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Authors: Livia J. Washburn

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BOOK: Trick or Deadly Treat
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Luckily, it was none of her business, and she intended to keep it that way.

Chapter 8

T
he weather was still cool and cloudy the next day, but it wasn't supposed to rain and Phyllis was glad about that. Rain would spoil trick-or-treating for the kids, and even though that wasn't as big a deal these days as it had been when she was young, she knew the children still enjoyed it.

Also, rain would have interfered with the party at the vet clinic, so she hoped the forecast was right and the precipitation would stay away.

She and Carolyn already had the dog treats baked and bagged up, so they spent the morning making a big new batch of the coconut cream pie cookies, and since they had some leftover pumpkin, they made pumpkin oatmeal cookies, too. After lunch, once the cookies had cooled, they filled plastic containers with them, leaving a good-sized plate of them for there at the house.

“Are you and Buck going to the party with us?” Phyllis asked Sam. “I know you said you're not fond of animals in
costumes. He would look very dashing as a pirate, or with a name like Buck, he would probably rather be a cowboy. A leather vest and a cowboy hat . . .”

“We'll come along, but I still don't want to make him wear a costume,” he replied. “With the shock of the accident and having a new owner, I don't want to put him through anything else new. It won't hurt Buck to be around other animals, though. I'd like to see how well he gets along with 'em. If he doesn't, he needs to learn how to.”

“I can't imagine him not getting along,” Phyllis said. “He seems so friendly.”

“Yeah, with us he is. But there's no tellin' how he might act with other animals. Only one way to find out.”

“That's true. And I'm glad you're coming, anyway.”

When it came time to load up and leave, Sam put a halter on Buck and clipped a leash to it. That way Buck could walk around at the clinic. Sam carried the Dalmatian in his lap while Phyllis drove the pickup, since that method had been working well. Carolyn followed in her car with the dog treats and the cookies.

The clinic's parking lot was nearly full when they got there, which was the most crowded Phyllis had seen it. A large canopy was set up on metal poles next to the building. A folding table had been carried out and placed underneath it. A couple of ice chests with bottled water and soft drinks in them sat on the table, along with open boxes of assorted dog treats.

More than a dozen boys and girls in an assortment of costumes ran around and played in the grassy area between the clinic building and the barn. A number of dogs dressed in Halloween outfits cavorted with them. As Phyllis got out of
the pickup, she saw cheerleader dogs, Darth Vader dogs, pirate dogs, dinosaur dogs, gorilla dogs, and others she couldn't even identify.

There were a few cats, too, but their costumes consisted of little hats with earholes cut out of them. Judging by their expressions, the cats were already plotting revenge for this humiliation.

Several bales of hay were stacked up in a pyramid to provide a photo backdrop where parents could take pictures of their costumed children and pets. Several families were waiting their turn to do that.

Holly stood under the canopy, handing out drinks and talking to the visitors. Phyllis didn't see Dr. Baxter or Tommy, the other assistant.

She looked around for other familiar faces, thinking that Mike, Sarah, and Bobby might already be there, but she didn't see them. As Carolyn pulled up, Phyllis went over to her car to help her with the cookies and dog treats.

Sam set Buck on the ground and let him walk around. Some of the other dogs came up to him, and for a few moments there was a considerable amount of ritual sniffing going on. None of the dogs growled, though, so everything seemed to be friendly.

Phyllis carried the plastic bags full of dog treats while Carolyn brought the containers of cookies to the table. Holly saw them coming and greeted them with a friendly grin.

“Hi, Mrs. Fletcher,” she said.

“Hello, Holly,” Phyllis replied.

Carolyn said, “Are you ever going to set her straight about that?”

Holly's grin faltered a little. She said, “Set me straight about what?”

“It's nothing, really,” Phyllis said. She wished that Carolyn hadn't brought up the subject, but since she had, it might be best just to go ahead and settle it. “Actually, I'm not Mrs. Fletcher. Sam and I aren't married. We're just friends. My name is Phyllis Newsom.”

“Oh, dear, I'm sorry, Ms. Newsom! I just assumed since the two of you are always together . . .”

“I've just been helping him out with Buck, that's all.”

