Foxglove Home Meet Dorothy

 

 

2004

 
 

Book 3 in the Foxglove Corner Mysteries

Soon after she rescues a wounded collie from an isolated country road, Jennet Greenway learns about the presence of dognappers in Foxglove Corners. On Christmas morning, Dr. Randolph, the town's beloved veterinarian, is murdered in his own home, and Jennet meets a sinister man, Grimes, who becomes her enemy when she prevents him from stealing the shelter dogs. As Jennet tries to unravel the secrets surrounding the murder and protect her collies from the thieves, a blizzard moves into the area. So does Grimes, determined to make Jennet pay for interfering with his business. Excerpt follows.

Chapter 1

As I walked up to the Caroline Meilland Animal Shelter in a swirl of blowing snow, I saw a Christmas tree in the bay window of the old white Victorian house next door. It was a massive balsam whose branches filled the entire window, and the multi-colored lights wound around them shone like individual jeweled beacons, still and brilliant.

With Christmas a week away, festive decorations livened up the little hamlet of Foxglove Corners, but here, a block beyond the Corners, the deserted park across the street and the animal shelter were in plain white dress.

The Christmas tree was the only bright touch in the stark, monochromatic scene. Shiny ornaments weighted down its branches, and icicles dripped and sparkled among the decorations. I was impressed. I had stopped decorating with tinsel several years ago when the city of Oakpoint decreed that it had to be removed from discarded trees.

I couldn't resist one more admiring glance at the lights in the window before setting my grocery bags down on the porch and ringing the doorbell. I was no more ready for the holiday than I ever am, but instead of going Christmas shopping, I had stopped at Blackbourne Grocers to buy an assortment of treats for the shelter dogs.

Letty Woodville opened the door. "Hello, Jennet," she said. "What's all this?"

As she bent down to pick up one of the grocery bags, a splattering of wet snowflakes landed on her gray-streaked hair. She peered inside, politely pretending to be surprised. I knew that she couldn't be. I had brought several such bags to the shelter on previous occasions.

Before I could answer, a small black puppy raced toward the entrance. With her left hand, Letty lifted it high into the air to prevent it from running out into the street. She stood in the entrance, awkwardly balancing grocery bag and squirming canine baby, managing to hold on to both competently. The pup was now chewing the sleeve of her long denim dress.

"Meet Charcoal," she said.

I reached out to pet his silky head. "I brought some rawhide chews and dog treats with real bone marrow for your foundlings."

"How sweet of you. I'll put them in their Christmas stockings." She looked up at the sky. "I wonder if it's going to keep on snowing."

"According to this morning's forecast, only flurries. The wind makes it seem like more."

I pushed back my hood and stamped the snow off my boots on the doormat before following Letty inside.

"I hope we'll have a white Christmas," she said, voicing a sentiment I'd heard several times already today. In fact, I'd said something similar myself.

"You look like you could use some help," I said. "Is it all right if I . . . "

Letty handed me the puppy before I could finish my request. With her free hand, she closed the door. Then she smoothed her chewed sleeve and ran her hand through the melting snow on her hair.

I held the little canine body close to my face. It was so soft and incredibly warm that I felt the winter chill stealing away. I breathed in the sweet puppy smell and whispered his name and friendly nonsense to him, while he licked my cheek earnestly. He was new since my last visit. When his squirming grew frantic, I set him down, and he scampered away.

"Lila will want to see you," Letty said.

I picked up the other grocery bag and followed her through the dining room into the kitchen where Lila, Letty's older sister, was rummaging through boxes stacked on the countertop, table, and floor.

It looked like an ordinary afternoon at the shelter, but something was troubling me. The place was unnaturally quiet. I listened for the usual raucous barking that would make conversation difficult. All I heard was the rustle of tissue paper.

I slipped out of my turquoise parka and laid it on a chair. There was scarcely room for the grocery bags, but the kitchen was a comfortable, welcoming place. With her silver hair wound in a bun and her plump form wrapped in a voluminous apron, Lila lent a nostalgic, grandmotherly touch to the clutter. I always felt at home here.

"Why is it so quiet?" I asked. "Where are all the dogs?"

"Including Charcoal, we only have four right now," Lila said. "Two are outside exercising in the yard. Come see the little stray Crane brought us yesterday."

