In the third installment in the brilliant New York Times bestselling series featuring a lovable and wise dog narrator, Chet and Bernie go under the big top to solve the most unlikely missing persons (and animals!) case ever.
Chet has smelled a lot of unusual things in his years as trusted companion and partner to P.I. Bernie Little, but nothing has prepared him for the exotic scents he encounters when an old-fashioned traveling circus comes to town. Bernie scores tickets to this less-than-greatest show-on-earth because his son Charlie is crazy about elephants. The only problem is that Peanut, the headlining pachyderm of this particular one-ring circus, has gone missing—along with her trainer, Uri DeLeath. Stranger still, no one saw them leave. How does an elephant vanish without a trace?
At first there’s nothing Bernie and Chet can do—it’s a police matter and they have no standing in the case. But then they’re hired by Popo the Clown, who has his own reasons for wanting to find out what has become of the mysteriously missing duo. After Chet takes a few sniffs in Peanut’s trailer and picks up her one-of-a-kind scent, he and Bernie are in hot pursuit, heading far away from the bright lights of the traveling show and into the dark desert night.
Some very dangerous people would prefer that Chet and Bernie disappear for good and will go to any lengths to make that happen. Across the border in Mexico and separated from Bernie, Chet must use all his natural strength and doggy smarts to try to save himself—not to mention Bernie and a decidedly uncooperative Peanut, too.
To Fetch a Thief shows why readers everywhere have fallen head-over-paws in love with the Chet and Bernie mystery series. Top-notch suspense, humor, and insight into the ways our canine companions think and behave make this the most entertaining and irresistible book in the series yet.
Better stop right there. Not that I doubt Bernie. The truth is, I believe everything he says. And he has a nice big nose for a human. But what’s that saying? Not much.
It’s a fact that trouble has a smell—human trouble especially, sour and penetrating—but Bernie had never smelled trouble before, or if so he hadn’t mentioned it, and Bernie mentioned all kinds of things to me. We’re partners in the Little Detective Agency, me and Bernie, Bernie’s last name being Little. I’m Chet, pure and simple.
I took a quick sniff, smelled no trouble whatsoever, just as I’d expected, but did smell lots of other stuff, including burgers cooking on a grill. I looked around: no grill in sight, and this wasn’t the time to go searching, although all at once I was a bit hungry, maybe even more than a bit. We were on the job, trailing some woman whose name I’d forgotten. She’d led us out of the Valley to a motel in a flea-bitten desert town. That was what Bernie called it—flea-bitten—but I felt no fleas at all, hadn’t been bothered by them in ages, not since I started on the drops. But the funny thing was, even though I didn’t have fleas, just the thought of them suddenly made me itchy. I started scratching, first behind my ear, soon along my side, then both at once, really digging in with my claws, faster and—
“Chet, for God’s sake.”
I went still, one of my back paws frozen in midair. Bernie gave me a close look. “Don’t tell me I forgot the drops?” I gave him a close look right back. Bernie has these faint lines on his forehead. When he worries, they get deeper, like now. I don’t like it when Bernie worries. I pushed all thoughts about scratching clear out of my mind and sat straight up in the shotgun seat—my very favorite spot—alert and flealess.
We were in the Porsche. There are fancy Porsches out there—we see them on the freeways; we’ve got freeways out the yingyang in the Valley—but ours isn’t one of them. It’s very old, brown with yellow doors, and there’s a bullet hole in the back license plate. How that happened is a story for another time.
There was one palm tree on the street in front of the motel, a small one with dusty leaves, and we were parked behind it. That was part of our stakeout technique, hiding behind trees. Maybe it was our whole technique: I couldn’t think of any other parts at the moment. Beyond the palm tree stood the motel, horseshoe-shaped—just one of the many strange things about horses, that they wore shoes—with parking in between. Two cars in the lot, parked far from each other. One, a red convertible, belonged to the woman we were tailing. The other, a dark sedan, had been there when we arrived.
We gazed at the motel door closest to the red convertible. The woman—short, blond, curvy—had jumped out of the car and gone straight inside. Since then—nothing. That was one of the problems with divorce work: no action. We hated divorce work, me and Bernie—our specialty was missing persons—but with the state of our finances we couldn’t turn down anything. How our finances got this way is a long story, hard to keep straight in my head. Early on, there’d been the Hawaiian pants. Bernie loves Hawaiian shirts—right now he was wearing the one with the trumpet pattern—and he got the idea that people would snap up Hawaiian pants. In the end, they got snapped up by us. We’ve got a closet full of them, plus lots more at our self-storage in Pedroia. Later on came the tin futures. The tin futures looked good after some find in Bolivia, but then an earthquake buried everything, so here we were, back on the divorce beat.
