Dog Tags


By David Rosenfelt

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In this “riveting” legal thriller, a German Shepherd police dog witnesses a murder — and if his owner, an Iraq war vet and former cop-turned-thief, is convicted of the crime, the dog could be put down (Publishers Weekly).

Few rival Andy Carpenter’s affection for dogs, and he decides to represent the poor canine. As Andy struggles to convince a judge that this dog should be set free, he discovers that the dog and his owner have become involved unwittingly in a case of much greater proportions than the one they’ve been charged with.

Andy will have to call upon the unique abilities of this ex-police dog to help solve the crime and prevent a catastrophic event from taking place.


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Table of Contents

Copyright Page

IT FELT SO much like being a cop. The fact that the two occupations were so similar was an irony that was never lost on Billy Zimmerman, who was certainly in a unique position to know. Until three years ago, he was a cop. Now he was a thief.

And at times like this, he was damned if he could tell the difference.

Much of the similarity was in the waiting. Back then he might be assigned to follow someone, to simply watch and see where they were going, and to move in if they did something illegal. If things got hairy, there was an unlimited supply of backup to call upon.

In his new occupation, there was just as much downtime, but now it was spent waiting for a potential victim to make a mistake, to reveal a vulnerability. Of course, being a thief came with more built-in pressure. If you failed a mission as a cop, the captain got pissed off. Fail as a thief, and it's a warden you're dealing with.

And calling in backup was not a viable option.

Standing outside Skybar on River Road in Edgewater, New Jersey, Billy was hopeful that something good was about to happen. It was Friday evening, and his target had been standing outside the building for twenty minutes, frequently checking his watch, and obviously waiting for someone.

Billy noticed the man held his right arm tight in against his ribs, as if pressing something against himself. He seemed to exert a constant pressure, which could be extremely tiring. This was no anonymous target; Billy knew him very well, and he had no doubt that there was something valuable inside his jacket, something he wanted to completely control.

Which made it something that Billy wanted.

Billy looked toward his partner, Milo, a classic, powerful German shepherd. Milo stood to the left of the club, near the curb, thirty feet away. A casual observer might have observed that Milo was wearing a leash around his neck, with the other end tied to a signpost. A more keen observer might have noticed that there was no knot on the leash; it was simply wound loosely around the post.

Milo could free himself whenever he so chose, and he was planning to do so as soon as Billy gave him the sign.

Milo, more than anything else, made Billy feel like he was back on the force. They were partners then, before Iraq, before the sixteen-year-old girl who calmly blew herself up and took Billy's left leg with her.

Getting Milo back was the best thing that had happened since, and not just because of his particular, immense talent. Billy loved Milo, and Milo loved him right back. They were a team, and they were friends.

And for now they both waited for the moment they knew was coming.

"YOU'RE ANDY CARPENTER, right?" The man speaking is four inches shorter than me and at least forty pounds heavier. That makes him short and fat. He is standing in front of large platters of shrimp and crab. I've been eyeing them for a while, until he came and blocked my view.

I nod confirmation. "That's me."

I reach out my left hand to shake his, which is the only hand I have available. My right hand is securely in my right pocket, which is where it has been for three hours, ever since I got dressed.

That hand isn't just hanging out in that pocket. It is holding on to the ring that Kevin Randall, the junior partner in our two-lawyer firm, will be slipping onto Kelly Topfer's finger in about twenty minutes. I'm a little paranoid about stuff like this, and as the best man I want to make sure that when the minister says Kevin's ready for me to provide the ring, I don't come up with air or pocket lint.

Kelly and Kevin met only five months ago, and for Kevin it's a match made in heaven. He is the world's biggest hypochondriac, and Kelly is an internist. If it were left to Kevin, the couple would have registered for gifts at an online medical supply store.

The wedding is being held at the Claremont Hotel in Closter, New Jersey, thirty-five minutes from my house in Paterson. The pre-ceremony cocktail party has been an hors-d'oeuvrian challenge for me. If you don't believe me, try to take the tail shell off a shrimp with one hand while standing. And even if it were possible, how do you dip it in cocktail sauce? And what do you do with your drink?

