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Authors: Livia J. Washburn

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BOOK: Trick or Deadly Treat
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Chapter 14

uckily, the casserole wasn't burned when Phyllis took it out of the oven. It had cooked a little longer than she had intended, though, and she wasn't sure how that would affect it. They would find out at supper.

She was glad Carolyn had said something. If she had left the casserole in the oven for much longer, it would have been ruined for sure.

Carolyn followed her into the kitchen and said, “You seemed distracted by whatever you were looking at on the computer.”

“I know. It was nothing important, though.”

“Are you sure you weren't looking things up that might have something to do with that woman being murdered?”

When Phyllis looked at her, Carolyn went on. “All right. I'm a snoop. You didn't close the window, you just turned off the monitor. So I took a look. Eve told me not to, by the way, so don't blame her.”

“Isn't that sort of an invasion of privacy?” Phyllis asked coolly.

Carolyn didn't answer that question directly. Instead she said, “I don't understand why you're so reluctant to look into this murder.”

“I promised Mike—”

“Mike's been worried about you right from the start,” Carolyn pointed out. “That never stopped you before.”

“I didn't always have a choice,” Phyllis said. “You were in trouble, or Eve was, or somebody had the audacity to commit murder right on my doorstep. I couldn't turn my back on those cases.”

“But this time you barely know the man who was arrested. You never said anything to the victim. You've never even set foot in the place where the murder happened. Maybe by now it's just a habit. Or else you have a reputation to live up to. You
the crime-solving granny.”

“Please!” Phyllis said. “That's just about the last thing I want to be known as. You know I don't like all the notoriety. I'm just worried about Sam. It's important to him, so . . .”

Her voice trailed off.

“It's important to Sam, so it's important to you,” Carolyn said. “I don't see anything wrong with admitting that.”

“I suppose not,” Phyllis said.

“You're afraid that he's going to try to find out who killed Susan Baxter, and that he'll get in over his head.”

Sam had used those exact words in describing how he felt. Carolyn was a bit more canny than Phyllis might have given her credit for. She said, “Maybe you should be trying to hunt down the murderer.”

Carolyn waved a hand and said, “Pshaw! I have no interest in finding out who killed that woman. I'll leave that up to you and Sam.”

“I feel bad about going behind Mike's back . . .”

“He's your son. If he doesn't like what you're doing, then it's his problem, not yours.”

“I suppose.”

Carolyn stepped past her to look at the casserole where it sat on top of the stove. She said, “Now that we've dealt with that, let's concentrate on the important things. Was the casserole all right?”

*   *   *

Sam thought the white chili casserole was delicious. Phyllis apologized for it being a little overcooked, but he said, “You couldn't tell it by me. That's mighty good eatin'. In fact, I think I'll have another helpin'.”

He could tell she was pleased by his approval. As for Sam, the good meal and the pleasant company made him feel better after what had been a frustrating day.

That was what home was all about, he thought as he looked around at Phyllis, Carolyn, and Eve. No matter what the world threw at you, as long as you could sit down at the table with folks you cared about who cared about you, things would be all right in the end.

And if they weren't all right, as that line from a movie had it, well, then, it wasn't really the end yet.

After supper the ladies went into the living room to watch some movie on DVD that had Meryl Streep in it. Sam had absolutely nothing against Meryl Streep, but he had learned
that the movies she made usually weren't really his sort of picture. So he opened his laptop and looked up Kyle Woods instead.

After brooding for the rest of the afternoon, thinking that he had no business trying to solve a murder, supper had revitalized him. Maybe he couldn't figure out who had killed Susan Baxter, but it wouldn't hurt anything to try.

Woods's dog-breeding operation was located on the Peaster Highway, northwest of Weatherford. Sam hadn't been out that way in a while, but he thought he remembered seeing the place before. He studied the website until he thought he had it figured out what he was going to do, then spent the rest of the evening reading a Western novel.

