OF SAINTS AND ANGELS
"Something smells great!" Sabrina said, stretching, as she walked into the kitchen. Kelly was already halfway through her coffee and looked far more awake than she.
"Yeah," said Kelly coyly, "Öit smells like sex." She reached out a hand to pull Sabrina closer. "How did you sleep?"
"To be honest, I donít really remember the sleep Ė just what came before it." She kissed the tangled top of Kellyís head and moved towards the stove. "Mmm. Pancakes? With real maple syrup? Youíre going to spoil me."
"What can I tell you?" Kelly leaned back in her chair. "Iím the last of the big spendersÖ or, to be honest, I should confess to three things I absolutely cannot abide in imitation form: maple syrup, butter, and designer jeans."
"But imitation designer shoes are okay? You feel all right about those Gucci knock-offs youíve been strutting around in?"
Kelly wagged a finger at her in mock horror. "Donít you ever accuse me of wearing cheap shoes. Those sandals are strictly the real deal. But Iím impressed that you care."
"Well, letís just say Iím learning fast." They smiled at each other as Sabrina helped herself to a thick stack of pancakes.
The two women had been working together for about a month now as private investigators employed by the Charles Townsend agency. After years of putting up with the less-than-enlightened attitude of most of the guys on the L.A.P.D., they had readily accepted Charlieís offer of more challenging work. Plus, since Charlie had some strange vested interest in never meeting them face-to-face Ė preferring to be a voice behind the scenes Ė they were afforded a great deal of independence in their crimesolving. Over the past few weeks, their romantic involvement had blossomed, following the completion of their first case. Charlieís invisibility was proving necessary as they struggled to keep their affair private.
While they didnít think that Bosley, the office manager, had any suspicions about the nature of their relationship, they were more concerned that it might impact their work with the third detective, Jill Munroe. Munroe was a sweet, if slightly vapid, blond California girl who excelled at sports and making male acquaintances. Both Kelly and Sabrina appreciated Jillís sincerity in her work, but had been somewhat taken aback at her naivete. Overly trusting by nature, Jill said that her motto was to "kiss first and ask questions later," which concerned the other detectives as they looked to take on more dangerous cases.
"What are you planning for this morning?" Kelly asked her. "Do you want to go have a swim?"
"Canít," Sabrina replied, shoveling pancakes into her mouth. "I promised my dad Iíd stop by and see him today. Heís been wanting me to visitÖ and Iíve been soÖ well, busy with you, I guessÖ that I havenít taken the time."
"What would he say if you told him how youíve been keeping busy?"
Sabrina looked up from her food and reached across the breakfast table to stroke the side of Kellyís face. "I think heíd say he liked the set of your jaw."
"So Iíll see you this afternoon at the office? Iím anxious to hear what this next case is going to be."
"Yup. And in the meantime, Iíll go try to assuage dear old Dadís worries about the dangers in my line of work."
To Bosleyís annoyance, the Angels were having a difficult time settling down and paying attention to him. A week between cases has muddled them, he thought. Jill kept putting on a dreadfully bad Russian accent, saying things like "I am Munrovski. I am undercover agent spy," with a stern look, and sending Sabrina and Kelly into fits of schoolgirl giggles.
"LadiesÖ ladies," he tried in vain to regain control.
"Oh, címon, Bos, itís been a week since our last case, and we havenít even seen each other," Jill protested. Kelly and Sabrina tried not to meet each otherís eyes Ė they had seen more of each other than they could reveal. Jill turned towards them, folding her legs under her, and spoke excitedly. "Okay, so I went out with this guy other night Ė for the first time, and he was an ex-DodgerÖ and he actually asked me during dinner if he was going to get to home plate! So I was like, ĎYouíre the one who finished your career with only a .220 average Ė so my guess is that the odds arenít in your favor!í"
"Ouch!" Sabrina winced in sympathy for the guy.
"Oh, he deserved it."
"Ladies, Charlie will be calling in any minute. Can I please get you girls to stop recounting your romantic misadventures?"
Jill, rolling her eyes, made a motion of zipping up her lips.
"Hello, Angels," Charlie boomed from the voicebox. "Did you have a restful week off?"
"It sounds like Jillís been busy deflating half the guys in town," Kelly laughed.
"One of the many reasons I keep my identity to myself," chuckled Charlie. "Well, then, if everybodyís ready, Iíd like to go over our next case." Bosley dimmed the lights, as usual, and turned on the slide projector.
The first slide showed an extremely handsome man of about thirty-five. Dressed in a tweed jacket, black turtleneck sweater, and crisp khaki pants, he exuded the refinement of a gentleman farmer. He had his arm around a pretty rust-colored dog.
"Looks like someone Iíd like to get to know," observed Jill.
"Him or the dog?" Kelly joked.
"Both, preferably." Jill flashed her toothsome smile. Bosley shot her an exasperated look.
"This, Angels, is Kurt Jamison and his champion Irish setter, St. Brendan the Voyager, call name Saint. Kurt breeds dogs for a living and also shows horses. Saint has consistently won almost every top award in his group at the major dog shows Ė Westminster, most importantly, but others, too. Heís a four-year old stud dog who is descended from a champion line dating back more than eighty years. Thereís only one problem Ė as of two days ago, heís missing from Jamisonís farm."
"Did he run off?" asked Kelly.
"Itís not likely. The farm is several hundred acres, but the five acres where Jamisonís dogs usually run free are fenced in. The groom and the handler donít recall having him out of their sight. And at night, Saint usually curls up at the foot of Kurtís bed."
"Lucky dog," Jill smirked.
"Aside from being a great companion, Saint makes Jamison a lot of money every time he wins another blue ribbon Ė through stud fees and also through the sale of his pups. Jamison suspects that someone may have kidnapped him, not to hurt him, but to keep him out of the Pacific Coast dog show that is being held in ten days."
"So weíre looking at some of the other breeders? People who might have had a grudge against Jamison?" Sabrina turned towards the voicebox.
"Iíve heard that some dog owners have insurance policies on them in case of something like this happening," Kelly commented. "Do we know if Jamison had a policy on Saint? Something he could stand to profit from should Saint get kidnapped or die?"
"Thatís certainly an angle we need to consider, Angel. And remember Ė he may have hired us, but he may still be a suspect, so we should tread cautiously."
"Where do we begin, Charlie?"
"Well, Jill, Iíd like you to act as a new groomer and veterinary assistant on the show circuit. Youíll work with Jamisonís current handler and groomer to get a sense of what he knows Ė and figure out if theyíre trustworthy Ė and to understand what kinds of rivalries they might be privy to beyond Jamisonís knowledge."
"With all the time she spends on her hair, Charlie, she ought to be a natural at grooming," Kelly joked. Jill threw a pillow at her.
"Sabrina, youíll be posing as a journalist from Vanity Fair, doing a feature piece on the world of the professional dog show. Youíll be speaking more to the owners and breeders, as well as the sponsors of the events. Iíve arranged for a press pass for you for the show, but in the meantime, put on your best cocktail dress and start circulating among the dog show society." Sabrina, clad in her favorite jeans and caftan top, rolled her eyes at having to dress up for her assignment.
"Whatís my cover, Charlie?" Kelly asked. "Iíd make a great standard poodle."
"You, Angel, get to stay close to Kurt Jamison. You can stay in one of his well-appointed guest rooms. I want you to find out if he has enemies or business associates outside the dog show world who might try to hurt him. Get close to him Ė find out what you can about his investments and his social life."
"Why does she get to be the lucky one?" Jill complained.
"Now, now, Angels, I donít play favorites," Charlie cautioned. "Good luck. Stay in close contact with each other and with Bosley. Report to me in a couple of days."
