Man Plans, God Laughs
LESS IS MORE. Except when it comes to money and sex. These unassailable truths may explain why I found myself checking into a hotel barely a twenty-minute cab ride from my front door.
I'd been asked to work undercover at a weeklong symposium for dog trainers, which meant I'd be paid to lecture about dog behavior, a paean to my former occupation, and paid again as I practiced my current one, private investigation.
So much for the money part.
My PI firm was an equal partnership, and my partner and I always worked together, which may explain why the elevator operator whistled and stepped back as we boarded his car.
"Hell of a dog you've got there, missus," he said, both hands dropping rapidly to cover the area directly below the brass buttons of his jacket. "Pit bull?" His back was against the wall.
I looked down. Dashiell looked up at me and wagged his tail. "He's not complaining." I waited, but nothing happened. "Want me to drive?" I asked.
"Sorry, missus. Where to?"
I held up my key. While he read the room number, I read the name embroidered over the breast pocket of his jacket. "Home, James," I told him. But once again, nothing happened. There was another customer approaching. And another big dog.
"Rachel," the other customer said. "I didn't know you'd be here." Ignoring Jimmy, who by now was the color of watery mashed potatoes, Chip Pressman and his shepherd, Betty, stepped onto the small elevator. "Three, please," he said, never taking his eyes off me.
Dashiell was staring, too. Either he'd gotten a whiff of Betty, or Chip had a roast beef in his suitcase.
"I've been meaning to call you," he said, the elevator, its doors gaping open, still on the lobby floor.
"Go sit," I said, pointing to the corner farthest from Jimmy. Both dogs obeyed, squeezing into the spot I had indicated. I have no issues when it comes to dogs, but some men turn me into Silly Putty.
Jimmy closed the folding gate and turned the wheel. The old-fashioned open-cage elevator began to rise, albeit slowly.
"Can we have a drink before the dinner tonight?" Chip said, looking at his watch. "There's something I need to tell you."
Somehow, the way he said it, I didn't think it was going to be something I'd want to hear.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Jimmy turn slightly, perhaps to make sure he wouldn't miss any nonverbal response, a nod, a shrug, one hand demurely placed on my flushed cheek to indicate both pleasure and surprise.
"Can't," I said.
"I have to straighten out some things with Sam before the symposium begins," I lied.
The elevator stopped at three.
"Well, I guess I'll see you at dinner, then?"
He got off. Betty followed him. Dashiell followed Betty, playbowing as soon as he was in the hallway. He must have had adjoining rooms on his mind. I thanked Jimmy and got off, too.
"We're on the same floor," Chip said.
I looked down at my key. "Looks that way."
We stood in front of the closed elevator door, neither of us moving, the air between us thick with pheromones and anxiety. He could have used a haircut. I could have used Valium.
"The reason I didn't call," he said, pausing and looking down for a moment, "even though I told you I would--"
"You don't have to do this."
"But I do, Rachel. The thing is, shortly after I saw you at Westminster, I--I went back to her, to Ellen. For the sake of the children."
That ought to work, I thought, the arrow he'd shot piercing my heart.
"Hey," I said, as sincerely as I could, "no problem. I hope it works out for you."
"Rachel," he said. He appeared to be gathering his thoughts. Lots of them. Too many, if you ask me.
"I have to run," I said, as if we were standing so awkwardly not in the third-floor hallway of some hotel but on the track that goes around the reservoir in Central Park.
"Well, okay, I'll see you later."
He seemed disappointed. But was that a reason for me to hang around and listen to the touching story of how determined he was to make his marriage work, or to hear about how he tried but found he couldn't live without Ellen's cheddar cheese potato surprise? I didn't think so.
We walked down the hall. I stopped at 305. Chip and Betty continued another two feet, stopped, and turned.
"We're next door," he said, looking down at his key to make sure.
"Right," I said, nodding like one of those dogs people put on the dashboards of their cars. Then I stood there in the empty hall for a few minutes after Chip and Betty had disappeared into 307.
This wasn't exactly how I had imagined things would go when I was wrapping the black lace teddy in tissue paper and packing it carefully in one of the pockets of my suitcase.
Man plans. God laughs.
So much for the sex part.
Or so I believed at the moment.
Excerpted from A Hell of a Dog by Carol Lea Benjamin. . Excerpted by permission of Dell, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.