Dog-Eared Delinquent

Dog-Eared Delinquent


 

Apparently I’ve been slacking on the job as a paralegal, even though the firm doesn’t know that I’m secretly working as the area’s premier Pet Whisperer P.I. to solve our toughest cases behind the scenes. Now they’ve hired an intern to “help” me manage my workload…

But what the partners don’t realize is that they’ve let a nefarious criminal into our offices. Trust me, Octo-Cat can smell this guy’s stink from a mile away. The worst part? I’m pretty sure he can talk to animals too… and he most definitely isn’t using his talents to solve crimes and defend the innocent.

So now I need to study hard to actually understand my abilities. Otherwise I just know this villainous intern is going to use his powers to steal both my jobs!

I never asked for this gig, but it’s time I gave it my all. Seriously, do you think I’m going to let this outsider beat me at my own game?


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Read the first three chapters!

 

Chapter One

Hi, I’m Angie Russo, and my life is way harder than you’d expect for someone who lives in an old East Coast mansion. Well, it’s not really my house— more like my cat’s. After all, it’s his trust fund that pays the bills.

It may seem like I’ve won the lottery but think again. Times are tricky when you have a talking cat bossing you around day-in and day-out.

Yeah, I said it.

My cat can talk.

As in, we communicate, have conversations, understand each other. I’m not sure how or why our strange connection works, only that it does. And as much as I wished I knew more, sometimes you just have to accept things at face value. It all happened so fast, too. I went to work unable to talk to animals, got zapped by a faulty coffee maker, got knocked unconscious, and when I woke up again—bada bing, bada boom!—now I’m talking kitty.

I’ve decided to think of it as a stroke of fate, because it really does feel like Octo-Cat and I were meant to find each other. In the past six months alone, we’ve worked together to solve three separate murder investigations. I guess that’s why I’m considering my mom’s advice and officially looking into starting a business. She’s dubbed me Pet Whisperer P.I.—not because I want anyone else to know about my strange abilities, but because we needed some kind of excuse for me to take Octo-Cat around on my sleuthing calls.

After all, I wouldn’t be much of a Sherlock without my Watson. Okay, I’m probably the Watson in our relationship. If you’ve ever been owned by a cat, then you should understand.

Regardless, I’ll be the first to admit that my whole life changed for the better once Octo-Cat became a part of it. Before then, I was just drifting from one thing to the next. I’d already racked up seven associate degrees, due to my unwillingness to commit to any one major long enough to secure a bachelor’s.

I guess you could say nothing ever felt quite like the perfect fit, but I kept trying anyway. I knew that somewhere out there my dream job was waiting… even if I didn’t quite know what it was yet.

You see, greatness kind of runs in my family, and for the longest time I’d worried that particular trait had skipped right past me without a second thought.

My nan had followed her dreams to become a Broadway star back in her glory days, and my mom was the most respected news anchor in all of Blueberry Bay. My dad lived his dream, too, by doing the sports report on the same channel that featured Mom.

Now at last, after so much yearning, so much searching, wishing, and praying, I’ve found the career path that fits me like a glove—and that’s private investigating. So what if I’m not getting paid for it yet? I probably could if I threw everything I had at getting my P.I. business up and off the ground.

But I’m scared of letting down the good people of Longfellow, Peters, & Associates. Oh, that’s right. My favorite frenemy Bethany is the newest partner, and I am so proud of her. Between her and Charles, I know the firm is in the best possible hands, but quitting to pursue self-employment?

That’s downright terrifying.

True, I’m only part-time at the moment, but the twenty hours per week I put in are really well spent. I know I’m making a difference, and yet…

Aargh. I’ve never had this much trouble quitting a job before. Why can’t I just hand in my two weeks’ notice and say, “See ya around?”

Maybe part of me still longs for the chance to see where Charles and I could take our relationship, provided he’s willing to ditch his annoying realtor girlfriend. Or maybe I don’t want to leave Bethany behind when we’ve worked so hard to overcome our differences.

