From the critically acclaimed author of The Highly Effective Detective comes this deliciously funny follow-up featuring the lovable but bumbling P.I. Teddy Ruzak.
After the state shuts him down for practicing detection without a license, Teddy thinks his investigating days are over. Then he discovers the body of a man outside his office, a homeless man whom he had befriended just the day before.
Teddy suspects foul play, but the police think he's barking up the wrong tree. Then his normal befuddlement is exponentially enhanced by two very unexpected--and potentially very dangerous--visitors from the pound.
With his signature wit and gripping suspense, Richard Yancey has written yet another irresistible page-turner. It is sure to win him and Teddy Ruzak a whole new series of fans.
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August 01, 2008
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Excerpt from The Highly Effective Detective Goes to the Dogs by Rick Yancey
I was sitting at my desk, staring out the window into the drizzly gray light falling behind the Ely Building, when Felicia's voice came over the intercom.
"Ruzak, what are you doing?"
I jerked in my chair. I startle easily, which might explain why I haven't seen a scary movie since Aliens, and I only saw that because of Sigourney Weaver.
"I hate November," I said, raising my voice a little, like a lot of people who use intercoms or talk to foreigners. "I've lived in Knoxville for over half my life and I can't remember one single sunny day in November."
"Maybe you should invest in a light box."
"This big panel of bright light that depressed people sit in front of."
"Why do they do that?"
"Because they're depressed, Ruzak."
"No, I mean, what does the light do?"
"I'm not sure, but I think it stimulates something in their brain."
"I don't think my brain's problem is lack of stimulation."
"Probably not," she agreed. I wasn't sure why we were chatting over the intercom when she sat about twenty feet away, though we had remodeled recently, adding a wall and a door, turning the one big room into two smaller rooms. Felicia had said a detective needs privacy when consulting with his clients about their case. I suspected it had more to do with a secretary's need for privacy when consulting with her boyfriend about their lunch plans. But that was cynical thinking, and I was at war with cynical thinking, the chief reason for half the world's problems, in my opinion. You have to trust that most people act in good faith. Otherwise, you might as well build your bunker, stock up on the canned goods, and invest in the kind of firepower Sigourney used against the mother alien in the sequel. One of the things I couldn't understand in that movie was all the slobber. Those creatures seemed very insectlike to me, and I didn't think insects salivated. Of course, they weren't real monsters and it was only a movie.
"Now what are you doing?" she asked.
"Wondering if insects salivate."
"You know, that's really weird. I was just wondering the same thing."
"Really?" It would be an extraordinary coincidence if she were. "Well, I know mosquitoes have spit. They inject it into the bite to facilitate blood flow."
"Ruzak, only you could get from light boxes to mosquito spit in ten seconds."
I didn't think she was paying me a compliment. I asked, "What's going on?" which was more polite than saying, "Why are you hassling me over this damned intercom?"
"There's somebody here to see you."
I didn't think I had any appointments, so I asked, "Do they have an appointment?"
"He says he doesn't need one."
My heart rate clicked up a notch. People who don't need appointments are not usually the kind of people you want to meet with.
"Okay, show him in."
The door opened and I recognized him right away, with the square-shaped head, the ill-fitting suit, the slight paunch and rounded shoulders. I could see Felicia over his shoulder making a slicing motion across her throat and I nodded toward her, saying, "Thanks, Felicia, I'll take it from here."
He sat in the chair in front of my desk, I sat in the chair behind my desk, and he was smiling with great satisfaction.
"Mr. Ruzak, do you remember me?" he asked.
"Oh," I said. "You bet I do. I've always been pretty good with faces. Sometimes I have trouble remembering names, but one look at a face and I've got it locked down. I still remember what my ninth-grade art teacher looked like. Can I get you anything? We've got practically everything, even Starbucks coffee."
"No thank you," he said, crossing his legs and setting his briefcase on his lap.
"You sure? Once a week, my secretary picks up a pound. That way I avoid the lady on the cup."
