By the Book (A Gracie Andersen Mystery 2)

 

 

 

 

By the Book

 

 

LAURINDA WALLACE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By the Book

Cover Design and Photo by Jesaro Photography

Author Photo by Hannah Whaley Photography

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means-electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise-without prior written permission.

For information contact:

L. Wallace

PO Box 41
5●
Hereford, AZ  85615

This is a work of fiction. Any references to real events, businesses, organizations, and locales are intended only to give the fiction a sense of reality and authenticity. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead is coincidental.

ISBN:
098543287X

ISBN-13:
978-0985432874 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 2014 Laurinda Wallace

All rights reserved.

 

DEDICATION

 

 

For my amazing beta readers—a group of women who love a good story and challenge me to write it. And also for my niece, Rochelle who had a hand in this book.

 

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

 

Mention of early Western New York history is included in this book, Mary Jemison, The White Woman of the Genesee, and the gruesome account of the Boyd-Parker torture.

Mary Jemison is a legend in Letchworth State Park history and the majority of her land holdings given to her by the Senecas are now state park land. Mary was captured by the Senecas as a young teen. For the rest of her life she lived as a Seneca and never returned to the white culture. Her story is fascinating. James Seaver’s interview with her at Whaley’s Tavern outside Castile, NY is an excellent detailed biography, still available today.

Lt. Thomas Boyd and Sgt. Michael Parker were American soldiers sent on a mission to fight the British who worked extensively with the Senecas against the Americans. Ambushed by the Senecas, the two men were tortured and died horrible deaths. Cornelia Becker, Boyd’s jilted pregnant girlfriend uttered a prophetic pronouncement on young Lt. Boyd before his last mission. Since he refused to marry her, Cornelia made it known that she wished the handsome Lieutenant would be “cut up and tortured by the savages.” It seemed to me that she would have made an excellent spy for the British and that inference is purely fiction. A monument to Boyd and Parker remains in Leicester, NY today.

General Raymond J. Robinson fought at Gettysburg in the Civil War and later became the Lt. Governor of New York State. He is remembered as a man of integrity who dedicated his life to the service of his country.

 

 

Chapter One

 

The flames shot straight up from the roof of the house into the night sky. Sparks whirled through the darkness like Roman candles. The fire trucks’ red lights swept through the trees forming grotesque shadows, and fire hoses ran along the frozen ground and over snow piles. The men shouted to one another, directing the gushing hoses where they were needed most. Gracie saw Dan Evans, the fire chief, shouting instructions to the volunteer firefighters from the Perry and Castile Fire Departments, who had just arrived on the scene. The towns near Deer Creek had shown up in force to help with the intense fire. Hoses were hauled from trucks to cover the fire at the back of the house that threatened to engulf the detached garage. She shivered in her heavy red parka. The frigid night cut through its warmth, but her face felt seared from the intense blaze. Gracie shoved her gloved hands into the deep pockets and backed away, the heavy smoke irritating her throat and nose.

“Did you get my dogs?” The woman next to Dan on the sidewalk was dressed in a dark terrycloth robe and had a green woolen Red Cross blanket draped across her shoulders. Her voice was desperate and hoarse. Soot streaked her face, and her dark hair was plastered in frozen wisps to her head. She began coughing as she clutched the blanket in a death grip, wrapping it tightly around her slender body.

“We’re still looking, Ms. Castor. We’re doing our best.” Dan patted her shoulder. “Get some coffee over by the ambulance. Hey, Gracie, go with her, will ya?” Dan Evans was a great bear of man. His thick, curly blond beard was frozen to his face. Ice coated the buckle closures of his heavy black fire suit. Gracie guessed that his hands must be absolutely numb from the cold. He’d be lucky if he didn’t get frostbite tonight. Dan, however, seemed impervious to the elements and grabbed a kinked fire hose, straightening it with seemingly little effort, while continuing to yell directions to his crew.

Gracie put her arm around the woman and led her to the tall thermoses of coffee sitting on the tailgate of a black pickup parked next to the Deer Creek ambulance. She pumped hot, dark caffeine from a thermos into a foam cup.

“I’m Gracie,” she said, extending a hand.

“Terry Castor. They’ve got to find my dogs. They’ve got to be OK. They’re all I have.” The woman’s face crumbled, and she began to sob.

“Our fire department is good, very good. They’ll find them. They’ll be OK.” Gracie assured her, but it wasn’t looking good. Her brother Tom had called her when he learned there were dogs involved in the fire. She’d in turn called Kelly Standish, the closest vet, to come too. Kelly was delivering a calf and still hadn’t arrived. Gracie wished she’d hurry. She had no idea what kind of condition the dogs would be in—if they found them.

“Hey, Dan, we’ve got the dogs.” Gracie heard her brother shout over the chaos.

