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Authors: Livia J. Washburn

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Chapter 2

s they were driving away from the vet clinic a little later, with Sam behind the wheel again, Phyllis asked, “What made you decide to call him Buck? You were very emphatic about it.”

“Buck Jones, of course.”

“Of course,” Phyllis repeated, knowing Sam's great fondness for old Western movies. “He was the one who died in the nightclub fire, wasn't he?”

She had heard Sam talk about the incident before and was a little surprised that some of the details had stuck in her mind.

“Yep, the Cocoanut Grove fire in Boston. Ol' Buck made it out all right, but then he decided to go back in and see if he could rescue some of the folks who hadn't. He never came back out.”

“It sounds like he was a hero in real life, not just on the screen.”

“That's the way I see it,” Sam said. “Anyway, Buck's just a good name for a dog.”

“I think so, too.”

After a few minutes, Sam said, “I gave some thought to callin' him El Diablo.”

“Why in the world would you name a dog El Diablo?”

“Because when I was little—I told you I always wanted a Dalmatian when I was little, didn't I?”

“You did,” Phyllis said.

“Anyway, when I was little I just called 'em spotted dogs, but my mama figured it'd be a good idea to teach me their real name. That would've been all well and good if I could've pronounced it, but I had a little trouble with it. Didn't really cause a problem, though, until one day when Mama had the WMU ladies from the church over to the house and I said somethin' about wantin' a dog. One of the ladies asked me what kind of dog I wanted and I answered as proud as you please, ‘A damnation!'”

Phyllis burst out laughing.

“So that's why I thought El Diablo might be a good name, that bein' Spanish for the devil and all, but I went with Buck instead,” Sam concluded as Phyllis sagged against the door and snorted a couple of times.

Sam added, “You might not want to lean on the door that way. I guess it'll probably be all right, though, since you got your seat belt on.”

*   *   *

They went into the house through the door in the garage that led to the kitchen, where they found Carolyn Wilbarger
standing and looking into the pantry with an intent frown on her face.

“Is something wrong?” Phyllis asked.

“What? Oh, no, nothing's wrong. I was just thinking about something.” Carolyn turned from the pantry and went on. “Well, did you find a dog at the animal shelter?”

“In a manner of speakin',” Sam said.

“What does that mean?”

“I got a dog, and he came from the animal shelter, but I didn't actually adopt him from there.”

“What did you do, steal him?” As soon as she'd asked the question, Carolyn's eyes widened. “Oh, good heavens, that's exactly the sort of thing you'd do, isn't it? Did you really steal a dog from the animal shelter?”

“Of course not,” Phyllis said. She explained quickly about Buck.

When Phyllis was finished, Carolyn said, “Hmph. Well, it's nice of you to take care of a crippled dog, I suppose.”

“He's not crippled,” Sam said. “Well, right now he is, I reckon, but the vet said he ought to be fine once his leg heals up. I'm gonna make sure of it. In fact, I'm gonna go out on the back porch and see if I can finish up that doghouse I started.”

Sam had been working on building a doghouse, off and on, for the past couple of weeks, ever since he had brought up the idea of getting a dog. Since he hadn't known what kind of dog he would wind up with or how big it would be, he had designed the house to be fairly large.

To Phyllis it looked almost big enough for a Shetland pony. When it was finished, Buck would fit in it with no trouble at all.

Sam went out the back door and left Phyllis and Carolyn
alone in the kitchen. Carolyn kept her voice fairly low as she asked, “Well? What do you think of this dog?”

“He seems nice enough,” Phyllis said. “He's a Dalmatian.”

“Like the ones in that movie. Sometimes they're pretty dogs.” Carolyn added ominously, “But they're still dogs. Smelly, hairy dogs who do rude things on carpets.”

“That's why Buck is going to live in the backyard.”

“Uh-huh.” Carolyn sounded like she didn't believe that for a second. “Until Sam asks you if he can stay inside, you mean.”

“Oh, I don't think Buck would like that. He'd rather be outside, where he can run around once his leg is better. The yard is plenty big enough to give one dog room to romp.”

“We'll see,” Carolyn said. “In the meantime, I want to show you something.” She picked up a magazine lying on the kitchen counter. “Look.”

“Is that the new
Taste of Texas
?” Phyllis asked.