Our client was a sad-eyed little guy named Marvin Winkleman who owned a ticket agency downtown. Don’t ask me what a ticket agency is. What’s important is that he thought his wife was cheating, and coughed up the $500 retainer. Don’t ask me about the cheating part, either. It’s a human thing; we operate differently in my world. “Just find out, one way or another,” Winkleman said. “I’ve got to know.”
Later, driving away, Bernie said, “Why do they always have to know? What’s wrong with ignorance is bliss?” I had no idea.
We sat. Nothing happened. The dusty palm leaves hung motionless. Bernie got fidgety. He opened the glove box, checked behind the visor, patted his pockets. Poor Bernie. He never bought cigarettes anymore, was trying to quit. After a while he gave up, sat back, folded his arms. Bernie has nice strong arms. I kept my eyes on them. Time passed. Then I heard a faint metallic sound and looked out. The motel door opened and out came the blond woman, patting her hair. I glanced at Bernie. Hey! His eyes were closed. I barked, not a loud bark but the soft kind I swallow in my throat. Bernie’s eyelids flew open. He put his hand on me, sat up straight, reached for the camera, and took her picture.
The blond woman got in the convertible and checked herself in the mirror. Bernie took another picture. She put on lipstick, gave her mouth a nice stretch. I gave my mouth a nice stretch, too, for no reason. “Looks pretty happy, doesn’t she?” Bernie said. She backed out of her space, drove out of the lot and down the street, away from us. Bernie took pictures of the motel, the blinking sign outside, the palm tree, and me. Then we went back to watching the motel room door. “Maybe there’s no one in there,” Bernie said. “Like she just enjoys a solitary little nap out in the desert now and then, making this a wild goose chase.”
Wild goose chase? I’d heard that one before, wanted to go on a wild goose chase very badly, but there were no geese in sight. Once—was this back when the Hawaiian pants returns started coming in?—I’d heard Bernie say, “Our goose is cooked.” But no cooked goose ever appeared. Meanwhile, I was hungry. The smell of burgers on the grill, while not as strong as—
The motel door opened. A man stepped out, a tall man in a white shirt and dark pants, knotting his tie. “Bingo,” said Bernie, I’m not sure why. I knew bingo—a game they played at the Police Athletic League fund-raiser, an event I’d been to only once and probably wouldn’t be back to, what with how exciting it turned out to be, and that unfortunate incident with my tail and all those little plastic chips on the chief’s card—but was this a time for games? Bernie aimed the camera at the man, gazed into it, and said, “Oh my God.” He slowly lowered the camera.
The man glanced around in a quick way that reminded me of lots of perps we’d taken down and walked to the dark sedan at the other end of the motel parking lot.
“Recognize him, Chet?” said Bernie in a low voice.
I wasn’t sure. Nothing wrong with my eyes—although Bernie says I can’t be trusted when it comes to color, so don’t put any money on the convertible being red—but they’re really more of a backup to my nose and my ears, and the man was too far away for me to get a whiff, plus he wasn’t saying anything. Still, he moved in a way that was kind of familiar, stiff and long-legged, like one of those birds that can’t fly, their name escaping me at the moment. The man unlocked the sedan. “Those software geeks,” Bernie said. “I should have known from the flip-flops. It’s Malcolm.”
Malcolm? This divorce case dude was someone we knew already? I checked those feet: long skinny feet with long skinny toes. I remembered the smell of those feet, somewhat like a big round piece of cheese Bernie had once left outside for a day or two. Yes, Malcolm for sure. I didn’t like Malcolm, even though I like just about every human I’ve ever met, even some of the perps and gangbangers. Malcolm didn’t like me, either; he was one of those humans who got nervous around my kind.
Malcolm climbed into his car and drove away. “What the hell are we going to do?” Bernie said. Huh? Weren’t we going to do what we always did when a divorce case worked out like this, which was deliver the evidence, collect the final check, grab a bite somewhere? “Specifically, what are we going to do about Leda?”
