Release Date - April 1, 2010
Thanks to Mike and Lisa Wallis of Kenmoor Collies for the picture of Canadian Chamnpion Westpoint Cadet Blue
Book 9 in the Foxglove Corner Mysteries
The dog lay on its side in the deep shadows of the Windmill Woods near a patch of tall yellow wildflowers that grew close to the road. A drift of crimson maple leaves blanketed most of its body.
Dead? Cold bands twined themselves around my heart. Certainly dead. It had probably been struck by a car on this isolated country by-road and left to die alone while the killer sped on his way.
Tears burned behind my eyes. Yes, the dog must be dead, but I had to be certain.
Steering the Taurus onto a narrow verge, I left the engine idling and crossed the gravel to the other side of the road. The wind sent leaves flying through the air. They flapped around my face and settled on the motionless form under the trees, only to take flight again in the next gust.
Dead leaves. Dead dog. In the unseasonable warmth of the September day, I shivered. Death trembled in the air.
The dog was a collie. My mind registered pertinent details. Purebred. A blue merle, a color not often seen in Foxglove Corners or anywhere else for that matter. No collar. On the small side and too thin, but a beauty. Female. And on her right shoulder a black marking shaped like a star. Somebody’s pride and joy.
I couldn’t leave her here at the mercy of scavengers.
Bury her. I had a shovel in my trunk, kept there for snow emergencies, and a warm blanket to wrap her in.
That’s what I would do. That’s why Fate had brought me to Windmill Road this morning. Well, Fate in the form of one of the interminable road-work detours. I hadn’t minded driving miles out of my way. It was a lazy Saturday morning, my errands in town were done, and the early autumn-turning leaves made any route in Lapeer County a color tour.
I reminded myself that everything happens for a reason.
Kneeling on the ground, I swatted at a cloud of flies and brushed the leaves away from the fallen collie’s head. At that moment I saw the muzzle clamped around her mouth. It was light blue as if chosen to complement her color.
This wasn’t a case of a stray dog run over by a car, then. but something more sinister. Someone had brought her here and gone away. Outrage boiled inside me as I stroked her silvery head. The fur was velvet-soft and warm.
She wasn’t dead after all! Her dark eyes fluttered open. They were glazed and filled with terror. I looked more closely. She had no visible sign of a wound. There was no blood. She raised her head weakly but made no move to rise.
Because she couldn’t.
As I moved my hands lightly over her body, clearing away more of the leaf cover, I saw the duct tape holding her legs together. One wide strip on her hind legs, another on the front.
The monster! I thought, clenching my fists.
Duct tape. Inexpensive and usually innocuous, but in the wrong hands an instrument of torture. It had kept its victim a prisoner in this lonely place, rendering her voiceless and helpless until starvation or a predator ended her life.
Or until someone came along who cared. Like me, Jennet Greenway Ferguson, who always cared and would always stop.
The collie’s tail lifted once and lay still. She whimpered faintly.
There was still time to undo this cruel, unspeakable act—if I hurried and stayed calm.
With shaking hands, I worked the muzzle off and tossed it into the leaves, while the voice of my wiser self warned me that a hurt, frightened dog might well bite the hand that attempted to help her.
I ignored it. With this dog, this precious thrown-away life, I would take my chances.
“Easy, beautiful girl.” I spoke in my softest voice. “You’re going to be all right now.”
She closed her eyes.
The duct tape was another matter. I couldn’t remove it without hurting her even more. But Doctor Alice Foster at the Foxglove Corners Animal Hospital could sedate her, and maybe, with a little hydration and nourishment, the dog would be all right. I could have her there in twenty minutes.
Now, could I lift her?
Fate had led me to Windmill Woods, and fate, I trusted, would take me the rest of the way. Fate or faith because there was no one to help us.
I gathered the collie up in my arms, feeling the muscles in my back protest. Still, she wasn’t heavy, perhaps forty-five pounds. I didn’t think I could carry her very far. Fortunately I’d left the car just across the road.
The wind whipped tidal waves of crisped leaves around my legs as I crossed the gravel again. The woods filled with rustlings and strange low-to-the-ground swishings. I glanced over my shoulder, half expecting to see someone standing in the shadows, but the woods were still and, as far as I could tell, untenanted by human life.
The collie might have fallen from the sky, so solitary and lonely was this place.
Nonetheless, it seemed as if something watched me from the darkness of the Windmill Woods, some strange thing that didn’t approve of what I was doing.
* * * *
Certainly Deputy Sheriff Crane Ferguson, my husband of four and a half months, wouldn’t have approved. Even before our wedding in May he had frequently warned me about the danger of getting out of my car on one of the many isolated country roads in Foxglove Corners. If I am to be honest, he had all but ordered me to stay safe behind locked doors when driving through the county.
I had to admit that more than once I’d wandered into danger by stopping on a road like this for important reasons. Ironically, two of these occasions had also involved collies in distress.
But Crane loved dogs as much as I did. He was a kind man who had collected many strays as he patrolled the country lanes and by-roads, after which he transported them to the no-kill shelter. He would have wanted me to help the blue collie and obey his edict. Obviously I couldn’t do both.