It’s also likely that I’m afraid of spending all day and all night at home with my crabby tabby for company. Nan lives with us now, too, but Octo-Cat reserves all his whining just for me. I mean, I guess it makes sense, seeing as I’m the one who understands him.

At the end of the day, life sometimes requires hard decisions.

Historically, I’m not so great at making them.

If I just give it a few more weeks, maybe the right answer will fall into my lap. Yeah, I like that idea.

Until that happens, though, I’ll just continue to wait and pray I get the courage to ask for what I really need. First, I’ll have to make sure it’s actually what I want, and then…

Watch out, world! I’m Angie Russo, and I’m coming for you.

 

 

“I come bearing muffins!” I cried as I bounded into the firm ten minutes late that morning. I still had a hard time calculating my new commute, but I hoped that Nan’s homemade baked goods would more than make up for my tardiness.

“Ahem,” somebody cleared his throat from the desk near the door. My desk.

I whipped around so fast, I fumbled my beautiful basket of muffins and dropped them straight onto the floor. All of Nan’s hard work was ruined in an instant. It was a good thing she enjoyed baking so much and probably already had another fresh batch ready and waiting at home.

“Let me help you,” the stranger said, rushing over to offer assistance I most definitely didn’t need. I watched him from the corner of my eye, still refusing to acknowledge this interloper’s presence. From what I could discern, he was tall and gangly, with white-blond hair and thick, emo glasses.

“Oh, good,” Bethany said, clasping her hands together as she strode toward us both with a smile. “You’ve met Peter.”

“Peter?” I asked with a frown as the new guy stuck his hand out toward me in greeting. Looking at him straight on now, I saw he wore his dress shirt open with a t-shirt underneath that read Awake? Yes. Ready to do this? Ha, ha, ha! Charming. The disturbing top half was paired with wrinkly cargo khakis on bottom. Fulton and Thompson never would have let this fly in their days. Yeah, I knew the firm was mostly better off without them, but still couldn’t we at least try to look like professionals here?

“You’re Angie, right?” Peter asked, grabbing one of the muffins that had touched the floor and shoving it into his mouth with wide eyes. “Mmm,” he said pointing at it. “So good.”

I disliked this guy more and more by the moment, but Bethany seemed so excited to introduce us that I forced a smile and shook his hand despite my better judgement.

“Peter’s our new intern,” she explained. “He’s going to help you manage your workload.”

“I don’t need help managing my workload,” I shot back, recoiling from Peter’s grasp when he wouldn’t let my hand go after the normal, polite period of time for a greeting.

Bethany frowned. “Not exactly true. It’s been harder for all of us since you switched to part-time, but it’s okay, because Peter is the perfect person to step in and smooth things out.”

Yeah, me going part-time was the problem, and not the revolving door of partners we’d seen so far this year.

“What exactly are his qualifications?” I asked, regarding him coldly.

Peter popped the remains of that precious blueberry muffin into his mouth and mumbled, “I’m her cousin, and I work for minimum wage.”

Bethany shot him a dirty look, finally showing me that he bugged her, too. That at least made me feel a little better about all this. “Really, Peter. You need to stop being so liberal about sharing your salary.”

“Sorry,” he muttered with a shrug that suggested he really couldn’t care less about it.

Why was he here? I may not be the best paralegal in the world, but I was miles better than this guy. He probably didn’t even have his degree. This was all wrong. I couldn’t quite say why exactly, only that I hated everything about this Peter guy.

“Wait,” I said, realizing something. “Your name is Peter Peters? You sound like a super hero.”

“Or a super villain,” he countered with another shrug and a strange, new smile.

“Anyway,” Bethany said, glancing at her feet to make sure no errant muffin crumbs had attached themselves to her shiny patent pumps. “This is Peter’s first day, which is why I asked him to come in a bit early. Can you help get him set up? Show him the ropes?”

“What kind of ropes?” I demanded. I didn’t normally start my work day by playing babysitter to some annoying nepotistic hire.

