Monthly Archives: March 2016

Cover reveal: Filmed to Death!

Ta da!! The book won’t be released until late April/early May, but you can get a sneak peek at the cover now:

Filmed cover

Jamie Brodie Mystery #12


Filed under Books, Publishing

Staff Sgt. Ammo, part 3

Tuesday, December 22

On Tuesday we were at breakfast when Andy’s phone rang. He checked the screen and said, “Uh oh.” We listened as he answered. “Jesse? God, you sound terrible. No, no. Stay home. The girls can come help out. We’ll need you more on the 26th. Right. See you then.”

Chris said, “Jesse’s sick?”

“Yeah.” Andy said to Pete and me, “Jesse’s my main stock guy. We’ve got to keep the shelves full. Business is great but the merchandise has to be available for the customers to see.”

Stephanie said, “Sam and I will help.”

“Good. Some of those boxes are heavy, though.”

I said, “I’ll help. You’ll have to show me what to do, but I’ll get to spend the day with Steph and Sam.”

Andy’s expression lightened. “That would be great. You’re sure you don’t mind?”

“Not at all. It’ll be fun.”

Andy laughed. “Yeah, we’ll see if you still say that at the end of the day.”


Andy’s store billed itself as a feed and seed emporium, but in reality they had almost anything one could need for farm, ranch, country or suburban living. The only thing they didn’t sell was farm machinery.

We parked behind the store. Andy unlocked a padlock on a garage door and raised it. He and Stephanie went inside, turning on lights. I said to Sam, “You and Steph have done this before.”

“Lots of times. Come on, I’ll show you where everything is.”

We had an hour and a half before the store opened. Steph showed me how to use the inventory scanner and explained the organization of the huge storeroom. We did a quick survey of the shelves, restocked a few, then disappeared into the back while Andy and his brother opened the store.

Customers trickled in at first, but by 11:00 the place was hopping. By noon I was thanking God that I’d never considered a retail career. Steph and Sam were smooth saleswomen, helping customers while also keeping an eye on the shelves. When they needed something, they’d scan the barcode on the shelf and send it to me; I’d find the right area of the storeroom and bring them whatever it was they needed.

It was hard, dusty work, and by the time we stopped for a quick bite of lunch at 1:30 I’d used my inhaler twice. Steph had caught me the second time, on our way into the break room, and she frowned. “Is the warehouse bothering your asthma?”

“A little bit. It’s fine.”

Sam said, “Steph’s applying to nursing school. She’s already playing the part.”

I reached into the fridge for a Coke and one of the sandwiches that Christine had sent for our lunch. “Nursing school at the University of Arizona?”

“Yeah. I have to take a couple more prerequisites, but I’m getting my math and English out of the way while I’m in high school. This spring I’m taking statistics, and I’ll test out of Spanish. So when I start at the university next fall I’ll have almost all science classes.”

I said, “I can’t believe this has never come up – I assume both of you are fluent in Spanish?”

Sam said, “Yeah. Mom and Dad wanted us to grow up bilingual. So Dad and his family would only speak Spanish to us, and Mom and Aunt Ruth would only speak English. It worked.”

“That’s good. I wish my Spanish was better.”

Sam grinned. “When I come to UCLA, you and I can practice.”

“What are you thinking of majoring in?”

“Geophysics. I want to study earthquakes.”

I looked at her in surprise. “No kidding. How’d you get interested in that?”

She shrugged. “I’ve always been fascinated by them.”

“Well, you’re certainly coming to the right place.”

We finished eating and Steph checked her watch. “We’ve got a couple of minutes. Come on, Uncle Jamie, I want to show you the pet section.”

The girls walked me to the front corner of the store, which was a pet owner’s delight – everything from leashes to beds to books to food, plus calendars with different dog breeds, kittens, and even parrots. I said, “Wow.”

Sam laughed. Steph said, “Why don’t you take your time? Look around a little bit. See if there’s anything you like.”

I said, “Stephanie Fernandez, you are a very bad influence on me.”

She snickered. “Just trying to help Uncle Pete out.”

“Uh huh.” I grinned. “Don’t we need to be stocking shelves?”

“We can handle it for a few minutes.” She waved her hand at the shelves. “Browse.”

“Yes, ma’am.” I turned to the array of dog treats in front of me. How could you possibly figure out which was the best? I supposed I’d be asking Jeff questions of that sort. If we decided to take Ammo home.

