About the Author
Spencer Quinn is the bestselling author of eight Chet and Bernie mystery series, as well as the #1 New York Times bestselling Bowser and Birdie series for middle-grade readers. He lives on Cape Cod with his wife Diana—and dogs Audrey and Pearl. Keep up with him by visiting SpenceQuinn.com.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Scents and Sensibility ONE
Home at last! We’d been away so long, first in swampy country, then in a big city—maybe called Foggy Bottom—that confused me from the get-go. Is there time to mention the air in both those places before we really get started? Soggy and heavy: that sums it up.
Where were we? Was it possibly . . . home? Yes! Home! Home at last! Our home—mine and Bernie’s—is on Mesquite Road. Mesquite Road’s in the Valley. Quite recently I might have heard that the Valley’s in Arizona, but don’t count on that. What matters is that right now I was inhaling a nice big noseful of Valley air. Light and dry, with a hint of greasewood and just plain grease: perfect. I felt tip-top. Bernie opened our door, kicked aside a huge pile of mail, and we went in.
“Ah,” said Bernie, dropping our duffel bag on the floor. I did the first thing that came to mind—just about always my MO—which in this case meant sniffing my way from room to room, zigzagging back and forth, nose to the floor. Front hall, our bedroom, Charlie’s bedroom—mattress bare on account of Charlie not being around much since the divorce—office, with the circus-elephant-pattern rug, where I actually picked up a faint whiff of elephant, even though no elephant had ever been in the office. I’d had some experience with elephants, specifically an elephant name of Peanut, no time to go into that now. The point was: somehow I was smelling elephants in the office. Had to mean I was on a roll. Chet the Jet!
Sniff sniff sniffing gets your nostrils quivering real fast, a nice feeling, as you might not know, the human sense of smell—even in huge-nosed dudes and gals—always turning out to be shockingly weak, in my experience. Take Bernie, for example, and his lovely big nose, somewhat crooked, although he plans to get it fixed when he’s sure no more dustups are in his future, which I hope is never, on account of how satisfying it is to see that sweet uppercut of his, followed by some perp toppling limp to the floor, all set for me to grab him by the pant leg, meaning case closed, closing cases being what we do at the Little Detective Agency. Little on account of Bernie’s last name being Little. I’m Chet, pure and simple. As for Bernie’s big crooked nose: What’s it for? Just beauty? Is that enough? I tried to think about that, got as far as: Why not? Hey! Beauty was enough! And of course Bernie’s the most beautiful human I’ve ever seen. Hold on to that fact, if nothing else.
I sniffed my way over toward the wall where we’ve got our safe, hidden behind a framed picture of a waterfall. We’ve got lots of waterfall pictures, water being one of Bernie’s biggest worries. Why worry, you might think, when we had bright green golf courses out the yingyang here in the Valley, sprinklers on full blast morning and night, making beautiful rainbows? A lovely sight, but not to Bernie. What was the aquifer, again? Maybe Bernie and I should go find it, put things right. Wow! One of my best ideas ever! The next thing I knew I was flat on my back, wriggling around on the elephant-patterned rug to my heart’s content. After a while I thought: Why? Why am I doing this? I tried to remember, came up blank, stopped wriggling, and in that blank and motionless pause, I caught another unexpected smell, this time not of elephants but of Iggy.
Iggy? Iggy’s my best pal, lives next door with the Parsons. The fun we used to have! But that was before the Parsons—a real old couple—bought an electric fence that they never managed to work right, so now Iggy didn’t get out much. And even in the old days, had he ever been in our house? Not that I remembered. So what was his smell doing here, not a faint, long-ago kind of smell by the way, but strong and recent?
I rolled over, popped up on my feet, barked one of my barks, of which I’ve got many, one or two that can tear the roof off, as Bernie says. The truth is he only said it once, but it led to a whole night of me trying to bark the roof off where we were, which happened to be a hotel—possibly the Ritz—where we’d gone for a special weekend with Suzie, Suzie being Bernie’s girlfriend, a crack reporter now working for the Washington Post . . . which . . . which might be in Foggy Bottom! I came real close to figuring out something about the past. But no cigar, which didn’t bother me at all. Once I chewed on a cigar butt, and believe me it’s not something you’d want to repeat. Although I did. And then again.
Back to this particular bark. Not close to my loudest, but sharp and quickly cut off, sending a message. I was about to try it again, even sharper, when Bernie stuck his head in the room.
