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The Dead Dog Day
 


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The Dead Dog Day


  THE DEAD DOG DAY

  A Cora Baxter Mystery

  Jackie Kabler

  When your Monday morning begins with a dead dog and ends with a dead boss, you know it’s going to be one of those days. And breakfast TV reporter Cora Baxter has already had the weekend from hell, after the man she’d planned a fabulous future with unceremoniously dumped her.

  Now Cora’s much-hated boss has been murdered – the list of suspects isn’t exactly short, but as the enquiry continues the trail leads frighteningly close to home. Why is Cora’s rival, glamorous, bitchy newsreader Alice Lomas, so devastated by their boss’s death? What dark secrets are Cora’s camera crew hiding? And why has her now ex-boyfriend vanished?

  The race to stop the killer striking again is on…

  For my sister Deborah, 1970-2010.

  I miss you.

  ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

  There are so many people who contributed, knowingly or not, to the writing of this novel. These are just some of them.

  The late, great GMTV legend Billy Pond, who told me the dead dog story. He swore it was true. I was never quite sure, but it was always one of my favourites.

  My friends Judith, Sophie, Dione, and Gillian, who inspired the characters of Rosie, Nicole, Wendy, and Sam. Simon, Jason, and Chris, my longest-serving crew in my GMTV years, who may recognise little bits of themselves in Nathan, Rodney, and Scott. There’s also a smidgeon of some of my other favourite crew members Ted, Pete, and Mick in those characters. I miss you all and I couldn’t have done it without any of you!

  My darling husband JJ, who always believes in me even when I doubt myself.

  My mum who, when I was seven, was told by one of my teachers that I would ‘go far in English’, and who says she always knew I would.

  My beloved Cheltenham – Cora’s home town as well as mine.

  And of course my agent, Robin Wade, and everyone at Accent Press. You all made a little girl’s dream come true and a big girl very happy.

  Contents

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Chapter 31

  Chapter 32

  Chapter 33

  Chapter 34

  Chapter 35

  Chapter 36

  Chapter 37

  Chapter 38

  Chapter 39

  Chapter 40

  Chapter 41

  Chapter 42

  Chapter 43

  Chapter 44

  Chapter 45

  Chapter 46

  Chapter 47

  Chapter 48

  Chapter 49

  Chapter 50

  Chapter 51

  Chapter 52

  Chapter 53

  Chapter 54

  Chapter 55

  Chapter 56

  Chapter 57

  Chapter 58

  Chapter 59

  Chapter 60

  Chapter 61

  Chapter 62

  Chapter 63

  Other Titles

  1

  Monday 18th December

  ‘THE DOG IS DEAD? ARE YOU INSANE, CHRISTINA? HOW THE BLOODY HELL CAN THE DOG BE DEAD?’

  The furious voice of Jeanette Kendrick rang across the newsroom, and everybody froze. It was 4 a.m. and the usual pre-programme hum, which had been building nicely, faded to a whisper, and then to silence. Cora Baxter, who was on Monday morning newsreader duties, suddenly stopped scrolling through the running order, her heart pounding. She had been on the receiving end of a Kendrick rant once or twice before, and it was pretty hellish.

  She swivelled in her chair. Down at the far end of the long room, just visible behind the piles of DVDs and newspapers stacked on every desk, the breakfast TV programme editor was standing outside her glass-walled corner office, hands on Armani-clad hips. In front of her Christina Evans, a young trainee producer, was visibly shaking.

  ‘I’m really sorry, Jeanette, but … well, I just rang the hotel to confirm the 6 a.m. car pick up, and … and … the guest said he’d just woken up and found the dog dead next to him, in the hotel room … he’s in a terrible state, I mean … what can I do?’

  ‘BUT IT CAN’T BE DEAD!’ Jeanette was roaring now, her piercing blue eyes burning into poor Christina. ‘IT’S THE BLOODY 8.10, GODDAMN IT!’

  Cora gulped and turned back to the running order on her screen. Jeanette’s reaction was way over the top, but everybody knew that, at this hour of the morning, losing the item planned for 8.10 was not good. It was the most watched slot of the programme, following as it did the eight o’clock news, and it was always saved for the biggest talking point of the day.