"You know, the creepy Starbucks lady. Although she is on the bag too, but it's usually my secretary who makes the coffee, so I don't have to look at her."
"You don't have to look at your secretary?"
"Oh, I don't mind that. I was talking about the Starbucks lady."
His smile had fled. "I don't know what you're talking about, Mr. Ruzak."
"She's on all the cups. Check it out next time you're at Star-bucks."
"I don't go to Starbucks."
"Well, it is an acquired taste, like beer."
He shook his head quickly, as if he were clearing out the cobwebs, and said, "You must know why I'm here, Mr. Ruzak."
"I've got a pretty strong suspicion, Mr. Hilton."
"Hinton. Hinton. That's right. Sorry."
He pulled a computer printout from his briefcase. "Mr. Ruzak, I've brought your test results...."
"Okay," I said. "I've already seen them. I know you didn't come looking for excuses, but I was never very good with tests."
"I," he said, "don't care."
"I didn't think so. I don't suppose you looked carefully at my door before you came in. Right below the 'Highly Effective Detection' name thingy? 'Theodore Ruzak, Investigative Consultant.' We added that so potential clients wouldn't confuse me with your traditional detective-type setup."
"Your clients might be confused, Mr. Ruzak. And, based on your test results, you are most definitely confused. But the state of Tennessee is not confused. All applicants must pass this test in order to obtain the license to practice private detection."
"And that's a good thing," I said. "You wouldn't want just any yahoo dicking around with detection, private or otherwise."
"No, we do not."
"Well, I'm already signed up for the next test, and this time I've got high hopes of passing it. My problem was I didn't sleep well the night before, and this time I'm planning to take a pill. Not a prescription, but something over-the-counter."
"That's entirely up to you, Mr. Ruzak."
"Well, that's a relief and one of the reasons this is such a great country, Mr. Hilton. Hillon. Hellion. Hinton. Multiple shots at the target."
"Right. And while you're reloading..." He pulled a document from his briefcase and slid it across the blotter toward me.
"What's this?" I asked. My name was in all caps in the left-hand corner, like this: THEODORE RUZAK d/b/a THE HIGHLY EFFECTIVE DETECTION AND INVESTIGATION COMPANY a/k/a "THE DIC". Above it was this: THE STATE OF TENNESSEE VS.
"A cease-and-desist order, Mr. Ruzak. Effective immediately, you are no longer in business."
"Wow. Just like that?"
He was smiling at me like every villain in every B movie I've ever seen. If he'd had a mustache, he'd have twirled it.
"Just like that," he said.
"You know, I'm not much for irony, but this strikes me as ironic."
"Up till this minute I was making a living off the fact that people do bad things and haven't answered for them, and here you are shutting me down."
"I don't see the irony in that."
"Well, like I said."
"I understand from your application you used to be a night watchman. Perhaps you could apply for that job."
"Does career counseling come with your work?" I asked. "That part of the service?"
"There's no need for bitterness, Mr. Ruzak."
"I guess not in general. But this is a particular case." I was regretting offering him the coffee. "I was thinking about the movies before you came in. If this was a movie and I was your typical hard-case gumshoe, I'd tear up this court order and throw the pieces back into your face."
"I'm a lucky man, then, that you are neither hard-case nor a gumshoe."
He stood up. I stayed down. Felicia appeared in my doorway.
"So that's it?" she asked. She was looking over Hinton's shoulder at me. "That's all you're gonna do?"
"You have to the end of business today, Mr. Ruzak," Hinton said, tipping his hat in my direction before slipping it on his square head. "Or I come back with the Knox County Sheriff's Department."
He left. Felicia sat in the chair he vacated and stared at me.
"I flunked the test," I told her.
"You never told me you flunked the test."
"I meant to. Okay, that's a lie. What I meant to do was take it again and hope for the best."
I braced myself for the explosion. But all she did was drop a piece of paper on top of the court order.
"What's left in the bank account."
