Authors: Leslie O'Kane
Tags: #Mystery, #Boulder, #Samoyed, #Dog Trainer, #Beagles, #Female Sleuths, #wolves, #Dogs
Praise for Leslie O’Kane and her Molly Masters mysteries
“Endearing characters, touching family and friend relationships, and a feisty heroine.”
-DIANE MOTT DAVIDSON
“O’Kane delivers a satisfying whodunit.”
-San Francisco Chronicle
“Molly Masters is a sleuth with an irrepressible sense of humor and a deft artist’s pen.”
-CAROLYN G. HART
“O’Kane is certainly on her way to making her Molly Masters series the I Love Lucy of amateur sleuths.”
-Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel
Books By Leslie O’Kane
DEATH COMES e-CALLING
DEATH COMES TO SUBURBIA
DEATH COMES TO THE PTA
DEATH ON THE FRONT LAWN
DEATH COMES TO A RETREAT
DEATH ON A SCHOOL BOARD
DEATH AT A TALENT SHOW
RUFF WAY TO GO
GIVE THE DOG A BONE
WOOF AT THE DOOR
PROLOGUE TO THE SOUL SHIFTERS
THE SOUL SHIFTERS
ECHOES OF SOULS
SHADOWS OF SOULS
Writing as Leslie Caine:
DEATH BY INFERIOR DESIGN
MANOR OF DEATH
KILLED BY CLUTTER
FATAL FENG SHUI
POISONED BY GILT
HOLLY AND HOMICIDE
To Cindy Miller,
my ever-so-wonderful friend
Copyright © 2013 by Leslie O'Kane
All Rights Are Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without the written permission of the author.
Sometimes I feel slightly tense when I ring a new client’s doorbell. This time my mental flags were fluttering wildly. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, so why were my instincts screaming at me to run?
The property itself appeared to be standard fare for the newer north-Boulder neighborhoods—small lot size and a large two-story house with earth-tone siding and trim. Two red-and-white “Beware of Dog” signs were posted on either side of the surrounding six-foot cedar privacy fence, and from inside the house, the deep, muffled woofs hinted at a large dog. The barks sounded normal. If persistent.
I shored myself up and rang the doorbell. The door swung open, and my jaw almost dropped. The tall, forty-something man before me sported shoulder-length blond hair. His striped headband featured a large peace symbol, centered on his forehead. He wore pink-tinged octagonal wire-rimmed glasses halfway down his nose, an electric-blue satin shirt, and orange crushed-velvet bell bottoms with brown pockets.
Was this Rip Van Winkle of the Sixties?
He peered down at me, scoffed, and, over the loud rhythmic woofs of the large dog behind him, said, “You’d better not be Allida Babcock.”
“Actually, I am,” I replied with as much of a smile as I could muster. Due to his disdainful facial expression, I silently formed a personal credo:
People who wear bell-bottoms shouldn’t criticize others’ physical appearances.
Including their height. Or lack thereof. “You must be Tyler Bellingham.”
“Shut up, Doobie!” he called behind his shoulder at the barking dog, which, of course, ignored him. “Actually, I go by Ty. As in Tie-dye.” Making no move to invite me inside, he shook his head, still studying me. “No offense, lady, but you sure you can handle this? My dog coughs up things that are bigger than you.”
Stifling a sigh of frustration, I ran a hand through my short sandy-brown hair and focused my attention past him at the constantly barking dog. Doobie was a mixed breed—of very large origins. He probably weighed around one-hundred-forty pounds. He appeared to be mostly mastiff and Chesapeake Bay retriever, with, judging by his fur’s black-and-brown pattern, a few Doberman genes thrown in. As with a standard Doberman, his ears had been clipped. We locked eyes for a moment, and I said with authority, “Doobie, sit.”
He stopped barking and followed my command.
Ty, I noticed, had a bit of a paunch overhanging those hip-hugging bell-bottoms of his. I looked up at him. He was a good foot taller than me, which put his height at six feet.
