Sara Paretsky - V.I. Warshawski 07

BOOK: Sara Paretsky - V.I. Warshawski 07
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Guardian Angel

V.I. Warshawski – Book 7

By Sara Paretsky

Chapter 1 - Sex and the Single Girl

Hot
kisses covered my face, dragging me from deep sleep to the rim of
consciousness. I groaned and slid deeper under the covers, hoping to sink back
into the well of dreams. My companion wasn’t in the humor for rest; she
burrowed under the blankets and continued to lavish urgent affection on me.

When
I covered my head with a pillow she started to mewl piteously. Now thoroughly
awake, I rolled over and glared at her. “It’s not even five-thirty. You can’t
possibly want to get up.”

She
paid no attention, either to my words or my efforts to dislodge her from my
chest, but looked at me intently, her brown eyes opened wide, her mouth parted
slightly to show the tip of her pink tongue.

I
bared my teeth at her. She licked my nose anxiously. I sat up, pushing her head
away from my face. “It was this indiscriminate distribution of your kisses that
got you into this fix to begin with.”

Happy
to see me awake, Peppy lumbered down from the bed and headed for the door. She
turned to see if I was following, making little whimpering noises in her
impatience. I pulled a sweatshirt and shorts from the heap of clothes near the
bed and padded on sleep-thickened legs to the back door. I fumbled with the
triple locks. By that time Peppy was whimpering in earnest, but she managed to
control herself while I got the door open. Breeding shows, I guess.

I
watched her down the three nights of stairs. Pregnancy had distended her sides
and slowed her progress, but she made it to her spot by the back gate before
relieving herself. When she was finished she didn’t take her usual tour of the
yard to drive away cats and other marauders. Instead she waddled back to the
stairs. She stopped outside the ground-floor door and let out a sharp bark.

Fine.
Let Mr. Contreras have her. He was my first-floor neighbor, part owner of the
dog, and wholly responsible for her condition. Well, not wholly—that had been
the work of a black Lab four doors up the street.

Peppy
had come into season the week I left town on the trail of an industrial
sabotage problem. I arranged for a friend of mine, a furniture hauler with
steel thews, to run her twice a day—on a short leash. When I told Mr. Contreras
to expect Tim Streeter he was deeply wounded, although not, unfortunately,
beyond words. Peppy was a perfectly trained dog who came when she was called,
didn’t need to be on a leash; and anyway, who did I think I was, arranging for
people to come walk her? If not for him she wouldn’t get any care at all, me
being gone twenty hours out of twenty-four, I was leaving town, wasn’t I? Just,
another example of my neglect. And besides that, he was fitter than ninety
percent of the young jerks I brought around.

In a
hurry to take off I hadn’t heard him out, just agreed that he was in terrific
shape for seventy-seven, but asking him to humor me in the matter. It was only
ten days later that I learned that Mr. Contreras had dismissed Tim the first
time he showed up. The results, if disastrous, were utterly predictable.

The
old man met me dolefully when I returned from Kankakee for the weekend. “I just
don’t know how it happened, doll. She’s always so good, always comes when she’s
called, and this time she just tore away from me and headed down the street. My
heart was in my throat, I thought my God, what if she gets hit, what if she
gets lost or kidnapped, you know, you read about these labs that hire people to
steal dogs off the streets or out of the yard, you never see your dog again and
you don’t know what happened to her. I was so relieved when I caught up ”with
her, my goodness, what could I ever have said to make you understand—“

I
snarled unsympathetically. “And what are you going to say to me about this
business? You haven’t wanted to spay her, but you can’t control her when she’s
in season. If you weren’t so bullheaded you would’ve admitted it and let Tim
run her. I’ll tell you this much: I’m not going to spend my time looking for
good homes for her damned offspring.”

That
brought a spurt of his own temper, which sent him back to his apartment with an
angry slam of the door. I avoided him all day Saturday, but I knew we had to
make up before I left town again—I couldn’t leave him in sole charge of a
litter. Anyway, I’m too old myself to enjoy bearing a grudge. Sunday morning I
went down to patch things up. I even stayed over on Monday so we could go to
the vet together.

We
brought the dog in with the angry tension of the ill-assorted parents of a
wayward teenager. The vet cheered me no end by telling me that goldens
sometimes have as many as twelve puppies.

“But
since it’s her first litter it probably won’t be quite that large,” he added
with a jolly laugh.

I
could tell that Mr. Contreras was delighted at the prospect of twelve little
black-and-gold fur balls; I did eighty-five all the way back to Kankakee,
dragging out my business there as long as possible.

That
had been two months ago. Now I was more or less resigned to Peppy’s fate, but I
was much relieved that she seemed to be doing her nesting on the first floor.
Mr. Contreras grumbled about the newspapers she shredded in her chosen spot
behind his couch, but I knew he would have been unbearably hurt if she’d
decided her den was in my apartment.

This
close to her due date she was spending almost all her time inside with him, but
yesterday Mr. Contreras had gone to a Las Vegas Night that his old parish was
running. He’d been involved in the planning for six months and didn’t want to
miss it, but he called me twice to make sure Peppy hadn’t started into labor,
and a third time at midnight to check whether I’d written down the phone number
at the hall they’d rented. That third call was what was giving me malicious
pleasure at her trying to wake him before six.

