By the Book (A Gracie Andersen Mystery 2) (10 page)

Chapter Sixteen

 

“Bad things happen in three’s, right? The note, the bird, and now the tires. Three strikes and I’m out, but I don’t know where to go.” Terry’s voice rose in anger mixed with fright.

Marc examined the compact car. The two front tires were slashed. There was no way to tell who’d been in the parking lot after hours. He glanced at his watch. Gracie stood with an arm around Terry’s shoulder, staring at the vehicle.

“Bird? What bird?” Gracie asked.

“I didn’t want to mention it, but the day I moved into the new house, I stopped here to work on the fundraiser for a couple of hours. I heard a noise at the front door, but it sounded like books going in the drop. When I left, I looked to see what had been returned and there was a dead starling in the box.”

“Nice. It was probably kids.”

“I don’t believe it now—with this. These aren’t coincidences. The guy is here. He knows where I am.” Terry shivered and pulled away.

Marc stood, brushing snow from his jeans. “You need to make a report. It’ll be investigated. And who is ‘he’?”

“I don’t want it investigated. It’ll only make things worse,” Terry shot back.

“That’s not a good idea. The report needs to be made. It may have the opposite effect, and they’ll back down,” he responded.

“You can’t be sure of that.”

Gracie joined Marc by the hood of the car. “You can’t be sure either way,” she added. “Do the right thing, and let the police handle it. You’ve got the dogs. Keep them with you everywhere.”

“Do you remember seeing anyone hanging around the library today?” Marc asked, swinging a flashlight in the direction of the sidewalk.

“No, not in particular,” Terry said slowly. “There was a steady stream of patrons until about a half hour before closing at 8:30. We had elderly ladies, some teenagers, moms and children, the usual.”

“Who was working today, besides you? Marc asked.

“Sybil worked in the afternoon and Patti this evening. And, uh, Jack. He was fixing a leaky toilet right before the board meeting.”

The slender woman kicked a chunk of snow. “I can’t keep living like this,” Terry’s voice cracked.

“Stay the night with me. You might get some sleep that way,” Gracie offered.

“No. I’m going home. The dogs are waiting there. Can you give me a ride?”

Marc pulled the keys to his truck from his pocket. “Sure thing. Let’s get you home, and after a good night’s sleep, make a report in the morning.”

“All right,” she agreed.

 

Marc turned into Gracie’s driveway, sighing. “So much for a quiet evening at home.”

Gracie smiled. “That didn’t work out at all. I do know I’m going to dig around to find out about that murder at Seneca University. How can they not have caught the guy?”

“It’s not always so easily wrapped up in 60 minutes like
CSI
.”

“I know. But it’s been since November. There must be something to go on. This is getting way too creepy. Somebody is after her.” She scraped some frost from the window, peering at the parking lot by the kennel. “After tonight, it’s not hard to believe at all.”

“And there could be a very simple explanation.”

“Like what?”

“Maybe Jack would like to see her move on.”

“You’ve got a point. But that’s really dumb. Plus, he’s involved in a murder investigation.” Gracie opened the door and jumped to the snowy ground.

“You’d be surprised at the dumb things people do,” Marc quipped.

She had to give him that. “You’re right. I know Sybil’s not happy she lost out on the position and Jack was just laid off. I’m sure he doesn’t earn much working part-time at the library.”

“Good point.” Marc slammed his door and joined Gracie on the snow-covered bluestone walk. “If nothing else, we can patrol the library area more at night. A police presence may scare off any pranksters or we may just catch them.”

“What if this prankster or whoever he is killed Alice?” Her heart was suddenly pounding, thinking about Alice’s frozen hand.

