Rescued: New Excerpt
By David Rosenfelt
Rescued by David Rosenfelt is the 17th book in the Andy Carpenter series, featuring the charm and wit readers have come to expect from sardonic Andy Carpenter and his team as well as a case with stakes that have never been higher.
Defense lawyer Andy Carpenter is reluctant to take on any more cases. He’d much rather spend his time working for his dog rescue organization, the Tara Foundation, than find himself back in a courtroom. However, when a truck carrying over seventy dogs from the South to the rescue-friendly northeast turns up with a murdered driver, Andy can’t help but get involved.
Of course, Andy is eager to help the dogs, many of whom come to the Tara Foundation while awaiting forever homes—it’s the man accused of murder who he has a problem defending. The accused just happens to be his wife Laurie’s ex-fiance; her tall, good-looking, ex-Marine ex-fiance. Even though he acknowledges having argued with the victim, he swears that he is not a killer, and though he would rather not, Andy has to admit he believes he’s telling the truth.
For Andy, even with dozens of successful cases behind him, this case that his wife insists he take may prove to be his most difficult.
It wasn’t the presence of the tractor trailer that caused John Paxos to take notice.
He was in a rest area off the Garden State Parkway near Paterson, New Jersey, and he figured that truck drivers needed to rest and use the bathroom like anyone else. There were truck stops nearby, but maybe this guy just couldn’t wait.
The weird way it was parked, at an angle, struck Paxos as strange, but maybe the guy had to go really bad. There was no particular reason for him to park carefully; there was plenty of room. In fact, there were no other cars until Paxos arrived.
But a couple of other factors bothered him. When Paxos used the restroom, he didn’t see anyone else in there. Maybe the driver was female? When he came out, he could hear that the engine in the truck was still running. That made no sense at all; he could just drive off with the truck if he wanted to. Fortunately for the careless driver, Paxos was a pharmacist, not a thief. And his passion was collecting vintage cars; the tractor trailer didn’t quite fit the collection.
There was certainly the chance that the driver was in the back of the truck, maybe readjusting whatever it was he was hauling. Of course, that was it. Paxos was about to accept that and walk away, get back on the road, but something stopped him from doing so.
It was just a feeling, but it was a feeling that made him call out “Hello?” a few times, each time a bit louder than the time before it. But there was no response from the driver.
And that’s when he heard the barking.
It wasn’t just one dog; that much was certain. It seemed like there must have been an army of dogs in that truck; Paxos would later estimate the number at thirty and would be very low at that. What kind of a tractor trailer hauled dogs as cargo?
So he called out again, though against the sound of the barking, there was no way anyone could have heard him. But if the dogs had heard his earlier call, and the fact that it started the barking indicated they had, then a person in the truck should have heard it as well. Yet no one had responded.
Paxos couldn’t just leave the rest stop, not with the dogs on the truck. It could be hot back there; at the very least he knew he had to call someone. Maybe local animal control or the police.
He decided on animal control, so he got them on the phone and told them what he knew, which wasn’t much. He promised to wait for them; they said it would take ten minutes to get there.
But Paxos didn’t want to tell them when they arrived that he hadn’t even checked out the dogs on the truck, and he wanted to know what he was dealing with. So after a few minutes of thinking about it, he cautiously stepped up on to the truck and looked toward the sound of the barking.
And that’s when he saw the blood.
“Andy, it’s Ralph.”
Caller ID had said “Private Caller,” and I don’t recognize the voice on the line. The only “Ralph” that comes to mind is Kramden, but I doubt that’s who’s calling me.
“Did you say Ralph?” I ask.
“Ralph … Brandenberger. Andy, you have to get over here.”
That clears it up. Ralph Brandenberger is the director of the Passaic County Animal Shelter. My friend Willie Miller and I run the Tara Foundation, a dog rescue organization named after my golden retriever, who is the greatest dog in the history of the universe. We often help Ralph out when his shelter is overcrowded by taking dogs and finding homes for them.
I don’t know that I’ve ever talked to Ralph on the phone, which might be why his voice seems unfamiliar. But it’s more than that; he sounds out of breath, and maybe even scared.