In any event, I could never have driven by, averting my eyes to the all too familiar sight of an animal lying by the roadside. And so far nothing terrible had happened to me.
So once more into the breach. One more rescue.
As soon as I settled the collie in the back seat of the Taurus under my emergency blanket, I did what I could for her. Encouraging pats on the head, soothing words, a few drops of spring water and kernels of kibble from the bag I’d bought at the pet store for my own collies, Halley and Candy.
That was all. Then I steered into the road, made a U turn, and headed back over the same colorful territory I’d just traversed.
My thoughts slipped back in time. One snowy December evening I had come across another blue merle collie lying alongside another wooded road. Although he had suffered a head wound, Winter had been able to walk—right into my car, into the Caroline Meilland Animal Shelter, and into my heart.
History repeats itself—with a difference. My new foundling lay still and silent in the back seat. When I came to a crossroad, I glanced back at her. She had fallen asleep. I hoped she was only sleeping and that I wouldn’t be delivering a dead dog to Alice.
“I wish I knew who hurt you,” I said. “Because I’d like to see him trussed up and gagged and thrown into the woods.”
I wanted a happy ending for this sad little story, one that would include justice for the collie as well as her complete restoration to health and a reunion with her owner. But finding the person who had committed this atrocity might be impossible.
Impossible maybe, but a goal worth pursuing.
And what if the monster was her owner?
All the way to the animal hospital, on roads lined with windswept woods and shady ponds, I tried to form a plan to punish the unknown dog abuser.
Unfortunately I didn’t know where to begin.
* * * *
At the Foxglove Corners Animal Hospital, Doctor Alice Foster pushed a strand of her long honey-blonde hair back and stared in dismay at the limp dog in my arms. Gasps and shocked exclamations from the pet owners waiting for their appointments swirled around me. Two of the dogs started barking, a high-pitched, nerve-wracking duet.
“Oh, Jennet,” Alice said. “Oh, my . . .”
The blue collie hadn’t opened her eyes again, and she seemed much heavier now, an oversized plush toy stuffed with lead. My arms ached, and I felt unsteady on my feet. Not at all the mighty dog rescuer I’d imagined myself to be. I didn’t think I could take another step.
Alice touched the collie’s taped front legs with a gentle hand. “Monstrous,” she murmured.
“She had on a muzzle too,” I said. “So nobody could hear her bark.”
But who would have heard her in the woods?
“Bring her back to Room Three,” Alice said.
I didn’t even try to keep the tremor out of my voice. “I think she’s dying.”
Alice was dedicated and compassionate, a woman who genuinely loved the animals she doctored and spoke to them as if they were children. She had a reputation for never flinching from a heartbreaking sight, although this one seemed to have shaken her.
In the examining room, I laid the collie down on the high table. She looked like a fragile blue wraith. I hoped that she’d open her eyes again or wag her tail, but she was unresponsive. I truly didn’t think she was going to make it.
“Do you have any idea who did this?” Alice asked.
“None. She was lying at the edge of the woods on Windmill Road. There was no one else around.”
Or could I be mistaken about that? I remembered my strong feeling of being watched as I carried the collie to my car. But I hadn’t seen anyone in the woods, and, in even in ordinary circumstances, my imagination was all too ready to take flight like the blowing leaves. Besides, who would dump a muzzled, tape-bound dog at the side of the road and stay in the vicinity to be discovered? That was an abomination best done in secrecy.
“I don’t know how long she was there, without food or water” I said. “It rained last night, and it’s so hot today. She must have been terrified. It’s a wonder she wasn’t killed by a coyote or bitten by a snake—or something.”
“Whoever is responsible for this should be prosecuted,” Alice said. “Not that a hefty fine or jail time will make up for destroying a dog’s life.”
Destroying a life? I didn’t like the sound of that.
“Is she going to live, do you think?” I asked.
“I’ll do what I can.”
“Do whatever it takes to save her,” I said. “And if you can’t . . .” I trailed off. “I’ll pay the bill, whatever happens.”
Alice nodded. “And I’ll check to see if she’s been micro chipped.”
I hadn’t thought of that.
“There’s fresh coffee and doughnuts in the waiting room,” she added. “If you can wait.”
“I’ll stay,” I said, looking at my watch. It was eleven o’clock. I had to be home eventually for Halley and Candy, but my neighbor, Camille Forester, would let them out and feed them if I was delayed. And Crane wouldn’t be home until this evening. I anticipated that I would be arriving home late. I couldn’t leave my rescue collie now, even though I knew she was in good hands.
Maureen, one of Alice’s young assistants, slipped quietly into the room, and Alice closed the door.
In the waiting area, I poured a mug of coffee, eyed the box of doughnuts without interest, and sank wearily into a chair as my assorted aches and the trauma of the rescue caught up with me. I felt out of place without leashes in my hand, without Halley lying placidly at my feet and Candy searching for a playmate or some interesting new mischief to make.
Alice and her staff had made the waiting room comfortable, almost cozy, with rustic furniture and a country basket bearing a sentimental legend: ‘For a good little lamb’. It was filled with bone-shaped dog treats. For the people, she brewed coffee every day and on Saturday brought a box of doughnuts.
