The Lost Great Dane by B.L. Blair

The Lost and Found Pets Mysteries, Book #1

Cozy Mystery

Date Published: December 1, 2016

 

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The Lost Great Dane is the first novella in the Lost and Found Pets series.
Alexandra Prescott is a licensed private investigator specializing in
finding missing animals. Reuniting pet and owner is more than just a
job.

While looking for a lost cat, Alex finds a weak and injured Great Dane. The
dog has no collar, no tags, and no microchip. And the only person looking
for him is a man who might have murdered his own wife.

Within 24 hours, Alex has a hunted dog, a cryptic message, and a hitman
after her. She realizes the only way out of this mess is to solve the
mystery of the lost Great Dane.

 

 

Excerpt

“You have got to be kidding me,” I said, staring at the small hole in the chain-link fence. The little bit of grass on the other side was mostly dead, and the yard was full of debris. There was an old building not far from the fence that appeared to have been a small barn at one time. An abandoned pickup truck was nearby, but there wasn’t a house or other livable structure. The ground was damp and muddy as it had recently rained. I glanced down at my new, expensive tennis shoes before looking at my companion.

“Are you sure?” I asked. The only response was a sharp bark and pawing on the ground. Hero is a trained search-and-rescue dog, and he is very good at his job. He barked a second time and sat by the fence. I leaned over and gave him a brisk pat. “Okay, give me just a minute.”

Retrieving my cell phone from the pocket of my jeans, I placed a call. Although the property looked deserted, I wasn’t about to go traipsing around without verification. Claire answered on the first ring.

“Lost and Found Pets. This is Claire. How may I help you?”

Claire is my complete opposite. She is short and just a little chubby. She has long blond hair, pretty blue eyes, and a sweet smile. Her bubbly personality comes through with every word she speaks. She is friendly, kind, and supportive. How the two of us became friends is still a mystery to me.

“I need you to do a property search,” I said as soon as she finished her greeting. “Hero found Mr. Fluffy’s trail, but it leads to a fenced property.”

“What’s the address?”

I gave her the particulars and waited while she performed the search. Mr. Fluffy was the lost cat that I was currently trying to locate. The Lost and Found Pets agency tries to live up to its name. We attempt to find lost pets.

I have always loved animals, and I discovered that there was a need for someone to look for lost pets. People love their animal companions. They are willing to pay a great deal of money to find their furry friend. Our clientele consists mostly of those who have money to burn and prefer someone else do all the work. They may be young, up-and-coming professionals who want someone to come home to but don’t have the time to search for them should they get lost, or the elderly whose loss of a pet upsets them so much they have difficulty navigating a basic search for an animal. We also get clients who have exhausted all their own resources and turn to us as a last resort. Lost and Found Pets is a licensed private investigations firm. We are just very specialized.

“It looks like the last owner died about three years ago, and the property hasn’t been claimed. There are a couple of years of back taxes on the books but nothing else. I’m surprised no one has claimed it yet. It’s in a prime spot.”

“Okay, that’s what I needed to know. Thanks, Claire.”

Hero and I were standing on what was probably once a gravel road. Now it was just a large opening dividing several acres of land. I couldn’t see a gate or opening anywhere. It was probably on the other side of the property. If we went around, Hero might have lost Mr. Fluffy’s scent so I reached into my backpack and pulled out a pair of wire cutters. Searching for lost pets often takes me to hard-to-reach places. I carry a whole arsenal of tools. I made quick work of the fence. Hero bounded through first. He is a large brown German Shepherd, but I had to cut the fence even more before I could squeeze through.

After stepping through the fence, I gave Hero the command, and he took off running. I followed a little more slowly, hoping to avoid the muddier areas. Hero headed to the back of the barnlike structure. It was small and falling down. Whoever had owned the place hadn’t done any work on it in years. I heard Hero bark and sped up my pace. When I rounded the corner, I saw at once that I didn’t need to hurry.

“Damn it,” I said softly as I approached the doorway to the barn. The poor cat was dead. His collar had caught on a nail, and it looked like he might have choked to death. There were signs of a struggle. His collar was torn in places, but he hadn’t managed to tear it completely. Mr. Fluffy had been an indoor cat, and his collar was pretty but not designed to break away or stretch. He hadn’t been dead long as his body was still intact. The owners had only realized he was missing that morning. They contacted me midday after a brief search. It was a very typical scenario.