“You want me to come down to the shelter?” I ask.
“No, I’m at the rest stop on the Garden State, near Exit 156. Andy, it’s awful … please hurry.”
I hear some people talking in the background, and Ralph says, “I can’t talk now. They’re telling me to move back. Please, Andy.”
I’m left with a sense of dread. If Ralph is calling me and needs my help about something “awful,” it must involve dogs being hurt, or injured, or abused. And if there is anything I hate in this world, it’s animals being hurt, or injured, or abused.
My wife, Laurie, is out shopping with our son, Ricky, so I can’t ask her to go with me. Instead I call Willie Miller, which comes with its own level of risk. Willie can be volatile, and when that volatility is combined with his expertise in karate, he can be extremely dangerous.
If there is a human identified with abusing a dog, and if Willie is within proximity of that human, it can get very ugly, very quickly. Willie is a bigger dog lunatic than I am, and that is saying something.
But I call him, and I tell him I’ll pick him up at the foundation, since it’s on the way. He’s waiting outside when I pull up, and he spends the next ten minutes asking me questions that I can’t answer. I look over and see that his fist is clenched into a ball; I’m sure he’s painted a mental picture of a scene that includes an abused animal and an abuser that is within his reach.
“Take it easy, Willie,” I say, a suggestion that has zero chance of having any impact whatsoever.
“I got this one,” he says.
I don’t know what he means by that, but I don’t have time to ponder it. We get to the rest stop but can’t pull in, because the entrance is blocked by police tape. The police tape, as it usually is, is guarded by police officers.
We park along the road and walk toward the tape, and an officer I don’t recognize says, “You can’t come in here.”
“My name is Andy Carpenter. This is Willie Miller.”
“That supposed to mean something?” He doesn’t seem to be aware of my fame; from now on, I probably should carry my press clippings with me.
I see Ralph about twenty yards behind him; he has spotted us and is running toward us. “It’s okay,” he says to the officer. “They’re with me.”
The officer is less than impressed by this declaration. “Who the hell are you?”
“I’m the one who called you guys here.”
It’s a fascinating conversation, but my attention is drawn to another police officer I see. It’s Pete Stanton, my closest and only friend in the Paterson Police Department.
Pete is a captain in charge of the homicide division, which makes this situation a whole lot more confusing and ominous. The homicides he investigates are of the human variety, so any incident that involves both Ralph and Pete indicates a puzzling mixture of species.
Pete seems to moan when he sees me; the fact that we are close friends does not insulate me from his disdain for defense attorneys. But he walks over to us and tells the officer that he will handle the situation.
“You here for the dogs, or looking to drum up another client?”
“I have no idea why I’m here. Ralph called me.”
Ralph nods. “About the dogs.”
“What’s going on?”
“We have a truckload of dogs and a murder victim,” Pete says.
“Who’s the victim?” I ask.
He frowns. “You worry about the dogs.” Then he turns to the officer guarding the perimeter and says, “You can let them in. If he starts to act like a defense attorney, you have my permission to shoot him.”
Pete walks back to what must be the murder scene, leaving Ralph, Willie, and me alone.
“What’s the situation?” I say.
“Andy, you’re not going to believe it.”
“There are sixty-one dogs in the truck,” Ralph says. “According to the records, the guy was bringing them up from down South. You know, to be rescued.”
I do know what he’s talking about. The unwanted animal situation in the Northeast is light-years better than down South, and hundreds of dogs are taken out of the great danger of euthanasia and brought up here every year. Most of the dogs are taken to New England; I don’t yet know the destination of this truck.
“What kind of dogs?”
“All kinds. I didn’t get much of a chance to look. The guy who called me told me there was a body, but as soon as I saw it, I ran out of the truck. Dead bodies give me the creeps. But I definitely saw a few seniors, and a golden retriever mother with a bunch of puppies.”
“Let’s get them off of there,” Willie says in his first verbal contribution to the situation.
Ralph shakes his head. “They said we can’t. Something about evidence.”
“Bullshit,” Willie says. “Those dogs are coming off that truck.”