A Taste of Texas
was one of her favorite magazines. She'd had a subscription to it for years. It was devoted to Texas cooking, and Phyllis always found several recipes in each issue that she wanted to try. Carolyn was also a fan, so every copy that came into the house wound up being read cover to cover multiple times.

“It is,” Carolyn answered Phyllis's question, “and it's a special contest issue.”

Phyllis's eyes widened, and she said, “I didn't know they had contests.”

“It's the first annual.”

Ever since the two of them had retired from teaching, Phyllis and Carolyn had indulged their passion for baking, and cooking in general, by entering contests. Recently, in fact, they
had both competed at the State Fair of Texas. Sam had even gotten in on that by entering one of the competitions, and by no stretch of the imagination was he an avid cook.

Quite a rivalry had developed between Phyllis and Carolyn as each of them edged out the other for victories in various contests, but for the sake of their friendship—and peace in the house—they had tried to play that down in recent years.

“You can see they have three separate contests,” Carolyn said as she showed Phyllis the magazine cover. “Breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I was thinking we could enter separate contests and increase our chances of both winning, like we did at the state fair.”

“That's not a bad idea,” Phyllis agreed. “Which one would you like to do?”

Carolyn shook her head and said, “Oh, no, it's your magazine. You should have first choice, and I'll pick from the other two.”

“It's no more my magazine than it is yours,” Phyllis protested. “If you want to get technical about it, it belongs to PylisMewcom, since that's the name on the address label.”

“I don't care. You go ahead and pick, Phyllis.”

“Well, if you're going to insist . . . I've been thinking about trying to come up with a white chili casserole recipe. That would make a good dinner entrée, don't you think?”

Phyllis could tell from the expression on her friend's face that she had made a good choice. Carolyn nodded and said, “That sounds delicious. I was leaning toward a casserole, too. A hearty breakfast casserole. I was just checking the pantry and thinking about possible ingredients when you and Sam came in.”

“If there's anything I can do to help you . . .”

“Same here.” Carolyn laid the magazine on the counter and opened it. “Let's take a look at the rules . . .”

*   *   *

After poring over the magazine with Carolyn for a while and thinking about the casserole she might bake, Phyllis took a break and went outside. She'd heard plenty of hammering going on in the backyard, along with the whining hum of a circular saw and a screw gun. The house had a large wooden back porch, and Sam was constructing the doghouse at one end of it.

When Sam noticed her, he stepped back from his work and grinned at her.

“What do you think?” he asked with a note of pride in his voice. “Reckon Buck will be happy in it?”

“I think any dog would be,” Phyllis said.

Phyllis didn't know that much about doghouses. She was probably more familiar with the one that Snoopy slept on top of in the comics than anything else. Her family had had a dog for a while when she was growing up, but it had slept underneath her parents' farmhouse with its pier-and-beam foundation. The only pets she and her late husband, Kenny, had had while their son, Mike, was growing up were fish and birds.

But even so, she could tell that this doghouse was well put together, like all of Sam's carpentry projects, and looked like it would be comfortable. It was big and roomy, and Sam had tacked down a nice piece of thick carpet on its floor. Phyllis had some old blankets he could put in there for Buck to curl up in, too.

The doghouse roof had shingles on it, so if any rain blew in under the porch roof, it would stay dry inside. The roof
extended out quite a bit in an overhang to protect the arched entrance.

Sam pointed and said, “I cut a window in the back and put one of those louvered covers on it, so it'll keep rain out but let air through. The trees block the north wind, but it'll catch any breeze from the west. That'll be nice in the spring and fall, and I can close it up during the winter.”

Phyllis smiled and said, “I think Buck is a lucky dog. If we hadn't happened to be at the shelter when that man brought him in, who knows what might have happened to him.”

“Shoot. I'm the one who's lucky to have found him,” Sam said. “You can look in a dog's eyes and tell how smart he is, you know. He's a mighty smart fella. I'm sure of it.”

“Maybe you can teach him some tricks.”

Sam made a little face and shook his head. “I'm not much on tricks. I like a dog that'll walk with you and that you can talk to. You get a good enough dog, I swear sometimes it seems like they're talkin' back to you. That's the way it feels anyway.” He hesitated for a moment, then went on, “After my wife passed on, I must've walked a thousand miles up and down those country roads out where we lived, just tryin' to make sense of it all. And the old dog that we had then was right with me every step of the way. Sometimes I think those walks with that old varmint were the only thing that kept me from goin' outta my head. He was always ready to go, always willin' to listen to whatever I had to say. Now, that's a good dog. Sure was hard when I lost him, too.”

