Authors: Susan Conant
“COME. SIT. STAY.”
“IF YOU’RE A ‘DOG PERSON’ … THIS BOOK IS DEFINITELY FOR YOU.”
“PUREBRED ENTERTAINMENT. WITH PAPERS.”
“IF YOU’VE SUSPECTED MYSTERIES ARE GOING TO THE DOGS, SUSAN CONANT’S LATEST COULD WELL CONFIRM THAT THEORY.”
—Greenwich Time/Stamford Advocate
“Conant’s talent is her ability to keep this canine caper from turning into a dead dog. Clever characters and a good tight puzzle-plot keep this lively tale clipping along to the final page. The Yuletide setting makes this one the perfect gift for the dog-lover with everything.”
—The Globe and Mail,
“PAWS FOR A MOMENT, IF YOU LIKE DOGS.”
—Cox News Service
AND LOOK FOR
A Bantam Book / by arrangement with Doubleday
All rights reserved.
1992 by Susan Conant.
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 92-21750
For information address: Bantam Books.
Bantam Books are published by Bantam Books, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc. Its trademark, consisting of the words “Bantam Books” and the portrayal of a rooster, is Registered in U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and in other countries. Marca Registrada. Bantam Books, 1540 Broadway, New York, New York 10036.
To my beloved daughter, Jessica,
in memory of a cat of canine fidelity,
her irreplaceable Gray
I am blessed with the editor who defines the standard of the breed, multiple Best in Show and High in Trial, dog lover’s dog lover, the legendary Kate Miciak.
For help in researching the background of this book, many thanks to Senior Investigator Bob Baker and Field Investigators Bob Reder and Frank Ribaudo of the Humane Society of the United States; Virginia Devaney, Voyageur Kennels, Cedar Crest, New Mexico, president of the Alaskan Malamute Protection League; Ann Kimball of the Elizabeth H. Brown Humane Society, Orleans, Vermont; and Mark Phillips of The Tattoo Shop, Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Many thanks to Barbara Beckedorff and Jean Berman for their astute comments, suggestions, and corrections. Thanks, too, to Joel Woolfson, D.V.M., who answered my questions about veterinary matters. Any errors are mine alone.
I am also grateful to my Alaskan malamutes, Frostfield Arctic Natasha, C.D., T.T., and Frostfield Firestar’s Kobuk, whose joy restores my soul.
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
Letter to William Smith
January 9, 1795
I was writing a story about a tattoo artist in Newport, Rhode Island, who specializes in engraving dead-likeness portraits of dogs on the bodies of their owners. Her professional name—maybe even her real name—is Sally Brand, and she got started in dogs because she was tired of cover-ups.
Seaman First Class Jack Doe comes home with “Jack and Jill Forever” freshly and painfully emblazoned on his forearm, only to discover that Jill’s deserted him or that the one he really loves isn’t Jill after all but the inconveniently polysyllabic Millicent. The tattoo’s a misfit, right? What he needs is a cover-up. So Sally would update
, which can’t have been easy; or if the sailor had soured on love, she’d incorporate the entire original tattoo into the head of a black panther, which, Sally tells me, will camouflage anything; or, in the case of an unabashedly narcissistic Jack Doe, she’d cover up the
with a pair of frolicking dolphins or an ebony-black-ink rococo anchor, thus leaving only the reliably apt “Jack Forever.”
One night, though, when yet another sailor strolled into Sally Brand’s storefront parlor and asked her to immortalize yet one more transitory human relationship on his upper back, Sally finally wised up and asked,
“Hey, fella, you happen to own a dog?” So the guy pulled out his wallet and produced a photo of a Dalmatian with the unimaginative name of Spot. Sally’d done lots of Rottweilers and Dobermans before, but the images had been more or less generic. The head of Spot was her first real portrait. The rest is tattoo history. Human relationships are only skin deep. They’re laborious, painful, and expensive to correct. But with dogs? With dogs, there are no misfits.
I first heard of Sally Brand at Crane’s Beach, where I saw her work on the heavily muscled chest of a top handler named Larry Wilson, whose tattooed brace of Obedience Trial Champion black standard poodles not only looked just like the originals but even wagged their tails when he flexed his pectorals.
I was so crazy about the idea that I originally had only one question: Where? Rowdy is my right hand, after all, so that seemed like a good idea. But what about Kimi? Both of them? That felt better: two Alaskan malamutes, one on each upper arm, forever eyeing one another across my breasts. Then the guilt set in. What if Vinnie happened to peer down from above? Never having missed a thing on this earth, Vinnie could hardly be expected to overlook the sudden appearance of a sled dog on each of my biceps and the simultaneous nonappearance of a golden retriever bitch anywhere on my body. How could I explain it to her?
Sorry, Vinnie, but there just wasn’t room for everyone?
I mean, how do you tell the best obedience dog you’ll ever own that she got edged out by a pair of
, for God’s sake? So I could hardly leave Vinnie out. Off. Not to mention Danny or Cookie or any of the others, even poor Rafe, who was terrified of everything, especially needles.
As I sat at the kitchen table writing up the notes of my interview with Sally Brand, I was still trying to decide
and also worrying about
Then the phone rang, thus probably saving me
from becoming the first tattooed lady ever exhibited by the American Kennel Club.
Four or five times a year, I pick up the receiver to discover that someone’s dialed my number by mistake. This call, though, was definitely for me: It was about a dog—not just any dog, either, but an Alaskan malamute.
Holly Winter. Kute with a
, right? Welcome to purebred dogdom. And, no, the two litters whelped just before mine weren’t Samoyeds or malamutes or anything else Christmasy. They were golden retrievers, but, yes, of course: December. Woof woof. Let me reassure you, though, and while I’m at it, let me remind myself: Although I’m a member in good standing of the Dog Writers’ Association of America, this is not one of those tales—doubtless spelled
—told from the dog’s point of view. I don’t object to the dog’s point of view, of course; I just don’t know what it is. Although I’ve spent most of my life trying to imagine it, I still see it only through a glass, darkly, which is to say that, from what I can discern, it is remarkably like God’s face. Anyway, I admitted to being myself.
My caller was Barbara Doyle. You know her? Well, if you show your dogs, you’ve seen Barbara. She has shepherds. (Foreigner? German shepherd dogs. Good ones, too.) She’s a few years older than I am, I think—maybe in her midthirties?—and she’s kind of frail and romantic looking. We train together at the Cambridge Dog Training Club.
“I happened to be at Puppy Luv this morning,” she said flatly. Like most experienced dog handlers, Barbara has complete control of her tone of voice: Even though she must have known what to expect from me, she did not sound ashamed, apologetic, defensive, or challenging. Puppy Luv is a Cambridge pet shop that sells my living birthright for a mess of green pottage, lots of green pottage, but pottage nonetheless.
My own control slipped. I may even have yelled. In
fact, I’m sure I did, because Rowdy and Kimi, who’d been enjoying a morning doze on the kitchen floor, opened their gorgeous brown eyes and lifted their beautiful heads. Anyway, what I yelled was: “What were you
there?” Barbara Doyle isn’t a pet shop kind of person. In fact, she’s a sire-won-the-national-specialty, dam-went-Best-of-Opposite-at-Westminster kind of person.