Just the other day we announced that Emily Kimelman’s suspense-filled UNLEASHED – A SYDNEY RYE NOVEL (VOL. 1) was our new Thriller of the Week and the sponsor of thousands of great bargains in the thriller, mystery, and suspense categories: over 200 free titles, over 600 quality 99-centers, and thousands more that you can read for free through the Kindle Lending Library if you have Amazon Prime!
Now we’re back to offer our weekly free Thriller excerpt, and we’re happy to share the news that this terrific read at $2.99 and FREE for Amazon Prime Members via Kindle Lending Library for Kindle Nation readers during its TOTW reign!
by Emily Kimelman
Joy Humbolt does not like people telling her what to do, so it comes as no surprise that she was just fired from her last job. When she buys Charlene Miller’s dog-walking business on Manhattan’s exclusive upper east side, it seems like the perfect fit: Posh environment, minimal contact with people.
But then one of her clients turns up dead, and Charlene disappears. Rumors say Charlene was having an affair with the victim–and of course, everyone assumes Joy must know where she is. Joy begins to look into the crime, first out of curiosity then out of anger when there is another murder and threats start to come her way.
When police detective Mulberry is assigned to the case, Joy finds a kindred spirit–cynical and none-too-fond of the human race. As they dig deep into the secrets of Manhattan’s elite, they not only get closer to the killer but to a treasure that might be worth risking everything to take.
One Reviewer Notes:
Unleashed is a good read. I like the way the chapter titles refer very specifically to what is happening in that chapter. The story is historically accurate and is quite a bit more interesting because of the historical references to New York landmarks. This story took the reader through a lot of New York City. Joy /Sydney had a lot of unexpected things happen to her that changed her life drastically. It helped her to find a new career at which she is going to be very good. The twists and turns are unexpected. It is well written and hard to put down. My only exception to the book is that most of the foul language in the book is not necessary to enhance the story line. It would be just as good a book without it. I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my review .
– D.T. Staggs, Amazon Reviewer, 5 Stars
About The Author
Emily Kimelman graduated from NYU with a degree in the history of homicide, forensic science, and detective novels. She worked as a dog walker while obtaining that degree. When not writing Emily works with her husband, Sean Gilvey, in their glassblowing studio and gallery in Philadelphia.
And here, for your reading pleasure, is our free excerpt:
My dog died today. He once took a bullet that was intended for me. A bullet that ripped through his chest, narrowly missing his heart, and exited through his shoulder blade, effectively shattering it. This left him unconscious on the floor of my home. Amazingly, this bullet did not kill him. It was a bar of chocolate that I accidentally left where he could reach it, which he did. It gave him diabetes, which killed him.
Ten years ago I adopted Blue as a present to myself after I broke up with my boyfriend one hot, early summer night with the windows open and the neighborhood listening. The next morning I went straight to the pound in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Articles on buying your first dog tell you never to buy a dog on impulse. They want you to be prepared for this new member of your family, to understand the responsibilities and challenges of owning a dog. Going to the pound because you need something in your life that’s worth holding onto is rarely, if ever, mentioned.
I asked the man at the pound to show me the biggest dogs they had. He showed me some seven-week-old Rottweiler-German shepherd puppies that he said would grow to be quite large. Then he showed me a six-month old shepherd that would get pretty big. Then he showed me Blue, the largest dog they had. The man called him a Collie mix and he was stuffed into the biggest cage they had, but he didn’t fit. He was as tall as a Great Dane but much skinner, with the snout of a collie, the markings of a Siberian husky, the ears and tail of a shepherd and the body of a wolf, with one blue eye and one brown. Crouched in a sitting position, unable to lie down, unable to sit all the way up, he looked at me from between the bars, and I fell in love.
“He’s still underweight,” the man in the blue scrubs told me as we looked at Blue. “I’ll tell you, lady, he’s pretty but he’s skittish. He sheds, and I mean sheds. I don’t think you want this dog.” But I knew I wanted him. I knew I had to have him. He was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.
Blue cost me $108. I brought him home, and we lived together for ten years. He was, for most of our relationship, my only companion. But when I first met Blue, a lifetime ago now, I had family and friends. I worked at a shitty coffeehouse. I was young and lost; I was normal. Back then, at the beginning of this story, before I’d ever seen a corpse, before Blue saved my life, before I felt what it was like to kill someone in cold blood, I was still Joy Humbolt. I’d never even heard the name Sydney Rye.