"Really? I thought we had more than that."
"That's what we have." She crossed her arms over her chest and waited.
"Okay," I said. "But let's not jump the gun here. The next test is coming up in a couple of months. There's enough here to cover both our expenses till then. Think of it as a paid vacation."
"You're such a..." She searched for the word.
"Optimist. What's the plan in two months when you flunk it a third time and all the money's gone?"
"It's hard for me to plan for failure."
"That's really strange coming from you, Ruzak. You would think that'd be second nature by now."
She spun out of the chair and was gone, slamming my door behind her. No more than thirty seconds later--time to grab her purse, maybe--I heard the outer door slam.
Alone with my thoughts--and my ferns, which were slightly droopy, making me wonder if I had them too close to the cold windows--I stared out into the alley below, into a world bled colorless by the rain, at the jumble of old filing cabinets and bent metal trash cans and dead stalks of weeds glistening in the rain. They say even the greatest minds suffered from melancholy, though I wasted another minute or two trying to think of a single genius who suffered from the blues. Lincoln, maybe, though he'd had a bit more on his plate than I did.
A voice cried out from the wilderness of the vestibule.
"Hello? Hello, is anybody home?"
I sighed. I knew that voice. I opened my door and Eunice Shriver shuffled in, wearing a wool overcoat speckled with rain and carrying a canvas tote. She plopped her eighty-plus self into one of my chairs and waited for me to sink into my leather executive chair, which had developed a squeak and, as I sank, I wondered if that might affect its resale value.
"Theodore," she said, "you do not look well."
"It's this weather," I said. "You know, rainy days and Mondays."
"Rainy days and Mondays?"
"Always get me down. It's a song."
"I do not listen to the rap music or that abhorrent hip-hop."
"Neither do I. That song's pretty old."
"Meaning I should know it since I am, too?"
"No, meaning it predates rap and hip-hop by at least a generation."
"Theodore Ruzak." She sniffed. "Music critic."
"More an aficionado than a critic, Eunice. I struggle against judgmentalism."
"'Judgmentalism'? Is that a word?"
"I don't know. I'm no lexicographer." I almost added I was no detective, either, but that bordered on bitterness and self-pity. Our reactions to personal catastrophe are minefields to be gingerly navigated. I wondered if I had read that somewhere, or if it was original. Sometimes I thought things I ascribed to myself only to find out days or weeks later that somebody else said it about a hundred years ago.
"Every time I see you we spin off on tangents, Theodore," she said, waving her mottled, big-knuckled hand in a circular motion, to demonstrate a tangent.
"Well, like the poet said, the truth lies in the parentheses."
"I don't know."
"Then how do you know he said it?"
"Well, I may not know who said, 'Ask not what your country...' But that doesn't mean it wasn't said, Eunice."
"Kennedy said that."
"Then why did you say you didn't?"
"I didn't say I didn't. I was making a point."
"Well, perhaps there's a first time for everything." Eunice was eighty-six, and I figured the weather must be wreaking havoc on her joints. Thinking about her aching joints relieved some of the pressure in my chest--or rather moved the pressure a bit to one side, because empathy resides at a different spot than self-pity. I think the ancient Egyptians figured out that one.
"Theodore, I have come today for two reasons."
"I'll guess the first," I said. "You want to know if there's any progress on your case."
"Effective, Mr. Detective," she said. "Highly effective."
"There isn't," I told her. "Eunice, nobody is trying to kill you. People love you. They wish only the best for you."
"You are hopelessly na?ve."
"Oh, you bet. But you've put me in the position of trying to prove a negative."
"Have you looked into the bag boy at Fresh Market?"
"The one with the beady eyes?" "The one with the mole. Beady Eyes was fired months ago."
"I made quite sure of that!"
"Well, in that case he might be holding a grudge, but bag boy is one of those professions where you can generally find work anywhere."
"One should never underestimate the maliciousness of bag boys."
"Eunice, you know what it took me a long time to learn? We're not as important as we think we are."
