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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

Heart of Barkness

A Chet & Bernie Mystery (Volume 9)

Spencer Quinn

Forge Books



“Red-letter day, Chet,” said Sergeant Rick Torres, our buddy at the Valley PD Missing Persons Department. “In the car.”

Red-letter day was a mystery to me, and maybe red is, too. Bernie says I can’t be trusted when it comes to red, something I’ve never understood. I knew fire hydrants were red, for example, knew that as well as I know my own name. Which is Chet, in case you missed it, right up there off the jump. I also know “in the car,” and never need to be asked twice. Or even once. Rick opened the passenger-side door of the black-and-white. I hopped in, sat up nice and tall, totally alert, ready for anything. Was my tongue hanging out? Possibly. I got most of it stuffed back in. We have standards, me and Bernie, just one of the reasons that the Little Detective Agency is so successful, except for the finances part. It’s called the Little Detective Agency on account of Bernie’s last name being Little, but we’re equal partners, Bernie handling the gunplay and the so-therefores and me bringing other things to the table. Maybe we’ll get to my teeth a little later.

Meanwhile Rick stepped on the gas and we sped away from his place, where I’d been staying for what seemed like a long time. That was a worrisome thought. I tend to stay away from worrisome thoughts, like to spend my time in the here and now. At the moment in the here and now we had the possibility of cat sightings, and also food trucks. We’re pals with every food truck driver in the Valley, me and Bernie. He says it’s the best human invention since music. My choice would have been Slim Jims, but if Bernie says music, then that’s that. And the truth is we’re music lovers, big-time. What’s better than blasting across the desert in the Porsche, sound cranked up to the max? Roy Eldridge’s trumpet on “If You Were Mine”? It does things to my ears you wouldn’t believe, maybe on account of your own ears, which are mostly about decoration. No offense.

Rick glanced over at me. He has a thick and bushy mustache that sometimes catches a crumb or two. Once I made a sort of play for those crumbs, perhaps not my best idea. No crumbs in evidence now, but I could always hope, and I always do.

“In a good mood, huh, big guy?” Rick’s eyes made one of those tiny shifts that means a human just had an idea. “You sense what’s happening somehow? Is that possible?”

What was this? Of course I sensed what was happening! We were going for a ride in Rick’s squad car and would end up wherever we were headed. What could be more obvious? I gave him a careful look. Was he having problems at home? Not that I knew of. Surely that little incident with the steak tips couldn’t still be on his mind.

I was thinking about steak tips, not that little incident—more or less an accident, and one of the happy kind—but steak tips in general, when we pulled up in front of Valley Hospital. No surprise. Rick and I came to visit Bernie just about every day. First he’d been in a special room where they put people who weren’t doing so well. That whole problem was on account of what happened at the end of the stolen saguaro case, a few confusing moments that had included the bad guys getting what they had coming to them, and then suddenly from out of nowhere—when it was all over!—Bernie taking that horrible blow to the head. I tried not to think about how he’d fallen, so slowly—like he came oh-so-close to staying on his feet—except sometimes my mind would think about it anyway. But less and less, because after a while Bernie had shifted to another room, not as special, and started moving around with a walker. A walker that happened to get me too excited, a small issue I was still working on when Bernie didn’t need it anymore. Lately we’d been taking little strolls up and down the halls of the hospital. Was that in the cards today? I sprang out of the cruiser the instant Rick opened my door.

And what was this? Bernie, not inside the hospital but standing on the curb, duffel bag at his feet? Had I ever seen anything so wonderful?

“Chet!” Rick said, or possibly shouted. “Come back here! Sit! Stay!”

But I just couldn’t. I flew across the parking lot—yes, not touching the pavement, or hardly—and jumped into Bernie’s arms, only remembering in midair that I’m a hundred-plus pounder, so that maybe this wasn’t such a good …

But it was! Because Bernie caught me, like he always did, or maybe not quite exactly, what with a slight stagger, and a loud grunt that someone who didn’t know him better might have taken for a cry of pain.

“Oh, my god!” said Dr. Bethea, who I hadn’t noticed standing there beside us, me sort of in Bernie’s arms, giving his face a nice lick, and him laughing. What a lovely sound! “Are you all right?”

Copyright © 2019 by Pas de Deux