“I’m sorry. You want me to do what?”
Duncan gave him a smirk as he rocked back in his office chair, and Rowdy wasn’t sure he was happy to be given his very own investigation. “Find a dog,” Duncan said calmly.
For the past several months, he’d been working with the other investgators, mostly doing whatever they said he needed to do. Surveillance, courthouse legwork, record searches. Everything so mundane that no one else wanted to take it.
But Rowdy didn’t care. He was too appreciative to have an actual job.
He’d only been out of Walter Reed for a few months, but his body had gotten so much better in that time. When he’d gone in, they’d told him he had very little chance of ever walking again. Rowdy knew the doctors had to give him worst case scenario, but it had only served to motivate him to work harder.
Within two months he was walking, though it was very different than how he’d moved before. The metal rods in his legs had taken some getting used to. And his left leg was always going to be a hair longer than his right leg. The bones had been obliterated in his right leg- total mush- and even though he was sure the doctors had measured repeatedly, his right leg had settled short. Rowdy didn’t really care, though. Yes, he had a limp, but he was fucking walking. Actually, he was working up to running, now.
That didn’t mean he wanted to chase down a lost dog, though.
Duncan reached a folder across the desk, and Rowdy took it, flipping it open.
“I know this sounds like a waste of time, or a noobie joke, but the client has been with us for years. She’s a sweet old lady that people take advantage of. Go talk to her and see what you can figure out.”
Without a word, Rowdy nodded his head and pushed to his feet. “Will do.”
He limped out of Duncan’s office. Shannon, John’s wife, gave him a sweet smile. “If you need help with anything, just call, Rowdy. Mrs. Dodd is a getting on in years, but she’s sweet as can be, sharp as a tack, and I know she loves Cookie. The dog doesn’t leave her side, so something must have happened to him.”
Rowdy frowned as he left the Lost and Found offices. This could either be a slam dunk or a really bad situation, if the dog was hurt or injured. Assuming he could even find the thing…
Walking across the parking lot, he read through the basic info in the file. There wasn’t much to it. There were several pictures of a white, fl uffy-haired dog, though. He was less than ten pounds, so, not very big. One of the pics was of the dog panting happily, pink tongue lolling. Cookie looked like a nice little ankle-biter.
Rowdy stopped at the side of his truck, digging for his key-fob as he juggled the file.
“Hey, Rowdy,” someone called.
Turning, he waved at Brody Bennett. The guy was just in for a few days from the Columbus branch of Lost and Found, but Rowdy had enjoyed talking to him. The big man was in his blacked out Dodge Challenger rental car. The car was almost as beefy as Brody.
Grinning, Brody slowed beside him, leaning out the window. “What do you call a dog with no legs?”
Rowdy sighed, shaking his head as he waited for the punch line.
“Nothing. He’s not coming anyway! Have fun on your call!”
Brody gassed the car out of the lot, squealing the tires as he turned North.
Rowdy sighed. Terrible joke, but he appreciated the camaraderie. It was like he was back in the Navy.
Rowdy climbed into his truck and cranked the engine, then shifted into gear and pulled out of the lot. He hadn’t been in Denver long, but long enough that he knew Anderson Hills was one of the most exclusive neighborhoods in the state. It was world-renowned for its state of the art golf green, and he’d seen an army of landscapers working on it at all hours. The adjoining ‘enclave’ was very exclusive, with several local celebrities calling it home.
There were two guards in a squat building when he pulled up to the neighborhood entrance, and he had to let them know he was from Lost and Found. Then he had to wait for the older guard to call the Dodd house to make sure he was allowed in.
The man hung up the phone, giving him a considering look. “I hope you find Cookie. That little dog means more to the neighborhood than you know.”
Rowdy’s brows went up, and he nodded. “I’ll do what I can, of course.”
The guard pressed a button to open the wide wrought iron gate and Rowdy pulled through slowly.
There weren’t actually many houses in Anderson Hills. They were spaced out, acres of manicured green grass between them. The manicured golf course stretched out to the right, and players dotted the green. He passed the massive clubhouse, lines of expensive cars filling the lot. Rowdy felt a little self-conscious as he pulled past the building, and followed the road on around. A pond glittered off to the right, and there were a few ducks on the surface.
