It’s the 4th July and the town celebrations have gone off without a hitch. Except for the body in the oak grove, shot in the back. The unfortunate victim was a visitor to the town. Mary McGill and her cocker spaniel Millie had seen him only that morning, staring in the window of Lowell’s Jewellery store, his German Shepherd, Ranger, at his side. Could the diamond and sapphire necklace which caught his attention have some connection with his untimely death? What brought him to Santa Louisa in the first place?
Having agreed to look after Ranger temporarily, Mary is unwillingly drawn into the murder investigation. She never dreamed that her enquiries would lead her into serious danger … and more murder.
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Blood Red, White and Blue
A Mary McGill Dog Mystery
By Kathleen Delaney
Severn House Publishers LimitedCopyright © 2017 Kathleen Delaney
All rights reserved.
Mary McGill, her cocker spaniel Millie tight by her side, stood in the middle of the bandstand in Santa Louisa's city park and watched the last of the costumed dogs depart. It had been an exhausting and exasperating morning.
Judging the best canine costume for the Fourth of July dog parade had turned out to be a diplomatic nightmare. Even though there were different categories, there weren't enough to satisfy all the people who had turned their dogs, big and little, into Statues of Liberty, George Washington, Martha Washington or rebel soldiers. They'd pulled carts, been decked with blinking lights, had tri-cornered hats attached, and one poor dog represented the fife and drum corp. At least, Mary thought the thing attached to his mouth was a fife. It was certainly a drum that hung from his neck, banging his legs with each step. She'd thought for a moment that John Lagomasino, one of the other judges and part-owner of the Furry Friends Pet Shop, was going to jump over the judging table and remove it, but his partner, Glen Manning, stopped him just in time. John had to content himself with mumbling uncomplimentary things about the owner under his breath while crossing the dog off his list of possible prizewinners.
But it was over and the next events didn't start until four. Those were scheduled for the large regional park just outside of town. Fireworks would start at nine. In the meantime, she and Millie, her uncostumed black cocker spaniel, could go home. Lunch sounded good. So did a glass of iced tea. It was hot, even for July. She picked up Millie's water bowl, emptied it over the side of the pavilion and tucked it into her tote. 'Let's go,' she told the dog.
Millie seemed more than willing.
They cut across the park and crossed the street toward the shops that faced it. There were a number of people out walking in spite of the heat, several with their dogs, and Millie had spotted one she wanted to greet. Stub of a tail wagging, she headed for a German shepherd who sat beside a tall, gray-haired man staring intently in the window of Lowell's Jewelry. Mary would have walked on by but Millie had other ideas. She pulled Mary up to the window and touched noses with the shepherd.
Mary sighed. 'Good morning, Ranger,' she greeted the dog then smiled at the man. 'Nice to see you again, Mr Miller. I thought you and Ranger were on your way to Pismo beach.'
He smiled politely at her then looked impassively at the dogs, who were still nose to nose. 'We were, but I heard it's foggy and cold over there. Thought we'd stay and enjoy your lovely town for another couple of days.'
'I hope you like heat then. We're supposed to be over one hundred today.' She glanced in the shop window, curious as to what had caught Mr Miller's eye. A new necklace piece held the place of honor. 'How lovely. Jerry Lowell must have made that. He does make the most beautiful pieces. I've never understood how someone can take something as clunky as a gold ingot and turn it into something as delicate as that pendant.'
'It takes a lot of skill.' Mr Miller turned once again to stare at the beautiful filigree piece. 'That sapphire is an old one and the diamonds are rose-cut.' He glanced at Mary. 'That means they're old as well. Georgian. You don't see them very often. But the necklace they're set in is new. Very innovative and very well done.'
'Yes.' Mary glanced once more at the piece, wondering how he could tell the sapphire was old and what rose-cut meant, then looked down the street toward home, iced tea and air-conditioning. However, rushing off might seem rude. 'Are you coming to the fireworks? I think we're going to have a spectacular display this evening. The Grady Brothers are local but have a great reputation for their pyrotechnics. We're lucky to get them. I know they had offers of jobs from as far away as Washington State. This year they decided to stay home.'
