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Bark M For Murder
By J. A. Jance Virginia Lanier Chassie West Lee Charles Kelley
Chapter OneI stepped from the van into a penetrating cold wind. It was an unseasonably chilly day in southeast Georgia. We usually had a few days like this in late January and early February, but not a week before Christmas with carols reverberating in our ears and a Santa in every mall. A northeaster was blowing between 18 to 25 m.p.h.
I had donned my bright Day-Glo orange rescue suit and was fully protected from the cold and wind. I attached the long leads to Caesar's harness, then Mark Anthony's, stepped aside, and watched them bail out of their cages with unrestrained enthusiasm. They are two highly trained man-trailing bloodhounds from my kennel. I tucked items into my zippered pockets and attached a quart water bottle. Jasmine Jones parked her van behind mine.
I watched her unload. We wore identical suits. My hair is a mousy brown. Her black tresses artfully hugged her scalp and complimented her long regal neck. She is African American with skin one shade lighter than milk chocolate. I'm pale, never tan, and look like the girl next door after a bad night.
I hired and trained her in man-trailing, search-and-rescue, and drug searches. She lives beside me in a garage apartment and we are close friends.
Jasmine unloaded Ashley and Miz Melanie and secured them to the van. She smiled and started toward me. I met her halfway.
"For right now we'll leave the backpackshere."
"Right. Aren't you taking your gun?" Her holster was fastened over her rescue suit.
"Never leave home without it." I patted my left breast. "Move yours inside your suit. The dispatcher mentioned shots were fired. We're out in front if we man-trail. I don't want the perps to know we're carrying, might keep us from being used as target practice."
"What do you know so far?" She was placing items in the pockets of her suit.
I glanced across the empty parking lot and saw Sheriff Philip Scroggins emerge from the double door of the Suwannee Swifty convenience store. He spotted us and waved.
"Have you ever met Sheriff Scroggins?" I asked.
"Last June, when the Shop'n Go was hit. You were busy with the seminar."
"Right, I'd forgotten. Brace yourself. Here he comes."
"Oh, dis ol' gal don't have to fret 'bout being bear-hugged," she drawled, parodying southern mush-mouth, "I be duh wrong color for dat!"
I examined her guileless countenance and saw a hint of a smile on her lips.
"It's getting to where I can't take you out in public," I complained. "Behave yourself."
We lifted the sagging yellow crime scene tape, and ducked under.
Sheriff Philip Scroggins was sixty-five, bald, and was almost as wide as he was tall. He was 5'4" and weighed over two hundred pounds. He had been my father's friend and was now mine. His booming voice was always a shock to the senses. "Jo Beth, darlin', how are you?" he bellowed, grabbing me around my waist and lifting me a foot off the ground.
"Not breathing," I said, grunting. "Put me down ... please?"
He complied, then grabbed Jasmine.
"Jasmine, my beauty! I'm so glad to see you!" He held her aloft and turned two complete circles before releasing her.
The shocked expression on her face made me start giggling, which I tried to cover with a fake fit of coughing.
He thundered an apology. "Me carrying on like this, while a good woman was murdered in there a little over an hour ago. I'm ashamed of myself."
He contemplated the building and turned back to face us.
"Who died?" I asked.
We were in Collins, the county seat of Gilsford County. It was only 20 miles to Balsa City, my hometown. I know a lot of people here.
"Mrs. Walter Pearson, only fifty-seven years old. A nice widow-woman with two grown sons." He looked pensive. "Who expects to die during a robbery on Main Street at nine in the morning?" He sighed. "Sergeant Lyons is driving the sons home now. He'll be back shortly."
I didn't know her. "Any witnesses?"
"I think we got lucky on this one, Jo Beth. One of the perps lost his cap inside the store, and I hope we have a credible witness."
My pulse quickened. We had a chance.
"The cap was bagged and not handled by anyone?" I inquired, trying to mask my anxiety.
Some deputies and bystanders will finger a scent item, searching for a name - or worse, pass it around like a collection plate. This contaminated the scent article with other people's scent.
"Rest easy, honey. Lyons was the first officer on the scene. He found the witness and bagged the cap before the ambulance attendants arrived. The scene isn't too contaminated either. The only ones who went inside were me, Lyons, and the ambulance attendants."
Deputy Sergeant Tom Lyons and I were smiling enemies. He hates my smart mouth and feminist ways, and I despise the way he talks about women and mistreats his prisoners.
"Where's the witness?" I was anxious to get started.
"He's sitting in my squad car. Come on over and I'll introduce you."
The three of us walked over to his car. Scroggins opened the door and nodded at me. I leaned down and saw a small black boy who was huddled in the far corner of the backseat. He was wrapped in a blanket and was clutching its folds under his chin. His eyes were showing too much white and his small hands were shaking. He stared at me.
"Hi," I said awkwardly, "I'll be right back."
I straightened, closed the door gently, and glared at Scroggins.
"Where's his mother? He should be taken home!"
"I agree," he said quietly, "but so far he hasn't remembered his last name and I'm certainly not going to let a pile of people line up and try to recognize him. How do I know that one of the perps isn't out there in the crowd standing around watching? Just a look at his face would traumatize the kid, and we'd never get anything.
Excerpted from Bark M For Murder by J. A. Jance Virginia Lanier Chassie West Lee Charles Kelley Excerpted by permission.
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