“It must have been,” Phyllis said. She had to swallow before she could get the words out, and her eyes were moist.

“Oh, well,” Sam said with a smile. “It wasn't long after that
I moved in here with you fine ladies, and things got better. Didn't really have time then to sit around and feel sorry for myself, because there was always somethin' goin' on.”

“Too much going on, if you ask me. All those horrible murders . . .” She shuddered. “I never intended to spend my retirement catching killers!”

“You do seem to have a knack for it. That and bakin'.” Sam slapped the top of the doghouse. “And now we're gonna have a dog, too. Can't hardly wait to show ol' Buck his new home.”

Seeing how happy he was, Phyllis thought again that she was glad she had decided to go along with what he wanted. He had tiptoed around the subject for a while before he ever came right out with it, and to tell the truth, when he'd told her that he had an important question to ask her, she had been convinced it was going to be something else entirely.

She had believed he was going to ask her to marry him.

When he'd said instead that he wanted to get a dog, Phyllis hadn't known at first whether to be relieved or disappointed. It hadn't taken her long to figure out that she was relieved. That way she hadn't had to make a decision and give him an answer.

She loved Sam, but as far as she was concerned, things could go on the way they were for the time being. They were both happy, and there was no need to risk that.

“I think I might go call the vet clinic,” Sam went on. “Doc Baxter gave me his card. I want to find out how Buck's doin' after his surgery.”

“I'm sure if there was any problem the doctor would let you know,” Phyllis said.

“Yeah, more than likely. But I think I'll call anyway.”

He went into the house, leaving Phyllis on the porch. She stood there for a moment, looking at the doghouse, then walked over to it and rested a hand on the roof.

“Buck, you had better be nice to that man,” she said quietly, even though the future occupant of the doghouse was several miles away. “If anybody deserves to have a good dog, it's Sam Fletcher.”

Chapter 3

am called the vet's office again the next morning, and after telling the woman who answered the phone who he was, he asked if Buck was ready to be picked up.

“I think so, but let me go and check,” she said. After a couple of minutes, she came back to the phone and reported, “Yes. Dr. Baxter said you can come get him anytime you want.”

“All right. I'll be there in a little while. Thanks.”

He was already in the kitchen, so after he hung up the phone, he turned to the table where Phyllis, Carolyn, and Eve sat and said, “Good news. I can go get Buck anytime.”

“Buck,” Eve Turner repeated. “I like that name. It's so manly.”

Carolyn opened her mouth to say something, but Sam saw Phyllis give her a quick look and Carolyn just cleared her throat and kept whatever she'd been about to say to herself.

Sam could guess that it would've been some comment
about how Eve liked anything she considered manly because Eve liked men so much.

That was true, or at least it had been. When Sam was first introduced to Eve several years earlier, she had practically purred. Her interest in him was blatantly obvious. She had been married a number of times in the past and was on the lookout for another husband, to the point that she was almost like a stereotypical character on a TV sitcom.

Sam had found out how wrong he was to jump to that conclusion when an unexpected tragedy had brought to light the truth about Eve's past. Since then she had been a changed person, still smart and friendly but no longer on the prowl, so to speak.

“Phyllis, do you mind goin' with me to pick him up?” Sam asked. “I could go by the store and buy a big carrier for him and put it in the back of the pickup, but I'll feel better if you can drive and I'll hold him, like we did when we took him to the vet.”

“Of course,” Phyllis said. “That would probably be safer, too. We can go as soon as I've finished cleaning up from breakfast.”

Carolyn waved a hand and said, “Oh, we can do that. You two go on anytime you're ready.”

“You're sure?”

“Of course,” Eve said. “We'd be glad to.”

“Well . . . all right.” Phyllis gestured at the housedress she wore and said to Sam, “Let me go put on some jeans, and then I'll be ready.”

As they drove away from the house a few minutes later, Sam was excited and eager to see how Buck was doing. He'd had dogs off and on his entire life, and he realized now that
canine companionship was something he'd been missing in recent years. He had felt that lack without being able to pin down the cause of it until recently.

“Were Dr. Baxter's helpers back at work this morning?” Phyllis asked.

“I reckon so. It was a woman who answered the phone when I called.”

