, I could hear its engine clank and complain.
That had to be the burglar.
Personally, I would have gone for more muscle in a getaway car, since the goal was to get away. He wasn't traveling at much of a speed, but not for lack of trying. I could hear the old motor straining. I ended the call with Taylor, then held up my phone and aimed it at the clunker. If the gray cloud of the car's vapors dissipated and if the streetlights and the stars filling the sky lit the night well enough, maybe I could photograph the license plate. Then I could blow the image up large enough to get a number. I meant to say, the Lewes police could do that.
The car chugged out of Villages of Five Points. "Oh, what the hell," I said. First, I took a deep breath, knowing the air quality was only going to get worse the closer I got, and then I took off after the car.
In less than a minute, he was at the Savannah Road entrance to the community. That's where I would catch him. Taylor had said "he." Unfortunately, for me at least, the traffic light took pity on the rattletrap and favored it with a green arrow. After the car turned I couldn't photograph the tag, but maybe I could get one of the driver in profile. With aid from the many streetlights on Savannah Road, and the fact that Walgreens is lit up at all hours, I clicked a couple more times.
Then I gave up and started walking back to Buckingham's. With the racket from the motor, I could still hear the car. I turned back around when it slowed in less than a block. Was it stalling out? No, it was turning left onto Old Orchard Road, the street running along the side of the grocery store. I briefly considered cutting through the Weis parking lot but decided that since he would then be driving on a road with neither stoplights nor any traffic to speak of, especially at this hour, I had zero chance of getting close enough to see anything.
My phone rang as I got back to the Buckingham's parking lot. I swiped the screen to answer the call, then dropped the arm holding it to my side. The sight in front of me was such a shock I couldn't speak. The window of one of the outside doors had been smashed and a piece of driftwood propped that door open. A section of a log, five or six inches tall and wide enough to sit on, held the interior doors apart. We had two sets of doors which gave us a sporting chance when a puppy backed out of his collar and decided running from the groomer would be a fun game, or when a grown dog heard the call of the wild.
"Sue! Can you hear me?" It was our police chief, John Turner, and he was on the phone I had dangling by my side.
I listened for what I hadn't heard. A siren. The alarm company had called the police before calling me, so where were my public servants?
"I'm here," I said. "Where are you?"
"Huh? You're here? I don't see you. How did you know to come to Anglers?"
"Why aren't you at Buckingham's?" I asked.
"Why would I be at the Pet Place?" he asked in return.
"It's Pet Palace, as you know, and why would I be at Anglers?" I didn't bother to ask if he meant Anglers Fishing Center or Anglers Marina. I wasn't at either one, so it didn't matter.
"Hold on. The dispatcher wants me." He hung up, leaving me staring at my phone. I guess he didn't know the meaning of hold on. That was fine with me since I didn't have time to talk.
I tucked my phone into the waistband of my yoga pants and went in to my pride and joy — my very successful pet spa. I stepped over the driftwood and sidestepped to get in through the right side exterior door. The interior doors were only separated by the width of the log, which no adult could squeeze through, so I pushed one of the doors open. Once I was through my feet crunched on broken glass. Dry dog food was strewn all over the lobby floor, and I crushed and scattered it underfoot as I made my way to disarm the security system.
I turned to see the door to the storage closet in the hall standing wide open.
I went behind the desk and used the intercom to call my employees on the upper level. "Taylor? Laurie? Can you hear me?"
The phone at the reception desk rang and I answered it. "Is he gone?" It was Taylor.
"Yeah, I saw him drive away. Come on down."
That's when, at last, I heard the police siren. If I wanted to check out my dog food storage closet before the "don't touch anything," yada yada speech, I'd have to move fast.
We had briefly considered installing a lock on the cherry-stained wood door, but felt a deadbolt wasn't in keeping with the royal, or at least British upper-class, ambiance we were trying to create for our pet parents.
