Authors: Adrienne Giordano
God help her if that business meant him spewing in someone’s ear about her dognapping. Mr. Falcone’s interference would only cause problems between her and Frankie. And they had enough of those.
The next morning, Lucie parked her car two blocks from the Lutzes’ and made her way to the house for Otis’s ten o’clock walk. The routine always started with Otis on the north side in Lincoln Park, where the brownstones sported oversized windows and elaborate brick facades. The cheapest pair of shoes in this neighborhood ran six hundred dollars. Living here took a stuffed wallet.
Lucie passed patches of green grass tucked under aged oak trees while her dream of being a respected investment banker whirled in her mind. Being known for more than her father’s illegal activities was what Lucie craved. Living in one of these lovely brick homes wouldn’t be bad either, but the professional respect would always come first. She could still have that dream. Things would turn around.
rang from Lucie’s cell phone and she pulled it from her pocket to check the screen. Tom Darcy.
“Hi, Mr. Darcy.”
“Lucie, my baby is home. It’s a miracle.”
The day-old tension rooted inside shattered. Miss Elizabeth was home. “Really? She’s okay?”
“She looks perfectly fine.”
“I don’t know. I heard her bark and thought I’d imagined it, but then it got louder. I opened the front door and there she was, sitting on the steps. It’s a miracle.”
Enough with the miracles, nutball.
Still, what a relief. Lucie dropped to a cross-legged position on the sidewalk. Horrendous thoughts of doggie torture drifted away, and she stretched on the sidewalk. It had been one hell of a night. “Maybe she found her way home? Could that be?”
“All I know is she’s home. I’m so relieved. Unfortunately, I won’t need your services any longer. After all, you did let someone kidnap her.”
Nutball or not, he had a point and it stabbed at Lucie like something out of a bad horror show. Her breath hitched and her eyes filled with tears. She’d been fired. Again. This time, it truly was her fault. “I understand.”
At least the dog was safe. “Miss Elizabeth is a great dog, Mr. Darcy. I’ll miss her. I’m so sorry about what happened. I hope you know that.”
She clicked off and slapped her hands over her face. Was there anything worse than getting fired? But wait—she’d forgotten to ask Mr. Darcy if he’d called Officer Lindstrom. No matter. She would do it.
Still on the ground, paying no mind to the curious stares of drivers cruising by, she retrieved Lindstrom’s card from her messenger bag. A minute later, an operator informed her he was on patrol. She left a message, took a breath to clear her head and made haste to the Lutzes’. Ten minutes lost with that break. She’d have to make it up.
She punched in the garage code and watched the door roll up. Her scooter sat in its normal spot in the extended space of the one-car garage and Otis, hearing the door moving, howled. He knew what time it was. Lucie time.
Getting into the house took precision. Otis was a jumper. If she threw the door open, he’d fly through the air and flatten her. Being stuck under seventy-five pounds of fur wouldn’t be the worst of it. After losing Miss Elizabeth yesterday, Lucie couldn’t risk one of her charges escaping.
“Off, Otis,” she said in her I’m-the-big-cheese voice. “Off!”
The frantic scratching from the other side of the door ceased and Lucie, holding one hand in front of her, eased the door open while Otis sat patiently, his tongue flapping. The little turkey was catching on. Good for him.
“Good job.” Lucie kept her voice neutral. No sense exciting him and causing a meltdown.
With that, he wrapped his front paws around her leg and started humping. This is what her MBA got her. A bulldog working her leg like a horny frat boy. With the humping complete, Otis dropped to the ground and rolled to his back. A laugh burst free and Lucie took a second to enjoy it. How she loved these dogs. Somehow, they always managed to make her smile. “It’s a good thing you’re cute, Otis.”
The dog let out an enthusiastic
“Yeah, your life is good, boy.” She bent low, brushed a hand down his belly and he licked her shoe. Maybe this dog walking thing wasn’t so bad. Unconditional love, fresh air, no late nights.
