Spencer Quinn’s It’s a Wonderful Woof presents a holiday adventure for Chet the dog, “the most lovable narrator in crime fiction” (Boston Globe), and his human partner, PI Bernie Little.
Holiday time in the Valley, and in the holiday spirit—despite the dismal shape of the finances at the Little Detective Agency—Bernie refers a potential client to Victor Klovsky, a fellow private eye. It’s also true that the case—promising lots of online research but little action—doesn’t appeal to Bernie, while it seems perfect for Victor, who is not cut out for rough stuff. But Victor disappears in a rough-stuff way, and when he doesn’t show up at his mom’s to light the Hanukkah candles, she hires Chet and Bernie to find him.
They soon discover that Victor’s client has also vanished. The trail leads to the ruins of a mission called Nuestra Señora de los Saguaros, dating back to the earliest Spanish explorers. Some very dangerous people are interested in the old mission. Does some dusty archive hold the secret of a previously unknown art treasure, possibly buried for centuries? What does the Flight into Egypt—when Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus fled Herod—have to do with saguaros, the Sonoran desert cactus?
No one is better than Chet at nosing out buried secrets, but before he can, he and Bernie are forced to take flight themselves, chased through a Christmas Eve blizzard by a murderous foe who loves art all too much.
It’s a Wonderful Woof will be available on October 19th, 2021. Please enjoy the following excerpt!
The Muertos throw the best Christmas party in the whole Valley. The Valley’s where we live, me and Bernie. It goes on forever in all directions, and is almost certainly in Arizona, based on things I hear from time to time. That’s not important. Is it important that the Muertos are the roughest, toughest biker gang around? Maybe to you, but not to us. The Little Detective Agency deals with the roughest and toughest every day. Little is Bernie’s last name, I’m Chet, pure and simple, and the agency’s just the two of us. Why would we need anyone else? That’s the important part.
The Muertos party takes place in their clubhouse and lasts for several days, but we usually leave before dawn on the first night. It gets pretty noisy what with the motorcycle races up and down the big staircase to the second floor, and a sort of dance on motorcycles to a tune called the hora, I believe, which I knew from a bat mitzvah where I’d come upon a forgotten tray of steak tip canapes, our departure following soon after.
Right now, as we made our way to the door, the hora amped down and Junior Ruiz, president of the Muertos, began zooming around in tight circles on his giant Harley with his wife on his shoulders and his mother on her shoulders. He braked to a stop beside us, revved the engine once or twice, and over its roar yelled, “Wanna climb up on Mama, Bernie?”
“Um,” said Bernie, “I don’t really—”
“Aw come on, Bernie,” Mama called down. “Where’s your sense of fun?”
“Very nice of you, given the history, but—” “History? What history?”
“Didn’t you end up doing eighteen months at Northern State?”
“Turned out as only three on account of overcrowding. Three months I can do in my sleep.”
“Which is actually how it went down, no?” said Junior’s wife.
Mama, up on Junior’s wife’s shoulders, if I haven’t made that clear, gave Junior’s wife a sort of kick in the sides with the heels of her white cowboy boots, like she was on horseback. Junior’s wife did not look like a horse. She actually looked a lot like Mama, except younger and not quite so jiggly.
“Watch your mouth, girl,” Mama said. “And besides, Bernie, I’ll never forget how nicely you busted me—especially the way Chet grabbed my pant leg, so gently.”
Grabbing perps by the pant leg is how we close our cases, me doing the grabbing and Bernie standing by with the cuffs. I checked out Mama’s pants and wouldn’t you know? They were the exact same pants she’d been wearing that day, red leather with golden leather fringes! I remembered the taste of those golden fringes so well! Have you ever noticed how the taste of something—or even the memory of the taste—makes long-ago happenings suddenly pop up in your mind like they were just yesterday? It all came back to me: Mama lighting the fuse, the door blowing off the safe, Mama reaching inside with a lovely look on her face, so excited and alive, which was when we showed up. There’s a lot of fun to be had in this business. A strong breeze started up behind me. In practically no time I figured out it was my tail, feeling tip-top and letting all our Muertos buddies know. I couldn’t wait for . . . for whatever was going to happen after now.
A moment or two later we were out in the street, a dark alley, in fact, and in the sketchiest part of South Pedroia, which is the sketchiest part of town. The sky was dim and pinkish, no moon, no stars, a typical Valley night sky. Bernie glanced back at the door to the clubhouse.
“There’s your holiday spirit, Chet,” Bernie said. “No grudges. Instead—forgiveness. Maybe not standard biker philosophy but isn’t that all the more reason to value it?” I had no idea, didn’t understand the question. But it was about bikers and I understood them very well, so no worries.
“Is forgiving possible without forgetting?” Bernie went on. He smiled at me, a pinkish smile that was a bit scary. “You’re the expert on forgiving. Fill me in.”
Forgiving? A new one on me. I was very familiar with forgetting of course, could forget like you wouldn’t believe. My takeaway? I was a good, good boy.