"Eddie Lynch. People call me Hike" is how he introduces himself.

The name Eddie Lynch rings a bell somewhere in the recesses of my mind, but since there are already two bloody Marys sloshing around in there, I'm not thinking too clearly.

"You a friend of Kevin's?"

He shrugs. "We were roommates in law school."

The name clicks into place. Kevin has told me about him a few times, describing him as the smartest lawyer he knows. Since I'm also a lawyer whom Kevin knows, I half pretended to take offense, but Kevin wouldn't back off his assessment.

"You're the best man, right?" he asks.

"Yes," I say in a solemn voice. "I am. By far."

He shakes his head. "I'm glad he didn't pick me. I'd probably lose the damn ring."

The conversation, not exactly scintillating up to this point, takes a turn for the worse, as we both just stand there with nothing to say. It's getting uncomfortable, so I pipe up with, "They make a great couple, don't they?"

He shrugs again. Shrugging seems to be his movement of choice. "If it works out. But when was the last time one of these worked out?"

I'm a life-half-empty kind of guy, but "Hike" is making me look like Mr. Sunshine. '

"Let me guess," I say. "You're not married."

"No way," he says. "Not me. I'd beat them off with a stick if I had to."

"Have you had to?"

He takes a step back and holds out his hands, palms up, as if inviting me to look at him. "Not in this lifetime," he says, then laughs a surprisingly pleasant laugh and walks away.

A few moments later Laurie Collins, better known as the love of my life, walks over. She has a small plate of food in her hand, and watches Hike as he walks away.

"Who was that?" she asks.

"The Prince of Darkness."

She decides that isn't worth a follow-up, so she asks, "Have you eaten anything? The shrimp are wonderful."

"I haven't been able to figure out how to get the tails off with one hand. And then there's the dipping-them-in-cocktail-sauce problem."

"Why can't you use two hands?" she asks.

"Because I'm holding on to the ring in my pocket."

"Isn't the pocket supposed to hold it? Isn't that why pockets exist?"

"You're talking philosophy and I'm talking reality," I say. "I'm afraid if I take my hand out I'll drop the ring."

"Why would you do that?" she asks.

"It wouldn't be on purpose. It might slip out and fall on the floor, and then what the hell would I do?"

"You could pick it up."

"It might fall down a drain."

"A drain in the carpet? You've got serious mental problems, you know?"

Just then the lights flash on and off, signaling that it's time to head into the other room for the ceremony. "It's showtime, Mr. Best Man. Get the ring ready."

I squeeze it a little tighter in my pocket. "It's under control," I say.

We start to leave the room, and I cast a glance back at the shrimp. "You think they'll still be here later?" I ask, but Laurie just frowns a look of disgust.

I take that as a no.

THE MAN WAS proving tough to wart out.

He stood near the front of the bar for over an hour, all the while under the watchful eye of Billy and Milo, though Billy was across the street, and out of the man's line of sight.

Milo looked over at Billy as if to say, Let's get this show on the road. Occasionally, passersby would approach Milo, often clucking about how terrible it was for someone to have left their dog tied up like that. Milo would give a low growl, not menacing enough for them to call animal control, but powerful enough to make them walk away.

But Billy was not changing targets. He instinctively knew the man would do something that would put what he was protecting in a place where they could get to it. And with what he knew about this man, it could be very valuable.

So Billy and Milo waited until past midnight, which qualified as the wee hours of the morning by New Jersey standards. There weren't many cars going by, but Billy noticed that the man watched each one as it approached. He was meeting someone arriving by car.

If Billy's instincts were right, the upcoming meeting was to pass whatever was in the man's inside jacket pocket to the person he was meeting. If that was the case, Milo would have first dibs on it. If not, then Milo would probably just take the man's watch and be done with it. Either way, it would be a profitable night, and revenge would be sweet.