Perhaps the accessory line could be more than a side job. After the weekend sales, it certainly appeared so, but she would have to run some projections and check out the competition.
Otis stood and gave the leash a tug. “I know. You’re ready.”
After Otis, Lucie hit the Bernards’. They lived in a high-rise with a doorman named Lenny and two Shih-Tzus short on stature and big on attitude. Josie and Fannie liked Lucie, but the neighbors often rushed into their apartments to avoid the mini-tormentors. Lucie, having always been on the petite side, liked the girls’ spunk.
Once in the apartment, she grabbed the rhinestone double leash from the hook by the door, bent to snap a clip to each dog and spotted the collars she had sold to Mrs. Bernard. “Look at you guys with your bling on. Such pretty girls.”
Josie’s red leather collar held a single row of rhinestones while Fannie’s white one had red stones. The collars looked lovely against the white of the girls’ hair.
Lucie might need business cards in case someone wanted to know where the collars and leash came from.
. Damn that Frankie.
“Okay, girls. Let’s hit it. I’m having lunch with my man today and he doesn’t like to be kept waiting.” A sudden punch hurled into Lucie’s chest and she closed her eyes until the beating passed. She’d never get used to Frankie not being hers. If they didn’t work things out, she would have to move. Despite being the one who broke things off, she simply couldn’t stand the idea of him being with someone else.
“Well, he’s not my man right now, but I’m hoping that’s short-term because he is pretty darn special. We’re just in different places right now…wait, why am I talking to you? You don’t care.”
She grunted and opened the door. The middle-aged man across the hall had just finished locking his door, and his look of slack-jawed terror made Lucie chuckle. She gripped the leash when Josie and Fannie lunged like a couple of ravenous tigers. “Girls, knock it off.”
The man reeled back and wagged his finger. “Keep them ninja bitches away from me.”
The girls—with a combined weight of fifteen pounds—went wild, growling at him, baring their teeth and tugging on the leash as the neighbor jumped beyond their wrath.
Lucie contemplated letting the girls loose on the guy. But she’d be a grownup and let it go. “Don’t listen to him, girls. We’ll just wait for the next elevator.”
Once on the street, the distant whooshing of Lake Shore Drive traffic drifted toward them and the girls, accustomed to the route, turned left and went the opposite way to an area that gave them wandering room.
Rays from the late morning sun fell across the sidewalk and Lucie tilted her head back, letting the warmth caress her cheeks. This would be a good day. “Make a right at the corner, girls.”
She stopped and pushed the walk button on the light pole. A white van made a right on red just as the light changed and Lucie was glad she’d waited. “Come, girls.”
The smell of brewing coffee and frying bacon from the corner coffee shop sent her stomach into a frenzy. She was so ready for lunch. She’d lost five pounds since becoming a dog walker and she wanted those pounds back.
A young man approached and stared down at the dogs. Lucie gripped the leash.
“Nice looking dogs. Can I pet them?”
A pulsing blazed up her arms. Hadn’t her father taught her not to trust strangers? She should keep walking. Particularly after yesterday’s dognapping.
Calm down. Focus.
The guy looked harmless enough, mid-twenties with curly dark hair and twinkling blue eyes. Any normal woman would love to chat him up. Not Lucie. Dognapping paranoia aside, Frankie had ruined her.
. He was so damned good looking that she tended to grade all men on his curve. The Frankie Factor.
Her teeth throbbed and she lightened up on the gnawing. She couldn’t live in fear. What were the chances she’d get dognapped again?
She was sure of it.
Risking her face breaking apart, she smiled at him. “The girls are friendly.”
Most of the time.
Mr. Cutie squatted and—
—rather than attacking, the girls nuzzled into his legs. They must have sensed kindness in him. He rubbed both hands across the dogs, and Lucie resisted telling him the girls didn’t like to be patted on the head. This was surely a self-esteem issue due to their miniature size.