We turned the corner, which led to another alley, darker and sketchier than the one we’d been on. Our ride—a Porsche, but not the old one that had gone off a cliff, or the other old one that got blown up, but the oldest one of all, with martini glasses painted on the fenders—sat at the end of the block, in a cone of light shining from a rooftop lamp. In between us and it, we had some sort of commotion going on. We picked up the pace and headed toward the action, our MO when it comes to trouble ahead.
At first it looked like this particular commotion was all about two shadows—one big, one small—dancing a choppy kind of dance, but as we closed in we saw it was a real big dude beating up a real little one. The big dude backhanded the tiny dude across the face and the tiny dude went flying. He landed on his back, snatched up a trash can lid and held it like a shield, closing his eyes. Closing his eyes? How was that going to help? The big dude whisked the trash can lid out of his hands and flung it away. Here’s something I’ve noticed: You may be eager for whatever’s coming next, but it’s very hard to predict in this life. For example, who would have guessed that the trash can lid would now be spinning through the air just like a Frisbee! Who could blame himself for what followed? Not me, amigo. I charged after that trash can lid, sprang up, actually too high—I love when that happens—and snagged it on my way back down.
After that I trotted over to Bernie as I always do with a freshly caught Frisbee. Only . . . only a trash can lid is not a Frisbee, and Bernie was not waiting to take it, a happy smile on his face, but was turned the other way, trying to haul the big dude off the tiny one. The big dude didn’t like that. He jumped to his feet, drew back his fist, got ready to launch an enormous roundhouse punch. Oh dear. That was my thought at the moment. Not “oh dear”
on account of Bernie being in trouble and there I was, his partner, standing by with a trash can lid in my mouth—although let me point out that I quickly dropped the trash can lid and got right back to looking like a total pro. But my “oh dear” was more about disappointment at the big guy’s technique. An enormous windup like his meant the fight was already over. Bernie stepped inside and threw that sweet, sweet uppercut. Click! Right on the point of a too-large chin. Not bang or boom, but simply a click, very neat and tidy. Then came the part I love the best, how speedily Bernie’s fist gets back to the starting position, just as speedy as the actual punch or even speedier, in case another uppercut was needed—which would still be a first, in my experience. Meanwhile the big guy’s eyes were rolling up and he was slumping down, one of those interesting sights you see in our line of work. And all at once I understood what humans meant when they said they were having an up and down kind of day! Wow! You could learn so much in this life just by being there.
I trotted over to the big guy and barked, not loudly, simply sending a message. I’m here too, buddy boy. Bernie glanced over at me and now came that happy smile. “Can’t believe you caught that thing,” he said. “One of your very best.”
So I’d done good after all! What a break, just one lucky day after another, starting with the day I’d met Bernie, which was also the same day I’d washed out of K-9 school—and on the very last test, namely leaping, my very best thing! How had that happened? Was a cat somehow involved? I thought so, but the details had grown dim. None of that mattered. We were partners, me and Bernie, case closed. Whoa! Aren’t cases closed with me grabbing the perp by the pant leg? For just a second I had the crazy idea of grabbing Bernie’s! No way I could let that happen, so in order to direct my teeth into something good and useful, I turned to the big dude. Still in dreamland. Was there any point in grabbing his pant leg? Not that I could see. I was a bit confused. My tail drooped. Oh no! I got it back up there, and in no uncertain terms. At that point, Bernie looked down at the tiny dude and this strange confused interlude went pop like a soap bubble. The fun I’ve had chasing those around! But no time for that now.
Bernie bent down, looked closer. “Victor?” he said. “Is that you?”
My goodness! Victor Klovsky, for sure. He had an inky smell you didn’t run into often with humans, except for old ones, and Victor wasn’t old. He had a scruffy beard without a trace of white, a narrow face, now somewhat mashed up, and, behind the thick lenses of his glasses, eyes that were always on the nervous side. Right now the glasses weren’t quite in place, but were kind of twisted and hung off one ear. He’d looked a lot better the last time I’d seen him, at the Great Western Private Eye Convention where Bernie had given the keynote speech. Easy to remember since Victor was one of the few remaining in the audience when Bernie’s speech came to an end. Wait. I take that back. There was still a big big audience. I just happened to spot Victor in the crowd. The point is that Victor is in the same business as we are! Sort of.
“Bernie?” he said. “What are you doing here?”
“Right back atcha.” Bernie removed Victor’s glasses, straightened them out, gently replaced them on Victor’s face.
Victor blinked a couple of times and then groaned. It hurt him to blink? You didn’t see that every day. There are a lot of tough guys and gals in our line of work. Victor wasn’t one of them.
“I’m on a case.” Victor sounded a little annoyed. “What else would I be doing?”
“I thought your MO was all about working online and then calling in Valley PD for the heavy lift—um, for the mopping up.” “I’m branching out,” Victor said. He wiped his nose on the back of his hand, saw a faint reddish smear. His eyes opened
wide. “Oh my god—I’m bleeding!”