“Well,” Carolyn added, “I'd hardly say that's all. And the two of you are certainly more than just friends, too.”

Holly held up her hands and said, “Hey, none of my business. I'm just sorry if I made anybody uncomfortable.”

“Not at all,” Phyllis assured her. To change the subject, she asked, “Where are Dr. Baxter and Tommy today? I thought they would be here.”

“They're here,” Holly said. She inclined her head toward the clinic building. “They're inside dealing with an emergency that came in a little while ago. Just because it's Halloween doesn't mean pets stop having problems. In fact, it's sort of a dangerous time of year for dogs and cats. There's so much they can get into that can hurt them. This dog got into a candy stash and ate a bunch of chocolate.”

“Is he going to be all right?” Phyllis asked.

“I'm pretty sure he is. His folks got him here really quickly. But let's not dwell on bad stuff. What have you got there?”

“Cookies—coconut cream pie and pumpkin oatmeal for the humans,” Phyllis said as she took the lids off the plastic containers and slid them underneath the containers on the
table. She opened one of the bags. “And these are peanut-butter-and-sweet-potato doggie treats.”

“Oh, how adorable!” Holly said with a big smile on her face again. “They're cut into shapes. Those are ducks, aren't they?”

Phyllis nodded and said, “Ducks, dogs, and bones.”

“That's really cute.”

Carolyn opened the other bag and said, “And these are pumpkin oatmeal cut out into little jack-o'-lanterns.”

“I'm sure the dogs will love them. Would you ladies like something to drink?”

“I wouldn't mind a bottle of water,” Phyllis said. Carolyn just shook her head.

After Holly had given her the water, Phyllis looked around for Sam and spotted him and Buck near the bales of hay. A group of children had gathered around them and were petting Buck, who seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the attention. Children were always attracted to Dalmatians, Phyllis thought. There was just something about those spotted dogs that appealed to youngsters.

A couple with a young daughter and a Chihuahua in matching ballerina costumes came up to the table. Holly offered them cookies, which they took with enthusiasm, and Carolyn broke a piece off one of her treats and offered it to the dog, who took it in her mouth, dropped it on the ground for a moment, and then ate it delicately.

Carolyn looked at Phyllis, who saw that old competitive gleam in her friend's eyes. She knew Carolyn would be disappointed if it wasn't a fair contest, so she broke a piece off one of her treats and offered it to the ballerina Chihuahua.

This time the little dog gobbled down the treat without any hesitation at all. Not a crumb touched the ground.

“She likes it!” the little girl said around a mouthful of coconut cream pie cookie.

“Of course she does,” the girl's mother said. “Now, what do you tell the nice ladies?”

“Thank you!” the little girl said, practically squealing with joy. It was clear she was having a great time.

“You're very welcome,” Phyllis told her.

“And so is your little dog,” Carolyn added. She didn't sound quite so cheerful now that the Chihuahua had acted like it preferred Phyllis's treat to hers.

But the competition, such as it was, was young yet. Carolyn began breaking more pieces off the treat she held and offering them to the smaller costumed dogs and whole treats to the bigger dogs that passed by the table with their owners. A few of the cats took the treats, but most turned their noses up. Phyllis realized they should have made something different for the cats. She hadn't even thought about them.

After half an hour or so, Phyllis saw Mike's SUV pull into the parking lot. All the spaces were full, so Mike had to park on the grass next to the driveway. A few other visitors had already done that. The vehicle's doors opened, and Mike and Sarah got out. Mike wore his deputy's uniform.

One of the SUV's back doors opened and Bobby climbed out. He was dressed as Sherlock Holmes, in a long coat and a deerstalker hat. As he ran toward Phyllis, he called, “Grandma!”

Phyllis thought he was adorable, although she figured he was too young to really know anything about Sherlock Holmes. She knelt to gather him into a hug. He was too big now for her
to sweep him up into her arms as she had done when he was a toddler.

Those days were long gone. He would be in school soon, and as Phyllis thought about that, she felt a pang inside at how fast he was growing and how time was racing by like a rocket. That was just part of growing older, she told herself, and it came to everyone, from Bobby with practically his whole life in front of him to her with the years of her life dwindling.