The
June sunshine was bright, but the early-morning air was still chilly enough
that my bare feet grew too cold to feel the porch floor. I went back inside
without waiting for the old man to get up. I could hear Peppy’s muffled barks
continuing as I kicked my shorts off and stumbled back into bed. My bare leg
slid over a wet spot on the sheet. Blood. It couldn’t be mine so it had to be
the dog’s.

I
pulled my shorts back on and dialed Mr. Contreras’s number. I had my knee socks
and running shoes on before he answered, his voice hoarse beyond recognition.

“You
guys must have had a good old time last night,” I said brightly. “But you’d
better get up and face the day— you’re about to become a grandfather again.”

“Who
is this?” he rasped. “If this is some kind of joke you oughtta know better than
to call people at this time of morning and—”

“It’s
me,” I interrupted him. “V. I. Warshawski. Your upstairs neighbor, remember?
Well, your little dog Peppy has been barking her head off outside your door for
the last ten minutes. I believe she wants to come inside and have some
puppies.”

“Oh.
Oh. It’s you, doll. What’s that about the dog? She’s barking at my back door.
How long have you left her outside? She shouldn’t hang around out there barking
when she’s this close to her time—she could catch a chill, you know.”

I bit
back various sarcastic remarks. “I found some blood spots in my bed just now.
She may be getting ready to whelp. I’ll be right down to help you get things in
order.”

Mr.
Contreras started in on a complicated set of instructions about what I should
wear. These seemed so pointless that I hung up without ceremony and headed back
outside.

The
vet had stressed that Peppy didn’t need any help with her delivery. If we got
involved with her while she was in labor or picked up the firstborn puppies it
could cause her enough anxiety that she might not be able to handle the rest on
her own. I didn’t trust Mr. Contreras to remember in the excitement of the
moment.

The
old man was just shutting the back door or. Peppy when I got down to the
landing. He gave me a harassed look through the glass and disappeared for a
minute. When he finally opened the door he held an old work shirt out to me.

“Put
this on before you come inside.”

I
waved the shirt away. “This is my old sweatshirt; I’m not worried about what I
may get on it.”

“And
I ain’t worried about your stupid wardrobe. It’s what you’ve got underneath it
I care about. Or what you ain’t got underneath it.”

I
stared at him, astounded. “Since when do I need to put on a bra to look after
the dog?”

His
leathery face turned a dull crimson. The very thought of female undergarments
embarrasses him, let alone hearing their names spoken out loud.

“It’s
not because of the dog,” he said, agitated. “I tried telling you on the phone,
but you hung up on me. I know how you like to go traipsing around the house,
and it don’t -bother me any as long as you’re decent, which generally speaking
you are, but not everybody feels the same way. That’s a fact.”

“You
think the dog cares?” My voice went up half a register. “Who the hell else—oh.
You brought someone home with you last night from the gambling den. Well, well.
Quite an evening for you, huh?” Normally I wouldn’t be so vulgar about
someone’s private life, but I felt I owed the old man a lick or two after all
the snooping he’d done on my male visitors during the last three years.

He
turned a deeper mahogany. “It ain’t what you think, doll. It ain’t like that at
all. Fact is, it’s an old buddy of mine. Mitch Kruger. It’s been a real
struggle for him, making ends meet since him and me retired, and now he’s been
tossed out on his rear end, so he come home crying on my shoulder last night.
Course, like I told him, he wouldn’t have to worry about his rent if he didn’t
drink it first. But that’s neither here nor there. Point is, he’s never exactly
kept his hands to himself, if you know what I mean.”

“I
know just what you mean,” I said. “And I promise that if the guy feels inflamed
by my charms I will put him off without breaking his arm—in deference to our
friendship and his age. Now, put your jacket away and let me see how Her Serene
Dogginess is.”

He
wasn’t happy about it, but he grudgingly let me into the apartment. Like mine,
it had four rooms arranged boxcar style. From the kitchen you went into the
dining room and then into a little hall that fed the bedroom, bath, and living
room.

Mitch
Kruger was snoring loudly on the living room couch, his mouth hanging open
under his bulbous nose. One arm was flung over the side so that his fingertips
trailed the floor. The top row of his thick gray chest hairs peeped out from
the edge of the blanket.

Ignoring
him as best I could, I crouched next to the sofa, under the shadow of his
malodorous socks, and peered around the back to look at Peppy. She was lying on
her side in the middle of a heap of newspapers. She’d spent most of the last
few days shredding these, building a nest over the stack of blankets Mr.
Contreras had folded for her. When she saw me she turned her head away, but
thumped her tail once, feebly, to show there were no hard feelings.

I got
back to my feet. “I guess she’s okay. I’m going upstairs to make some coffee.
I’ll come back in a little while. Remember, though, you’ve got to leave her
alone— no going back there and trying to stroke her or anything.”

BOOK: Sara Paretsky - V.I. Warshawski 07
12.83Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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