Leda? What did . . .? But then I began to see, sort of. Bernie was divorced himself. He has a kid, Charlie, who we only get to see some weekends and holidays. Charlie mainly lives in a big house in High Chaparral Estates, one of the nicest developments in the whole Valley, with Bernie’s ex-wife, Leda, and her boyfriend. The boyfriend was Malcolm. What else do you need to know? Maybe just that Bernie misses Charlie a lot—and so do I—but he never misses Leda—and neither do I. And then there’s Suzie Sanchez, a reporter for the Valley Tribune and sort of Bernie’s girlfriend. Suzie smells great—kind of like soap and lemons—and has a full box of treats in her car at all times. She’s a gem.
Bernie felt under the seat, found a mangled cigarette, lit up. He took a deep breath, blew out a big smoke cloud. I love the smell, would smoke if I could. His whole body relaxed; I could feel it. I could also feel him thinking, a nice feeling, like breezes brushing by. I waited, my own mind empty and peaceful.
“We could tell her,” he said after a while. “Or not tell her.”
He smoked some more.
“If we tell her, what happens? Something, for sure. If we don’t tell her, maybe nothing happens. Nothing is often the best policy.” Bernie’s hand reached out in that absentminded way it does sometimes and gave me a pat. Bernie’s a great patter, the very best. “Still, it’s a time bomb, ticking away. But do all time bombs go off?” Bombs? Bombs were somehow in the picture? Wasn’t this divorce work? I knew bombs, of course, could sniff them out, something I’d learned in K-9 school. I’d done pretty well in K-9 school, up until the very last day. The only thing left had been the leaping test. And leaping is just about my very best thing. Then came some confusion. Was a cat involved? And blood? I ended up flunking out, but that was how Bernie and I got together, so it worked out great. But forget all that. The point is I can smell bombs, and there was no bomb smell in the air outside the motel. Detective work could be confusing. You had to be patient. “Got to be patient, big guy.” Bernie said that a lot. It meant just sitting, not always so easy.
Bernie took one last drag, then got out of the car and ground the butt into the dirt. He had a thing about forest fires, although there were no forests around out here in the desert, just this palm tree, a few shrubs, rocks, dirt. Bernie turned to me. “Is ignorance bliss? Hits a little closer to home now, doesn’t it, Chet?”
Didn’t quite get that. Were we going home? Fine with me, but shouldn’t we swing by the client first, pick up the check? Otherwise why bother with divorce work?
Bernie got back in the car, started to turn the key, then went still. “And what’s best for Charlie?” he said.
We left the desert, rode up and over the mountain pass where the air is always so fresh—I had my head stuck way out—and back into the Valley. The Valley is huge, goes on forever in all directions. The air got less fresh and started shimmering, the sky turning from blue to hazy orange. Bernie’s hands tightened on the wheel. “Imagine what this looked like when Kit Carson rode through,” he said. Kit Carson comes up from time to time. I couldn’t remember what he’d done, but if it was bad we’d bring him down eventually. Message to Kit Carson: an orange jumpsuit is in your future.
The downtown towers appeared, just the tops of them, the rest lost in the haze. Soon we were down in the haze ourselves. We parked in front of one of the towers and went into a coffee shop on the ground floor. No one there except Marvin Winkleman, sitting at a front table and gazing into his coffee cup, head down. Hey! He was one of those comb-over dudes. Love comb-overs! Humans can be very entertaining, no offense.
Winkleman looked up. “You’ve got news?” Human sweat is a big subject, but for now, let’s just say the nervous kind has a special tang that travels a long way, very easy to sniff out, and I was sniffing it out now.
Bernie nodded and took a seat at the table. I sat on the floor beside him.
“Good news or bad?” said Winkleman.
Bernie put the laptop on the table, turned it so Winkleman could see, and plugged in the camera. “These are in sequence,” he said, “time stamped at the bottom left.”
Winkleman looked at the pictures, his face gray in the laptop’s light. His sad eyes got sadder. “Who is he?” he said.
Bernie was silent for a moment. Then he said, “Does it really matter?”
Winkleman thought. His thoughts weren’t like soft breezes, were more like dark shadows that I didn’t want near me. “Guess not,” he said. “What’s the point?” He put his head in his hands. This happens sometimes, maybe like the human head can get to be too much to support.
“Um,” said Bernie. When he feels uncomfortable he bites his lip; he was doing it now. “Do, uh, you have any kids?”
“We were waiting for the right time.” Or something like that: kind of hard to hear, with Winkleman’s hands covering his face.
“Well,” said Bernie. “Then, uh . . .”
