The Poodle Who Sang Undercover
Top Dog Detective Cozy Mystery
Part 1: A Most Unusual Detective Agency
Kimberley West slid her bike to a stop and gazed up at the squat brick building. This was it: Her last hope.
It didn’t look promising.
Set well away from the fashionable shops lining the Chesapeake Bay, the three-story structure anchored a run-down shopping plaza. To her left, a woman wearing ankle-twisting spike heels entered a nail salon. Several mom types wandered into the dollar store. A single customer perched on a stool inside a sandwich shop.
Heat from the June sun radiated from the sidewalk. Maybe everyone was at the beach.
Kim secured her bike to an empty rack and slung a backpack over one shoulder. Trudging up the walk, she paused in front of an outdoor marquee.
The business she sought – Top Dog Detective Agency – was located on the first floor.
Dusting off her only pair of real trousers, she pulled open the door.
A dimly lit, narrow hallway stretched before her. Every door was closed. Kim paused, suddenly aware of her beating heart. Hadn’t every scary movie she’d seen featured just such a dark corridor?
Turn around. Just turn around and go home.
But. She really needed this job.
Biting her lip, she creeped down the hallway, her footsteps echoing on the tiled floor.
She found the Top Dog Detective Agency all the way in the back.
Straightening her shoulders, Kim knocked. A voice bade her to enter.
She opened the door and quickly scanned the room.
Unlike the other detective agencies she’d visited this week, this office appeared bright and cheery. In front of her, a reasonably new laptop perched on top of a battered wooden desk. Behind it, a rolling leather chair sat empty. A private investigator’s license, framed, hung on the wall above the chair.
A small bookcase shared the right wall with a hanging Mickey Mouse clock and a door.
To the left, a dirty window looked out over the parking lot. A trench coat hung from a freestanding coat rack.
A black Standard Poodle stood beside the coat, his attention focused on one of the large pockets. He appeared to have something clenched between his front teeth. As Kim watched, he teased the – the wallet? – from the pocket without causing any movement in the coat.
If someone had been wearing that coat, he would never have known his wallet was now missing.
“Can I help you?”
Kim turned toward the male voice. But no one was there.
“Down here,” the voice said.
Kim looked down into the face of a black and tan, Longhaired Dachshund.
She felt her mouth drop open.
“Hey, Tucker, did you see?” This voice came from the poodle. “The coat didn’t move at all this time—Oh, we have a guest.”
The poodle trotted to Kim’s side, sat and extended a paw. “I’m Archie Goodwin, but you can call me Sam.”
Numbly, Kim shook the poodle’s paw.
He gestured to the dachshund. “And this is Nero Wolfe, also known as Tucker.”
Oh, no. No, no, no, no. This was not good.
She used to think she could talk with animals. But that was when she was a kid. She was 15 now and, while she still crooned to bluebirds as she set out food, she no longer expected them to talk back.
Fifteen-year-olds did not believe in talking dogs.
The poodle’s tail drooped. He looked down at the dachshund.
“She doesn’t understand, either,” he said.