No, right now, I was supposed to be in Bethany’s office while she safely brewed me a cup of delicious, life-saving coffee. There was no way I’d touch another coffee maker as long as I lived, but I still enjoyed the extra jolt it gave me when someone else was willing to brave the brew master.

“Just the stuff you normally do,” Bethany answered with a dismissive gesture, already turning to take her leave. “If either of you need me, I’ll be in my office. I have client meetings most of the morning, but should be free around lunch time.”

“Okay, bye,” I said, turning to my new charge, resigned that I would have pretty much the worst work half-day ever.

He smiled after his cousin. “Too-da-loo!” he called, waggling his fingers, then turned to me. “Okay, so I’m ready to learn how to be you when I grow up,” he announced.

He did not just say that!

Well, so much for turning in my notice. There was no way I could leave the firm with this bumbling oaf of a paralegal. If only we could cue a makeover montage in real life. I’d choose one of my favorite upbeat 80’s pop jams, spend a few minutes reforming him, then call it done and move on. Real life never worked fast enough.

“Let’s go set up your email,” I said with a sigh, leading him back to my desk that we now seemed to be expected to share.

“Cool, cool. And when do I get my company-issued iPhone?” He bobbed his head, following after me like a lost little duckling.

“What? Why would we give you an iPhone?”

“Uh, hello. FaceTime.” He twisted his hands and formed a rectangle about the size of a smartphone then looked at me through the gap.

And just like that, he went from simply irritating to downright terrifying. FaceTime was the same app I used to call my cat from work. Our senior partner, Charles, had found out when he was still brand new to the firm and bribed me to help him defend a client. Was it just a coincidence that this Peter Peters had alluded to it now?

Or did he know something that could get us both into very big trouble?

Oh, I did not like this. I did not like it one bit.

Chapter Two

Unfortunately, the day only got worse as it went on. Peter met me with snark, indifference, or outright creepiness at every turn and quickly proved that he had zero of the necessary experience to do this job—my job. In fact, Peter grated on my nerves so much that I decided to go right over Bethany’s head and appeal to our senior partner, Charles Longfellow, III. Surely he would see that hiring this guy was the worst kind of mistake?

Of course, things between Charles and I continued to be quite complicated. To start, I kind of, sort of, may have had some unresolved romantic feelings for him. We’d become close friends in the months since he’d joined the firm. It had all started when he discovered my ability to speak with Octo-Cat and then blackmailed me in order to help his client, Brock Calhoun the, um… other guy I kind of, sort of, may have had a bit of a crush on these days.

Still, despite the slight blackmailing, Charles was a consummate professional. It’s how he’d managed to rise through the ranks at the firm so fast, and it was why I trusted him to do the right thing when it came to Peter. After finding a spot where his calendar was open, I barged straight into his office—so upset that I forgot to knock.

Oh, I wish I would have taken a quick second to knock!

“Angie,” he said with a start, then cleared his throat and straightened his tie. It was the same tie Nan had bought him as a housewarming gift a month or so back—dark red silk with an intricate white paw print pattern that somehow managed to look both classy and kitschy at the exact same time.

His girlfriend, Breanne, untangled herself from his arms and glanced over her shoulder with a smirk. Her bottle-red hair clashed with Charles’s tie, and everything else about her clashed with the rest of him, too. Of all the people in Blueberry Bay, I still couldn’t believe he’d chosen to date her. They’d been wrapped around each other for months now, and I was beginning to suspect they may end up walking down an aisle before too long.

Granted, I hadn’t known Charles much longer myself, but I still thought that he and I would have made a much better couple—a much more logical one, too. As each day passed, it looked less and less like I’d get my chance to find out what could be there. Stupid Breanne.

“I’ll see you tonight. Okay, babe?” Charles said after several awkward moments passed between the three of us.

“I’ll be waiting,” Breanne gloated as she accepted his kiss, then sauntered past me, hips swinging. Have I mentioned how much I actively loathed her? Because it was a lot.

Charles sighed and sunk down into his leather desk chair. “What’s up, Angie?”