Mr Miller frowned. 'I'd really like to but I'm not sure I want to leave Ranger alone in a motel room. He's not too fond of loud noises.'
'Why not take him to the Benningtons' vet clinic? Pat and Karl Bennington are offering free board this evening to people who are worried about their dogs and the fireworks. So many run away if not someplace safe. Millie's going.' She glanced at her dog, who stood beside Ranger, evidently exchanging pleasantries. 'I have to be at High Bluff Park about four. I'm chairwoman of the committee responsible for putting on today's events and it's going to be too hot and crowded and noisy for her. She won't like being kenneled much but she'll be safe and so will my sofa pillows. Call them. See if they still have room. Tell them Ranger's a friend of Millie's.' She grinned. 'That should get you a spot.' She set her tote bag on the sidewalk, pulled a notepad out of her purse and jotted down the phone number. 'Ask for Pat.'
Mr Miller took the paper, pulled a wallet out of the inside pocket of his perfectly pressed chambray jacket and slipped it in. 'I'll do that. I've heard about the Grady brothers and I'd like to see the fireworks. Thanks.'
Mary took another look at the necklace, collected her tote and gathered up Millie's leash. 'I hope to see you there. Oh. Bring a chair or a blanket or something. It's going to be packed. And there will be food booths as well as wine and beer. Also lemonade and water. Every organization in town has a booth so you won't starve or go thirsty.'
With a brief wave, she and Millie started back down the sidewalk toward home and iced tea.CHAPTER 2
The last chords of the '1812 Overture' rang out, cannons roared, the sky was bright with a fiery America flag and the crowd cheered. Another Fourth of July celebration had come to an end. Chairs were folded, babies put back in strollers, ice chests closed and people headed for their cars by the hundreds.
Mary gave a sigh of relief. It had gone off without a hitch. At least, not one she knew of. The Lions had won the annual softball game, the Sweet Adelines had kept the crowd entertained for some time and even old Mr Bentwood had participated in the square dancing. All in all, a successful day.
She walked, not without difficulty, through the departing crowd toward the podium and the two men packing up their sound equipment. They had more computers, speakers and music players than fireworks, she'd decided, but the show had been wonderful.
'Heath, I can't thank you and Gabe enough. That was the best fireworks show we've ever had.'
The tall, usually dour-looking man pushed back his sweat-stained cowboy hat and smiled a rare smile. 'It came off pretty good, if I do say so.'
'It was better than pretty good. Thank you so much.'
Another tall man, younger, with an infectious grin, joined them. 'One of the best we've done. I've been working on getting those cannons to line up with the big bursts and tonight it came off perfect. Glad you liked it.'
'It was spectacular.' Mary paused and looked at the mess of equipment then back at the men. 'I've got your check made out but it's locked in my car. I can go get it or I can bring it out to your place tomorrow.'
Heath Grady took off his hat, ran an arm over a sweaty brow and replaced it. His brother handed him a water bottle and he took a long drink. 'We'll be a while yet packing all this up, then the fireworks. If it's no trouble, tomorrow would be great.'
Gabe popped the top off a water bottle for himself and nodded. 'Can't get to the bank tonight anyway. Sure you don't mind? Or I can come into town – well, not tomorrow, maybe the next day ...'
'I'll bring it out tomorrow midday sometime. Do you need any help? There are still people here, the cleanup crew, some others ...' She was stopped by the vigorous shaking of two heads.
'We've done this more than a hundred times,' Heath said. 'We know what we're doing and where stuff goes. People would mean well but they'd just mess us up.'
Mary took that to mean her too. They were as anxious to get finished and home as she was.
