The Twelve Dogs of Christmas by David Rosenfelt is book #15 in the Andy Carpenter series (Available October 11, 2016).
Defense lawyer Andy Carpenter usually tries to avoid taking on new cases at all costs. But this time, he’s happy—eager, even—to take the case that’s just come his way. Andy’s long-time friend Martha “Pups” Boyer takes in stray puppies that the local dog rescue center can’t handle, raises them until they’re old enough to adopt, and then finds good homes for them. Not everyone admires the work Pups does as much as Andy does, however. With Christmas just around the corner, one of Pups’s neighbors has just reported Pups to the city for having more than the legal number of pets in her home under the local zoning laws.
Andy happily takes Pups’s case, and he feels confident in a positive outcome. Who could punish someone for rescuing puppies, after all, especially at Christmastime? But things get a lot more complicated when Randy Hennessey, the neighbor who registered the complaint against Pups, turns up dead. Pups had loudly and publicly threatened Hennessey after he filed his complaint, and Pups was also the one to find his body. All the evidence seems to point to Pups as the killer, and suddenly Andy has a murder case on his hands. He doesn’t believe Pups could be guilty, but as he starts digging deeper into the truth behind Hennessey’s murder, Andy may find himself facing a killer more dangerous than he ever imagined.
“You looking for work?”
The guy in the pickup asked the question, but he had to have already known the answer. He was at the convenience store on the edge of town where the young men hung out when they needed money and were willing to spend the day working for it.
Day laborers didn’t earn much, but they didn’t need much: a roof over their head, something to eat, and, more often, something to drink—that’s it. And at this time of year, the roof wasn’t even that necessary. So they would arrive early in the day and wait, and locals who needed to hire them would drive up and pick them out, as if from a lineup.
Chip didn’t get picked much, because he was thin and pale and didn’t possess the obvious physical strength of some of the others. That’s why on this particular morning, on a hot July day almost two years ago, he was one of the last few left.
People called him Chip—when they bothered to call him anything—because he had noticeable chips in his two front teeth. He never used his real name, because there was no need to. He wasn’t voting or getting a credit card, a passport, or anything. He was as anonymous and untracked as one can be in the modern, data-driven world.
But no one can be completely anonymous, and no one exists that can’t be tracked.
There were two of them in the front cabin of the truck, which meant that Chip had to climb onto the back. That was OK; it was over ninety degrees out, and the wind felt good in his face. He didn’t know what they were hiring him to do, but he hoped it wasn’t too arduous. It would be, of course; otherwise, they would do it themselves.
Chip wasn’t feeling that great: his stomach had been bothering him for a couple of weeks—some shooting pains, maybe one every couple of hours—but he had no money to see a doctor. He’d heard politicians talking about universal health care, but it would have to be really universal before it found its way down to him.
The truck turned east, which told Chip that the work would be construction-related rather than agricultural. The farmland was to the west, and he was pleased that they were not going there. Chip hated farm labor, so he was happy it was obviously not in the cards for him this day.
They arrived at a construction site that looked abandoned. It was not exactly a shock that it was abandoned; there was nothing around it for miles. The site looked like it might have been the shell of a small strip mall. Maybe the people financing it walked away when they realized that building retail stores in a place where there was nobody to buy anything didn’t make that much sense.
The two men got out of the truck, so Chip jumped down as well. “This is it?” Chip said.
The driver nodded. “This is it.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“First things first. What’s your name?”
“People call me Chip.”
“I didn’t ask what people call you. I asked you your name.”
The question puzzled Chip, and maybe worried him a little. He hoped that this guy wasn’t going to pay him by check. There was nothing Chip could do with a check. “You mean my real name?” he asked.
“Now you got it. What’s your real name?”
“It doesn’t matter,” Chip said.
“It matters to me.”
Chip had no idea why it would be of any importance, but he told the man his real name. He hadn’t used it in years; he had no reason to, and it sounded somewhat strange as he said it.
What would have seemed even stranger, had Chip been able to reflect on it, was that his name coming out of his mouth would be the last words he’d ever hear.
The man from the passenger seat, who hadn’t said a word, had a gun in his hand that Chip had not seen. He calmly used it to shoot Chip three times, a perfect triangle centered at the heart.
The two men calmly took the wallet off Chip’s lifeless body and then lowered him into the grave that had already been dug.
They covered it over and then went back to his boarding house room, to see what else they could find and use.
Copyright © 2016 David Rosenfelt.
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David Rosenfelt is the Edgar-nominated and Shamus Award-winning author of several stand-alone thrillers and more than a dozen Andy Carpenter novels, including Outfoxed. He and his wife live in Maine with their ever-changing pack of rescue dogs.