  ‘WELL, WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?’

  Jeanette was showing no signs of calming down. She took a step towards Christina and stamped her foot. She was shod as always in beautiful Jimmy Choos, silver-grey today to match the tailored Armani suit. Christina cowered backwards.

  ‘Well … erm … erm … well …’ She was stammering now, and sounded close to tears.

  Cora quickly scanned the 8.10 link on the running order. The story was about a Newfoundland which had won an international ‘hero dog’ award after rescuing dozens of people from a passenger boat disaster in France the previous year. The dog, plus owner, was supposed to be on the Morning Live sofa to help launch a ‘Britain’s Bravest Pet’ competition. The contest was sponsored by the show, and viewers would be voting for their favourite animal. No wonder Jeanette was so mad – phone-in competitions made big money for the breakfast programme, and this could scupper the whole thing.

  Down the newsroom, Christina had started to sniffle.

  ‘I’m sorry, Jeanette, I don’t think there’s anything we can do,’ she said, and let out a little sob.

  Jeanette glared at her, but the tears had done the trick. She took a deep breath and ran her hands through her elfin-cropped, dark hair.

  ‘OK, Christina, I’ll tell you what you’re going to do, shall I?’

  She’d stopped shouting, but the newsroom still held its breath, waiting to hear the magical solution she was about to produce.

  ‘What you are going to do, Christina, is ring the man back, give him our deepest condolences for the death of his dog, and then ask him to bring it in anyway. We’ll pretend it’s asleep.’

  She turned on her four-inch heels and marched back into her office. Wide-eyed with horror, Christina stared after her. Everyone else in the newsroom gaped at each other, aghast. She couldn’t be serious – could she?

  Christina was rooted to the spot. ‘But … Jeanette … I can’t … I just can’t! He was in tears … he’ll never agree to it … really, do you really want me to tell him to bring it in? I mean … it’s dead!’

  ‘Do it, or find me another 8.10,’ said Jeanette dismissively, and slammed the door. A moment later she snapped down the blinds on the glass wall facing the newsroom – her usual signal that the conversation was over.

  Christina, still open-mouthed with shock, scurried off. Drama over, the newsroom hum started up again, although it was somewhat
subdued. Everyone knew that when Jeanette blew once, it could happen again at any moment, and nobody wanted to be next in the firing line. Cora, who was still feeling fragile from a fairly traumatic weekend, suddenly had an overwhelming urge to laugh hysterically. Muttering something about tea under her breath, she leapt from her seat and ran out of the newsroom, nearly barrelling into somebody coming the other way in the corridor outside. She reached the grubby little kitchen down the hall at the same time as her friend, and today’s senior programme producer, Samantha Tindall, who’d been hot on her heels.

  ‘Sam!’ gasped Cora. ‘Did you hear that?’

  Sam nodded, shaking with suppressed laughter. She grabbed Cora’s arm and dragged her into the windowless box of a kitchen, slamming the door behind them. They collapsed on the grimy lino, howling.

  ‘“Tell him to bring it in anyway, we’ll pretend it’s asleep!” Have you ever heard anything like it?’ There were tears running down Cora’s cheeks.

  Sam was wiping her eyes. ‘Oh my goodness, that’s the funniest thing I’ve heard in weeks. Bring it in anyway! Bleedin’ thing will have rigor mortis by now – can you imagine it, stiff as a board on the studio floor …’ She buckled again, choking with laughter.

  Cora clutched her stomach. ‘Stop it, stop it, I can’t bear it! Picture Alice on the sofa, having to coo over the poor exhausted sleeping dog … imagine her face! And the lights – it would probably start to smell and everything …’

  Sam wrinkled her pert little nose, imitating newsreader Alice Lomas – who was covering the main presenter’s job on the sofa today, hence Cora’s call to replace her at the news desk – and they shrieked again, clinging to each other.

  They were just starting to pull themselves together when the door burst open and Wendy Heggerty skipped in, red Irish curls bouncing.

  ‘No need to ask what you two have been talking about!’ said the graphic designer. ‘Wow, Jeanette has lost it this time, hasn’t she? Scary bitch boss from hell … I saw poor old devoted Clancy drop her off this morning. At this hour! Seriously, I don’t know how she puts up with her.’

