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French Etchings

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Bending to unhook Asta’s leash, Nora Charles caught sight of two framed pictures propped on the sofa seat.

“Oh, Nicky, you didn’t!”

“Of course, I did, darling,” said Nick as he and Asta exchanged greetings. “So now when I meet a red-head at a party, I can ask her to come up and see my French etchings! Drink?”

“Yes.” Nora groaned and unpinned her hat. “Rye, please, and make it a doozy, my husband’s being a bit of an art-buying louse today.”

While Nick was mixing Nora’s drink, Nora gave the pictures a closer inspection. “Not very colorful, are they? And they look very old. Nicky?” There was a worried tremor in her voice when she spoke his name.

“Don’t worry, sweetheart, I didn’t part with too much of that money I married you for. Two bucks for the pair. I picked them up from a friend of Studsy Burke’s that I ran into at the Pigiron Club. Now, let’s see. The one on the left is called ‘City and Country’ and, I think, the one on the right must be ‘Country and City’ or ‘Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree” or something swell like that.”

Nick handed Nora a glass, then found his own, and toasted her wicked jaw, to which she replied, “To devoted husband, who buys his Mona Lisas in speakeasys.”        

As they drank and chatted, Asta sat down in front of the sofa. She waved her boxy, bearded snout back and forth and wagged her tail.

Then she woofed twice.

“See? Asta likes them. She whole-heartedly approves of this new philanthropic avenue of mine: patron of the arts,” said Nick. He settled himself in a large armchair. Nora sat on his lap. “So, how shall we kill the afternoon, my dear?”

Nora hummed and dangled a shoe on the end of one foot. “Admiring each other’s taste in art?”

Asta loved her pets, and she had to admit she had them pretty well trained.

They weren’t too gentle when she greeted them: Asta liked to have something to set her weight against when she did her belly punching. They didn’t grumble too much when it was time for their walks, and they always corrected the other pets when the latter mistook Asta for a mix between a Scottie and Irish terrier.

Asta snorted. As if! She was a Schnauzer from her wizened eyebrows to the Teutonic curl of her tail.

Her pets were a thirsty pair, that was for sure, but Asta didn’t mind. The more those two quenched their thirsts, the more that tasty nibbles, like raw beef and onion sandwiches and cold duck and olives—so, so many olives—came Asta’s way, either by benevolence, accident, or stealth.

Asta liked her old Warm Home, the one she’d left on the Moving Rumble, but she liked her new Cold Home, too. Her Warm Home had had grass and room to run, but her Cold Home had something just as nice, something that Asta hadn’t known that she liked, hadn’t known at all, until she’d arrived at the Cold Home.

And it was all because of the pup Bailey, the one stayed in the Up and Down Rumble and moved the Big Boxes.

When Asta needed a break from her pets, she went downstairs to keep the kennel pups company, and the pup Bailey was especially fond of walks to the Place with Many Stone Steps.

And inside the Place with Many Stone Steps was the thing that Asta liked: Art.

Asta liked Art. Bailey liked Art, too, and they spent many hours walking together through the halls of the Place with Many Stone Steps, admiring and, in Asta’s case, sniffing the Art. Asta found that different Art had different sniffs, and she worked hard to keep them all sorted in her nose.

Asta had given the Art on the sofa a good sniff, and she was excited. She knew that sniff. She was eager to take Bailey for a walk to the Place with Many Stone Steps and confirm what she knew. She howled her plans to her pets.

Hush, Asta.”

Oh, why don’t we send her downstairs?

Asta had trained them well.

When Bailey and Asta arrived at the Place with the Many Stone Steps, they were greeted by Bailey’s friend Frankie, a pup smart enough to recognize Asta’s aristocratic bearing for the License to Roam and Sniff that it was.

Finally, Asta reached the Art that had the same sniff as the Art on the sofa.

Asta sat in front of the Art for a long while, contemplating what to do next, and by the time Bailey was tugging on his leash, she’d made up her mind.

She jumped. She twisted. She bit the leash. Then she ran for the Red Ropes and slid beneath them.

The old pet turned purple and drooled as he studied Asta’s pendant.

“Nick Charles! And just where does this Nick Charles live?”

The pup Bailey was pink and sweating. “The N-N-Normandie, sir.”

“Well, I am going to take this,” the old pet put a paw on a square of Art that Asta had punched with her two front legs—it was Art, Asta noted, that had not smelled at all like the Art on the sofa or the Art on the wall—and he put the other paw on Asta’s necklace, “this, and you and I, sir, are going to The Normandie.”

Baily gulped.

As they left, the old pet barked behind him. “Oh, and if the results of the authentication come in, Cooper, you can reach me at The Normandie. I’ll be visiting a Mister Nice Charles.”

“…I’m terribly sorry. I can understand why you’re so upset, Mister Xavier. Please, sit down. Won’t you have a drink?”

“No, I will not sit down! Or have a drink! I demand—”

He suddenly stopped barking.

“Mister Charles, are these yours?”

“Yeah, nice, eh? I just got ‘em for two dollars at a speakeasy. Pretty little things. My wife hates ‘em, but that’s part of the charm.”

“Oh, Nick!”

The old pet picked up one of the Arts in his two paws and turned it over, then put it back gently.

“I have to disagree with you, sir. These are almost a century old. Original etchings from the French Jules Jacquemart.”

Just then, the Metal Message Bird squawked.

“Hello? Uh, yes, he’s here. Mister Xavier? It’s the museum.”

The old pet barked into the Wing. “Xavier. Yes? Oh. Oh dear! A fake! But a very good one, Cooper! Yes, it does change things. All right. I’ll be back shortly.” He put the Wing back on the Bird. “I’m very sorry, Mister Charles, but it seems the picture that your dog destroyed was much less valuable than it appeared. Indeed, the frame, which was spared your canine’s wrath, is worth far more than the work it contained.”

Asta woofed.

“We all make mistakes, Mister Xavier. Why don’t you sit and have a drink with us? I think we can come up with an ending to this whole business that will have us all wagging our tails.”

Asta woofed twice.

She had trained them very well.

“Nick, I can’t believe it."

“Can’t you? I’ll admit her methods were a bit questionable, but Asta’s an exceptional dog, and I can easily believe that of the whole entire Charles family, she’s the one with the most art sense.” Nick chuckled, then pointed to a shiny gold plaque which read ‘A GIFT OF ASTA CHARLES’ beside the two framed pictures on the wall of the museum. “I’m going to have to record this for posterity. Go on, Asta.”

Asta trotted up to the wall and sat down, turning her head to give the camera her most dignified profile.

“Perfect. Now say ‘Art.’”

Asta woofed.