“Maybe he talked his wife into giving him a hand after all.”

“I don't think so,” Sam said. “This lady, whoever she was, sounded younger. And considerably perkier, I'd have to say.”

“Yes, Mrs. Baxter wasn't what anyone would call perky,” Phyllis agreed. “If she's a doctor, I hope she has a better bedside manner with her patients than she displayed yesterday. Although I probably shouldn't say such a thing.”

“You're just makin' an observation. And the same thought occurred to me.”

As he drove through the streets of Weatherford, Sam noticed a number of pumpkins sitting on the porches and in the yards of some of the houses they passed. Here and there a few gaudily dressed scarecrows were on display, too. It reminded him that Halloween was only a week away.

The scarecrows also reminded him of the harvest festival a few years earlier, where Phyllis and Carolyn had almost literally tripped over a murder victim. He glanced over at Phyllis now and thought that nobody would ever guess a retired history teacher would turn out to be so good at catching folks who killed other folks.

“What?” Phyllis asked.

“Nothin',” Sam replied with a shake of his head. “I was just thinkin' about how Halloween is next week.”

“I know. We probably ought to do something, but I'm not sure what.”

The parking lot at the veterinary clinic was busier this morning, but several spaces were still open. Sam parked in one of them, and he and Phyllis went inside to find the waiting room half-full of people, dogs, and cats.

The cats were all in carriers, and so were some of the dogs, but several of the dogs were on leashes, sitting with their owners. Sam saw a dachshund, a couple of beagles, and a big fluffy white dog whose breed he couldn't identify. Some of the cats were meowing loudly and annoyingly.

A short, curvy redhead in her mid-twenties was behind the counter today. She had to go with the perky voice he had heard earlier, Sam thought. When she smiled at them and asked, “Can I help you?” that confirmed it.

“We're here to pick up Buck,” Sam said.

“Oh, of course. You're Mr. Fletcher. Let me call back there and tell Tommy to bring him up.”

The redhead picked up a phone and punched a button. A moment later, she said, “Tommy, could you bring Buck up? His mom and dad are here to get him.”

Phyllis started to say, “Oh, we're not—” but then she stopped herself.

“I'm sorry,” the redhead said with a smile. “We just see so many pets here, I guess we're used to thinking of them as people's babies.”

“That's all right,” Phyllis said. “It's perfectly understandable that you'd feel that way.”

Sam had to wonder what she had been about to deny, though: that they were Buck's parents, or that they were a couple.

“Let me go ahead and get you his bill,” the redhead went on.

She told Sam the amount, which included vaccinations, lab work, and heartworm preventative, and he gave her his credit card, then signed the slip and took the printout she gave him. It was a considerable amount, but Sam didn't hesitate.

A young man came up the hallway behind the counter. He was carrying Buck. Dr. Baxter trailed behind him.

“And we have some pills for Buck, too,” the redhead added. She set a small paper bag with the top folded down on the counter. Phyllis picked up the pill bag and then took the receipt from Sam so he could carry Buck.

“He did just fine,” Baxter said as Sam and Tommy transferred the Dalmatian between them. Buck's left front leg was completely wrapped up with dark blue elastic wrap, and he had a white plastic cone fastened around his neck to keep him from biting at the cast. “He may still be just a little groggy, but he'll be fine. Go ahead and give him his normal food and water, and you can start him on the antibiotic, the steroid, and the pain pill this evening. He already got them this morning. Be sure and give him the antibiotic and the steroid until they're all gone. After a couple of days, if he doesn't seem to be in any discomfort, you don't have to keep giving him the pain pills.”

“Is it all right for him to walk on that cast?”

“Yes, although he may not want to at first because it'll seem awkward to him. But he'll get used to it. Dogs are pretty adaptable. That's why even the ones with only three legs can get around pretty good.”

“What about the cone? How long does he have to wear that?”

“Oh, just until tomorrow, I think. Unless you see him biting and chewing at the cast. Some dogs do and some don't. But if he does, the cone needs to go back on.”

“Got it,” Sam said with a nod. “Thanks, Doc. When does he need to come back?”

“I want to see him again in a week just to check on him; then we'll x-ray the leg a month after that to see how it's healed before taking the cast off. Of course, if you have any problems, give us a call right away.”

Sam nodded and turned toward the door. Phyllis told Baxter and the redhead, “Thanks again.”

