To Die Fur (A Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Mystery)

By: Dixie Lyle

CHAPTER ONE


Lots of people talked to their animals. Mine talked back.

No, I’m not crazy—well, no more than anyone who did my job would be. My name’s Foxtrot Lancaster, and I work for an eccentric billionaire named Zelda Zoransky.

ZZ, as everyone called her, was an old ex-hippie who came from even older money; she spent most of her time (and a great deal of her money) on enjoying life, having adventures, getting into passionate arguments on the Internet, and philanthropy. She was heavily involved in animal rights; a big chunk of her family estate was dedicated to a private rescue zoo where she housed exotic animals that had no other place to go, until a permanent home could be found for them. Taking care of the menagerie was a full-time occupation … but that wasn’t my job.

Right next to the Zoransky estate was one of the largest pet cemeteries in the United States. It was the final resting place of more than fifty thousand pets, and held the cremated remains of over two hundred of their former owners as well. Looking after the graveyard was also a full-time occupation … but that wasn’t my job, either.

Not exactly.

Which brings me to my own animals. Whiskey’s a blue heeler, an Australian cattle dog that’s a mix of Northumberland drover’s dog and wild dingo. He’s medium-sized, with a white-and-black-speckled body and muzzle, tan legs, chest, and throat, one brown eye, and one blue eye.

Oh, and he’s dead.

Ghost-dead, I mean, not zombie-dead. Which is to say, he’s ectoplasmic in nature as opposed to staggering around with bits falling off, searching for brains to eat. Looks, feels, and smells like a live dog, but he can shape-shift into any other breed and has access to a supernatural library of scents that lets him identify almost anything. He communicates with me telepathically, has a British accent, and doesn’t require food for nourishment. Taking care of him was a breeze … but that wasn’t my job, either.

Then there’s Tango. Tango’s a tuxedo cat—you know, one of those elegant black-and-white ones—and most definitely is not dead. In fact, she’s alive for the seventh time—out of nine, naturally—and in one of her previous incarnations was my childhood pet. She also communicates with me telepathically, is friendly but sarcastic, and speaks over three hundred animal dialects. Her, I didn’t take care of at all—Whiskey lived with me, but Tango preferred the more palatial digs of the Zoransky mansion. So taking care of her also wasn’t my job. In fact, a lot of the time Tango and Whiskey wound up taking care of me.

Which brings me to my actual job. Or, more accurately, jobs.

The first was the one I got paid for. I’m ZZ’s executive assistant, which is a fancy title for running around fulfilling her every whim. She had a lot of whims, so I was always busy; but her whims also tended toward things that were fun, or interesting, or made the world a better place, so I couldn’t complain too much. She paid me well, I got to research and experience things most people never get near, and I met famous people from every walk of life at the regular salons she hosts. Rock stars, scientists, explorers, writers, artists … ZZ invited them all to spend a week at her estate. She lavishly pampered them during the day, then held long, fascinating discussions over gourmet dinners every night, while the booze flowed and no subject was taboo. Pretty great, don’t you think?

I’ll get to my other job in a moment.

So doing my pay-the-rent job currently involved me overseeing a very special delivery to a very special place. A place I was anxiously checking out with Caroline, our staff vet, minutes before the delivery itself was going to happen. Whiskey, as usual, was by my side, and Tango was watching from a nearby tree.

“Are you sure it’s big enough?” I said. Anxiously.

Caroline gave me an amused smile. She was short, blond, and very good at her job. “It’ll be fine. We’ve housed big cats in here before.”

“Not this big…”

I heard Whiskey’s cultured voice in my head, though Caroline of course didn’t. [I’m not sure the pool is really necessary. Or the waterfall.]

“The pool! Is the pool big enough?” I asked.

Caroline shook her head and laughed. “Yes, Foxtrot, it’s big enough. We’re all stocked up on meat, we’ve got a huge enclosure for him to roam around in, and there’s a very comfortable den if he wants some privacy. You’ve provided all the amenities; now let me do my job.”

Tango’s raspy, smoke-and-bourbon voice added her own telepathic comment: <Yeah, Toots, calm down. I don’t see what the big deal is.>

You will, I shot back mentally. Any minute now.

The big tractor-trailer rig holding our newest guest came rumbling down the access road. It took some jockeying to get it properly turned around so the rear doors were aligned with the gate of the enclosure, but the driver was skilled and I resisted my urge to micromanage. I helped Caroline connect a kind of canvas air lock between the trailer and the enclosure, and when I’d checked and double-checked that—okay, triple-checked—it was time to transfer the cargo.

“Here we go,” Caroline said, and told the driver to open the trailer door.

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