“Let me talk to Pete,” I say and head over to where he is standing.
Pete is talking to a couple of detectives, both of whom I have previously successfully attacked in cross-examination on the witness stand. So the greeting I get from the group does not feel warm and welcoming.
“Now what?” Pete says, sneering. He doesn’t want to show his subordinates that he has anything less than total disdain for this annoying and intruding defense attorney. Showing hatred for me goes a long way toward earning respect in the department.
“Can we take the dogs off the truck?”
“Not yet. We have to process them and check for evidence.”
“You going to interrogate each one?” I ask. “Maybe hook them up to a lie detector? I hear there’s a lab mix that looks a little shady; you might be able to get a confession out of him.”
He points out to me that they are looking for any possible trace evidence but certainly don’t expect to find any. He estimates that it will take a few hours.
“A few hours? You might want to walk them, or it might get a little unpleasant in there. And they might just piss all over your trace evidence.”
He hadn’t thought of that, and the prospect causes him to revise his estimate to about an hour.
I drive Willie and Ralph over to a rental car place about five minutes away, and Willie’s wife, Sondra, meets us there. We rent three large vans that we can use to transport the dogs once they are released by the police.
Sondra calls a bunch of people who occasionally volunteer for our foundation. Their activities generally consist simply of walking, petting, and loving the dogs, all of which is much appreciated. Sondra reports that they will meet us at the foundation when we arrive.
Pete’s estimate of one hour proves to be twenty minutes off, and the dogs are getting pretty uncomfortable by the time we get them off the truck. We give each of them a quick walk before loading them into the vans, a process which takes another hour. All of this has to be stressful for them, but they’re handling it well.
The dogs are in all shapes, sizes, and ages. The golden retriever looks positively grateful when we take her puppies from her; they’ve obviously been driving her crazy. Little does she know that she’ll be reunited with them very soon.
Sondra has gone back to the foundation building, and she and the volunteers are waiting for us when Ralph, Willie, and I arrive in the vans with the dogs.
Sondra is an unbelievable organizer and planner; if she had been in charge of D-day, by sundown the Allies would have been slurping snow cones on the beach. In record time, all sixty-one dogs are walked, fed, and comfortably placed on beds in their runs.
The foundation is in a building that used to be an ice-skating rink, so we have a lot of space. We wanted it that way, thinking that one day there might be some earthquake, flood, or other disaster that could result in a lot of pets becoming homeless. A shooting at a highway rest stop was not one of the potential disasters that we’d envisioned.
Willie and Sondra will stay at the foundation tonight in case the new dogs need tending to; we have a bedroom set up for them. Our vet will be in tomorrow morning to examine the newcomers, and we’ll meet to plan our next steps.
I’ve called Laurie a few times to update her on what is going on, and now I call to tell her I’ll be on the way home. “I’m just going to stop at the market to pick up a couple of things.”
“Don’t,” she says. “Please come straight home.”
It’s a strange thing to say, made stranger by the tone in which she says it. “Why? What’s going on?”
“Just come home, Andy. There’s someone here I want you to talk to.”
“Can’t discuss it now. Just come straight home, please.”
I cannot imagine who could be there or what this could be about. That doesn’t stop me from attempting to imagine those things all the way home, an effort which proves futile. The odds of Laurie not being able to talk about something and having it be a good thing are pretty small, so at this point what I’m hoping for is the avoidance of a disaster. And whatever bad thing it is, I hope it doesn’t involve Ricky.
There’s a car in our driveway that I don’t recognize; my keen deductive skills tell me it belongs to the person Laurie couldn’t talk in front of. There are no revealing bumper stickers on it that might tell me the type of person it is or the identity of the owner, so if I want to find out, I can either break into the car and glove compartment or just walk into the house. It’s a tough call, because I don’t like breaking into cars, but I have a vague dread of walking into that house.
But at the end of the day, I am Andy Carpenter, courageous to the end, so I walk in.
Laurie is coming out of the den to meet me in the front hallway as I enter.
“What’s going on?” I ask. “Who’s here?”
I should have broken into the car.
Copyright © 2018 David Rosenfelt.