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Authors: L. A. Kornetsky

Fixed

BOOK: Fixed
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THEY CALL ON THEIR ANIMAL INSTINCTS. . . .

Ginny Mallard is a personal concierge with an elite client list. Bar owner Teddy Tonica mixes, pours, and listens to his regulars. She's a dog person; he's attuned to felines. So what qualifies this odd couple as the best crime stoppers around?

Maybe it's Ginny's knack for sniffing out the hard facts. Maybe Teddy has a way of getting strangers to divulge their dirty secrets. Maybe it's the snappy banter they sling back and forth, like characters out of Gin's favorite noir movies.

Or maybe it's their furry companions—a shar-pei named Georgie, and Penny, the bar cat—who really know the score.

Praise for

COLLARED

First in the delightful Gin & Tonic mystery series from L.A. Kornetsky

“Charming. . . . Vivid descriptions of Seattle's Ballard neighborhood are a plus in this cozy tale.”

—Publishers Weekly

“The plot moves quickly, enhanced by smart dialog and good characterizations. . . . A strong beginning to what should be an entertaining series.”

—Library Journal

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For Deborah and Neil, the Labradors of Doooooom, and Miss Thing

1

T
he dogs were gossiping.

The gray tabby paused, halfway down the fire escape, and surveyed the sidewalk below her. It was late afternoon, the sun cool and fading, dappling the pavement with shadows. The humans she could see from her vantage point were walking faster than they did in the evening, heading somewhere important. And the two dogs out in front of the Busy Place, one a shaggy black mutt of dubious Labrador ancestry, the other a fawn-coated shar-pei, were paw-to-paw, sprawled next to the bike rack, which tended to hold more leashes than bikes.

Dogs gossiped about everything, very little of it interesting. But she had a vested interest in one of those dogs, so she made her way down to the street and joined the conversation.

The smaller dog acknowledged her with a sniff at her ears, which she allowed only because it was Georgie, and she allowed Georgie things other dogs would get hissed at for. The larger dog ignored her utterly, still talking. “They don't like it. They don't like it at all.”

The tabby thought that the Labrador sounded more like a hound, mournful and worried.

“They never like anything,” Georgie said. “Do they know what they don't like?”

“Who doesn't like what?” the cat asked, inserting herself into the conversation.

“There's something happening at the Old Place,” Georgie said, as though that explained everything.

It took Penny a minute to remember: the old place was the shelter Georgie had been at, before her human took her away. The Labrador had been there, too, apparently, or at least knew enough to spread gossip.

“You keep track of what happens there?” She couldn't fathom why.

“Mmmm.” Georgie put her head down on her paws, her square-jowled face level with Penny's. “The dogs there are unhappy. Not that anyone is ever really happy there, it's not a happy-place, but this is different. Things aren't right. They're . . . wrong.”

“A little more detail, please?” Anything that bothered Georgie bothered Penny, but “wrong” wasn't helpful.

Dogs weren't built to shrug, but both the Labrador and Georgie managed it.

“Wrong,” Georgie repeated. “Smells wrong, sounds wrong. For months now, it comes and goes and comes back. That's what they're saying, anyway. But it's not where they are, it's happening somewhere else in the building, so they don't know.”

“No way to know. But everyone's upset.” The Lab definitely had hound in him, somewhere.

“So?” Penny looked at them, then sat down and began washing her paw, waiting for them to figure it out. When they just stared at her, she paused mid-groom and twitched her whiskers at them, half annoyed, half superior.
Dogs
. “So if you need to know something, and you can't sniff it out, get someone who can open doors.”

Georgie lifted her head, one ear flopping over while the other stayed upright. Her wrinkled face didn't really have expressions, but Penny could see comprehension gleaming behind those dark brown eyes, finally.

“Humans,” the shar-pei said to her canine companion with the air of solving the problem. “Humans can do it.”

“Humans?” The Labrador looked confused but excited. Then again, Penny thought with a sniff, they usually did.

“Our humans,” Georgie clarified. “They sniff things.”

“Humans sniffing?” The confusion turned to a dubious disdain for human noses.

“Human-sniffing. And door-opening. They go anywhere, look at anything. We just have to figure out how to get them to look.” Georgie turned her head to look at Penny. “How do we get them to look?”

Penny finished grooming her paw and swiped it over her ears. “Leave that to me.”

*  *  *

On the other side of the windows, inside the shaded confines of Mary's Bar & Grill, another conversation was taking place, this one slightly more heated. Two men were leaning on opposite sides of the bar, at the far end where it curved back into the wall.

“He's insane.” The older man was emphatic about that, while still managing to keep his voice low enough to not disturb the few early customers seated at the tables, indulging in a little late afternoon libation.

