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Excerpt Reveal: Bark to the Future by Spencer Quinn

Bark to the FutureSpencer Quinn’s Bark to the Future continues the adventurous New York Times and USA Today bestselling series that Stephen King calls “without a doubt the most original mystery series currently available.”

When Chet the dog, “the most lovable narrator in all of crime fiction” (Boston Globe), and his human partner, PI Bernie Little, are approached by a down-and-out older man with a cardboard sign at an exit ramp, Bernie is shocked to discover the man is a former teammate from his high school baseball team. Chet and Bernie take Rocket out for a good meal, and later, Bernie investigates Rocket’s past, trying to figure out what exactly went wrong.

Then, Rocket goes suspiciously missing. With his former teammate likely in danger, Bernie goes back to his old high school for answers, where much that he remembers turns out not to be true—and there are powerful and dangerous people not happy with the questions Bernie is asking.

Bernie soon learns that he misunderstood much about his high school years – and now, Chet and Bernie are plunged into a dangerous case where the past isn’t dead and the future could be fatal.

Bark to the Future will be available on August 9th, 2022. Please enjoy the following excerpt!


CHAPTER ONE

“Let’s see what this baby can do,” Bernie said.

And there you have it. Bernie’s brilliance, lighting up the whole oil-stained yard at Nixon’s Championship Autobody. Let’s see what this baby can do. Can you imagine anyone else saying that? I sure can’t. I wouldn’t even try, and who knows Bernie better than me? Sometimes humans talk to themselves, as you may or may not know. Humans have a lot going on in their heads. Too much? I couldn’t tell you. But I wouldn’t trade places. Let’s leave it at that. The point is that when they’re talking to themselves they’re trying to dig down through all the too-muchness and get to what’s at the bottom, digging, as it happens, being one of my very best things. Maybe we’ll get to that later. For now, the takeaway is that Bernie talks to himself in front of me. So I know what’s at the bottom of Bernie, way down deep, case closed. Closing cases is what we do, by the way, me and Bernie. We’re partners in the Little Detective Agency—Little on account of that’s Bernie’s last name. Call me Chet, pure and simple. Our cases usually get closed by me grabbing the perp by the pant leg. Although there were no perps around right now and we weren’t even working a case, my teeth got a funny feeling.

Nixon Panero, owner of the shop and our good buddy, patted the hood of our new Porsche. We’ve had others—maybe more than I can count, since things get iffy when I try to go past two—but never one this old. Could I even remember them all? Perhaps not, although I have a very clear picture of the last one in my mind, upside down and soaring through snowy treetops, the windows all blasted out and me and Bernie also in midair, although slightly closer to the ground. I’d miss that Porsche—especially the martini glass decals on the fenders—but this one, with an interesting black and white pattern, as though a normal PD squad car was rippling its muscles, if that makes any sense, looked none too shabby. In fact, and in a strange dreamlike way, a thing of beauty. And to top it off, my seat—the shotgun seat, goes without mentioning—couldn’t have been more comfortable, the leather soft and firm at the same time, and possibly quite tasty. A no-no, and I forgot that whole idea at once.

“One last thing,” Nixon said.

Bernie, hands on the wheel, ready to go, glanced up at him.

“All parts guaranteed original and authentic,” Nixon said. “Excepting certain aspects of the engine.”

“No problem,” Bernie said. “You’re the expert.”

“Thanks, Bernie. But what I’m saying is in horsepower terms authentic might be stretching it the teensiest bit. So my advice would be to take it on the easy side at first.”

“Sure thing,” Bernie said, sliding his foot over to the gas pedal.

“On account of what we’ve got here,” Nixon began, “is kind of a—”

Beast? Was that what Nixon said? I couldn’t be sure, because at that moment Bernie’s foot—he was wearing flip flops, one new-looking, the other old and worn—touched the pedal, just the lightest touch to my way of thinking, but enough to get our new engine excited in no uncertain terms. It roared a tremendous roar and this new dreamlike ride of ours shot out of Nixon’s yard and into the street. I felt like my head was getting left behind, meaning that shooting out doesn’t really do the job here. Was it possible we were actually off the ground? I believed we were.

“Woo eee!” Bernie cried as he brought us safely down, all tires on the pavement. “Woo eee, baby!”

As for me, I got my head and body properly organized, sat up straight and howled at the moon, although it was daytime and cloudy to boot. We had a beast on our side. No one could touch us now, although the truth was no one ever had before. I felt tip-top, or even better.

* * *

“My god,” said Bernie, as we came off a two-laner that had taken us deep into the desert and far from the Valley, where we live, and merged onto a freeway, the tops of the downtown towers visible in the distance, their lower parts lost in the brassy haze. “Can you believe what just happened?” We slowed down to what seemed like nothing, although we were zooming past everyone else. Bernie patted the dash and glanced my way. “Rough beast, big guy, its hour come round at last.” That one zipped right by me, but Bernie laughed so it must have been funny. “Did we hit one forty? Next time I’ll snap a picture of the speedometer. You’ll have to take the wheel.”