A Lifetime Ago
My foot tapped against the spotted linoleum as the subway squealed over the Manhattan Bridge, and clacked up the East Side. I scolded myself for my constant tardiness and vowed that from that day forth I would change my life. I would get organized. I would become better.
Three hours later, a pastel-clad woman with bad hair asked if she could have a macchiato, which didn’t make any sense. A woman wearing pastels, obviously from a place where women still wore scrunchies, asking for a shot of espresso with a touch of frothed milk on top. This woman should have been asking for a Frappuccino just like all the others who walked into the shop assuming that it was a Starbucks, because who could possibly imagine that there was coffee that was not Starbucks?
“Do you know what a macchiato is?” I asked.
The woman smiled benignly. “Yes, I want a caramel one.” She obviously had no idea what she was talking about. You don’t put caramel in a macchiato.
“So what you’re saying is that you would like a shot of caramel and a shot of espresso with a touch of frothed milk on top.”
“Why not? Let’s give it a go.” She smiled at me and I thought,” This is amazing. She is willing to try a new drink—not only a new drink but a drink that she practically created for herself. Had anyone else ever ordered this? I swear, in that moment, I was filled with a renewed sense of life. I had been wrong—not all dowdy women dressed in pastels were unadventurous lemmings.
“Oh, this isn’t what I ordered,” she said, looking down at my small cup of perfect caramel macchiato from above her two chins.
“Yes it is. It is a shot of caramel and a shot of espresso with a touch of frothed milk on top.” I had been wrong. She was like all the rest of them.
“No, I’ve ordered this before at Starbucks and it’s iced and in a very large plastic cup with a straw. It’s not at all like this,” she said as she waved her pudgy hand at my creation.
“Actually, this,” I pointed at the little cup, “is exactly what you ordered. Exactly.” I looked at the line of tourists that snaked out the door behind her onto 60th Street and continued, “I asked you if you wanted a shot of caramel and a shot of espresso with a touch of frothed milk. You said, ‘Sure, let’s give it a go.’ “I used a high-pitched nasal voice to imitate her. “Now, I will make you a new drink,” I said, “but it won’t be any Starbucks knockoff and you won’t get whatever it is you want unless you first admit that you are an idiot.” Her face turned red and all her features made a mad dash to the center, leaving her with only cheek, forehead, and chin.
“That’s right,” I was really rolling now, “an idiot, a dumb-ass who has no idea what is in her coffee. I bet you don’t know that Frappuccino is a Starbucks name, not the name of a real coffee drink. Frappuccino is a trademark, not a beverage.” I was still explaining the finer points of coffee in an outdoor voice to the tourist when my manager, a guy named Brad who always seemed to be staring at my tits, came out from the back and fired me. Although the way I stormed out of there, you would think I had quit. I threw my apron on the floor and told Brad to
fuck himself and stop masturbating in the coffee grounds. Yeah, the customers liked that one. By the time I got home, I was crying.
A Huge Fucking Dog
It is not often that the weight of daily existence catches me in public. I usually have to be in bed, alone, in the dark. But this time I was standing outside my apartment crying so hard I could barely get my key in the door. The thing is. I wasn’t crying because I got fired or because I’d broken up with Marcus. My job was stupid, and Marcus was an ass. Breaking up with that dick- wad was something on the list of “shit I’ve done lately that I can be proud of,” but it was pretty much the only thing.
Blue whined and circled me at the door, desperately happy I had returned. I sat down in my hall, my back against the door, crying. Blue nuzzled me and licked my face. I hugged him and he squirmed. “You’ve only known me a day and already you like me this much, huh?” I asked him, sniffling back my tears. He flopped onto his back, exposing his belly and warbled at me in answer.
Blue followed me down the hall and into the kitchen, where my answering machine sat blinking. “Five messages,” I told Blue, wiping my face with the back of my hand. He leaned his weight against me and nuzzled my stomach.
I hit play on the answering machine and heard Marcus’s voice. “Hey, listen.” In my mind I could see Marcus’s tongue sneaking out to wet his lips. My chest tightened. “I was thinking I’d come over later and we could…I don’t know…talk or something. Call me back.” Beep. “Hey, it’s me again. Look, I’m in the neighborhood. I guess you’re not home yet. I think I’m just going to head over…alright, um, bye.” Beep. “What the fuck, Joy. I was just at your house and there was a huge fucking dog trying to kill me. I—” Beep. “Your fuckin’ machine sucks, and where the fuck did you get that vicious dog? I mean, we just broke up last night and you already have a new dog. I don’t know what that means, but I just don’t know about you anymore.” Beep. “Listen, just call me, OK?” Beep.