About 50 percent of the time, we are able to find the lost animal. Unfortunately, sometimes we find them too late. Like now. I blinked back tears as I pulled a plastic container from my backpack and gently placed Mr. Fluffy inside. Most of my clients don’t want to see their dead pet, but sometimes they need proof that the animal is actually gone. Hero whined softly. I handed him a treat, which he took but ate slowly, giving me a sad look. I rubbed his head.

“I know, boy. Me too.”

About the Author

B. L. Blair writes mystery/romance stories. Like most authors, she has been
writing most of her life and has dozens of books started. She just needs the
time to finish them.

She is the author of the Leah Norwood Mysteries and the Lost and Found Pets
Mystery Novellas. She loves reading books, writing books, and traveling
wherever and as often as time and money allows. She is currently working on
her latest book set in Texas, where she lives with her family.

 

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Are You Really Paid and Are They Really Unpaid?

Every now and then I actually get round to reading some of my writing magazines. Today, I got around to reading a portion of the October 2010 issue of “ theWriter.” I started off by reading the debate over blogging article and was unswayed by the “con” side of the argument. Yes, any time I spend writing for here is time I spend not getting paid to write. Yes, I could use a different blogging service that facilitates revolving ads, but those make sites look just plain tacky.

The argument boiled down to the “pro” side wanting to use the blog to establish a base for book sales, and the “con” side from a freelance writer who had never written a book saying it takes away from paid writing. Since I’m on the book selling side, I was more inclined for the “pro” viewpoint, but I did have multiple issues with the “not getting paid” argument.

A “free-lance” writer is basically someone who spends a lot of unpaid time writing “pitch letters” (which are usually email these days) trying to get a paid writing assignment from or re-sell an article to a magazine. Yes, there are a lot of resources out there to stuff email addresses into their spam-bots, but, I’ve never understood how they “make a living.” Many claim to “make a good living”, but when you do the math, their definition of “good living” is about $40K/year and they generally work at least six days per week generating that much. You see, most magazines are broke these days. When you pitch to them and get an assignment you will get paid zero-$250 for the article 90 days after it runs…in most cases. Some magazines are gracious enough to pay upon acceptance, but, very few in this economy. Yes, some of the multi-national magazines pay a few thousand per article, but, if you aren’t Anderson Cooper, or someone of that recognition level, you aren’t getting those gigs.

The one thing I constantly read about is article re-sale. Free-lance writers pitch the same article, with a few tweaks, to non-competing magazines. Given the time investment and low pay, I would think you would need to sell the same article roughly twelve times to make it worth writing the first time. The concept is to write an article like “ Everyday Lung Damage” as a paid assignment for “Men’s Health” or one of the other health magazines out there, then, even saying that the article will be running in the pitch, sell more focused versions of the article to “Popular Science”, “Hot Rod Magazine”, “ DIY Magazine,” etc. basically rewriting the middle few paragraphs to talk about specific lung hazards doing science experiments at home, working on your car in a garage, tearing out drywall in your home, etc. It’s a lot of effort for very little pay. It takes many years to build up the reputation and contact lists to pull it off, and the number of places you can re-market an article depends on your creativity.

On the flip side, mid-high distribution magazines do tend to like to run topic related articles during the same issue month. They aren’t above coordinating it because if they all run an article or three on lung health issues in January, the news media will run some stories on lung health referencing the magazine articles, creating more buz.

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that, without re-marketing, a free-lance writer pulls down about a grand a month, if they have enough connections to get an assignment every week. With re-marketing, they can juice their income to $5-$6K for a particular month before sinking back down the following month after getting several non-re-marketable assignments.

