Authors: Laurinda Wallace
Marian had left after calling Gracie on Monday. She’d been feeling achy and a little feverish. Her husband had called to let her know that Marian was sick Tuesday morning. Gracie knew she must be flat on her back with the flu or something equally awful if she wasn’t coming in. The grooming schedule was very light, and the kennel population was steadily lowering, so between Cheryl, Jim, and herself, Gracie decided it shouldn’t be too bad. With Cheryl answering the phone and handling the exercise times, she’d have time between grooming appointments to finish some accounting reports.
Just as she had begun scanning through the first batch of reports, Cheryl came back to announce the arrival of a grooming appointment. A new customer, Catherine Woodson, had come in with her trio of West Highland Terriers. They needed the full treatment, bathing, trims, and toenails. It seemed a good time to get to know one-half of the Woodson couple.
“Here are the stooges,” Catherine laughed, handing over three leashes to Gracie. She had shoulder length dark brown hair and looked like she’d stepped out of
dressed in a creamy white leather coat and black wool slacks.
“That’s right. Larry, Curly, and Moe. How do you tell them apart?” she asked, looking at the identical dingy-colored dogs.
“Different colored collars are a life saver,” Catherine answered. “Blue is Moe, red is Larry, and black is Curly. Of course, Curly is easier since she’s the only girl. What time should I pick them up?”
“In about two or three hours. We’ll call you.”
“That shouldn’t be a problem unless that detective shows up again.”
“Oh, you mean Investigator Hotchkiss?”
“I guess that’s her name. We’ve got too many things on our calendars to be questioned again. It’s pretty simple on our part. Alice had Roger’s knife because she was delivering it to a buyer for him.”
Gracie unclipped her hair and rewound it before securing it again. “The knife that … uh …”
“Yes. We think it was one of the …” she stopped midsentence “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be talking about this. Roger will be livid if he knows.”
“Don’t worry. What happens in the kennel stays in the kennel.” She smiled, hoping to put the woman at ease.
“Thanks. It was absolutely crazy yesterday. But I am glad that you’re so close to the farm. These guys are awfully high maintenance for grooming. They escaped from the house and ran directly to the barn.”
The manure stained dogs had thoroughly enjoyed a good roll in the gutters and currently stunk to high heaven from the unmistakable fragrance of bovine perfume.
“New customers are always welcome,” Gracie chuckled at the terriers that were now tangled up in the leashes.
“Good luck. See you later.” Catherine waved and was gone.
Cheryl came back in, waving a pink message slip.
“Terry called,” she said. “She’d like you to go to the trustees meeting at the library tonight.”
“Tonight? Marc and I are going to Short Tract for pancakes.”
“She sounded pretty upset.”
“What time is the meeting?” She was quickly calculating drive times on snowy roads from Deer Creek to Short Tract. It wasn’t looking good.
“Seven,” Cheryl answered glumly.
“Jeez Louise. Well, I’d better support her. She’s had a heck of welcome to Deer Creek. Hold the stooges for a minute, and I’ll call Marc to let him know.” She sighed, wondering what could possibly warrant her appearance at a library board meeting. At least she didn’t have any overdue books in the house.
With Cheryl helping, the bathing went smoothly, but the toenail clipping was a challenge. She ended up muzzling Moe, the alpha male. Curly, the lone female, was a little more sedate, but wiggly. Larry managed to slip away from her before she could get him on the grooming table. He ran as fast as his little legs would go around and around the room. He finally jumped up on a chair and started barking frenetically at Gracie. She could have sworn he was mocking her. She pulled a treat from her pocket and tricked him into coming to her. He chomped the bacon-filled treat and licked Gracie’s face, begging for more.
“You’ll get another one when we’ve finished, my evil friend,” she told the little dog in her best German accent. Cheryl was giggling at the dog’s antics. Larry cocked his head to one side as if he understood. Quickly she lifted him to the table and managed to get his toenails clipped without cutting the quick. The last thing she wanted was blood all over a now sparkling white dog. It wouldn’t make points with his owner either. Larry’s good behavior was rewarded with another treat while Cheryl put the finishing touches on Moe and Curly. The trio looked adorable in the dark blue bandannas that were imprinted with stars and “Milky Way Kennels.” They sat in a row crunching treats, shiny-eyed and sparkling clean.
