Aug 9 2017 10:00am

E. J. Copperman Excerpt: Dog Dish of Doom

E. J. Copperman

Dog Dish of Doom by E. J. CoppermanDog Dish of Doom by E. J. Copperman is the first book in the new Agent to the Paws series (available August 15, 2017).

Take a visual tour of Dog Dish of Doom with GIFnotes!

Kay Powell wants to find that break-out client who will become a star. And she thinks she’s found him: His name is Bruno, and he has to be walked three times a day.

Kay is the Agent to the Paws, representing showbiz clients who aren’t exactly people. In fact: they're dogs. Bruno’s humans, Trent and Louise, are pains in the you-know-what, and Les McMaster, the famous director mounting a revival of Annie, might not hire Bruno just because he can’t stand them.

This becomes less of an issue when Trent is discovered face down in Bruno’s water dish, with a kitchen knife in his back. Kay’s perfectly fine to let the NYPD handle the murder, but when the whole plot seems to center on Bruno, her protective instincts come into play. You can kill any people you want, but you’d better leave Kay’s clients alone.


“Can he whimper?” Les McMaster—yes, the Les McMaster: Broadway director, visionary, and musical-comedy hit maker—was concerned about my client Bruno, whom he was auditioning for a featured role in his latest Broadway smash.

“Sure, he can whimper!” I piped up from my seat in the front row of the Palace Theater. “Bruno, cry!”

Bruno, trouper that he was, let out some pitiable sobs that would cause a statue of Simon Legree to break down in tears. Bruno was a pro. I almost broke down myself, and I knew he was faking.

“You can do better!” I heard Trent Barclay call from the seat three rows behind me. “Bruno! Cry!”

Bruno, now a little confused because he had been crying, stopped and looked to Trent for direction, the last thing Les wanted. “Look at me Bruno,” he said to the talent. “I’m the director.”

“Well then, direct!” Trent was desperate to mess up this deal for me, I decided. The part had been Bruno’s for the asking before Trent had piped up. Trent stood up and started walking down the aisle toward the stage. “Let him know you mean it!”

Les looked down at Trent and cocked an eyebrow. “He knows I mean it,” he said. “Don’t you ever think otherwise.”

It’s my job to settle down situations like this. Well, actually, it’s not my job to do that; it’s my job to negotiate the deal for Bruno and my other clients. But when a problem like this arises, I have to step in and restore some order.

I stood up. “It’s fine,” I said, my voice an unconvincing singsong. “Bruno knows what to do, Trent. Let’s just sit and watch, okay?”

“No, it’s not okay!” Trent looked into the otherwise-empty theater for his wife. “Louise! Don’t you think Bruno can do better?”

“Um, I don’t know,” Louise answered, her eyes darting from Trent to Les and back again. “He was crying, right?”

“It doesn’t matter what Louise thinks,” Les informed him. “It matters what I think, because I’m the one casting the part.” His voice was irritated and impatient.

I clenched my teeth. “Please, Trent,” I hissed. “Let’s just sit down.”

Trent pouted like a petulant four-year-old and plopped himself into a seat on the aisle next to me. He glared up at Les and folded his arms: Go ahead, show me. Perfect.

Bruno, to his credit, lay down on the stage and waited for the argument to end. He even had the degree of professionalism necessary to avoid peeing into the orchestra pit.

Bruno was a brown shaggy dog of indeterminate breed. As far as I could tell, he was a mixed breed. Bruno was a mutt.

He looked sort of like a hairy ottoman, but he could act better than any dog I’d ever handled before.

I’m Kay Powell. I’m a theatrical agent specializing in animal actors.

“It’ll be fine,” I whispered to Trent once Les had turned his attention back to the dog. “He likes what he sees. Bruno’s killing it. If we just let him be, he’ll get the job.”

“I’m sorry; am I directing too loud for you?” Les called from the stage. Directors can be, perhaps, a little dramatic. And don’t get me started on human actors. There’s a reason I deal with clients who don’t talk back. In words.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t always pertain to their owners. “The guy’s a hack,” Trent whispered back, not as quietly, drawing a look from Les. “I could direct better than this, and I’ve never directed anything in my life.”

Louise, who had moved down to a seat right behind Trent and me, added, “It’s true. Never.”