I scanned the shelves. We'd need to inventory what was left to learn the exact amount of our loss, but it didn't take a CPA to know that several of the large bags of the gourmet dry food were gone. Two shelves were empty. The cases of canned food didn't seem to have been disturbed.
"Sue! Are you all right?" a baritone voice called from the lobby entrance.
I came out of the storage closet. "I'm fine," I answered.
Chief John Turner stood in the doorway literally scratching his head, as he took in the debris on the floor, before looking up at me. "Good morning," he said with what some of my favorite books would refer to as a sardonic grin. "What have you touched in here?" His winter uniform wasn't really a uniform. He was wearing a white shirt, gray slacks, and a black Lewes Police Department windbreaker.
"Nothing." I walked to him and held out my hands in case he wanted to test for dog food residue.
"I don't hear the alarm. You must have touched the keypad."
"That's all I touched."
"You walked through the dog food," he continued. "We would have liked to check for footprints."
"Well, yeah. But that's all. Really."
"And you moved those doors." He pointed at the interior set of doors.
"Didn't you move them, too?"
"I pushed them open in a way that prevented disturbing any fiber evidence."
"Well, so did I," I said.
He rolled his eyes. "Did you touch anything else?"
"I'm the owner. I've touched everything in here at some time! But, no, I didn't touch anything else this morning." I heard the elevator descending and waited for Taylor and Laurie. The doors parted and I hugged one young woman, andthen the other.
I turned to Chief Turner. "They did just what they were taught. They shut down the elevator and stayed upstairs."
"We were so relieved to hear your voice over the intercom," Laurie said.
Chief Turner closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "You touched the intercom," he said. That was my cue to change the subject.
"To get here as fast as you did from Anglers you must have — By the way, what were you doing there at this hour? Are you going fishing?"
"Why did you think I would be there?" I asked.
"You and I need to head over there as soon as I finish here. I'll explain on the way." Then he turned to Taylor and Laurie. "So, you two sheltered in place?" he asked.
"He told us to," Laurie said.
"He told us to," Taylor said at the same time. "He yelled up at us to stay where we were and no one would get hurt. Then he banged on the elevator door with a gun."
"He had a gun?" Chief Turner's head jerked up at that. "How would you know that? You were upstairs."
Laurie put her hands up, palms out, and gave Taylor an exasperated look. "It was just something metal."
"But it was a man's voice you heard?" Chief Turner asked.
"A man who is into very old movies," I added.
Simultaneously they saw the state of the lobby floor and the doors.
"Oh, no!" Laurie cried.
"You two are okay, and that's all that matters," I assured them. "I don't care about the burglary."
Chief Turner had his notepad out and was writing without looking at it, a life skill that could come in handy from time to time. Or maybe making heads or tails of it later was the amazing part. "You weren't burgled. Since they were threatened," he said, stopping to point at Taylor and Laurie, "you were robbed."
"Thanks for clearing that up," I said.
"I'll get a crime scene team out here," Turner said, completely ignoring my first-rate sarcastic remark.
I turned back to Taylor and Laurie. "I tried to chase him. Did you see his car from the window?"
"There was too much pollution coming out of it to see much," Taylor said, making a face. "We heard it and went to the window to look out."
"You could hear his car from up there?" I asked.
They both said they had, laughing nervously but starting to relax.
"People in Rehoboth probably heard it," Laurie said. "He left it running. I guess that's why we didn't hear the breaking glass or when he made this mess."
John was making notes as they spoke. "Did you see the make or model?"
"Tiny and foreign," Laurie answered.
"Stinky and small," Taylor said.
The chief's pencil stopped. "You two are practically expert witnesses, you know that?"
"It looked like it was from another century," I said. I glanced at Taylor and Laurie to see if he had hurt their feelings, but they were laughing.
Was Turner trying to be funny? Or condescending and superior? He had done it again. Would I ever go out with him?Hell to the no.CHAPTER 2
"Sue?" It was Shelby Ryan, my assistant manager. "Are you in there?"
"Stay outside!" Chief Turner called.