“There are dog trainers here in Boulder who make house calls, Mr. Bellingham. Odds are, they’ll be taller than I am. If you would rather—”
“No, that’s okay,” he said, stepping aside and holding the door for me. “Your friend, Beverly Wood, recommended you highly. She lives right next door.”
Not surprisingly, the dog sprang to his feet and resumed his barking. I stepped inside and was temporarily staggered at the overwhelming sickly sweet fragrance of incense. Though largely drowned out by Doobie’s barks, sitar music played from an enormous stereo system on a cinder-block shelving unit that took up one entire wall. A slab of flagstone served as the coffee table. Other than the stereo shelves, none of the furnishing was more than two feet high. This room seemed to have been decorated for trolls. Trolls with a taste for futons, beanbag chairs, and lava lamps.
Ty was staring at me, and I wrenched my attention back into our conversation. “Beverly and I went to high school together.”
“That’s what she said.” He chuckled and, to my extreme annoyance, used his hand and arm as a leveling stick to measure how high the top of my head was compared to his chest. “But when she said you were a dog shrink, I didn’t realize she meant you’d be pre-shrunk yourself.” He laughed—a loud braying sound.
“I’m going to need background information on Doobie.” To my curiosity, Doobie was not barking at me, but rather had rushed over to the living room window, put his paws on the sill, and was now barking out the window.
I called him, and he obeyed, albeit slowly. The dog had numerous scars. If this dog was being abused, “Tie-die” here had just hired himself the wrong “dog shrink” and was soon going to be sorry for what he’d done to his pet.
While assuring Doobie that he was “a very good dog,” I stroked his fur, making a mental audit of his extensive injuries. My own hackles were rising. Doobie’s ears had almost as much scar tissue as fur. While pretending to be simply stroking his neck, I lifted the dog’s chin and checked the soft flesh along his teeth. The edges were jagged, a tell-tale sign that he’d been in a dreadful dog fight. During fights, dogs tend to bite through the skin surrounding their own mouths without realizing it.
Having lost his patience with me, Doobie pulled away and returned to his compulsive-sounding barking out the side window. I straightened and glared at Ty Bellingham. “Your dog’s been in at least two serious dog fights. Has he ever been—”
“He was all scarred like that when I got him last December from a Dog Rescue outfit in Nevada. He was a stray. Probably had to fight for every scrap of food he got, till I came along.”
That was plausible, but Ty had a long way to go yet to gain some credibility. Acquiring background information on the dog could wait. If Doobie cowered or shied away whenever Ty approached, I would have my answer.
“Mr. Bellingham, could—”
“Call me Ty,” he corrected.
“Could you please call your dog?” I asked, unwilling to be on a first-name basis until I felt relatively certain he wasn’t an animal abuser.
“Call him?” he asked as if utterly perplexed. He gestured in Doobie’s direction. “He’s right there.” The man was either extraordinarily dense or deliberately evasive.
“I’d like to see how quickly he responds to you.”
Ty sighed and slid his hands into his velvet pockets. “Doobie! Come!”
The dog ignored his owner and continued to bark. In the meantime, Ty showed no frustration with his dog’s insubordination, just raised his own voice and repeated the command. After four ever-louder commands, Doobie finally deserted his post and trotted over to us, with an occasional bark over his shoulder, as if he greatly resented this interruption.
Ty pointed at the floor. “Doobie, sit. Sit!”
The dog’s haunches barely touched down, then, without awaiting further command, he rushed back to his noisy post at the window. I rapidly reevaluated. Doobie was not behaving as if he were an abused pet, but rather a woefully untrained one. Moments earlier, he’d responded to my commands. That meant the problem was due to his not viewing his master as the alpha dog. I still felt uneasy, but was willing to give Ty the benefit of the doubt. Although this “benefit” might only last until I could contact the dog rescuer to verify Doobie’s condition at time of adoption.
Ty fidgeted with his blond tresses and gave me a sheepish smile. “He’s a spirited animal.”
