“It’s a sordid life, but I’m used to it.”
—Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye
I opened my eyes to find myself standing in front of a rain-streaked apartment window…
“Welcome to my world, baby.”
When I turned around, I was facing him, though facing was far from accurate. The tall private detective with the acre of shoulders was standing so close that my nose was practically hitting his chest.
His bare chest.
“You okay, doll? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
Jack was teasing, of course, but I didn’t laugh. After the intimacy of hearing his voice in my head for so long, actually seeing this towering, vital man in his prime—which he’d been before his premature death—always gave me somewhat of a shock.
To top it off, in all the times he’d taken me back to his past, I’d never before confronted Jack in this state of undress. Embarrassed, I stepped back, touched my suddenly hot cheeks, and realized my hands were wearing white cotton gloves.
Glancing down, I saw my nightgown was gone, replaced by a blouse with red polka dots, and a pencil skirt that fell below my knees. My legs were encased in stockings, and on my feet were peep-toed pumps.
Jack’s feet were bare, just like his chest, though he wasn’t completely naked. At least the man is wearing pajama bottoms, I thought, which was when I noticed he was holding a gun.
“Jack, why are you—”
Ruff! Ruff! Ruff!
Before I could finish my sentence, a little dog ran up to me and began to sniff my stockings. The adorable cairn ter¬rier was no more than fifteen pounds, with silky chocolate fur, black points for ears, and bright brown eyes. A pink bow was clipped to the top of her excited head.
“Hello, girl.” I reached down to stroke her soft fur. “What a cute little thing you are… Is this the dog that supposedly hired you?”
“No supposing about it. Take a look at this.” Jack handed me an envelope. Inside was a letter that began: Dear Jack Shepard, I want you to find me some answers…
What followed was a list of typed instructions that made no sense—at least at first glance. No name. No address. Also inside was a hundred-dollar bill.
“The little fur hat was leashed to my doorknob. The en¬velope was slipped under its collar.”
“Yes, but by whom?” I asked. “Someone must have left the dog.”
“By the time I opened the door, whoever left her was long gone…”
I glanced around the apartment.
“What night of the week is this, anyway?”
“Really? Late Friday night, and you’re all alone? No female company?”
Jack shrugged. “I typically would have some soft shoulders up here to join me for a, uh, shall we say, nightcap? But on this particular Friday, there was no lipstick left on my, uh, shall we say, tumblers?”
“Oh, you’re hilarious. And your answer tells me absolutely nothing. Come on, Jack. Why no female company? And why in heaven’s name are you holding a gun in your hand?”
“Same answer for both, Inspector.” Jack set the gun on the coffee table. “When I heard the dog’s heavy breathing and scratching at my front door, I thought it was an ex con named Muggsy following through on a threat. That’s the same reason I was flying solo this evening. If I was going to tangle with a Hell’s Kitchen hothead, I didn’t want some dame around to distract me—or be put in harm’s way.”
“Yes, but I’m here, and I’m a dame.”
“No, Penny. Tonight you’re not a dame.”
“What am I, then?”
“You’re my partner.”
I liked the sound of that—and the way Jack looked at me when he’d said it. “Okay, partner,” I said, “will you do me one favor?”
“On the favor . . .”
Jack stepped closer, so close that I could feel the heat coming off his half-naked body, a stark contrast from the ghostly cold of his typical presence—in my present, which this wasn’t. This was Jack’s past. His world. And I had to keep my reactions in check, because back here, Jack was the polar opposite of a disembodied voice. His heart was still beating, his breath still warm, and his vital, masculine energy still so palpable that it nearly overwhelmed me.
“Go on, honey,” he said, his deep voice softening. “What’s the favor?”
“Will you please put on a shirt!”
Jack agreed to my favor, though not without a mo¬ment of minor humiliation (entirely on my part).
“Sure,” he said. “I’ll put on a shirt for you. In fact, I’m flattered. I never had a partner in the PI game who couldn’t control their animal attraction to me…”
“My request has nothing to do with animal attraction!” I insisted as he headed into the bedroom. “It’s only a matter of propriety!”
“If you say so.”
The smug reply was annoying enough to help me clear my head and refocus on—
“Come here, girl. Let me have a look at you.” I examined the dog’s leash and collar; both appeared new, but there was no tag, no ID.
“What are you looking for?” Jack returned, pulling an undershirt over his head.
Before I could answer, the terrier’s furry little legs rock¬eted her into the kitchen. We followed to find her pawing at a cupboard.
“I think she’s hungry…”
I checked the kitchen cup¬boards, but except for finding a tin of preground coffee, I had no luck. “You don’t have anything for the dog to eat?”
“Not unless you count cigarettes and gum.”
“You can’t feed a dog that!”
“Then she’ll have to wait till morning.”
“Come on, Jack, there must be some solution?”
“There is, doll. Put your brain into it.”
“Okay…You have lots of neighbors on this floor, don’t you? I’ll bet someone owns a dog. If they do, I’m sure they’ll lend you some food—and, hey, don’t you want to canvas the floor, anyway? I mean, just because you didn’t see who left the dog doesn’t mean one of your neighbors didn’t see something, right?”
“Not bad, partner. There’s hope for you yet. So how should we proceed?”
“I’m not sure. But give me a minute, and I’ll give you a plan.”
Excerpted from The Ghost Goes to the Dogs: A Haunted Bookshop Mystery by Cleo Coyle. Copyright © 2023 by Alice Alfonsi and Marc Cerasini
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