Winkleman uncovered his face. A tear rolled out of one eye. Waterworks: I was always on the lookout for that. Human tears taste salty. I know from this one time Charlie cried after he fell off his bike, and I licked his face. I had no desire to lick Winkleman’s face. “You’re telling me things could be worse?” he said.
“Maybe a cliché,” Bernie said. “Not very helpful, in retrospect.”
Winkleman wiped away the tear. “Sorry,” he said. “Crazy to take it out on the messenger.” He opened his checkbook. “How much do I owe you?”
Bernie checked his watch. “Today doesn’t count as a full day.” Oh, Bernie. “Let’s call it eight hundred.”
Winkleman handed over the check. “Got any kids yourself?” he said.
Winkleman reached into his pocket, produced a big wad of tickets, gave Bernie two. “Here,” he said. New tears welled up in his eyes, trembled at the edge of the lower lids. “Kids like the circus.”
Bernie rose. At that moment I noticed a little something on the floor. I couldn’t think of the name of that little something for the longest time, not until after I’d snapped it up and swallowed it down. Croissant: that was it. Not the sausage-and-egg kind, which I’d had once behind a Dumpster at the North Valley Mall, but still: delish, and I’d been hungry since the stakeout. Could have downed another croissant, in fact, and maybe even another after that.
“Chet? You coming?”
We headed for the door. Just as we went out, I glanced back and saw Winkleman standing by a trash receptacle. He took the gold ring off his finger and dropped it inside. Bernie had a gold ring that looked just the same. He kept it in a drawer in the office. I came very close to having a big thought, but it didn’t quite come.
The phone buzzed just as Bernie started up the car. Bernie had the phone rigged so the voice came through the speakers. “Bernie? Amy here.” I knew Amy. She was the vet. A nice woman, big and round, with soft hands, but I never liked going to the vet. “I’ve got the lab report on that lump.” Bernie leaned forward.
This reading group guide forTo Fetch a Thief includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Spencer Quinn. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
As the third book in the bestselling series of Chet and Bernie mysteries, To Fetch a Thief confirms the standing of rough-and-tumble canine Chet as one of the most unique and beloved narrators in fiction today. With his human partner Bernie, they make an unbeatable detective team. This time, a circus elephant named Peanut has disappeared, along with her trainer. This mystery only deepens for Chet and Bernie as their search takes them across the Mexican border, where they must fight a criminal operation that is powerful, far-reaching—and deadly.
QUESTIONS AND TOPICS FOR DISCUSSION
How does having a canine narrator affect your understanding of the story? Does it help or hinder?
Chet frequently sees beauty in everyday and sometimes even dangerous things: beer droplets flying through the air, a blazing motel fire, even the way the world looks in the morning after he’s been up all night. Contrast Chet’s joyous outlook on life with the violent characters and actions in the story. How do these two disparate aspects play off one another? What larger comment does this make about the power of perspective?
Chet often ruminates on the actual process of thinking and has thoughts that enter his mind but go unfinished. He can also sense when people are having thoughts—not what they are thinking about, but the very act of thinking. How does this assist him in his detective work? How does Chet’s thinking about thinking, or metacognition, affect your perception of the story?
Chet sees a similarity between Bernie and the little Mexican girl he mistakenly (and hilariously) calls “Pobre” (p. 280). How do you think these two characters are similar?
Consider the relationship between Chet and Bernie. In what ways is it like a classic, buddy-detective relationship, and in what ways is it different?
At first it would seem that Bernie, as a human, brings the most to the partnership with Chet. However, Chet brings many nonhuman aspects to the table that are essential to their success as a detective team: a superior sense of smell, agility, keen judgment of human facial expressions, and the ability to sense emotions like fear, etc. Is theirs an equal partnership?
By the end of the story it seems that Bernie and Suzie Sanchez might be heading toward a more serious relationship. How do you think Chet will be affected by this closer relationship?
What kind of dog do you think Chet is? A mutt? Purebred? Why do you think it is never explicitly stated in the story?
Marvin Winkleman gets caught using the services at Livia’s brothel, yet he is obsessed with finding out whether his wife is cheating on him and who the other man is. As a cheater himself, why do you think this matters so much to him?
When Chet tries to herd Peanut after their escape from the warehouse, he keeps telling himself he’s the one in charge. Is that accurate? Why do you think Peanut eventually trusts him enough to go with him?
Why does Bernie decide not to tell Leda about Malcom’s infidelity? Is it solely for Charlie’s benefit?