He got up the next morning, fed Buck, and then had breakfast with Phyllis, Carolyn, and Eve. Carolyn had gotten up early to prepare and bake her hearty breakfast casserole, and Sam thought it was as good as the white chili casserole he'd had the night before. Sam's glance darted from Phyllis to Carolyn and back again, and then he said cautiously, “Are you two ladies enterin' the recipes for these casseroles in a contest or something?”

“That's right, but don't worry; we're not competing against each other,” Phyllis replied with a smile.

“They're for a magazine contest, but we'll be entering them in two separate categories,” Carolyn added by way of explanation.

“Oh,” Sam said. “Well, I reckon they both stand a mighty good chance of winnin', then.”

“Which one did you like the best?” Carolyn asked.

Phyllis laughed and said, “Goodness, don't put him on the spot like that! You don't have to answer, Sam.”

“Anyway, we all know what his answer would be,” Carolyn said.

“Don't be so sure about that,” Sam said. “I call 'em as I see 'em. And in this case . . . well, I like 'em pretty much both the same. I'll be rootin' for the two of you to win.”

Eve smiled and said, “You're always the diplomat, aren't you, dear?”

“I live in a house with three ladies,” Sam said with a chuckle. “And I didn't just fall off a turnip truck, neither.” He reached for his coffee cup, drained the rest of the strong, black brew, and went on. “I got to get dressed and get goin'.”

“What are you up to today?” Phyllis asked.

“Oh, you know, this 'n' that. Come on, Buck. It's warmer today. You can stay out in the backyard.”

“If he acts like he needs to come in, I'll let him in,” Phyllis promised.

The air was still cool, but the day was sunny and pleasant as Sam drove out of town and headed toward the small town of Peaster, a farming community that these days wasn't much more than a wide place in the road.

About twenty minutes later, he spotted what he was looking for on the left side of the two-lane highway. A large sign that read
sat in the yard in front of a nice-looking brick house. A metal barn much like the one at Hank Baxter's vet clinic, only smaller, was off to one side. Filling up the property behind the house was an extensive collection of wired enclosures, each with a doghouse in it. Those enclosed runs terminated at a long shedlike building with electrical wires running to it from a pole next to the house. Sam supposed the shed was heated so the dogs could get in there during the winter when it was too cold for them to
stay in their doghouses. Woods probably kept their feed in there, as well.

A pickup with Woods's name on the door was parked on a concrete driveway in front of a two-car garage at one end of the house. Sam pulled in behind it and stopped. The yard needed mowing, he thought, even though it was autumn. The grass looked like it hadn't been touched since midsummer.

Next to the garage but still attached, on the side away from the rest of the house, was what appeared to be an office. The upper half of the door was glass, and it had the company's name lettered on it as well. That was where Sam went, and when he took hold of the doorknob, it turned.

Inside was a nicely furnished office, confirming his guess. A row of filing cabinets stood along one wall. A large window looked out on the dog runs behind the house. There was also a big-screen TV, a comfortable-looking sofa, and a handsome desk with a computer tucked into a corner workstation. The man behind the desk wore a baseball cap and an open flannel shirt over a T-shirt. He didn't smile as he gave Sam a rather curt nod and said, “Hello. What can I do for you?”

Sam had never met Kyle Woods before, but he had seen the man's picture on the website and knew this was him. He held out his hand and said, “Sam Fletcher.”

The man stood up with a little reluctance and shook hands.

“Kyle Woods,” he said. “Looking for a dog, or do you have a bitch you need serviced?”

That was the first time anybody had ever asked him that particular question, Sam thought. It just went to show that no matter how old you got, you could still have new experiences.

“I was thinkin' about gettin' a dog,” he said, “and I was told you have some of the best ones around these parts.”

Woods seemed to warm up a little at that praise. He said, “Who told you that?”

“Vet down in Weatherford.” Sam pointed in that direction with a thumb. “Hank Baxter.”

