Read Play Dead Online

Authors: Leslie O'kane

Tags: #Boulder, #Women Detectives, #colorado, #Mystery & Detective, #who-done-it, #General, #woman sleuth, #cozy mystery, #dogs, #Women Sleuths, #female sleuth, #Fiction, #Dog Trainers, #Boulder (Colo.)

Play Dead

BOOK: Play Dead
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PLAY DEAD

by

Leslie O’Kane

Copyright
© 1998 by Leslie Caine

 

To Tam, the
noble collie of my childhood, and to Taffy, my equally noble cocker spaniel.

Chapter 1

Talk about “dead air,” I thought as I
scanned the shabby lobby of the radio station. KBXD was completely deserted. At
two
p.m.
Friday on a gorgeous
spring day in Boulder, Colorado, I’d expected that my upcoming radio interview
would not glean many listeners, let alone new clients. I had, however, expected
to see some personnel.

I opened a heavy wooden door and entered
an unadorned L-shaped hallway. Puzzled, I listened to a woman’s halting,
sniffling speech, and followed the sound to the nearest corner of the shiny
faux-mahogany-paneled wall. A built-in speaker blared what I realized, with a
sinking feeling, was not a TV soap opera, but the actual KBXD radio broadcast.

“—just can’t believe they would shut
us down with no notice like this,” the woman’s voice, strained with barely
checked emotion, was saying. “So we want all our listeners to call in
throughout the rest of our programming today. Complain. Share the memories.
Share the sorrow. You’re listening, for the last time, to the
Tracy Truett
Show.”

“Oh, great,” I muttered to myself.
My
first radio spot ever and the station is shutting down?
I cautiously
rounded the corner, considering my options. I shuddered at the idea of trying
to talk enthusiastically about my newly chosen profession, all the while with “listeners”
calling in to share their grief about the radio station closing. Through an interior
window, I spotted radio host Tracy Truett. She was a large, square-jawed woman
with short blond hair in wet spikes surrounding the headband of her black
earphones. Her heavy makeup was smeared. She was wearing what was probably a
nice-looking outfit when she’d first come to work that day—sky-blue pants
suit, paisley blouse—but the jacket was off and hanging haphazardly on a
chair back, and the bow on the neckline of her blouse was untied and
unbuttoned, revealing a sturdy bra strap. One thick, black shoe was on top of
the table between Tracy’s microphone and a liquor flask.

She continued into her microphone, “—Or,
should I say, after a word from our soon-to-be-former sponsor, is our regularly
scheduled program, ‘Boulder Business Women.’ Today, we’ll be talking with
Allida Babcock, who’s just opened her new business here in town as a dog
psychologist.”

“Did you say a dog
psychologist,
Tracy?”
a male voice broke in. He was not in my vision, but I quickly surmised that
this must be the voice of the show’s producer, speaking from the control room
overlooking Tracy’s booth.

“That’s right, Greg. So now both our
depressed listeners
and
their depressed pooches can call in and cry with
us. Or howl, as the case may be.”

I cringed, then made a swift executive decision.
I turned on my heel and headed for the exit. Just then, from the corner of my
eye, I saw Tracy Truett rise and gesture for me to come in.

Before I could make a clean getaway, Tracy
leaned out the door and called, “Are you Dr. Allida Babcock?”

I turned back and forced a smile. “No, I
just came in here to use your bathroom.”

“You are too,” Tracy stated crossly. “You
sent us this photo of you in your press release, remember?”

I glanced at the eight-by-ten glossy in
Tracy’s hand, which was unmistakably my likeness—short, sandy brown hair,
dark brown eyes, button nose. As if the facial features alone weren’t enough, I
realized to my chagrin that I was now wearing the very same bright yellow
cable-knit sweater I’d worn for the photo.

“True, but I meant I’m not a doctor.
Technically, I’m a behaviorist. I just call myself a dog psychologist in my
advertisements because I thought it would catch people’s attention faster.”