She smiled. 'See you tomorrow.' The crowd had largely disappeared. Only a few stragglers were left, along with some of her volunteers who were folding up the last of the chairs and stacking tables that belonged to the parks and rec committee and loading them on a wheeled rack that would be stored in a room behind the stage. A paneled van liberally decorated with images of exploding fireworks had pulled up onto the grass ready to take all the Gradys' equipment. She watched for a moment then glanced at her watch. She'd better hurry. Pat and Karl had said dogs could be picked up any time before eleven. Any dogs remaining after that could be claimed in the morning. Millie wouldn't be happy to spend the night in a crate. But she'd better take a quick detour through the grove of oak trees on the far side of the pavilion. It was a favorite place for teenagers to set up their chairs and coolers, out of sight of their parents and other adults. She'd better make sure everyone had gone.
It was dark in the grove. The trees filtered the light that came from the park and muted the voices of the few remaining people. The quiet was almost absolute. No birds chirped, no squirrels ran up tree trunks and there was no soft laughter of teenagers. She sighed with relief. No one was here.
She turned to go back to the still-lit park and the air-conditioned comfort of her car when she caught sight of something lying on the grass behind the biggest of the oaks. A pile of blankets? No. A person. Someone asleep? Or passed out. Drat and blast. Just what she didn't need. How was she going to handle a drunk? Or worse – a kid passed out on drugs. Should she go for help? No. She'd find out who it was and what had happened first, then get help if she needed it.
She walked toward the person slowly, not without trepidation, but the figure didn't move. Did that mean ... She walked closer. A man lay on the ground wearing a chambray suit jacket – one she'd seen recently, now stained a bright red. Blood. Blood that came from a hole in the back of the jacket. Blood that seeped from the back of the man lying there. Mr Ian Miller. Shot dead. At her otherwise perfect Fourth of July celebration.CHAPTER 3
Mary sat in her big reading chair, Millie beside her. Pat and Karl Bennington were on the sofa opposite. Her niece, Ellen McKenzie Dunham, fidgeted a little in the wingback chair that sat beside the fireplace, her three-legged hound, Morgan, asleep at her feet. None of them said anything as they watched Ranger sit politely at Karl's side, never taking his eyes off Mary's front door.
Finally Karl sighed. 'I hate this kind of thing. How am I supposed to explain to this dog that his master isn't coming through that door? Not now, not ever?'
Pat laid her hand on his. 'You can't. Don't they forget after a while?'
'Some do. Some never do. I have no idea how long this dog will grieve. Depends a lot on what kind of family he has, if he has one. If it was just him and Miller then it may take a while. German shepherds are pretty smart dogs and very loyal.' He looked over at Mary. 'Do we know anything about this man, other than his name?'
Mary let her hand drop on Millie's head and ran her fingers through the silky hair on her ears. 'I don't. Millie and I met him and Ranger at the dog park only once. He said he was here on vacation, that he lived in Sacramento and he and Ranger were going over to Pismo beach for a few days before they headed home. That's about all. I saw him again today outside Lowell's.'
'Dan will know.' Ellen had been watching the dog with a worried frown. 'I feel so sorry for him. Not Dan, the dog. Although Dan won't be happy. If you're right,' she looked over at her aunt, 'and he was shot in the back, that makes it murder. Not suicide, not an accident. Murder, pure and simple.' She shuddered. 'I wonder who he was and why someone would want to shoot him. And in the back? That's so ...' She looked at Morgan, who slept on. 'I take Morgan to the dog park a lot but I never met him or his dog.'
'When will Dan be here?' Pat asked. 'It's getting late and we have to do something with him tonight.'
'It's later than late and I have no idea. He said for all of us to wait for him here, that he'd try to get over as soon as he could.' Ellen looked at Mary's old schoolhouse clock and sighed. 'It's already one. If he doesn't show up pretty soon ...'
The front door opened but it wasn't Dan Dunham, chief of Santa Louisa police, who entered. It was her great-niece, Susannah McKenzie, her long dark curls held back from her face with a bright scarf and her dark blue eyes laughing, followed closely by Neil Bennington, a tall, blond young man with a cowboy hat set on the back of his head, his well-washed jeans and battered cowboy boots proclaiming they were his usual costume.
'What are you all doing here so late? We saw the lights and thought we'd better check. It's been a long day and I thought ... Hello, Ranger.'