At twelve twenty, a Mercedes came down the street from the north, driving more slowly than normal. Billy tensed as it pulled over to the curb about thirty yards past the bar. The man Billy had been watching looked toward the car, nodded almost imperceptibly, and started walking in that direction.

The man walked past Milo, who did not look at him but was instead looking toward Billy, waiting for a signal. Billy just held one hand in the air, palm facing Milo, the signal to wait.

The driver of the car pulled his car to the corner and got out, leaving the door open. He walked a short distance toward the bar and then stood on the sidewalk, waiting for the man to reach him. Billy could see that the driver was tall, maybe six foot five. Billy moved closer to them, almost to where Milo was, about thirty feet from the driver of the car.

If the men greeted each other, it was inaudible to Billy, and they didn't shake hands. They stood together for two or three minutes, though Billy could not hear them talking.

The man from the bar started to reach into his jacket to take out whatever he had been protecting all this time. Billy moved closer, straining to see. Even in the darkness, he could clearly make out a thick envelope. The man started to hand it to the driver.

Billy gave Milo the signal to spring into action, and the dog reacted instantly. He raced toward the men just as the driver was himself taking something out of his own pocket. The glint off it sent a jolt of panic through Billy; it was a gun.

Billy never carried a gun himself; to do so would be to inflate any possible burglary charge to armed robbery. Instead he ran toward the men, though his prosthetic leg hampered the speed at which he could move.


Milo was by this time launching himself into the air, intent on grabbing the envelope now held by the driver. Just before he arrived, the man from the bar took a brief, frightened step back, and then a gunshot rang out. He was blown farther backward by the force of the bullet.

Milo's perfectly timed jump allowed him to grab the envelope from the driver's hand and take off down the street. The driver was clearly stunned, and it took a few moments for him to gather himself and point the gun toward the fleeing Milo.

As the man started to pull the trigger, Billy reached him and grabbed for the gun. It fired as they were both holding it, and the bullet went off target. The driver wrestled with Billy for the gun, but Billy carried the day with a well-placed knee to the groin.

The man grunted in pain and staggered toward his car. Billy considered chasing him, but opted instead to quickly glance at the license plate, memorizing the number, and then went over to try to help the man who had been shot.

He put the gun on the ground and felt the man's neck for a pulse, but there was none. Three men appeared from nowhere and fanned out into the area. Billy had been the first to arrive at a lot of crime scenes, and he knew with certainty that these were not city or state cops. But he had no idea who they were.

By this point, a crowd of people was starting to gather, and Billy yelled, "Somebody call nine-one-one! Hurry! Get an ambulance here!" He said this even though his substantial experience with gunshot victims made it clear to him that they hadn't invented the ambulance or doctors that could help this guy.

Within a few minutes local police cars and ambulances arrived, and the men who had gotten there first seemed to melt away. This gave Billy time to look around for Milo, but he was nowhere to be found.

When homicide detective Roger Naylor showed up, he took command of the crime scene. Naylor heard what the officers who were already there had to say, and then walked over to Billy. They had known each other for years.

"Hey, Billy. They tell me you're a witness?"


Naylor nodded. "You know the drill. Hang out until we can question you, and you'll need to make a statement."

Naylor didn't wait for a response; he just walked over to the area where the forensics people were doing their work. Billy noticed that detectives were questioning other witnesses, probably patrons from the bar.

It was almost an hour before Naylor came back to Billy, along with another detective and two patrolmen. It wasn't the waiting that bothered Billy; it was not knowing where Milo was. The sound of the gunshot at that close a range had undoubtedly spooked him, of that he was certain.

"Can we get this over with?" asked Billy.

"I'm afraid it's a little more complicated than that," Naylor said. "We're going to have to do this down at the station."

"Why is that?"

"Because you're under arrest," Naylor said as he and the patrolmen took out their weapons. "Stand and place your hands against the wall."

"DO YOU HAVE the ring?" The minister's question takes me by surprise, because I was waiting for the part where he asks if anybody knows any reason why the marriage shouldn't take place. Could it be that only movie ministers use that line?