“Sorry to interrupt,” I answered, rubbing my index finger on my thumb to try and loosen a hangnail I’d been fighting all morning. It was a bad habit of mine—a nervous habit. Seeing Charles and Breanne’s disgusting canoodling had knocked the speech I’d prepared clear out of my brain.

Guess I would just be speaking from my heart.

I closed the door behind me, then came closer and took a seat in one of the two visitor chairs angled across from his desk. “It’s about the new person Bethany hired.”

“Peter Peters?” Charles asked with a slight snort. “What about him?”

“I don’t like him,” I said plainly, hoping Charles would understand without me having to go into more detail. “And I don’t want him here.”

Charles sighed. “He didn’t make the best first impression on me, either. But, unfortunately, we do need the help.”

“Can’t we find somebody else?” I whined, not caring how pathetic it made me sound. Charles needed to understand that this was so much more than bad first impressions.

Charles pinched his brow and fixed me with an exasperated stare. “People aren’t exactly lining up to work here given, um… our recent history.”

Oh, right. The small fact that the other partners continued to leave under less than savory circumstances. All the extra clout we’d picked up after our near-impossible win on the Calhoun case had quickly dropped by the wayside when…

Never mind, best to focus on our current problems instead of dwelling on the past.

“If we’re really that spent, I could come back full time for a while.” I enunciated each word while keeping careful eye contact. “Just until we find someone better than Peter, I mean.”

Charles shook his head again. “I wish I could, but Bethany is my partner. We make decisions together now. If you just give Peter a chance, I’m sure he’ll grow on you.”

I rose to my feet and put my hands palm down on his desk, then leaned in as close as I dared. I wanted to slap him and kiss him in equal measure. Stupid Charles.

“I think he knows about me. About what I can do.” I widened my eyes, refusing to so much as even blink until I was sure he understood.

“About you and,” He gulped before continuing. “Animals?” When I nodded, Charles leaned back and let out a slow breath. “Well, that’s not good.”

I straightened to my full height once more. Whether or not we had a romantic connection, Charles and I had always seen eye to eye. I knew he’d get it. I knew he’d find a way to protect me.

That is, until he said…

“But it’s also not possible. I’m sure it’s all in your head.”

“All in my head?” I demanded, throwing a hand on each of my hips. “You can’t be serious!”

He glanced toward the far corner of the room instead of looking at me. “What do you want me to do, Angie? Fire him based on a suspicion? One that has nothing to do with what we actually do here, by the way.”

I threw myself into his line of his vision. I was not just some problem that could be ignored. I was a real person and had a problem that demanded a satisfactory conclusion. “Yes, that’s exactly what I want you to do,” I practically shouted.

He cleared his throat again and shifted his gaze toward his keyboard on the desk. “Sorry, that’s something I just can’t do. Not without a valid reason to let him go.”

I crossed my arms over my chest defensively and charged back toward to door. There were many things I wanted to say and do—chief among them quitting on the spot—but I simply walked out without another word.

I had to stop fast to avoid running straight into Peter who stood right outside Charles’s office door, munching on a granny smith apple. “Trying to get rid of me?” he asked with a neutral expression, keeping his eyes fixed on the fruit in his hand. “That doesn’t seem very welcoming.”

“Why are you here?” I asked with a deep scowl.

Peter crunched into the apple again, and a spray of juice hit me on the cheek. He reached up with his thumb to wipe it away, but I jerked out of reach.

After swallowing everything down, he smiled and said, “Why do you think I’m here? It’s to get close to you, Angie. To uncover your secrets and expose them to the world.”

I took a step back, panic settling in my chest like a lead weight. I could scarcely breathe, let alone say anything in response to that.

Peter closed the distance between us and set a heavy hand on my shoulder. A smile broke out across his face and then he laughed. “Whoa, you really need to learn how to relax. Did you honestly just buy that garbage?” He shook his head as if dealing with an imbecile. “I’m here to make some money and help out my cousin. Okay? I mean, seriously, Angie.” He continued to laugh as he breezed his way past me back toward our shared desk.

I stood rooted to the spot as I watched him go. How much had Peter heard of my talk with Charles? And how much did he already know? Moreover, why?