“You okay, big guy?”
There he was! My Bernie. Hadn’t seen him in way too long. My tail started wagging, closed in on blur speed. The room got breezy, not sure why, but that breeze carried Iggy’s scent. My tail hit the brakes in mid-wag, stood tall and stiff, and I was back to barking that sharp bark, eyes on Bernie.
“Going through some mood changes, huh?” he said.
Which I didn’t get at all. I was about to bark one more time—Bernie! We’ve got a problem!—when he took a gun from his pocket and moved toward the waterfall picture. We’d had several guns in our career—including the .38 Special, now at the bottom of the sea for reasons I couldn’t remember even if I tried, which I did not—and for a while quite recently we’d been completely gunless, not good in our line of work, but that .45—a big stopper—in Bernie’s hand meant we were good to go again. A big stopper, by the way, that I’d taken off a perp or . . . or possibly a cop of some sort? I was wondering about wondering about that, as Bernie reached for the waterfall painting. A gun not in use belonged in the safe, where we also kept some papers, plus our most valuable possession, Bernie’s grandfather’s watch.
Bernie removed the painting, spun the dial on the safe, put the gun—but no. What was this? No safe? No safe behind the waterfall painting, but instead just a hole in the wall? Bernie went still. So did I. We’re a lot alike in some ways, although the only one actually panting was me.
Bernie lowered the painting, leaned it against the wall. He put the gun back in his pocket, all his movements real slow now, his gaze on the hole in our office wall. I could feel his thoughts. He was thinking his hardest. When Bernie thinks his hardest, the air feels like a storm’s coming on. Then he gets an idea and you feel light as a balloon when someone lets go of the string. Feeling light as a balloon when someone lets go of the string—Charlie, for example—is the best. I waited as patiently as I could for Bernie to get an idea. All I knew was that Iggy couldn’t be the perp. He’s way too small, for one thing, and not much of a leaper. Leaping is my best thing, although I’d somehow flunked the leaping test at K-9 School on my very last day. Was a cat involved? And maybe some blood? It didn’t matter. That was how I’d met Bernie, meaning it was the best day of my life, except for all those that followed. But I still wouldn’t mind a do-over on the leaping test.
Bernie went to the desk, checked all the drawers. Then he walked slowly around the room, eyeing everything real careful, the way he does when we’re on a case. Was this a case? If so, who was paying? The Little Detective Agency is the best in town, not counting the finances part. We’d had some bumps in the road when it comes to finances. Don’t get me started on Hawaiian pants or tin futures in Bolivia. In fact, I’m never mentioning them again.
We left the office and went through the whole house, starting with the front door—not a mark on it—and going all the way to the back door, off the kitchen. No marks on the back door, either. Bernie opened it, worked the lock a few times.
“Are we dealing with a pro?” he said.
I had no idea, wasn’t sure I understood the question. We walked out onto the back patio. The swan fountain—pretty much all Leda had left behind after the divorce—wasn’t running. Bernie reached for the faucet on the side wall and was just about to start the water flowing out of the swan’s stone mouth, when he noticed something shiny on the tiles of the empty pool bottom. He picked it up, and held it so we could both have a good look. A small but thick silver snakehead on a broken chain?
“Pendant,” Bernie said. He took a closer look at the edge of the pool, bent over, and pointed to a reddish patch on a blue tile, although I can’t be trusted when it comes to red, according to Bernie, so skip this part. “See what happened here? Dude doesn’t see the fountain—meaning nighttime and maybe not a pro after all—falls in, scrapes off some skin, loses the pendant. On the way out or the way in? I’m thinking the way in. On the way out he’d have the safe, and a dropped safe leaves marks. So, not a pro, plus no sign of forced entry.” Bernie rose. “Meaning he had a key.” He gazed at the silver snakehead—who would want that around his neck?—and the heavy broken chain lying on his palm. “Yeah. He for sure.”
· · ·
“Leda?” Bernie said. “It’s me.”
We were back in the kitchen. Leda came over the speaker. “I recognize the voice,” she said.
“Uh, right. It hasn’t changed.”
“Sorry? Not quite following you.”
“My point exactly.”
Bernie laughed. “You’re in a good mood.”
“The thing is, we’re back,” Bernie said.
“I know that. You texted me an hour ago. I’ll bring Charlie over Saturday morning, as agreed.”
