As Melanie learns, it’s a dog’s life at the Pine Ridge Canine Care Center—and life is good. Everyone seems blissfully happy. Everyone canine, that is, as Melanie soon discovers there are some simmering resentments among the Pine Ridge staff. And when Steve Pine, the center’s charming, good-looking co-owner, is found shot to death on the floor of his office, there’s no shortage of suspects.
With the police at a loss for leads, it’s now up to Melanie to go undercover and sniff out a killer whose secrets lie buried in a dog’s paradise that’s proving to be anything but . . .
“A pleasant mystery and a loving tribute to poodles. Fetching in every way.”
“Warm and fuzzy . . . another cute tail-wagging puzzler.”
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
A baby changes everything. Don't ever let anyone tell you that it doesn't.
Once upon a time when I was younger and more foolish, I thought that new puppies and new babies had a lot in common. I must have been deluded, or maybe just oversimplifying. Because now it's clear to me that I was insanely wrong.
For one thing, when a puppy doesn't sleep through the night, nobody has to get up and feed him and rock him back to sleep. For another, puppies are happy to entertain themselves for a while if you need your hands free to do something else. But perhaps the biggest difference is that new puppies, wonderful as they are, don't turn your whole world upside down in that mystical, magical way that somehow simultaneously reconnects you to the cosmos and to that vast well of human experience, while at the same time making you feel that if your heart expands any more it might possibly explode.
Trust me, it takes a baby to wreak that kind of havoc.
Having been through this once before, you'd think I might have remembered how it went. But that was nine years ago when I was in my early twenties. I was young enough then to bounce back from almost anything — stretch marks, ten hours of labor, or the aggravation of a mostly absent husband.
In the intervening years, my life had changed dramatically. Now I had friends and relatives I could depend on, a terrific son in fourth grade, and a second marriage that was eons better than my first. In short, when my second son was born on a wintry March night, my world was complete.
The doctor placed him in my arms while my husband, Sam, dashed out of the delivery room. He returned moments later with my son, Davey. The two of them stood on either side of the bed, and Davey stared at the new arrival in awe. Or maybe consternation.
"I didn't think he'd be so red," he said.
"Don't worry," said a nurse, passing by, "that goes away."
Busy cleaning up, she took time to lean in for a closer look. Snuggled tight in his receiving blanket, the infant's face was the only part of him that was visible. His eyes were closed, his expression peaceful. Oblivious to all the activity around him, he was enjoying a brief post-delivery nap.
"He's a cute one," she said. "What's his name?"
Davey, Sam, and I looked at each other. We'd been working on this for months. Boys' names, girls' names, unisex names, we'd had them all. But right at that moment, in the magnitude of him actually being there, my mind was utterly blank.
"Kevin," said Sam.
"Kevin," Davey echoed. "He's my little brother."
"And aren't you the lucky one?" asked the nurse. "You be sure to take good care of him now."
Davey reached up and placed his hand on the tiny sleeping form. He looked like he was taking a vow. "I will," he said firmly.
Now, three months later, Kevin was no longer a newborn. He was a member of the family, his presence so entrenched in our lives and our hearts that it was hard to remember what life had been like without him.
With everything going so well, I knew I shouldn't complain. But there was just one thing I desperately needed. Six hours of blissful, uninterrupted sleep. Did that seem like too much to ask?
"I have a problem," said Alice Brickman. She was standing in my kitchen doorway and looked like a woman with a lot on her mind.
"Welcome to the club," I replied. "My hormones are bouncing around like a Ping-Pong ball, Kevin's decided he prefers bottles to breastfeeding, and just about every piece of clothing I own has spit-up on it. Have a seat and let's compare notes."
Sam and Davey were off running errands. Kevin had just been fed. A couple of our Standard Poodles had gone along on the car ride; the other three were snoozing contentedly at my feet. Alice's timing was perfect, which is no small feat in a home that has a new baby.
But then, right from the start Alice and I had been on the same wavelength. We'd met at a play group right after the birth of our first children and been best friends for nearly a decade. I'd married Sam the previous year and moved to a different Stamford, Connecticut, neighborhood. Before that, Alice and I had lived right down the road from one another.
The shared experience of motherhood is a powerful bonding tool. Through car pools, PTA meetings, and soccer games, we'd compared notes, juggled juice boxes, and covered one another's backs.
Davey and Alice's son, Joey, had finished fourth grade together the previous week. Alice also had a seven-year-old daughter named Carly, who was a budding ballerina. Her husband, Joe, was a partner in a prestigious law firm in Greenwich.
Alice was every bit as comfortable in my house as she would have been in her own. And since my dogs were equally comfortable with her, none of them had bothered to get up for her arrival. Three big, black Standard Poodles were asleep on the kitchen floor. Alice navigated her way through the recumbent canine bodies and headed directly for the playpen in the corner.
Kevin was lying on his back, kicking his feet in the air and eying a spinning, pinwheel-colored mobile I'd just fastened above him. Alice leaned down over the side bar, inhaled his baby smell, and sighed deeply.
