Chet the dog, “the most lovable narrator in all of crime fiction” (Boston Globe) and his human partner Bernie Little find themselves high in the mountains this holiday season to help Dame Ariadne Carlisle, a renowned author of bestselling Christmas mysteries, find Rudy, her lead reindeer and good luck charm, who has gone missing.
At Kringle Ranch, Dame Ariadne’s expansive mountain spread, Chet discovers that he is not fond of reindeer. But the case turns out to be about much more than reindeer after Dame Ariadne’s personal assistant takes a long fall into Devil’s Purse, a deep mountain gorge. When our duo discovers that someone very close to Dame Ariadne was murdered in that same spot decades earlier, they start looking into that long ago unsolved crime.
But as they reach into the past, the past is also reaching out for them. Can they unlock the secrets of Dame Ariadne’s life before they too end up at the bottom of the gorge? Is Rudy somehow the key?
Up on the Woof Top will be available on October 17th, 2023. Please enjoy the following excerpt!
Most perps turn out to be reasonable in the end. They know, for example, the moment a case is closed, namely when I grab them by the pant leg. Pant leg grabbing is one of my specialties at the Little Detective Agency, Little on account of that’s my partner Bernie’s last name. Do I even have a last name? I’ve never heard it, but if there’s a change, I’ll let you know. Till then just think of me as Chet, pure and simple.
Maybe you’re wondering, but Chet, what about the unreasonable perps? I hope so, because that was exactly where I was headed with that uh-oh. Right now, we had a couple of unreasonable perps on our hands, although I myself have no hands, don’t need hands, and wouldn’t even know what to do with them. These unreasonable perps were the Burger boys, two brothers who’d hijacked a beer truck, now wrecked at the bottom of a box canyon they’d sped into in the hope of getting away from us—getting away in a wobbly truck from me and Bernie tailing them in the Beast, our brand-new, very old Porsche, can you imagine? A truck, by the way, that actually must have been hauling something unbeerlike, so unmistakably peanut oil from the aroma now hanging in the still air.
“What’s that stink?” said a Burger brother, the one Bernie called Hammy. The Burger brothers did not look alike. Hammy was short and skinny with big round eyes. The other one, Cheesy, I believe, was huge with little slit eyes.
“I don’t smell nothin’,” Cheesy said. “And who cares? This is our chance, you moron.”
Cheesy didn’t smell the peanut oil? How astonishing was that? Every time you think you’ve hit bottom when it comes to what the human nose can’t do they take it down another notch. There was nothing else to smell besides peanut oil, even for me who smells everything! I was about to feel sorry for them, or at least for Cheesy, when Hammy said, “Chance for what?”
“For hightailin’ it—what else?” Cheesy said. “He’ll be back any minute.”
Possibly I should have mentioned that I was alone with Hammy and Cheesy, Bernie having climbed up to higher ground where maybe his phone would work and he could call into Valley PD. Was there room in the Beast for me, Bernie, Hammy, and Cheesy? Maybe just for me, Bernie, and Hammy, but we couldn’t leave Cheesy out here in the desert all by his lonesome, his wrists cuffed in the pretty red, white, and blue plastic cuffs we used, just one of those touches that makes the Little Detective Agency what it is. The point I’m making is that Valley PD needed to come out here with the paddy wagon. I peered at the trail Bernie had followed up the canyon wall, a trail that took a sharp turn high up there, vanishing behind a jumble of red rocks, and didn’t see him. But Hammy and Cheesy hightailing it, Bernie or no Bernie, was off the table. Hadn’t the Burger brothers been grabbed by the pant leg, first Cheesy and then Hammy? The case was closed.
But Hammy and Cheesy weren’t getting it. They’d gone from sitting peacefully on the ground to a sort of grunting struggle to stand, not so easy with their hands behind their backs. Cheesy, despite being so enormous, was the first one up, a bit of a surprise to me. Then came a bigger surprise. He leaned over Hammy, chomped down on the collar of Hammy’s shirt, and hoisted him up. Wow! A first in terms of what the human mouth is capable of, and I’ve been in the business for a long time.
“Let’s go,” Cheesy said.
“What about the dog?” said Hammy.
“No problem. If it comes close give it the boot, good and hard.”
Not long after that, Hammy and Cheesy were sitting nice and comfy on the ground and we were back to being buddies. I admit that their pant legs were no longer what you might call blood free, but the amount wasn’t worth mentioning, hardly noticeable.
Bernie returned soon after, gave us all a close look.
“Was there a problem?”
None that I recalled, and Hammy and Cheesy were shaking their heads, the rhythm identical.
“But we were thinking you might cut us a break,” Cheesy said.
“Why would I want to do that?” said Bernie.