“Let’s get them to the holding area until Catherine gets back,” Gracie told Cheryl.
“Sure thing. They’re the last pick up of the day.” Cheryl escorted the excited and panting little dogs down the hallway.
Gracie glanced at her watch. The afternoon was already gone. Closing time was in a half hour. Now she was going to have to sit in a stuffy meeting instead of stuffing her face with pancakes. Why had she been summoned anyway? Haley greeted her at the office door, stretching luxuriously. Then she sat down to scratch herself.
“Well, girl, it’s been a long day for us.” Gracie sighed and sat down in front of the computer. The rhythm of kibble hitting metal bowls meant Jim was right on schedule for the last feeding. Haley trotted down the hallway to join him. Gracie knew the dog would get her supper using her superior mooching skills. The bell jingled at the entrance, and Gracie heard Cheryl greet Catherine Woodson. She left her desk and hurried to talk to the pert brunette.
“I hope you’ll use us again, Catherine. We’re offering more services all the time. In fact, we should have our training facility up and running by the fall.”
“I’m sure I will.” Catherine clapped her hands as the three Westies ran to their mistress with their leashes trailing behind. “Come here, little stooges.” She knelt down and they bounced around her, barking with excitement.
“I think you’ll find that they smell a lot better.”
“They sure do. Thanks, Gracie. Let me know when you have training available. They could use a good dose. I’m afraid the stooges are pretty spoiled. Roger is after me to make them better behaved. I’m really not very good at it. We all need training, I guess.” The short and very curvy Catherine gathered the three leashes.
“We’d be happy to help with that. We’ll have training available this summer if you’re interested. If you have some friends who’d like to come, we could design special obedience training for older dogs, plus we’ll have puppy classes too.” Gracie was trying to cover all of the bases.
“Sounds interesting. Let me know when you’re ready to start. Thanks again, Gracie.” Catherine flashed a bright white smile and moved her pack out the door.
“Good night.” Gracie locked the front door after she watched the Westies being loaded into a Lincoln Navigator. She suddenly realized Catherine had left without paying her bill.
Now there would be an awkward phone call tomorrow. She was the stooge!
Jim joined her for coffee in the office when he and Cheryl finished feeding time. She said goodnight and was out the door
“How’d it go today, Chief?” He stretched his long legs out in the ratty recliner he had managed to install in the office. The ripped and worn green striped upholstery made Gracie cringe every time she looked at it.
“Fine, except I forgot to get Catherine Woodson to pay for her three dogs today.”
“Don’t worry about it. She’ll pay.”
“I know, but it’ll be awkward. I hate that.” Gracie released her hair clip and let her curly auburn hair fall below her shoulders.
“It’ll be fine,” Jim assured her, closing his eyes.
“What about you, Jimmy? You’re a little gloomy.”
Jim sat up straight in the chair and looked wearily at Gracie. “I don’t know. Laney called me and wants to get back together. But she’s all about climbing the corporate ladder. I wanted her to find a job closer to Deer Creek, and she wants me to move to the city. I can’t move to Rochester. My place is here. She’s pretty wrapped up in her new job, so finding something out here isn’t going to happen.”
“She’d never find a job that would suit her in this county. She’s a city girl.”
“I know, but I really thought she was the one. We can’t make it work, Gracie.” Jim took off his Yankees ball cap and ran his hand through his short black hair. Gracie hated to see him so weary and sad.
“I thought she was the one too, Jimmy. Maybe with some compromise, you can make it work.” Gracie poured two mugs of freshly brewed coffee and handed one to Jim.
“I really can’t compromise on some things, and neither can she. So there you are. Another failed relationship,” he said flatly, setting the mug down on a small side table. “By the way, don’t worry about Cheryl. We did talk that out, and we’ll keep it strictly business.”
“Are you sure? Is she all right?”