No problem. That had actually happened once, if very briefly, down Mexico way, where Bernie and I had had to leave a nice little cantina in somewhat of a hurry, following a misunderstanding between Bernie, a very friendly lady, and a late-arriving gentleman who turned out to be her husband and also the head of the local cartel. Bottom line: Bernie could count on me.

Not long after that we were winding slowly down the ramp at the Rio Vista Bridge, close to home. There’s always a backup on the ramp, and at the bottom a few leathery skinned men holding paper cups or sometimes cardboard signs are waiting. Today there was only one, a real skinny barefoot guy, wearing frayed cargo shorts and nothing else, his shoulders the boniest I’d ever seen. He was mostly bald, but had a ponytail happening at the back, a gray ponytail with yellow-stained ends, the same yellow you see on the fingertips of smokers. Also—and maybe the first thing I noticed—a small but jagged scar across the bridge of his nose. A cigarette was hanging from the side of his mouth but its tiny fire had gone out. Traffic came to a stop when we were right beside him. He looked down at us, his eyes watery blue. I was pretty sure I hadn’t seen him before, and certain I’d never smelled him. My nose is never wrong on things like that. In this case it wasn’t even a close call. Had I ever picked up a human scent so . . . how would you put it? Complex? Rich? Over the top? You pick. As for me, I was starting to like this dude a lot. Meanwhile Bernie dug out a few bills from the cup holder and handed them over.

Except not quite. Yes, Bernie held out the money, but the dude made no move to grab it. Instead he shook his head and said, “Can’t take your money, Bernie.”

“Excuse me?” Bernie said.

The dude took the cigarette out of his mouth, plucked a little twist of something from between two chipped and yellowed teeth, and said it again.

Bernie gave him a close look. “Do I know you?” he said.

“Guess not,” said the dude. He glanced down at the money, still in Bernie’s outstretched hand, and his lips curled in a sort of sneer, like that money was way beneath him. “But I’ll take a light,” he said.

Bernie stuck the money back in the cup holder, fumbled around inside, found a book of matches and held them out. The guy took the matches, broke one off, but he couldn’t get it lit, his hands suddenly very shaky. In front us traffic started moving. From behind came honking, not easy on my ears. Bernie pulled off the ramp, getting us mostly onto the narrow dirt strip next to the bridge supports. He opened the door, put one foot on the ground and looked back at me.

“Better stay, Chet.”

Too late. Meanwhile the traffic from behind was on the move, perhaps still slightly blocked by us, but hardly at all. A truck driver leaned out of his window, an unpleasant expression on his face. He opened his mouth to say something, saw me, and changed his mind.

“Here,” said Bernie, holding out his hand.

“Here what?” said the dude.

“The matches.”

The dude handed over the matches. Bernie lit one, cupped the flame. The dude leaned in, got his cigarette going. For a moment, his face—so weathered, wrinkled, with little blotches here and there—was almost touching Bernie’s hand, so perfect. The dude straightened, took a deep drag, let it out slow, smoke streaming from his nostrils.

“Waiting for me to say thanks?” said the dude.

“No,” said Bernie.

“Then get back in your super duper car.” He glanced over at me, turned away, then gave me another look. “The both of you.”

“In a hurry to get rid of us?” Bernie said.

The dude was silent for what seemed like a long time. Then came a bit of a surprise. He smiled. Not a big smile, and lots of teeth were missing and the tip of his tongue was yellow-brown, but he no longer looked quite so messed up.

“You haven’t changed,” he said. “Always those goddamn questions.”

“For example?”

The dude thought for a moment or two. Then he stiffened and shouted at Bernie, a shout with a sort of whispery, ragged edge, so not particularly loud, but real angry. “You makin’ fun of me, Bernie? That’s another question you just asked. Think I’m nothin’ but . . . but . . .” Whatever it was, he couldn’t come up with it.

“Sorry,” Bernie said, “I didn’t—”

The dude’s eyes narrowed down to two watery slits. “You was always an asshole but not mean. What the hell happened?”

“Look,” Bernie said, “I—”

“Aw, the hell with it,” the dude said, his anger vanishing all at once. He waved his hand—fingers bent, nails thick and yellow—in a throwaway gesture. “You stood up for me. I don’t forget things like that. Well, I do. I forget . . . you name it.” He laughed a croaky laugh that got croakier until he finally spat out a brownish gob. It landed at the base of one of the bridge supports. I moved in that direction. At the same time, the dude took a very deep drag, blew out a thick smoke ball, peered through it at Bernie, then wagged his finger. “But I sure as shit remember that time with Raker.”

“Coach Raker?” Bernie said.