But seriously – what was my hesitation? The biggest con on my pro-con list was having a very large dog in a fairly small space. But we didn’t have a lot of furniture; we had the floor space for dog beds upstairs and down. Our neighborhood was perfect for dog walking, with sidewalks everywhere. The airport dog park was not far.

I’d checked with Ali and Mel, who couldn’t wait to meet Ammo and had already promised to keep him any time we liked and to let him swim in their pool. Mel said that she certainly would take him to work with her. Kristen had also agreed that she and Kevin could take him to her house on the weekends when we were out of town; they usually spent the weekends there anyway, rather than in the condo, and it would give Kevin some dog time that he wouldn’t get otherwise.

When I’d talked to Dad last night, he’d said that so far Ammo had stuck to his toys in terms of chewing. He hadn’t even pulled a single bath towel off a rack, something that Ralphie was renowned for.

I wandered through the shelves of supplies and stopped at the display of collars and leashes. They had camo patterns, of course; the desert camo would go well with Ammo’s fur.

A voice behind me said, “See something you like?”

I jumped, startled, and turned to see Andy’s brother, who had a knowing smile on his face. I chuckled. “What size collar do I need for an 87-pound Lab?”

He took the second-largest sized collar off the rack and handed it to me. “There you go. It’s adjustable. And this…” He took one of the leashes off its hanger. “This is the right sized leash for that collar. You like the desert camo?”

“Yeah. It matches the dog.”

He laughed. “I’ll ring you up, if you’re ready.”

I stood for a minute, looking at the collar and leash in my hands, and smiled. “I’m ready. Do you have gift wrap, by any chance?”


Friday, December 25

We left Tucson after breakfast on Christmas morning – Pete’s surprise gift secreted in my luggage – and got to Dad’s by dinnertime. When we came to the door Ammo woofed, but when he saw us he got excited. Dad had told him to sit and he remained seated, but he was wiggling all over, his tail a blur. When we were safely inside I called Ammo to me, and he galumphed over and leaned against my legs. Pete knelt down to scratch his ears and he licked Pete’s hand.

Ali and Mel were visiting Ali’s family for the holidays, and they came over for dinner and to meet Ammo. In a matter of minutes, Ali was on the floor playing with him. Mel said to me, “If you guys decide not to take him, maybe we’ll consider it.”

The sorrowful look on Pete’s face at Mel’s suggestion reinforced to me that I’d made the right decision.


Dad had brought home leftovers from Christmas dinner at Val’s, and we had turkey and dressing sandwiches for supper. As we sat down Ali said, “Where’s Barb?”

Dad’s face was perfectly neutral. “She went home after dinner at Jeff’s. She’s had her fill of dogs.”

Mel was appalled. “She doesn’t like dogs?

Ali said, “I don’t trust people who aren’t dog people. No offense, sir.”

Dad gave her a half-grin. “None taken. Neither do I.”

Ammo stayed on his bed while we ate, although he was watching us with drooling desire. I asked, “Has he ever tried to beg at the table?”

Dad said, “Nope. He’s been trained not to.”

“Have you taken him to Jeff’s to play?”

“Yes. He and Ralphie romp together without conflict, although when they tire out they retreat to their corners. I’ve taken him to the dog park, too. He’ll play fetch for hours.”

Pete said, “How many toys do you have for him?”

“A few – a knobby ball, a can of tennis balls, the rope bone you gave him, and a thing that you can put kibble in and it spills out as he rolls it. That’s a good way to entertain him while he’s alone at home.”


After dinner Ali and Mel went back to the Fortners’ house, and Pete, Dad and I gathered in the living room to open gifts. Dad had our presents from Jeff and his crew as well. I’d alerted Jeff to my decision, and knew that Dad had a small package for Pete, from Jeff, that he was holding until last.

As usual we both received a towering stack of books. We had new hiking socks from Colin and Gabe, and a colorful assortment of bandanas from Ali and Mel – a joke that went back to our wedding, when Ali loaned us bandanas to fulfill our “something borrowed” requirement.

When we’d unwrapped all the gifts in his sight, Pete looked around at the piles of paper and presents. “We are so fortunate.”

Dad said, “Yes. We are. Never forget that.”

We observed a spontaneous, unofficial moment of silence. Then I said, “We’re about to get more fortunate.” I handed him the box containing the leash and collar.