“Does he always bark this persistently?”
“Not usually.” He glanced at Doobie. “Don’t know what’s gotten into him today. Ty gestured at the expanse of oversized pillows on the floor. “Why don’t we have a seat?” He immediately sat down Indian style on the hardwood floor. “These furnishings are all from my store, ’Way Cool Collectibles.’ We have a ’Far-Out Furniture’ division.”
Perhaps the dog-and-owner authority problem was related to Ty’s devotion for the sixties. Ty might have a hey-like-do-your-own-thing attitude regarding his dog. I sat down on a chartreuse beanbag, which tried to swallow me alive, sweeping me over backwards in the process. Perhaps Way Cool Collectibles used marble-shaped beans. With a struggle, I bobbed back up and regained my equilibrium, glad that I was wearing pants and not a skirt.
Mostly to cover my embarrassment, I snatched up a four-inch high ceramic gold-painted Buddha that had been having an easier time at sitting on the floor than I was. “This is one of your collectibles?”
“Yes. Be careful. That piece is forty years old. I could sell it for well over a hundred dollars.”
A hundred dollars for a palm-sized gold-painted Buddha? His store should be renamed ’Really Rad Rip-offs.’ I set down the ceramic piece. “When we set this appointment, didn’t you say that your wife was going to be here, too?”
He shrugged. “Something came up.”
Uh-oh. Lackadaisical dog owners don’t make for good partners toward the successful treatment of their dogs. But, I reminded myself, I had chosen to come here today because I wanted to help Beverly; Doobie’s barking was driving her nuts. For her sake, I’d give this my best effort.
I delved into my standard questionnaire designed to gather insight into the dog’s problem behavior. Ty answered the standard opening questions: no kids; he and his wife were joint owners of the dog; the dog obeyed both of them equally, which, in this case, meant he disobeyed them equally.
Just as I was getting into the more revealing questions about the dog’s daily routine, diet, and reward system, Ty rose and asked, “Would you like some tea? I’m getting myself some.”
I hesitated, having seen reruns of the Smothers’ Brothers’ “Tea With Goldie” segments, in which “tea” was a euphemism. “To drink?”
He headed toward a doorway that was delineated with strings of brightly colored plastic beads. With a parting-of-the-seas gesture, he went through the beaded doorway. I intentionally lingered to observe the dog’s behavior. Also to give myself time to get out of this ridiculous beanbag. As soon as his master left the room, Doobie perked up and galloped through the doorway, the bead strings clacking and swinging to and fro in his wake. I followed and was not at all surprised to find myself in an avocado-colored kitchen. Despite the old-fashioned color scheme, it featured a modern island, complete with a grill. Above this structure was a massive oven hood that looked as though it might be able to suck up anything airborne, regardless of size.
Doobie had immediately rushed to the back door and tried to push through a dog door. Finally accepting that it was locked, he whined at his owner, who ignored him and continued to rummage through a cabinet. “I had to lock him inside. The neighbors have put up quite a stink about his barking.”
Beverly, the friend from my old days, was one of the neighbor’s who’d complained. Ironic that even though I was close to two decades younger than Ty, my “old days” were the nineties, which made them considerably more recent than Ty’s current days. Doobie’s barking, Beverly had told me, got her Beagle barking, and set off a chain reaction throughout the neighborhood that had resulted in more than one “disturbing the peace” claim against Doobie.
“How long have you lived here?” I asked.
“Ten years.” Ty filled a cup with water, dunked a tea bag in it, and slid the cup into a modern convenience: a microwave. Mr. Tie-Dye was a hypocrite.
“Do you know how old Doobie is?”
“The rescue folks didn’t know exactly. Like I said, he was a stray. By now, he’s about four and a half. And, like I told you over the phone, my wife and I didn’t used to have any trouble at all with barking or anything else till about three months ago.”
“A sudden change in a dog’s temperament often indicates a health problem. You told me you took him to a vet last month. Did they find anything?”