Marc’s face was grim in shadowy light by the kitchen steps. “That’s a distinct possibility.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Seventeen

 

The fifth cup of coffee was pushing her bladder to the limit. Gracie would have to leave her computer soon. A restless night and double duty in the kennel was catching up with her. Marian had the flu and wouldn’t be in the rest of the week. Fortunately, the grooming schedule was light. She yawned and rubbed the back of her neck. The view from the western window told her that another storm was blowing in from Lake Erie. The skies were leaden, heavy with snow. The wind had started to pick up. Little snow swirls danced on tops of the drifts. Haley scratched half-heartedly and trotted to the reception area. Just as Gracie stood to head to the bathroom, her cell phone buzzed insistently. It was her mother.

“Hi, Mom.”

“Gracie, I’m taking your father to the ER. His bronchitis is worse. I’m afraid he might have pneumonia.”

“What? I thought he was better.” Gracie’s heart began to pound.

“He was. Last night he got worse again. We were up most of the night. Tom’s meeting us at the hospital. I’ll call you later.”

“I can drive you, or maybe you’d better call an ambulance.” She didn’t like the idea of her mother negotiating the snowy roads between Deer Creek and Wyoming County Community Hospital.

“You’re as bad as your brother. I’ll take your Dad. I don’t want the neighbors making up any stories or standing in the street talking about us.”

“Mom, if he’s bad, call the ambulance. Don’t try to handle it yourself. I’ll call them myself right now.”

“Gracie, don’t—”

“Mom, I’m hanging up and calling 9-1-1.” She ended the call and then quickly punched in 9-1-1. She yelled to Cheryl to cancel the rest of the day’s grooming appointments.

“What’s going on?” A surprised Cheryl barreled around the corner.

“My Dad’s really sick. I’ve called an ambulance for him.”

“Oh my gosh, what do you want me to do?”

“Tell Jim and handle things while I’m gone. Sorry, this is bad timing, but I need to get to the hospital.”

“No problem. We can handle it.” Cheryl assured her.

“Thanks.” Gracie swallowed hard and felt like she was going to lose the muffin she’d had for lunch. She pulled on her parka without zipping it.

Haley was dancing at the door, ready to go with her mistress.

“Sorry, girl. You need to stay with Cheryl,” she told the black Lab whose tail was thumping against the wall with anticipation.

“Come on, Haley. You get to help me this afternoon,” Cheryl chirped.

Haley obliged, sitting next to the tall woman with wispy brown hair, already looking forlorn.

“I’ll call and let you know what’s going on,” Gracie called over her shoulder and dashed out of the door. She fumbled in her oversized tote bag for her keys.

 

The emergency room was full of coughing people who sounded like they were in various stages of death. An ambulance arrived with a car accident victim. EMTs and nurses were everywhere. The place was like an angry beehive. Gracie stood in the waiting room with her brother. She looked around for some hand sanitizer and finally found a dispenser. Germs must be crawling all over her. She couldn’t wait to shower.

It seemed like hours since their father had gone behind the curtain with a doctor. Theresa flitted between the waiting room and the examination room. She was also steamed at Gracie for overruling her decision. Gracie had been told in no uncertain terms that her parents were still her parents. She wasn’t to ever call an ambulance for either one of them again.

Tom intervened to smooth things over as best he could.  Her brother was a peacemaker at heart, but she still felt the sting of her mother’s rebuke.

Gracie was suddenly starving. The vending machine had an out-of-order sign, and she lost a dollar in the Coke machine. She kicked it in frustration.

“Come on, Gracie. He’ll be OK.” Tom clamped his hand onto his sister’s shoulder. “Just relax. They’ll probably admit him. And you did the right thing calling the squad. They had to give him oxygen on the way here. You know Mom will get over her snit.”

“I know. I know. Why does it take so frickin’ long to get things done?” Any shred of patience had said “adios.” Tears pricked her eyes. She threw her parka on a chair next to a man who was sleeping. His generous midsection was covered with a newspaper. A headline caught her eye: “Investigation of CPA’s Death Continues.” She bent over peering to see what the latest story was. The sleeping man was suddenly awake. Stunned, he watched a wild-eyed, red-headed woman studying his stomach.

