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As my pupils continued to dilate I could see that there were three or four other dogs standing around, none of them hostile. They were all hunting dogs. Nelson, can he see you. As tall as I was, but narrow; and stooped as if he were embarrassed to be tall and wanted to conceal it. He had on a worn black suit of some kind and a white shirt with one collar point bent upward, and a narrow ratty black bow tie, like a movie gambler, tied with the ends hanging long.

The hand that held my card was surprisingly thick, with strong fingers. His hands were graceful, like he might play the harp, or deal cards.

He was wearing slippers. The room was entirely dark oak, panels on the walls, panels and beams on the ceiling. There were no windows in the hall. The stairwell curved up toward the back half of the entry hall, and must have been windowed, because some light wafted dimly down from beyond the turn.

I realized what I was sniffing. The house smelled of booze, and the black man smelled of it more so.

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No wonder it was familiar. Nelson say why you want to see him, sir? I scratched the old hound behind his ear and he leaned his head a little harder against me. The other dogs sat, respectfully, nearby, in a semicircle that probably had some dog order to it. And around his eyes, sort of like a raccoon. His front paws turned in slightly, the way they did on a bear, and he moved stiffly.

Around the entry hall there were gilt-framed paintings of racehorses, most, apparently, from the nineteenth century, when they were painted with long bodies and small heads. On the other hand, maybe in the nineteenth century they did have long bodies and small heads. The dog nudged my knee with his head, and I reached down to pat him some more. The other dogs watched. Under the fresh booze smell was a more enduring smell of dog. I liked both smells, though there were people who liked neither. There was no sound in the house, not even the sounds that houses make: air-conditioning, or furnace, or the stairwell creaking, or the refrigerator cycling on; nothing but a silence that seemed to have been thickening since Appomattox.

The dogs made no reply.

The black man scuffed quietly back into the huge entry. Nelson say to come this way, sir. At the end of the gallery we turned right into a huge octagonal conservatory with a glass roof shaped like a minaret. Sitting in a wicker chaise on a dark green rug in the middle of the bluestone floor, with the sun streaming in on him, was an old man in a white suit who looked like Mark Twain gone to hell. He had long white hair and a big white moustache. He probably weighed three hundred pounds, most of it in his belly. There was some in his jowls, and plenty in the folds of his neck that spilled out over his wilted collar.

But there were hints, still, as he sat there, of strength that had once existed. And in the red sagging face, the vestiges of the same profile his daughter showed in her portrait. He had a thick lowball glass in his hand. A blackthorn walking stick leaned on the arm of the chaise. Across the room was a wicker chair. Next to it a wicker side table held a big color television set. On the screen stock cars, gaudily painted, buzzed endlessly around a track.

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There was no other furniture. The room had the feel of an empty gym. There were three or four more dogs in here, all hunters, long-eared, black-and-white, or blueticked, looking somewhat like Pearl the wonder dog. Except their tails were long. And the color. And they were bigger. And calmer. One of them thumped a tail on the floor when she saw me. The others watched me but did nothing. Sprawled on the floor, they moved only their eyes to look at me.

Air-conditioning buzzed unseen somewhere above us. Despite the sunlight the room was cold. The old black man gestured me to the other seat with one gnarled, still graceful hand. I sat. Jumper Jack stared at the car race. Sweat beaded on his forehead.

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I thought about it. It might keep my teeth from chattering. On the other hand, it was ten-thirty in the morning. I shook my head. The black man nodded and shuffled a little ways off, near the door, and stood. Nelson continued to gaze at the stock car race. Nobody did anything. It was as if immobility were the natural order of things here, and movement was aberrant. Jumper Jack drank some more whiskey.

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The race announcer was frantic with excitement as the cars went round and round. The excitement seemed contrived in this room where time was suspended and movement was an oddity. The huge television set itself was inappropriate, a blatting, contemporary intrusion into this motionless antebellum room full of dogs, and old men, and me.

The black man stood. The dogs sprawled. And Jumper Jack stared at the race and drank whiskey. I had nowhere to go. Finally someone won the car race. Jumper Jack picked up the remote from the table beside him and pressed the mute button. The television went silent. He turned and looked at me, and when he spoke his clotted voice rumbled up out of his belly like the effortful grumble of a whale.

Paper Doll. Robert B.

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Spenser tracks a mystery woman who refuses to rest in peace, in Robert B. Parker's most beguiling thriller yet. Sam Spade. Philip Marlowe. Lew Archer.

Paper Doll (Spenser, #20) by Robert B. Parker

Like his legendary predecessors, the tough and classy Boston PI has become an American institution. With Paper Doll, Robert B. Parker takes Spenser down a sinister path, where every welcome masks a warning and identity is paper-thin. Hired by Loudon Tripp, an aggrieved Boston aristocrat who believes the brutal street slaying of his wife, Olivia, to be something other than random violence, Spenser immediately senses Tripp's picture-perfect version of his family's life is false.

For starters, the victim's reputation is far too saintly, while her house is as lived-in as a stage set and her troubled children don't appear the product of a happy home.