Tender Is the Bite by Spencer Quinn: New Excerpt
By Crime HQJuly 1, 2021
The woman looked up at Bernie. Something about her face, turned up like that, made an impression on him. I can feel those impressions happening in Bernie, but what they are exactly is something I find out later or not at all.
“No, it was a good joke,” she said, agreeing with me. I was already liking her, and now I liked her more. “I feel so stupid.”
“Why?” said Bernie.
The woman’s eyes shifted the way human eyes sometimes do when the mind is delivering news. “Because I thought I was in control of the situation and I wasn’t,” she said. “The usual story.”
“Not your fault,” he said. “We’re professionals when it comes to following and being followed.”
She shot me a quick glance. “You meaning you and Chet?” she said.
Bernie smiled. “That’s us,” he said. “Chet and Bernie, in that order.” He handed her our card, the one with the flowers. Instead of flowers, why not the .38 Special? But the card was designed by Suzie, back when she and Bernie were together, so that was that. As the ponytail woman took the card, sunlight flashed on a diamond ring on one of her fingers. I knew diamond rings from an unfortunate incident where a former client’s diamond ring had gotten buried somewhere in her garden, the precise location proving a bit elusive. Buried things have a way of changing positions underground, one of those things you learn in this business. But the point was that the ponytail woman’s ring was bigger than the one I’d—the one that had somehow gone missing, I hoped not forever. Meanwhile, Bernie, too, noticed the ring, and the ponytail woman noticed him noticing it and quickly withdrew her hand and laid it in her lap.
“And your name, if you don’t mind me asking?” Bernie said.
“I—I’m not ready,” she said. She glanced around. “Is there somewhere we can talk?”
Bernie gestured toward the park. There were some benches nearby, all empty. Bench-sitters often chowed down on snacks—or even a whole meal!—meaning under benches is good territory if scraps are an interest of yours. I was already leaning that way when the woman shook her head.
“Somewhere private,” she said.
“We could go to our place,” said Bernie.
“Oh no,” the woman said. “Isn’t there somewhere where no one . . .” She went silent.
“Who are you afraid of?” Bernie said.
“I didn’t say I was afraid of anyone.”
Bernie nodded. He has many nods, meaning all sorts of things. This particular nod—just a tiny movement, eyes with an inward look—meant he wasn’t buying it.
“How about you come with us?” he said. “We can just drive around and talk.”
She glanced back at the Porsche. “Where will I sit?”
“In front, of course,” Bernie said. “Chet’ll be happy on the shelf in back.”
Was . . . was there some other Chet suddenly in the picture? What a strange thought! There was only one Chet, and that one Chet, I knew for a fact, would not be happy on the shelf, not now, not yesterday, not tomorrow or whatever other days were out there.
The woman got out of her car and turned toward the Porsche. By that time, I was around to her side—to greet her, you might say. She sort of bumped into me, a gentle bump. How anxious she was! I nuzzled against her. Don’t ask me why.
She looked down at me, her eyes big and oh so blue. Then she touched my head, her hand a little unsteady.
“Hop in, um, ah . . . ,” Bernie said.
“Mavis.” She climbed in, only to find that I was already in the shotgun seat myself! How the hell had that happened? I had no memory whatsoever of getting in the car. Life was full of surprises, most of them very nice. And here was another: Mavis squeezed past and took her rightful place on the little shelf without a word of complaint. I was liking her more and more, and gave her one of my friendliest looks, showing pretty much all my teeth.
Bernie sat in the driver’s seat. “Mavis what?” he said.
At that moment, Mavis noticed something on the floor. She picked it up: a small rectangle—about the size of a bumper sticker—with writing on it. We already had a Max’s Memphis Ribs bumper sticker on the car, and this one on the floor didn’t look nearly as interesting, lacking a picture of ribs glistening on a hot grill. But this new bumper sticker was a big problem. How had it gotten into the car? I’m in charge of security, and that means I track every single thing in the car, coming and going, and I had no memory of this new bumper sticker.
Mavis didn’t look happy about it either. Her eyes narrowed and then filled with fear. The smell of her fear filled the car, and very quickly. She gazed—almost in horror—at the back of Bernie’s head.
“Meaning, what’s your last name?” Bernie said, not turning around.
“Oh my god!” Mavis said. “What the hell am I doing?” She dropped the bumper sticker back on the floor, rose, and jumped out of the car.
She ran to the Kia, an unsteady kind of run, almost losing her balance. What was going on? Was she a client? This wasn’t normal client behavior—maybe later in a case, yes, but not at the very start. She got in her car and slammed the door.
“Wait!” Bernie called.
Mavis took off, pulling into the street and speeding down the block. Bernie! Let’s go! On the stick!
But Bernie just sat there. “What happened?” he said. He watched until Mavis was out of sight. “Any point in chasing after her?”
Any point in chasing after somebody? I didn’t understand the question.
“We’ll only scare her more,” Bernie said. “Easy there, Chet.”
I seemed to be up on my hind legs, my front paws on Bernie’s shoulder, my face kind of in his. I got that straightened out, and pronto.
“She’ll get in touch when she’s ready.” He winked at me. I love the human wink—one of their very best moves—and Bernie’s is off the charts. “And if not, we’ve got her plate number.”
We did? Wow. He took out a pen and wrote on the base of his thumb. That was Bernie. Just when you think he’s done amazing you, he amazes you again.
“Did you notice that diamond ring?” he said as we drove off.
For sure! Am I a pro or not?
“Looked like an engagement ring, but not worn on the ring finger. What’s that about?”
Ring finger? The ring had been on one of her fingers, no doubt in my mind. How else could she have worn it? I gave Bernie a long look, which he missed, his eyes on the road. No one could be amazing 24-7. I decided we were in a little dip between amazements.