I rise smoothly to the occasion and take the ring out of my pocket, and then hand it to Kevin. In doing so I am graceful but deliberate, focused but with the apparent calm assurance of someone who has been taking things out of his pocket for years. It is a standout performance.

After the ceremony we head into the main ballroom for dinner. There is a DJ who plays music way too loud and spends most of his time begging people to go out on the dance floor.

Dancing, other than slow dancing, makes absolutely no sense to me. I don't understand the enjoyment anyone could get from standing in one place and wildly gyrating. If it's such a blast, do these people turn on the radio when they're alone at home and start doing contortions? I don't think so.

So if they only do it in public, it must be because they're being watched by other people. They clearly think they look good doing it. They don't. If rooms like this were ringed with mirrors, 95 percent of all dancing would be eliminated.

This kind of dancing also violates my space-alien principle. I judge things by the measure of whether aliens, landing on earth for the first time, would observe something and deem it stupid. And unless the aliens were from the Planet Bozo, dancing would land squarely in the "stupid" category.

But Laurie likes to dance, so I cave in about once every four songs. I do this because I'm a terrific guy, and because I think on some level that it will increase my chances of having sex when we get home. Sex would also look stupid to aliens, but who cares what they think? They're aliens; are we going to let them run our lives?

Sitting at our table are Vince Sanders, Willie and Sondra Miller, Pete Stanton and his wife, Donna, and Edna Silver. Vince, Pete, and Willie are my three best friends in the world, with the notable exceptions of Laurie and Tara, my golden retriever.

Pete is a lieutenant on the Paterson, New Jersey, police force, which is where I grew up and where Laurie and I live. Willie is a former client and my partner in the Tara Foundation, a dog-rescue operation that we run.

Edna is what I used to call my secretary, but she now refers to herself as my administrative assistant. She's in her sixties, though she'd never admit it, and has occasionally talked of retirement. Since she doesn't do any actual work, I've got a hunch that her retirement isn't imminent.

"You going to write this up for tomorrow?" I ask Vince, the editor of the local newspaper. I'm sure Kevin would like it, but he'd never ask Vince, who can be rather disagreeable approximately 100 percent of the time.

"This wedding? Only if somebody gets murdered on the dance floor."

As the evening is nearing an end, Kevin comes over and says, "I just want to thank you again for being my best man."

"It was an honor. And I thought I handled the whole ring thing flawlessly."

He smiles. "Yes, you did."

"So, are you guys going to stay in your house, or move?" Kevin has a small house in Fair Lawn, where they have been living.

"That's what I wanted to talk to you about," he says. "We're going to move to Bangladesh."

I do a double take. "Bangladesh? Is there a Bangladesh, New Jersey?"

"No, I'm talking about the real Bangladesh. Andy, I should have told you this earlier, but Kelly and I are leaving the country. She's going to practice medicine where people really need her, and I'm going to offer whatever services I can."

I'm having trouble getting this to compute. "Bangladesh?"

He nods. "Bangladesh."

"You know how hot it is there? You can throw a Wiffle ball and hit the sun. The cement sweats."

"I know."

It's an amazingly selfless thing that they're doing, and since it doesn't seem like I can talk him out of it, I might as well try being gracious. "That's incredible, Kevin. Really remarkable."

"Thanks for understanding," he says.

"Really, I totally admire it, but aren't there other, closer Deshes that you could go to? Maybe a Desh with plumbing?"

"We've researched it pretty well," he says. "And since we haven't taken on a client in six months…"

"We'll be okay." I smile. "Edna will just pick up the slack."

"If you need help, you should bring Eddie Lynch in. I think he's left already, or I would introduce you."

"I met him. He's a real room brightener. When are you leaving?"

"A week from Wednesday."

"So this is the last time I'm going to see you?"

He nods. "You want to hug good-bye?"

I smile, because Kevin knows I'm not a big fan of guy-hugs. "No, but Laurie will want to."

"Good," he says. "She was my first choice anyway."

On the way home I tell Laurie about Kevin's decision. "I know," she says. "I think it's wonderful."

"He told you tonight?" I ask.