I exhaled. “Did you really attack him?” Blue wagged his tail and sat. “I suppose it would be your natural instinct,” I hiccuped. “He was invading your home, right?” Blue looked at me blankly. “You don’t look mean.” He really didn’t. He was very tall but painfully skinny. I could see his ribs under his fur. Although, I noticed that, maybe because one of his eyes was blue and the other brown, he looked a little cross-eyed when looking directly at him. Really, he looked mildly retarded from such a straight-on view, kind of like one of those inbred guys playing a banjo in the Appalachians. It occurred to me that I knew nothing about this dog. Our history was barely 12 hours long. I’d basically moved a large, hairy stranger into my house. The phone rang as I stared at my new dog, a little confused.
“Hey.” It was my brother, James. “You want to get some drinks tonight?”
“Yeah sure, I have a lot to tell you.”
“Not really. Well, I guess one thing.” Blue had curled himself into a ball at my feet. “How
about Nancy’s at— ” I looked at the clock. It was 6:30. “How about 15 minutes?” “Give me 20.”
The sun was slipping behind the brownstones across the street and turning the sky pink when I left for Nancy’s. “Hey,” said the guy on the corner who always said hey. I ignored him. “Hey, pretty lady, you got a beautiful ass,” he tried again. I watched the concrete and power-walked away.
Ten minutes later I was at Nancy’s, a low-key lesbian bar with a nice backyard. If you wanted to talk to a stranger you could, but there was no pressure. If you wanted to take someone home you could, but again there was no pressure.
“Tequila gimlet, straight up.” The bartender, whose name I was pretty sure was Diane, nodded and moved off to make my drink. My face, reflected in the mirror behind the bar, peered from between a bottle of Blue Curacao and Midori. I needed a haircut. My fashionable bangs had grown out, and now I just pushed them behind my ears. Last night’s fight with Marcus and my early-morning journey to the pound had left puffy, blue-tinted circles under my eyes. All those tears had left the white around my gray irises streaked with red and—I leaned forward a little to make sure—my upper eyelids a bizarre orange.
Diane placed a martini glass brimming with a sheer red liquid on the bar, and I handed her a ten. I moved toward the backyard, trying not to spill my drink all over my hand while spilling my drink all over my hand.
The backyard was empty except for one overly cute couple sitting in the soft candlelight cooing. I took a table close to the door and artificial lighting. As the tequila burned in my mouth, I wrangled with the memories of the past 24 hours. I’ve become an expert in shoving thoughts I don’t like to the back of my mind. But they never go away—they’re always back there— lurking right on the other side of my self-control.
James appeared in the doorway, smiling, holding a Tequila gimlet, splash of cran (but his was on the rocks). He was a head taller than I at around six feet. We shared the same gray eyes and blond hair, though James’s was short and styled while mine was reaching past my shoulder blades. Edging towards 30, James liked to talk about how his green-bean physique was morphing into eggplant. But the guy was still a pole.
“You look like shit,” James said as he sat down. I smiled weakly and slurped my tequila. “Seriously, what the fuck happened to you?”
“Well, I broke up with Marcus”—this elicited a gasp—“and bought a dog.”—an even bigger gasp—“Oh, and I got fired.” I raised my glass in a mock toast to myself and polished it off.
“I talked to you yesterday! All this happened in one day?” I nodded, tried to finish my drink, then realized I already had. I went and brought back another.
“It’s not really surprising,” I said as I sat down. “We all knew it was coming.” James nodded. “Are you OK?” he asked.
“Well, I did lose my job because I went kinda crazy at work.”
I told him about the plump tourist, her misorder, my insane reaction, and Brad’s management
decision. Then I told him about the masturbation comment.
“That’s my sister. I’m proud of you, Joy. That job sucked. You’ve got a whole new fresh
“Easy for you to say. How exactly am I supposed to pay my rent?”
“You’ll figure it out. Now, tell me about this dog. I can’t believe you’re such an asshole that
you went out and got a dog because you broke up with your boyfriend. It’s so pathetic.” “You’re a real sweetheart.”
“Somebody has to tell you.”
“Jesus, I wanted a dog, so I went and got a dog.”