He gave me a suspicious look as he tore open the paper. “What’s this?”

“You’ll see.”

He opened the box, took out the collar and leash, and held them in his hands for a minute, staring at them. I said, “It’s unanimous.”

“Oh my God! Thank you!” He lunged at me and we ended up on the floor in a pile, laughing. I untangled myself and sat up. “Ammo, come.”

Ammo trotted over, thrilled to be included in whatever fun the humans were having. I took off the collar he was wearing and adjusted the new camo collar around his neck. “There you go, buddy. Do you like it?”

Ammo shook all over then sniffed the leash. I said, “That’s yours too.”

He looked at me as if to say, “So why aren’t we using it?”

I laughed. “In a minute, buddy. Daddy Pete has another present to open.”

Pete had sat up and brushed himself off. “Another one?”

Dad produced the gift that he’d hidden under the sofa. “This one’s from Jeff.”

Pete opened it – to find a six-month supply of heartworm medicine, and a dog toothbrush and liver-flavored toothpaste. He laughed. “Okay, okay. I’ll brush his teeth.”

I got to my feet. “Come on. Let’s try out this new leash.”

We let Ammo out into the back yard to do his business then hooked his new leash and walked north on Tremont, looking at the Christmas lights. I said, “We should leave a bed and dishes here for him.”

Pete said, “We’ll need beds and bowls for Ali’s and Kristen’s too, if we’re not going to be transferring all that stuff around every time we go someplace.”

“It’s like having a kid, except everything won’t fit in a diaper bag.” I stopped and laid my hand on Pete’s arm. “You know that’s the biggest change. Everything we do now, everyplace we go, we have to consider Ammo.”

Ammo’s tail thumped against my leg at the sound of his name. Pete said, “I know. I finally get to use my paternal instincts.”

I didn’t let go of his arm. “And here’s the worst thing. In ten or twelve years, he’ll absolutely break our hearts.”

Pete nodded and scratched Ammo’s ears. “I’m not going to think about that yet.”


Saturday, December 26

The next morning Pete and I took Ammo to the back yard to do his business, then for a jog in the neighborhood. He trotted along at our heels, perfectly behaved, not stopping every few feet to sniff or lunging ahead to greet people or dogs. A very non-Lab-like Lab. The more time we spent with him, the more I appreciated his military training.

When we got back to the house Barb was there. She greeted us happily but didn’t look thrilled to see Ammo – and vice versa. Ammo ignored her. He ambled right past her, retrieved his rope bone from his bed, and settled down for a chew.

Barb said, “You’re taking him home with you, right?”

I said, “Right. He’ll be back to visit.”

She didn’t look pleased at that either. Pete said, “We didn’t know that you dislike dogs.”

Barb seemed to know that she was in trouble on this topic. “Oh, it’s not so much that I dislike them. I’m not comfortable around them. They’re so – dirty.”

Like litterboxes weren’t? I said, “No one ever got cat scratch fever from a dog.”

She frowned. “I suppose that’s true.”


Public domain photo

We took Ammo shopping to buy new beds, bowls and toys. He lingered by the rawhides, but we managed to tug him away from those and toward the nylon bones. We got a spare collar, leash and car harness, and the largest bag of his brand of food that they had. We wandered the aisles, making sure we hadn’t missed anything. Everyone we saw stopped us. “Oh, what a beautiful dog.”

Pete, already the proud parent, said, “Thank you,” over and over.


Monday, December 28

We drove home on Monday, Ammo securely strapped into the back seat. He was good in the car, sitting up in the center of the back seat, watching the scenery. When we got home we took him for a leisurely walk so that he could explore the immediate neighborhood, then introduced him to the house.

He was fascinated by the stairs and spent several minutes trotting up and down them. We set up his primary food and water bowls on a waterproof mat in the kitchen and installed a second water bowl in the master bathroom. We put his main bed in our room and another in the living room, since we didn’t want him on the sofa. As soon as we placed the living room bed, he flopped onto it with his rope bone and gnawed himself to sleep.

We had a dog.


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Filed under Short Stories

Staff Sgt. Ammo, part 2

Saturday, December 19

On Saturday morning we finished packing, loaded the Jeep and drove to Oceanside. We were spending one night, then would drive to Tucson, to Pete’s sister’s ranch, on Sunday. We’d be back at Dad’s late Christmas Day.