And how?

If he was on to me, there had to be others as well. Maybe Peter was just some kind of henchman and the big bad had yet to reveal himself or his plan. I’d never hurt anyone, and I’d become much more careful when it came to concealing my strange ability.

If someone was on to me, then what could I possibly do to keep Octo-Cat and myself safe? And why would they ever want to hurt or scare us as Peter’s mannerisms seemed to suggest?

Suddenly, it felt as if nowhere would be safe. That, even if I ran, there were people out there who knew, who would always know.

What was I going to do?

Chapter Three

I couldn’t escape the office fast enough that day. Physical distance, however, did little to calm my already frayed nerves. The whole drive home I kept looking over my shoulder, half expecting to see Peter following me in some kind of old junker. I knew I didn’t have any real hard and fast proof, but still, something within me screamed that he was out to get me, that we were quickly headed somewhere bad.

Very, very bad.

Sure, he could have been some harmless and ordinary, run-of-the-mill weirdo whose goal was simply to score a few laughs at my expense. He totally could have been. And yet…

Ever since I’d gotten zapped by that old coffee maker and woken up with the ability to speak to Octo-Cat, my intuition had also been dialed up to at least a nine. I’d been wrong about some things, of course, but that was mostly when I let my personal feelings cloud my judgment. Whenever I stopped and listened to that still small voice, it led me straight to the answer I needed.

And right about now, that tiny voice was practically hoarse from shouting beware over and over again the past several hours.

As much as I hated it, this wasn’t just about Peter moving in on my job and messing things up at the office. This was about keeping those I loved safe—and that now included the tabby cat who’d entered my life and turned it upside down again and again. How could someone I’d only just met already know the one very private thing I hesitated to share with anybody?

How could Peter have possibly figured me out when so few people knew what I could do and most of them were related to me?

I mean, Charles knew, but despite my disappointment in his response today, I trusted him not to tell a soul. Did that mean someone else at work had figured things out? Sometimes I slipped up and talked to my cat around others, but most people wouldn’t just jump to the conclusion that we could communicate with each other. The normal thing would be to assume I’d gone wicked crazy. That didn’t bother me since most days I was halfway there already.

I turned onto the secluded driveway that led to my huge manor house in the woods. The summer sun hung high in the sky, and my gardens were in full, beautiful bloom. In a lot of ways my life was pretty perfect—giant estate, wonderful family, cool cat, and a monthly stipend from his trust fund. So, then, why couldn’t I just let this thing with Peter go?

“You look like you’ve had a rough day,” Nan said, greeting me at the door when I entered our shared home just in time for a freshly prepared lunch. She and Octo-Cat both waited for me right in the foyer whenever I came home from work. Nan usually had a kind word and a hug. Sometimes, a joke.

Octo-Cat generally had a complaint. Today, he stretched out his toes, showing off his impressive claws, and moaned, “The sun is not bright enough today. It’s hard to keep my schedule when my warm spot disappears halfway through the morning.”

I shrugged off his concern, especially considering the sky had felt just as bright as ever during my return commute. “Sorry, nothing I can do about that.”

I’d long debated getting him a heat lamp, precisely because of how often I heard this particular complaint, but that kind of felt like rewarding bad behavior. Ah, who was I kidding? It was just a matter of time before I’d ultimately cave. Heck, maybe I’d get him one for Christmas. Today, however, I had other things to worry about.

I took a long, appreciative sniff as Nan and I headed for the kitchen. Ever since we’d moved in together a couple of months ago, she’d taken it upon herself to cook up three square meals per day, finding a passion for the culinary arts a bit late in life but not lacking an ounce of enthusiasm nor, thankfully, talent.

“French onion soup,” Nan revealed with sparkling eyes, which seemed to grow as she made this revelation. “Have a seat and I’ll bring it right out.”

I wanted to help, to give her a bit of a break, but she always pushed me right out of the kitchen and told me to hold my horses before they galloped on away without me.