After another quarter mile, he neared the address he’d been given. The houses themselves were rustic and set far back from the road, with long, paved, gated driveways. Pines lined most of the yards, along with hardwoods that had obviously been growing for hundreds of years. It was a truly beautiful area.
The Dodd house was in a cul-de-sac with three other houses, and up a small rise. It was a beautiful, stone home, with tall windows in the front. The front yard was manicured sharply, the lawn striped diagonally. Flower beds circled the house, full of blooms. He parked his truck as out of the way as he could, and grabbed the file as he slipped out. For a moment, he held onto the door handle as he got his legs beneath him, then he turned and headed up the walk.
The giant wood and glass entry doors swung open before he could even ring the bell, and an older woman looked up at him with tears in her eyes. “You must be the one who’s going to save my Cookie.”
Rowdy fought not to wince. He forced a smile for the older woman, and held out his hand. “Rowdy West, from Lost and Found.”
“Come in, come in. I’m Georgette Dodd.”
A second woman stood inside, but Mrs. Dodd didn’t even seem to notice her. As Rowdy walked through the doors, the nameless woman closed them behind him. Knowing that she could be a resource, he held out a hand to her. “Rowdy West.”
The woman seemed flustered, but she shook his hand. “Linda. I’m the housekeeper.” Then she glanced away.
Rowdy turned and followed Mrs. Dodd. She led him past several expansive, well-appointed rooms, then into a much smaller, cozy room. Rowdy assumed Mrs. Dodd spent a lot of time here, because there were several personal items scattered around the room. It looked lived in, and homey.
Mrs. Dodd sank into a worn armchair and glanced down to the side. There was an expensive looking miniature couch dog bed, draped in a white fluffy blanket.
“This is where my Cookie stays, right beside me, all the time. He never leaves my side, unless he has to go poo-poo.”
Rowdy blinked and forced his face to stay still, though his lips twitched. “And how often does he have to go poo-poo?”
It was a good thing none of the other men were here with him. They’d never let him live this down.
“About three times a day. She takes him out.”
The older woman waved a hand over her shoulder, he assumed at the housekeeper. Was she always that dismissive with the help?
Rowdy focused on Linda. “How many times a day do you take Cookie out?”
Linda wiggled a hand. “About six times a day, sometimes more if his tum-tum is upset.”
The housekeeper’s eyes flicked to Mrs. Dodd, and the older woman’s lips tightened, but she lifted her chin. “He loves his treats.”
Rowdy glanced at Linda. Her lips flattened as well, and she crossed her arms beneath her breasts, looking away. It was obvious this was a bone of contention between the two of them.
“Cookie is a hero, and he deserves to be pampered a little.” Mrs. Dodd’s blue eyes lit up as she smiled. “Did they tell you he was a hero?”
Rowdy shook his head. “No. How was he a hero?”
Mrs. Dodd folded her hands in her lap and straightened. “Well, it was a few years ago when we were having those terrible wildfires. We had let Cookie out to do his poo-poo, and he went all the way to the back corner of the yard, and started barking. It wasn’t his normal bark, and when we investigated, we discovered that an ember had flown over the mountain and started to smolder. We were all in danger, Rowdy! And my Cookie saved us!”
Rowdy smiled slightly at the woman’s enthusiasm. “He sounds very courageous.”
He glanced at Linda and caught the eye roll.
“And where was he last seen?”
“I can show you,” Linda murmured, heading toward the door.
Mrs. Dodd waved a tissue at him. “Come tell me what you find.”
Rowdy followed the housekeeper through the pristine house. It didn’t even look like anyone lived here. If he hadn’t seen Mrs. Dodd’s sitting room, he would have thought the house was unoccupied. Could Cookie be trapped in one of the unused rooms?
“You don’t seem to agree with Mrs. Dodd’s version of events,” he murmured to the housekeeper.