Hammy snapped his fingers, a human thing for when they get a sudden idea, but amazing he could do it with his hands cuffed behind his back. “Isn’t it Christmas time?”
“Next week, maybe?” said Cheesy. “Wednesday? Thursday?”
“Friday?” said Hammy.
They gazed up at Bernie, eyes open wide in a hopeful look like they were—oh my goodness!—begging. Didn’t they know begging is a no-no? Also, Bernie had no treats on him. I keep close track of things like that.
“Do I look like Santa?” Bernie said, this whole little back and forth ending in total confusion, at least for me. But Valley PD arrived soon after, along with a nice lady from the peanut oil company, who gave Bernie a check. And we hadn’t even been working the case, not until Hammy and Cheesy almost ran us off the road. What a day! The only problem was Bernie, sticking that check in the chest pocket of his Hawaiian shirt, the one with the dancing tubas. We’d had problems with checks and chest pockets in the past. I barked this low rumbly bark I have. Bernie got a look on his face, like he’d remembered something, and he transferred the check to the front pocket of his jeans, where it was nice and safe. If he wanted to think he’d done that remembering all by himself that was fine with me. Anything Bernie did was fine with me.
* * *
We’ve had Porsches in our career, maybe not out the ying-yang, but close. I can’t tell you the actual number because going past two is an issue, but I can see all those lovely rides in my mind. The first one went off a cliff, then the one with the martini glass decals got blown up, or was that the one that ended up in a snowy treetop? It’s hard to keep track. We have busy lives, me and Bernie. Here’s the takeaway: all our Porsches have been old ones fixed up by Nixon Panero, our car guy, and the one we were in now, Bernie behind the wheel and me sitting tall in the shotgun seat—the breeze, not too hot at this time of year, ruffling my fur—was the oldest and best. It’s all wavy black and white stripes, like a squad car rippling its muscles, Bernie says— who else talks like my Bernie?—and he calls it the Beast, on account of what’s under the hood. Bottom line—if you’re ever getting chased by us, just pull over. Whoa! I myself am black and white, specifically black with one white ear. And . . . and I can be something of a beast myself! Wow! For a moment I thought I knew all there was to know. Then the moment passed and I felt better.
“Something on your mind, big guy?”
Nope. Not a thing. Bernie looked at me. I looked at him right back. What a beautiful sight! Just his eyebrows, for example, not the namby-pamby kind of eyebrows you see all too often but eyebrows, amigo, that can’t be missed. On top of that, Bernie’s eyebrows have a language all their own. Right now, they were saying, Chet, you’re something else. I placed my paw on his knee. We sped up, somewhat alarmingly, especially since we seemed to be bumper to bumper on the airport freeway, but Bernie hit the brakes and we were good. He laughed. Bernie’s got the best laugh in the world. You can’t miss it, and a woman in the next lane didn’t. She glanced over, frowning at first, and then not.
Soon after that we were rolling down Mesquite Road, our street, the nicest in the Valley except for all the ones where the rich folks live. We pulled into our driveway and what was this? Action next door at the Parsons’s house?
There hadn’t been much in the way of action at the Parsons’s house for some time. Mr. and Mrs. Parsons were old and not doing well, especially her. As for Iggy, my best pal, the Parsonses had never been able to figure out their electric fence—even though Bernie had checked it out and found it was working perfectly— so Iggy didn’t get out much anymore. Mostly I just saw him through the tall window in their front hall, but he wasn’t there now. Instead he was outside. They were all outside, Mrs. Parsons in her wheelchair and Mr. Parsons guiding the wheelchair with one hand and holding onto Iggy’s leash with the other. Do I need to mention that Iggy was straining against that leash with everything he had in his tiny body, his amazingly long tongue flopping all over the place, and the look in his eyes at its craziest? I don’t think so. You were probably picturing that already, plus the high-pitched yip-yip-yipping. But maybe you missed the little detail of Iggy’s collar, not his normal plain collar but his Christmas collar with flashing red and green lights. The Parsons had bought one for me, too—this was sometime back—but I do not wear flashing light collars. I have black leather for dress up and gator skin for everyday, the story of me and a gator name of Iko and our trip to bayou country way too long to even start on. In the here and now, as Bernie likes to say, we had a taxi parked in the Parsons’s driveway and a taxi driver standing on the lawn, not in a good mood.
“The wheelchair? Plus that yapping little mutt?”
“We’re prepared to pay extra,” said Mr. Parsons.
“Yeah? Two hundred dollars extra?”
By that time, we were out of the car and strolling over.
“Hi, Daniel,” Bernie said. “Where are you headed?”
Mr. Parsons turned to us, stumbling just a bit. Bernie took Iggy’s leash in that smooth way he has, and Iggy went quiet.
