Authors: Laurinda Wallace
Terry carried her plate to the dishwasher. Gracie was washing out the pans at the sink.
“Let me do those dishes,” Terry said. “Since you cooked tonight, it’s only fair.”
“I hate washing dishes, so it works for me.” Gracie stepped away from the sink and handed Terry the dishrag. “Here you go.”
There was a rap at the kitchen door. Terry turned to see Tom Clark peering through the frosty window. He opened the door and stomped the snow off his boots and onto the welcome mat.
“Hey, ladies. Everybody staying warm?”
“We are. I think the dogs are cold though. They’re back at the door already.” Gracie opened one side of the French doors that led to the patio and backyard. The three dogs burst through, Max in the lead. He suddenly stopped and bared his teeth, growling. His hackles were raised as he looked Tom straight in the eye. Haley and Sable stopped in their tracks.
“Whoa there, Max,” Tom said with surprise. He began backing up toward kitchen counter.
“Max, nein. Pfui!” Terry spoke sharply to the big dog and stepped in front of Tom.
Max stopped growling and wagged his tail tentatively, watching Terry intently.
“Max, platz!” Max immediately went down in front of his mistress. “I’m so sorry, Tom. I don’t know what got into him.” Terry’s face was pale with stains of color in each cheek. “Max, make friends with Tom again.”
Max rose, wagging his tail, and came toward Terry and Tom. Terry rubbed the Shepherd’s slender muzzle, and Tom scratched the top of Max’s head a little gingerly. Gracie realized she’d been holding her breath and the door open. She quickly shut the door and sucked in a lungful of cold air.
“So …” Gracie said slowly, “Max is Schutzhund trained?”
“Yes.” Terry’s voice was low. “You know about Schutzhund?”
“A little. I’ve been to a couple of matches. Is Sable?”
“Not really,” Terry answered. “She washed out of a search and rescue program.
It was definitely an awkward moment. Gracie wasn’t sure now about her decision to house Terry and her dogs. Max was a bona fide protection dog and he’d just gone a bit rogue though. She hadn’t seen this coming. The dogs had been mild-mannered and so well behaved. She could see that Terry was struggling with what to say next. Tom broke the silence.
“I just surprised him, that’s all. We’re pals now, right, Max?” He stroked the Max’s head and gave him a pat on his shoulder. Max wagged his tail and laid his head on Tom’s thigh for an ear rub, and Tom obliged him. “We had some great bomb detection dogs in Afghanistan. They were—”
“I’m sorry, Gracie. I … I didn’t think …” Terry’s face flushed with embarrassment.
“I wish you’d told me, Terry. I mean, it’s kind of important to know what kind of dogs I have here. There are a lot of people in and out of the house and kennels every day, and I really need to trust my dogs.” Gracie was trying not to lose it, and fortunately Haley nudged her hand with a cold, wet nose to defuse the moment. Sable nonchalantly found the prime spot in front of the fire and began licking her feet. She seemed oblivious to the tension that filled the room. Haley joined her, and they shared the fleece bed in front of the fire. Max sat panting by Tom, his eyes fixed on Terry.
“I know. I should have told you,” Terry said meekly. She turned back to the kitchen sink to finish the dishes.
“So why do you have these high-powered dogs?” Tom sat down on the leather sofa.
Gracie was glad her brother had jumped in with her next question. Terry was going to have to come up with answers now. Terry let the water out of the sink and wiped her hands on a blue hand towel.
“It’s kind of a long story, and I was hoping it wouldn’t have to be told. I guess Max just opened the door, though.” She twisted the towel in her hands uneasily, looking into the fire that snapped brusquely behind Sable.
“I guess he did.” Gracie remarked and adjusted the clip that held back her unruly mane of slightly curly red hair.
The three settled in along with dogs in the living room. Terry unloaded her story with some hesitation. She’d been working on her doctoral dissertation at Seneca University, a small private school outside of Albany. Gracie wasn’t familiar with it, but apparently it had one of the few library science programs in the state. Terry was hired as the head of database and cataloging management after she had earned her MLS there.
“I worked a lot of nights because it was easier to run reports off the system after hours. My boss was the library director, and he was also the chair of my doctoral committee. He worked late himself, quite a bit. He was a real New York history expert, which was a bonus for me since my dissertation was about the Iroquois nation’s part in the Revolutionary War, the spy networks, and things like that.” She stopped and drew a breath to continue. “He sometimes had late night visitors, but I really didn’t pay much attention.”
