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Authors: Carol Lea Benjamin

A Hell of a Dog

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PRAISE FOR THE RACHEL ALEXANDER AND DASH MYSTERIES

This Dog for Hire

Winner of the Shamus Award for Best First PI Novel

“A strong female character and lots of action … Snappy dialogue and a fast-paced story will hold readers' attention.” —
School Library Journal


This Dog for Hire
will grip you and hold you like a puppy with a rag.” —John Lutz, author of
Tropical Heat

“[A] spirited debut … Benjamin writes with a wit nearly as sharp as Dash's teeth.” —
Publishers Weekly

“Joy! Rejoice! Carol Lea Benjamin has arrived and
This Dog for Hire
will be celebrated by murder-mystery buffs, the hydrant set, and all eclectic readers.” —Roger Caras, former president of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

The Dog Who Knew Too Much

“Delightful … Rachel brings to mind a young, wisecracking, East Coast Kinsey Millhone.” —
Publishers Weekly

“Crisp, clean, and focused, with a great heroine and canines; an enjoyable read.” —
Library Journal

A Hell of a Dog

“Expertly blend[s] dog-training lore with an excellent and satisfying mystery.” —
Publishers Weekly

“The writing is excellent, as always, with a nice touch of humor.” —
Library Journal

“Boasts appealing human and canine characters, light humor, an attractive New York City setting, and a readable pace.” —
Booklist

A Hell of a Dog

A Rachel Alexander and Dash Mystery

Carol Lea Benjamin

For Stephen, my

gueleebte

T
he
C
ast
, H
uman and
C
anine
:

Rachel Alexander and Dashiell, a pit bull

Alan Cooper and Beau, a German shorthaired pointer

Tina Darling

Boris Dashevski and Sasha, a Rottweiler

Martyn Eliot

Bucky King and Angelo, a Tibetan terrier, and Alexi and Tamara, borzoi

Samantha Lewis

Tracy Nevins and Jeff, a golden retriever

Beryl Potter and Cecilia, a border terrier

Cathy Powers and Sky, a border collie

Chip Pressman and Betty, a German shepherd

Audrey Little Feather Rosenberg and Magic, a pug

Rick Shelbert and Freud, a Saint Bernard

Woody Wright and Rhonda, a boxer

To know and to act are one and the same.

—Samurai maxim

1

MAN PLANS, GOD LAUGHS

Less is more. Except when it comes to money and sex. These unassailable truths may explain why I found myself checking into a hotel barely a twenty-minute cab ride from my front door.

I'd been asked to work undercover at a weeklong symposium for dog trainers, which meant I'd be paid to lecture about dog behavior, a paean to my former occupation, and paid again as I practiced my current one, private investigation.

So much for the money part.

My PI firm was an equal partnership, and my partner and I always worked together, which may explain why the elevator operator whistled and stepped back as we boarded his car.

“Hell of a dog you've got there, missus,” he said, both hands dropping rapidly to cover the area directly below the brass buttons of his jacket. “Pit bull?” His back was against the wall.

I nodded.

“He okay?”

I looked down. Dashiell looked up at me and wagged his tail. “He's not complaining.” I waited, but nothing happened. “Want me to drive?” I asked.

“Sorry, missus. Where to?”

I held up my key. While he read the room number, I read the name embroidered over the breast pocket of his jacket. “Home, James,” I told him. But once again, nothing happened. There was another customer approaching. And another big dog.

“Rachel,” the other customer said. “I didn't know
you
'd be here.” Ignoring Jimmy, who by now was the color of watery mashed potatoes, Chip Pressman and his shepherd, Betty, stepped onto the small elevator. “Three, please,” he said, never taking his eyes off me.

Dashiell was staring, too. Either he'd gotten a whiff of Betty, or Chip had a roast beef in his suitcase.

“I've been meaning to call you,” he said, the elevator, its doors gaping open, still on the lobby floor.

“Go sit,” I said, pointing to the corner farthest from Jimmy. Both dogs obeyed, squeezing into the spot I had indicated. I have no issues when it comes to dogs, but some men turn me into Silly Putty.

Jimmy closed the folding gate and turned the wheel. The old-fashioned open-cage elevator began to rise, albeit slowly.

“Can we have a drink before the dinner tonight?” Chip said, looking at his watch. “There's something I need to tell you.”