“She’s fine. It wasn’t serious, but you’re right. We can’t have office romances going on. It’s too complicated. Not something either of us need.”
Gracie nodded in agreement. “I’m sorry.”
Jim opened his mouth and then shook his head. Whatever he’d been about to say was left to her imagination.
Gracie heard a low hum of conversation in the library’s loft area when she entered the main door. Patti Hurd was at the circulation desk, thumbing through a magazine.
“Hi, Gracie,” she said peering over her reading glasses. “They’ll all upstairs. Go on up.” Patti returned to reading the issue of
. Gracie climbed the staircase, wishing she’d just said “no.” A more pleasant evening was guaranteed with Marc and maple syrup. The group around the table looked up when she stood in the conference room doorway.
“Come on in, Gracie,” Will said, motioning to an empty seat near the end of the table. “I think you know everyone here.”
Gracie felt like she was at a wake. The entire library board sat in awkward silence, looking at her. She knew almost everyone—Darlene Evans gave her a quick smile. Will stood, cleared his throat, and looked like he was about to give the eulogy. He should have been wearing a black suit for that gig, but he had a beige cardigan on over a navy blue button-down shirt. Terry sat pale and silent next to him.
“Thanks for coming, Gracie,” he began. “We appreciate your time. At Terry’s suggestion, we want to run a proposal by you.” He motioned for her to sit in the only empty chair next to Helen Smith, a retired high school librarian.
“OK. What’s your proposal?” What could they possibly want her to do for the library? She didn’t have enough time for her own life, let alone adding one more thing.
“We’d like you to consider being part of the board … just on interim basis. Since Alice’s death, we really need a treasurer, and because of the circumstances, a new face is probably the best course of action.”
“Uh, me? You want me to be the treasurer?” Who knew what she’d find in the accounts, and then she’d be responsible for untangling a possible accounting nightmare or worse.
“We’d really appreciate it, Gracie,” Helen added. Her tightly curled gray hair framed her well-tanned round face. It looked like Mrs. Smith had just returned from Florida or a tanning bed. “It would certainly help us get through this difficult time.”
“I really don’t think I could take this on. With all that’s going on, I just don’t see how.” She dropped her hands in her lap, wishing she’d unzipped her parka, which was now making her too hot in the small room.
“We thought that might be your answer, but would you consider just paying the bills and doing payroll through March? It’s just about six weeks. Very short term.” Will sat down and looked around the table.
“Darlene, you do the books at the hardware, don’t you? Couldn’t you handle it for a few weeks?”
“I wish I could, but I just got a new job with the Village Clerk’s office. I have to go to training for two weeks in Albany.”
“Oh. What about Sybil? Couldn’t she fill in?”
A murmur of instant disapproval rippled around the table.
“That’s probably not where we want to go for help right now,” Bill Stone responded, his lips drawn in a thin frown.
Bill Stone was a relative newcomer to Deer Creek. He and his wife had moved from Rochester a couple of years ago. They’d bought a foreclosed farm property to take up organic vegetable and berry farming. The couple taught at the SUNY Geneseo, but from what Gracie had heard at Midge’s, they were expanding the farm to include a greenhouse for year-round growing.
“All right then.” She pushed away from the table and unzipped the coat. “Let me think about it for a day or two. You just want the bills and payroll paid, right? No reports, no investigating the books, or anything like that?”
“No. Just the basics for a few weeks until we can recruit a new board member,” Will said. Relief showed in his face. “But, we’d still like you to consider joining the board after that time.”
“All right. I’ll think about it and let you know in a couple of days. Do you want me to call Terry or you, Will?”
“Let Terry know. She has the files.”
Apparently, Will assumed she would do it, but a twinge of stubbornness crept up to make her want to say “no way” she’d touch the books. She’d talk to Jim about it and see what he thought.
“Is that it? You don’t have anything else for me, do you?” She wanted to escape to the warmth of her fireplace and the bottle of wine Marc was supplying. Their Plan “B” was pizza by the fire instead of pancakes.
“Nnnnno, no, that’s all. Thank you for considering our request,” Will stammered.