Terry dropped the cup of coffee to the frozen ground and ran toward Tom, stumbling through the icy snow in clumsy black rubber firefighter’s boots. Tom carried a large black-and-tan German shepherd in his arms. The dog was limp. Behind Tom, Gracie could see a fireman carrying another large shepherd. This one struggled in the man’s arms, trying to get down. Gracie followed Terry through the snow.

“Max, Max, are you OK?” The struggling dog managed to escape the fireman’s grip and ran to his mistress. Terry grabbed the dog’s neck and he licked her face. She cried in relief. Tom laid the other dog, a female, on a blanket spread quickly on the ground by one of the ambulance crew.

“Sable, baby, Sable. Can you hear me?” Terry stroked the dog’s head tenderly. Max stood whining and sniffing Sable. He nudged her with his black nose. Sable didn’t respond.

Gracie knelt by the dog and gently checked for a heartbeat. It was there, but slow, too slow for a dog. Her respirations were also slow.

Tom, can we get oxygen for this dog?” Gracie was sure that at least part of the problem was smoke inhalation. She didn’t see any obvious burns on the dog, although the smell of singed hair and smoke was strong.

“Sure, Gracie.” Tom was already running to the ambulance.

“And get another blanket. She’s probably in shock,” Gracie yelled.

“Got it.” Tom called back over his shoulder. The ambulance crew was already pulling oxygen equipment from their vehicle.

“Gracie, what’ve we got?”

It was Kelly Standish, smelling like cow manure and dressed in Carhartt overalls. She pulled off her leather gloves and knelt by Gracie.

“I think smoke inhalation, Doc, but she’s all yours now. I’ll assist. Just let me know what you need.”

Tom set an oxygen tank and mask next to the vet. Kelly checked the dog’s vital signs. Terry Castor continued to stroke Sable’s head and kept her other arm around Max’s neck. She must be beyond cold now. Gracie worried that Terry might be in shock herself. She probably needed some medical attention. When the woman began coughing again, Gracie gave her brother a look and nod toward the ambulance.

“Ms. Castor, let Dr. Standish work on your dog. Why don’t you come with me, and we’ll get you checked out.” Tom gently put his large gloved hand on her shoulder.

“I’m fine, really. My dog needs me.” Her voice was stubborn, but a fit of coughing shook her again.

“Let’s just make sure about you first. Your dog needs
you
to be OK too.”               The woman’s face showed resignation and she stood stiffly. The tone of Tom’s voice, although polite enough, wasn’t to be argued with. Gracie knew her brother wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. A Lt. Colonel in the Army Reserves, he’d returned just a few months ago from a long tour in Afghanistan. Tom led Terry away while Kelly and Gracie worked on the well-muscled and heavy-coated dog. As the oxygen flowed into the dog’s nostrils, her breathing deepened and quickened. The dog stirred, and her tail thumped twice on the hard-packed snow.

“Looks like she’s coming around.” The tall and attractive Dr. Standish expertly ran her hands over the dog, searching for injuries hidden in Sable’s thick coat.

Gracie stroked the dog’s head to keep her calm, while the vet finished the exam.

“I’m not finding anything else, which is good. See if her owner can come over for a second.” The vet blew on her icy fingers and rubbed them together for warmth.

“What a night for a fire, Gracie. What happened here anyway?”

“Not sure, Kelly.” Gracie called over her shoulder. “Dan will have to fill you in or maybe Tom.”

Gracie found Terry sitting in the ambulance breathing into an oxygen mask, while Cora Darling, the only female EMT on Deer Creek’s squad, checked her vitals. The vehicle’s heater was going full blast, but Gracie could see that the woman still shivered beneath the blanket.

“Sable is doing OK. Do you want to see her?”

Terry ripped the mask from her face and pulled away from the EMT’s stethoscope.

“I’m coming.”

“Not so fast, honey.” Cora grabbed her arm. “You’re going nowhere by yourself. Put this coat on first, and then I’m helping you.” Cora handed her a heavy parka that was under the gurney. Cora Darling was short and stocky, with curly gray hair. She’d been a volunteer EMT for over 30 years and was still going strong. If Deer Creek folks were in an accident or having a heart attack, they wanted to see Cora bending over them.

Terry obediently slipped the blanket off and pulled the oversized coat onto her slender frame. It swallowed her up, but had to be warmer than the wool blanket.

“I’ll help you out, and we’ll see your dog, then you’re going to the hospital.” Cora’s voice was calm and firm. Her strong hand gripped the younger woman’s arm and guided her to the ground. “Gracie can take care of your dogs, so don’t worry about that.”

“I don’t need to go to the hospital.” Terry’s voice was raspy, but steady, and she sounded equally determined.

Cora snorted and started to reply, but Gracie cut her off.

“Sable isn’t burned or cut. I think it was just too much smoke.”

“Thank God.” She broke away from Cora and knelt in the snow with the dog.