When he tickled under Josie’s chin, she nearly swooned.
For goodness sakes, at least play hard to get
But then the guy unclipped Josie’s end of the double leash and yesterday’s dognapping flashed in Lucie’s mind.
Someone pushed her from behind, tossing her against the brick front of the coffee shop. The thought of landing on top of the girls sent stinging jolts up Lucie’s neck. She let go of the leash and crashed into the wall, her shoulder taking a direct hit.
The searing pain shot the length of her arm and the tips of her fingers tingled. A rush of air filled her mouth and she puffed it out.
An El train rattled overhead and the sound ricocheted inside her skull. Lucie covered her ears and scanned the area.
There they are
. Three men ran down the street. Two of them had Josie and Fannie under an arm.
“Hey!” Lucie gave chase. She had to save the dogs. A car turned onto the street and the driver glanced at her, but her mind failed and she missed the opportunity to yell. She ran harder, her feet slap, slap, slapping against the sidewalk as her lungs heaved with the effort. If she were in better shape, she’d be able to catch them.
The pain in her shoulder ebbed to a dull ache, but she kept running.
A little farther
The men jumped into a white van sitting at the curb. Was it the one she’d seen turning the corner? Had to be. She reached it just as the door slid closed. The
of the latch catching exploded in her ears.
“No.” She grabbed the door handle and yanked. Nothing.
. The van jerked forward, nearly pulling Lucie with it. She let go before she lost an arm.
The van turned left on the next block. Gone. With Josie and Fannie. Gone.
“Ohmygod, ohmygod, ohmygod.”
With quivering fingers, she pulled her phone.
“9-1-1, what’s your emergency?”
“Help me. Please. My dogs have been stolen.” Tears slid down her throat and she coughed them away.
. “Send someone, please.”
“What is your location?”
Lucie spun, checked the address of the building behind her and gave it to the operator.
Five minutes later, a Chicago P.D. squad pulled to the curb. Lucie ran to the car, hoping to see Officer Lindstrom behind the wheel. No Lindstrom. Typical of her luck.
“Please. I’m Lucia Rizzo. They took my dogs. Two Shih-Tzus.” Lucie tapped her hand against her nose. “White with little black noses. They each had a fancy collar on. The van went that way,” she pointed down the block. “It turned left. Please. Help me.”
The officer on the passenger side of the vehicle eased out. What was wrong with him? Didn’t he understand a crime had been committed? That Josie and Fannie were missing? Dognapped!
“Tell me what happened, Ms. Rizzo.”
He looked impossibly young, with cherub cheeks and the same uniform as Lindstrom. His clothes looked newer though, and he carried a fresh-out-of-the-academy attitude. Superiority. Just what she needed.
She shook it off and gave the officers a description of the van. No, she hadn’t gotten a plate number. Yes, she was sure it was white. How would she miss that?
The young officer jotted a note while his partner scanned the sidewalk. “You said they shoved you into the storefront?”
“Yes, I crashed into the wall.”
“Are you injured?”
“My shoulder hurts. It doesn’t matter. I need to find the dogs.”
The second officer, the older one, spoke into the microphone on his shoulder and gave dispatch a description of the van. He looked back to Lucie. “We’ll do a BOLO—”
Again with the BOLO? Not that it did any good with Miss Elizabeth. “And that’s it? What about the dogs? We have to get them back. They could get hurt.”
A second squad pulled up and out stepped Lindstrom. She rushed to him, her fists clenched in the air. “It happened again. Someone stole my dogs.”
“I heard.” He turned to the other officers. “I handled her call yesterday. Ms. Rizzo has been hit twice.”
“Are they show dogs?” the older cop asked Lucie.
“No. But they look like it.”
Her cell phone rang—what now?—and she pulled it from her pocket. Frankie.
Late for lunch. If she didn’t answer, he would worry. She always called if she would be late. “Hi. I’m sorry.”