"Aren't babies the best?" she said.
I'd been on my way to the refrigerator. Alice and I always seem to talk better when our mouths are full. Now I stopped and turned.
"You're not," I said.
"Oh that." She laughed. "No way. I'll amend my earlier statement. Other people's babies are the best."
I opened the fridge and pulled out a couple of diet sodas.
"Believe me," I grumbled, "there are times when I feel the same way."
"And then you get over it," Alice said practically.
No whining allowed around here.
I nodded in agreement and handed her a drink. We both found seats at the kitchen table. Kevin gurgled, and cooed, and looked cuter than anybody had a right to as he tried valiantly to insert his toes into his mouth. At moments like that, it was hard to remember why I was feeling grumpy.
Alice popped the top on the soda can, tipped back her head, and took a long swallow. "When did you start drinking diet?"
"How much baby weight do you have left?"
After Carly was born, Alice had struggled with the last ten pounds for years. Finally, she'd given up the struggle and simply resigned herself to buying clothes in a larger size. By any standards, except those promoted by celebrities and fashion magazines, she wasn't plump, just pleasantly rounded.
But still, I noticed, she hadn't given up drinking diet soda. For every woman who accepts herself as she is, there's another who's angling to raise the bar ever higher. Sisterhood, indeed.
"Five pounds," I said. "But it's not the weight, it's the shape. None of my clothes fit the way they used to."
Alice stared at me over the top of her soda can and lifted a brow, a small gesture every bit as telling as the words it replaced.
"I know, but this didn't happen last time."
"Right. And how old were you when you had Davey, seventeen?"
"Twenty-five," I corrected primly.
"Same thing," Alice sniffed.
She was five years older than me. As if that made a huge difference.
"And now you're thirty-five," she said. "Things change."
"So I've noticed. I thought gravity wasn't supposed to start having its way with me until I turned forty."
"Good luck with that."
Alice got up, walked over to the pantry, and had a look around.
"Oreos on the left," I said.
She grabbed the bag and brought them back to the table. This wasn't going to help anyone's diet. We each fished one out, twisted them open, and ate the cream filling first.
"Have we talked about your problems long enough?" she asked. "I don't want to seem insensitive here, but I haven't got all day."
Newly fortified by sugar, I was good to go.
"Your turn," I said. "Have at it."
"This part isn't a problem, exactly, it's an announcement."
I sat up straight and paid attention. In my experience, announcements don't always augur well.
"I'm done with being a stay-at-home mom," said Alice. "I'm going back to work."
This was momentous. And very exciting, as news went. In this one particular aspect of our lives, Alice and I had always been opposites.
I'd been a working mother, and a single mother, for most of Davey's life. Alice, meanwhile, had a husband who went to work and supported the family, which gave her the luxury of staying home to take care of the kids.
Now it looked as though our roles were reversing. At the end of the previous semester, when my pregnancy had reached the six-month mark, I'd taken a leave of absence from my job at a private school in Greenwich. While I'd be staying home for the near future, Alice was gearing up to rejoin the workforce.
"Congratulations," I said, tipping my cookie in salute.
"Not so fast." Alice laughed. "It's been years since anyone offered to pay me for what I can do. Let's see if I can make this thing work first."
"What kind of job are you looking for?"
"That's the good part." Her laughter faded. "At least I hope it is. I already have a job."
"Wow, that was fast. Am I totally out of the loop or did that happen overnight?"
"Kind of the latter," Alice admitted. "I'm going to work for Joe's law firm."
"Plummer, Wilkes, and Hornby?" I said, even though we both knew the name. I was buying time and thinking fast, wondering what she'd be doing there. Finally, I gave up and just asked.
"You know, the usual paralegal stuff."
That brought me up short. I even put down my cookie.
"What usual paralegal stuff? When did you become a paralegal?"
"Right out of college. That's what I did before I met Joe."
Utterly amazing, I thought. "How can I have known you for ten years and not known that?"
Alice shrugged. "With the kids around all the time, I guess it never came up. But now Joey and Carly are both in school full time for most of the year. And even their summers are filled with activities. Joey will be at soccer camp for eight weeks."
I nodded. Davey was doing the same thing.
"And Carly's doing a ballet program over at the Silvermine Guild. So I've been thinking about this for a while. Neither one of them needs me to be home all the time anymore. Which makes me feel kind of superfluous — like all I do is sit at home and wait for the people who are out doing interesting things to come back. So enough of that. It's time for me to see what else I can be besides just a mother."
Just a mother. The phrase made us both wince, but neither of us bothered to comment on it. I knew what she meant.
"Congratulations," I said again, applauding the decision as much as its execution.
"Yeah, well, it'll be interesting to see how this all shakes out. The good thing was that I got a job without having to apply to a million places, go through some huge interview process, and then justify what I've been doing for the ten years that are missing on my rÉsumÉ. The bad news is, I'll be working for Joe."
