Underwater: An Avery Barks Dog Mystery (Avery Barks Cozy Dog Mysteries Book 4), page 1
An Avery Barks Dog Mystery
By Mary Hiker
Copyright © 2015 Mary Hiker
All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be copied, reproduced in any format, by any means, electronic or otherwise, without prior consent from the copyright owner and publisher of this book.
This is a work of fiction. All characters, names, places and events are the product of the author's imagination or used fictitiously.
Cover by StunningBookCovers.com
Table of Contents
More Books in the Avery Barks Dog Mystery Series
About the Author
“Now, that’s a good woman.”
I awoke to a strange man’s rugged voice outside my bedroom window. Chevy, my golden retriever mix, barked and pressed his nose to the screen. Startled, I sat up in my bed and moved the curtain slightly to the side, peering through the window.
Two middle-aged men wearing navy blue volunteer fire department t-shirts and jeans stood next to a red pick-up truck parked not a hundred feet away. One of the men rubbed his fit stomach and praised my elderly neighbor’s cooking while the other nodded in agreement.
“Miss Emma’s gonna introduce me to the girl that lives in this cabin,” the big eater said as he pointed at my home and climbed in the truck, a loud burp breaking the silence around him. “Her name’s Avery.”
Oh, no she isn’t, I thought and plopped back on my bed. I listened to the truck roar to life and couldn’t believe I’d slept through the loud diesel engine pulling up earlier. I’d spent a long night at the animal sanctuary caring for some newly rescued puppies and crashed hard when I finally got to bed around three in the morning.
I groaned. I appreciated Miss Emma’s desire to see me happy, but if I wanted a boyfriend I’d pick one out for myself. And any guy I dated sure wouldn’t be one that gauged a woman on how well she cooked. I’d fail that test miserably. I cuddled up under the covers with my dog until the sound of more vehicles going down Miss Emma’s gravel driveway made me jolt upright.
I had completely forgotten, today was Miss Emma’s monthly neighborhood yard sale, though I’m sure that’s not the correct term. People didn’t go to Miss Emma’s to buy anything, they went to collect their belongings and eat a free breakfast. Miss Emma’s fluffy grey cat, Tabitha, was the resident kleptomaniac.
Tabitha roamed the neighborhood daily and swiped just about anything that wasn’t tied down. The cat stole so many items that Miss Emma resorted to hosting regularly scheduled events in her front yard, allowing people to reclaim their belongings. To keep the heat off of Tabitha, Miss Emma always cooked up a delicious breakfast the first Saturday of every month and served it to whoever came by.
My eighty-something year-old neighbor loved all the company and insisted that anyone who came to pick up lost or stolen items sit down for fresh baked biscuits smothered with homemade sausage gravy and a glass of sweet tea. It was a breakfast I didn’t want to miss.
I splashed water on my face and slung my hair into a ponytail, then rushed next door for breakfast as Chevy tagged along. As I walked across my side yard and reached Miss Emma’s property, I waved good-bye to a couple folks in her driveway wearing satisfied smiles and full bellies. I picked up my pace and trotted over to the serving table to fill my own.
My eyes quickly scanned the ‘pick-up’ table to see what was left of Tabitha’s latest quest. Most of the items had already been claimed, except for a couple socks, a baby bracelet, some tea bags, a bib, and a five dollar bill. Surprisingly, it looked like I had gotten through the month unscathed by the cat burglar.
Anticipating a hearty breakfast, my hand softly gripped the crisp kitchen towel covering the wicker basket that held fresh homemade biscuits. As I carefully lifted the cloth cover, I discovered there wasn’t a morsel of biscuit left in the basket. My heart sank with disappointment.
Darn it - I should’ve set my alarm clock.
I mournfully scraped what gravy was left from the giant serving bowl onto my plate. At least I could use a spoon and eat it like thick soup. The lingering smell of homemade biscuits made me ache for the full breakfast I had missed.
Miss Emma, wearing one of her trademark jogging suits and little old lady tennis shoes, appeared in her front doorway and waved, “Avery, could you come here and help me clean up some dishes?”
My stomach grumbled, but I forced myself to smile.
“Sure Miss Emma,” I said and brought the plate of gravy drippings along with me.
As Chevy and I followed her through the door, she held my hand and led me to her antique wood dining table with two place settings. My heart soared when I saw a serving plate stacked with biscuits and a huge bowl of sausage gravy. Miss Emma had a huge grin on her face.
“Surprise! I saved these just for us,” she said and served up a huge portion on my plate.
“You’re awesome, Miss Emma,” I said and picked up my missing gold bracelet from the table next to my plate. “Looks like Tabitha didn’t cut me any slack last month after all.”
Miss Emma’s home was toasty warm and smelled like flowery potpourri. The furniture was well used and comfortable, and anyone who entered felt right at home. Tabitha was curled up on the hearth in front of the fireplace, purring in her sleep until Chevy snuck up and nudged her awake.