Bernie peered closer. “It doesn’t actually look too—”
Victor grabbed Bernie’s wrist. The sight of Victor’s small, delicate hand wrapped around—or partly wrapped around—Bernie’s mighty wrist said something to me. I didn’t know what but at the same time knew I would never forget it. Funny how the mind works.
“Bernie! Am I lacerated? Do I need stitches?”
“Don’t know about lacerated,” Bernie said. “I’m not even sure of the definition, but—”
“Lacerate, for god’s sake, from the Latin laceratio, a tearing, rending, mutilation. Bernie! Am I mutilated? Tell me the truth! I can take it!” Victor’s eyes filled with tears.
Bernie glanced around, patted his pockets, ended up ripping off a small strip from the hem of his shirt, the Hawaiian shirt with the surfing cats, my least favorite of Bernie’s Hawaiian shirts. He folded the strip in half and pressed it lightly to the side of Victor’s nose.
“Ouch!” said Victor.
“Just hold it there like that,” Bernie said. “You’re going to be fine.”
Victor placed his hand on a surfing cat, took over the pressing from Bernie. He winced but didn’t say ouch again.
“Who’s your friend?” Bernie said, pointing his chin at the big dude, lying in the alley, chest rising and falling peacefully.
“He’s no friend,” said Victor. “Turns out he’s a dangerous criminal.”
“Want me to cuff him?”
“Hmm,” Victor said. “Hadn’t thought of that. Would it be legal?”
Bernie gave Victor a long look. “I’ll take responsibility. Got cuffs on you?”
“On me? You mean on my person in the here and now? Afraid not. I don’t actually own any. Should I?”
“The plastic kind works fine,” Bernie said. He took a pair of cuffs from his back pocket, flipped the big guy over on his front, got him nice and cuffed in no time. Then he sat down beside Victor, resting his back against the brick wall. I sat, too, but much closer to the big guy.
“Is there a warrant out for him?” Bernie said.
“Oh, definitely. Although I didn’t know that at the time.
Meaning when I took the case. He’s an email scammer, preys mostly on little old ladies. A lot of my business is about tracking down guys like that.”
“So most of your clients are little old ladies?”
“They feel humiliated. It’s an eye-opener for some of them, brings out a sort of hidden ferocity. I’m on eggshells twenty-four seven. But with this guy it turned out the scamming was more of a fill in between jobs. He’s a truck hijacker, liquor trucks especially.”
Bernie shot Victor a sideways glance. “So what are you doing in a place like this with a guy like that?”
“Like I said, I’m branching out. I was planning on bringing him in. There’s a ten-thousand-dollar reward from the state Longhauler’s Association. Nothing to sneeze at.”
And sure enough neither of them sneezed. It turned out I was following this back and forth rather well, a bit of a surprise.
“You were planning to bring him in without cuffs?”
“I confess it slipped my mind.” Victor lowered his voice. “But I’m armed, Bernie.”
Victor shifted slightly, a movement that made him groan. “Stupid thing got stuck in my back pocket. That’s when the situation began to deteriorate.”
“You have a firearm stuck in your back pocket?” “Duly licensed.”
“Is the safety on?”
“You push it forward for that? Or is it the other way?” “How did you get into this business?” Bernie said.
“I’m a researcher par excellence,” said Victor. “It seemed like a logical extension.”
“Roll over,” Bernie told him. “Slow and easy.” “Huh? What are you trying to do?”
“Clear that weapon from your pocket without killing anyone,” Bernie said.
No worries. It turned out that Victor’s gun was loaded backward, so no one could have gotten killed anyway. Next Victor discovered his phone had no service in this part of town, so Bernie lent him ours to call in. As soon as we heard the sirens, Bernie rose. I rose with him.
“Where are you going?” Victor said. “Home,” said Bernie. “It’s late.”
“But . . . but don’t you want to stay for the denouement?”
Whatever that was about delighted Bernie. A real big laugh just burst out of him. I jumped right up and got my paws on his chest, pretty delighted myself for no reason I could have explained.
“It’s your case,” Bernie said. “Merry Christmas and . . . and . . .” “Get back to doing what I do best?” said Victor.
“Something like that.”
“Good advice,” Victor said. “Taking it a little further, have you ever considered hiring anyone, especially of the information-era type?”
Bernie shook his head.
“Doesn’t it get a bit lonely, working all by yourself?”
“All by myself?” Bernie said. He didn’t get it. Neither did I. The big guy’s eyes fluttered open, checked things out, fluttered closed. Bernie went over to him, crouched down, and spoke quietly in his ear, an ear of what I believe is called the cauliflower type. “Don’t even consider getting up.”
Not long after that we were in the Porsche and headed into what remained of the night, just one of the many things we do best. The sound of the sirens faded down to nothing, but then popped up in another part of town. There’s lots of danger in this world, which was exactly what Bernie had told Ms. Pernick, our accountant, when she asked him to describe our business plan. Ms. Pernick had opened her eyes wide and shook her head, a human combo that comes before they say, “Wow!” Although in this case Ms. Pernick had left it unsaid.
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