At her apartment the next morning, Kellyís best clothes were strewn all over her bed as she tried to determine what to bring to Jamisonís house. She chattered nonstop as she pulled clothes from the closet. Their labels represented an A-list of haute fashion: St. Laurent and de la Renta cocktail dresses, two Diane von Furstenburg wrap dresses and three blouses, and her personal favorite, an elegant red halter dress by Halston.
"I thought I was the one who was going to be hitting the cocktail circuit." Sabrina fingered the red dress nervously. "Why so formal, Kel?"
Kelly seemed oblivious to Sabrinaís anxiety. "Oh, come on, Bri! I get the chance to stay in a big, beautiful house with aÖ"
"Big, beautiful guy," Sabrina finished, not meeting Kellyís eyes.
"Kurt Jamison? I havenít even met him yet." She pulled a garment bag over the dresses. "Are you jealous or something?"
"OhÖ no." She tried to shrug it off. "Just sorry that Iím not going to see you for a few days, I guess."
Kelly took Sabrinaís hands in hers and sat them both down on top of the bed. "We agreed that we wouldnít let our feelings for each other interfere with our work."
"Itís not interfering," she bluffed.
"Look, itís been a reallyÖ intense couple of weeks for us. Maybe for me especially." Kelly smiled, gently pulling on the drawstrings on Sabrinaís yellow hooded sweatshirt. "And I care about you a great deal. But slowing things down for a little while will allow both of us to think about what weíre doing Ė personally and professionally."
"Plus, youíre saying you want the chance to wear some of these."
"Well, my clothes have been off of me more than theyíve been on lately. And you know it." Kelly stood up and smoothed out the peasant pants. "Now let me pack. You should go home and do the same so weíre ready for tonight."
"Not just yet." Sabrina brushed aside the clothes and pulled Kelly back down on the bed, deftly unbuttoning Kellyís blouse and straddling her legs. "I think I need one for the road."
Kellyís Mustang pulled up in front of the enormous Tudor-style house several hours later. Like so many California mansions, its classic British architectural style contrasted somewhat with the flora and fauna of California. Still, it was an impressive estate, and Kelly admired the craftsmanship. An older gentleman greeted her at the door.
"Ms. Garrett?" His Adamís apple was pronounced in his gaunt neck.
"Hello." She extended her hand. "So pleased to be here. Itís really quite a striking home."
"Yes, Mr. Jamison has been quite happy with it. He asked that I escort you in. My name is Peters."
He ushered her into a well-appointed foyer that exuded elegance; Kelly marveled at the lead crystal chandelier over her head, the mahogany woodwork and crown molding, and the antique Persian rugs under her feet. An arrangement of delicate roses gave off a heady bouquet. Peters escorted Kelly up the grand staircase to a charmingly furnished room with a four-poster bed. A small sitting area overlooked the expansive green fields washed by late afternoon sun.
"This is positively lovely." Kelly admired the view. In the distance, she could see the figure of a man strolling across the pastoral landscape towards the house. Quickly, two dogs appeared behind him, running at full speed.
"That will be Mr. Jamison coming back home now," said Peters. "Please do feel free to take a few minutes to yourself before you meet him in the library downstairs." He excused himself.
Kelly could hear Kurt whistling and talking to the dogs as he approached. In spite of Saintís disappearance, he seemed quite relaxed. She met him downstairs in the library. Despite the pretense of being a stuffy estate, the mansion was quite comfortable Ė and it quickly became clear that Kurt Jamisonís dogs were welcome most anywhere and everywhere he was, though not on the leather sofas and chairs in the library. The two setters stood up and wagged their tails as Kurt introduced himself.
"Hi, Kelly. ItísÖ wow, a real pleasure. Letís just say that I expectedÖ something different when I hired a private eye." He shook her hand warmly. His picture had not done him justice; he was more broadly built than the photo had revealed, and his tanned skin and sun-bleached hair only highlighted his classic athletic, Californian look. "This is Zoe Ė well, Zodiac Carmel Sunshine." He patted the dog on the side and she enthusiastically wagged her tail. "She gets a little upset when I use her nickname in public," he whispered confidentially. "She wants everyone to know sheís proud to have a hippie name. And this is Marin, or should I say Marin Mariner. But I donít expect you to call them by their show names."
Kelly was charmed by his quirky sense of humor and his obvious affection for Zoe and Marin. "Iím so sorry to hear that Saintís disappeared," she said.
"Well, Iím pretty brokenhearted about it, as you can imagine, and you wouldnít believe the effect itís having on these two. Theyíre not sure how to behave without him!" He and Zoe come from the same litter, and he and Marin have had several wonderful pups since she moved in last year. Iím hoping theyíll have the chance to mate again. I do have three other dogs, as well, but theyíre quite young, and we havenít started showing them yet."
"I guess we should discuss the details of how and why you think Saint was stolen Ė if indeed he was." Kelly sank into the leather sofa, reminding herself not to be too charmed by Jamison, as he might still be a suspect.
"I think he had to have been kidnapped Ė dognapped Ė however you want to put it. These dogs are extremely well-trained; other than getting distracted by the occasional squirrel or bird, they donít run off for more than a couple of minutes at a time. And the time window when I think he must have disappeared was between 9:00 and 11:00 in the morning Ė I was in town then, so I suspect that whoever did this knew my schedule." He sighed. "I donít want to think that it was one of my associates here, but I suppose I have to consider that possibility."
"Who reported him missing? Who was the last person to see him?"
"One of the local handlers, Ron Budley, came by to work with Saint on his agility exercises. He called up here to the house at about 11:15 to ask if Saint wasnít feeling well and if he was with me. I said that I hadnít seen him since 8:30, when Daryl Manning Ė thatís the regular handler and groomer Ė stopped by to pick him up and take him for a bath."
"Tell me, Kurt," she leaned over towards him. "Who do you think would want to hurt you or Saint?"
"Thatís what I canít figure." He looked so genuinely upset that Kelly wanted to hug him. "You have to understand Ė Saint is a champion, so I Ė or whomever has him Ė stands to make a bit of money from his sire fees and by selling his pups. But heís my companion, too. Even if I could never breed him again, Iíd want him to be here, by my side."
"Iíll start asking some questions around here. And, as you know, Charlieís other two detectives will be working closely with us, too. In fact, Jill Munroe will be working closely with Daryl. Sabrina Duncan is the other detective on the case Ė sheíll be posing as a journalist doing a story on the West Coast dog circuit." Kelly realized as she spoke Sabrinaís name that she hadnít thought about her all afternoon. Almost without thinking, she brushed her fingers under her nose and realized there was still a faint scent of the morningís lovemaking on them.
"Tell Jill to be careful," Kurt insisted. "Daryl always seems a little hot under the collarÖ plus, heís newÖ as of about three months ago. And yet, heís been a great handler and groomer. Hired him on the recommendation of my previous handler, who, Iím sorry to say, decided to seek more arid pastures at a big Arizona kennel. So Iím not really sure what to think anymore." Clapping his hands together, he stood up and gestured for her to follow him. "How about you join me for a quick and very casual dinner before we have to make an appearance at this ridiculous party?"
"Iíd love to," she answered sincerely, and let him escort her into the kitchen, where he fixed them some quick sandwiches and salad.
"Peters doesnít cook for you?"
"Nah, heís just here during the day to help out with the upkeep of this big houseÖ having him here is actually kind of a favor to my parents, who originally hired him back when I was a kid. He seems to enjoy the company and having something to do. He was widowed a few years back, so heís kind of lonely. Plus I love to cook. Not that this is exactly a gourmet meal. More just a bite on the run."
"Well, it still hits the spot."
They chatted for awhile and each had a glass of an excellent local Chardonnay. And after discovering that she was an accomplished equestrian, he promised to take her for a ride along the bridle trails during her visit. Kelly detected a hint of loneliness in Kurt, although she told herself it might have something to do with Saintís disappearance. She was well aware, too, of his flirtatious manner with her Ė how quick he seemed to be to touch her arm or offer a gentle smile. Despite her relationship with Sabrina, she couldnít help but be flattered and more than a little intrigued by Kurt.