When we walked onto Dad’s front porch, we heard a deep “woof” from the other side of the door. I heard Dad say something muffled, then he opened the front door, leaving the screened wrought-iron gate closed. “Hey, guys. Say hello to Ammo.”

Ammo was beautiful, a classic, stocky, English Lab. He approached the door, tail wagging. I squatted down and put my hand on the screen; he sniffed it then licked it.

I grinned. “Hi, Ammo. Aren’t you a handsome boy?”

Pete followed my suit and got an even more enthusiastic lick from Ammo through the screen. Dad said, “I think he approves.”

He unlatched the door and we went inside. Dad said, “Ammo, sit.”

Ammo sat while we carried our bags to the bedroom. Dad poured iced tea and we gathered around the kitchen table. Ammo sat beside Pete and rested his head on Pete’s knee.

I laughed. “Oh, boy, are you in trouble now.”

Dad said, “He knows who the cook is.”

Pete grinned. “Ammo, I have something for you.” He’d brought the Unleashed bag; he opened it and handed Ammo the rope bone.

Ammo’s tail expressed his joy. He accepted the bone and vigorously shook it a couple of times, then retreated to a bed in the corner of the kitchen and began to chew.

Dad said, “So. What do you think?”

Pete said, “We haven’t come up with a reason not to take him yet.”

I said, “Pete’s already decided.”

Pete rolled his eyes. “No, I haven’t. We’re still talking about it.”

Dad said, “When you’re gone over the holidays like this, you can leave him here.”

Pete said, “In spite of Barb’s objections?”

Dad sighed. “I hate to say it, but I’ll be surprised if we’re still seeing each other by this time next year.”

I asked, “Then why don’t you just keep Ammo?”

“I’m not ready to pull the plug. I told you, she doesn’t think anything’s wrong yet. Besides, she’s extremely excited about going to Tyler’s wedding. She talked to him for quite a while at your reception.”

I pointed out, “You said Barb didn’t mind being around Jeff’s dogs for short periods. She’s not living with you, so she would only be with Ammo for shortish periods. I’m still not entirely clear on why you aren’t keeping him.”

Dad said shortly, “She asked me not to.”

Pete and I looked at each other. I said, “Oh.”

Pete said, “Not to play psychologist with you, Dave, but you’re making a sacrifice here. A pretty big sacrifice, if you’d rather keep Ammo. What’s she sacrificing for you?”

Dad sighed. “Not a thing.”

We were quiet for a minute. Pete and I looked at each other, then at Ammo, who was happily gnawing on the rope bone’s thick knot. I said, “We have six more days to decide, right?”

Dad said, “Right. He’s not going anywhere until then.”


Mid-afternoon we drove to Jeff’s to switch cars. We didn’t trust the 17-year-old Jeep to make the trip to Tucson, and Jeff had two new CR-Vs, one for him and one for Val. When we got to the house Ralphie, and Jeff’s border collie, Phoebe, bounded up then stopped, their joyful welcome interrupted by the enticing scent of another dog. They sniffed all over our pants legs as we tried to get into the house.


The original Ralphie. My towel-stealing, phone book-shredding, 98-pound cuddlebug. 1996-2012.

Val opened the door for us, laughing. “Getting the doggie third degree, I see.”

“Haven’t they met Ammo?”

“Only once. Come on in.”

Gabe, Colin and Jeff were sprawled in the family room, watching the original Ghostbusters. I said, “Hey, guys.”

At least the boys both looked up. Gabe said, “Hi, Uncle Jamie.” Colin just waved.

Jeff got to his feet and joined us in the kitchen. I said, “Ah, for the days when Gabe would jump into my arms when I walked through the door.”

“Tell me about it.” Jeff opened the fridge. “Beer?”

We accepted a bottle and sat at the table. I said, “We met Ammo. Dad says he’s healthy.”

“Completely. His hips are good, everything’s fine. Have you decided to take him?”

“Not yet. We’re discussing it.”

Pete said, “So far we haven’t thought of a reason not to.”

Val put a couple of loaves of bread into the oven and joined us. “Can you believe Barb asked Dave not to keep him?”

I said, “I can believe that she asked him more than I can believe he agreed to give him up.”

Val and Jeff exchanged a look. Val said, “I asked him why he didn’t just break up with her.”