“He's not insane,” Tonica countered calmly, not pausing in
his arrangement of the speed rail's condiments. The new afternoon bartender, Jon, had rearranged them during the previous shift, which meant that during a rush someone might reach for an olive and end up with a lemon. Not cool. “You're overreacting. He's just being an asshole. I mean, more of an asshole than usual.”

The galley chef and general handyman squared his shoulders and scowled at the bartender, and regardless of the thirty-year gap in their age, he looked more than ready to take the other man to the mat to win the argument. “He's an insane asshole, Tonica, and I swear, I'm going to quit.”

“You know you're not going to quit, Seth. They'll take you out of here feet-first.”

Seth scowled at that, too. “Bah. If he gives me grief one more time about the menu, or anything at all, I swear, Teddy, it's going to be him going out feet-first, and I don't care if he is the boss. He's gone insane.” He turned and scowled at the blond woman sitting at the bar, for good measure, and then stomped off into the galley kitchen, his body—still showing the musculature that had made him a boxing contender in his youth—shaking with indignation.

Ginny Mallard tried very hard not to laugh, but Tonica's heavy and extremely theatrical sigh broke her.

“Is Patrick really being that bad?” she asked between giggles, not even pretending that she hadn't been eavesdropping.

“He's gone insane,” the bartender admitted, giving up on the condiments and turning so that he faced where the
blonde was sitting, a few stools down at the bar. “He was always a pain in the ass, but recently, it's gotten . . . worse.” He ran a hand over the top of his head, as though the argument might have somehow disordered the dark brown brushtop, and sighed again. “But he's the boss. Whatever bug got up his ass, I hope it crawls out soon. Seth may not quit, but the rest of us might. And I just got everyone properly trained.” He shook his head. “Seriously—if Pat's not careful, he's going to ruin my bar.”

Two months ago, Ginny would have laughed off that claim; Tonica was just a bartender at Mary's, if admittedly the one who worked the most shifts and seemed to organize everything. But he wasn't the owner, or even the manager. Calling the cozy neighborhood bar “his” would have sounded like ego overstepping reality. But it was simple truth: Patrick, the bar's owner, might not want to give him the title of manager, but Tonica managed it anyway, from filling in for folk who were out sick to writing up shift schedules and shuffling paperwork Patrick couldn't be bothered with. And that, she figured, gave Tonica the right to consider Mary's “his.”

She knew all this, because last month their casual acquaintance and trivia-night rivalry had become something else, when she'd had to ask him for help.

Mallard Services was a private concierge company: she did for others what they didn't have time—or inclination—to do themselves. Usually that meant arranging formal parties, from choosing invitations to arranging the caterer's run-through, or shepherding visiting relatives to and from
the airport. But a good concierge was adaptable, and so she'd agreed to take on an assignment to find her client's uncle, who had disappeared with time-sensitive business papers that needed to be filed.

That was when she'd convinced Tonica, with his people-shmoozing skills, to help her. That was when they'd gone into what she called “researchtigations,” which was almost like being investigators, but without a license. Or, according to Tonica, a clue.

And the man they were looking for had died, their client had been arrested for money laundering, and they'd gotten warned off poking their noses in anywhere by the federal agent who showed up. Not one of her better jobs.

Anyway, out of all that, the one thing she knew for certain was that Theodore Tonica was more than just a bartender, even one who, it turned out, had a poli sci degree from Harvard.

“So what're you going to do?” she asked. “I mean, short of locking Patrick in the storeroom and forging his signature on all the orders.”

“I already do that,” Tonica said. “The signatures, anyway. But I'd have to soundproof the storeroom before locking him in there. Nah. Too much work. I'll come up with something else.”

“Well, if you need any help . . .” She wasn't sure what she could do, but it was the best she could offer. Mary's was becoming her office-away-from-the-home-office these days. She didn't want anything to change, either.

Thinking about that made Ginny acutely aware that
they hadn't gotten another client for their little sideline of not-quite-investigations. She could blame part of the delay on the fact that she'd been spending one night a week with a dog trainer—Georgie had bitten the guy who tried to attack them, and the cops had suggested it would be better for everyone if she could prove that the shar-pei had proper training in the event it happened again. The problem was, between that, and keeping her private concierge business afloat, and trying to stay in touch with her friends, it was hard to find time to do anything about
finding
those clients.

And part of it, Ginny admitted, was that she had absolutely no idea how to find more clients of that particular sort. The two of them weren't licensed, so they couldn't exactly advertise, and really, what could they say, anyway? “Inexperienced researchers for hire, two-drink minimum?”

Although that was a catchy tag, now that she thought of it.

And it wasn't as though Tonica was helping drum up business, either. Far as she could tell, he was still treating it as a one-off, not something they
did
. And yet . . . when they were in the middle of it he'd been as hooked on the challenge as she was. He just needed a push, that was all.

BOOK: Fixed
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