“Oh, geez, I’m sorry. I saw a headline and … and … and …” Gracie stammered, her face crimson.

The man harrumphed and sat up, folding his paper. Tom was trying to stifle a laugh. She had no idea how to extricate herself from this situation.

“Here you go, honey. Just take it.” The man handed Gracie the ill-folded paper. Tom smiled and turned away.

“Uh, thanks. Sorry to bother you.” Gracie tried to refold with paper with some dignity, but a section fell out and floated to the floor.

Theresa burst through the waiting room doors like an explosion.

“They’re admitting him right now. He has pneumonia.” Her face was tense, and her eyes were dark with worry.

“That’s good, Mom. He’ll get the care he needs,” Tom soothed her.

“That’s right. We’ll go up with you,” Gracie added, looking over at her brother.

“What room are they taking him to?” Tom put his arm around his mother, who was now on the verge of tears.

“I … I … I think it’s 203.” Theresa’s voice cracked, and she suddenly leaned heavily on her son.

“Come on. It’s going to be fine. What did the doctor say?” Tom gently led his mother to the nearby elevator.

“He says he’ll be all right. I have to blame myself. I should have made him go back to the doctor, but he said he was better. I could just kick him.” She clenched her fist and then let her arm drop weakly to her side.

“You did your best. Dad hates going to the doctor. That’s his M.O. You know that.” Tom looked over at Gracie, who was gripping the rail of the elevator, her face now grayish. Memories of the hospital were making her nauseous. She wasn’t sure that she could hold it all together for her mother. When the doors opened, she made a beeline for a bathroom just past the nurses’ station. Tom looked bewildered, but his mother shook off his arm and rushed after her daughter.

Gracie was leaning over the toilet when her mother made an appearance. It was fortunate no one else was using the facility.

“Are you all right? Is it something you ate?” Theresa stood outside the stall impatiently.

“I’m all right, Mom. I just …” She really didn’t want to tell her mother that the most horrible day of her life was rushing back at her with the force of the concrete sidewalk that met her face when she was 10 and learning to roller skate.

“Did you eat some bad chicken salad or something like that?”

“No, I didn’t. I guess it’s nerves. I’m OK, Mom. I’ll be out in a minute. Go be with Dad.” Gracie wiped her mouth with toilet paper with one hand, flushing with the other. She needed a few minutes alone.

“Are you sure?”

“I’m sure,” she said firmly.

“All right. I’ll be in Room 203 then.”

Grace leaned against the door of the stall. Loss of a husband, loss of their unborn son, and then attempted murder were all wrapped up in the hospital. She prayed a shaky, but entirely sincere prayer for strength. All she really wanted to do was run.

 

By the time Gracie and Tom left the hospital, it was snowing heavily. The wind hadn’t picked up yet, but visibility was tricky. The thick, fast falling snow was mesmerizing, and Gracie concentrated hard to stay on her side of the road. The doctor said her father’s pneumonia was not severe, and he should be out in a few days if he responded to the treatment well. Her mother was adamant about spending the night, so she was camping out in the recliner in her husband’s room. Theresa had called her cousin, Charlene who lived in Warsaw, to bring her a toothbrush and something decent to eat. Tom would pick her up tomorrow and take her home.

Although her father needed oxygen and appeared sicker than Gracie had ever seen him, he took one look at her and told her to go home. She knew her father could tell what she was struggling with. Rather than open the door to her mother’s psychoanalysis, Gracie kissed her father’s cheek and promised to call later. Her mother told her to drink some flat Coke.

The ringing of her cell phone brought Gracie back to the moment. Fortunately, she had her Bluetooth device attached to her ear. It was Marc calling again. He’d stopped in at the hospital before she left and he went on duty.

“He’s stable and doing fine. The doctors think he’ll go home tomorrow or the next day if all goes well.”