Quietly, she approached a crate set in a far corner of the kitchen. She lifted the edge of the beach towel cover and spoke softly to the small brown dog who cowered inside the safe haven, ears laid smooth against its head, dark eyes wary.

"Hello, Brown Dog," Lila said.

The responding snarl might have come from a much larger, more ferocious animal, but Lila didn't flinch.

"This little one must have been abused. She trembles when we try to touch her and won't eat. She snaps at the other dogs, but I'll gain her confidence. You'll see. I know the secret."

Letty said, "Lila can work wonders with dogs. She always had the gift."

"Did you say that Crane found her?" I asked, as Lila replaced the makeshift cover.

It was a pleasure to hear his name and to speak it. I hadn't seen Foxglove Corners' favorite Deputy Sheriff Crane Ferguson for a week. While he kept the peace in and around Foxglove Corners, I taught English in Marston High School in Oakpoint, Michigan, sixty miles away.

Our meetings were all too infrequent and brief, but the future looked brighter. Tomorrow morning I would meet him for breakfast at the Mill House, and a few days later, Christmas vacation would begin for me. For Crane, there would still be long hours of patrolling the country roads; but for a while, I would be available when he had a free hour or two.

"Crane saw her shivering by the side of the road," Lila said. "She almost got away from him, but if he hadn't brought her to the shelter, she'd surely have died."

The Caroline Meilland Animal Shelter was the best place Crane's frightened stray could have landed. Founded as a memorial to my friend, the slain animal rights activist, Caroline Meilland, it was a homey no-kill shelter that had opened only last month. A portrait of the vivacious, chestnut-haired Caroline hung above the mantel in the shelter's living room. It always reminded me that something of Caroline still lived on in Foxglove Corners, helping the animals.

"Do you mean that until Crane brought this dog to you, you had only three strays?" I asked. "The last time I was here, I saw at least a dozen."

"That's right," Letty said. "We found good homes for them, but since then the stray population seems to be declining."

Lila added, "Before Brown Dog, we only had two. During the night, someone tied a shepherd mix to our porch with a note, asking us to find a good home for him. You'd think they would have included his name."

"It makes no sense," Letty said. "At this time last year on the farm, we had twenty dogs. Now we have the room and the money to keep many more. People must be taking better care of their pets these days."

"Maybe in an ideal world," I said. "Not the one we live in."

The low number of dogs in the shelter was difficult to understand. There were always lost or abandoned dogs roaming the countryside. They were either too weak to survive or soon grew too strong, becoming a threat to both humans and other animals.

I supposed some people assumed that their castaway dogs would find new homes if they left them on a country road to fend for themselves. Sometimes they did. More often the dogs died of starvation or were killed by predators.

"Well, Christmas is coming," I said. "Some unfortunate holiday puppies often wear out their welcome before the needles dry on the tree. I predict you'll soon have a full house."

Lila said, "Speaking of Christmas, I'm going to decorate our tree this afternoon, if I can only find the box of lights. Letty brought our decorations in from the farm yesterday. Come see the gorgeous Fraser fir we bought at the Christmas tree farm over on Silver Oak Road."

She led the way into the dining room where a tall, perfectly symmetrical Fraser fir stood in the bay window.

"That's the stage my own tree is at," I said. "I won't have time to decorate it until school is out."

At that moment, Charcoal dashed into the parlor, dragging a long, fuzzy red stocking. He shook it furiously while Lila regarded him with fondness.

"In the company of such unbridled energy, I feel almost young again. We're going to have an open house between Christmas and New Year's Eve, Jennet. I hope you can come."

"That's a wonderful idea. This is the only no-kill shelter for miles around, but it's in a fairly isolated location. People may not know you're here."

"They're going to have a story about the shelter in the Maple Falls Banner," Lila said. "Our pictures are going to be in the paper too."

"That should help. I'll be sure to watch for it." I went back into the kitchen for my parka. "Well, enjoy the lull. You may soon have more charges than you can handle."

Charcoal had fallen into an instant slumber with his treasured red stocking under his head. I hated to leave the shelter, but I had been away from my own dog long enough. She needed her dinner, fresh water, and her afternoon walk.

