Read an Excerpt
"What a pretty Dalmatian!"
Stella Sullivan pointed to the black-and-white spotted puppy sitting in the cab of an old Ford truck parked in front of the Gateway Supermarket. Halloween was only two days away and the parking lot was jammed with cars and trucks. It looked like half of the people in the county were there to stock up on decorations and supplies.
"He's not much bigger than Rufus," Jack said with a smile as he and Stella came closer to the truck.
"Dad!" Stella laughed, rolling her eyes. Rufus was Stella's dog, but he was a lot smaller than the Dalmatian. He was white and fluffy, and Stella had adopted him after he was abandoned in a rest stop.
Stella sometimes thought it was strange that her family had only one pet. They all loved animals.
Jack loved dogs.
Stella's fourteen-year-old sister, Cora, was a horse freak.
Norma, Stella's mom, as a wildlife biologist at Goldenrock, the national park surrounding their small town of Gateway, Montana. She spent her time working with the parles bison, bighorn sheep, bats, birds, and butterflies.
Stella's Aunt Anya was the town's only veterinarian. She doctored all of Gateway's critters. Farm animals like cows, horses, and goats. And pets like dogs, cats, and fish.
Stella loved animals of all kinds. Furry ones, feathered oneseven freaky ones like ferrets and spiders. She spent as much time as possible in the woods with her mom and in the animal clinic with Anya.
Now she watched the Dalmatian as she and Jack passed in front of the truck. The dog was bouncing over the seat, following people through the windshield as they walked by.His jaw worked as he woof-woofed. His barks were muffled because the trucks windows were rolled up against the afternoon chill.
"Poor puppy," Stella said. "His owner shouldn't leave him all alone like that."
"Looks like he's only going to be gone a minute," Jack said as he held the store door open. "He left his motor running."
Inside the store it was very crowded. Everybody was rushing around, piling things into their carts.
"So, what kind of candy should we get for the trick-or-treaters?" Jack asked.
Stella considered carefully. "Tootsie Pops," she suggested.
"Maybe one bag," Jack said doubtfully.
Jack always bought more candy than they could pass out. The family ended up eating the leftovers until Christmas. So Stella always tried to make sure they got something she liked.
Jack got a cart and pushed it down a crowded aisle loaded with candy.
Stella followed along. Halloween ... it made her feel a bit sad. Deer-hunting season always opened on October 31. Plenty of people Stella knew hunted-her grandfather, Papa Pete, for one. Stella hated it.
Jack tossed four bags of candy in the cart, Tootsie Pops, Reeses cups, miniature Kit Kat bars, and "fun-sized" Snickers.
In the next aisle, Stella picked out one pump kin for each member of the family to carve into a jack-o'-lantern. Jack found some candles to put inside them.
The cart was half full when Jack and Stella finally headed toward the long checkout line. By the time they came out of the store with their bags, the wind had picked up and the light had faded out of the cloudy sky.
Stella shivered and hurried down the sidewalk. She hopped in the truck as Jack put the bags in the back. Then she waited, staring across the parking lot as Jack started the engine and began to back out.
"Dad-wait," Stella suddenly said. "That black truck is still in front of the store."
"I didn't see the Dalmatian." Stella peered out the window, trying to see better. "Did you?"
"No," Jack answered.
"Doesn't that seem strange?" Stella asked. "He was jumping all over before."
"Maybe he just wore himself out," Jack said.
"Can I check?"
"Sure." Jack pulled back into the parking space and took the car out of gear.
Stella hopped out of the truck, feeling a little silly. She was probably making a big deal out of nothing. Still, she'd feel better after she made sure the puppy was okay. She trotted over to the Ford and peeked inside.
There was the Dalmatian-lying down on the driver's side. His spotted legs stretched out on the bench seat. Stella couldn't see his head.
Maybe he's just asleep, Stella thought. But somehow that didn't add up. The puppy had been so active before. Then again, puppies were like that. Playful one minute. Snoozing the next.
Stella tapped on the window, expecting the puppy to leap to his feet.
He just lay there.
Stella felt a twinge of uneasiness. Even if the puppy was asleep, he should react to the sound.
Jack came up behind her. "What's going on?"
"Something's wrong," Stella said. "I don't understand why, but he's either unconscious or...dead."
Jack peered into the window. "Motor's still running," he said. "Could be carbon monoxide poisoning."
"Car exhaust contains carbon monoxide, a poison," Jack explained. "Usually it's drawn out the exhaust pipe. But sometimes if you leave an older car idling..."
Stella tried the passenger door. Locked. She ran around and tried the driver's side. Locked. She'd never seen Anya treat an animal for carbon monoxide poisoning. But the situation was clear. If the air inside the truck was poisoning the dog, they had to get him out.
"Dad-do something!" Stella cried.
Jack looked around. "Whoever owns this truck must be in the store. Maybe we can find him."
Stella and Jack ran back into the store and came to a dead stop just inside the doors. The store stretched out in front of them. Six aisles of fruit and vegetables, bread, canned food, paper goods, dairy, and deli. Each aisle was crammed full of shoppers.
"Should we just start asking people?" Jack asked.
Stella shook her head. "That will take too long." Jack hurried over to the nearest checkout. "Where can I find the manager?" he asked the cashier.