The dog was on his feet, his tail wagging as he walked toward Susannah. She squatted down, allowing him to place a kiss on her cheek while she ran her fingers over his ears and his shoulders. 'Why are you here? Where is Mr Miller? Why ... Oh, no. Does this have something to do with whatever is going on at the park?'
Mary sighed. Susannah and Neil had shown up at the park tonight in time to meet Karl and Pat Bennington, Ellen and Dan Dunham and Mary for ribs and salad purchased at the Kiwanis stand. After that they'd gone their separate ways, but here they all were again. All except Dan.
'I'm afraid it does.' That was as far as Mary could go.
Susannah got to her feet and faced Ellen. 'Mom, what's happened?'
'Someone shot Mr Miller during the fireworks display.'
'So that's why the dog's here,' Neil said softly. 'Leave it to you two to think of the dog in a crisis.' He smiled at his parents, then took Susannah by the arm and pushed her down beside her mother. He perched on the arm of the sofa next to her and swung his hat off his head.
Ranger immediately started a low rumbling in his throat. The hair on the back of his neck stood up and his body got rigid.
'It's OK, boy. I'll get rid of it.' Neil dropped his hat on the floor beside the sofa and held his hand out to Ranger, his fingers down for him to smell.
The dog examined the hand then looked at Neil and listened to the soothing voice. The rumble died away, the hair on his neck lay back down and they all relaxed.
'That dog doesn't like cowboy hats,' Karl observed. 'Lots of dogs don't like hats. They don't seem to recognize even a close friend when they put on a hat. Interesting.'
Susannah looked at him, down at the dog, then back at her mother. 'Never mind hats. What happened?'
But Ellen watched Ranger work his way under the coffee table until he faced Susannah then put his head on her foot. He sighed. So did Mary, with relief. The dog was obviously not going to attack Susannah.
'He seems to know you. So you must have met Mr Miller. How well did you know him?'
'We met him at the dog park.' It was Neil who answered. 'We've taken Morgan with us a lot since we've been home from school this summer. He's even gone on some horse-farm calls with us when we've done a ride along with Doctor Pickering. He seemed to like the horses. But what he really likes is the dog park. He and Ranger became racing buddies. Ranger fell hard for Millie.' Neil grinned. 'Guess he fell even harder for Susannah.' The grin was gone. 'How did Mr Miller get shot? Was it an accident? Is he all right?'
This time Ellen's sigh was more of a groan. 'He was murdered.'
'Mr Miller?' Susannah straightened up from petting Ranger to stare at her mother. 'That nice man? Why would anyone —' She broke off and looked at Neil as if he might have an answer.
He didn't and turned to his father. 'What happened?'
Karl shook his head. 'No idea. I'd never met the man until this afternoon when he came to drop off Ranger. He said the dog didn't do loud noises well and he wanted him to be somewhere safe. He'd pick him up right after the fireworks. I guess from what Mary's said he was shot in the oak grove sometime during the display. Probably during the finale. The "1812 Overture" is pretty loud. All those cannons going off.'
'We've been waiting for Dan to give us more information,' Pat told her son. 'We need to know what to do with the dog.'
'That's easy,' Susannah said firmly. 'He's coming home with us. He doesn't understand what's happened and needs comforting. Putting him in a kennel all alone would be cruel. That's OK, isn't it, Mom?'
Mary might have laughed at the stricken look on Ellen's face if the situation hadn't been so sad. But Susannah was right. The dog needed comforting. Her hand strayed once more to Millie's head. Millie had needed a lot of comforting when her previous owner had been murdered and Mary had provided it. Ranger deserved the same.
'I don't know.' Ellen looked and sounded torn. 'Jake's just getting used to Morgan. He was an only cat for years ... and what will Dan say?'
'Dan will be fine with it. He's a good guy, even if he is a cop and my stepfather.'
Excerpted from Blood Red, White and Blue by Kathleen Delaney. Copyright © 2017 Kathleen Delaney. Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Limited.
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