After dinner, Kelly excused herself to change. As she put on her makeup, she let herself be briefly distracted by the faint scent of Sabrina that lingered on her fingers, even after such a long day. But she had business to attend to. Kurt had said that the party would be one of the weekís more casual events, so Kelly opted for a simple evening dress Ė no need to bring out the designer stuff tonight, she figured. Still, she took enough pride in constructing the outfit, and Kurtís face lit up as she walked down the stairs to the foyer an hour later. He, too, looked especially handsome in a nicely tailored suit and tie, and he escorted her to his car, a little black Mercedes roadster.
"Weíll keep the top up tonight," he said. "Iím sure you donít want to be all windblown when we arrive."
"So," she said, smoothing her dress as she sat down. "Remind me again whose party this is, and how some of the different players figure into your world."
"Charlotte Whittaker is tonightís hostess. Sheís a retired judge; used to judge the sporting group at most of the major shows. Sheís definitely from the old guard of the show world Ė those women with lots of East Coast money who bred dogs and judged shows as a socially approved pastime. Every year, she hosts the first party of the show season for those, like her, who are transplanted Yankees. And she invites a few select native Californians, such as myself, whom she considers her social equals." He navigated the sharp curves of the road with ease.
"Charlotteís tried to be a friend to me, insofar as she knows how. Certainly, it doesnít hurt my chances of having my dogs judged well to be associated with her. As for the others who will be at the party, youíll be amazed Ė itís a veritable sea of blue-haired, well-established folks whose place on the social register is well-assured. Iím afraid you wonít find too many leads about Saint at this particular party. But Iíll be sure to introduce you to everyone."
Kelly caught Sabrinaís eye across the room as she and Kurt entered the house and exchanged pleasantries with the assembled guests and with the esteemed Miss Whittaker, who was every bit the stout and imposing East Coast matron Kurt had described. As they circulated the party, Sabrina couldnít help but notice that Kurt kept a gentle hand on Kelly. She found herself downing three gin and tonics in rapid succession, annoyed that Kelly looked so comfortable in her cover, and even more annoyed with herself that these pangs of jealousy were so distracting. Kurt and Kelly finally approached her and the gentleman with whom she had been having a benign and tedious conversation about what qualities constituted champion-quality conformation in a Labrador Retriever.
"Good evening." Kurt offered a strong hand for her to shake. "Kurt Jamison. And may I present Kelly Garrett."
"Sabrina Duncan," Bri replied, not pulling her hand away from Kellyís too quickly. "Iím so pleased to be here. The staff of Vanity Fair offers its gratitude. We look forward to an insightful piece. Thank you so much for arranging my access to this event."
Wow Ė sheís good when sheís formal, thought Kelly, a little distracted herself by the sight of Sabrina in a well-tailored silk shirtdress.
"Ernest MacDonald," the old man coughed into his handkerchief and shook Kellyís hand. "I was just chatting with Ms. Duncan to offer my opinion on the Labrador. After twenty years breeding and judging, I was explaining how the breed has changed. I hope she has found it helpful."
"Oh Ė extremely," Bri lied, patting him gently on the shoulder. "And Ms. Garrett? What brings you here? Are you and Mr. Jamison both breeders?"
"Kurt and I are old college friends," Kelly smiled. "Heís so distraught over the disappearance of his best setter that he asked me to visit in hopes that I might offer a little sympathy."
"Well, Iím sure your presence has been remarkablyÖ helpful," hissed Sabrina with a sneering smile. Kelly glared.
"Oh, yes, oh yes," Mr. MacDonald chimed in. "Thatís right, it was your dog thatís gone missing. Have you any idea of whether or not thereís been foul play?"
"Well, I would certainly hate to think so." Kurt furrowed his brow. "But I suppose I have to consider it. The timing is just too coincidental. Now, Mr. MacDonald" Ė he put his hand on the older manís shoulders Ė I would absolutely love to hear your opinion of the Labrador. Perhaps we could refill our drinks. That is, if youíll excuse us, ladies."
"Oh, but of course."
"Youíre looking greatÖ and pretty cozy with Kurt," Sabrina noted ruefully, trying to resist her impulse to suck down another gin and tonic.
"Heís a nice man. Really considerate." Kelly looked thoughtfully in Kurtís direction. "Seems lonely, maybe, but it might just be that Saintís gone. And he made me dinner, too."
"And in the midst of all of this soul-baring, did you actually get around to discussing the case? Or were you too busy figuring out how much cleavage you wanted to show him?"
"Hey," Kelly snapped, her hand firmly on Sabrinaís arm. "Are you drunk, jealous, or both? I am here to work. Donít go reading more into this than there is. Iíve only known the guy for a few hours."
"DrunkÖ jealousÖ I donít know. Annoyed, mostly. Iíve only been at this party for an hour and am already bored stiff by this whole scene. Plus, these heels are killing me. I donít know how you walk around in these things all day." Sabrina made a dismissive motion with her hand.
"Yeah, so youíve mentioned before. Look, cool it, okay? Youíre supposed to be the calm one. There must be people here who can help us out Ė who know Kurt pretty well, and who know something about Irish Setters. I have to say I donít think we should be looking at Kurt as a suspect. He did mention that Daryl Ė his new handlerĖ is a hothead. Kurt doesnít seem to trust him too much."
"Whenís Jill supposed to arrive? Sheíll be working with Daryl."
"Well, I guess Iíd better circulate. Iím sorry, Kel Ė I donít mean to come off as jealous. Guess Iíve just been having too much fun lately." Sabrina squeezed her hand gently.
"I can still smell you on me," Kelly whispered into Sabrinaís ear, making Sabrina shiver deliciously. She took a deep breath, and was about to tell Kelly how much she wanted her when someone tapped her shoulder.
"Sabrina, right?" Sabrina turned around to see a rather stocky woman with closely cropped blondish gray hair. She shook Sabrinaís hand furiously. "Good to see you again. How you been?"
"FineÖ" Sabrina began tentatively, trying to place her. "Iím really sorryÖ but Iím not sure I remember how I know you."
"Itís Barb. You knowÖ from the softball team? League party a couple summers ago?" Her accent was as thick as molasses.
Sabrina tried not to notice Kelly smirking into her drink, making the connection before she did herself. "Oh, yes. Barb. How are you?" She swallowed hard.
It was coming back to her now Ė slowly and painfully, by God, but it was coming back Ė the last minute invitation from a friend "to get your sorry ass out of the house for a night," then retching in the parking lot from too much cheap keg beer, the ride home in Barbís Nova, listening to her sing along to Janis Ianís "At Seventeen," the clumsy, drunken fumblings on Barbís waterbed, the shame with which she gathered her clothing off the floor in the morning and skulked home to regain her sobriety and her pride. Barb had called once after that, to see if she wanted to go to a movie, but she had given her some lame excuse about a late shift at the LAPD. Neither had called again.
Barb nervously fiddled with the buttons on her vest. "Good, good. Been working as a handler for some of these show dogs. Mostly spaniels. Iím working with a Clumber Spaniel for this show. Didnít expect to see you here. This isnít exactly your turf, is it?" Sabrina appreciated that Barb was, if nothing else, discreet enough not to mention her occupation.
"Actually, my friend Kurt Jamison thought it might be fun for me to spend a few days circulating among the kennel club cognoscenti. You know, just a chance to get away from the city for a few days."
"Jamison? Heís the guy who had his dog stolen, right? My god, that is such a shame. Iíve got my own suspicions about who might be behind that, but nobodyís wanted to hear them."
Kelly took a renewed interest in the conversation. "Oh, really? Who do you think would want to take Saint?"
