Yarrow House

How Much For That Doggie?

"Moss and Raine, detectives. We find things. What can I do for you?” I rattled off the standard greeting. By now it was so automatic, I even found myself saying it in my sleep, sometimes.

“Let me talk to the detective.” Raspy baritone voice of a longtime smoker.

I idly imagined height and weight, 6’2”, 210, dark hair and eyes. Sometimes I guess right, mostly not. “How about telling me what you need.”

“Listen honey, I’m not wasting my time with a receptionist. Put me through to the detective,” Baritone snapped.

Raine was on her August vacation, and I was covering the office, which wasn’t normally too bad. Something about Seattle in August—the sun finally appearing for more than two days in a row, maybe—slowed the detective business down, but as soon as she’d left town, or wherever it was she went on her vacations, the phone had started ringing off the hook. So I wasn’t at my most patient when the guy started in on the “listen honey” business. “I am the detective, and I’m busy.”

We traded a few insults, and Baritone hung up on me. I know, I know. It’s not like we have clients crawling out of every crevice. But for the moment I had more business than I could handle on my own, and I didn’t like his attitude. Raine would have said she didn’t like mine, but she wasn’t here.

About an hour later, the office door slammed open. As soon as the businessman spoke, I recognized the voice—Baritone. Some clients just don’t know when to take no for a no. He took one look at me and started in. “Listen Blondie, I want to talk to the detective, and he’s going to get a piece of my mind about his lousy receptionist.” No better social skills in person, I noticed.

 “See that the sign on the door?” I nodded at the gold-lettered Moss & Raine, Search and Research. “I’m Moss.” As usual, I’d miss guessed his appearance. In person, balding, blue-eyed, 5’10” or so; the 210 looked about right. Stylish suit, necktie. Good shoes. He was probably a director of some office.

He studied the sign. He studied me. I knew he was cataloging what he saw — spiky, bleached blond hair, piercings in a few socially unacceptable places, the top of a tattoo showing above the neckline of my black t-shirt — and trying to square it with his Aristotelian idea of Detective. Not having much luck either, it looked like.

Now would have been a good time for the phone to ring, so I’d have a reason to kick him out, but for the first time that day, it was silent. “So what do you want found?” Might as well get down to business.

“A dog,” he said, hesitation in his voice dragging it out. Still wasn’t sure I was up to the job, I guess. I was trying to think how to convince him I wasn’t, but he pulled out his smart phone and started fiddling with it.

“If you’re trying to find another detective agency, I can recommend our competition,” I said, but he waved my comment off.

“Here it is.” He showed me a photo of a life-sized ceramic Dalmatian sitting alertly beside what I guessed to be his front door. Without prompting he scrolled through a dozen more photos: Dalmatian with Santa hat, Dalmatian with Easter bunny ears, Dalmatian in several different Halloween costumes as well as costumes for every possible other holiday.

“And you want me to do what with the dog?”

“Find him. Someone stole him from my porch. It isn’t just that he’s expensive, I’ve had him for 15 years. He’s a part of our family. I can’t believe someone would just come up to the porch and take him....”

“How long has he been gone?” I interrupted.  Wouldn’t a sculpture be an “it” I wondered but kept the thought to myself.

“They took him sometime yesterday while we were at work. He was gone when I came home at 7.”

We discussed the standard fee, to which I added a difficult client surcharge, called daily expenses, half paid up front, the rest due upon location of the missing object. “Retrieval of the missing object incurs a separate fee,” I added.

“Why?” He demanded.

“Well, sometimes an object is in a difficult to access location,” I said. “We’ve found items down wells, in locked freight cars, on various body parts. You can decide whether you want us retrieve it after we’ve located it,” I added.

He grumbled but pulled out his credit card.

“I’ll need a photo of the dog. “

“I’ll send it to your phone,” he said. I gave him my phone number.

“Any complaints about it from neighbors?” I moved on to categories of possible thieves.

He shook his head. “We’ve had him on our porch all the time we’ve lived in the house, and everyone likes him.” A little doubt shaded his face. “So they say, anyway. Who wouldn’t like him?” He scrolled through a couple more photos.

 “In a case like this,” I said, improvising, “It’s probably a prank. And probably a juvenile.” Sadly it’s always a good bet to blame a kid. “Could be high school students. Or maybe an angry ex-wife?”

“My husband and I are very happy together.” I couldn’t tell if the defensiveness in his retort was for the husband part of the sentence or the very happy part.

“OK, unhappy ex-boyfriends?”

“No, we’ve been together for five years. No angry exs of any kind.”

He agreed to meet me at his house, in Ravenna, so I could “examine the porch for evidence.” Clients like us to use crime show vocabulary. It makes them feel like they’re in the hands of a professional. I just wanted to see him at home. There’s a lot to be learned about a missing item when you see clients in their natural environment.

Hubby was younger than Baritone and model good-looking.  Dark-spiked hair, chiseled cheek-bones, wearing a sweatshirt and ironed jeans. He worked from home, but was out at meetings with clients yesterday. Came in through the back door and didn’t notice if the dog was on the porch or not. It could have been taken while he was away. Or maybe the night before.

“No, it was on the porch when I left yesterday morning,” Baritone broke in. “Someone took it in broad daylight.” Shock at the effrontery of daytime theft. Baritone pulled out his smart phone and started looking at dog photos again. Hubby glanced at me, raised his eyebrows, shrugged a shoulder.