“Who the hell else are we jawin’ about?” said the dude. “He was gonna bench me for showin’ up late to the game against Central Tech and you said hey coach bench me I forgot to pick him up on the way to school. Which wasn’t even true. No way you don’t remember that. You were on the mound and don’t deny it. Two outs, bottom of the ninth, bases loaded, up one zip, and some dude hits a scorcher in the gap and who runs it down?” The dude tapped his skinny chest. “Game over. Took us to the state, uh, whatever it is.”

Bernie has wonderful eyebrows, with a language all their own. Now they were saying a whole bunch, but amazement was a big part of it.

“Championship,” he said softly.

“Yeah, state championship, what I said,” said the dude. “Next year you guys won it but I was . . . was . . . like movin’ on.”

“Rocket?” Bernie said. “Rocket Saluka?”

The dude—Rocket Saluka, if I was following things right—nodded a slow, serious kind of nod, and stood very straight before us, there in the bridge shadows, his shoulders back, his scrawny bare chest rising and falling. He and Bernie had played on the same team? Had I gotten that right? Baseball, for sure, bottom of the ninth and bases loaded being baseball lingo, but how was it possible? Rocket was an old man.

Traffic on the ramp was now mostly stop and not much go, meaning folks had plenty of time to check us out. Rocket didn’t seem to notice them, and neither did Bernie. He and Rocket were just standing there, Rocket smoking his cigarette, Bernie watching him. At last Bernie said, “I could use a burger.”

Rocket nodded another slow, serious nod.

“How about you?” Bernie said.

Rocket took one last drag and tossed the butt away. Bernie ground it under his heel. I took a good close-range sniff of Rocket’s brownish gob, lying in the dirt. Was actual tasting necessary? I was leaning in that direction when Bernie made the little chkk-chkk sound that meant we were out of there. Burgers or brownish gobs? Burgers! Burgers for sure! But that was Bernie, always the smartest human in the room. Just follow him—especially from in front, like I do—and you can’t go wrong.

* * *

There are many Burger Heavens in the Valley—just one of the reasons it’s the best place on earth—but our favorite is the one between Mama’s Bowlerama and Mama’s Kitchen, Bath and Fine Art, mostly because Mama owns it, too, and Bernie’s a big fan of Mama, has told me more than once that she’s what puts America over the top. Perhaps a bit confusing—I had a notion that Bernie and I were Americans and that was pretty much it—but it didn’t matter. Mama’s burgers were the best I’d ever tasted. I was enjoying one now just the way I liked it at a picnic table on one side of the Burger Heaven parking lot, on a paper plate, no bun, no nothing, and over in a jiff. Bernie sat on one side of the table, dipping fries into a ketchup cup. Rocket sat on the other side. He’d polished off his first burger real fast, taken a little more time with the second, and was now working his way through the next one, the number for what comes after two escaping me at the moment. Except for ordering, no one had said a thing. Now and then, Mama glanced our way from the kitchen window of the hut, her huge gold hoop earrings the brightest sight in view.

Rocket burped, sat back, searched the pockets of his cargo shorts, pulled out a switchblade knife, not an uncommon sight in my line of work, but it seemed to surprise him. He shoved the knife back in his pocket. The top of the handle, rounded off with a green-eyed human skull decoration, peeped out from inside his pocket.

“What you got there?” Bernie said.

“MVP,” said Rocket.

“Most valuable player?”

“Close, real close,” Rocket said. “Most valuable possession.”

“What makes it valuable?” Bernie said.

Rocket shoved the knife deeper in his pocket, the green-eyed skull now disappearing from view. “Let’s keep that between the two of us, me and me,” he said. “Keep on keepin’ it thataway.” His hand was still in his pocket, rummaging around. It emerged with a bent cigarette. “Smoke?”

“Sure,” said Bernie, meaning he was about to take one of those breaks from giving up smoking.

Now would be when most folks would be expecting Rocket to produce another cigarette, but that didn’t happen. Instead he broke the bent one in two and handed half to Bernie.

“Thanks,” said Bernie, striking a match.

They smoked in silence for a while, Rocket taking quick glances at Bernie, Bernie looking nowhere special. I got the feeling something might be going on in Bernie’s mind, but whatever it was he was in no hurry. I was about to settle down under the table for a little shut-eye when the Burger Heaven back door opened and Mama stepped out with a package in her hand. She came over to the table. Rocket didn’t seem to notice her until she was right there. Then he looked startled.

“What the hell?” he said. Rocket’s hand went right to his cargo shorts pocket, the one with the flip knife inside.


Click below to pre-order your copy of Bark to the Future, coming August 9th, 2022!

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4 thoughts on “Excerpt Reveal: Bark to the Future by Spencer Quinn

  1. What a great beginning. I am so anxious to start reading this. Already pre-ordered even before it was announced. Been waiting seems like for years but only about 9-10 months. 24 days to go. If nothing else, Chet and Bernie teach me patience.

  2. Bernie…ever the loyal and diplomatic friend. Chet…ever the discerning and smart partner. I can’t wait to find out what comes next!

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