Cameron Cripps-Hayman is taken aback when she stumbles upon another murdered neighbor, this time behind her sister's shop, Dog Diggity. The timing couldn't be worse, as there's only a week left before the store's grand opening during Canal Days, the biggest festival of the year.
When the police arrest her handyman, Cameron knows they have the wrong suspect, so she and the rest of the Metamora Action Agency set their sights on cracking the case. They've got one solved murder under their beltshow hard could a second be?
With a flood warning and a murderer on the loose threatening Canal Days, Cameron and her crew need to work their tails off to have any chance of saving the town's annual dog and pony show.
Praise for the Dog Days Mysteries:
"[A] laugh-out-loud funny cozy . . . Dorothy Cannell and Donna Andrews fans rejoice!"Library Journal
"The plot is very, very good in this one. The dogs are fun, the mystery is difficult to solve, and all the characters make this a great afternoon read."Suspense Magazine
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About the Author
Jamie Blair is the award-winning author of young adult and romance books, including Leap of Faith (Simon & Schuster, 2013) and Lost to Me . Visit her online at www.JamieBlairAuthor.com.
Read an Excerpt
Canal Days Calamity
A Dog Days Mystery
By Jamie M. Blair
Llewellyn Worldwide Ltd.Copyright © 2017 Jamie M. Blair
All rights reserved.
Ganal Days would be the death of me if polka dots didn't kill me first.
"Mrs. Nelson!" My sister, Monica, shouted, chasing the eldest of Metamora's matriarchs around the outside of Dog Diggity. Letting the spry ninety-three year old woman — although, she claimed to be twenty-three since she was born in a leap year — loose with a paint brush was a recipe for disaster. Elaina Nelson was obsessed with polka dots and determined to place her trademark dots all over the exterior of the brick building. Since she owned the property, Monica had agreed to partner with the eccentric old woman in opening her dog treat business.
Elaina's shop, Nelson's Knitting Needles, had been less of an actual store than a place where Elaina stored and stocked knitting supplies which she gave away to her friends. When Monica approached her about leasing the shop for Dog Diggity, Elaina had been more than eager to let her move in — for free — with the stipulation that she got to be a part of the business.
We watched Elaina disappear around the corner behind the building and Monica picked up the pace, going from jog to full out run to catch up with the old lady. I only ran if being chased by dogs.
"Mrs. Nelson!" Monica called again, rounding the corner after her.
As soon as my sister was out of sight, she let out an ear-splitting scream. My heart jolted in my chest. Adrenaline kicked in, and before I knew it, my feet had taken me behind the building.
"Don't touch him!" Monica yelled.
"Oh, good gravy" I said, taking in Elaina standing over a man lying prone on a bench beside the back door, her paint brush raised above him, a bright red splotch on the back of his shirt.
"Good Luck Chuck ran out of luck!" she said, laughing like a loon. The old woman made sense about twenty percent of the time. The other eighty percent of what she uttered was up to interpretation.
"Come on, Mrs. Nelson" I said, hooking my arm with hers. "Let's not paint the outside of the building or the bums sleeping behind it"
I ushered her away. Monica stood frozen in place with her hands over her mouth, eyes wide, staring at the man on the bench.
"Mon? You coming?" I asked.
"He's not breathing," she whispered. "I don't think that's paint, Cam"
"What?" I spun around and took another look. Come to think of it, I'd never seen a bum in the four years I'd lived in Metamora. "Who is he? You don't think ..."
Monica nodded. "See if he has a pulse."
"Me? Why me?" I was more than reluctant to approach the man. Four months ago I'd discovered the body of one of our neighbors submerged in the canal. I wasn't eager to find another.
"He's gone," Mrs. Nelson said. "God rest his soul." She made the sign of the cross, like a priest in white patent leather sneakers with hair died the color of cherry licorice.
Monica let out a whimper and I gave in, dropping Elaina's arm. My extremities went cold and numb as I slowly approached the man on the bench. How was this happening again? He couldn't be dead. The odds were against it. If he was, I was officially the unluckiest person on the planet. Well, the dead man would be more unlucky than me, I supposed.
