Hounded by David Rosenfelt is the 12th mystery in the Andy Carpenter series about a lawyer with a reputation for saving both humans and animals from Death Row (available July 22, 2014).
Andy Carpenter isn’t sure what to think when he gets a mysterious phone call from a good friend, policeman Pete Stanton, asking him to drop everything, drive to an unfamiliar address, and bring his girlfriend, Laurie Collins. He certainly isn’t expecting to show up at a crime scene. But that’s exactly where he arrives—at the house where Pete has just discovered the body of ex-convict Danny Diza. Upstairs are Danny’s now orphaned four-year-old son and basset hound. And that, Andy discovers, is why he and Laurie were called to the scene—Pete wants them to take care of the boy and the dog so they won’t get thrown into the “system.” This is already asking a lot, but soon Pete needs another big favor from Andy. Pete himself has come under suspicion for Danny’s murder, and he needs defense attorney Andy to represent him…and to find out what really happened in Danny's house that day.
Pete Stanton figured he was the poorest person in the room.
Of course, it was always possible that he was wrong. Maybe the servants had been allowed to attend, since it was their boss who was being eulogized. Having had no experience with servants, Pete was not in a position to venture an educated guess about that. And if he asked the guys at the precinct, chances are they wouldn’t know either.
One after another the speakers spoke about what a wonderful woman Katherine Reynolds was, and what a caring and compassionate life she led. She was a philanthropist, and a litany of charities that benefitted from her largesse were cited. Jokes were told about her eccentricities and unique character traits, but all were gentle and ultimately meant to praise.
This was a memorial service, not a roast. The deceased had died weeks earlier, and the funeral had been small and private. This was a chance for everyone else to pay their respects.
Based on the speeches, Katherine Reynolds was a woman without a flaw, and Pete figured that’s how it should be. If you’re not coming back, you should get a good send-off.
Pete looked over at Katherine’s husband, Carson Reynolds, stone-faced as he listened, dabbing occasionally at his eyes. He was trying to read something in Reynolds’s face, but there was nothing there to read. Certainly Pete had no way of knowing that Carson Reynolds was the happiest man in the place.
The happiest woman, also undetected by Pete, was actually sitting just three rows away from him. Her name was Susan Baird, and she herself was less than a year a widow. Having known Katherine Reynolds quite well, she knew that at least seventy percent of the spoken praise was total bullshit, and the rest hyperbole. But her death moved Baird up the ladder from mistress to girlfriend, so she was fine with whatever might be said at this service.
Pete had already decided that there was nothing for him to learn when he felt his cell phone vibrate. He saw that it was a text message from Danny Diaz, and it was marked “urgent.”
He got up and left the service.
No one seemed to notice or care.
“We have to leave,” Danny Diaz said.
He was trying to say it as casually as he could, but he knew that his son, Ricky, would see through it. Ricky was just eight years old, but it had been at least three years since Danny was able to fool him.
“Where are we going?” Ricky asked.
“I’m not sure. On a trip, like a vacation.”
“Now. Right now.” He was trying to keep his voice calm; there was no reason to transfer his anxiety to his son.
“We going to see Mom?”
Danny didn’t know how to respond to that; he certainly didn’t want to get Ricky’s hopes up if things didn’t work out. “I’m not sure yet, Rick. You know where your suitcase is?”
“In the closet.”
“Okay. Well, put as many of your clothes in it that can fit, all right? Can you do that for me right away?”
“Can I take some toys?”
“Just a couple. We want to keep room for clothes.”
Ricky pointed. “Can Sebastian come?”
He was referring to their six-year-old basset hound, sleeping soundly on a doggie bed against the wall. While Ricky was sensitive to increased energy levels in the house, Sebastian was unmoved by it, or pretty much anything else.
Danny had forgotten about Sebastian. “We’ll come back for him,” he said, with no conviction whatsoever.