Linda slowed, then stopped. They were standing in an expansive kitchen now, and a heavy-set woman standing at the stove looked up. Linda held up a hand in acknowledgement, but turned to face him. “Mrs. Dodd loves that little dog, but Cookie can be an obnoxious twit.”
The woman at the stove snickered in agreement, but didn’t interrupt.
“He was barking in the back corner because he always barks, at squirrels, chipmunks, it might have been a leaf. Who knows? Cookie has been known to bark at his own farts. It just so happened that that day, the fire jumped. And Mrs. Dodd attributed all the noise he was making to trying to save our lives. Cookie could give a fuck about us.”
Rowdy fought not to laugh. The woman at the stove snickered again, nodding her head. Linda just looked put out from dealing with it all.
Was she frustrated enough to do something to the dog?
“Was the dog microchipped?”
“Yes,” Linda sighed. “Annabelle, Mrs. Dodd’s assistant, has been calling vets and shelters for the past two days looking for him, but no luck.”
Rowdy filed the information away, then made a motion, waving her on.
Rowdy was escorted out into the backyard. Linda had explained that it wasn’t unusual to let the dog out for several minutes while she attended to something else. In other words, she would dump the dog and forget him for a while.
“You can go back in,” Rowdy told her. “I’m going to look around.”
Without a word, the housekeeper disappeared back into the kitchen.
Rowdy looked around the space. It was a broad back yard, with several rocky landscaping displays. Plenty of places for squirrels to play, and a dog to chase them. A four-foot wooden fence surrounded the yard, with a woven wire lining inside to keep the dog in.
He hiked the length of the fence, looking for holes under the boards, but he didn’t find any. At the back fence, there was a branch leaning over one corner, but there was no way a dog could climb it to get out. By the time he circled all the way around, his leg was hurting from the sloping terrain, but he hadn’t found anywhere for Cookie to escape.
Rowdy glanced over the fence. There was a man standing on the back patio of the house next door, smoking a cigarette. Rowdy gave him a wave, and crossed to lean against the fence. “Any chance you’ve seen a lost dog?” he called out.
The man shook his head and dropped the cigarette to the ground. “You mean Cookie? No, I haven’t seen the little bastard for a while. It’s been exceptionally quiet and peaceful back here the past couple of days.”
“Not part of the Cookie appreciation club, hm?”
The man left the patio and crossed the grass, stopping a few feet away. He leaned against the opposite side of the fence. Rowdy reached out a hand. “Rowdy West, Lost and Found Investigative Service.”
The man looked at him incredulously for several long seconds before reaching out his own hand. “Tom King. She hired a detective to find that damn dog?”
Rowdy nodded. “He’s quite the hero, so she wants him found.”
Tom shook his head, snorting. “The hero, right…”
“You don’t agree?”
“No, I don’t agree,” Tom laughed. “That fire was coming for a while. They had warned us we might have to evacuate. Cookie was just out there barking his fool head off like he always did, and Mrs. Dodd connected two very unconnected things. I love the old bat. We’ve been neighbors for years. But she has a total blind spot when it comes to that dog. You should have seen the party she threw for the hero, though. It was worth it just to attend. Biggest thing that’s happened around here for a long time. She raised money for the local animal shelter.”
Rowdy nodded, filing away the information. “Thank you for your time, Mr. King. If you see the dog, maybe you can let us know.”
“Maybe,” Tom said, turning to walk away. “It’s been nice and quiet without him.”
Rowdy glanced around, looking at the fence. It seemed intact, although a few yards down from where he’d been leaning, there was a puff of white hair. It was attached to the top of the fence, caught under one of the woven wire knots. Tom pulled the hair, looking at it. No blood or anything. It was hard to tell how old it was.
Rowdy continued on, along the side yard and down the front. The fence seemed intact all the way around. When he circumnavigated almost the entire yard, he found a man cutting a bush on the far side of the house. “Hello,” Rowdy called out, drawing close.
The man didn’t seem to hear him. Rowdy drew close and the man glanced up, startling badly. He dropped his pruning shears and danced back a few steps. Then he pulled an air pod out of his ear. “I’m so sorry, sir. I didn’t hear you.”