If you have a spouse that works, or live in the middle of no-where, $40K isn’t bad. You’ll never buy a nice new car, but, if you live frugally, you could survive. When you go the free-lance route you don’t have a lot of other opportunities to really juice your income. The same is true for a fiction writer. You can sell your book in hard cover, soft cover, trade paperback, eBook, and audio book formats. You can pitch to every movie studio on the face of the planet hoping one will purchase the movie writes. You can pitch to every publisher in every foreign country praying one or more will buy the foreign language rights and you can even arrange for book signings, but your opportunities to juice are severely limited. In the end, the book either sells, or it doesn’t.

Blogging can help increase the Web presence of an author and their titles, but, until you achieve the status of Steven King or some other big name author, it can’t really juice sales…it can completely torpedo them. A significant number of mid-list authors ended their blog sites over the past few years. Why? Because the fans wanted them to blog about their books (especially what they were currently writing) instead of what they were feeling today, which, by definition, was the original point of a blog.

I won’t sit here and tell you that I’ve ever had anyone email me saying they were searching for something on-line, came across my blog, and ended up buying a book or three of mine because of what they read. I will sit here in all honesty and say people who are, or one day became, hiring managers, have found my blog, skimmed through my book sites, and contacted me about doing contract work for them. I suspect other technical writers have had similar experiences.

Some professionals say a blog should have a single focus, such as an industry or a trade. I don’t. One, I wouldn’t want to set up a different blog every few moths. Some professionals say a blog should receive new entries multiple times per day. Well bully for them. I write really long entries when I feel like it rather than waste my time, and a reader’s time, tossing out six 4-line blog entries per day. Some professionals say you need to use a high end blog hosting service which will allow for Google Ads, and give you the opportunity to spew CEO ladened “articles” from places like Demand Studios to increase your search engine presence. Well, what good is a high search engine presence if your customer takes one glance at all the ads and bails?

Once in a while I’m lucky. Once in a while the manager is actually a manager at the time and they call me while they are still reading the article which caught their attention. My question for the “con” article writer then is “Did I get paid only for that article when we sign a consulting contract, or did I get paid for the entire blog?”

 

Look for 30 Percent Consumer Market Contraction

Talking heads and media pundits are all talking about how we are nearing a bottom or “leveling off” of the current recession. Personally, I don’t think we’ve found the bottom yet. I think once we find the bottom, the world is going to stay there for a long time. The “turn around” everyone talks about will simply get us back to the condition we were in several weeks prior to the bottom, then we will stay there a long time.

I’m not basing this line of thought on doctored up accounting data or other reports seer sizzled up by the same accounting firms who participated in the stock market and mortgage fraud cases we’ve been hearing about. I’m basing this on current trends and human nature. I think it will be at least a 30% contraction and it will last for 3-8 years.

Prior to our finding out just how void of ethics the mortgage/housing industry was (we always knew about the Realtors), the credit card companies were held out as the bowels of the Antichrist. They would issue credit cards to people’s dogs if an application had been filled out. (That’s not an exaggeration, I know someone that actually got a credit card for their dog.) Credit card companies had a seemingly endless list of tricks to jack up interest rates or charge excessive fees. Consumers got used to being rectally violated by these practices and started playing the “ 0% Interest Balance Transfer” game as a way of getting even. Of course, that game would only yield victory to those who stopped using their credit card for anything until the entire balance was paid off. You see, you had to pay the 0% balance off before any payments were applied to your new charges.

Eight years ago, it was nothing to run into someone with five credit cards in their wallet. Nearly everyone of these cards would have some kind of balance that was older than one month. There was a large group of people who thought it was OK to buy $140 pair of sun glasses, then make minimum monthly payments to their credit cards. Of course, the credit card companies encouraged this behavior. They even paid Congress to change the bankruptcy laws without lowering the maximum allowable interest rate. Retailers flocked to accept credit cards and also encouraged consumers to pay it off over time. If it wasn’t for consumers living well beyond their means, CEOs couldn’t possibly get those multi-million dollar bonuses.

Today, we see that the White House is about to spank the major credit card companies like they’ve never been spanked before. When they left the meeting in Washington almost none stopped to talk with reporters. They knew it was coming. There has been a mad rush to jack up interest rates on every card out there. Granted, a lot of that money grubbing is because the credit card issuers had a lot of exposure to the mortgage crisis. They think if they squeeze unemployed people who are behind on their mortgages harder from the credit card side, those people will suddenly pay things off. Make no mistake, it is usually “mortgages” for these people. They bought a house, went hog wild with the Martha Stewart decorating thing, ended up with massive balances on their credit cards, took out a home equity loan to pay off the credit cards, then ran balances up again. Now they are upside down on a mortgage and have just had their credit card limit slashed below their outstanding balance to generate more fees for the issuer.