Ricky saw through the lie and shook his head. “I’m not going without Sebastian.”
“Okay. Sebastian can come.”
Ricky began to gather his things, throwing a couple of Sebastian’s toys into the bag as well. He instinctively knew that they were not coming back, though he had no idea why. Danny went down the hall to his own room to do the same.
Ricky heard the doorbell ring, and for some reason it worried him. Moments later, Danny came into the room. “You okay in here?”
“Yeah, Dad. Who’s at the door?”
“I’ll see. But meanwhile, you stay in the room, and don’t make a sound, okay?”
“Just do this for me, Ricky. Not a sound, and don’t come out until I tell you to.”
But Danny was gone, closing the door behind him.
It was probably just three minutes, though it seemed much longer, before Ricky heard the two really loud sounds. They sounded like firecrackers, the ones he heard last July Fourth, when he and his mom and dad had gone to the park. These sounds were so loud that they even woke up Sebastian, who looked around, puzzled, and then nodded off again.
Another five minutes went by, and Ricky didn’t hear anything, though he had his ear pressed against the door. His father had told him not to come out of the room, but that was an edict that couldn’t last forever, could it?
So Ricky waited five more minutes, and then opened the door slowly, and went to the top of the steps, looking down. “Dad?”
No answer, no sound, no sign of his father. So he took another few steps down, calling out again, but not getting a response.
So Ricky went down a little farther, and peered around the landing. He was only eight years old, but what he saw then would stay with him if he lived to be a hundred.
And like any eight-year-old would do in that situation, he ran back upstairs, and started to cry.
“It’s all come down to this,” says Edna. “All the hours … all the work…”
I could, if I were so inclined, point out the irony of that statement. Edna has been in my employ for fourteen years, and “work” is something she has successfully avoided for fourteen of those years.
But I don’t mention that, because I am Andy Carpenter, The Considerate One, and because Laurie Collins is staring daggers at me, knowing what I’m thinking.
The truth is that even if Laurie wasn’t sending me this silent threat, I wouldn’t say anything. This is too important to Edna, and I don’t want to do anything to spoil her moment.
We are in the coffee shop at the Brooklyn Marriott Hotel, home of the American Crossword Puzzle Championship. The entire hotel has been taken over by the people running the tournament, the participants, and the friends and family of both. It is one of those rare sporting events that I didn’t know existed, probably because bookmakers don’t take bets on it.
There are four of us at the table: Edna, Laurie, Sam Willis, and myself. Sam is my accountant, and he also helps me on cases that require his considerable computer expertise. I am somewhat lacking in that area; until recently I thought rebooting a frozen computer meant twice kicking the damn thing across the room.
We’ve only been here for three hours, but it’s been a long three hours. Spectators are only allowed in the back of the room while the competition is going on, so we opted to stay here. It turns out that even though watching people doing crosswords ranks somewhat below a Springsteen concert as exciting entertainment, waiting in a coffee shop for it to end has got to be worse.
Edna has entered the tournament for the first time this year, and the evening session ended about twenty minutes ago. She has introduced us to some of her competitors, and I’ve been impressed by their smarts and dedication. You really need a vast knowledge base, sort of Jeopardy on steroids. And there is considerable pressure; the clock is always running, and a mistake can be devastating. These people have an expertise and a talent, and what they do is not at all easy.
Edna repeats her oft-stated frustration that the prizes and media interest aren’t greater. “Hockey players make millions, and there are only 500,000 of them in this country. There are fifty million people who do crossword puzzles. And what you have here, right here in this room, is the cream of the crop.”
I don’t point out that the number of people who do something doesn’t necessarily make it a spectator sport, or generate a fortune in salaries. If it did, then instead of the Super Bowl, we’d all be watching the World Procrastination Championships, and instead of the World Series, we’d be tuning in to the International Masturbation Invitational. Actually, that might get a huge Nielsen rating.