Barb lowered her voice and leaned in towards them. "Itís not something I want to discuss here. But there are some shady characters on this circuit. Maybe Sabrina and I could take a walk around the garden, do some catching up."
Sabrina looked to Kelly for help.
Kelly jumped right in. "Iím her partner," she stated matter-of-factly. She stuck out her hand. "Kelly Garrett."
"Partner?" Barb looked confused and surprised.
Kelly leaned down and whispered. "On the case. Weíre trying to figure out who took Saint. Donít blow our cover."
"Oh, right, right. Can I get either of you ladies another drink?" Barb tried to seem casual. "I should really show you the great setup that Charlotte has here for her kennel. Most of the rest of us can only dream of having anything half so nice."
"I think that might be very insightful," Sabrina said loudly. "For my Vanity Fair piece, I mean. You going to join us, Kel?" Sabrina cast a worried glance in Kellyís direction.
"Sure," said Kelly. "Iíd be glad to joinÖooh!" Kurt had snuck up on her from behind and whirled her around with his big hands.
"Youíve got to rescue me," he joked. "That Mr. MacDonald is still going on about the conformation of the Labrador!"
"I was justÖ" Kelly started.
"Come on, there are others you should meet." He took her hand and quickly ushered her away, before Sabrina could urge her to chaperone her own walk with Barb.
Just being on the patio was a welcome relief from the stifling, smoky, and loud interior. She took a deep breath and looked squarely at Barb.
"You wanna show me the kennels?" She clapped her hands together nervously.
"Yeah. Letís go this way. Be careful. Itís not too well lit."
Sabrina could hear the dull roar of the crickets and cicadas, and marveled at how quiet the countryside was; how gentle the air. Why have I always been a city girl? she thought. Maybe I should move up here Ė I could run a little cafť, maybe sponsor poetry readings and womenís retreat weekends. It would be a good life Ė
Barb interrupted her reverie. "Hey, Sabrina? I just want you to know that itís really nice to see you. You lookÖ well, gosh, I canít lie. You look really great. And, heyÖ no hard feelings about that night, right? I think we both just needed a little company."
She was so sincere and genuinely kind that Sabrina reached out and touched her arm gently. "Itís okay. I wasÖ not in a very good frame of mind at that point in my life. Iím sorry I didnít feel ready to go out with you again. Things are more stable now." She smiled at Barb. "Itís nice to see you, too."
They strolled towards the kennels. "So what can you tell us about Saint?"
"Well, the first thing you should know is that Jamison is a real stand-up guy. Anybody with any decency on this circuit speaks really highly of him, even though theyíre jealous that heís had so much success lately. So my guess is someoneís trying to screw him over."
"Any ideas as to who that might be?"
"Heís got a new handler, right? Daryl?"
"Yeah, Kelly mentioned something about that."
"You might want to do some kind of background check on him if you can. About six months ago, he starts coming to all these local shows Ė and talking a pretty good line about how heís been working on some of the big New York area shows and how heís all tight with Rusty Ė but it doesnít seem like anybody thereís really heard of him. And it might just be a gut feeling, but I donít like his attitude."
"Why? What kind of attitude?"
"I saw him backstage at this one show, and he was trying to get this poodle to stay still while he put the ribbons in its tail. It was not cooperating, and I saw him whack it really hard with a brush. The poor dog was yelping and crying. When he saw me watching him, he said, ĎMind your own business, dyke.í Just gave me a bad feeling, you know? I was surprised that Kurt would want to hire a jerk like that."
"Yeah, I can imagine. Do you know how he got involved with Kurt?"
"Well, Kurtís previous handler Ė a guy named Rusty Ė left about a year ago to go be the groom at a much larger kennel in Arizona. Kurt had temporary handlers for awhile, and then three months ago Kurt hires Daryl. Maybe Kurtís too trustingÖ but it just seemed a little too convenient, you know? I mean, sure, there arenít that many people involved in this line of work in the West, so we all get to know each other, but even so, the only connection Daryl has to anyone is to Rusty, and a bunch of stories about all his big-time work on the East Coast. Just strikes me as weird."
"So this guy Rusty Ė is he still around?"
"Well, thatís whatís so strange. He was a real loudmouth, and he had been going on and on about how this opportunity in Arizona was so huge for him. Then no one sees him anywhere on the circuit for awhile. Then he shows up at the Seattle show last month with these gorgeous setters. The youngest one he groomed won best in breed. There was no competition at all. It was considered quite a coup for that dog to win, because it was almost like the dogs that this breeder showedÖ it was called Thunderbird Desert Kennels or something like thatÖ came out of nowhere."
Sabrina looked pensive. They paused for a moment in the dark. "Rusty left a good job as a handler of Irish setters with one of the most well-liked breeders in California to go work with setters in Arizona? Does that happen a lot, that people would move around to work with the same breed but for a different breeder?"
"Occasionally, but usually only if thereís been some kind of fallout between the owner/breeder and the handler. That doesnít tend to happen a lot."
"You said it was almost as if the dogs they showed in Seattle had come out of nowhere? Do these dogs have to register with the AKC if theyíre going to be shown?"
"Yeah, they do," Barb nodded. She could see that Sabrina was trying to fit the pieces together. Having only met her that one previous time, when they were both so drunk and lonely, she found herself even more attracted to this woman before her, whose intense focus and concentration practically radiated heat.
"And do you know of any other setters that have been stolen or are missing?"
"Not around here, not other than Saint."
"Okay. Okay." Barb got the sense that Sabrina was making connections that she herself hadnít quite been able to make.
"You wanna tell me what you think is going on?"
Sabrina put her hands firmly on Barbís shoulders. Barb could see her mind was in overdrive now. "Not until I check some things out. But youíve been a huge help. Really. Iím going to go back inside now. And Iím going to make a few phone calls tomorrow. Keep a low cover, okay?" And with that, she rushed back inside to find Kelly, leaving Barb puzzled and once again alone.
Inside the drawing room, which was fairly sparkling from the ostentatious diamonds dripping from most of the women in attendance, she scanned the room for Kelly and didnít see her or Kurt. She approached Charlotte, the eveningís hostess, who, despite seeming quite tipsy maintained an absolutely erect carriage and a decidedly 1950s Seven Sisters manner of speaking.
"Miss Whittaker," Sabrina extended her hand, "thank you so much for a wonderful evening. Itís been truly enlightening. We at Vanity Fair appreciate your granting us access to this event."
"Youíre very welcome, my dear girl."
"By chance do you know if Mr. Jamison has left the party? I realize there were some additional questions I was hoping to ask him."
"Iím afraid he left about twenty minutes ago with that lovely brunette. Have a good evening, my dear."
Walking out, Sabrina tried not to sulk as she thought about how rude it was for Kelly to leave the party without finding her. Sure, Barbís perspective had been insightful, but otherwise it had not been a good evening. Kelly was probably letting Kurt pour her another glass of good wine and undress her in some stately room, she could feel a blister developing on her right heel from the stupid shoes that she had never worn long enough to break in, and her orange Pinto stuck out like a sore thumb in the midst of all of the sedate blue and black Mercedes and BMW sedans parked around the house. Vanity Fair journalist my ass, she thought ruefully, throwing her high heels into the back seat for the drive back to the hotel. Disco music was being played on every radio station, and she flipped the dial off angrily, unable to bear the shrill falsetto voices of the Bee Gees telling her that she should be dancing.
At Kurtís estate, Kelly was, in fact, being poured more wine, and was trying to shake off his subtle advances. He was too much of a gentleman to be physically forward, but he did keep moving closer to her on the sofa. She was grateful that Zoe and Marin wanted to spread their full bodies in between them; their legs dangled off the sofa. Kurt patted Zoeís belly absentmindedly.
"Itís tough sometimes Ė being alone in this big house." He didnít look directly at Kelly.