I liked Joe. He was a good father and a nice guy. But even so, I could see how all that togetherness might strain things around the house.
"What does Joe think of the idea?" I asked.
"He's the one who came up with it. At first he wasn't crazy about the notion of me going back to work, but eventually I managed to convince him that the kids wouldn't miss me when they weren't even around to know that I was gone. Oh yeah, and that I'd still make sure that the dry cleaner put the right amount of starch in his shirts."
She paused, rolled her eyes, and grabbed another Oreo. "Then he thought of this. I think somehow it made the whole thing seem more palatable to him, like maybe he thought he could keep an eye on me or something. Plus, as he said, think of all the gas money we'll save!"
Alice and I laughed together. I could just hear Joe saying that. He was the kind of guy who liked to keep his eye on the bottom line.
"So give it a try," I said. "If it works, great. If it doesn't, quit and go somewhere else."
"That's what I'm thinking," Alice agreed. "Flexibility's a good thing. There's just one problem with the plan. In fact, that's why I'm here."
Sad to say, that's the story of my life. People always seem to bring their problems to me.
"I need to find something to do with Berkley. If I'm going to be gone all day, I can't just leave him sitting home by himself."
Berkley was the Brickmans' eighteen-month-old Golden Retriever. Though he'd been purchased as a pet for Joey and Carly, predictably the bulk of his care had fallen to Alice. He was a beautiful, smart, rambunctious, teenage dog; and as long as he had company, he mostly managed to stay out of trouble. Bored and left to his own devices, however, I could see how he might be tempted to entertain himself by tearing the place apart.
"That's where you come in," said Alice.
I opened my mouth, but she hurried on before I could speak.
"Don't worry, with a new baby and all, I wouldn't dream of asking you to look after him. So I found a place in town that offers doggie day care."
Now, she paused. Like it was my turn to say something. For a moment, I couldn't think what that should be.
"Doggie day care?" I managed finally.
Despite the subject matter, none of my Poodles even looked up. Though they understand most things I say, the Poodles possessed far too much dignity to ever think of themselves as doggies.
"Don't make fun," said Alice. "Apparently it's a very successful facility. And hard to get into. There's a waiting list."
"A waiting list," I echoed faintly. It was all I could do to keep a straight face.
"The place is called Pine Ridge Canine Care Center. And you know I'm hopeless when it comes to things like this. I wouldn't have the slightest idea what to look for. But you know all that important dog-type stuff. So I was wondering if you could go and check it out for me. You know, see if it's the kind of place where Berkley would be happy."
She'd played the flattery card, and no surprise, it was working. Besides, while I was delighted that I have the chance to stay at home and take care of Kevin, Alice wasn't the only one who'd spent some time recently looking around the house and wondering what to do next. A job like this sounded like it would be right up my alley.
"Sure," I said. "I can do that. No problem."
You'd think I'd know better than to make predictions like that.CHAPTER 2
Sam and Davey arrived home right after Alice left. I walked out to the garage and helped them carry in several bags of groceries.
The five Poodles — reunited after a mere two-hour separation — behaved as though they were greeting long-lost relatives from the Old Country. They barked, and jumped, and chased each other around our legs.
For Sam and me, getting married had involved merging not only the human element of our lives, but also the canine. Davey and I had had two Standard Poodles: Faith and Eve, who were a mother and daughter pair. Sam had added three Standard Poodles of his own. His two bitches were named Raven and Casey. The third was a young dog named Tar.
In the beginning, the newly blended canine household had existed in a state of wary dÉtente. Now however, more than a year later, the Poodles were all the best of friends. They played and functioned like a tight-knit team, and I imagine I wasn't the only one who realized that they outnumbered us.
"How's my boy doing?" asked Sam.
He juggled two bags of groceries to one side and swooped in to give me a quick kiss. If the honeymoon was over, neither one of us had noticed yet.
"Yeah," Davey echoed. "How's my boy?"
No longer the youngest member of the family, Davey was feeling very grown-up. His actions, however, were often at odds with his words. Now he came spilling out the side door of the SUV. Mid-descent, he tripped over a passing Poodle, dropped the half-eaten apple he was holding in his hand, yet still somehow managed to land on his feet.
"We were gone forever," he said, without missing a beat. "Did Kevin miss me?"
"Every minute," I replied. "He's awake in the kitchen and waiting for you to come and play with him."
Davey whooped with delight and raced into the house. Predictably, he didn't bother to take a bag of groceries with him.
"He really loves having a little brother," said Sam.
"I know," I agreed happily. "I'm only sorry he had to wait so long."
Sam cocked a brow. "And whose fault was that?"
We both knew the answer. I was the one who had dragged my feet. My first marriage had ended in divorce, and the second time around I'd wanted everything to be perfect before I made another commitment that would dramatically change both Davey's and my lives.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Doggie Day Care Murder"
Copyright © 2008 Laurien Berenson.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.