  Clancy Carter was Jeanette’s long-term love. Both big players in the television world, Jeanette’s star had somewhat eclipsed her civil partner’s in recent years – Clancy was head of Chrysalis Productions, a production company responsible for some of the rather less successful TV reality shows. And, while Jeanette’s reputation was terrifying, Clancy was known as a bit of a sweetie. Few could understand how they’d ever got together.

  Still tittering, Cora and Sam heaved themselves off the floor, and Cora bent down to give Wendy a hug.

  ‘Hello, dwarfy. Great to see you.’ Cora was on the road as a roving reporter for much of the time, so it was always a treat to be called in to cover news reading duties. It meant she could have a long overdue catch up with her friends, who nowadays were all too often just voices on the end of a phone, discussing time slots or graphics ideas for her live reports.

  ‘You too, you big giraffe.’ Wendy’s pale blue eyes grinned up at Cora. Just five foot two, Wendy was buxom and curvaceous, all wild hair and heaving boobs. Today she’d encased them in a tight green jumper.

  ‘You look fab, Wendy.’ Cora grinned at her friend.

  ‘She always does.’ Sam was crouching in front of the microwave, attempting to use its door as a mirror as she tried to wipe the rivulets of mascara off her cheeks. ‘I don’t know how you do it, Wend – I always look like a dog on nightshifts.’

  She straightened up, pushing her wavy caramel bob back out of her eyes, and started to smirk again. ‘I wonder where poor Christina got to?’

  ‘Ooh, I’m dying to find out what happened – but you’ll have to update me later. I’m just here for a cuppa – got a load of maps to do for the news yet,’ said Wendy, reaching for a polystyrene cup. ‘But I’ll see you both later, OK? And we need to rip that ex-man of yours to shreds too, Cora.’

  She stuck a tea cartridge into the machine, and the boiling water streamed into the cup underneath. She grabbed it, splashed in some milk, and headed for the door, just as a pale-looking Christina wandered in.

  ‘Alright, Christina?’ Wendy grimaced at Cora and Sam as she left, wildly making a ‘call me’ sign with her free hand. Christina didn’t seem to hear her. She shoved a coffee cartridge clumsily into the slot, and stood staring into space as the hot liquid gushed out.

  ‘Er – Christina – are you OK? What did the guest say?’ said Sam, tentatively. ‘Did you – erm – call him back, about the dog? Christina?’

  Christina twitched slightly, as if suddenly registering that there were other people in the room.

  ‘Oh, hi, Sam … Cora. No, thank God, Gerry from showbiz saved me. Went in and told Jeanette if we had a dead dog in, it was bound to get in the papers and we’d get a right mauling. He’s called in a favour and got that new barmaid off Coronation Street to come in to fill the slot at short notice – you know the one, she’s about to have an affair with David Platt?’

  Sam and Cora nodded.

  Christina rubbed her eyes. ‘Jeanette’s not happy, but what can you do? We’re going to launch the pet competition tomorrow instead – there’s a cat that woke its owner up after a gas leak or something that should be able to come in. I’m going to be cacking myself tonight – Jeanette will fire me if anything else goes wrong. I’ve only been here for three months, I’ll never be able to get another job if I’m sacked …’

  Her voice tailed off and a fat tear rolled down her cheek. Cora felt a sudden massive wave of sympathy, and slipped her arm round the younger girl’s shoulders.

  ‘Don’t cry, Christina. You won’t be sacked, it wasn’t your fault! I remember what these nightshifts are like – they’re hell, and being so tired just makes everything seem worse. It’ll be OK, you’ll see – Jeanette will have forgotten all about it by tomorrow.’

  Christina wiped her eyes and managed a little smile. ‘Thanks. But she won’t, you know that. I hate that woman. I really, really hate her. Anyway, I’d better go … I have loads of stuff to do before we go on air. See you later.’

  Shoulders hunched, she picked up her coffee with a shaky hand and slipped out of the room. Cora and Sam looked at each other and smiled ruefully.

  ‘I have to agree with Christina. Jeanette will get her comeuppance one of these days, mark my words. Karma and all that,’ said Sam.