"Why are you alone?" Kelly stared at him pensively. "I would expect that someone like you would beÖ well, quite the catch, to be frank."
"Well, unfortunately, when you have money, people can be incredibly deceptive towards you. Thatís a lesson Iíve had to learn the hard way. Iíve had a couple of girlfriends I really cared about, but sooner or later it became clear that they were impressed with my wealth and what kind of access they thought it might give them to a certain lifestyle."
"Thatís a shame. But I wouldnít give up yet."
"Well, itís tough, too, because I tend to keep moving in the same circles. You saw what the crowd at Charlotteís was tonight Ė pleasant enough, but vapid. Shallow. Theyíre fine to share a drink with, but I need a little more substance." He stretched his arms up. "I should stop wallowing in self-pity. Weíll let the dogs out one last time before bed. Are you coming?"
"To bed? With you?" Kelly didnít think he was serious, but couldnít be sure.
He chuckled. "No, Iím not that kind of guy. I move a little more slowly now that Iíve been burned. Just come outside with me and the dogs for a few minutes. We can finish our wine."
They sat close together on the back steps in silence, sipping their wine and gazing at the stars.
"What about you?" he finally asked. She had been waiting for the question for hours.
"Well," Kelly exhaled, "I am actually seeing someone. Itís kind of a new thing for me." Thatís putting it mildly, she thought. "So weíre taking it slow."
"Slow is good," Kurt nodded. It was hard to see him in the dark, but she felt him lean in towards her. She didnít stop him. They kissed sweetly for a minute, enjoying the feel of each otherís mouths. Unlike her experiences with other men, there was no urgency in his manner. Still, she pulled away first. "That was really nice," she said, stroking his face. "But I shouldnít do this. Weíre working together; Iím seeing someoneÖ itís just not a good time."
"I understand. I promise Iíll try to be more of a gentleman while youíre on the case."
She laughed in spite of herself. "Youíve been a perfect gentleman. Thatís why itís so hard to pull back. But I think itís best that I do just that, okay?" They stood up and Zoe and Marin trotted up the back steps. "Goodnight." She hugged him warmly.
"Goodnight," he whispered, squeezing her. "And I hope that your boyfriend knows how lucky he is."
As Kelly prepared for bed, her mind was swirling with hundreds of thoughts about recent events. She thought of Sabrinaís warning to her, that being in a relationship in a woman wasnít a game. Kurtís comment Ė that her boyfriend was a lucky guy Ė was well-intentioned but misguided. What was she supposed to have said? How did lesbians deal with comments like that? And what did it say about her that she had so quickly forgotten about the passionate weeks with Sabrina as soon as Kurt began flirting with her? Why had she let Kurt kiss her? Had Sabrina really slept with that dog handler from the cocktail party? She found herself speaking out loud as she put her head down on the pillow. "Stop it. For Christís sake, youíre on a case."
Kelly awoke the next morning to a knock at the bedroom door and the sound of a badly-imitated Southern drawl outside. From behind the door, Peters called to her.
"Ms. Garrett, you have a phone call. Do you want me to transfer it to the phone in the bedroom?"
"Yes, please." She pulled on a dressing-gown over her pajamas and sat at the desk by the window. She could see Jill Ė the source of the bad Southern drawl Ė clowning around with Zoe and Marin and speaking with a man she assumed was Daryl. The phone rang.
"Hey, Kel. Whyíd you take off without saying goodbye last night? I talked to Barb for awhile and she gave me some ideas of what might be going on. I called the AKC to find out Ö"
"Bri, can you back up a minute? I just woke up, okay?"
"Late night?" Sabrinaís voice was flat.
"Yes, sort of," she snipped. She was not in the mood to answer to Sabrina right now, when she had so many questions in her own mind. "Back to the case. What insight did Barb give you?"
"She said that both Daryl and Kurtís former handler, Rusty, are a little suspicious in their credentials. Rusty works in Arizona now, and after not being on the scene for months, he showed up in Seattle and he and the breeder/handler won best in breed with these Irish setters no one had ever seen before." Sabrina took a deep breath on the other end of the line before continuing her rapid-fire monologue. "Plus, Saintís not the only Irish setter whoís missing. I checked with the AKC this morning, and there are five other dogs around the country Ė two other males and three females Ė also missing in the past two years or so. And then I asked the AKC about what registrations they have for Irish setters from the Thunderbird Desert kennels in Tucson, and it turns out that theyíve only been registering pups with the AKC for the past eighteen months."
"Meaning what, exactly?"
"Iím thinking that this guy Rusty heads up a ring that steals champion setters and then brings them to Arizona to try to breed them with each otherÖ Iím not quite sure. But it seems like the dogs theyíre showing are starting to win best in breed, group, and even best in show pretty regularly."
"Especially without Saint around to be competing against these new super-dogs."
"Yeah, thatís the other piece of it. Is Jill there yet?"
"I can hear that terrible fake Georgia drawl from the window. Sheís here, all right."
"Okay, try to fill her in on what Iíve told you. Iíll let Bos and Charlie know what leads weíre looking at."
"Do we know if Rustyís planning to show at the Pacific show?"
"Maybe Jill can find that out from Daryl. I would assume he is."
"All right Ė Iíd better start my day then."
"Kel Ė I miss you."
"You too," Kelly said.
"Any chance Iíll get to see you tonight?"
"I donít see why not. Kurt said that he had a previous dinner engagement with old friends who are in town for the show. He hasnít invited me yet, so Iím guessing Iím free. Why donít you come over here? Itís an amazing house, and it looks like Iíll be all alone in it for a few hours, at least."
"Okay. Talk to Jill. And Iíll see you later."
When Kelly finally went down to the kennel, she discovered that grooming wasnít coming quite as easily to Jill as she had joked. The blonde was covered in soap suds, and underneath her clingy white t-shirt, wet from the dogsí baths, two dark nipples stood at attention. When she bent over the dogs, her cutoff denim shorts rode up the backs of her thighs, and the view down the front of her shirt was even more revealing. Kelly was disgusted to see that Daryl, a little brick of a man, was leaning against the wall of the kennel and smoking a cigarette, and was clearly more interested in checking out Jillís tanned and wet body than he was in providing grooming instruction.
"Excuse me," Kelly knocked on the open door. "Iím a friend of Mr. Jamisonís."
"Hello there," Daryl offered her an equally leering gaze, absentmindedly scratching at the front of his dirty jeans. "What brings you down here, pretty lady?"
Kelly remained cool in the face of this creepy redneck. "Mr. Jamison would like to meet the new grooming assistant. YouíreÖ Miss Munroe?"
"Why, yess, ah am," drawled Jill. "Ahím so sorry Ah didnít have a chance to meet him earlier in the day. Is he free now?"
Daryl coughed something up and then spit on the floor of the kennel. Kelly pretended not to notice. "I think Miss Munroe ought to stay here and finish what sheís doing. Iíll bring her up when sheís done bathing the dogs."
"Actually, he specifically asked if she could come up now. He and I have a lunch date, so heíll be leaving the estate shortly. Miss Munroe, do you mind?"
"No, of course not. See you later, Daryl." She handed him the dog shampoo and flashed her hundred-watt smile.
Kelly grabbed her arm as soon as they were out of sight of the kennel. "Heís disgusting," she warned. "And, in case you havenít realized, youíre soaking wet, and your boobs are showing right through your shirt." Jill stared down at her own chest as if in disbelief. "Plus, you might want to think about wearing some shorts that donít ride up your butt every time you bend over to wash the dogs."
Jill smiled sheepishly. "Oops! I didnít think it was going to be that messy a job."
"I donít think itís supposed to be, once you know how to do it. But you were getting yourself all nice and soapy, and he probably thought that he was finally about to live out his favorite porno fantasy."
