[pulp]

A Ford Hadley Mystery

The Woman Whose Chihuahua Blew Away

She walked into the room like an hourglass on stilts, placed her purse on the tabletop and looked me up and down with eyes that were half-covered by lilac-coloured lids. I gestured to the hard-backed chair on the other side of the desk and she creased herself into it, tugging as she did so on the pleats of her dress pants.

“I appreciate your interest, Mr Hadley,” she said. I sat back in my swivel chair. Her voice was smoky; I noticed a pack of Marlboro Reds in her bag. “But how did you get hold of my cellphone number? And why the interest in what must, surely, be a fairly pedestrian case for a—” she paused and wrinkled her lip. “Private investigator.”

I snapped the lid of my computer shut, mostly for effect, and said: “The investigation business is not quite as busy as you might imagine. Things tend to drop off during the summer; people don’t go missing when the humidity reaches eighty percent.”

I smiled a crooked smile—one which I could never manage to make charming—and lifted from a stack of papers and printer cartridges a sun-curled copy of the Globe. I flicked at the page that the newspaper was folded open to. “Your name came up a couple of weeks ago,” I said, handing her the story.

“A robbery out at Wonderland went bad, a friend of mine—a bail bondsman who did a lot of work on the dog tracks back in the 80s—asked me to take a look at the case. The suspects were after a stash of money that had been buried beneath the clubhouse and were essentially caught red-handed.”

“And how does this involve me?” she purred.

I tipped forward a little in my seat. “I saw your posters. Missing dog, Cecil the chihuahua, last seen on Myrtle Street in Beacon Hill.” She looked at me suspiciously. I would have, too. “The criminals weren’t the only ones out for a midnight stroll at the tracks. In a kennel at the back of clubhouse, in the owner’s office in fact, was Cecil. Yappy little thing,” I added.

She shifted her angles in the chair and leaned forward until her hands were palm-down on the edge of my desk. I thought she was about to bawl, but instead she said: “My cellphone number is… on his collar. I see.” She paused. “Where is he? Cecil, I mean.”

I got up and opened the door to the hallway. I yelled across the corridor and a woman in a khaki suit pushed open her office door and released Cecil. Yellow-haired with what I hoped was an ironic lion’s mane of fur around his neck, the dog half bounced and half slid over the floor toward me. “Thanks Jen,” I said. The creature caught sight of his owner between my feet and barked his way to her lap. Lucky dog, I thought.

Holding Cecil in front of her face, she cooed and thanked me—if not profusely then at least genuinely—for helping solve this miniature mystery. “You’re welcome,” I replied. “But this got me to thinking: the night he ran away there was a big storm. I for one don’t know too many mutts who are partial to summer thunder. So why would Cecil the chihuahua have been snatched?  And just how did he get out to Revere for the last of the races?”

Her temporary smile wilted like a flower in the heat. She professed ignorance before reaching into her wallet and producing a pen and a check book. I let her write, took the check and folded it in to my shirt pocket. “I’ll be in touch, Miss Berry,” I said.

*      *      *

Malice in Wonderland

The clubhouse looked like you might expect the clubhouse of a recently abandoned dog track to look. On the walls were portraits, in profile, of mottled and unicolour and tan greyhounds, their noses pointed nobly toward the sky, their tails tucked neatly between their legs. They looked as ambivalent as I felt.

Charles had met me outside the subway empty-handed. In spite of our conversation the previous night, he assured me that he could get us into the clubhouse and into the manager’s office. One of the track’s employees had apparently jumped bail just after the elections had shut down this little Wonderland and he had been entrusted with the man’s personal effects until such time as he was caught or his APB expired. Amongst these belongings was a key.

He was now hunched over the kennel where Cecil had been found, seeming mighty interested in what was most probably a puddle of dog piss. I was ransacking with professional vigour the desk of Joseph Skivotsky, spreading letters, receipts and stacks of newspapers out across the table top. Skivotsky had told Charles of the recent attempted burglary and—knowing that I had had previous dealings with the track owner—Charles had called me in to cast a glance over the scene. I had found nothing more than a chihuahua and a phone number.

“Is it really worth all this trouble,” he asked, “just for one missing pet?”

“You didn’t meet Linda Berry.” Charles began to protest. I interrupted: “She was acting pretty suspiciously, Charlie. I’m not a gambling man, but I’d wager she’s hiding something.”

“Everyone’s hiding something, Ford.” Charles straightened his back and leaned on the swivel chair behind Skivotsy’s desk. It squealed with age. “You’re hiding something, I’m hiding something. The goddamn chihuahua is probably hiding something.”

I protested nonetheless: why did Skivotsky have Cecil in his office? The old Polish manager hadn’t snatched the dog from the dame; most likely it had been deposited here after Wonderland’s gates were locked tight six months ago. Was it blackmail? Perhaps someone needed collateral against the delightful Miss Berry?

I tossed another extinct electricity bill into the trash can, ran a finger across the dusty tabletop and said: “I think we can call it a day.” Charlie locked up the clubhouse and we left the despondent greyhounds to gather dust in Skivotsky’s office.

“At least you got paid.” Charlie grinned as I fumbled a five dollar bill into the ticket machine. I pulled the check from my wallet and handed it to him absently.

“All of fifty bucks,” I said.

“Yeah, well… Hang on, take a look at this.” He had unfolded the slip of paper and thrust it in front of me. My eyes focused finally: To the order of Ford Hadley, Fifty and 0/100 dollars. And at the top of the paper, an address:

Linda F. Berry,

Patriot Parkway,

Revere, MA 02151

“So,” I said, “Ms Berry isn’t totally lost in Wonderland.” [ends]

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