The man spoke with a bit of a Hispanic lilt. “I’m sorry I scared you,” Rowdy told him, grinning.
The other man waved a hand. “I should have been watching. I was lost in the music.”
“What are you listening to?” Rowdy asked, trying to put the man at ease.
“Um,” the man looked down at his hands, as if just realizing he’d lost his shears. “I’m listening to Cats, the musical.”
Rowdy nodded. “I thought I recognized Memory.”
The gardner grinned. “Yes, it’s one of my favorites.”
Rowdy introduced himself and explained his reason for being there. The man’s face fell, and he shook his head. “Poor Cookie. I’ve walked this yard several times, looking for a hole in the fence or something, but there’s nothing. The front gate is always closed, and we don’t get a lot of visitors. I don’t understand where he’s gone.”
“When is the last time you saw him?”
“Two days ago, in the back yard. He was barking, but,” Ernesto shrugged. “I just put my headphones in and go to work. Linda or Annabelle are responsible for the dog, but I always kind of keep an eye on him. For them.”
His cheeks took on a ruddy cast, and Rowdy wondered which woman he was sweet on.
He held out his hand. “Thanks, Ernesto.”
Rowdy made his way on around the house, and let himself in the back door of the kitchen. The cook looked up, her broad face splitting in a smile. “Come on in,” she urged. “Can I get you a glass of tea?”
Rowdy nodded, his hips aching. “I would appreciate that.”
The woman waved a hand at a small table near a window looking out on the back yard. “Have a seat.”
Rowdy watched as she poured him a big glass of tea, checked a pot on the stove, and walked the glass over to him. “I’m Rowdy,” he said, taking the glass from her.
“Nice to meet you, Rowdy. I’m Emma.”
“Will you join me, Emma?”
The chef settled into the chair across from him with a sigh. “Thank you, Rowdy. I’m at a good place to take a little break. No luck finding Cookie, hm?”
Rowdy shook his head. “Everyone saw him about the same time two days ago, but not since then.”
Emma’s face turned sad. “I don’t know what Mrs. Dodd is going to do without that little dog. He’s her closest companion since her husband died.”
Rowdy winced. He didn’t want to think about this being a dead-end case. Possibly literally. “I know the assistant is calling vets, but did you check with animal control?”
“I’m sure she probably has, but you should confirm with Annabelle.”
“I will. Is she around?”
Emma’s eyebrows furrowed. “She should be. Let me text her.”
Within a few minutes, Rowdy heard light footsteps coming through the house toward the kitchen. He looked up and blinked. And lost his breath.
The woman that came into the room wasn’t classically beautiful, but something about her was intriguing. Her hair was so dark it was almost black, cut in a slightly choppy way to curve around her face. The round glasses that sat perched on her nose almost swallowed her face. But they made her bright green eyes that much bigger. She smiled as she walked into the room, and held out her hand as he stood from the table. Rowdy noted that her hand was finely boned, her skin almost translucent pale. She wore a very soft pale, blue sweater.
She shook strongly, though, and straightened before him. “I’m Anabelle Finch,” she said softly. “And you’re from Lost and Found?”
Her gaze ran down his length, then back up, almost too quickly to catch, and he wondered what conclusions she had drawn.
Rowdy gave a single nod, missing the feel of her delicate hand in his own. He blinked, and had to force himself to remember why he was here. “I am. Have you made any headway with the shelters? Did you call animal control?”
Anabelle pulled out a chair and sat at the table, setting her planner book in front of her. “No and yes.” She flipped the brightly covered book open to a tabbed page in the back. A list of names had been written on the page in colorful pens, with notes below each one. “No one has seen Cookie. I’ve had a few ‘almosts’, but no confirmed sightings. I have flyers being printed up as we speak, and we’ll be posting those in the neighborhood tonight, with a significant award attached.”
Rowdy appreciated her enthusiasm, but he wondered if she knew what she was letting herself in for. “You know you’re going to have scammers crawling out of the woodwork for the money, probably.”
Her face fell a little, and he felt like he’d kicked a puppy. But she rallied, giving him a slight smile. “I know, but we have to do what we can. If only to reassure Mrs. Dodd.”