“Well, Les has,” I said. “Just let Bruno show him what he can do. Bruno is a natural.”

I’d only been representing Bruno for a week, literally, when the call came in that Les McMaster was looking for a dog to replace the dog playing Sandy in his current huge hit revival of Annie. Word was that if the dog given the part worked out, he might be considered for the film version, which Les was also set to direct. This was the kind of opportunity that an agent like me—or even one with human clients—can’t possibly pass up. I had considered passing over Bruno, a dog I hadn’t seen really work before, but I’d taken a shot and it seemed to be paying off.

If only Trent Barclay could keep his yap shut.

After a few more minutes of audition, with me watching Trent, not Bruno (as I should have been) and resisting the impulse to dig my fingernails into the back of his hand as a warning, Les walked to the skirt of the stage and talked directly to me. “This is a really smart dog,” he said.

“Of course he is,” Trent said, usurping the agent (that’s me) and worse, annoying the director. Again. “He can do anything.”

Les didn’t move his gaze from mine. “So I’d like to talk to you about him.”

“Of course,” I said, not giving Trent time to react. “Let’s talk.” I stood up and started up the steps to the stage.

“Shouldn’t we be there?” Louise asked. “He’s our dog, after all.”

I should have seen that coming, I’ll admit. Louise was the “creative” end of the team, having rescued Bruno from a shelter and taught him any number of interesting “tricks.” Trent, on the other hand, was the “business” end, keeping the appointment calendar for Bruno and, one assumes, the books once he started earning a salary. The fact that a dog as good as Bruno hadn’t yet gotten a job in show business was the reason they’d come to me in the first place.

“Don’t worry, Louise,” I said as sunnily as I could. “Nothing happens unless you agree and sign on later. But for starters, this is something Les and I do by ourselves. You take Bruno home now, and I’ll call you later, okay?”

“Oh, we’ll stay here,” she answered. “So you can get to us right away. Why wait, right?” She and Trent sat down in their theater seats, looking at the set, which was made up as the orphanage from which Annie would eventually be rescued by Oliver Warbucks. They looked unmovable. Nobody made so much as a gesture to Bruno, who was sitting on the stage looking at his owners and probably wondering if Daddy Warbucks was going to come rescue him too.

I turned away from them, gave Les a look of conspiracy, and walked onto the stage, toward Bruno. I gave him a liver treat from my pocket and rubbed the especially smooth fur on the top of his head. Bruno sat happily and made a satisfied sound in his throat.

“Look, I think the dog is perfect,” Les said. “But I’m not sure I’m going to cast him.”

“Why not?” I asked, scruffing Bruno under his chin.

“Do you really have to ask?” Les countered, looking out into the house.

“I’ll keep them away from you,” I promised.

“Yes, you will,” the director agreed. “Because I’m going to have it written into the contract.”

I stopped petting Bruno for a moment, and he tilted his head up at me. Hey! Lady! You’re supposed to be paying attention to me, remember? “You’re going to … Les, why not just trust me?” I asked.

“Because it’s too big a risk. We’ve only worked together once, and that was, well, it wasn’t your fault, but still.” It was true; I’d found Les a monkey for one of his rare misfires, a musical of Around the World in 80 Days. The monkey had stolen Phileas Fogg’s glasses, which normally wouldn’t have been a problem. But the respected British actor (let’s just say his first name is “Sir”) playing Fogg had been slumming in this tawdry musical and had written his lines on various pieces of paper he’d cleverly concealed around the set. Without his glasses, he had no idea what to say next.

And the sad part was, that was the highlight of the show.

“I can handle Trent and Louise,” I assured him.

“It’ll be in the contract, or I’ll look for another dog,” Les said. “That’s it.”

And that was it. He walked off the stage. I got Bruno’s leash from the chair we’d dropped it on when we’d entered, and Trent bounded up without helping Louise, who lagged behind pretty badly.

“So?” Trent demanded. “Do we have the contract? Let me take a look at it; I went to law school for a year.” That was interesting, since I knew he’d made what money he had funding Internet businesses that usually folded in a year or less.

I went to law school for all three years and actually passed the bar in New York state, but hey; why quibble? “Well, he’s offering Bruno the role,” I said. “We just have to go over some of the particulars.”