“Oh, this was something planned?” James leaned his elbows on the table with mischief dancing in his eyes. “It’s just a coincidence that you happened to break up with your boyfriend the night before.” He smiled at me.
“Oh, just shut up. So what if I bought a dog to console myself?” He was right, of course. I had gone and bought a dog because I broke up with my boyfriend. And, yes, that was pathetic.
“So, what kind of dog?”
“He’s really beautiful. He has one blue eye and one brown. Oh, oh, the best part is he attacked Marcus when he tried to come over.” James laughed. “I know. Can you fucking believe it? He left me five messages today.” I held up my hand with all five fingers extended.
“Your dog attacks people?”
“Not people, intruders,” I said with more confidence than I felt. For all I knew Blue attacked all sorts of people. Maybe it wasn’t that Marcus was breaking into the house. Maybe Blue would attack any douchebag we passed on the street. The thought made me laugh.
James smiled at me. “Not to talk badly about Marcus, Lord knows he was sexy as hell, but the guy is kind of an idiot. Not to mention that he tried to control you way too much. Low self- esteem fucks up a lot of men.” James sat back, his hypothesis fully expressed.
I laughed. “I guess. Whatever, I’m over it.” I sat up and scooped up my drink taking a long sip. “I’m so over it.”
“Well, are you going to call him back? I don’t think you should. Make a clean break.”
I knew he was right, but I also knew that I had no control over myself whatsoever and would probably call him. “How’s Hugh?” I asked, changing the subject. Hugh was James’s boyfriend of four years.
“He’s good,” James smiled. “Actually, we’re really good … Our offer was accepted.” Hugh and James had spent the last eight months trying to find an apartment. Two months ago, they’d found it. A fifth-floor walk-up with a roof deck, two bedrooms (OK, a bedroom-and-a-half) and a kitchen that was recently renovated.
“Holy shit. That’s awesome. How much?”
“It’s a little out of our price range, but you always pay more than you want, right?”
An hour-and-a-half later, I stumbled into my building blind-drunk. I climbed the steps humming to myself, swinging my keys. I was feeling pretty good. Sure, I had no job, no boyfriend, and a mildly retarded dog, but life was not so bad, not so bad at all. I would make it; I could fix it. Everything was going to be just fine.
Blue greeted me at the door. “Hi, boy.” I crouched and rubbed his ears. He nuzzled my chest,
knocking me against the wall. Blue wrapped himself in my arms. I breathed into his neck, smelling the pound. “We’re going to be OK,” I said into his neck. “I’m going to take care of us. Starting tomorrow, I’m going to fix this mess of a life of ours.” Then I passed out.
Fixing this Life
I opened my eyes and immediately closed them again. The sun rushing through the living room windows sent bolts of pain to the back of my head. Blue pushed his muzzle against my arm, encouraging me to get up. I squinted through my fingers at him. He tried to lick my eyeball. I laughed and then groaned.
Sitting up, my entire body rebelled. “Jesus fucking Christ,” I muttered through sock-coated teeth. Groping the wall I struggled to stand. I could feel my brain floating on an ocean of tequila. Every movement sent it crashing into the walls of my skull.
Gently, I moved down the hall to the bathroom. In the mirror I saw I was wearing the same clothing as the morning before. I struggled with my jeans while the bathtub filled. Steam fogged the room, and I sank under the hot water, listening to my heart resound in my head.
My hair combed and my teeth brushed, I checked the fridge hoping for fresh milk for my coffee, knowing that I hadn’t bought any. I poured the coffee, scooped sugar in by the tablespoon, splashed in the milk (only one day late) and topped the whole thing off with a load of cinnamon.
After my second cup of coffee, I knew what to do. “First thing I’m gonna do today,” I yelled to Blue from the bedroom as I got dressed, “is take you for a walk.” I squeezed into a pair of freshly washed jeans, struggling to button the button. I found a T-shirt in a mound of clothing I kept on a chair in the corner of my room, smelled it, and put it on. “Then I’m going to find a job.” I slipped on a flip-flop, glanced around for the other, got down on my knees and checked under the bed, found it and put that on, too. I walked back out to the hall where Blue waited. He smiled at me, clearly confident in me, and my plan.
Blue’s whole body vibrated as I put the leash on him. We bounded down the stairs together and by the time we hit the street I was feeling pretty good. It was one of those gorgeous early- summer days when the temperature is just right, the sun is shining, and you get the distinct feeling that everything will be just fine.