Edna is tired and stressed, having been at it all day, and she is actually in eleventh place out of two hundred contestants. She feels she has a chance to move up in tomorrow’s final day. “At this point, it’s all about stamina and handling the pressure,” she says.
“Mmmm,” I say, since I’m not really paying attention. I’m looking toward the bar, which is unfortunately far away. The table we got was the only one open when we came in, and it’s on the other side of the room from the bar. That wouldn’t be a big deal, except for the fact that the only TV in the room is behind that same bar.
“Something wrong, Andy?” Laurie asks.
She’s having fun with me, since she knows why I’m staring over there. The NBA final between San Antonio and Miami is on, and even though I’m not from Texas or Florida, I’m interested in the game for three reasons:
1. I bet on it.
2. I bet on it.
3. I bet on it.
I didn’t bet a lot, just two hundred dollars. Since last time I looked I had thirty million of those dollars, I’m doing it more for the competition, to demonstrate that I know more than the odds makers. For the last decade, it has not been going well.
“I’m just looking for crossword celebrities,” I lie. “Hey, you guys look thirsty. Anyone want a drink?”
I’ve been heading back and forth to the bar to get drinks for almost two hours now, so I could catch the score of the game on the television. This is not the place to get sloshed, so we’ve been having Diet Cokes. But by lingering at the bar each time, I’ve been able to catch quite a few plays.
Since everyone has already taken in so much liquid that they’re about to float away, they finally draw a line and decline another drink. “How about pretzels?” I ask. “They’ve got some great-looking pretzels over there.”
At that moment, a group of three people comes in to the coffee shop, and as they are walking past our table, one of the men sees Edna and stops. “Great job, Edna,” he says. “Good luck tomorrow.”
She just smiles nervously and nods, and he walks on. “Do you know who that was?” Edna asks. Then, not waiting for an answer, she says, “That was Norman Thomas.”
“Wow,” I say. I don’t have a clue who that is, but Edna is obviously impressed, so I pretend to be as well.
Laurie, who is somewhat less into pretending than I am, asks, “Who is Norman Thomas?”
“The best puzzler in U.S. history; the Babe Ruth of crosswords. And he just told me I did a great job.”
“That’s terrific, Edna. Now kick his ass tomorrow,” I say. “I’m going to the restroom.”
I start to walk toward the restroom near the bar, when Laurie stops me and points to one much closer to our table. “There’s one over here, Andy.”
Since my goal is to get another look at the television, I shake my head. “I tried that one. The urinals are a little high. You wouldn’t understand … it’s a guy thing.”
I head toward the restroom, which is actually a necessary stop because of all the Diet Cokes, stopping briefly at the bar to check out the status of the game. On the way back, I make a longer stop, and while I’m watching, my cell phone rings.
The caller ID says “Paterson Police,” which means it’s my friend Lieutenant Pete Stanton. He’s the only Paterson cop who would call me, all the others would prefer to shoot me. As an obnoxious defense attorney, I’m not a department favorite.
“Hey, Pete,” I say.
“Where are you?”
“At a crossword puzzle tournament.”
“Wow, life in the fast lane.”
“At some point I need to slow down,” I say. “But right now I’m having too much fun.”
“Laurie with you?” he asks.
“I need you both down here.”
“Thirty-third. Between eighteenth and nineteenth. Leave now.”
“What’s going on?”
“Danny Diaz got himself killed.”
“Shit, I’m sorry,” I say. “But what do you need me for?”
“I’ll tell you when you get here. Just make sure you bring Laurie.”
Copyright © 2014 by David Rosenfelt.
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David Rosenfelt is the Edgar and Shamus Award-nominated author of five stand-alones and twelve previous Andy Carpenter novels, most recently Unleashed. After years living in California, he and his wife recently moved to Maine with the twenty-five golden retrievers that they’ve rescued. Rosenfelt's hilarious account of this cross-country move, Dogtripping, was published by St. Martin’s Press in July 2013.