“What’s got you so down in the dumps?” she asked, setting a steaming hot bowl before me, then returning to the kitchen to grab a second for herself. My nan always knew when something wasn’t right. She had the gift of intuition, too, but I suspected that came more from being a mother than from a near-fatal run-in with a coffee maker or some other such mildly supernatural experience.

“They hired a new intern,” I explained, pushing my spoon through the thick layer of perfectly melted cheese and allowing it to fill up with broth, then shoving it appreciatively into my mouth. Mmm. So good.

Nan smiled when she saw how much I enjoyed what she’d prepared. Rather than taking a bite herself, however, she folded her hands before her and said, “Well, I’m guessing we don’t much care for this new person.” That was another thing about my dear, sweet Nan—she always took my side. She didn’t even need to hear a single detail before she was ready to jump into the fray and fight for my honor. Heck, just a couple months ago, she’d hit a police officer multiple times for attempting to cuff me.

“We most definitely do not,” I answered, preparing a second mouthful of gooey goodness, complete with onion and cheese this time. “Not only is he creepy, but I also think he knows about me. You know, about what I can do.”

Nan shook her head and sucked air in through her teeth. “Well, that’s not good. Not good at all.” Finally, she dug into her soup, choosing to eat one of the broth-saturated croutons first.

“What are we going to do?” I asked after giving her a play-by-play of the awful day I’d had.

“That Charles deserves a good scolding,” Nan said with a grimace. “After all we’ve been through together, he won’t even stand up for what’s right.”

I shrugged and let my spoon clatter to the bottom of my bowl. “I don’t know. Maybe I’m just being oversensitive about the entire situation.”

“Hey, I didn’t raise you to talk like that,” Nan shouted so loud and so abruptly, it made me jump with surprise. “We don’t discount or apologize for our feelings. We’re not robots. Right?”

“Right,” I agreed with a sigh. “Then what should I do about Peter Peters and all the weirdness?”

Octo-Cat hopped up onto the table and strode down the center line. As he did, loose hair floated off his body and a piece or two wound up in my soup. Guess that meant I was done.

“If I may,” he said grandly, halting right in front of me and gesturing to himself with a paw. “I believe I have the solution to this problem.”

“He says he has an idea,” I translated for Nan, who smiled and waited for more. She loved watching the two of us talk, even though she needed a bit of help understanding Octo-Cat’s side of the conversation.

“Not an idea,” he corrected with a huff. “The idea.”

“Well, what is it?” I asked impatiently. Sometimes his dramatics could be adorable, but this wasn’t one of those times. I was far too stressed to sit and watch a show. I needed real-world solutions here delivered in a real-time fashion.

“You need to pull a stray cat on this guy,” my tabby said plainly.

This, of course, meant nothing to me. “Come again now. What?”

“A stray cat. Not that I’ve ever been stray.” He shuddered and flicked his tail. “But I’ve seen enough of them to know their modus operandi. They’re free agents—strays—and most want to stay that way. But a cat can get real sick of eating trash when Fancy Feast is an option, you know? So, sometimes they have to make their eyes big, raise their tails, and do the pretty meow when a human is nearby. It hurts inside to fake it with a human—that much, I do know from experience—but it’s just a couple moments of cringiness to get a full belly of food. Get it?”

I thought about this for a moment, ignoring the fact that he’d probably just insulted me. His cat-based analogies often took me a bit of finagling to truly understand, but they often did offer good and surprisingly relevant advice. I recapped Octo-Cat’s speech for Nan, who seemed to understand instantly without even awaiting the full translation.

She nodded her approval to Octo-Cat, then turned back to me with a newfound fierceness burning in her eyes. “Operation: My Enemy is My Friend’s an official go,” she said in a low, husky voice that I assumed belonged to her tough guy persona.

Still, no matter how much I wanted to find out what Peter knew and, moreover, what he wanted, I wasn’t sure I could find a way to fake nice with someone I already despised so much.

Despite Nan’s Broadway past, I hadn’t inherited even one iota of her acting talent. So then, how was I going to trick Peter into revealing his motives here?


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