“Something happened, didn’t it?” Tom stated.
“It did.” Terry brushed wisps of hair from her face. “My office was just down the hall from his.” She hesitated again. “I could hear some sort of argument that night. There was some shouting … and then … it was quiet.”
“What happened?” Gracie slid forward in the chair, hands propped under chin, elbows on her knees.
“The door slammed, and I heard someone coming down the hallway. I didn’t want to be seen, so I hid behind a pile of copier paper cartons that I hadn’t put away yet.” She stood and thrust her hands in the pockets of her jeans. “Whoever it was came in and looked around, but didn’t see me, or so I thought. It was a miracle. A real miracle. He left, and then I went to Dr. Aaron’s office.”
Gracie could see her lips tremble as she continued.
“The office was trashed, and so was Dr. Aaron. His head was—” Her voice caught, and she cleared her throat. “He was dead.”
“Oh, my gosh! Somebody killed him? When was this? Who was it?” Gracie sputtered.
Tom rose and went to the kitchen. He poured some coffee into a mug and returned to the sofa.
“They don’t know. And that’s why I’m here in Deer Creek. I had to get out. The police questioned me forever, and I thought they were going to charge me in the beginning. But they didn’t.”
“They have no idea who did it?”
“I guess not, but someone started following me a couple of weeks after the murder. That’s why I got Sable and Max. The police sort of checked into it and said to contact them if I was threatened. I don’t think they really believed me.”
“So, when did this all happen?” Gracie asked.
“It was the middle of November. Everything about my life has been totally screwed up since then.” Terry sat wearily in an armchair next to the fireplace.
“So, you left the university and came here?” Gracie was pretty sure she knew the answer.
“Yes.” Terry chewed her lip and continued. “I think the killer saw me, even though I thought I was out of sight. When I got the interview with the library here, I dropped out of my doctoral program, put my stuff in storage, and left.”
“Hey, you don’t think the fire was …” Gracie started.
“Gracie, the fire was bad wiring, pure and simple,” Tom said matter-of-factly.
“I know it was, but with all that you’ve been through, Terry … you must have thought …”
“The worst,” Terry finished. “I did. It was a relief to know that it wasn’t arson.”
Tom leaned against the back of the sofa. “Any video cameras get a look at this person?”
“No. The library is pretty old, and there were no cameras inside. Just in the parking lot. The cameras in the parking lot didn’t catch this man. He must have left by way of the Quad. There were only five cars in the parking lot. Three belonged to students, and then mine and the director’s.”
Terry looked at the floor, her feet shifted uneasily. “There weren’t any fingerprints in the director’s office, or at least no usable ones. The killer used a little Shakespeare bust to hit Dr. Aaron, but it was wiped clean of fingerprints. Anyway, that’s my sordid story, but I’d appreciate it if you didn’t broadcast it.”
“Of course not,” Tom was quick to say. “It’s just between us, the dogs, and these four walls.”
The bell jangled in the reception area, and Gracie could hear the unmistakable voice of her cousin Isabelle. Shoving the payroll reports into a tray, she straightened up her desk, wishing she had a bouquet of fresh flowers and some sort of antique on the desk to impress Isabelle’s discriminating taste. Unfortunately all the desk held was a pile of paperwork and a small, neglected violet that would most certainly rate a derogatory comment or two.
“Gracie! Knock, knock.” Isabelle rapped her gloved knuckles against the doorframe and breezed in.
“Hey, Isabelle. You’re out pretty early today.”
Isabelle glanced around the spacious office and sniffed before deciding to plant her backside on a chair. She pulled off black leather gloves, holding them in her left hand.
“When are you going to do something with this office? It really could use some professional touches. First impressions with customers, you know. What’s that awful recliner over there for? There’s a little antique shop outside of Batavia that has some—”
Gracie breathed out a heavy sigh and interrupted. “What’s up?”
“Oh. Your mother told me about the new librarian. She’s looking for a rental?”
“That’s right. Do you know of any?”
“Talk about serendipitous. I had a call from Maplewood Estates, and they have a two-bedroom house available. It’s for sale, but the market is pretty slow, and they may be willing to lease it.”
“Really? They have that new subdivision just outside of town, right?”