I strutted down the street, admiring the way my wet hair looked in the sun, its many shades of white and gold catching the light. Blue trotted next to me, sniffing the warm air. Park slope in the early-summer was designed for dog walking. We wandered past boutiques, their windows filled with beautiful clothing. Well-dressed, good looking people milled around the coffee shop. They all turned to look at us. Blue really did look like a creature from another land. His white and black fur glistening in the sunlight and his strangely beautiful eyes caught the attention of everyone we passed.
On our way back to my place we passed a school. Children flooded into the playground laughing and yelling, heading home. I smiled as the kids began to surround us, when suddenly Blue lunged and snapped at a passing teacher. The man, plump and freckled, jumped back, tripped over a piece of uneven pavement, and fell to the ground, his eyes wide and wet with fear. Blue strained against the leash, desperate to finish him off. Blue’s lips curled up to expose massive, razor-sharp teeth that snapped at the air, trying to sink into any part of the poor guy.
The children cowered and screamed for their mothers as my wolf dog strained to disembowel their instructor. Blue looked like a starved lunatic recently escaped from a mental hospital, spit whipping out of his mouth in long strings, his eyes rolling wildly in their sockets.
I gripped the leash with both hands and yanked it with such strength that Blue’s body twisted backwards, lifting his front paws off the ground and landing them in the opposite direction. I used his momentary surprise to begin dragging him back toward the house. He didn’t stop snarling until the sound of children’s voices had dissipated.
As I was trying to find my keys, my next-door neighbor, Nona, opened her door. “I knew it,” she said. “I knew you got a dog. Now, bring that little rapscallion over, and let’s have some tea.”
I first met Nona through my grandmother, who lived in my apartment before she passed away. Nona was a retired dancer in her early seventies. She’d been married three times to three men who all died within the first six months of marriage, leaving her with the full name of Nona Carvel Nevins Blatt, but she went with her maiden name, Jones.
Nona ruffled Blue’s ears and cooed to him about how handsome he was, and so big. “Would you like a snack, you little rapscallion, you?” Blue answered by prancing behind her as she moved toward the kitchen, his massive tail swinging the width of the hallway. Photographs of Nona in front of the Eiffel Tower, the Mirage Hotel, an elephant, dotted the walls. Her youthful face smiled from behind the glass. Nona’s hair, now a brilliant silver and cropped short, had once been long, silky, and black. In my favorite photograph, Nona is in the center of ten smiling women all crowded together. Behind them looms a large blimp.
Nona was half in the fridge with Blue by her side when I walked in. “How about a little chicken fricassee?” Nona asked as Blue’s tail thumped against the cabinets. She had remodeled her kitchen, putting down cork floors, putting up blue cabinets, and laying butcher-block counter tops. Over the stove hung photographs of her three husbands, all beautifully framed with a slight layer of grease coating them. Nona stood up from behind the fridge and smiled at me.
“So, you got a dog, broke up with Marcus—anything else dear?” she asked while feeding Blue from a Tupperware container. He sat quietly in front of her, licking his lips and tapping his tail.
“Yeah, I got fired.”
Nona let out a laugh. “Isn’t it all so exciting?” she said, pulling down her teapot.
“I guess you could call it that.”
“Oh, cheer up. You have a whole new fresh start,” she said with a furrowed brow that quickly
spread into an infectious smile. “You can do anything now.” I smiled back at her, feeling slightly better.
We were soon settled in Nona’s living room enjoying strong black tea and velvet cake. Blue was curled up at my feet on the plush rug, snoring. “Now, about this job situation. Don’t you think it’s time you started thinking bigger?” Nona asked. I looked at her, my cheeks filled with cake. “I mean a career. Don’t you want a career?” I swallowed and then smiled.
“Sure, but I don’t know what I want to do.”
“What did you go to school for again?” Nona asked and then refilled my teacup. I poured fresh milk into it, enjoying the way it sank to the bottom and then rushed to the top in a delicious brown cloud.
“Undeclared,” I said. Nona nodded, her brow creased, as if I had said something important instead of a simple fact.
“Why didn’t you get a degree?”
I smiled at my mug. “I didn’t want to be saddled with debt and no way of paying it off.” “But wouldn’t going to college help you find a well-paying job?”