“Right. Good. Thanks. But that’s not why I called.”
“I was wondering if you still had a key to the place.”
“Another one, you mean?”
“You sound a little slow today, Bernie.”
Bernie’s voice got a bit edgy. “I’m just trying to find out about the key.”
Leda’s voice got even edgier. “And I’m not in the mood for one of your blamefests. I humbly apologize for my indiscretion, but I had no idea I even still had a key until last week. I was sending some things over for the homeless, and the stupid thing fell out of an old Gucci bag. I drove by to drop it off with Mr. Parsons. That’s the only key I had. Unknowingly, as I’m trying to make clear.”
“Mr. Parsons? One—he was outside. Two—I’d tried your slot, but it was blocked by the mountain of mail in the hall. Three—if you don’t trust Mr. Parsons, you’ve got paranoia issues.”
“Okay, okay, I was just—”
Bernie looked at me. I looked at him. “Started well but cratered fast,” he said. “Where do I go wrong?”
Bernie going wrong? That made no sense to me. I pressed my head against his leg, pressed my very hardest. It was all I could think of to do. Bernie recovered his balance in a flash. He’s quick on his feet, just another wonderful thing about him.
· · ·
We went over to the Parsonses’ house. “Wow!” Bernie said. “This is new.” A big saguaro stood in the Parsonses’ front yard, freshly dug earth piled around the base. I’m not a fan of saguaros, especially the kind that look like giant green men, such as this one. I laid my mark on it in my quickest and most efficient manner, and we walked to the front door.
Bernie knocked. Right away I heard Iggy start up on the other side. How I’d missed that amazingly high-pitched yip-yip-yip yip-yip-yip, a yip-yip-yipping Iggy could sustain all night if he wanted, and he often did! But now it was saying Welcome home, buddy! Let’s do something fun! Like dig up old man Heydrich’s lawn, old man Heydrich being our neighbor on the other side. Dig it up so it stayed that way! What a brilliant idea, especially coming from Iggy.
“Chet! What do you think you’re doing?”
Uh-oh. Possibly standing on my back legs, pawing at the door? Maybe more like clawing into it, somewhat deeply? If that was really happening, I got it under control and pronto. If you’d looked, you’d have seen me standing silent and still beside Bernie, like a good citizen, whatever that happened to be. You’d have thought I’d been like that the whole time. And . . . and hadn’t I? Hey! You’d have been right! And me, too! Which made me like you! What a day I was having, and it had hardly begun! It was great to be home.
Stump stump stump. That was the sound of Mr. Parsons on his walker, stumping toward the door. Stumping mixed with yipping in a way I found quite pleasant. Then came some grunting, the grunting of an old dude bending down to do something, and after that the door opened. Not much, but enough for Iggy to shoot through. Iggy! My best pal. We bounced off each other, Iggy spinning high in the air, and took off for parts unknown—my favorite kind of parts!—ears flat back from the wind we were making with our own speed, knocking over this and that, chasing every living—But no. None of that happened, except Iggy shooting through and bouncing off me. Why? Because Iggy was on a leash. A leash in the house? I’d never heard of such a thing. And even so, it almost didn’t matter because the leash slipped from old Mr. Parsons’s hand. But Bernie grabbed it, and Iggy came to a sudden halt, hanging in midair for what seemed like the longest time, before thumping back down.
“Uh, sorry to bother you, Daniel,” Bernie said.
“No bother,” said Mr. Parsons. “Nice to see you back. Read a rather hair-raising account of your recent adventures in the Sunday paper.”
“You know how they exaggerate,” Bernie said. “Didn’t amount to much.”
“Nice to see you anyhow.”
And it was nice to see old Mr. Parsons. Was he getting skinnier? His shirt, buttoned to the neck, hung kind of loose on him. So did his long pants. His feet were bare, nice broad feet I’d always liked. I was considering giving them a quick lick when he said, “Anything I can do for you?”
“Actually,” Bernie said, getting a tighter grip on the leash, Iggy’s stubby legs now churning at top speed, although he was going nowhere, “I was hoping to pick up the key Leda left with you.”
“Sure thing,” Mr. Parsons said. “Come on in.”
We entered the Parsonses’ front hall, me first, after a little confusion in the doorway. Bernie tugged Iggy in after him and closed the door. Meanwhile, Mr. Parsons went to a small corner desk and opened the front drawer.
“That’s funny,” he said. “I know I put it here.”
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