  Cora nodded, and headed for the door. ‘Just another night at the Fun Factory, eh? Right, I’m going back – coming?’

  ‘I’ll be right behind you when I’ve made my tea, my little news bunny. Want to chat you through the six o’clock bulletin. Dead dog or no dead dog, the show must go on.’

  The person who would be the real star of today’s show looked down at slightly shaking hands and took a long, deep breath.

  Sod the dead dog. There was only one dumb animal who deserved to be dead today.

  And that was Jeanette Kendrick.

  How lucky, then, that she soon would be.

  2

  Morning! Rodders in orange trousers 2day like gangly satsuma. Want us 2 hunt down n kill bastard boyf? L8R. N x

  Cora grinned as she caught up on her text messages. Settling into her chair in the cosy make-up room, she reached over and pulled the blinds so the early morning window cleaners couldn’t sneak a peek later on. Then she took a bite of the bacon roll she’d snaffled from the green room, wiped her fingers on a nearby towel, and tapped a slightly less than honest reply into her BlackBerry.

  Don’t worry Nathan, over him already! Nice and cosy in here … ha! Love C xxx

  She took another mouthful, watching the three make-up artists buzzing around laying out their brushes and tubes, and wiped ketchup off her chin. It was freezing outside and Nathan Nesbit and Rodney Wood hall, her usual camera and sound crew when she was on roving reporter duty, were up in Nottingham with one of the other reporters this morning, on a prison overcrowding story. As a white gown was whipped around her, Cora smiled, her difficult pas
t few days forgotten for a while. Much as she enjoyed being a reporter it was, she thought, very nice to be indoors for a change.

  ‘Cora, darling, it’s been ages! What are you wearing today?’

  The cheerful Scottish burr of Sherry, her make-up girl, broke into her thoughts.

  ‘Got some gorgeous new colours this morning, you can be my wee guinea pig!’

  ‘Lime suede jacket.’

  Cora peered at the fantastic line-up of bottles, powders, and eyeshadow palettes in front of her.

  ‘Wow, Sherry, I wish I had you on the road with me. You’ve got stuff here I’ve never even seen in the shops. I love that one.’ She pointed to a soft brown shadow with iridescent green flecks.

  ‘Well that will go perfectly, especially with your green eyes.’

  Sherry set to work, pulling Cora’s straight shoulder-length brown bob back into a hairband and running a critical eye over her skin as she began applying powder and concealer. Cora watched her in the mirror, grimacing inwardly. These early mornings, most of which were spent outside in all weathers, were taking their toll. Half-listening to the early news on the TV in the corner of the room, she shut her eyes and relaxed as the make-up artist’s experienced fingers patted and smoothed. She adored this ritual, the soothing minutes before she entered the pressure cooker of the live studio. The magic of the make-up room never ceased to amaze her, taking in as it did weary, baggy-eyed people and, without fail, spitting them out again a short time later looking like polished professionals.

  The peace was shattered suddenly as the door was flung open.

  ‘Oh, hell! How long are you going to be, Sherry? I need you to dry my hair and everything this morning!’

  Cora opened her eyes at the familiar, whiny voice. Alice Lomas was standing in the doorway, a petulant expression on her beautiful face. Her long, poker-straight blonde hair was damp, making dark stains on the tight navy T-shirt that clung to her voluptuous chest.

  ‘Well, good morning to you too, Alice,’ Sherry said primly. ‘Come back in fifteen minutes, I’ll have Cora out by then.’

  Alice pouted and walked off, swinging her hair. She’d totally ignored Cora, as usual. Thirty-two, but claiming to be just twenty-nine, Alice had already been a national newsreader for six years, making her one of the youngest news anchors in the country when she’d started. With no university degree, and distinctly average A level results to her name, she had still somehow managed to land a job as a weathergirl and occasional features reporter on a regional news programme after leaving school. But exactly why Jeanette had taken her on to present national news had long been a puzzle to the Morning Live staff, who had finally concluded that the editor, along with men across the UK, must simply have fallen for her stunning looks. It was a view reinforced by the fact that, despite having limited journalistic experience, she’d recently started filling in on the sofa when Jane, the main presenter, was away. The Lomas ego, always big, was becoming massive, and Cora couldn’t stand her.

 
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