We parted company, Baritone back downtown to work, Hubby to his home office, I assumed. Since we were close to the University, I decided to start the search with the local fraternities and headed off to fraternity row, just north of the campus. For a crime like this, frat boys were even easier to blame than juveniles.

I pulled the BMW up on its kickstand in front of one the houses and lounged on the seat. I knew the bike was irresistible bait. Within minutes, a cluster of frat boys were hovering around asking about it. I tossed out a few details about the bike and then extacted a couple twenties out of my wallet. “Any rumors of a dog statue suddenly appearing in on frat row?” I fingered the twenties absent-mindedly. Eyes flipped back and forth between the bike and the twenties.

“Husky?” one guy asked.
 
“No, Dalmatian.” I pulled my phone out and showed them a photo of the dog, one of the twenty Baritone had sent me. No one had seen the dog. “So if you hear about one, give me a call.” I handed out some business cards.

“Which detective are you?”

“Moss.”

“Wow, pretty hot for a detective.”

“If you think I’m hot, you should see Raine,” I said. “She’d make your hair stand on end.”

It was time to interview the neighbors. The best bet for info on what was happening on the street was a nosy, stay-at-home neighbor with a good view of Baritone’s porch.  I started with the tidy Craftsman across the street. Elevated a little from the street, with a partially obscured view of the porch in question. Stay-at-home dad. two toddlers. When he found out the missing dog was a statue, he lost interest. Next house had a head-high fence around the around yard. Next house no one was home. And so it went, on down the block and back up the other.

Finally I lucked out with the house next door to the porch in question. An older woman, always home, long-time resident, knew everyone on the block, and had opinions about them all. Yes, she knew Baritone and his boyfriend. “They got married, you know,” she said in a conspiratorial voice. “And I don’t know what it is about marriage, but they immediately started having loud arguments. Outside, can you believe?” She shook her head. “The same thing happened to me and my husband, departed now, you know. Of course we didn’t live together before we got married, it wasn’t done in those days, at least not our circle, but as soon as we said I do, we couldn’t agree on anything. Never did either, but we learned how to put up with each other...”

“What were they arguing about?” I interrupted her reminiscence.

“Oh, the color to paint the house, how to re-landscape the yard. My goodness, you’d think they’d have had those discussions before. They’ve been here for five years, you know.”

“And you never saw anyone take the dog from the porch?”

“No. I don’t know why someone would take the dog. It was so lovely. It was genuine Italian ceramic, you know,  so maybe that’s why someone took it. And they dressed it up in such cute costumes. I can’t imagine where they got them.”

I extracted myself from the conversation, and headed back to Baritone’s to snoop around the back yard. Just as I came around the corner of the house—nice landscaping, I noticed, even if they had fought over it—I saw Hubby lugging a dog-sized object wrapped in a blue plastic tarp out through the back gate. “Aha,” I said to myself in my best detective voice. And dashed along the winding garden path. Just as I flung the gate open, a silver Sierra drove off, Hubby at the wheel.

It’s hard enough to tail someone when you start out with them. It’s really hard when you have to catch up. Fortunately I didn’t care if he saw me, and even more fortunately, a bike has an advantage over a car when it comes to sticking close. Nonetheless, by the time we got to the Bainbridge ferry, he was well ahead of me in line, and I just narrowly managed to get on the same ferry. Another advantage of riding a bike.

I parked the bike as the ferry pulled away from dock. I started hustling among the cars, looking for the Sierra, dodging passengers making their way topside. A cold wind blew through the car deck as we edged out into the Sound. I wanted to join everyone else upstairs, but work’s work. I finally spotted Hubby. He was busy at the back of the Sierra. His plan was beginning to dawn on me, assuming the blue package he was hoisting out to the car actually was the missing dog.

“You know it’s illegal to drop stuff off the ferry,” I said to his back. He jumped and dropped the blue package back into the car. Turned red. Stuttered over the five W’s. I decided to put him out of his misery. “That’s the dog, right?” I said.

He nodded. “I can’t stand that dog. It’s the kitschy. Putting costumes on it every holiday. We’re the laughing stock of our neighborhood.”

“Laughingstock? That’s kind of extreme, don’t you think?”

“At least among our friends. I can’t stand it anymore.” It could have been the wind, but tears were seeping from his eyes.

“So you were going to drop it off the ferry?

“Yes, but if it’s illegal, I’ll leave it somewhere on Bainbridge.” He swiped at his eyes and started to shut the trunk lid.

“Well, now that I’ve found it, that’s no longer an option.” I didn’t think he was going to willingly take it home so I’d have to figure how to tie it onto the back of my bike. Looked like I was going to get to add a retrieval fee onto the bill.

The ferry was docking at Bainbridge.  “You aren’t going to tell him I took it?”

I considered him for a moment. Relationships. Why do people bother?. “Don’t worry. I’ll say I found it on Bainbridge.” I boosted the dog out of the car and balanced it on my shoulder.

“Couldn’t you just leave it there?” Big, pleading eyes.

“I think you two should talk about the dog,” I said over the blue plastic. “Or else just steal the costumes next time.” I headed back to my bike.

One-time reproduction for non-resale purposes permitted with the following credit line: by Judith Yarrow, © 2014