She shakes her head. "No… maybe two months ago. He asked me not to tell you."

"I can't believe he told you before me," I say.

"He told pretty much everybody before you," she says. "I think he was afraid you'd be disappointed in him."

This is annoying me no end. "For devoting his life to helping people? I'd be disappointed with that?"

"I'm not sure I'd put it that way," she says.

"How would you put it?"

She thinks for a few moments, then smiles. "I guess I would put it that way."

As we get near the George Washington Bridge, I get off the Palisades Interstate Parkway and take city streets to Route 4. Like everybody else who lives in northern New Jersey, I wear my knowledge of back streets and shortcuts in the area near the bridge as a badge of honor.

Suckers take highways.

We're on Lemoyne Avenue in Fort Lee when we see flashing lights from at least five police cars down a side street.

"I wonder what that's about," says Laurie. As an excop, I think she'd like to help out in whatever is going down. As a non-ex-cop, I want to get home and go to bed.

My point of view changes when I see that there are three animal control trucks intermingled with the police cars. As a certified animal lunatic, I want to know what could provoke such a massive government response.

"Let's check this out," I say.

Having seen the animal control trucks, Laurie knows exactly why I'm interested. "Why, you think a bunch of Chihuahuas might have broken into a PetSmart?"

The incident must have just begun, because the police have not yet set up a perimeter. Laurie and I get out of the car and walk right into the middle of it. She recognizes one of the cops and asks what's going on.

He shrugs. "Beats me. A dog got loose, and the alert went out for all cars in the area. You'd think it was Osama bin Laden."

At least fifteen people, mostly cops and the rest animal control officers, have cornered a German shepherd whose back is literally against the wall of a building. He is an absolutely beautiful dog, well built and powerful, with two of the coolest ears I've ever seen.

Two of the officers are pointing guns at him. They are strange-looking weapons, and I assume they're some kind of stun guns. Even in his cornered position, the dog does not seem afraid, or even hostile. In fact, he almost looks bored.

I certainly don't want to see this dog hurt, so I yell, "Relax, everyone! Calm down! No reason to hurt that dog!"

One of the officers says, "Who the hell is that? Get him out of here."

I take out my cell phone and point it in the general direction of the dog and the officers surrounding him. "I'm videotaping this," I say. "Anything happens to that dog, it's going viral."

Of course, I barely know how to use the cell phone, and I can't imagine it has video capabilities, but it's dark out, and the officers would have no way of knowing that.

This time the officer is more insistent. "Get him out of here."

Two officers move toward me, including the one Laurie knows. "That dog is not going to hurt anyone," Laurie says. Then she yells out to the others, "Just put a damn leash on him. Give one to me and I'll do it."

As I'm being led away, one of the animal control officers approaches the dog with a leash, and the dog calmly lets him slip it around his neck. The officer then leads the docile dog away toward an animal control van.

When I get to the car, I look back and see Laurie talking to some of the officers. Having been in the Pater-son Police Department for a number of years, she pretty much knows everybody.

When she finally joins me at the car, I ask, "What was that about?"

She shrugs. "Nobody seems to know, but it was made very clear that the dog was not to get away."

We get in the car. "I don't see how Kevin could leave this kind of excitement. You don't see drama like this in Bangladesh."

JERRY HARRIS HAD always taken pride in his work. Since that work usually consisted of theft and murder, he understood that most people would have trouble understanding the gratification he felt when a job was accomplished smoothly.

But Jerry realized that sometimes events beyond his control got in the way, and that's what had just happened. First there was that dog, and then that other lunatic who attacked him. It seemed like they had been waiting to make their move, though he had no idea who they were or why they were there.

So when it was time to report back to his employer exactly what had transpired, he felt some regret that he couldn't claim total success. It wasn't a complete failure; the target was effectively eliminated. But the point of the operation, securing the envelope, simply did not happen.


On Sale
Jun 1, 2011
Page Count
432 pages

David Rosenfelt

About the Author

David Rosenfelt is the former marketing president for Tri-Star Pictures and lives in Southern California.

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