I reached out, averting my eyes from the red blotch on his back. My hand shook. My fingertips touched the side of his neck. His skin was cool despite the unnaturally warm temperature for the end of October. There was no pulse to be found. I took a deep breath and shifted my gaze to the spot on his back. There was an entrance wound from what I assumed was a bullet. The red substance surrounding it was definitely not paint. It was blood.
"He's gone," I said. "He's been shot."
Monica gasped and whimpered again. Mrs. Nelson clucked her tongue and said, "Poor Chuck."
"Monica, get Mrs. Nelson out of here. I'm calling 9-1-1" She shook her head, bringing herself out of her stupor, and took Elaina by the arm. "Let's go up front, Mrs. Nelson."
I dug into my handbag. After always having to sift through a ton of junk to find what I was looking for, Id downsized. Unfortunately, in my effort to become more organized, Id picked a bag with what seemed like a thousand pockets. Zippers and snaps hid away all that was left inside to contend with.
The first pocket contained a rectangular mirror, not my cell phone. The second I searched turned out to hold a pad of Post-It notes. How many rectangular objects did I have stuffed inside this thing, anyway? I unzipped a third pocket to find a box of gummy bears. "You have got to be kidding me." Just short of tearing the bag apart, I finally unearthed my phone and jabbed the keys for 9-1-1.
I reported my emergency and made my way to the front of Dog Diggity just in time for my husband, Ben — from whom I was currently separated, but dating — to park his big police pickup truck, Metamora One, in front of the building.
"Hello, Mrs. Nelson," he said. "Monica. Cam."
"You're fast!" Mrs. Nelson said. "Like Superman!"
"Fast?" Ben asked, his brow creasing as he took in the expressions on me and Monica's faces.
"What's going on?" he asked, just as his police radio went off. "Dispatch to Metamora One. Come in Metamora One."
Ben reached into his pickup's cab and answered the call. "Metamora One. Go ahead."
"Report of a 10-54 at Dog Diggity. Proceed to location immediately for assistance."
He spun around and looked at me through thunderous eyes. "Cameron, please tell me you haven't stumbled on another body." "It's not my fault! Mrs. Nelson found him. I only called it in this time."
"Stay here," he ordered the three of us, and traipsed behind the building to check out the crime scene.
What seemed like only ten seconds later, he'd radioed for backup and sirens blared down the alleyway beside the canal toward us. In a town as small as Metamora, sirens were a call to action, and everyone came running. Soapy Thompson — whose real name was Pete — the mayor and owner of The Soapy Savant, was the first of our neighbors to come to our aid.
"Do you know who it is?" he asked, after wed relayed the tragedy.
"Poor Chuck," Elaina said once again.
"We don't know," Monica told him, "but Mrs. Nelson seems to think his name is Chuck."
"I don't know anyone named Chuck in town," Soapy mused, stroking his white beard.
Sue Nelson, Elaina's granddaughter and owner of the Soda Pop Shop, came running up next. "Are you okay, grandma?" she asked, eyes creased with worry.
"I'm great!" Elaina jabbed her paintbrush into the air to emphasize her point.
"Why don't I take you home?" Sue said. "I made you a nice lunch."
"Peanut butter and mayo with sweet pickles on white bread?" Elaina asked, dropping her paint brush on the ground.
"With the bread buttered, just how you like it," Sue said, leading her grandma away.
Monica turned her nose up in disgust. "She doesn't really eat that, does she?"
"The old folks who lived through the depression have some crazy eats," Soapy said, "but you'd be surprised at how good some of it is."
"Who died this time, Cameron Cripps-Hayman?" Roy Lancaster asked. I hadn't heard him come up behind me. Johnna Fitzgerald stood beside him, knitting bag slung over her walker. They were two of my volunteers helping to plan Canal Days. I had four seniors volunteering. Roy and Johnna seniors in age, and Anna Carmichael and Logan Foust seniors by grade. The four of us had been integral to solving the murder of the last victim Id found.
"We're not sure yet," I said. "Mrs. Nelson found him," I added, quickly.