I just shrugged, in no mood to continue the conversation. We sat for a while listening to a
clock tick on the mantel, the distant beeping of a truck’s reverse warning, and the familiar sound of chewing in our heads.
“Do you think you will go back to school?” Nona asked, breaking the calm.
“I don’t know. I’d like to, but financially it probably won’t ever make sense.”
“Isn’t your mother’s husband a wealthy man? Wouldn’t they pay for it?” Nona had brought
this up before, and it made me angry that she was doing it again.
“I don’t want that, Nona,” I said, trying to keep myself from snapping at her.
“But don’t you think you should take advantage…” Her voice faded when she saw the look
on my face. “Fine, then. What are you going to do?”
“Nona, I honestly have no idea, but I don’t think I should be working in any kind of
customer-service job anymore. My ability to deal with people has all but disappeared,” I said jokingly, trying to break the tension in the room. Nona laughed for me.
“Well, if you’re not going to college you’ll have to go into business. I know of a woman who is selling a dog-walking business. She’s a friend of Julia—you remember Julia, right? The one with the hip thing and the curly hair that looks permed but is natural?” I nodded, vaguely remembering a woman who used a cane and had strange curly hair. “Well, she has a friend, you know. She lives in Yorkville on East End Avenue— nice area but no public transportation. I don’t know how she does it with that hip. Anyway, this young woman, her friend, I can’t remember her name, is selling her dog-walking business. It’s good money, I understand, with room to grow. What do you think?”
“Well,” I said. “I don’t actually have much experience with businesses or walking dogs.” “What are you talking about? You have a dog. I assume you walk him.”
“Yeah, but I wouldn’t consider myself an expert.” I flashed back to the all-too-recent
attempted homicide of an unsuspecting elementary school teacher.
“You don’t have to be an expert. You just have to know how to pretend to be an expert.”
Nona raised her eyebrows and smiled. “Look, here’s what I’ll do. I’ll call Julia and get all the information, OK?”
All the Information
Two days after my vow to fix my life, I was sitting on Charlene Miller’s overstuffed white couch with black-and-white photographs of flowers (suggestive flowers) above my head. Charlene Miller, the neighbor of Nona’s friend Julia was selling her dog-walking route. She was the type of woman you might see on the subway wearing a white suit—the kind of woman who made you question how she managed to stay so clean in such a dirty place. “This is a really nice area,” I said. Charlene smiled at me with big, clean, straight teeth.
“It’s Manhattan’s little secret.” Charlene sounded as if she had expressed this opinion before. “I can see that,” I volleyed back.
“I remember the first time I walked around here; I wondered how it could be so quiet,
especially with the highway right there.” Charlene said, referring to the East River Drive that runs right next to, and slightly below, East End Avenue.
“I wondered the same thing,” I said with enthusiasm. We smiled at each other and our shared ignorance about how a street next to a highway was so darn quiet.
“I’m trying to sell the route because I’ve got so many other things going on right now. Also, I might be getting out of town. I’m not sure yet,” I nodded. “It’s really easy. You just feed and walk the dogs. I only have three clients but the money’s good. It’s amazing how much people will pay for you to walk their dog.” She smiled at me and pushed her auburn hair behind her adorably petite ears.
“Like how much?” I smiled trying to sound casual, not hungry.
She smiled. “I get $40 an hour.”
“Really?” She nodded. “So that’s…” I started to do the math when she finished it for me. “$1,200 a week.” She laughed at the look on my face. “I know it’s insane, but hey, this is
“What kind of compensation are you looking for?” I asked.
“Well, you could either buy the route off me up front or give me a percentage of the profits
for the first year.”
“I don’t have the capital to buy it up front but I think we could work out a payment plan that
would make us both happy.” I hoped I sounded responsible rather than broke.
“Alright, that’s fine. Everything here looks good,” she gestured to my résumé and references
that sat on her coffee table. “I have a few other people I need to see, so would it be OK if I got back to you by the end of the week?”
“Oh, of course. I understand.” She stood up and I followed. Charlene put her hand out toward me and I shook it. “Thank you for your time.”
Outside, the street was indeed quiet. East End Avenue runs between 79th and 93rd streets right next to and slightly above East River Drive, a four-lane highway that lets New Yorkers speed all the way from Battery Park City to the Triborough Bridge. I wandered up the avenue towards Carl Schurz Park which, in parts, is cantilevered over the highway. The FDR, in turn, is suspended above the East River. Makes you wonder what we are standing on.