“Yes. Very upscale amenities. Professionally decorated and ready to move into.”
Isabelle glanced around the office again. “It’s nicely furnished, too. The house was one of the models.”
“How about dogs? She has two large dogs.”
“Dogs. A librarian has dogs? I don’t know about that. Why would she have dogs?”
“Isabelle. Lots of people have dogs. That’s why I’m in business. Look around.”
“Unfortunately, I am. It’s such a … dirty business.” Isabelle shook her head without displacing one blond hair and pulled on her gloves. “Well, I’ll ask. Couldn’t you just keep these dogs? It would save a lot of time.”
“Please check into it. I’ll have Terry give you a call later today, unless you’re unable to get the information that quickly.”
Isabelle’s blue eyes narrowed. “No problem at all. I should have an answer by lunchtime.” Her boot heels clicked like icicles in the hallway. When the bell jangled Isabelle’s exit, Gracie exhaled with relief. With any luck, Isabelle would come through, and Terry would have somewhere to live. But after last night’s revelation, would she want to be on her own again?
Terry called around 1:30 to let Gracie know that she was looking at the Maplewood house that afternoon. With a hefty pet deposit, Max and Sable would be welcome tenants. Gracie grinned, listening to the librarian chatter about the house. The bell jangled up front again, and she heard Jim’s voice. He’d want fresh coffee, and the pot was almost empty. He appeared in the doorway just as she hung up with Terry.
“Just starting a new pot for the afternoon,” she said, grabbing the coffee scoop.
“Don’t make one on my account,” he said, flopping into his ratty recliner.
“What? Are you sick or something?”
“No. Just got back from Midge’s. Had a little too much at lunch today.”
“Well, I’ll need at least two before closing, so I’ll make another pot.”
“Heard some interesting stuff about Alice Harris though. She may not be the library treasurer for very long if it’s true.” Jim eased the recliner back, putting his feet up.
“What’s going on?”
“She’s been dipping into a few different pots to make ends meet.”
“Like what? Is it her rentals?”
“No. Looks like the bank is foreclosing on two or three of them. She’s been trying to get additional investors in that new subdivision, Maplewood Estates. The owner, Rich McMahon, had her handling these investors’ funds, and now they’re gone and so is she.”
“You’re kidding! Nobody knows where she is?” Gracie pressed the button for the coffee to brew and turned to face Jim.
“Nope.” He pushed the recliner back down, and stood. “Police are looking for her right now. Will Dover was one of the investors. He lost a bunch of his retirement money with her.”
“That’s terrible. Rich is on the up-and-up, isn’t he?”
“I would think so. He made a big mistake getting Alice involved apparently. He’s out some money too. Houses just aren’t selling, and they have six spec homes all ready to go.”
“Unbelievable! Wait a second. Isabelle is showing Terry one of those houses this afternoon. I hope this isn’t going to hold up the rental deal.”
Jim scratched his head. “Don’t know about that. Sounds like the library will have some problems though. Maybe she took off with some of their money too.”
“I guess we’ll find out.”
Gracie sat behind the desk and tapped a pencil against her empty mug. Jim zipped up his jacket.
“I’m exercising the big dogs right now. Cheryl is doing all the little guys today.”
“OK. Everybody’s paychecks are ready now. Tell them to come and get them. Now that they’re done, I’ll help Marian finish up the grooming schedule.”
Terry’s Honda Accord churned up snow as it came to a stop in the driveway. Gracie and Haley were trudging back to the house after closing.
“So how was the house?” Gracie called out.
Terry pulled a tissue from her jeans pocket and blew her nose. “The house was great. But he’s here. I found this on my windshield tonight.” She retrieved a small, folded piece of paper from her coat pocket.
“Read it. Please.”
The writing was in capital block letters and simply stated, “Working late can be hazardous to your health.”
Gracie couldn’t sleep. She imagined that Terry probably wasn’t sleeping either. Gracie had called Marc to inform him about the note. It was probably a stupid joke, but Gracie didn’t want to take any chances. It was junior high and creepy all at the same time. She rolled over and stuck her arm out to stroke Haley’s back. She was snoring as usual. Haley could sleep through most anything. It was disgusting. Gracie drew her hand back under the down comforter and looked at the clock. The illuminated hands said it was 1:15. She had to be up at 5:00. She pulled the comforter up over her head and squeezed her eyes shut.