The cop positioned himself between them and the door but remained standing.
"We came yesterday to visit Mimi. I had a premonition,"Esme explained, raising tear-filled periwinkle eyes to the lawyer and tossing the long curtain of black hair over her shoulder.
She shook her head as though she couldn't bear to go on.
"Mimi didn't look well," Jonathon said, patting his sister on the knee and picking up where she'd presumably left off.
"She seemed sick. Vince insisted she was fine, but he looked guilty. We offered to take Mimi for a few days."
"That's not true," Vince exclaimed, because he thought the cousins would expect something from him, and he didn't want them suspicious quite yet.
Once againEsme got herself under control enough to raise a shaking finger and point it at Vince. "And this morning he called to cancel Mimi's visit. He wouldn't even let us come and take her for a walk.
She's dead, I know it. Vince murdered Mimi."
Vince picked up his phone and punched out a number. "You can come home now," he said when Sophie answered. Since she was only at the neighbors' it didn't take her more than a minute to show up with both dogs in tow.
The Doberman's stump tail began to wag when he saw Vince, as though he'd been stuck with French women far too long.
Mimi took one look at all the people gathered and began to bark excitedly.
As Sir Galahad came toward Vince he suddenly stopped and stiffened, going from bigsucky lap dog to ferocious guard dog in a second. His neck fur stood on end, and his lips pulled back in a snarl. In the tiny pauses between Mimi's hysterical yapping, the ominous sound of his growl could be heard.
Sir Galahad wasn't looking at Vince anymore; he was looking at Jonathon.
"Oh, what a clever doggie you are," Sophie said. "You remember this one,hein? He's theone who tried to take Mimi my first day on the job, and you were so brave, you came and saved us."
Jonathon was inching closer toEsme , who was herself scuttling as far from the growling Doberman as she could get. "What is that beast doing in here? Get him out!"
Unimpressed by any of the antics, the lawyer only had eyes for the clearly healthy poodlewho , competing for attention with the Doberman, was doing her best to grab the limelight by twirling on her hind legs in the center of the a.s.sembled group, accompanying herself with high-pitched barks.
"Mimi appears quite healthy to me," said the lawyer in a tone loud enough to be heard above the racket.
"But that can't be Mimi!"Esme cried,trying to hide behind Jonathon at the same time he was trying to hide behind her.
Plan B was being screwed up as thoroughly as Plan A had been yesterday, but, Vince suspected, with similarly successful results. Deciding he liked watching Jonathon andEsme suffer for their crimes, he didn't call off Sir Galahad.
Besides, Sophie's temper was simmering, and she looked like a combination s.e.x G.o.ddess and avenging angel standing there, so he decided to let her take this scene wherever it led her and settled back to enjoy himself.
"Of course it's Mimi," Sophie cried. "No thanks to you. Yes, that's right, Sir Galahad. Hold them there. Good dog."
And she ran into the princess bedroom only to return with a torn piece of badly tooth-marked denim.
Oh, d.a.m.n it, she was good, his Sophie. Holding the piece of denim aloft, she said to Jonathon, "Do you recognize this?"
She glanced from the lawyer to the cop, who seemed to be enjoying the drama as much as Vince himself was.
Jonathon yelled, "Get this dog off me. Somebody do something."
"He recognizes your scent," Sophie said in a tone that could only be called smug. "If I gave him this piece of your jeans-they are yours, aren't they? You were wearing them when you a.s.saulted us-and told him to attack, I wonder what he'd do ..." She cast a glance at Vince from under her lashes, and he nearly laughed aloud. G.o.d, he loved this woman.
"Don't youdare. I'll sue you if that b.a.s.t.a.r.d bites me."
"Or me,"Esme put in.
"What do you think, Vince?" Sophie asked.
"I think Sir Galahad could do some serious damage to Jonathon if that hunk of blue jeans has his scent on it."
Slowly, she lowered the torn fabric. The Doberman was pacing in front of the couch, still growling low in his throat, hackles up in warning. He made it clear to all that he was only waiting for the word and he'd sink the very sharp teeth he'd bared into Jonathon.
The temptation to let the dog at his murderous cousin was almost irresistible.