Rowdy nodded, adjusting in the chair to ease his hips. She was motivated to please her employer, which was admirable. “Do you know if Mrs. Dodd has anyone that would want to wound her? Damage her business?”
Anabelle sighed, and took off her glasses. She rubbed the bridge of her nose, and Rowdy could see how stressed she was. Lines pinched her mouth, and her eyes seemed tired as she thought about his question. This job was probably not in her wheelhouse either.
“I’ve racked my brain trying to think if anyone could have grabbed him or harmed him, but I’m coming up blank. He’s a treasured pet of a woman that most of the people in the neighborhood love.”
“Who doesn’t love her,” Rowdy asked, picking up on the slight distinction.
Annabelle frowned. “Well, no one actively dislikes Mrs. Dodd, but she can ruffle feathers if she’s passionate about something.”
“What do you mean,” Rowdy asked, leaning forward on the table.
Annabelle shifted in her seat, obviously uncomfortable even mentioning something negative about her boss. She glanced around the kitchen, maybe looking for help, but Emma had disappeared.
“I’m not looking for gossip,” Rowdy told her, “but it is important that you’re honest with me, Annabelle.”
She looked out the window. “Well, we have a party coming up soon for the animal shelter. It’s called Paws for a Cause: A Holiday Gala Benefiting Sheltered Souls, and last year we did have some negative feedback.”
Rowdy nodded encouragingly.
“There were many, many cars at the clubhouse, and a few of the residents were unable to make it through the crush last time to get home. For several hours.”
Rowdy didn’t let the surprise show on his face, but he needed to reiterate what she’d said. “People couldn’t get home because of the gala last year?”
The woman nodded, frowning. “The valet company cancelled on us at the last minute, so we had to rely on the golf club’s valets, and they were just completely overwhelmed. They did the best they could to get the traffic moving and parked, but it was a considerable headache.”
“And when is this holiday gala scheduled for, this year?”
“And is Cookie an attendee?”
Annabelle scraped a hand back through her hair. “Yes. He’s the guest of honor. Mr. Dodd adopted him from this shelter several years before he died. Mrs. Dodd dresses him up in his own little tux.”
Rowdy sat back in his chair, thinking. It seemed a little too coincidental that the man of the hour would disappear right before his big show. “And if Cookie wasn’t there, would Mrs. Dodd cancel the event?”
Annabelle frowned. “I’m not sure, honestly. The invitations have been out for months, so I doubt it. This is the shelter’s biggest fundraiser, so it would be a terrible blow if we didn’t go through with it.”
Annabelle watched the handsome investigator’s face barely flinch in reaction to her words, even though she knew how ridiculous they sounded. Dogs in tuxes and all that. They were very true, though. Cookie, as well as the other animals that came in from the shelter, were a big part of the draw of the gala. Each of the dogs chosen to be ambassadors for the soiree were almost guaranteed an exclusive new home. The Dodds had been championing this cause for many years, now, and it had grown exponentially. Since it was around the holiday, people were eager to prove their giving spirit. Last year had been a bit of a shit-show, but the parking situation had been out of their control.
This year, she had a back-up company in addition to her chosen company, and they would be ready to send valets out at the first distress call.
Annabelle prided herself on everything running smoothly, and she’d never dreamed there would be a screw-up so bad. At least four neighbors had been unable to make it home that night. Since they lived on a dead-end road past the clubhouse, with only one way in and out, it had been catastrophic. She’d fielded angry calls and emails for days after, and had done her best to smooth things over. And she’d known as she started planning the next party that these issues would pop up again.
“I need you to make a list of the people that were inconvenienced last year. And I’d like to see any emails or correspondence you received.”
Annabelle nodded, glad that she had something she could do. She jotted a note on her pad, and took his email. “I will forward you everything I have.”
She blinked, thinking about the names that were going to go on the list. “They’re all close neighbors, directly in the cul-de-sac here.” She motioned around the house. “They’ve known Mrs. Dodd for years, and I can’t imagine any of them hurting Cookie.”