Pete said, “So did we. He says he’s got to build a case.”

I said, “I guess I haven’t been paying attention. I didn’t realize they were having problems.”

Jeff said, “I wouldn’t say they’re problems, exactly. Dad’s bored. I’m not sure that Barb realizes that.”

Val said, “She’s not the most insightful person I’ve ever met.”



Dad had been keeping Ammo’s primary bed in his own room. For tonight, he moved the kitchen bed into the guest room. When we went to bed, Ammo followed us into the room and settled onto his bed with a sigh.

I said, “Where would we put his bed in our room?”

“Hm.” Pete considered that for a minute. “Beside the door to the deck, I guess. There’s not another good place.”

“Would we let him on the furniture?”

“I’d rather not, if we can keep him off of it.”

I said, “I think he’ll stay off if we tell him to.”

Pete chuckled. “As you said on Wednesday – you hope.”

“Yeah, I know.” I got into bed and looked at Ammo, already snoozing. He looked like he belonged.

Pete climbed into bed. “Do you think your dad is hesitating to break up with Barb only out of fairness and having to build a case?”

“I’m sure that’s part of it.” I rubbed my face. “But – as much as I don’t like to think about the fact that my dad has a sex life, I bet that’s the primary reason for his reluctance. He went through a long dry spell before he met her.”

“You think they’re sexually compatible?”

“I think that and inertia is what’s holding them together.”

“Well.” Pete slid down under the covers. “Inertia won’t last forever.”


Sunday, December 20

The next morning we said goodbye to Dad and Ammo at 6:00 and headed east. I drove while Pete read Labs for Dummies. Once he laughed, and I said, “What?”

“This cartoon. You’ll have to look at it later.” He closed the book and slid it into the door pocket. “How many Labs did you have, growing up?”

“Three. Not at the same time. Mom and Dad had a black Lab when we were all born. He lived until I was six. We got another black one when I was about ten, and a yellow one when I was fifteen.” I smiled, remembering. “He was named Charger, but he was the laziest Lab I’ve ever seen.”

“Did he live a long time? I seem to remember hearing that name.”

“Yeah. Dad still had him when I met you. He lived to be fourteen.”

“So you’ve had plenty of experience with Labs.”

“And with military dogs. We had a couple of German shepherds along the way that were retired Marines.”

Pete took a sip of his coffee and made a face. “Ugh. Cold. It occurs to me, except for deciding how to use the inheritance money, this is our first big decision since we’ve been married.”


“And it’s playing out like most of our decisions do.”

I glanced at him. “How so?”

“I’m ready to jump in, and you’re the hesitant one.”

“When have we done that?”

“I fell in love with you faster. I wanted to move in together immediately and you were not thrilled with the idea.”

“It grew on me.”

“Uh huh. When you got the money, I said we could move to Scotland. You said, ‘How about New Mexico?’”

I laughed.

“You’re the more deliberate decision maker. You make your lists of pros and cons.” Pete smiled. “I go with my gut – which, I have to say, has not always worked out for me.”

I said, “It did with me.”

He patted my knee. “Luckiest gut decision ever.”


We got to the ranch shortly after noon. We carried gifts into the house and gathered around the dining room table, where Chris had lunch ready. As we ate, Pete told his family about Ammo.

Samantha, who was planning to attend UCLA in a year and a half, was excited. “I’ll be able to come over and play with him.”

Chris said, “When you’re driving here, you could certainly bring him with you. It’s been a while since we’ve had a dog.”

I said, “I’m surprised you don’t.”

Andy frowned. “When we started the guest house business, we had two elderly pit bulls. We lost a couple of bookings because of it. Once the dogs had passed on, we decided not to get another one.”

Chris said, “Any guest that objects to a Lab probably shouldn’t vacation at a ranch.”


Monday, December 21

We spent Monday hanging out with Pete’s dad. Pete took him grocery shopping then cooked a pot of vegetarian chili and froze portions for Jack’s meals. We told Jack about the dog, and he told stories of dogs he’d had growing up.

We saw Jack every couple of months, and he didn’t seem to be growing stronger, as we’d all expected after his heart attack. He wasn’t getting worse anymore, but had plateaued at a much lower level of cardiac fitness than his doctors had predicted. Pete was concerned, but I knew Chris and the girls were keeping as close watch as possible over Jack and his health.