“Yeah?” Tracy said, arms akimbo and eyeing
me as if I were a disobedient child, “Looked to me like you were trying to
leave us in the lurch. It’s people like you, not showing up for their
interviews, that caused our owners to shaft us in the first place.”

I held the woman’s gaze. “It’s just that,
with the station suddenly closing and everything, I assumed you wouldn’t want
guests on your show. Wouldn’t you prefer to reminisce amongst yourselves?”

“Sure. But that’s not what it says on
today’s program schedule, now is it? I fully intend to act like a professional,
even if nobody—”

“Tracy? Get back in here!” the same male
voice boomed over an intercom. “You’ve got dead air!”

Tracy grabbed my wrist and pulled me into
the sound booth, then rushed over to the nearest mike. “Yes, dear listeners, we’re
still here, for today, at any rate.” She rounded the table and reclaimed her
chair, using one hand to give herself a swig from her flask, and gesturing
frantically at me with the other hand to sit down at the second mike. “Today,
our guest is Allida Babcock, who’s here to tell us all about her new business as
a dog psychologist.” She shot dagger looks over the table, but her voice was
pure honey. “Welcome, Allida. Glad you could join us.” She slipped her
earphones back on as she spoke.

“Thank you, Tracy,” I said as smoothly as
I could while sitting down. The chair was way too low for me. The air in the
small room smelled of whiskey. Sheets of gray foam rubber were haphazardly
stuck on the walls as though a child had gone wild with packing material. The
low-hanging ceiling tiles gave me the impression that the roof was about to
cave in on us. Somehow, I’d always pictured radio studios as fancier than this.
I craned my neck and said into my microphone, “It’s a pleasure to be here.”

“However short-lived,” Tracy added under
her breath. “So, Allida. Speaking of which, you’re extremely short, aren’t you?”

“Yes, I am, Tracy. Thank you.”

“What are you? Four-ten? Four-eight?”

“I’m five feet even,” I answered, which
was only accurate when I poofed my hair a little and raised up on my toes.
Determined to make the most of this mess and keep the conversation focused on
my profession, I continued smoothly, “Yet my height has never adversely
affected me when training dogs. You see, even though a dog might greatly
outweigh his or her owner, dogs are pack animals. What’s important for training
purposes is that you quickly establish that you, not your dog, are the top dog,
the alpha dog, the leader of the pack.”

“Maybe so,” Tracy said with a chuckle, “but
from where I’m sitting, you can barely see over the table, not to mention the
microphone. How old are you, anyway? Twelve?”

“Thirty-two, actually, and I’ve spent
twenty-five years now training dogs. During that time, I—”

“Greg,” Tracy interrupted. Though she’d
turned in her seat to face the pimply faced man in the control room, she still
spoke directly into her microphone. “We’ve got to get this poor girl a
dictionary or a pillow to sit on. She’s going to sprain her neck at this rate.
Got a dog bed back there anywhere we can fold up and stick on her chair?”

“As I was saying, Tracy,” I continued,
hoping my rising agitation was not reflected in my voice, “I’ve trained dogs
for many years—” I rose to surrender my chair to the dutiful Greg, who
had yanked off his own earphones, left his post, and entered the broadcast
booth “—and am now working specifically with the so-called
behavior-problem dogs.”

Tracy let out a loud burst of laughter,
then asked, “Got any tips for badly behaved employers—such as station
owners?”

“Not unless they’re canines,” I said
calmly, though my face was growing warmer by the moment. Beside me, Greg
chuckled quietly as he cranked the chair into a higher position. He was older
looking than his pimples and wardrobe—jeans and Boyz II Men
T-shirt—would normally indicate. I guessed him to be in his late thirties.
Unshaven and potbellied, he reminded me of the janitor who worked at my school
in Berthoud, Colorado, more than a decade ago.

