Rachel Alexander 05 - The Wrong Dog
You Can Say That Again, She Said
I was doing the acrostic when the phone rang. I let the machine pick up. The dog on the tape barked three times. Someone sighed. I knew what that meant.
“Alexander,” I said into the receiver, turning the puzzle sideways so that I could take notes in the margin.
She said her name was Sophie Gordon and that someone who knew someone had given her my name. She waited then. I did, too. I turned the puzzle back the right way and filled in the answer to G, a four-letter word for the thread Theseus used to find his way out of the labyrinth.
The line was still silent. She seemed to need help getting started.
“Who’s dead?” I asked.
“Sorry?” she said. “My dog was shoving her leash onto my lap and knocked the phone out of my hand.”
I repeated my question.
“Oh. no one. This isn’t that sort of case.“
“What sort is it?”
“I need you to find someone.”
“It’s a rather long story, and complicated, but Bianca will drive me crazy if I don’t get her to the run. I was hoping I could tell it to you there.”
“The one in Washington Square Park?”
“Yes, that one.”
I asked if fifteen minutes would be too soon. She said it wouldn’t, it would be perfect, and told me she’d be sitting on a bench on the east side of the run.
“How will I know you?”
“You can’t miss me,” she said.
“Why is that?”
“I have red hair.”
That narrowed it down. Half the women over forty in the city had red hair. The other half were blond.
I thought that was it, but the line was still open. “Sophie?”
“I never thought I’d find myself hiring a private investigator.”
“That’s the thing about life. You never know.”
“You can say that again,” she said.
She must have put the radio on before she hung up the phone because suddenly I heard someone playing the piano, a haunting melody I couldn’t place. Then the line went dead.
I didn’t know much when I left to meet her at the park, just that her dog was probably white and that this wouldn’t be one of my usual cases. It wasn’t about someone dying. I’m sure Sophie believed that. She seemed sincere. Unfortunately, she was mistaken.
The park was pretty empty for a Saturday. Maybe it was the unseasonably chilly weather, the wind knocking leaves
off the trees and making them eddy in great circles on the paths. Or perhaps it was simply too early for the weekend crowds, couples who might have decided to have brunch before strolling in the park, fathers reading the paper before taking their kids to the playground, bums still sleeping in doorways before convening on the benches at the south end of the park, hoping to snag a beer, a cigarette, whatever they could. And it was way too early for the drug dealers and their clientele. They wouldn’t be open for business for another few hours.
A young white bull terrier bitch met us at the inner gate of the dog run, spiriting Dashiell away the second I unhooked his leash. I looked around for Sophie.
She would have looked pretty ordinary, sitting there alone, diagonally across from the gate, her skin as pale as 2-percent milk, her eyes hidden behind small, round, tinted glasses. Except for the hair. This red didn’t come out of a bottle; it was the real thing. With the sun hitting it, it looked as if it were on fire. If a hundred people had been at the run, with a hundred dogs running and playing, I still would have noticed Sophie.
“It started two years ago, right here on this very bench,” she said immediately after I introduced myself. I put out my hand to shake, but she left hers where it was, resting on her coat which, despite the chill in the air, was bunched up and lying to her right on the bench. She’d just nodded instead. I sat at her left, turning on the tape recorder that was in my jacket pocket.
“I’d come to the run to exercise Blanche. Shortly after I got here, a young woman, early twenties I’d guess, sat down next to me and unhooked her dog’s leash to let her go and mix, only the dog, a black mutt, a little bigger than Bianca but not as big as ...”
“And not a purebred either, some terrier and God-knows-what-else, cute but sort of sad looking, too, well, she just sat there, not doing much of anything. It was almost as if she didn’t know how to play with other dogs, poor thing. After a few minutes, she’d backed up to my legs and was sitting on my shoes, just watching the
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