"Eww. Kelly!" Jill whined, putting her hands on her hips. "Heís totally not my type."
"Yeah, but he doesnít know that. Listen, Sabrina found out some really good information last night. Iíll fill you in as we walk up to the house. But youíre going to need to find out from Daryl how well he knows someone named Rusty, and if Rustyís planning to show his setters at the Pacific show next week. Make him trust youÖ but donít let him get too close. And pleaseÖ put some dry clothes on."
Sabrina could see Kurt driving off in his roadster as she pulled into the driveway early in the evening. He offered a friendly wave in parting. Kelly met her at the door with a discreet peck on the lips.
"Wow," said Sabrina, admiring her surroundings and taking Kellyís hand. "Definitely the lap of luxury."
"Yeah," Kelly admitted, "itís something I could get used to. In fact, maybe I already am used to it!"
Sabrina pulled her hand away quickly. "Whatís that supposed to mean?"
"Jesus, youíre touchy these days! Why is it that every time I make the slightest comment in relation to Kurt you think itís a personal affront?"
"Well, do I have reason to worry? You said you had a late night."
Kelly sighed and leaned against the wall, her arms folded tightly and defiantly across her chest. "I kissed him, okay? Or, rather, he kissed me and I didnít stop him right away. But it didnít go any farther than that. Does that satisfy you?"
"I knew it." Sabrina had balled her hands into tight fists. Kelly could feel the anger and jealousy emanating from her tense figure.
Deliberately, gently, Kelly put her hand on the small of Sabrinaís back, trying to reign in her own frustration.
"I donít want to fight with you." She made herself conscious of trying to sound calm. "Let me figure out exactly what it is that I want. I think thatís fair, right? I mean, not to be accusatory, but you knew you wanted to be with women, and yet you still married Bill. Iím not even sure Iím a lesbian Ė and Kurt is a very attractive guy. But we still have a case to solve, and the more distracted we are keeping tabs on each other means the less focused weíre going to be on the real detective work we need to do. So can you please just hold your fire?" She could feel Sabrina soften.
"Youíre right. Iím sorry, Kel," Sabrina sighed.
"And you can trust me," Kelly put her arms around Sabrina. "Iím not going to sleep with him."
Sabrina, always uncomfortable in situations that called for emotional discussions, changed the subject quickly and moved from Kellyís embrace to a sofa. The phone rang, providing a welcome interruption.
"Jamison residence," Kelly answered vaguely. "Oh, hi, Jill. Hold on while Sabrina picks up the other receiver." She motioned Sabrina towards a phone in the room across the hall.
"What did you find out about Rusty?" Kelly asked.
"Well, Darylís gross, but Rustyís kind of cute, in a Steve McQueen way. You know, I used to have this crush on my mechanic who looked like him, too..." Sabrina rolled her eyes at Kelly across the hall and interrupted Jill.
"Jill, Rustyís a suspect. I donít care if heís cute or not. So you met him."
"Oh, yeah, he came by this afternoon to talk to Daryl. Heíll be showing at the Pacific show Ė he made a big point of telling me that his setters are champions. You know he used to work for Kurt, before Rusty moved to Arizona, and Daryl knew him from way back, I guess. Daryl was really happy to see him and mentioned he was planning a trip to Rustyís kennel sometime after the show. Thatís when it got weird." They could hear her snap her gum loudly as she finished her sentence.
"Weird how?" Sabrina asked.
"Well, the showís next week, right? Rusty mentioned that heíd actually be going back to Arizona before the show."
"Did he say why?" asked Kelly, twisting the phone cord with her finger.
"He said he had some last minute business to attend to. Oh Ė and hereís the other thing Ė I just ran into Kurt at a restaurant about a half hour ago, and I told him that Rusty had been here, but he didnít know Rusty was in town yet. That was odd, since I thought they were still kind of friendly."
"Be extremely careful around these guys, okay?" Kellyís voice emanated concern.
"What do you two think is going on?"
"I think itís probably Rusty who stole Saint Ė I suspect heís falsifying papers, and maybe trying to breed Saint with other dogs heís stolen. Heís running a puppy mill, but more than that, heís doing it with champion dogs that arenít his."
Jill sighed on the other end of the line. "Why do the ones who look like bad boys always turn out to be bad boys?"
Sabrina laughed. "See you tomorrow, Jill?"
Jill yawned. "Yup. Iíll be there bright and early Ė Daryl wants me there at 8:00 to go over how you brush out the undercoat on the dogs. Eight a.m.! Iím not even going to have time to brush out the undercoat on my hair!"
"Goodnight, Jill," Kelly smiled into the phone.
"It is suspicious that Rusty flew in to have a quick meeting with Daryl. And now heís going to turn around and head back to Arizona? I donít like it." Sabrina returned to the sofa.
Kelly uncorked wine that Kurt had left for her. "Daryl was just as sleazy as I had imagined. Jillís sweet, but Iím ready to call Gloria Steinem in to give her a lecture on making oneself an obvious sexual object and target. You should have seen what she was wearing today."
Sabrina chuckled and accepted a glass of wine. "That bad, huh?"
"Have you noticed that her nipples always seem to be erect? And that she never wears a bra?"
Sabrina nearly choked on her wine, laughing. "Well, isnít going braless one of the hallmarks of feminism?"
"Not when Daryl is staring down her shirt and encouraging her to put more soap and water on the dogs. She was definitely looking like somebodyís adolescent fantasy, all soaking wet like that!"
"Your adolescent fantasy?" Sabrina smiled.
"No. I only like my women wetÖ where it counts." She traced her fingers down the middle of Sabrinaís chest, teasing her as Sabrina lifted her hips up from the sofa just slightly. She brought her mouth down on Sabrinaís, and Sabrina moaned as Kellyís tongue moved insistently but gently against her own. She reached for the zipper on Kellyís jeans. Kelly moved her hand away. "Not here. Letís go upstairs."
"Why, is Kurt due back soon?"
"I donít think so, but Iím not taking any chances." She took Sabrina by the hand and led her up to the bedroom.
While at first she had let Sabrina initiate sex, after a few weeks she now felt comfortable enough to start foreplay herself. Yet she noticed that Sabrina seemed uncomfortable if Kelly dictated the pace of their lovemaking for too long; it was clear that she preferred to be the one in control. But Kelly felt bold tonight, and after Sabrina had quietly slipped out of her clothes and under the covers, she stood in the faint moonlight, undressing slowly, her eyes fixed on Sabrina. "Please come here," Sabrina urged.
"I will," Kelly said, removing a lacy red bra and matching underwear. She felt empowered to consciously, actively undress before this woman, and knowing that she was making Sabrina wait increased her own desire even more.
"Youíre so beautiful," Sabrina looked on in awe. "Please Ė I need you now."
Kelly moved towards the bed and touched Sabrinaís face as she climbed in next to her. She was still moving slowly, running her tongue along Sabrinaís neck, delicately circling her nipples with her mouth. She teased her fingers down the inside of Sabrinaís thighs, feeling the wetness that was gathering there.
"Youíre making me wait," Sabrina growled. "I canít take itÖ" She tried to get on top, but Kelly pinned Sabrinaís arms against the pillow with one strong martial arts move. Sabrina, unaccustomed to Kelly being so dominant, was intrigued and even more aroused, and kept her arms over her head even after Kelly released her.
"Did you start taking karate lessons again?" she whispered as Kellyís mouth began to move towards her waist.
"Mmm-hmm," Kelly moaned from her position between Sabrinaís thighs.
An hour later, they were dozing in each otherís arms when Kelly was awakened by a loud bark, followed by a muffled bark and whimper and then an unrecognizable male voice. "Thatís strange," said Kelly, untangling herself from Sabrina.
"What is?" Sabrina answered sleepily, her arm draped across Kellyís bare waist.