Crossing East End Avenue, I walked into Carl Schurz Park. Big paving stones, neatly lined- up trees, and perfectly trimmed grass gave the place an air of formality appropriate for the only resident of the park—the mayor of New York. Kurt Jessup lived in Gracie Mansion, a homestead built with a view of the river before there even was a city called New York, let alone a mayor to run it. The historic house is hidden in a corner of the park surrounded by its own gardens and very high fences.
I wasn’t sure how I had performed during the interview. The fact that we both admired the relative silence of the neighborhood was good. But why would she give me the route instead of someone who could buy it off her? Did I even want it, I thought, as I looked over the dog run in the park.
A large shepherd was barking insistently at a cocker spaniel who’d stolen his ball and ran under a bench, behind the protective calves of his owner. The shepherd’s owner, a guy in sweatpants and a windbreaker, was clearly annoyed at the cocker spaniel’s master, a man who was hidden behind the New York Times. The shepherd kept barking, and the cocker spaniel gnawed on the ball, pretending the shepherd wasn’t barking.
“You see that dog over there?” a woman who’d materialized next to me asked. She was pointing at a small dog. He looked like a child’s favorite stuffed animal near the end of its life.
A grin spread across her face. “He belongs to that dog.” She pointed to a weimaraner whose coat shone a silver blue in the warm sun as he streaked across the run.
“He got him in Israel.” She grinned again, overwhelmed with joy that not only could one dog own another but that the second dog could come from Israel. “Isn’t that a lovely story?”
I nodded, smiling. “Excuse me,” I said, and walked away from the crazy lady. I wandered past the small dog run to the esplanade that runs along the river. People sat on benches facing the rushing water, the sun glinting off its silver surface. Warehouses hugged the opposite bank. Downriver, the three Con Edison smokestacks painted red, white, and gray stood tall and alone, shaping the Queens skyline.
I walked upriver, toward Hell’s Gate, where the Harlem River meets the water from the Long Island Sound in a swirling, dangerous mess of tides and currents. A stone with a plaque atop memorializes 80 Revolutionary War soldiers who drowned there in 1780. Prisoners aboard the H.M.S. Hussar, they were shackled in her hold when she struck Pot Rock and slipped beneath the freezing, unforgiving waters of Hell’s Gate. “They died for a nation they never saw born,” reads the inscription.
I watched a train glide across Hell’s Gate Bridge; a beautiful arch with bowstring trusses stretched over the treacherous water. In front of Hell’s Gate Bridge, traffic moved slowly, in stops and starts, across the Triborough Bridge, a workman-like structure that connects Manhattan, Queens, and the Bronx.
My phone rang as I admired the urban landscape. “Hi, it’s Charlene. Listen, I just thought about it and you can have the route.”
“Why don’t you come back up, and we’ll work out the details?”
Charlene was waiting at the door, looking paler than before. “I’ve got to get out of town for
business, so the only type of payment I need right now from you is to take care of my cat, Oscar, until I get back.” She walked through the living room into her kitchen. Oscar sat on the granite countertop, cleaning his face. He was a big tabby with white paws and a weight problem.
“Sure,” I said.
Charlene walked over to her computer and grabbed pages out of her printer tray. “Here’s a list of the clients and their dogs’ info.” I reached out to take them, but Charlene turned away and pushed the papers into a manila envelope. “The keys…” Her eyes wandered around the kitchen. “Where are the keys?” Charlene pushed past me and ran her hand over the empty granite counter. “I thought I…Oscar?” Oscar meowed, and she gently moved him over to reveal a ring of keys. Charlene dropped them into the envelope with the papers and passed the whole thing off to me.
“We can deal with all the details when I get back, or I’ll call you. Oh, and I’ll leave a set of my keys at the front desk for you. You should come and see Oscar about every three days.” The doorbell rang. She froze. It rang again. Charlene moved back into the living room slowly. I saw her hesitate, then, taking a deep breath, she checked the peephole. The tension ran from her body and she opened the door.
“Hello, Carlos,” Charlene said to a man in a custodial uniform standing in the hall. “Tell Bob not to worry about it for now. I’m going on vacation and will call when I get back. Thanks for coming, though.” Charlene closed the door and turned back to me, a mist of sweat at her hairline.
“Alright, so you have everything you need,” she started moving me toward the door, “and I’ll be in touch in a couple of days. Thanks. Bye.” The door closed behind me.
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by Emily Kimelman