The slightly friendlier expression on Woods's face vanished at the mention of Hank's name. With a frown, he said, “I find that hard to believe. Baxter and I aren't on the best of terms these days.” Suspicion flared in the dog breeder's eyes. “Besides, isn't he in jail? I thought I heard something about him killing his wife.”

“Really?” Sam tried to make himself look and sound surprised. “I hadn't heard about that. This was two or three months ago he told me about your dogs. I just haven't had a chance to do anything about it until now.”

That was a shot in the dark, but it seemed to work. Woods grunted and said, “Well, that explains it, I guess. Baxter and I used to have an arrangement. He took care of all my dogs. Then . . . Well, never mind about that. It's not important. One thing that hasn't changed: If you're looking for a golden retriever, I have some of the best you'll ever find. People come from all over the country to do business with me.”

“I can believe it, from the looks of those fellas out there,” Sam said as he waved a hand toward the window and the enclosures beyond the glass. A number of dogs were visible in their runs. “Mighty fine-lookin' animals.”

“Why don't we go take an even better look, Mr. . . . Fletcher, was it?”

“That's right,” Sam said.

Woods went to the door, opened it, and motioned for Sam to go outside first.

They followed a concrete walk around the end of the building. It led to a door into the shed. As the dogs noticed the two men, several of them stood up and began to bark and wag their tails.

Even though Sam had fudged the truth a considerable amount during his visit, what he had said to Woods about them being good-looking dogs was the truth. Big, energetic, with thick golden coats, they were fine examples of their breed, at least to Sam's untrained eye. He didn't know all the intricacies that went into being an award-winning show dog. When they watched the National Dog Show on TV at Phyllis's house every Thanksgiving, he never had any idea which dogs would win. The judges always seemed to see things that were beyond him.

As they went into the concrete-floored shed, Woods said, “You
interested in a show dog, right, Mr. Fletcher? Not a pet for the grandkids?”

“Does it make a difference?” Sam asked.

Woods laughed. It wasn't a particularly pleasant sound. He said, “It makes a big difference. Several thousand dollars, in fact. Dog shows are big business. Cutthroat business.” His voice had an arrogant sneer to it, as if he were trying to impress Sam. “I've been offered more than a hundred thousand dollars for my top dog, Texas Maximus.”

Sam let out a low whistle. He was honestly impressed. He had seen things on the website about Texas Maximus but wouldn't have guessed that the dog was worth that much money.

“I turned down those offers,” Woods went on. “He's worth more than that to me.”

“He wins that much in prize money?”

Woods shook his head and said, “No. He doesn't compete anymore. He's worth it in breeding fees every year. A couple of times that much, in fact. Why sell him and get the money once when I can keep on doubling it every year for several more years?”

“Well, that makes sense,” Sam agreed.

“You didn't tell me. Are you looking for a pet?”

“What if I was?”

Woods waved a hand expansively and said, “I've always got a few culls, perfectly healthy dogs with style flaws that are bad enough to keep them from competing.”

Some of the dogs had come into the shed, which had a walkway closed off by wire from the runs. Sam looked through the wire at the dogs, who were still wagging their tails and clamoring for attention, and said, “None of these dogs look like what I'd call culls.”

“Actually, they're not. I keep those in some pens on the other side of the creek that runs through the back of my property. These are all show dogs. But, no offense, a civilian like you probably wouldn't be able to tell that just by looking. I'm talking about things like an irregularity in bone structure, misaligned teeth, eyes a little too close together, things like that. They're still good dogs for pets. You just can't show 'em.”

“Well . . . maybe I wouldn't mind takin' a look. I was thinkin' about gettin' a dog that'd be a good pet but maybe puttin' him in some shows, too. Sounds like that's out of my price range, though.”

“Sure,” Woods said, sounding like he had lost all interest in this conversation. “When we go back outside, there's a trail that runs toward the back of the property. Just follow it. It's about a quarter of a mile back to the other kennels. You see any you particularly like, just let me know. I'll be in the office.”

BOOK: Trick or Deadly Treat
8.83Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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