“I’ll walk Gracie out,” Terry said, slipping from her chair. She quickly joined Gracie on the stairs.
“Thanks for coming. I know you’ll do a great job,” she whispered as they descended down the stairs.
“Terry, I don’t know if I can do this. Don’t be too grateful yet. Any word on the investigation? Marc can’t say a word to me, but you must know something.”
Patti looked up from the desk where she was scanning some returned books into the system.
“Let’s go in the children’s area,” Terry hissed.
“The police questioned Jack again,” she said once they were in the alcove that held the children’s books. A Beatrix Potter display of teacups and books was aligned on an upper shelf. A couple of stuffed rabbits stared at them from their lofty perch.
“Do you know what they’re asking him?”
“Not really, but Jack didn’t like Alice. Sybil mentioned that they would both be happy to see her leave the board.”
The buzz of her cell phone stopped Gracie’s next question. She blushed, looking down at the text. Marc was waiting. “I’ve gotta run, Terry. Sorry.”
Will cleared his throat before continuing. “We need to decide how we’re going to handle Alice’s murder. This investigation could damage the integrity of the library and the board itself.”
“What if Alice was tampering with the books here? There’s a lot that’s going to start coming out,” Bill Stone interjected.
“I believe the police will be looking at our records. We need to be prepared.” The color had now drained from Will’s face.
The rest of the board shifted uneasily in their chairs. Darlene Evans broke the silence.
“What do the police say about Alice’s death? And what about Jack? I’ve got a lot of questions about this whole situation. He has a nasty temper.”
“The police aren’t saying much of anything right now. I really don’t know what to think about Jack. The investigator questioned him pretty thoroughly.” Will sat up a little taller in his chair and leaned forward, his hands interlaced on the broad table. “Each of you should plan on being questioned by the sheriff’s department though.”
“Well, if that’s the case, I’m contacting my attorney tonight. I suggest you all do the same. I hope our directors and officers liability insurance is current.” Professor Stone’s face was mottled with anger.
“Good advice, Bill. You may all want to do that. I’ll be contacting the library’s attorney for advice. For everyone’s information, our insurances are current on all counts, so there’s nothing to worry about there. We need to handle communications correctly. The library’s official position is “no comment.” I expect all of you to respect this position. I’m the point of contact for everything related to the library. I’ll call you with an update from the police as soon as I know something. In the meantime, we’re adjourned.” Will stood, pulling his coat from the back of the chair.
The faces around the table registered surprise, but no one objected. The room emptied before Terry reappeared. Will met her on the stairs.
“Remember, absolutely no talking to the press. Especially Patti or Sybil. If any reporters contact you, please have them call me. Is that clear?”
“Yes. You told me that before the meeting. I’ve already told them.”
Will sighed. “You’re right. I’m sorry. The library’s reputation is at stake. I hope to high heaven that there isn’t anything wrong with our finances. We could lose our major donors if there is.”
“I totally understand. I just hope the police are done questioning the staff and me.”
“They’ll be focused on board members next. But I think Roger Woodson has more to worry about than anyone. That knife is very valuable. I’ve seen it several times before. A special presentation knife from the Civil War. He has quite a collection of weapons from the Revolutionary and Civil Wars.”
Terry gripped the railing on the stairs. “It was a huge knife. That’s all I know.”
The balding man sighed. “I’m sorry. You probably don’t want to think about that knife.”
“Not really. I’ll call you if any reporters contact the library.”
“Right. Well, good night,” he finished. Will slid a hand-knitted stocking cap on his head and hurried down the stairs and out the main door.
The pizza was excellent, loaded with sausage, mushrooms, and peppers. Marc was stretched out by the coffee table, finishing his third slice. Gracie admired his classic profile and the Harrison Ford dimple. Her auburn hair was now loose from the usual ponytail, covering her shoulders. She reached for her wine glass. What a perfect ending to a hectic day.
The house phone rang, startling her from her comfortable position, leaning against the couch.
“Don’t answer it,” Marc groaned.
“Sorry. Have to. It might be a customer.”
Marc sighed and picked up another slice. She reached for the phone on the end table. It was Terry.