Rowdy smiled slightly, and she blinked. Wow, his whole face had changed, and she wondered what he would look like with a full grin.
She knew investigators were supposed to be stalwart and cold, expressionless, and Rowdy had that part of his job down pat. She shivered a little, wishing that his shuttered hazel eyes would warm up a little. For a moment, when she’d come in, she thought there’d been a spark of something… but maybe that had been wishful thinking. Rowdy West was drool-worthy, as her sister would say, with his dark hair and lean face. He wasn’t especially tall, maybe just under six feet, but she didn’t need tall. She wished she’d taken time this morning to add some makeup, or maybe dress a little better. Heck, she didn’t even have her shoes on. He probably thought she was as absent-minded as Mrs. Dodd.
Story of her life. People ususally took a look at her and decided she was a flutterby, as her sister used to call her. But just because she liked comfortable clothes and colors and unique things, it didn’t mean she was stupid or lacking, in any way. She prided herself on doing her very odd job well, and Mrs. Dodd seemed happy with her performance, so that was all that mattered.
For some reason, though, she wanted him to look at her differently. She didn’t normally feel insecure about what she did, but she thought maybe she wanted him to look at her as more competent. She’d never felt like that before.
Was it just because he was really handsome and she had no love life? Maybe.
And maybe there was nothing wrong with letting him know she was interested.
“So, how long have you been an investigator?”
Annabelle thought the question was innocent enough, but he shifted uncomfortably. “Not very long, actually.”
She cocked her head. “Have you had a case like this before?”
“Defintely not,” he barked out a laugh. “I don’t think anyone in the company has had a case like this.”
Annabelle grinned. “Well, hopefully Cookie will turn up and you can be the only one to have solved a case like this.”
He grinned at her, and Annabelle caught her breath. Yup, he was even more stupid handsome. Damn.
“So,” she said slowly, “in your limited experience, what do you think our chances are of getting Cookie back?”
The laughter fade from his expression. “I can’t say, honestly. There are too many unknowns. I will say, though, that the timing is very suspect.”
She nodded. “Yes. I don’t want to think ill of any of her neighbors, but the more time that goes by and the more dead ends I hit, the more I think someone took him to hurt her.”
Rowdy didn’t say anything, but his silence was agreement enough.
“If you can send me those emails, I can get on them.”
Annabelle nodded, pushing up from the chair. He stood with her, as well, which she thought was very sweet. “Give me a few minutes.”
The investigator nodded and she headed down the hallway to her office. It was just a tiny space near the den, and she wondered if at one point it hadn’t been a closet. There was enough room for her L-shaped desk and office chair, and a single armchair against the wall. The six foot Ficus took up the rest of the room on the other side, and was the only true green. The rest of the space was decorated with colorful tchotchkes, figurines and lights. Annabelle loved her little space, and was very thankful that Mrs. Dodd allowed her free rein in her decorating.
She also appreciated the excellent internet she had in the house, because within seconds Annabelle had logged into her email account and found the abusive emails. Each of the neighbors had expressed their extreme displeasure and she had a feeling Maragaret Sneed Wanton-Klapper had led the pack. Her’s was the first email that came in, and the rest all followed a similar layout. Margaret had been the most vocal that night, and there had been no way to calm her down. Even when Mrs. Dodd had come out to personally apologize, Mrs. Wanton-Klapper, as pretentious as her name intimated, had turned her nose up at the apology. She’d seen it as a way to lord it over the older woman. That night had shown Annabelle exactly what kind of woman Mrs. Wanton-Klapper was.
“Is there any way you can print those off?”
Annabelle startled hard, her hand jerking across the keyboard. Her email page disappeared into the ether, and she glared up at the investigator, who was leaning disturbingly close against her desk. “Holy crap, you scared me,” she gasped, hand to her heart.
Rowdy grimaced, holding his hands out. “I apologize. I was just trying to save myself a few steps and thought I would see if you could help me out. If you can print them, I don’t have to go back to the office.”
Annabelle could tell he was sorry he’d scared her. Slowly, she nodded, giving him the side-eye. “Yeah, just let me pull up my email again.”