“I knew I needed to put some food aside for you when half the volunteer fire department stopped by this morning,” Miss Emma said and sat down at the table. “Those boys can eat.”
“So, I did hear a fire engine siren,” I said as I sat down and took a drink of sweet tea. “I thought it was an early morning dream.”
“They put out a car fire down the road and followed the smell of biscuits over here,” she said and leaned forward, a conspirator look on her face. “A couple of the guys were asking about you.”
“That’s scary,” I chuckled and then got lost in the delicious flavors as they swirled in my mouth.
In between bites of soft biscuit and luscious gravy, I noticed Miss Emma had stopped eating and sat at the table with a wrinkled brow. “What’s wrong?” I asked.
“I’m worried about Chief Gus,” she said, her fingers tapping on the table.
Gus Glover was a local elderly gentleman who had entertained many over the years with his storytelling. He lived down the road from Miss Emma and was one of her regular breakfast guests. In his younger days, Gus served as the volunteer fire chief and a lot of folks still called him Chief.
Chief Gus maintained his physical fitness and good looks better than the average seventy-year-old and it didn’t go unnoticed by many of the blue haired ladies in town. Several of them vied for Gus’ attention.
“He’s been coming over every week to pick up his work gloves and eat a bite of breakfast,” she swept a wisp of white hair from her face and gave a sweet smile. “Tabitha keeps stealing his gloves and dragging them over here.
“Sounds like he has a crush on you, Miss Emma,” I teased and took another big bite of breakfast.
“He has a crush on most of the women in town,” she said, blushing. “I prefer a one-woman man.”
“Maybe he’s decided to settle on you,” I said with a wink.
“Well, he didn’t show up this week and hasn’t returned my phone call.” She rose to refill my glass. “Would you mind going over and checking on him for me?”
“Sure,” I said and secretly hoped Gus hadn’t found another lady friend to cook for him. I didn’t want to land smack dab in the middle of a senior citizen love triangle.
Chevy ran through the living room and slid across the wood floor to a stop at the front door as I grabbed his leash off the counter. He pranced and whined at the door, ready to go for a walk.
I brushed aside his golden fur and snapped the leash on his collar. “Want to go visit Chief Gus?”
My dog gave an excited bark and lurched through the door and down the front steps. Chevy knew not to pull on the leash, but it wasn’t until we reached the end of my drive that he remembered his manners and slowed down to match my pace.
It was a warm sunny morning, so I decided to walk down to Chief Gus’s house for a couple of reasons. I only knew the man casually and didn’t want to appear nosey, so I thought it might be better to do this assignment under the guise of a dog walk. Plus, I could always use the exercise.
Homes in this area each came with at least five acres of land and were set back off the road, so Chevy and I had plenty of room to walk on the grass beside the old country road. The birds chirped and fluttered in the trees as we meandered toward the old Chief’s house.
Suddenly, the sound of screaming guitars filled the air and both Chevy and I jumped in surprise. The roar of a car engine combined with the loud music and drowned out any hint of the singing birds.
I looked up following the sound and saw a smaller sized black car pull out of Chief Gus’s driveway. The souped-up car sped toward us, picking up speed fast. Its engine competed with the hard rock music blaring out of its open window.
A teenager with dark brown hair flopping in his eyes stared straight ahead as he flew by. It looked like he had a death grip on the steering wheel and he didn’t even notice us. I shook my head and blew a sigh of relief. It was a good thing Chevy was on leash while that kid was on the road.
As we walked into Gus’ driveway, I was shocked to see the front of his home vandalized. Two front windows were broken out and several old newspapers were crammed in cardboard boxes stacked against front door.
Cautiously, I stepped onto the front porch and picked up a business card lying on the stack of newspapers. The design was unfamiliar – an orange and black diamond symbol with flames shooting out from the bottom.
Nice artwork, but no name or phone number?
I tossed the card back in the junk pile and peered through the broken glass. My back tensed and my concern grew when I noticed a red metal gas can on the living room floor next to an old stuffed couch.
“Chief Gus!” I called out and stepped over a stack of cardboard to knock on the door.
No one answered, but an older brown hound dog trotted from around the corner of the home and climbed the front porch steps to meet me. Chevy pulled on his leash and sniffed his new friend while I sized the dog up. The hound was friendly enough and looked well fed, but was covered in mud.
The dirty dog tagged along behind Chevy and me as we walked across the wrap-around porch to the back of the house. A couple of sixty-four ounce glass jars sat in an open cooler on the shaded back porch - one filled with a clear liquid and the other with brown. Moonshine of any flavor was the liquor of choice in these parts, but a gallon of hooch seemed like quite a lot for one man to drink.
Maybe Gus is selling bootleg liquor to help fund his retirement, I thought.
I carefully made my way around the jars with Chevy in tow and knocked on the door. The door wasn’t latched and was slightly opened as I knocked. I slowly pushed the door open and bent over, craning my neck to see inside.