We were on Jack’s back porch after lunch, the afternoon sun warm enough if we wore sweatshirts. I brought a pen and Pete’s copy of Labs for Dummies with me. Pete said, “What are you up to?”

“Making my list of pros and cons.” I turned to the first chapter. “They’re not terrific guard dogs.”

“We don’t need a guard dog. Besides, he barked when we walked onto Dave’s porch. He might be better than you think.”

“We have no yard.”

“We have a dog park. And he can swim at Kristen’s.”

“Have you asked Kristen about that?”

“She won’t mind.”

“Uh huh.” I flipped through the pages. “We live in a very small house.”

“So does your dad. You had two or three dogs at a time growing up, right?”

“Yeah… Labs are shedding machines.”

“We’ll brush him outside every day. And you enjoy vacuuming.”

“With a dog, you have to go outside regardless of weather. If it’s bucketing down rain, the dog still has to go out.”

Pete gave me a look. “Bucketing down rain? In LA? Once this El Nino dissipates, how often will buckets of rain happen?”

Someone will have to brush his teeth.”


Jack laughed. “I reckon you can find one of those YouTube videos to teach you how to do that, Pete.”

Now it was my turn to laugh. “What an excellent idea.”

Pete rolled his eyes. “Look at all those chapters about issues that are already solved for us. We already have an excellent vet.”

“We’ll have to find a local vet for emergencies.”

“I’m sure Jeff can recommend someone. Ammo’s already fully trained.”

“He’ll need daily reinforcement.”

“He’ll get it. And, we can afford him.”

I couldn’t argue with that. “You’ve already decided.”

Pete sighed. “If we put it to a vote right now, I’d say yes. But the vote has to be unanimous.”

Jack said, “Sounds like you’ve got all the angles worked out.”

I gave him a mock frown. “You’re not helping, Jack.”

He and Pete both just grinned at me.


Filed under Short Stories

Staff Sgt. Ammo, part 1

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

“Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday, dear Dad, happy birthday to yooooouuuuuu!”

At the other end of the line, my dad laughed. “Why, thank you. You two should take your act on the road.”

Pete chuckled. I said, “We could do singing telegrams. Spread the joy. What are you doing this evening?”

“Val’s making dinner.”

“Barb’s not making dinner?”

Dad made a small sound that I couldn’t entirely interpret. “Barb doesn’t make dinner.”

Pete said, “She could take you out to dinner.”

“She could. She’s not.”

Pete and I gave each other a “yikes” look. I said, “Um – sounds like all is not well in Lake Wobegon.”

Dad sighed. “It’s – I think we’ve run out of things to talk about.”

Pete said, “You don’t have much in common.”

“No. As time has gone on that’s become more clear. As a matter of fact…” He cleared his throat. “Do you guys want a dog?”

We looked at each other again, this time in alarm. I said, “Uh – what?”

“As of two days ago I have a foster dog, and I need to find a home for him. Jeff says he could probably find someone, but this is a very special dog. I’d rather keep him in the family. Kevin’s limited to 50 pounds.”

Pete said slowly, “The dog is over 50 pounds.”

I asked, “How far over 50 pounds?”

“He weighs 87.”

I said, “Holy crap. What is he?”

“He’s a Lab. A yellow Lab.”

Pete and I had talked about having a dog. At the time, I’d said that I didn’t want to have a Lab in our 960-square-foot townhouse. So, of course, the first dog that came along would be a Lab.

Pete said, “Can’t Jeff and Val take him? He’d be a buddy for Ralphie.”

“No. He needs to be an only dog.”

I asked, “Why is he special? And how did you end up with him?”

Iraqi Freedom

By soldiersmediacenter (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

“He’s a Marine. Staff Sergeant Ammo. He was a bomb-detection dog at the base – he never saw combat. His handler decided he wanted out of the bomb business, so they tried to train Ammo to work with someone else – and failed. He wouldn’t obey the commands for anyone new. They tried three different handlers. So they decided to retire him, and his previous handler couldn’t take him because his kid’s developed allergies. The Pendleton vet didn’t want to turn him over to the company that adopts out the retired dogs, so he called Jeff, and Jeff called me.”

Pete said, “So he won’t obey commands?”

“He obeys regular commands just fine. Sit, stay, come, shake, roll over, the whole pet dog repertoire. He just won’t work.”

I said, “I guess he wanted out of the bomb business too.”