She put those thoughts out of her mind. This was no time for melancholy. She rested her hands on Bobby's shoulders, smiled at him, and said, “Sam and Buck are right over there. Do you want to go see them?”

He nodded eagerly.

“Well, here, take a cookie with you,” she said as she handed one to him.

“And take a doggie treat for Buck,” Carolyn added. She gave a piece from one of her treats to Bobby.

Phyllis let that go. Bobby hurried over to join Sam and Buck near the hay bales.

As Mike and Sarah came up to the table, Phyllis said, “You dressed him as a great detective for Halloween?”

“Hey, I thought it was appropriate,” Mike said with a grin. “Considering who his grandmother is and all.”

“Don't start,” Phyllis warned him.

“I told him the same thing,” Sarah said. She was a smart, pretty blonde, a perfect match for Mike, and Phyllis couldn't have asked for a better daughter-in-law. “You have to admit that he's adorable, though.”

“Mike or Bobby?”

Sarah laughed and said, “Well, I was talking about Bobby, but Mike has his adorable moments, too, I suppose.”

“Gee, thanks,” he said. “Careful with all the flattery. You'll give me a swelled head.”

“It's too late to worry about that.”

“Have some cookies,” Carolyn invited them.

Mike took one from the plastic container and said, “I knew you were bringing some of these today. I've been looking forward to them.”

“Just don't eat so many that you ruin your appetite for supper,” Sarah told him.

“Not much chance of that.”

Phyllis felt the pleasurable warmth of having her family around her. At moments like this, she missed Kenny so fiercely it was like a physical thing, and she thought about what a shame it was he hadn't lived to see his grandson grow up. But Bobby had been born before he passed away, so he had known that he had a grandson, anyway, and he had seen for himself what a fine young man Mike had grown into. That was life, Phyllis thought, a potent mixture of blessings and loss.

A few minutes later, Dr. Baxter came out a side door from the clinic and headed for the table under the canopy. As he walked up to them, Phyllis said, “Hello, Doctor. Is that dog you were working on going to be all right?”

A tired but pleased smile curved Baxter's mouth. He nodded and said, “Yeah, he'll be fine. Thank goodness his owners got him here in time.” He looked around the area between the clinic and the barn. “Looks like we've got a good turnout. Are these the famous doggie treats?”

“I'm not sure how famous they are,” Phyllis said.

“But they've been pretty popular so far,” Carolyn added.

“I'm sure they have been.” Baxter picked up one of Phyllis's treats that was shaped like a duck and broke off the bill. Before she really realized what he was doing, he put the piece in his mouth and started chewing on it.

Clearly as startled as Phyllis was, Carolyn said, “That's a dog treat! The people cookies are over here.”

Baxter swallowed and said, “Oh, I know that. But what's in this? Sweet potatoes, peanut butter, and oatmeal, right? Nothing harmful there.” He chuckled. “Although if you were making them for human consumption, you'd probably want to add a little sugar. Still, they're not bad. I'll try one of those coconut cream pie cookies now.”

He was reaching for the cookie when he stopped short and stiffened. Phyllis wondered what was wrong. She saw Baxter gazing up the driveway toward the road and turned to look in that direction herself.

Two Weatherford police cars had turned in and were coming toward the clinic.

Sam must have noticed them, too. He came over leading Buck and asked, “Were you supposed to get a permit for this shindig, Doc?”

“I don't know,” Baxter said. “I didn't even think about that. But we've had Halloween parties like this before and never had any trouble.”

Mike said, “I'll go talk to these guys and see what's up.” He headed toward the police cars as they came to a stop.

“I sure hope there's not a problem,” Baxter said as he shook his head. “I'd hate to have to cancel the party and tell all these folks to take their kids and pets and go home.”

“Oh, I'm sure it's not that serious,” Phyllis said. “The dogs are barking some, but it's not really what you'd call a disturbance.”

“Some people will complain about anything, though,” Carolyn put in. “They just can't stand to see other people having a good time.”

Two uniformed officers got out of the first car and started talking to Mike. They were too far away for Phyllis to hear what was being said. She saw the glance that Mike cast toward her and the others at the table, though, and she could tell that he wasn't pleased with what he was hearing.

BOOK: Trick or Deadly Treat
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