Another stack of newspapers sat on a counter next to an ironing board with an iron sitting face down on a shirt that hadn’t yet been ironed. I remembered reading somewhere during first responder training that arsonists sometimes try to disguise the cause of a fire by making it look like an iron was accidently left on. I quickly checked the cord and found that the iron was unplugged.
A bad feeling grew in the pit of my stomach and retreated to the back yard. A forty pound bag of dog food was lying in the lawn and another larger glass jar of the brown liquid sat on a picnic table.
Several morsels of dog food were scattered across the grass where I stood. I bent over and examined a long tear across the middle of the food bag. I couldn’t determine if it had been torn by Chief Gus or if the hound dog had gotten hungry enough to claw the bag open.
As I scanned the area for any sign of Gus, the old dog wandered under a tree to a large metal tub and lapped up some water. There was an eerie feeling in the air, with the only sounds coming from the breeze in the leaves and a bird chirping off in the distance.
Chief’s truck was still here, parked next to his garage which sat back quite a distance from the house. The garage door was wide open and there was nothing inside but the typical mechanics tools and lights that guys used to tinker and fix cars.
I pulled my cell phone out of my pocket and prepared to call the authorities. My thumb pressed the 9 to dial 911 when Chevy pulled on the leash, trying to follow his new friend.
The old brown hound moseyed across Gus’ large back yard toward a smaller-sized wood framed building that sat on the far edge of the property. The words ‘Man Cave’ were written in big red letters on a sign that hung over the entry. The dog stopped at the door and placed his nose right in the crack near the knob. He lifted a paw and scratched on the wood.
Relieved, I put the phone in my back pocket trotted over to knock on Gus’ workshop door.
Maybe he’s working in his shop, I thought.
I got about ten feet from the work shop’s door when a wall of odor smacked me in the face and stopped me in my tracks. I recognized a distinct smell that was all too familiar to me due to my volunteer work with search and rescue body recovery missions. My heart dropped.
It was the scent of human death.
My backpack dropped to the forest floor as the sun dipped behind the tips of the tallest trees. I made my escape to the woods earlier in the day to clear my mind after leaving Gus’ place. Chevy and I hiked a peaceful trail, taking in the fresh smell of nature and listening to the sounds of the forest. The tension in my back disappeared by the time we reached a tent site close to one of my favorite waterfalls.
Chevy frolicked in the creeks along the trail and his eyes sparkled bright with excitement. I wondered if my eyes looked like that when I hiked in the woods.
I pulled the gear out of my pack and set up my small tent on a flat area on top of the ridge, adjacent to the gentle falls. It was the perfect spot to enjoy a nice breeze throughout the evening. We were close enough to watch the water leave the stream and drop twenty feet into the shallow pool below but far enough away to keep Chevy from playing above the falls. I didn’t want to risk him getting swept over the edge.
I stood outside the tent unfurling my sleeping bag when Chevy bounded past me and dove inside. His fur was drenched from head to toe and he left a water trail in his path.
How did his whole body get that wet? I wondered.
Unfortunately, my dog decided it was a great place to shake the water out of his golden fur and whipped his body back and forth right in the middle of the tent. I grabbed an old towel but it was too late, water was splattered everywhere.
“Chevy!” I shooed him out of the tent and kept him outside with me. “Shake off out here, you crazy nut.”
He ran directly into a small pool of water and romped under Smooth Falls, jumping at the water and playfully trying to bite it as it fell to the ground. I chuckled at the retriever’s love of water and started down the slope to join him when a sudden movement stopped me in my tracks.
A man was bent over and worked amongst some downed trees at the edge of the waterfall’s natural pool. He noticed Chevy and abruptly stood up, his back toward me as the water from the falls flowed over his dark hair and down his tanned body. A large tattoo that looked like the letter ‘Z’ covered his bare back and his jeans were soaked.
The man quickly ducked behind the old tree trunks and looked down the Lower Falls Trail. I assumed it was the path that he took to get back to the area. Evidently, he didn’t realize that the friendly dog’s owner was sitting on a ridge behind him and this ridge was accessed by the Highland View Trail, above the falls.
Obviously, the man didn’t want to be seen by anybody – which meant I didn’t want to be seen by him. He ignored Chevy and seemed more concerned with staying out of sight. I wondered if he had a moonshine still nearby or was growing something illegal. Or maybe even hiding out.
My gut instinct told me that our overnight backpacking getaway had come to an abrupt end. I followed one basic rule when hanging out in the woods alone: stay away from weird situations. The way this guy acted definitely met the criteria.
I quickly took down the tent and packed up my gear. Chevy bounded back from his latest water adventure and we quickly disappeared down the Highland View Trail along the backside of the ridge.
Ben’s long white hair blew softly across his tan weathered face. “Who’s this?”
My boss stood in the grass in front of the sanctuary barn as he cradled his little mix dog, Princess, with one arm and reached down with the other to scratch the muddy old hound dog.
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