"Stay! Stay! Stay!" Shelby said.
"Yeah, that's what I said." The police chief was taking notes, his back to the door.
"Oh, no!" I knew what was coming and turned to Taylor and Laurie. "She has the puppies with her." On Christmas Day, Shelby's Bernese Mountain Dog — poetically named Bernice — had a litter of eight puppies. Shelby, and her husband, Jeffrey, had three left. And those three had smelled the food that was covering the lobby floor. They tumbled over the board holding the inner doors apart and ran in. When their claws got to the pilfered food, they began skidding, trying to catch kibble in their mouths as they slid.
"My evidence!" Turner yelled. Then he saw Bernice. His mouth dropped open at the sight of the one-hundred-pound dog.
Bernice was on a leash and when Shelby commanded her to stay, she did, though she did look longingly at the buffet she was missing out on as she stood with her head and neck between the doors. She, like most of her breed, had what was known as a dry mouth, which meant she didn't drool. Bernice's tight lips meant the lobby entrance would stay dry, more or less.
Taylor and Laurie each picked up a puppy. I picked up the third.
"Sorry," Shelby said. We have a strict no leash–no lobby rule. "I raced out the door when the alarm company called. Sue, they said you didn't give them the password." For her to have driven with Bernice and her puppies loose in the car instead of crated or harnessed told me she had been as worried as I had been at the thought of Taylor and Laurie here during a break-in.
The flashing lights of a second Lewes police department car lit up our small parking lot.
Chief Turner looked at Bernice, then at Shelby. "Would you mind, uh, doing something with that?" He obviously wanted to meet with the new police officer on the scene, but the dog's head, the size of a football, still filled the space between the two interior doors.
"Sure. Sorry, I forgot," Shelby said and returned her dog to the van. This was the van we had used to chauffeur dogs until one of our employees was found murdered in it last year. We figured the good people of Lewes wouldn't want to see it around town and besides, it seemed disrespectful of the dead. We had the title to the Honda van transferred to Shelby, and she transferred the title of her Prius to Buckingham's. The van was our signature golf-course-green, and she had it painted white. We had the Buckingham Pet Palace logo painted on her Prius and we were good to go. Sometimes we had to make more than one trip for morning pickups or afternoon drop-offs, but that was okay. A small-business owner that wasn't flexible was soon out of business.
Chief Turner carefully worked his way through the doors to get outside, where, except for the patrol car headlights, it was still dark.
As soon as Shelby came back inside she stretched her arms wide for a group hug.
"Shelby, your hair is as big as a person," Taylor said, holding up a strand of thick, curly, red locks, and towering over her. Shelby was just over five feet tall. "Did you know that?"
"If you're giving me a hard time, I guess everybody's okay," she said.
"It might take Chief Turner a while to get over seeing Bernice," I said.
"So Lewes Five-O hasn't gotten over his fear of dogs?" she whispered. That's only one of the nicknames we have for our town's oh-so-serious, and dangerously handsome police chief.
"Doesn't look like it," I said.
"Guess what?" Laurie asked. "Sue tried to chase the burglar's car."
"I would have paid good money to see that," Shelby said.
"It was so old for a minute I thought I had a shot."
Chief Turner was back inside. "Can anyone tell me anything else about the vehicle?"
"The paint job was so faded that even if there had been more light, I doubt I could say what color it was," I said. "I saw some rust, if that helps. It looked like a little clown car."
"A little clown car," he mimicked. He added that to his trusty notepad, then closed it again.
I had been about to show him the photos I had taken of the car, but figured I should look at them in private before sharing them with Mr. Smart Ass, in case there wasn't anything to see. Sure, I would have loved to be the person who could say, "That car? It's a '96 Corvette." Or, "Hey, look, everybody, there goes a '67 El Camino made in Atlanta." But I'm not. Never would be. I can, however, identify dog breeds all day long.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Support Your Local Pug"
Copyright © 2018 Lane Stone.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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