Tracy Truett scoffed and took another
drink. “You could call ‘em dogs, all right. Or heartless swine.”

Watching her, all I could think was:
Are
you nuts, lady? Don’t you
ever
want to work in radio again?
Heart pounding, I forced a smile and leaned over the mike to say as sweetly as
I could, “I can’t imagine why they’ve canceled your show, Tracy. That’s such a
shame.”

“Yeah, me neither. We got a call on line
one.” She flipped a switch on the phone opposite her shoe and liquor bottle and
said, “Hello, Russell, you’re on the air.”

“Hi, Tracy. I’m calling with a question
for Ms. Babcock.”

Thank you!
I thought. Any interruption in the show
was a welcome relief, although I
recognized the voice of Russell Greene, an electrical engineer who’d rented
half of his two-room office to me. Russell Greene had been in love with
me—or thought he was—from the minute we met three weeks ago. I’d
answered his ad for office space to rent. Handsome-featured with thick, shiny
dark hair and mustache, Russell had risen when I came to see him about the ad,
and, as our eyes met on an even plane, his face lit up. He seemed to interpret
our mutual vertical challenge as a sign that we were fated for each
other—two of the same miniature purebreds.

Problem was, there was no chance, as far
as I was concerned. He didn’t like dogs.

“Go ahead, Russell,” Tracy said.

“Ms. Babcock, I was wondering if you’re as
beautiful as your voice makes you sound.”

I clenched my teeth and sank into the seat
that Greg had adjusted and was now holding for me. In truth, I’m “cute,” not
beautiful, and I hate the sound of my own voice. Now able to speak into the
mike without neck strain, I said evenly, “My physical appearance has nothing to
do with the psychology of dogs. In fact, that is one of the many appealing
aspects of dog ownership—our dogs love us regardless of how we look.”

“Let me just ask one follow-up question,
Ms. Babcock. Are you busy Saturday night? I was thinking a candlelit dinner for
two at the Flagstaff House, for starters.”

I put my hand over the microphone and
whispered, “Oh, good Lord. Just kill me, now.” Cheeks burning, I mentally
ticked through the list of friends and associates I’d told about this show. The
worst embarrassment of all was knowing my mother was probably listening to this
fiasco.

Tracy took a swig from her flask. “Oh,
hey, Rusty, hate
to tell you
this, but I’d have to say Allida here is turning you down flat. However, I’m
free Saturday. What time you want to pick me up?”

There was a click on the line. Without
missing a beat, Tracy said, “We’ve got another caller,” and flicked a switch. “This
is Tracy Truett, and our segment’s called Boulder’s Business ... Broads.” She
guffawed as Greg shook a fist at her while reentering his control room. “Ah,
lighten up, Greggy. What are you gonna do? Fire me? And considering our guest
here works with female dogs, I coulda said something a lot worse.” She laughed
at her own liquor-influenced wit. “Let’s hear from our caller. You’re on the
air.”

A deep, all-business woman’s voice said, “I
have a question for Miss Babcock.”

Mom!
Though relieved to hear the familiar voice, I automatically
straightened my shoulders and stared at the phone.

“Allida, I mean Miss Babcock, my friends
and I are here in my kitchen with our
many
dogs, and we just want to say
what an intelligent, competent person you seem to be.”

“Thank you.” I smiled at my mother’s fib.
My mother was far too much of a loner to have more than one friend in her house
listening to the broadcast.

“We all want to bring our dogs to see you,
and we just want to know where your office is located and how we can go about
getting an appointment with you.”

I felt such a rush of love and gratitude
that my eyes misted. I gave my exact address in downtown Boulder, then my phone
number, and said, “It is important that you call me first, because many times I
can tell over the phone if my services are going to be helpful to you and your
dog. For example, I would almost always first want to ensure you’ve consulted a
veterinarian. Also, I can determine over the phone whether my initial encounter
with your dog should be in my office or at your home.”

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