She surfed through, pulling up the date again. Then she sent them to her printer. She handed the small stack of papers to Rowdy, who was still leaning against her desk. Why did he have to be so close? She leaned back in her chair and crossed her legs.
“So, tell me your impression of these people.”
Annabelle sighed and she knew she could be wading into dangerous territory. If any of this got back to them…
“On the top is the one from Margaret Sneed Wanton-Klapper. Her name is a mouthful and she likes it that way. Sneed is an old family money name in Denver and she wants it to be known she’s part of them, though only distantly. She runs the neighborhood watch, and was the first one I called two days ago. Though she pretends to be helping me out, she actually just lords it over us that we’ve lost the dog. I can tell she’s extremely happy that Cookie is gone and she hopes that it makes us cancel the gala.”
“Jack and Linda Hofstetter moved in just a few years ago. Unfortunately they moved right next to Wanna-Klapper and they’re starting to…”
“Wait,” Rowdy said, looking up from the papers and grinning. “Did you just call her Wanna-Klapper?”
Annabelle felt blood rush to her cheeks, but she tilted up her chin. “Yes, that was my bad. Her name is a mouthful and I’ve found myself shortening it over the years.”
Rowdy grinned at her, settling more comfortably against her desk. “That sounds like you’ve said it in conjunction with something else. Like, Wanna-Klap-her…” he held a hand out to her to finish his sentence.
“Like Wanna-Klap-her sanctimonious face off,” Annabelle finished quietly, a grin breaking out across her face.
Rowdy tipped back his head and laughed, nodding. “I’m going to have to try not to use that when I talk to her.”
“Oh, hell, please don’t. I would never hear the end of it. Mrs. Dodd wouldn’t hear the end of it.”
“Would Mrs. Dodd fire you over it?”
Annabelle shook her head, giggling. “Nah, she’s said worse.”
“So, tell me about the rest of these.”
Annabelle went over the rest of the complaining neighbors. As she read over the emails again, she could see certain words pop out that Wanna-Klapper had used. It was so obvious that she’d led the complaint charge. The Comptons used half a dozen of the same words, and the Ngyuens used even more of the same words. One sentence was verbatim.
“These people weren’t even in town that night, but they still sent me an email letting me know how happy they were gone so that they didn’t have to deal with this mess.” She pointed at the last email from the Browns.
Rowdy shook his head, somehow not even surprised. “Sounds like Mrs. Dodd really ruffled some feathers.”
Annabelle shrugged. “Yes. But Mrs. Wanton-Klapper has always had it out for Mrs. Dodd. I think she moved into the neighborhood expecting deference and recognition for her name, but didn’t realize that Mrs. Dodd had been here for many years and already knew everyone. Heck, Mr. Dodd helped to lay out the plans for the golf course and the surrounding subdivision, and he knew everyone that built a house. We’ve got ball players and musicians and business people in this area that make more money than you or I could ever spend, and he became friends with them all.”
Rowdy nodded and Annabelle could tell that he was mentally recording everything she said.
“Okay, I’ll work on these. Thank you, Annabelle.”
She watched as he pushed to his feet, then stagger a little, like something caught in his hip. “Are you all right?” she asked.
“Yeah, I should have sat on your desk like that. Serves me right for wanting to get closer to you.”
Annabelle laughed and watched as he limped out of her office. It was a good thing he wasn’t looking at her because she just knew her cheeks were pink.
Rowdy decided to start with the Browns. He drove to their house, which was the furthest away from Mr’s Dodd’s house, and just down the road a little. There was a middle-aged man packing up a golf-cart with clubs when he pulled up the long drive.
He slipped out of the truck and grabbed to leather portfolio he’d put Annabell’s emails into. Chad had explained that when he went on interviews, he needed to have something in his hand to take notes. People liked to believe they were a part of something, and if you were writing down their words it made them feel important. And sometimes it opened the floodgates to information.
“Hello, Mr. Brown? I’m Rowdy West, an investigator from Lost and Found Investigative Services. Mind of I ask you a few questions?”
“If you’re quick,” the man grumbled, tucking a new set of balls into his bag. “I have a tee time at the driving cage in twenty minutes.”