Between the numerous hours Roy clocked at the Cornerstone bar and the numerous hours Johnna spent gossiping with the women in town, the two of them would have a name before the police got the poor man's wallet out of his pocket to ID him.
"The poor dear," Johnna said. "I better start organizing a pot luck for after the funeral. Mourning always makes people hungry."
"Oh no" Monica said.
I followed her gaze down the road to the approaching car. "Mom."
"In all the excitement, I'd forgotten she was coming to see Dog Diggity today" Monica dropped her head into her hands. "She already thinks it's dumb of me to quit my job in Columbus and move here. Now this happens on the day she comes to visit."
"Welcome to the club," I said. For the past four years, ever since I moved to town, Mom thought it was a stupid move.
Ben's mother, Irene, signed over Ellsworth House, the ancestral estate, to him when we got married. It was her way of luring him back to Metamora, and it worked. The town had grown on me, and I'd recently realized that I was right where I wanted to be. My mother would never understand that, though.
I slung an arm around Monica as Mom parked her Mercedes Benz beside Ben's truck. "We'll make her see reason," I said. "Don't worry."
"What's going on here?" Mom asked, striding over and giving me air kisses and Monica a giant hug.
"Dead man behind the building," Roy blurted, rubbing his perpetually red nose.
"Cameron's a dead body magnet," Johnna added, helpfully.
Mom shot me a steely, narrowed-eyed look. "I told you nothing good would come from you moving here."
And so it began.
"Mom," I said, changing the subject, "let me introduce you to a few of our neighbors. Roy Lancaster and Johnna Fitzgerald are helping to organize Canal Days next weekend, and this is Soapy Thompson, our mayor."
I turned to Roy, Johnna, and Soapy. "This is Angela Cripps, my mother."
"And mine," Monica added.
"Of course." I stopped myself from rolling my eyes. A bad habit Id picked up from my sixteen-year-old step-daughter, Mia.
"Angela Cripps," Roy said, sauntering up beside Mom and eyeing her from the top of her sleek dark brown bob cut, to the toes of her impractical, beloved heels. "No modern day hyphenated last name for you, then?" he asked.
Roy had a strong dislike of the practice of women keeping their maiden name and hyphenating with their husband's, which was the reason he always addressed me by my full name to make a point.
"Legally," Mom said, eyeing him cooly, "My full name is Angela Zaborowski-Cripps."
"Good Lord in heaven, woman! That's a mouthful." He shook his head, disapproving.
"Oh, you old duffer," Johnna said. "You're stuck in the fifties."
"Now that was a good decade." Roy smiled with nostalgia.
Ignoring them, I turned to Mom. "Why don't you go ahead to the house and get settled in? Mia should be there, and we'll be along soon."
"I'm not leaving my daughters at a crime scene." She wrapped her arm around Monica's shoulders and held tight.
Monica closed her eyes and shivered.
I bit my tongue. After all, I was the one whod checked for the pulse of a dead man and I wasn't being half as dramatic.
"Why don't I treat you Cripps women to a hot drink?" Soapy said. "Our caramel apple latte is in season."
The Soapy Savant, in addition to selling homemade soaps and lotions, served a variety of coffees and teas.
"That would be lovely," Mom said. "Thank you so much."
"No rest for the weary" Roy said. "Come on, Johnna, dear, let's get back to work. Some of us have Canal Days to put on."
"I'll be in to help!" I called after them as they shuffled along to the bridge that would take them to the other side of the canal where our makeshift office was located two blocks back in the moldy basement of the old Metamora Friends and Family church.
With one week until Canal Days, I hoped news of the poor man behind our building didn't detract visitors from coming to town.
* * *
Soapy's caramel apple lattes could sooth the nerves of a cat on hot bricks. I took a sip and eased back in my chair, breathing in the spicy and floral scents of aromatic soaps and coffee.
"I don't know how you can be so calm," Mom said. "This will ruin your sister's business before she even gets the doors open."
The corners of my sister's mouth turned down and her lips quivered. "Oh no," I said. "This town won't be detoured by a random act of violence that just happened to occur behind Dog Diggity"
"As someone who has worked in PR for most of her adult life," Mom said, sitting up straighter, "I'm telling you we need to spin this the right way so it doesn't impact your reputation."