I buttoned my parka and pulled the hood up over my hair. "Your neighbors' Christmas tree is gorgeous," I said. "That bay window makes a perfect frame for it."

Looking puzzled, Lila glanced toward her own bay window that looked out on an empty lot. Letty asked, "What neighbors?"

"The people next door," I said, wondering at her question. There was no house on the left side of the shelter, and the Foxglove Corners Municipal Park occupied the entire block across the street. What other neighbors could there be?

"You must be mistaken," Letty said. "The house next door is empty. No one has lived there since we've been here."

She was emphatic, and now I was confused. I'd noticed that the two houses were similar. They probably had matching floor plans. The window in the shelter's dining room faced the bay window of the neighboring house.

Casually, I walked to the window with every intention of proving Letty wrong. New neighbors must have moved in while she wasn't looking or was away at the farm. And the first thing they did was set up a Christmas tree?

I looked. The bay window was there, with decorative gingerbread trim that also adorned the small front porch, but the only tree in my view was a young maple growing too near the house.

Through the window, I had a clear view of an empty room, partially shielded from the eyes of the infrequent passerby by three ecru panels.

I didn't say anything. What was there to say, after all? I must be obsessing about Christmas trees to imagine one fully decorated and with environmentally unfriendly tinsel at that. Teaching boisterous teenagers is stressful at any time, but especially in the days before a holiday - perhaps more so than I'd imagined.

"Let me know when you set the date for your open house," I said. "I'll be there, if I can."

Lila walked to the door with me, thanking me for my donations.

I said, "I see that it's stopped snowing. It's still cold, though."

I'd left my new silver Taurus across the street in front of the park. It was the only car in sight. This was truly an isolated place, but that could be a good thing, especially when the shelter was filled. There would be no close neighbors to complain about barking dogs.

"Come again," Lila said, "but please don't keep bringing things. It's thoughtful of you, but we have so much now. Our benefactor makes sure of that."

After Lila closed the door, I stood on the porch for a moment looking at the park with its trees spreading long, leafless branches over the old swings and slides - all of it deserted.

Then I turned to look at the window where I had seen the Christmas tree. It wasn't there. Nevertheless, I walked up to the house, past the porch and the maple tree, and peered inside. Behind the curtains I saw plain gray walls and a hardwood floor - nothing else.

Good Lord, was I losing my mind? A little stress couldn't create a decorated Christmas tree out of the thin air. Or could it?

I tried to summon a few happy thoughts. If I had to have a hallucination, make it a seasonably appropriate one, like a Christmas tree. Or better still, a blond deputy sheriff with silver streaks in his hair and frosty gray eyes that could blaze with sudden warmth. That was an apparition for any season.

Considerably cheered, I drove home to my green Victorian farmhouse where my own dog and my undecorated tree waited for me.

 

Reviews

Winter's Tale is an intriguing tale of adventure, love and murder. This is a wonderfully written story and a definite keeper in my library. I will recommend this author to all my friends. ~ Coffee Time Romance & More

WINTER'S TALE is a wonderful mystery, brilliantly told. Foxglove Corners is as alive and identifiable as Jan Karon’s Mitford and as warmly peopled. Ms. Bodoin’s characters are bright, charismatic, and compelling. The villains are frightfully real. I’m a dog owner myself and I agonized over every missing pooch. Halley and Winter are strong and compelling additions to the cast of characters—as important to the plot as any human character. This is a mystery full of wonder, enchantment, furry foibles, romance, dastardly villains, near-misses, and nail-biting tension. WINTER'S TALE has everything a mystery reader is looking for in a book! Animal lovers will find this story and its humane characters irresistible. ~ Review from Roundtable Reviews

Dorothy Bodoin's cozy mystery, WINTER'S TALE, is the typical good book with which to curl up on a snowy night in front of a blazing fire. This is a gentle story with a fresh and from time-to-time almost elegant voice. Characters are nicely drawn, with depth and dimension, the plot (if you love dogs) enough to give you nightmares, and the vivid description of icy and frosty winter weather is enough to make your teeth chatter. I had to get up and find an afghan! Mystery and dog lovers, especially, will find it hard to put down. WINTER'S TALE is a satisfying and delightful read. I look forward to more from this author. ~ Review by Marilyn Gardiner

 

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text © 2003 Dorothy Bodoin
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