Being a consultant, I try to never carry balances on my cards. I also try to never finance a car. I’ve seen too many consultants rack up large debt while on a long term contract only to have that contract suddenly end due to some funding/policy issue at the client site. Those are the consultants you find slithering into those absolute shit contracts offered up by EDS or the worse ones offered up by Verizon through the illegal alien vendor management system. The billing rate doesn’t even begin to touch a living wage, but it generates cash flow to keep gas in the tank and food on the table. It won’t begin to pay off a single debt. Those consultants will spend each day on the phone continuing to look for a new contract which actually pays a living wage. It doesn’t take long before they are fired, not because they couldn’t do the work, but because they put forth the level of effort such a wage deserved.

Enough consumers have either now been thrust into this undesirable situation or know people in such a situation, that credit card practices are going to change. The credit card companies have already started one massive push to bleed people while they can. I just got rid of my Bank of America card because they sent a letter stating the new interest rate minimum would be 8.65%+ the highest prime rate published in the Wall Street Journal for the prior two weeks. Talk about assholes! Since I don’t carry a balance, I called to cancel the card. My final bill arrived today. I also ordered them to remove me from their contact list. Most people forget that step. They have to actually remove you if you request it at the time of card cancellation. This stops all of those annoying “We Want You Back” letters.

I don’t think I’m alone in my actions. While I don’t consider myself the cream of the crop for credit card companies, (and since I locked down all of my credit to avoid identity theft, they can’t tell what I am), I can’t imagine people who don’t have a balance on a card getting a letter like the one I received and not cancelling the card. There was a time I was one of those people with five credit cards in my wallet (though I usually didn’t carry a balance on any), now I’m a person with exactly one credit card. From what I hear a lot of people are getting down to one or fewer credit cards. Now that most banks pass out debit cards for free and you can even use them to buy on-line through any vendor that accepts the credit cards of the same label, I don’t see a lot of overspending happening in the future.

How does this equate to a 30% or better global economy reduction? Many economies relied on Americans living well beyond their means. Some countries had even banked their entire economic and infrastructure growth on being able to sell as much as they wanted to American consumers. China is feeling our downturn even more than we are feeling it. The world economy isn’t ready to face American consumers having fewer than two credit cards in their wallet and never carrying a balance, but that day is quickly approaching. Once we hit bottom, that’s as high as we are going for a long time. It took over 50 years after the Great Depression hit before Americans started to live beyond their means in any serious way. It’ll take twice that long now. This time we don’t have to carry cash and checks.

 

Software Books – The New Piracy Niche

I had heard this statement for quite some time, but had never really paid much attention to it, until this week. Thanks to the progression of technology and free software to edit/manipulate PDF files, book piracy is becoming a serious epidemic.Most of you reading this know that I have a computer book series entitled “The Minimum You Need to Know”. The current focus of this series is the OpenVMS marketplace. These books are on the high end and without competition. By “high end” I mean both price and the fact that 10,000 copies over 10 years is a lofty goal for the series. There simply aren’t many dedicated technical professionals out there willing to invest in their careers.

If you enter the computer book writing/publishing arena and focus on the high end topics, not the oatmeal $35 list price books, but the higher end topics, you will hear a saying: “You only sell one copy to all of India”. Before you go tagging me as a racist, you should know that I didn’t create the saying, and less than a month ago had an experience which tends to give it weight.

Yes, about a month ago I got an email from a person working for an Indian off-shore IT consulting company. They had just been assigned to work on a COBOL and FMS system for a client, and they didn’t even know how to log into an OpenVMS machine. They did a Web search and found my book previews on the Google Book site. You only get a few pages with the preview (not nearly few enough though since the smallest amount of a book you can expose is 20%, it needs to be 5%). This person took it upon themselves to email me and ask me to send them the entire contents of the book in a Word doc. I kid you not. They wanted it for free in a form their company could use to train others. I kid you not.