"And what is that supposed to mean?"
"It means believing somebody's out to get you won't make you important, and neither will confessing to crimes you didn't commit."
"I believe you just called me a liar."
"I don't think you can be a liar, per se, without the intent to deceive. Besides, even if you're right and somebody is trying to kill you, I can't do anything about it."
"And why is that?"
I told her. She accused me of making it up just to get her off my back. I showed her the court order.
"Oh, Theodore, why didn't you study?"
"That's the distressing thing. I did."
"Well, you're still young. You'll land on your feet."
I nodded. "I've got my fingers crossed there's an opening at Fresh Market."
She laughed. I'm convinced old ladies have the best-sounding laughter on earth. She picked up her tote and plopped it into her lap.
"I'm glad you told me," she said. Somehow my losing the business had lifted her spirits. Like mine, her ache must have shifted. "Because I've begun a little project that could be quite demanding on your time. And mine, too, of course."
She fumbled in the tote.
"You're knitting me a sweater," I said.
She hauled out about half a ream of typing paper and slapped it on my blotter. I read the title on the cover page: Theodore Ruzak, The Highly Effective Detective. It was an eye-catching title, but I managed to tear my eyes away to look at her, cheeks that rosy red of a lot of old ladies, eyes sparkling in the center of their puffy folds.
"You remember we discussed committing your story to paper some months back," she said. "I've decided to take the liberty."
"Committing my story to paper?"
"Of course, the devil is in the details, as they say, and I've reached a point in the narrative where I simply must have your input."
"You're writing my life story?" I flipped through the pages. I saw a lot of Ruzaks and a lot of Eunices, and every now and again somebody ejaculated, as in "'That killer's as good as caught!' ejaculated Theodore." The thought of crazy old Eunice Shriver writing a book about me was flattering and unnerving at the same time. "Why?"
"To immortalize you!" she fairly shouted. "Holmes had his Watson. Marple had her Christie. Nancy Drew had her Keene. Ruzak shall have his Shriver!"
"Oh, Eunice. Eunice, that's flattering as all get-out; I'm touched, really, but--"
"There are gaps, of course. Some things that I do not know, details and conversations and other matters that only you could know. I have been focusing on our relationship for the most part, but they'll want to know more about the actual case and your secretary, I suppose, and how precisely you managed to bag the killer."
"They? Who's 'they'?"
"Why, your readers, naturally!"
"Eunice, I don't have any readers."
"I don't want any readers."
"Nonsense! What detective in his right mind doesn't want readers?"
"I'm not a detective."
"Then I'm not in my right mind." I scooped up the manuscript and held it out for her. She didn't take it. The loss in her eyes was profound, and I looked away.
"You think I'm ridiculous," she said, voice quivering.
"A silly old woman with delusions of literary grandeur."
"Of course not."
"I wrote poetry when I was younger."
I wasn't sure what that had to do with anything, but I told her that was terrific. I was impressed. And how in the world could I accuse her, of all people, of being delusional? I kept holding out the manuscript until my forearm began to ache.
"If you really feel it's necessary," I said, "I guess you could just make up the rest."
"But this isn't fiction, Theodore."
"It would probably work better that way," I said. "Maybe you could put under the title: 'Based on a True Story.'"
She snorted with disgust. I figured it was disgust, anyway. Is it possible to snort with something else? Is there another emotion that causes you to snort?
She leaned forward and snatched the papers from my cramping fingers.
"I shall finish with or without your help, Theodore. Do you know why?"
"Because at the ripe old age of eighty-six, I have finally stumbled upon my life's calling. I shall be known to posterity as the chronicler of the great Teddy Ruzak's exploits."
She stuffed the manuscript back into the tote and pushed herself out of the chair. We argued all the way to the door. Then I gave up. What did I care if she wrote about me? You have to have purpose in your life. The fact that I had just lost mine made this painfully obvious. Loss makes a lot of things painfully obvious.