As they started to leave the office, Sam heard the redhead say, “Oh, by the way, Dr. Baxter, your wife called a few minutes ago. She said she wanted you to call her back.”

“Did you tell her we have a full waiting room?” Baxter asked with a definite edge of annoyance in his voice.

“Yes, but she said—”

“Never mind, Holly. I'll take care of it.”

Sam and Phyllis were out the door by now. Sam didn't hear anything else because Phyllis let the glass door close behind them.

Sam hefted Buck a little in his arms and rubbed the top of the dog's head as they started toward the pickup.

“How you doin', fella? That's a really sporty-lookin' deal you got on your leg.”

He wondered why that snippet of overheard conversation had even registered on his brain as they left the clinic. He supposed being around all the trouble that Phyllis had gotten mixed up in over the past few years had trained him to pay attention to the things that were said and done around him.
You never knew when the least little thing might be the key to solving a murder.

And that was just about the craziest thing that had ever occurred to him, he told himself as he went on to Buck. “You're a mighty fine fella, aren't you, boy? Yes, sir. A mighty fine fella.”

It seemed to him like Buck squirmed a little in happiness. Sam felt sort of like that himself.

*   *   *

“Did you see the sign in there?” Phyllis asked as she drove away from the clinic.

“Guess I didn't notice it,” Sam said. “What sign was that?”

“About the Halloween party they're having there next week. It said there'll be free treats and prizes for the best costumes.”

Sam scratched behind Buck's ears and frowned as he repeated, “Costumes? Like for the animals?”

“I suppose so.”

He shook his head and said slowly, “I don't know. I'm not sure about dressin' up dogs and cats in Halloween costumes.”

“You mean you don't think it's adorable?”

“Maybe with cats and little dogs. Put a big dog in a costume and to me he just looks sad, like it's offended his dignity or something. Of course, cats always look like they're offended, so it's hard to say with them.”

“Well, I certainly don't think you ought to dress up Buck and take him to the party,” Phyllis said. “I was wondering about those doggie treats, though. I read something a while back about people who bake their own dog treats, because the
ones you buy in the store really aren't supposed to be very good for them.”

“I wouldn't know about that. Most of the treats I've given dogs have been soup bones and such.”

“Most bones aren't good for them. Neither is chocolate or onions or ham.”

“You mean dogs are sort of like humans,” Sam said. “Anything that really tastes good, they're not supposed to eat.”

She laughed and said, “There are plenty of good things they can eat. I seem to remember I saw a recipe for sweet-potato-and-peanut-butter treats. That sounds good, doesn't it?”

“Sounds good enough I might want to try one myself,” Sam said with a grin. “You thinkin' about bakin' some?”

“I'm thinking about it,” Phyllis admitted. “It might be fun.”

“Well, if you do, I know somebody who'd probably be glad to help you test 'em out.”

She smiled at him and said, “Are you talking about Buck . . . or you?”

“I guess we'll have to wait and see how good they smell while they're cookin'.”

They reached the house a few minutes later. This time Sam waited for Phyllis to come around and open the door after she parked the pickup in the garage before he climbed out with Buck in his arms. He was careful not to bang the leg with the cast on it against anything.

Carolyn and Eve had the door to the kitchen open before Phyllis and Sam got there. Eve said, “Oh, he's adorable! Such a handsome dog.”

Carolyn was more restrained in her response. She nodded and said, “Yes, that's a Dalmatian, all right.”

Phyllis went ahead to open the back door before Sam got there. He stepped out onto the porch, paused, and said, “I should've put in a temporary ramp to make it easier for him to get up and down the steps. I'll have to do that . . . as long as it's all right with you, Phyllis.”

“Of course it is,” she told him. She, Carolyn, and Eve had followed him onto the porch. “Do whatever you need to, Sam.”

He went down the steps to the yard. Buck was starting to squirm a little, so Sam lowered him to the ground and said, “Here goes nothin'.”

Buck put his nose to the ground and moved slowly across the yard, hobbling because of the cast on his leg, but overall he was able to get around without much trouble.

“Would you look at that?” Sam said with a big grin on his weathered face as Buck ranged back and forth across the yard. “He's explorin' all over—”

“Yes,” Carolyn said when Sam abruptly fell silent. “He's going to do
all over, too.”

BOOK: Trick or Deadly Treat
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