She also decorated with plants to reflect the changing seasons. Today yellow chrysanthemum plants brightened the wide window ledge. I’d read somewhere that chrysanthemums symbolized death. Was Alice aware of that? Probably not. Did it matter?
Not at all. The collie’s life or death wouldn’t be ruled by symbols.
I sipped my coffee and looked around. At the two ginger-colored puppies in their crates hoping to be adopted and desperately trying to attract attention with their antics. At a restless German shepherd across the room from me who seemed to be minutes away from growling. At a pair of Irish setters with coats the color of a burning bush. At a dark gray dog who looked more like a wolf than a domesticated canine. All dogs today, no cats.
It was always the dogs I noticed, and it was their names I remembered. The castaway collie might have a poetic kennel name as she was clearly a dog of impeccable breeding. I would have called her Star or Sky.
I sighed. Another season looming. Another mystery on the horizon. I wasn’t ready for either one.
“You’re a magnet for mysteries, Jennet,” Crane often said. “To say nothing of dogs.”
He was right. Two years ago, I had moved to the picturesque hamlet of Foxglove Corners, Michigan, looking for tranquility, which I’d found—to a degree. But I’d also found mystery and danger. I had learned that they can invade the quietest, most unassuming town like dual plagues striking when you least expect them.
Our most recent upheaval was the tornado that had swept through the county in June, leveling houses and felling mighty trees. It had killed one person, and scars still marred the countryside. When the twister passed, Crane emerged from deadly rubble with a broken arm, and our summer, previously so bright and happy, veered in a different direction.
Rest and good care (mine for him) had returned Crane to health, and our lives were busy again. Crane patrolled Foxglove Corners, while I patrolled my classroom at Marston High School in Oakpoint. I had stopped scanning the sky for funnel clouds at the first rumble of thunder, and Crane felt whole and new again. We were still in the honeymoon stage of our marriage.
Apparently we’d had all the respite Fate was going to allow us. Enter a new mystery. I had no doubt that the Foundling Tragedy would have more than one act.
“What happened to that collie?”
The speaker, a young woman in beige slacks and a white top with a chunky turquoise necklace, was struggling to control her German shepherd. While she waited for an answer, the room grew silent.
“I found her in the woods,” I said.
“Oh. Was she abandoned?”
“I’m sure there’s more to the story, but I don’t know the details.”
And I didn’t want to say anymore because my voice sounded shaky, barely recognizable as my own. I took another sip of coffee, then another, hoping that I wouldn’t have to carry on a conversation.
“Well that’s too bad,” she said. “Such a pretty dog.” The woman glowered at her shepherd. “Hansel! Sit! Stay!”
He did—for a second; and a little tow-headed boy giggled. “Where’s Gretel?” he asked.
The shepherd’s mistress settled back in her chair but held tightly to Hansel’s leash. “So many poor dogs lose their homes these days. Some people can hardly feed themselves, let alone a pet. Then there are all those soldiers. When Uncle Sam sends you to some godforsaken part of the world, you have to leave your dog behind. It’s all so wrong.”
That was a true and lamented fact of modern life. “Yes, but this is different,” I said.
Maureen appeared under the arch that led to the hall and the waiting rooms beyond. “You can bring Hansel in now,” she said with a too-bright smile.
The young woman stood. Hansel sat, slamming on figurative breaks. With a blush, Hansel’s owner tugged up on the leash, and he rose up and padded in the direction of the exit. Someone laughed.
“Wrong way, Hansel,” Maureen said, and she reached for the leash. Then the trio disappeared down the hall.
Where was Alice? If Maureen was free to move to another patient, did that mean that my foundling collie was stable? Or dead?
I lifted my cup, found it empty, and glanced again at my watch. Incredibly an hour had passed. Alice had to know something by now.
A teen-aged girl with a smooth brown tan and a long dark ponytail moved into the chair beside me. “I couldn’t hear. What did you say happened to the collie?”
Déjà vu is a real phenomenon. I saw that I wouldn’t be able to escape it, any more than I could escape my destiny as a guardian of the canine race.
“She met up with a monster,” I said.
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Jennet Greenway Ferguson's life and happiness are entwined with the lives of her husband, Deputy Sheriff Crane Ferguson, and their collies. But Jennet can never resist helping any dog in distress--even if it puts her own life in danger. When she finds a beautiful blue merle collie muzzled, bound with duct tape and left to die along a deserted road, she vows to save the dog and bring the abuser to justice, whatever the risk to herself.
Soon Jennet finds herself taking many risks as a missing teen-aged girl, another abduction and an out-of-season ice cream truck insinuate themselves into her hunt for the monster who abused the collie. Add to that Crane's worry over Jennet and the general spookiness of the days surrounding Halloween, and you have a book to keep you on the edge of your seat from the first page to the last.
THE DOG FROM THE SKY is the ninth book in Ms. Bodoin's Foxglove Corners mystery series. It can easily be read as a stand-alone, but don't deny yourself the pleasure of reading the whole series, especially if you love dogs and great writing. Highly recommended!
--Donna (D.H.) Parker