"The dogs barking." Naked, she ran to the window and peered out. The moon was behind a cloud, so it was too dark for her to see anything across the empty, vast fields of Kurtís estate. Then she heard it again: a strange manís voice, faint but insistent. She could barely make out a low flashlight beam on the land, but she could see movement, and when she heard a second bark, she turned back towards the bed. "Shit!" she exclaimed.
"We need to put some clothes on and call Jill and the police right away," she urged.
Sabrina was sitting upright in bed now. "Whatís happening?"
"I think someoneís trying to steal either Zoe or Marin." Kelly grabbed a pair of jeans and t-shirt from her suitcase and threw them on hastily. She could hear a car leaving the property at a high speed.
"Iíll call Jill," Sabrina said, getting quickly dressed herself and moving towards the phone, "and then Iíll try to find Kurt. Whatís the name of the restaurant heís at?"
"Cafť Cristina." Kelly fastened her holster around her waist and made sure her pistol was loaded. "After you call Jill, go check the kennel and see how many dogs are there. If there are only four, then oneís definitely missing. Iíll try to catch the car."
Sabrina dialed quickly and woke up a sleeping Jill on the third ring. "Tell Bosley to notify the police. Kelly thinks someone may have just stolen another of Kurtís dogs. Sheís going to try to catch up with them, and Iíll notify Kurt."
Kelly practically leapt down the stairs, out the front door, and into her car, but the advantage of even just a minute proved to be too much for her to overcome, and after ten minutes of driving around the unfamiliar and winding dark roads, she turned the Mustang around and went back to Kurtís estate. She called Sabrina from the car phone.
"We were too late," she sighed, frustrated, too, that she and Sabrina had been too occupied with sex to be more vigilant about their work. "I didnít see any cars Ė plus, I donít know the roads. Did you check out the kennels?"
"Yeah." Sabrina sounded even more despondent than Kelly. "And you were right Ė whoever it was took one of the dogs. I called Kurt at the restaurant. Heíll be back any minute. Jill and Bosley are on their way, too."
Kurt sat with his head in his hands twenty minutes later, trying to determine how Marin could have disappeared.
"Well, Kurt, I know you trusted Rusty, but I think we have to be looking at him as our primary suspect." Kelly sat next to him on the sofa, trying to console him. She was wary of being too physical with him lest he Ė or Sabrina Ė get the wrong idea.
Sabrina chimed in, "And who besides Daryl knew that youíd be gone tonight?"
"But thatís just it," he looked from one woman to the other, and then to Jill and Bosley, who were on the phone with the police. "Daryl was at the bar in the restaurant when I left."
"So heís got an alibi," Sabrina said, throwing her hands in the air. "Clearly, if he was the only person close to the dogs who knew your schedule, he leaked that information to someone who was in a position to harm you and them."
"Why donít I go down to the restaurant and see if heís still there?" Jill asked, flipping her blond mane back with her hands. "Maybe if we each have a few drinks, heíll start talking." She checked her appearance in the mirror, and quickly reapplied a glossy red lipstick.
"Iíll join you," said Bosley, straightening his tie. "I can play Mr. Lonelyhearts at the end of the bar, just in case things get too heated up, Jill." With promises to check in with Kelly and Sabrina in an hour, they departed.
"Now where did you say you were when you heard the bark and the manís voice?" Kurt asked quizzically.
Kelly looked at Sabrina a little nervously. "In the bedroom, talking. I had been giving Sabrina a tour of the house," she lied, trying to steady her voice. "Obviously, whoever took Marin didnít think anyone else was home."
"If Rusty was bold enough to steal Marin right out from under our noses," Sabrina thought out loud, "maybe heíll be bold enough to come back for Zoe, if we give him the chance."
"What?" Kurt looked alarmed.
"I think we need to set him up," she concluded, folding her arms across her chest. "Arenít you planning to host a party the night before the show?"
"Well, yes, but Iím hardly in the mood for that now, especially with two dogs missing."
"Thatís exactly the point. Youíre vulnerable, and you can play that up Ė pretend youíre drunk and speak very publicly about how you know youíve been really lax in keeping an eye on your dogs, how the kennelís security system has been malfunctioning, whatever Ė just make sure that Daryl, and Rusty, if heís there, can hear you. Make a big show of saying that itís a good thing that the kidnappers didnít know that Zoe is really the one you value the most."
"Sabrinaís right," Kelly concurred. "But donít worry - weíll make sure that they donít get Zoe. Weíll let a few trusted people in on what our plans are Ė like Charlotte Whittaker, if you think thatís appropriate."
"And Barb," Sabrina added.
"Whoís Barb?" Kurt asked.
"An old friend Ė I ran into her at Charlotteís party. Sheís the one who actually tipped me that something was suspicious about Daryl and Rustyís relationship."
At the party, Kelly radiated sophistication in her red Halston gown. She sidled up to Kurt, who was doing a great job of being, as they had suggested, publicly remorseful about his own shortcomings in keeping his dogs safe. Rusty and Daryl approached her.
"Hey, foxy lady," Daryl said, jiggling the ice cubes in his empty glass. "Iím ready for a refill. Can I fill you up, too?"
"No, thanks. What was that you were saying, Kurt, about Saint and Marin?"
She gave him credit for being so convincing. He looked right at Rusty. "I just donít understand why someone would do this. And who besides me even knew that the alarm system was broken. Dammit!" He pounded his fist hard on the bar. "I kept meaning to call the security company to get it fixed, but I didnít think it needed to be a priority. I havenít even replaced the padlock on Zoeís crate!"
"Thatís a shame," Daryl turned back towards Kurt, handing him a fresh gin and tonic. "Well, cheers, Kurt. Letís hope that the police find the bastards who did this. My hatís off to you Ė I donít know how you stay so composed at a time like this."
As the evening wore on, Kelly noticed that Kurt did seem to be getting quite intoxicated.
"Hey," she whispered. "You need to watch it, or you might blow your cover."
"Itís strange," he said, holding his hand against his head. "I really donít feel well at all."
His friend Ron approached them. "Iím going to take off, Kurt. Weíve got a big weekend ahead of us, and to tell the truth, I seem to be a little sick."
"Gosh, I hope it wasnít the shrimp!" Kurt exclaimed. "Iím not well, either. Let me walk you to your car."
Kelly took him aside before he left the house. "People are starting to leave in large groups Ė meaning that it might be a convenient time for the guys to leave with Zoe Ė while no oneís really watching which cars leave the driveway. Jill and Bosley are parked just outside the driveway on the road out of town. Theyíll keep an eye out for when Rusty leaves. And Sabrinaís just outside the kennel in the bushes. Sheíll alert Jill and Bosley by walkie-talkie if she sees anything out of the ordinary."
Kurt and Ron left the house. Kelly became suspicious when, a few minutes later, Daryl and Rusty waved a quick goodbye to her and left by the back door. When Kurt and Ron still hadnít returned ten minutes later, she made a quiet exit towards the kennel, her pistol tucked in her beaded drawstring evening bag.
Zoe was gone, the crate empty. She could see the taillights from Rustyís truck just a few hundred feet away. She thought of firing, but didnít want to injure Zoe with a stray bullet. And then Daryl put a gun to her head.
"I knew there had to be a reason someone as pretty as you was such a bitch," he spat in her ear.
"Sabrina!" she yelled. She heard no response. He led her to Kurtís wine cellar, gagged and restrained her, and then turned off the lights and departed.
Sabrina found her there Ė a strange sight, in her red Halston gown, hands tied behind her to a chair and a gag in her mouth. She had managed to undo the bonds that had restrained her feet. In another context, the setting might have forecast a very interesting evening, Sabrina thought for a fleeting second.
She removed the gag first and kissed her fiercely on the lips. She began to untie Kellyís hands from the back of the chair. "After the truck left, I tried to chase it on foot because the walkie-talkie wasnít working too clearly. I thought I heard you screaming. Iím sorry, Kel. Thank God youíre safe."
