Monday, May 12, 2014

Whom Dog Hath Joined

Here's an excerpt from my newest Golden Retriever Mystery, Whom Dog Hath Joined:

“There’s Gail,” Lili said, pointing at a table where our friend Gail Dukowski, who ran The Chocolate Ear café in downtown, was selling her cookies and pastries from a pair of flimsy card tables covered with green and white striped cloths that matched her store’s awnings.

Gail looked frazzled. We got in line behind a sixty-something woman holding a small girl by the hand, a pair of teenagers, and a cluster of other eager customers. Gail’s blonde hair was plastered to her forehead with sweat, her face was smudged with chocolate, and her eyes looked tired. She wore a big chef’s apron over her T-shirt and slacks.

Rochester was excited to see Gail, tugging at his leash and nodding his shaggy head. When we went to The Chocolate Ear, she always had a special dog biscuit for him. A platter of them, wrapped in clear plastic and tied with a dog-paw patterned ribbon, sat at one end of the table.

“You’re on your own here?” I asked as we reached her.

She nodded. “Ginny ate something funny from the kitchen and had to go home.”

“Can we help you?” Lili asked.

The line behind us had continued to grow. “That would be such a blessing,” Gail said. “My mother’s coming at noon but I could sure use some help now.”

“I’ll man the cash box,” I said.

“You take the orders and I’ll box them up,” Lili said to Gail.

“Thank you so much!” Gail stepped aside to let Lili and me scoot behind the table.

I dropped a dollar in the cash box and unwrapped one of the big biscuits. Rochester settled on the ground underneath, chewing noisily. “Stay there and keep out of trouble,” I said, scratching him behind the ears.

I sat in one of the café’s big wicker chairs with green and white striped cushions and began to accept people’s dimes and quarters and wrinkled dollar bills. I made change and told them about all the treats Gail hadn’t been able to bring to the fair, like her lemon bars, her flaky croissants and her special dark chocolate hazelnut tarts.

Gail cut the walnut-studded chocolate bars and Lil boxed them up. I snacked on the crumbs and Lili slapped my hand. Every now and then I reached down to scratch behind Rochester’s ears as he rested his big square head on his front paws and stared out at the passing crowd.

“These are delicious!” a heavy-set woman said, as brownie crumbs dribbled out of her mouth.

“Fantastic,” a big man in a tank top agreed. His shirt read “If assholes could fly this place would be an airport,” which made me suspicious of his taste. Although his sheer size indicated he had a lot of experience with high-calorie foods.

We handled the backlog of customers quickly and Gail slumped into the chair next to me. “I’ve been up since five this morning, baking chocolate bars, cutting them and stacking them on trays,” she said. “At seven, I met Ginny here and we set up the booth. She went home about an hour ago and it’s been a zoo ever since.”

I leaned forward and discovered that if I pressed too hard on the table the chocolate bars went slip-sliding toward Mrs. Holt’s adjoining table of crocheted pink and lavender toilet paper covers topped by Barbie knock-offs. They were a shocking example of what happened when people with too much time on their hands possessed the deluded notion that they had some artistic talent, but she had bought two chocolate bars so I was willing to cut her a little slack.

“We sure need some good food in Stewart’s Crossing,” said a young mom with twins in a double stroller.

I took her money and told her the café sold terrific take-out sandwiches in kid-friendly flavors like meatballs and grilled cheese as well as desserts.

Then I heard a scream.

I reached down below the table to grab Rochester’s leash and keep him from tearing off toward the sound. But he was already gone.

“Oh, crap,” I said, jumping up.

“You both go,” Gail said. “I can handle things until my mother gets here.”

“Where do you think he is?” Lili asked, taking off the apron she’d been wearing. The silver bangle bracelets on her arm jingled.

“Wherever that scream came from,” I said.

I darted around slow-moving elderly people, parents grabbing dilly-dallying little kids, and curious folks headed toward the Meeting House. The scatter of gold and orange leaves crunched beneath my feet, mixing with distant car horns and the sound of someone sobbing.

The big white double doors at the center of the building stood open, and a walkway along the front of the building was lined with piles of osage oranges and green and white gourds. The three-part slate roof—peaked in the center, flat on the sides—was dusted with a covering of red and gold leaves.

A crowd had already gathered outside the right side of the building, the part with no windows. A teenaged girl huddled against her mother, crying. “She was just trying to pet the dog,” the woman was saying to others in the crowd. “And then she saw what he was digging, and she screamed.”

Others were watching my determined golden, who tugged at the something near the foundation. An elderly man was trying, without result, to talk Rochester away, but he looked too timid to touch the dog himself.

Up close I could see the wood of the exterior wall was disintegrating, with long vertical cracks through the planks. I pushed forward, excusing myself and calling Rochester’s name. When I reached him, I grabbed his collar and lifted his head away from where he had been digging, and saw that he’d dragged a disintegrating tennis shoe through the gap.

A single bone, like the one I filled with peanut butter for him, remained, sticking out of the shoe. Only this bone wasn’t the kind sold at pet stores.

“Rochester, this has to stop!” I scolded. “No more digging up dead bodies.”

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