“That’s good. And what about you? ”

“I’m all right. If I can get some sleep tonight, I’ll be better than ever,” she joked.

“OK. Drive safe. The roads are getting pretty bad.”

“You can say that again. They’re awful. I’m almost there now. Will I see you tomorrow?” She felt so much better when Marc had arrived in her father’s hospital room minutes after she had entered.

“I’ll pick you up to go to the hospital in the early afternoon if you want.”

“That sounds good.” Relief ran through her body. A sudden whiteout made her clutch the steering wheel. The snow swirled around the SUV, blotting out her sense of direction.

“Sorry, Marc. I’ve gotta go. The roads are terrible. Call me when you get a break.” She ended the call before Marc could respond. It would take every bit of her driving skill and some help from the good Lord to make it back to Milky Way Kennels in one piece tonight.

When she finally pulled into the driveway, Kelly Standish’s pickup was parked by the kennel. The lights were on in the reception area. Who needed a vet now? They’d been fortunate not to have a vet for several months. Racing from the SUV to the kennel, Haley greeted her with the impolite Lab lunge. The big front paws hit her chest, almost knocking Gracie backward.

“Off, girl. Yes, I’m home. What’s going on?”

“In here, Gracie,” Kelly called to her from the grooming room.

“Who’s sick? Why didn’t someone call me?” All she needed was a sick dog and an owner 1,300 miles away.

“It’s Max, not any guests,” Kelly answered as Gracie walked through the doorway.

“Max? What’s the matter with him?” She didn’t see Terry anywhere in sight. Max was lying prone on the grooming table, panting heavily.

“He got into something that disagreed with him. There was some indication of poisoning. I’m giving him the good stuff, just in case. I don’t want his kidneys to fail if it’s antifreeze.” Kelly stroked the dog’s head and ran her hand down the black and tan flank. “I sent Terry back inside. She was too upset to help, and I don’t need her stressing the dog, or me, for that matter. Jim’s in the office. He let us in.”

“When could he have gotten into antifreeze, if that’s what it is? He’s with Terry at the library or at home.”

“He might have gotten it from drinking out of a puddle. Sometimes a vehicle leaks it onto the ground. It’ll create a puddle in the snow. Dogs will drink it because it tastes sweet, or so I hear.” Kelly expertly took the dog’s vitals and looked over at Gracie.

Gracie knew full well the dangers of antifreeze. She’d seen a couple of cases as a vet tech. One was a deliberate poisoning and the other an accident. Both dogs had died.

“You don’t think it was deliberate, do you?” Gracie mulled over the possibility of another attack on Terry. She didn’t want to imagine that someone would try to kill her dog.

“I hope not. There are people who like to poison animals, so I can’t rule it out.” There were dark smudges of weariness under Kelly’s eyes. “I think I’m going to transport Max to the clinic. I want to keep tabs on him tonight. If we’ve caught it in time, he has a good chance. Hopefully there won’t be any permanent damage.”

“I’ll let Terry know. I’ve got a big blanket here somewhere.” Gracie rummaged through the piles of towels and dog bedding on a tall metal rack that also held grooming supplies. Finally finding the blanket, she spread it on the floor. Jim helped lift Max, who seemed disinterested in what was happening.

After they had loaded the big dog in the truck, Kelly promised to call Terry with updates throughout the night. Terry stood shivering in the snow, watching the truck pull out onto the snowy road.

“Come on, let’s get inside. It’s horrible out here.” Gracie motioned for Terry to follow.

Terry shook her head. “I’m going home. Sable is by herself. I can’t believe someone would poison Max.”

Gracie watched the Accord disappear into the snow. Haley positioned herself as close as a bur at her heels, whining.

“All right, Haley. Let’s get something to eat.”

 

Gracie had drifted to the edge of sleep when she remembered that she wanted to find out more about the murder at Seneca. Why did she remember things like that when sleep was so near?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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