“No problem. Are you familiar with Mrs. Dodd, your neighbor? Her dog is missing.”
Mr. Brown looked up at him, and Rowdy could see the condescension in the man’s face. “She hired an investigator to find her dog?” Snorting, he turned back to the cart, shaking his head. “Yes, I know her. She’s a crazy old bat, but she’s never hurt anyone, that I know of. And I don’t think the dog has either.”
“So, you haven’t seen the dog, then?”
Mr. Brown shook his head. “Nope. Is that all?”
“Are you aware that the Paws for the Cause Holiday Gala is coming up next week?”
The man looked back at him. “I am very aware and we’ve already made plans to be out of town so we don’t have to deal with the parking mess.”
“You didn’t have to deal with it last year, yet you still felt the need to express your anger in an email.”
Mr. Brown sighed and leaned against the cart. “Listen to me, Mr. whatever your name was. My wife felt the need to write that after she spoke to Margaret the day after the event. I did not write it. But if I had been here, I would have been as mad as Margaret was. Anything else?”
Rowdy shook his head. “No, sir. Enjoy your tee time.”
Mr. Brown didn’t even acknowledge when he left.
Rowdy jotted a few notes down on the notepad, then shifted into reverse. He pulled into the next drive, then keyed an intercom button at the gate. A voice came on the line, and he explained what he was doing. After a pause, the gates slid open, and he drove up the tree-lined pavement. He scanned the area, looking for any evidence of the dog, but he didn’t see anything.
A woman met him at the door of the big, beautiful house. He showed her his investigator badge, and explained what he was there for.
The woman was Jill Ngyuen, a stay-at-home mom with two small kids. Rowdy smiled as the kids crowded behind their mother’s legs, one boy, one girl, peering out at him through dark hair.
“Are they twins?”
Mrs. Ngyuen gave a single dip of her head, a proud smile spreading across her mouth as she rested her hands on her children. “They are.”
“Congratulations. A dragon and phoenix pair is very rare.”
The woman continued to smile and waited for him to state his purpose.
“Are you aware that Mrs. Dodd’s dog Cookie is missing?”
The smile slipped away from Mrs. Ngyuen’s face. “Oh, no. He’s such a cute little dog. And he saved us from the wildfire.”
Rowdy wasn’t surprised she believed the Cookie saviour story.
“You haven’t seen him?”
The woman shook her head, then spoke softly to the children. They shook their heads in unison and Rowdy couldn’t help but smile. They were cute little critters.
He handed Mrs. Ngyuen a card. “I have to ask you about the email you sent to Mrs. Dodd last year.”
Mrs. Ngyuen blinked and clasped her hands in front of herself. “We went out that night and it was difficult to get home to the children. I’m glad my mother had come for a visit, because they would have been too much for a sitter for that long. I always put them to bed and they were not happy I wasn’t here to do that.”
Rowdy nodded. “I get that. And the email?”
The woman shrugged. “My husband was upset and he talked to Mrs. Wanton-Klapper about it. They decided to let Mrs. Dodd know how aggravated they were.”
“This year they’ve hired a new company to park the cars.”
Mrs. Ngyuen shrugged again. “I will not be leaving the house, this saturday.”
Rowdy could see how she hovered over the children. She seemed the type to be a little overprotective.
But then, in Chinese culture, the boy-girl twin pairing meant good luck and fortune, and he had no doubt that the children would be cared for like royalty.
Rowdy pulled out a current picture of Cookie and handed it over. “If you wouldn’t mind keeping an eye out and calling me if you see anything.”
Nodding, Mrs. Ngyuen took the photo. “I will.”
Rowdy wasn’t surprised he was striking out. Finding a lost dog was about like looking for a needle in a haystack. He’d seen on some news channel the other day that there was a company in England that did drone searches for lost dogs and they had a very high success rate. They’d been on the news because they’d found an older, blind black lab that had been lost for a few days.
Hopefully, finding lost dogs was not going to be his specialty at Lost and Found.
Pound Puppy is Not complete. More will be posted Soon!