I wasn't sure what the right way was to spin murder, but Monica perked up. "What should we do?" she asked.
"First, we need to get visible. We need to meet this head on. Acknowledge what happened and convey our deepest sympathies. We talk up the town."
Soapy's wife, Theresa, and I exchanged doubting glances. The people in this town could spot a ploy from ten miles away. If Mom went out exploiting a man's death for business profit, it would do more harm to Monica than the murder itself happening behind her building.
"I think we better wait until we have some facts," I said. "Right now we don't even know who the man is."
"It's never too soon to be proactive, Cameron," Mom said, waving me off.
"What are we being proactive about?" Ben asked, striding up to the table. "It better not be finding out who murdered Butch Landow." He pointed at me. "No medaling from you and your Metamora Clue Crew, or whatever you call yourselves."
"Metamora Action Agency," I said, bristling. "And don't worry, we have enough going on planning Canal Days." The truth was, without my team of seniors — whod taken to calling themselves the Metamora Action Agency — the last murder in this town would still be unsolved.
"Butch Landow?" Soapy said, handing Ben a cup of coffee. "He pretty much keeps to himself out there on that old farm. He's never been overly friendly, but I can't see why someone would want him dead."
"What was he doing behind my building?" Monica asked.
"I'm sorry," Ben said, "but I can't release any information about an ongoing case."
He didn't say he didn't know what Butch Landow was doing behind Dog Diggity, so that meant he must know something. All I had to do was find out what it was he knew. After all, if I could solve a case with zero experience four months ago, I could only imagine how much better I'd be at it this time around. With Canal Days exactly one week from today, the quicker this case was put to bed, the better.
Ben rounded the table and kissed Mom on the cheek. "Good to see you, Angela."
Mom batted her thickly coated lashes and kissed his cheek in return. The woman single handedly kept Maybelline in business. She wouldn't even get the mail without having her "eyes on". One thing was for certain, Mom might've hated Metamora, but she adored Ben.
"I'm doing better knowing a strong, competent police officer is protecting my girls. How's my favorite son-in-law?" she cooed, wiping the fuchsia lipstick from his cheek.
"Mia's living with us now," he said, then backtracked. "Well, she's living at the house with Cam. I don't have room for her at the Hilltop Castle gatehouse."
"Yes," Mom said, turning her gaze to me. "We'll have to see about that. You should be under the same roof as your daughter."
All eyes shifted to me, waiting for my response. It had been about ten months since Ben and I separated. There was nothing scandalous that went on, we simply grew apart. He worked non-stop and I was lost in a town I hadn't accepted and hadn't made my mark. Neither of us wanted a divorce, but I had to be sure we wouldn't fall back into the same patterns as before if we started living together again.
Our romance was a whirlwind, and we were married after two short months. After four years of marriage, our relationship had stalled and we were giving it a much needed tune-up. By no means were either of us ready to trade it in for something new. We had a set movie night. We were having fun together again, and we were finding our way back.
Angela Cripps would not sweep in and destroy the progress wed made. Wasn't it enough to fend off my mother-in-law, Irene? Now I had to deal with my own mom, too? This was looking like a good time to hop a plane and take a vacation across the ocean. On second thought, the moon might not even be far enough.
"What's the Hilltop Castle gatehouse?" Mom asked Ben when I ignored her comment. "I thought you were staying at a bed and breakfast in town."
"The man I work for," Ben explained, "Carl Finch, he owns the castle that sits atop the hill out on route fifty-two. I'm staying in his gatehouse. Kind of goes with the job I guess."
Mom perked up. "He owns a castle?"
"A modern castle," Ben said. "He had it built."
"Ambitious. Is he single?" Mom's eyes narrowed as she shifted her glaze to Monica. I knew that shrewd look. She'd hunt down Carl Finch before the day was out. I liked Carl, but didn't necessarily want him as my brother-in-law.
Excerpted from Canal Days Calamity by Jamie M. Blair. Copyright © 2017 Jamie M. Blair. Excerpted by permission of Llewellyn Worldwide Ltd..
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