This got me to thinking about the advances in both technology and OpenSource software. For basically no money you can download or obtain a free set of CD’s containing the new industry standard desktop (Ubuntu). Bundled with it is the latest OpenOffice software and a rash of other programs to make your life (personal and professional) much easier. There is even free scanning software and free programs which will let you edit/manipulate PDF files, assuming you cannot get OpenOffice to open the PDF you are interested in editing.

All of this was supposed to make our lives better. But, like the Internet, nobody building it stopped to consider the downside.

Printer vendors have been working long and hard to make POD (Print On Demand) a viable solution for all. Many of these printers can now even print the cover and bind the entire book in one automatic process if it is one of the standard supported sizes. It truly is a marvel. In a few years they will figure out how to put a finish coat on the page so the toner can’t be felt by a reader and doesn’t remelt when the book is left in the sun.

Given all of these advances it truly is a wonderful time to be an author. You don’t have to care one hoot about finding a publisher. You can buy some ISBN numbers and publish your own books. Not only that, you can sell them on-line for list price with just a little bit of effort.

This week, the downside of this really hit home. I was taking a break from writing and surfing around the Web checking on my books. Seeing who was saying what, their ranking at various sites, and who was selling them. Lo and behold, there was a vendor on the Amazon site claiming to be selling new copies of “The Minimum You Need to Know to Be an OpenVMS Application Developer” for $65. I had never heard of this vendor. I had never sold them any books. The price they were selling for was below the normal wholesale price, so they would have had to purchase more than 300 copies to make that price profitable. My distributor hadn’t contacted me for a restock in a while, so I contacted them. They had never sold to this vendor either.

Curiouser and Curiouser.

You couldn’t get an actual physical address for the vendor at Amazon, but you could send them email through the Amazon site. I sent them an email asking where they obtained “new” copies since there are only two sources for them and neither of us had sold to them. A few days later I got the following reply from an AOL address.

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We wouldn’t know where to begin.

We are supplied with books for re-sale from over 1,000 sources.

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Yes, I left off the email address and vendor name. After getting this response and forwarding it to my distributor, I had them contact Amazon. The vendor is now gone, but we still haven’t found out how many copies they sold through Amazon. The problem is, good intentions have been abused. That vendor sales page doesn’t have any background checking because it was supposed to be for people who wanted to unload used copies and for authors wanting to sell a few copies themselves for more than wholesale. Now, it’s an eight lane highway for book piracy.

Not all books are a candidate for this kind of piracy. While it is true that an offshore operation like that can print an 800 page book with the included CD for around $5.00/copy because they don’t pay anything resembling wages to their workers and their supplies cost next to nothing, they don’t pirate just any books. They look for the slow moving, high end technical books. Why? Because they are selling these books in their own country for a lot of money via book stores which have no Internet presence. $25/copy is a lot of money when you aren’t paying anyone for it and have less than $5/copy in the printing.

It should be noted, that this vendor claimed a US location (somewhere in Virginia), but a little poking around on the Internet found a Nigerian printing house by the same name. Coincidence? Do the math. You pay someone $10/day to scan a copy of the book into a series of PDF files, then paste them all into one file. Probably takes them less than a week. You bought the original copy through a used book vendor so you paid way less than list for it. You chose your target by talking with an off-shore consulting company that was looking to train developers in a specific technology. You get them to agree to buy 200 copies at $25/copy, then print a 500 copy run to bring your costs below $5/book. Next you have a friend or employee living in the US put “ new” copies up on Amazon and a few other Internet sites offering a $90 book up for $65. In just a few weeks your 500 copies are gone. Your less than $500 investment in the book production netted you thousands, and you have no author to pay.

I post this blog not to whine, but to inform the other authors and publishers out there putting out high end books. You have invested well over a year putting these books together (I know it took over a year for the book in question here). Now, there are people out there making knockoffs for very little money and taking food out of your mouth. It’s not just you they are raping though. It’s every IT worker in every country where you have to pay for an education to work in IT. They are taking your jobs and not even paying for an education to do it.