“Oh, hi, Bernie,” Mr. Parsons said, somewhat out of breath. “We’re going to a book signing.”
“Bookville. Dame Ariadne Carlisle is Edna’s favorite author.”
“She’s so wonderful, Bernie,” Mrs. Parsons said. “Have you read her?”
“Not to my knowledge,” Bernie said.
“What luck for you! Imagine all the pleasure you’ve got in store. She’s written ninety-nine novels, each one better than the last and all of them with Christmas themes.”
“Oh,” said Bernie.
“Hey!” said the taxi driver. “What am I? A potted plant?”
Bernie turned to him. I turned my nose to him, if that makes sense. Somewhat plantish, certainly, but in a special way you smell a lot in these parts, a combo of garlic plus weed plus mint mouth wash. Here’s an interesting little fact: the mixture is never exactly the same. In short, I knew this guy.
And so did Bernie. “Two Bricks?” he said.
Ah, yes. Orlando “Two Bricks” Short, who’d had a scheme involving counterfeit watches, very good counterfeits if I remember right, except that he’d spelled a word—possibly Rolex— wrong on every one.
Two Bricks took a step back, raising his hands like Bernie was about to draw down on him. What a crazy idea! We weren’t even carrying, plus we never draw down first on anyone. Still, I was suddenly in the mood for the .38 Special. Bernie can shoot spinning dimes out of the air, a lovely way to spend an afternoon.
“I ain’t done nothin’, Bernie,” Two Bricks said. “I’m the most straight up dude in the whole Valley nowadays. Like, actually boring.”
“Perfect,” said Bernie. “So I assume you’re going to drive this very nice couple to Bookville for the meter fare plus a boringly moderate tip. Chet and I will follow, with Iggy here in the back.”
Some things in life start out nicely and then have a nasty twist at the end. This was one of those. Iggy on the little shelf in back? Iggy had never ridden in the Beast. The only member of the nation within—as Bernie calls me and my kind—who had was me. Why couldn’t it stay that way? Was it possible to occupy both the shotgun seat and the little shelf? Why was this even—
“Ch—et?” said Bernie, in this way he has of saying Chet.
* * *
First time in a bookstore! The smells! I didn’t even know where to begin. There were all kinds of human smells, which is what you get in crowd situations, and Bookville was packed with humans sitting on card table chairs and standing against the walls. No kids, though, so some of the most interesting smells were missing. Crowds are always better when kids are in them, if you want my opinion, and not just in the smell department. But forget all that. The most interesting smell—apart from the fact that a family of snakes seemed to be living under the floor—came from the bookshelves. So many books! Their smell was wonderful, somewhat like a very dry forest but a cozy, indoor one, if that makes sense, which it probably does not.
Even though there didn’t seem to be room for us, meaning me, Bernie, and Mr. and Mrs. Parsons plus Iggy in her lap, a bookstore worker spotted her and wheeled her to a special section off to the side but up front, so that was where we all ended up, in our own little row with a good view of what I believe is called the podium. I know that from the time Bernie gave the keynote speech at the Great Western Private Eye Association conference. Everyone just loved his talk, although most of the audience had to leave early, probably for family emergencies.
A thin little guy wearing two sets of glasses, one in the normal place and the other on top of his head, was at the podium, speaking softly and reading from a note card.
“Merry, um, Christmas, Hanukkah, and uh, holidays.” He looked up. “Only six book shopping days to go! Heh, heh.” He glanced around, perhaps expecting some sort of reaction, but none came. His gaze returned to the note card. “The Universal Encyclopedia of Christmas calls our guest today ‘the greatest Christmas writer since Dickens.’ And the Reader’s Bible of All Things Mystery says ‘no one writes them any twistier’ than her. So now it’s my, um, pleasure, to introduce or, ah, to welcome to Bookville for the very first time, making her last appearance before Christmas this year—” He looked up and blinked once or twice, “—the loveliest—I mean most beloved author in the whole wide world, Dame Ariadne Carlisle! Let’s give a big . . .”
But the audience was already clapping and cheering. Out from behind a curtain that looked a little like a bedsheet strode a woman who smelled lovely, kind of like one of those long boxes with flowers inside at the first moment someone opens it. She glanced at the thin little guy on her way to the podium and in a low voice said, “Dame as in fame not dame as in scram.”
The thin little guy turned white, but she didn’t notice. Had anyone else heard? Maybe only him and me, him because he was so close and me because, well, I’m me. Meanwhile, I’d left out the most important thing, namely the quality of her voice, kind of like that giant violin humans play between their legs— the name escaping me at the moment—but souped up, so rich and powerful, with a—uh-oh—catlike purr at the core.
Two uh-ohs in one day? That was when I began to worry.
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