Collared by David Rosenfelt is the 16th book in the Andy Carpenter series (available July 18, 2017).
Lawyer Andy Carpenter’s true passion is the Tara Foundation, the dog rescue organization he runs with his friend Willie Miller. All kinds of dogs make their way to the foundation, and it isn’t that surprising to find a dog abandoned at the shelter one morning, though it was accompanied by a mysterious anonymous note. But they are quite surprised when they scan the dog’s embedded chip, and discover that they know this dog. He is the “DNA dog.”
Two and a half years ago, Jill Hickman was a single mother of an adopted baby. Her baby and dog were kidnapped in broad daylight in Eastside Park, and they haven’t been seen since. A tip came in that ID’d a former boyfriend of Hickman’s, Keith Wachtel, as the kidnapper. A search of his house showed no sign of the child but did uncover more incriminating evidence, and the clincher that generated Wachtel’s arrest was some dog hair, notable since Wachtel did not have a dog. DNA tests showed conclusively that the hair belonged to Hickman’s dog. Wachtel was convicted of kidnapping, but the dog and baby were never found.
Now, with the reappearance of the dog, the case is brought back to light, and the search for the child renewed. Goaded by his wife’s desire to help a friend and fellow mother and Andy’s desire to make sure the real kidnapper is in jail, Andy and his team enter the case. But what they start to uncover is far more complicated and dangerous than they ever expected.
This would not let her come to terms with what she had done. Though that had long ago ceased to be a goal. This act today could never erase her actions; nothing could. But this was the right thing to do, and she had been planning it for a long time, since that day three years ago. She was thirty-six years old, but it felt like those three years had consumed half of her life.
No, getting rid of the guilt was not going to happen. This might ease the pain some, but it would never entirely go away. Not even close. So the best she could hope for was not to feel good, but rather less bad.
She had known she would do it for a long time, far too long. But even in her self-loathing, she was self-protective. So she waited until she was sure she was safe and that they could never find her.
She had tried once, and it had been a disaster and only made things worse. Much worse … a man had died. She couldn’t be sure it was as a result of what she did, but she believed that it was.
She knew even then that there would be a time she would try again, and that time had come.
She had her reasons for what she did back then, but looking back, they seemed so insufficient. They convinced her it was the right thing, and they gave her all that money. She needed that money, and somehow they knew it.
She pulled up to the building and waited to make sure the people weren’t there. She knew they wouldn’t be; she had patiently observed their arrival every day for a week. They would pull up in twenty minutes sharp; they were very punctual that way. That was why she chose this time to arrive; this way he would be outside and unprotected for only a short time.
She turned off the car and got out and then opened the rear passenger door. The border collie perked up; he just figured he was going for a walk.
Which he was, in a way. But that walk was only about twenty feet, to the front of the building. Once there, she had to work quickly. With gloved hands, she tied his leash to the door handle and taped the envelope with the note to the door.
She gave the dog a small pat on the head and turned to go back to the car. It was then that she realized she was crying. It did not surprise her.
The woman made the mistake of looking to her left, toward the gas station / convenience store. She saw a man watching her through the window, and then she quickly turned away. She doubted he could recognize her or identify her from that brief moment, but either way, there was nothing she could do about it.
She got in the car and pulled away, not looking back at the dog. By now she was sobbing, so much so that it was hard for her to drive.
But it was over now, out of her hands. They would do what they would do, and she would be alone with her pain.
I place the paper on the table and say, “It’s time for a Carpenter family meeting.” I’m pretty sure that Laurie and Ricky are surprised by this, since they’re in the middle of breakfast, and we’ve never had a breakfast family meeting before.
Actually, this will be the first family meeting we’ve ever had, regardless of the meal, which is why I’m not opening with the reading of the minutes from the last meeting. Of course, we haven’t even been a family very long; it’s just been eighteen months since Laurie and I got married and adopted Ricky.
“What about?” Laurie asks. She points to the paper. “What’s that?”
“It’s a renewal form for my law license. If I want to remain certified to practice law, I need to sign it and send it in.” I’ve been a reluctant lawyer for some time now; while I have no financial need to work, I seem to get drawn into taking cases even when I don’t want to. If I’m not certified, then that can’t happen, so not signing would be a form of self-discipline. I continue, “I think this should be a family decision.”
“So you want our opinion on whether you should send it in or not?” Laurie asks.
“Send it in,” she says.
“Just like that?”
She nods. “Just like that.” Then, “Are we done with the family meeting?”
“Wait a minute. Why are you saying this?”
“Because you’re a lawyer, Andy, and a wonderful one. That’s what you do.”
“Not if I don’t send in this form; that’s the whole point.” I turn to Ricky. “What do you think?”
“If I send it in, can I be a lawyer?” he asks.
“Not without going to law school.”
“That’s not fair,” he says.
I’m not making much progress here.
“I already went to law school, before you were born. Now, do you think I should send it in or not? Think about it carefully before you answer.”
“Yup. Send it in,” he says. If he took the time to think, then he’s a really quick thinker.
“Because that’s what Mom said.”
“Thanks, Ricky, that’s really helpful.” Then, “This is one of the worst family meetings we’ve ever had.”
“What will you do with yourself if you don’t practice law?” Laurie asks.
“Well, for one thing, I’ll spend more time here at home.”
“Definitely send it in,” she says, a hint of desperation creeping into her voice.
“You don’t like having me around during the day?”
“It’s a treat having you here, but it’s a treat that’s best enjoyed in moderation. Sometimes you get a little cranky when you’re bored. And sometimes you get a little cranky when you’re not bored.”
“Okay, then I’ll spend more time at the foundation helping out.” My friend and former client Willie Miller and I are partners in the Tara Foundation, a dog rescue operation. Willie and his wife, Sondra, run it day to day, but I help out whenever I can.
It’s named after Tara, our beyond wonderful golden retriever. Right now, she and our basset hound, Sebastian, are lying on the floor next to me; they are technically a part of the family meeting but have so far shown no desire to contribute.
“I think I can speak for Willie and Sondra when I say, ‘Send the form in,’” Laurie says.
“They don’t like having me around either?”
She smiles. “I refer you to my previous comments about ‘crankiness’ and ‘moderation.’”
Getting nowhere with her, I turn back to Ricky. It’s a desperate move, and one likely to backfire. “Wouldn’t you want me around more?”
“Would I still get to play with my friends?”
“Would we have to let you play with us?” he asks.
“Then I don’t care.”
“Well, this has been very enlightening,” I say. “I don’t think I’ll be calling any more family meetings anytime soon.”
“Andy,” Laurie says, draping her arm around me. “We love you deeply. As far as Ricky and I are concerned, the sun rises and sets on you. And it is from that place of love and that place of the rising and setting sun that we say this to you: ‘Sign the damn form and send it in.’”
The phone rings. I hate to break up this heartwarming family moment, but I drag myself away to answer it. “Hello,” I say, which is a breezy bit of repartee that I have found often opens the door to further conversation.
“It’s me,” says Willie, confident enough in his own skin to feel sure that he’s on an “It’s me” basis. I, on the other hand, have only started using “It’s me” on Laurie, and I still am afraid she’ll think it’s a crank call.
“Would you and Sondra want me to spend more time at the foundation?” I ask.
“Definitely not. But I do want you to come down here now.”
“I’ll show you when you get here.”
Copyright © 2017 David Rosenfelt.
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David Rosenfelt is the Edgar-nominated and Shamus Award-winning author of several standalone thrillers and more than a dozen Andy Carpenter novels, including Collared. He and his wife live in Maine with their ever-changing pack of rescue dogs.