Pete asked, “You have him now?”

“Yeah. He’s right here.” Dad’s voice sounded farther away; he must have moved the phone from his ear. “Ammo, speak.”

We heard a deep, sharp bark. A big dog’s bark. Dad said, “Good boy.”

I said, “How old is he?”

“Three. You’ll have many years of companionship. Jeff looked him over already and he’s in excellent health.”

I said, “And what does this have to do with Barb?”

Dad sighed. “That’s why I can’t keep him myself. Barb doesn’t like dogs.”


“Exactly. I did not know this. I said, ‘What about all the time we’ve spent at Jeff and Val’s with their dogs?’ She said, ‘For short periods they’re fine, but I wouldn’t want one in the house.’”

Pete said, “Weeeelll… If you’re looking for a reason to end it with her, this could be it.”

“No. I’m not breaking up with a woman over a dog that I just got. That’s not fair.”

Pete and I looked at each other. I knew we were thinking the same thing. Pete said, “So you think your relationship is dwindling away, and I get the sense you’d like to keep Ammo – why prolong the inevitable?”

Dad sighed. “It’s complicated.”

I said, “Isn’t it always?”

“I suppose. The thing is, I’m pretty sure that Barb doesn’t think we’re dwindling away. She seems happy as ever, other than continuing to throw hints that she’d like to move in here.”

I nearly yelped. “She still wants to move in?

“She keeps mentioning how convenient it would be. I’ve told her several times why that’s not going to happen, and she seems to think I’ll wear down if she repeats it enough.”

Pete laughed. “She doesn’t know you very well.”

“No, I don’t think she does. Anyway. I’m going to have to be the one to break up, when the time comes. I can’t just spring it on her suddenly. I’ve got to build my case. Ammo is the cornerstone of my case.”

I said, “Suppose we do take him – we’ll be bringing him to visit. Is that going to bother her?”

“Possibly. If so, tough.”

Pete asked, “Why does he need to be an only dog? Does he not get along with other dogs?”

“It’s not that. The Pendleton vet said that he’s used to being an only dog. These guys are trained to work with people. They’re not as well socialized to other dogs.”

I looked at Pete; he shrugged. I said, “We have to talk about this.”

“Sure. You’ll be here Saturday, right? You can meet him, then think about it while you’re in Arizona. When you come back through, if you’ve decided to take him, he can go home with you.”

I said, “Okay. See you Saturday.”

We hung up and I flopped back against the sofa cushions. “An 87-pound Lab.”

Pete grinned. “And you said you weren’t having a Lab in this house.”

I shot a look at him. “You’re the one who will be home with him more. What do you think?”

“I think that a military-trained Lab is very different from a Lab like Ralphie that’s been raised with kids and other dogs. Ammo will do what we tell him. He’s not going to chew the furniture.”

“You hope. He’ll need lots of exercise.”

Pete picked up my phone and did a quick search. “There’s an off-leash dog park by the airport. We can take him over there to play fetch.”

“Labs shed a lot.”

“We’ll vacuum more often.”

We, kemo sabe?”

Pete laughed. “Cleaning relaxes you. You’ll be so relaxed…”

“We have to consider travel. We’re gone one weekend a month, and next summer we’re all going to DC for two weeks. Who will he stay with?”

“For the weekends, we could see if Kevin and Kristen would stay at Kristen’s house and keep him. For the two weeks next summer, Ali and Mel might be willing to dog-sit. Mel could probably take him to work with her.”

I said, “You’ve already decided.”

“No, I’m just pointing out that your objections can be overcome.” He patted my knee. “Think about it. We’d get an exquisitely well-trained young adult purebred dog, free. That should appeal to your sense of frugality.”

I had to laugh. “It does.”

He slapped my knee again and stood up. “We have two weeks before we’d bring him home. Plenty of time to mull it over.”

I said, “Barb doesn’t like dogs or baseball. And her favorite hobby is shopping.”

“Sounds like a doomed relationship to me.” Pete went to the kitchen and opened the fridge. “They started seeing each other because of Colin and Gabe.”

Dad and Barb met in the summer of 2013, when Dad was taking Gabe to the public library summer reading program. Barb began helping Colin with his school work shortly thereafter. “Yeah. And this is Colin’s last semester of homeschooling. Colin won’t need Barb once he starts high school in the fall.”