Trent’s eyes narrowed to slits and Louise’s took on the emotional depth of a great white shark. “Particulars?” he said with a tone I didn’t care for and at a volume I preferred he not reach.

I didn’t know if Les was still within earshot, and empty stages have a tendency to echo. So I assessed the situation and made a decision. “Let’s go backstage and see where Bruno would be most of the time,” I said. “Every theater is different.”

Before either of them could protest, I took Bruno’s leash and led him toward the wings, from which we could access the backstage. The two other humans had no choice but to follow me; their moneymaker was literally walking away from them.

We walked toward the dressing rooms, and I found one whose door was unlocked, and opened it. Bruno walked in. I let go of his leash, and being the excellent dog he was, he sat down next to one of the two makeup tables and looked attentive. Trent barreled in behind us, and Louise, looking like a headlight-caught deer, followed.

“What’s this about particulars?” Trent snarled. A Broadway director was going to cast his dog in a hit musical and he was upset about details.

“It’s very simple, and not a big deal,” I began. “Les wants to be able to direct Bruno in a way that makes all the actors comfortable and lets them keep the blocking they’ve already established, and he needs to do it quickly, because the dog playing the part now is leaving on Tuesday.” This was Thursday. There really wasn’t much time.

“So?” Trent led me. He wasn’t being taken in by my assertion that this wasn’t something for him to get upset about.

“So he wants time with Bruno alone. And that means he wants me to bring Bruno here every morning and pick him up after rehearsals and performances.” That sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? I mean, I’m asking you.

I wasn’t asking Trent or Louise, because I knew what their response would be, and that’s what I got back. “You mean he doesn’t want us around?” Trent’s voice was rising in pitch and volume.

“We can’t even be here when he’s rehearsing?” Louise threw in. I got the impression she was less disturbed than confused.

“It’s a simple request he’s making in the contract,” I said in my calmest tone. “It’s something I’d advise you to accept, because this can launch a career for Bruno. Les McMaster—”

“Les McMaster is a hack!” Trent’s voice echoed through the crowded room to the degree that Louise took a step back, dislodging a jar of cold cream from one of the makeup tables. It fell to the floor, but luckily was made of plastic. A little cold cream did spurt out the top and land on the floor, though. “He couldn’t direct a grade-school production about dental health!”

“Please keep your voice down,” I said, noting a change in the light at the foot of the closed door. “He might be able to hear you.”

Let him hear me!” Trent was drunk with whatever power he’d decided he had. “My dog wouldn’t work with him if he were the last director on Earth!”

“Trent.” Funny, I didn’t remember saying that. Oh! That was because the voice was Louise’s. “Get off your high horse. The man’s offering us money for a dog to sit and stay.”

“That dog is talented!” Trent was on a roll. “That dog is an artist.”

“Oh, knock it off,” his wife responded. “This is all about you, as usual. You don’t want to give up control to someone who actually knows what he’s doing.”

Trent stared at her with an expression that might as well have had daggers and nuclear warheads emanating from his eyes. He raised his hand reflexively, as if to strike her, but stopped when I gasped. Louise simply glared at him. But he said nothing. He turned and walked out the door.

Louise turned toward me. “Don’t let this spook you, Kay,” she said. “He does this all the time.” Swell. I couldn’t wait to work with him more. “I’ll handle him.”

“You sure?” I asked. “That looked…” My voice trailed off.

“He’d never really do anything like that, believe me. Just give us a call tomorrow. I’ll get him to sign the contract.” She took Bruno’s leash from the floor, and the dog, a total trouper, got up and followed her out with a serene look on his face.

I left the dressing room (after picking up the jar of cold cream and putting it back on the table) and went into the hallway leading toward the stage door. I thought I saw a man’s leg turning the corner as I walked out. Trent? Les? Could Les have heard all the screaming? Was it possible he hadn’t?

It’s not often I talk to myself, but this was one such occasion.

“Well, that could have gone better,” I said.



Copyright © 2017 E. J. Copperman.

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E. J. Copperman is someone you could sit down and have a beer with, if that’s your thing. Or a hot chocolate. Or a diet soda. Actually, you can have anything you want as long as you don’t care what E. J. is drinking.

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