"Not for long," cautioned Kelly. "I think I hear them coming back. Letís grab a couple of bottles and wait in the corner for a minute." Each armed with a bottle of Cabernet, they crouched behind the staircase.
Daryl came down the stairs, oblivious to the fact that Kelly no longer was tied to a chair in the corner. "Letís go," he said cruelly to Barb, shoving a gun in her back. "If you donít watch it, youíll meet the same fate as your friend. Or maybe we should lock you up in a desert kennel in Arizona. Why were you nosing around anyway? You got a crush on one of those bitch detectives?"
"Screw you," Barb said. She pretended to trip on the last stair and succeeding in distracting him enough that she was able to throw a strong elbow to his face. He dropped his gun, which Barb picked up and pointed at him.
"You dumb dyke," Daryl hissed. "You donít know how to use a pistol."
"You know," Barb said, cocking the pistol, "the thing about me being a dyke is that I grew up learning how to do some of the things boys do when theyíre tired of playing in that red Alabama dust. So call me all of the names you want, because Iím pretty confident in how well I aim."
Remind me never to make a stone butch mad, thought Sabrina, as she ran to Barbís side with her own pistol cocked.
"Over here," Sabrina motioned to Daryl with her gun. "Against the wall with your hands up, and I donít want to hear any protest, Ďcause my aimís pretty good, too. And Iím not feeling all that kindly towards people who steal dogs and harass women."
Kelly had also come out from under the staircase. "Iíll go find Kurt." She hustled up the stairs.
"Oh, heís not upstairs, sweetheart," Daryl sneered. Kelly stopped short on the stairs.
"Where is he?" Sabrina hissed. "Start talking."
"He and that agility handler Ron had a little too much to drink. Too bad that they passed out in each otherís arms in the backseat of Ronís car out in the country. What do you think everyone will do when they find out that Kurt and Ron are fags who like to give it to each other up the ass? Maybe theyíll think that Kurt stole his own dogs just to draw attention away from his deviant lifestyle."
Barb interrupted the conclusion of his sentence with a swift knee to his crotch. "Shut the fuck up. Youíre trying to frame a couple of guys who never did anything but give you a good job and a nice place to live?"
"And besides," Sabrina added, knowing she shouldnít waste time on politics, "do you really think anyone on the show circuit would think less of them if they were gay? Itís time to start talking, you asshole, because Rustyís already been busted by the other detectives, and the police in Arizona are involved now too."
Kelly kicked off her high heels and sprinted the rest of the way up the stairs. She took off in her Mustang down the driveway. Ronís Lincoln was parked under a tree at the entrance to a remote bridle trail on the outskirts of Kurtís land. As Daryl had said, the two men, still under the influence of powerful narcotics, had been partially undressed; Kurtís arms had been draped over Ron and his head lay against his chest. She tried to slap them both awake gently.
"Wake up, Ron. Come on, Kurt. Youíve both been drugged. Daryl and Rusty tried to set you up. They tried to take Zoe, but our other detectives apprehended them. Youíll get your dogs back now. Apparently the police in Arizona are already raiding the kennel."
Despite his groggy state, Kurt hugged both Kelly and Ron and shed tears of joy.
"Once again, Angels, another job well done," Charlieís voice resonated through the box on the mahogany desk. "Kurt has his dogs back, and Zoe even managed to win a blue ribbon for best of breed. Good work."
"Iím glad that all of the owners finally had their dogs returned to them. And weíre lucky that the Arizona police were so helpful in their raid on the kennel," Sabrina said.
"Rusty and Daryl were really sleazy guys. They stole Saint and other dogs to try to breed champion setters with falsified AKC papers. They were so mercenary about it that they never even considered that these dogs were also beloved companions," added Kelly.
"Plus, by putting groomers like Daryl in positions of trust with owners and breeders, it was easier for them to steal the dogs," Jill noted.
Sabrina poured herself a drink behind the bar. "Well, Charlie, we learned a lot about the dog show circuit, thatís for sure. I almost could write an article for Vanity Fair, given how much I know now about the lineage and breedingÖ of the owners, I mean."
Charlie chuckled. "What about you, Jill? Was grooming as easy as Kelly thought it would be?"
Jill smiled sheepishly. "Well, there are some similarities between caring for an Irish setterís coat and caring for my own hair, actually! You do have to regularly brush and comb the dense undercoat so that it doesnít get matted. And, to make the outer coat look really good for the show ring, you have to feather it. Iím actually thinking I might teach Stefano, my stylist, how to feather my hair a little differently next time I go for a cut."
"What did I tell you, Charlie? A natural," Kelly smirked towards the voicebox.
"You havenít said much, Angel," Charlie noted. "I gather that you enjoyed your stay at Kurt Jamisonís estate?"
"Very much, Charlie," she said sincerely. "Now that Kurtís got his dogs back, Iím hoping he can concentrate on finding himself a nice girlfriend. He deserves it."
Jill rattled her keys. "Iíve gotta split, Charlie. Canít keep my date waiting."
"Whoís the lucky guy?"
"Kurtís friend Ron Budley, the agility trainer."
"Do you need any agility training?" asked Sabrina sarcastically.
"Oh, stop," Jill scoffed. "Bye, everybody."
"Weíve got to go, too, Charlie," Sabrina said.
"You and Kelly have a double date?" Charlie asked.
"You could say that," she answered slyly. "See you, Bos, Charlie." The two women left the office together. Barb was waiting for them in the parking lot with a striking woman with a golf tan and short sandy-colored hair.
"Hey, Barb," Sabrina said. "Thanks again for all of your help."
"Iím glad I caught you. I wanted to introduce you to someone. The other woman smiled. "Diane, this is my friend Sabrina Duncan. And her fellow detective, Kelly Garrett." Barb was clearly still unsure how to read Sabrinaís relationship to Kelly.
"Nice to meet you both." Diane had a firm handshake.
"Diane and I met while we were both working on the Pacific show. Sheís a handler working with wirehair terriers, mostly."
"Thatís great," Sabrina nodded, wary of Kellyís comfort level. "Did you want to see me about something?"
"Well, Diane and I were thinking we might go see Cris Williamson play this weekend at a little coffeehouse I sometimes go to. Sheís just dying to hear her play ĎWaterfall.í You interested in joining us?"
Sabrina bit her lip and looked at Kelly. "Uh, yeahÖ I guess Iím game."
Kelly thought for a moment and then smiled at Barb. "Me, too. Iíve never heard of Cris Williamson, but hey, why not?"
"Well, itís what youíd call womenís music," Barb said tentatively. "Just so you know what kind of crowd will be there. I donít want you to feel uncomfortable."
"I think Iíll be okay," Kelly said, interlacing her fingers with Sabrinaís. She could tell that Barb and Diane were surprised, and frankly, she was a little surprised, too. Youíre choosing to make this public, she told herself. She took a deep breath.
Sabrina, just as shocked, kissed her gently on the cheek. "Thanks for including us, Barb. This is a new thing for us Ė for Kelly, especially Ė and itís a good thing to feel like maybe we can belong in the community.
"Why donít you and your girlfriend come join us for a drink?" Barb asked.
"Thatís just what we had planned for ourselves," Kelly smiled. "Should we follow you?"
Sabrina and Kelly climbed into the Pinto, their heads still reeling.
"She called us girlfriends," Kelly said, her voice both amused and contemplative.
"Yeah. She did."
"I think I like that."
"Me, too." Sabrina leaned across the seat and kissed Kelly sweetly. "I definitely like it." She pulled the Pinto out into the boulevard. Kelly rolled down the window, feeling flushed, whether from the hot afternoon sun or the possibilities of love with Sabrina, she didnít know or care.