Somehow, the way he said it, I didn't think it was going to be something I'd want to hear.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Jimmy turn slightly, perhaps to make sure he wouldn't miss any nonverbal response, a nod, a shrug, one hand demurely placed on my flushed cheek to indicate both pleasure and surprise.

“Can't,” I said.

Jimmy exhaled.

“I have to straighten out some things with Sam before the symposium begins,” I lied.

The elevator stopped at three.

“Well, I guess I'll see you at dinner, then?”

“I guess.”

He got off. Betty followed him. Dashiell followed Betty, play-bowing as soon as he was in the hallway. He must have had adjoining rooms on his mind. I thanked Jimmy and got off, too.

“We're on the same floor,” Chip said.

I looked down at my key. “Looks that way.”

We stood in front of the closed elevator door, neither of us moving, the air between us thick with pheromones and anxiety. He could have used a haircut. I could have used Valium.

“The reason I didn't call,” he said, pausing and looking down for a moment, “even though I told you I would—”

“You don't have to do this.”

“But I do, Rachel. The thing is, shortly after I saw you at Westminster, I—I went back to her, to Ellen. For the sake of the children.”

That ought to work, I thought, the arrow he'd shot piercing my heart.

“Hey,” I said, as sincerely as I could, “no problem. I hope it works out for you.”

“Rachel,” he said. He appeared to be gathering his thoughts. Lots of them. Too many, if you ask me.

“I have to run,” I said, as if we were standing so awkwardly not in the third-floor hallway of some hotel but on the track that goes around the reservoir in Central Park.

“Well, okay, I'll see you later.”

He seemed disappointed. But was that a reason for me to hang around and listen to the touching story of how determined he was to make his marriage work, or to hear about how he tried but found he couldn't live without Ellen's cheddar cheese potato surprise? I didn't think so.

We walked down the hall. I stopped at 305. Chip and Betty continued another two feet, stopped, and turned.

“We're next door,” he said, looking down at his key to make sure.

“Right,” I said, nodding like one of those dogs people put on the dashboards of their cars. Then I stood there in the empty hall for a few minutes after Chip and Betty had disappeared into 307.

This wasn't exactly how I had imagined things would go when I was wrapping the black lace teddy in tissue paper and packing it carefully in one of the pockets of my suitcase.

Man plans. God laughs.

So much for the sex part.

Or so I believed at the moment.

2

DON'T SAY A WORD, SHE SAID

I'd been reading the fashion section of the Sunday
Times
, most of which gets delivered on Saturday morning, when the phone rang. I liked being up on the important news a day ahead of people who bought their papers at the newsstand. Nails are big, the article said, especially in unreal colors.

The phone rang again. I picked up my toasted bagel and took a bite. The model's nails were considerably longer and bluer than mine. I heard Dashiell bark three times, my outgoing message. Then I heard that it wasn't my sister, so I picked up. “Alexander,” I said.

“Oh, good. You're there,” a deep, whiskey voice said. “Well, here's the story in a nutshell. I've arranged a weeklong symposium for dog trainers in New York City, the first of its kind, but it seems the participants all absolutely detest each other, and I'm afraid it's only going to go downhill from there. You know how these things are, I trust. So I got in touch with Frank Petrie, who I know from way back, because I decided that what this situation needed was a guard with a gun, you know, just to keep things from getting out of hand. Perfect solution, right? Wrong. He said what I needed was you.”

“Can I getyour name?” I asked, pulling over a pad and a pen.

“Of course, Samantha Lewis.”

Sam Lewis, I thought. I'll be damned.

“Look, Rachel, I've got a problem here—can I call you Rachel? Please call me Sam. Everyone does. The symposium starts in just two days, and I'm beginning to panic here. I'm still dealing with totally annoying last-minute changes in the program, and I've got to get this security business nailed down, too. God, I hope you're available. Maybe I ought to explain what I've done here. Do you have a minute?”

She actually stopped and waited for an answer.

“I do,” I told her.

I had a lot more than that. The only thing in my calendar was an appointment to get my teeth cleaned, and that wasn't until the middle of next month.

“I've been running individual seminars for years now,” she said, which was sort of like Lassie calling to tell me he was a dog, “and I decided to see if I could get these people together, if I could encourage them to stop the methodology wars and form a community so that people could share information the way they do in other professions.”

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