The story contains several examples of relationships where the power is out of balance, as well as those where the power equation is more equal. Identify some examples of each. How does the quality of these relationships compare? Do any of them change by the end of the story?
ENHANCE YOUR BOOK CLUB
Check out the author’s website: www.ChetTheDog.com. You can read Chet’s latest musings in his posts, send in a picture of your own dog, and even comment on the posts in the voice of your pet!
Learn more about elephant abuse and what can be done to stop it, as well as elephant sanctuaries like the one where Peanut ended up. Two good places to start are The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, TN: www.elephants.com and The World Wildlife Center: www.worldwildlife.org.
Write a paragraph from the perspective of a dog, cat, other pet, or any kind of animal. Share your stories with the group.
Chet often refers to the regrettable outcome of his final test at K-9 school. If it weren’t for Bernie, failing that test would have left him jobless and possibly even homeless. Find out more about homeless dogs and other pets at the ASPCA: www.aspca.org.
A CONVERSATION WITH SPENCER QUINN You have a very strong online presence: www.ChetTheDog.com, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Do you feel that the internet allows you to have closer interaction with your readers?
Yes, there’s no question. But in a way, since the blog and Twitter are both in Chet’s voice, it’s partly that Chet has the interaction with readers. I wouldn’t want to push this too far, but he does seem real to a lot of readers. Of course—and most especially when I’m actually writing the stories—he seems real to me, too.
Having embraced the internet as a communication and promotional tool, what are your thoughts on the increasing number of book reviews posted online by bloggers?
Well, why not? Everyone has a right to an opinion. Some of the amateur reviews—and I mean that in the sense of being unpaid—are very well thought out and written. There’s also a love for reading often apparent, too—an emotional investment you don’t sense as much from the pros.
Your fans leave an exceptional number of comments on each of your blog entries—a quick count reveals an average of between seventy and one hundred comments for each post. People also seem to love writing in as their dogs, posting photos, etc. Is your blog more popular than you expected?
I had no idea what to expect. That a whole community has formed, a community with real fellow-feeling, is just amazing to me. Chet posts about all kinds of things, and also reports on conversations at HQ, with regular appearances by Admin, Spence, and Bernie. There are also serial mysteries, involving some characters from the books and others who may appear later in the series. And don’t forget the occasional pop quiz, with prizes. There are many great photos of dogs (and not just dogs) in the Friends of Chet section.
Do you ever meet your fans in person? If so, what is the most valuable or helpful aspect of being face-to-face with them?
I do meet readers at signings. It’s just so encouraging to realize you’re giving pleasure to a lot of people.
Your writing highlights a keen perception of the mind of a dog as well as a fully fleshed, realistic relationship between Chet and Bernie. Do any particular factors in your own life inform these memorable characters?
We’ve always had dogs—or they’ve had us. The rest is just osmosis.
Is Chet based on your own dog? Do you have a Chet-and-Bernie type relationship with her?
I couldn’t have written this series if I’d been dogless, but Chet came into my head pretty much as a fully-formed character, based on nobody. Audrey does have an independent streak like Chet’s. And she’s very, very enthusiastic about treats.
The Chet and Bernie mysteries are a bestselling series, garnering extensive critical praise. Are there any challenges to following up such early and strong success?
I never think about things like that. With Chet and Bernie, I’ve stumbled into a fictional world that seems more and more full of writerly possibility.
What prompted you to write about illegal trafficking of exotic animals?
Partly because of this series, and the preparational thought required, I’ve grown more interested in our relationship with animals in general. Also, the illegal trafficking business in exotic animals is huge, and for me much more interesting as subject matter than yet another crime story about drugs.
Particularly memorable in To Fetch a Thief is the contrast between Chet’s appreciation of beauty and the simple joys of life and the violent situations and hopelessness surrounding some of the human characters in the book. Are you making a comment on the different outlooks of dogs and humans?
A comment is definitely being made, but not overtly. I’ll let the thematic stuff speak for itself.
What are you working on now? Will any aspect of Chet’s blog make its way into a new story?
Yes, some blog material will flow into the books. There are some blog characters like the art expert Muriel Breit, and the troubled family of Colonel Bob from Thereby Hangs a Tail, whom we will see again.
Spencer Quinn is the bestselling author of eight Chet and Bernie mystery series, as well as the #1 New York Times bestselling Bowser and Birdie series for middle-grade readers. He lives on Cape Cod with his wife Diana—and dogs Audrey and Pearl. Keep up with him by visiting SpenceQuinn.com.