“No.” Pete was getting dishes out of the cabinet. “Dinner’s ready.”


Thursday, December 17

The next morning at work I told Liz about Ammo. She said, “He sounds great. If there was a weekend when Kevin and Kristen couldn’t keep him, Jon and I could stay at your place with him. Jon loves dogs.”

I said, “You guys should have one.”

“Nah. We’re limited to twenty pounds, and I can’t stand toy dogs. Jon’s mother has Pomeranians. Nasty, yappy little bastards. So, are you going to keep him?”

“We’re still deciding.”

Liz nodded knowingly. “You’re keeping him.” Her phone rang, and I recognized the ringtone. “Back in the Saddle Again.” Jon.

She answered, “Hey, cowboy. Nah, just talking to Jamie. What’s up?” Her face grew serious. “Oh. Um – you can’t really say no, can you? Yeah, I know.” Big sigh. “Okay, sure. See ya.” She hung up and said, “Well, fuck.”


“Jon’s got a must-attend Christmas party tomorrow night. I hate Christmas party season. I spend my entire evening watching him to make sure he’s not drinking too much.”

Oh. I didn’t realize that was still a problem.”

“He drinks when the job is stressful, or when he thinks the job is about to become stressful, which it often does around the holidays when people tend to kill each other. And he and Kevin are on duty all next week.”

“Ugh. Who’s giving the party, that he can’t miss it?”

“His first captain is a midlevel manager at headquarters now, and he’s invited us. It wouldn’t be a good career move to say no.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Jon’s thinking of making a career move?”

Liz shrugged. “Not now, but he knows Kevin won’t stay with the force forever, now that you guys have the inheritance. He’s trying to think ahead.”

“Does he want to stay on the job?”

“He’s open to alternatives, but he hasn’t come up with one that he likes yet.” Liz checked her watch. “Speaking of Christmas parties, the political science department is having a brunch get-together in fifteen minutes. I’d better scoot.”

I said, “Are you violating any of your Buddhist principles by attending these Christmas parties?”

She laughed. “No, you’re confusing us with the Jehovah’s Witnesses. See you at reference.”


There wasn’t much point in staffing the reference desk the day before the quarter ended, as we had no business at all. Plenty of time to chit-chat. Liz was regaling me with tales of the weirder members of the political science department when Clinton made his regular appearance at 1:30.

Liz said, “Hi, Clinton.”

“Dr. Brodie, Ms. Nguyen. This will be my last visit with you until the new year. I am departing this evening for my brother’s home in Nevada.”

I said, “Safe travels.”

“Thank you. The word of the day is kyon.” He bowed. “A blessed holiday season to you both.”

Liz said, “Thank you, Clinton.”

Clinton walked away. I looked up the word and began to laugh. “Kyon is the Old Greek word for dog.”

Liz poked me in the shoulder. “See? Clinton has approved. Ammo is yours.”

“Yeah, sure.” But I wasn’t sure. Not yet.


When I got home there was a bag from Unleashed sitting on the sofa. Pete was rattling around in the kitchen. I carried the bag upstairs and set it on the counter. “Getting a little ahead of yourself, aren’t you?”

“Nah. I didn’t get much. If we do bring him home, I want to be prepared.”

I dug into the bag and found a copy of Labrador Retrievers for Dummies, a large braided rope bone, and a box of healthy dog treats. I said, “I don’t think you’ll have to bribe him to like you.”

“Those aren’t bribes, they’re goodwill gestures. And I’ll read the book while we’re in Arizona. I know you grew up with big dogs, but I’ve never had a pet of any kind. I have to educate myself.”

“It sounds like you’ve decided already.”

“No, I haven’t. But I thought more about it today, and couldn’t think of a reason not to take him.” Pete handed me a filled plate.

I had to admit… “I haven’t thought of a reason, either.”

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Coming tomorrow: A new short story!

Beginning tomorrow, a new short story will debut here on the blog. It’s a three-parter, called Staff Sgt. Ammo. It takes place over the Christmas holiday of 2015.

Stay tuned! I hope you enjoy it.


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Talked to Death is now on Smashwords!

If you’re one of my readers who buys through Smashwords, Talked to Death (along with the stories Hearts and Best Men) is now available for preorder through the Smashwords site. Here’s the link:

The release date is April 1. No fooling! 😀

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Jamie Brodie Mystery #9

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