Sable sat and panted, a green wool blanket sliding off her back onto the snow. Terry threw her arms around the dog. Tom brought Max over to the pair with a makeshift rope leash.

“Here’s Max, too. He’s fine.” Tom had his hands full with the anxious dog. Max barked and strained against the rope.

Terry took the rope from Tom and buried her face in the big male’s neck. She stroked Sable’s flank. “I don’t know how to thank you for saving them. They mean everything to me.”

“Just glad we found them when we did. They were in the back bedroom. The fire was mostly in the front of the house, but the smoke was thick back there.”

“Thank you so much. Thank you.” She stood and watched the smoke curling through the night sky. “It’s all gone, isn’t it?”

“I’m afraid it’s pretty much a total loss, Ms. Castor. You and your dogs are pretty lucky tonight.” Tom’s voice sounded a little emotional to Gracie.  But, after all he’d experienced in Afghanistan, she knew he was still dealing with seeing the destruction of villages and the senseless loss of life.

“I don’t know where I’m going to go. I’m the new librarian. I just moved here last week and …”

“You’ll come home with me, and there’s plenty of room for the dogs too,” Gracie spoke quickly. “Unless the Doc says they need to go with her.” She looked over at the vet, who was packing up her equipment.

 

“No, I think they’re fine. They just need to get settled down and warm, like the rest of us.” Kelly stomped her feet for emphasis and dug her hands into her coat pockets.

“Uh … thanks, but are you sure you can manage all three of us?” Gracie could see the uncertainty in Terry’s eyes.

“Don’t argue with my sister. You’ll lose. I’ll help get your dogs loaded,” Tom said, picking up Max’s trailing rope leash.

“I guess I can’t get my car out of the garage right now, so can I hitch a ride with somebody?” Terry Castor stood staring at the ruins of the small Victorian cottage. Gracie had always admired the little gingerbread house that boasted bright flowerbeds in the summer. It was now black against the garish white of the snow. Smoke steamed from the charred windows, and the roof had collapsed in the middle of the structure. More smoke drifted upward in the February wind that had suddenly kicked up. Most of the firemen were beginning to roll up the hoses. Others were standing in small groups, clapping their hands together for warmth and relating their worst fire experiences. There was nothing like a winter fire. Ice coated every inch of the small yard, and the men stomped hard to make paths and get traction while they pulled the heavy hoses back to the trucks.

Gracie started her RAV4 to get the heater going full blast. When was the last time she’d changed the sheets in the guest bedroom? It had been awhile, but no one had slept in the bed. They were technically clean. It would have to do anyway.

Tom and Kelly quickly helped her load the dogs into the back, and Cora made sure Terry was safely seated in the front seat. Cora was still sputtering about going to the hospital, but it was obvious Terry wasn’t interested. Kelly decided to follow Gracie back to Milky Way Kennels and check the dogs one more time before she called it a night.

The street was slick and Gracie drove slowly down Oak Street until she was clear of fire trucks and the treacherous ice. Finally back onto hard-packed snowy streets, she eased the SUV to a moderate speed.

“I don’t know how to thank you. You don’t even know me,” Terry managed to croak. She coughed deeply and painfully. The smoke had taken a toll. Gracie winced, remembering her last bout with bronchitis last winter.

“Not a problem. Just relax and we’ll be home in about ten minutes.” 

“I don’t have any clothes or …”

The horrible fire and its consequences were starting to sink in. It had all happened in just an hour. But then Gracie understood how life can change in just seconds. It had happened to her not so long ago.

“Don’t worry; I’ve got lots of stuff. You’re fine. Max and Sable are fine. You just need a good night’s sleep. We’ll sort the rest out in the morning.” Gracie hoped she sounded convincing.

Terry sighed and leaned her head against the vehicle’s frosty window.

 

Not only was Dr. Kelly Standish in Gracie’s driveway helping unload the dogs, but her brother Tom pulled in right behind them. He jumped out of his pickup and quickly helped Terry into the house. Haley, Gracie’s big black Labrador, greeted the new arrivals with a thumping tail. The canines sniffed each other, and greetings were exchanged. It looked like everyone would be friends after a few minutes.

Gracie checked her spare bedroom, while Kelly and Tom tended to her guests. Fortunately the room was presentable. There was a rawhide bone on the pillow, which she retrieved. Apparently Haley had been napping here recently. She brushed at the pillow and straightened it. She hurried to her bedroom and pulled a pair of heavy flannel pajamas from an overstuffed dresser drawer. Then she found a pair of thick socks. She stacked towels on the side of the tub in the bathroom and made sure there were generous amounts of body wash and shampoo. Gracie would bathe the dogs tomorrow, when the kennel opened. No doubt Marian her groomer would decide she was taking care of them herself and tell Gracie to go to her office. With the night slipping toward dawn, Marian would be at work in just a few hours. Tom and Kelly said their goodnights, shutting the door quickly against the weather. Gracie leaned against the door, sighing heavily.

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