Sweat dampened Jonathon's pale brow as she brought the cloth closer to the big dog. "I know he will attack if I tell him to, but, Vince, do we know for sure he can be called off?"
"Never tried it," Vince answered truthfully.
Sir Galahad had caught the scent of the denim, and his growls became louder. Frankly, Vince wasn't sure how well trained he was anyway. They were playing with fire here. Just as he was about to call a halt, Jonathon shouted, "All right. It was me. Now get that f.u.c.king dog out of here."
"Here, Sir Galahad." Vince called him, and after giving one very low,don't think this is over growl, the Doberman stalked to Vince's side and sat, still tense and alert.
"I really think someone had best explain what this is all about," said the lawyer once again.
"I'm going to tell you a little story," Vince said. "And then we'll watch a movie. What you'll understand by the end of it is that my precious cousins here have been trying to murder Mimi to get their hands on Aunt Marjorie's fourteen million bucks."
"That's ridiculous,"Esme snapped, her tears forgotten.
But, by the time he and Sophie had told their story, and everyone present had watched the video recording ofEsme getting the two of them out of the room while Jonathon fed Mimi the cookies he'd believed were poisoned, his claims didn't seem ridiculous. After he'd provided copies of the toxicology report on the original cookies from the original tin, and the lab reports on the Doberman, the cousins had pretty much shut up and glared sullenly at the floor.
He gave copies of everything to the lawyer, who said, "Jonathon andEsme , if it were in my power to revoke the money your great-aunt left you, I'd do it. Sadly it isn't, but I can promise that no matter what happens to Mimi, you two will never get another cent from your aunt's estate." Then he rose, patted Mimi perfunctorily on the head,shook Vince's hand, nodded to Sophie and the police officer, then left.
There was a moment of uncomfortable silence. "Ma'am," said the cop. "Do you want to press charges against these two? They shot at you."
She looked at Jonathon andEsme , at Mimi and Sir Galahad, and finally at Vince. "No," she said softly.
"I'm opening a case file on this anyway," his buddy, Ed the cop, said, staring down at the cousins."I find out you two are so much as jaywalking and your a.s.ses are mine. Got it?"
Miserable nods."You'd better go before they change their minds."
Without another word, and only a backward glance at the Doberman, they scuttled out the door. Sir Galahad, denied his pound of flesh, gave a bark/snarl combo that speeded them on their way.
"Thanks for doing this, Ed," Vince said, shaking his old friend's hand.
"Anytime, Bulldog.After you warned me they'd probably go to the cops, I made sure their call got routed to me." He chuckled suddenly. "I don't think they'll be bothering you again."
After he left, Vince found Sophie on the floor, hugging both dogs to her. What the h.e.l.l, he thought as he joined them there.
"You know," he said as the Doberman knocked into one of the tables, and Mimi leaped out of the way catching her paw in a lamp cord, "we're going to have to get a bigger place."
"I beg your pardon?"
Vince grinned at her, this woman he'd been waiting for all his life."Two of us, two dogs, and four kids on the way." He looked around his two-bedroom apartment. "We're going to need a bigger place."
"Oh, but, Vince," she said, her voice catching and her eyes shining. "I didn't mean-"
"I did." He kissed her. Then Mimi kissed her. Then Sir Galahad s...o...b..red all over them both. And they were laughing, and hugging, and he knew that nothing was ever going to be the same again.
"I love you," he said.
"I love you, too." She laughed and threw herself at him. "And you'll really learn French?"
"I have a feeling that's going to be the easy part. .. Come on," he said, hauling her to her feet.
"Where are you taking me?"
At the door to his room he stopped and turned to confront two canines eager to continue the game they'd started on the floor. "And you two are not invited."
With a tiny yap of disappointment, his fourteen million dollar poodle minced off to leap onto his favorite chair. The Doberman made a grumbling sound and followed Mimi, bypa.s.sing the chair to take the couch.
"Are we really going to have four children?" Sophie asked once they were alone.
He slipped his hand under her sweater and palmed her b.r.e.a.s.t.s just the way she liked.
"Honey," he said, "everything's negotiable."
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