About the Author
Lia Farrell is the pen name of the mother and daughter writing team of Lyn Farquhar and Lisa Fitzsimmons, who live in Michigan and Tennessee, respectively. Both are life-long readers who are also dog lovers. Lyn owns two Welsh corgis and Lisa has two pugs and a Siberian husky. Lisa works as a Muralist and Interior Designer and Lyn is a Professor of Medical Education. One Dog Too Many is their first novel. The next book in the Mae December Mystery series will be Two Dogs Lie Sleeping, which will be released by Camel Press in 2014. For more information, go to liafarrell.net.
Read an Excerpt
Mae December raised her head from the pillow with great reluctance. She opened one eye and squinted blearily at her bedside clock. Six thirty a.m. What could have woken her at this hour? Then she heard it again. That blasted dog yapping out in the kennel. If only she could stay in bed a while longer, curled under her old quilt. The spring sunshine slanted through her window and warmed the bedding. The wood floor would be cold on her toes, but she had to get up. Her own dogs had the decency to wait until at least eight in the morning to begin whining for food, but Elvis — a pharmacologically challenged Pomeranian she was boarding — was up early.
Elvis was supposed to spend two weeks with her while his owner, Ruby, vacationed in Hawaii. It was now two days past her alleged return date and, despite Mae's repeated phone calls, Ruby was a no-show. Mae reluctantly pushed back her faded yellow-star quilt. Putting her bare feet on the floor, she stretched and rubbed the sore spot on her forehead.
Elvis continued his sharp and insistent yapping. Couldn't he at least be quiet the morning after St. Patrick's Day? Sighing, Mae put on a red sweater with her jeans and hurried downstairs into the kitchen of her 1912 farmhouse. There were older historic houses in Rosedale, Tennessee, and she was glad she didn't live in one of them. This house had been work enough. She had been remodeling for nearly three years, and in that time she'd gotten used to stepping over piles of sawdust and debris. At this point in the remodel, her kitchen only had one small piece of countertop left, but the coffeemaker was on and the smell of hot coffee mingled with that of fresh plaster in the morning air. Mae poured herself a generous cup. Thanking God for coffeepots with timers, she straightened her shoulders and slipped on her barn jacket.
As she walked by, the dogs squinted up at her from their beds. There were her two dogs, a black Pug named Tallulah and a Welsh corgi named Titan, as well as Thoreau, her former fiancÃ©'s elderly Rottweiler.
"C'mon, guys. Up and at 'em."
They followed her sleepily as she stepped out into the cool spring morning. Tallulah waddled along very slowly. Almost too pregnant to walk, she still managed a jaunty head tilt. Titan, on the other hand, plodded along with his head down. He was not a morning dog. Mae led the little procession out to the barn, where she got fresh water and food for her good, quiet, doggie boarders as well as the vociferous Elvis.
Returning to the house, she turned on her small kitchen TV and listened to the local meteorologist talk about the unusually warm weather. When the news came on, she could only stand a few minutes of details about the calamities around the world, so she turned it off and placed another call to Elvis' owner, Ruby Mead-Allison. No answer. The sore spot on her forehead was trying to become a migraine, which wouldn't go away by itself. She mixed a Goody's Headache Powder into a glass of orange juice and downed it quickly.
Several years ago her best friend Tammy had decided that they were too mature for green beer and had declared Margaritas to be their official St. Patrick's Day libation. Mae hadn't wanted to go out at all this year but had conceded defeat after Tammy described her social life as "obscenely" boring. Making a mental note to limit herself to two Margaritas next time, Mae took her sore head back upstairs where she took a long, extra-hot shower. Swiping at the mirror with her towel, she gave her almost thirty- year-old naked self the once-over. She was a little pale this morning and her brown eyes looked almost black. Her soaking wet hair hung in dark blonde corkscrews over her shoulders. Mae turned sideways, tightening her abs — not bad at all. Then she turned to face the mirror and her rounded hips. She narrowed her eyes at their curviness. Well, Noah had appreciated all of her, even the extra ten pounds. Although she'd lost him in a car accident last February, memories of the man she would have married always brought a bittersweet smile to her face.
Foregoing makeup and leaving her unruly hair to air-dry, she put her clothes back on and went into her bedroom. The sun pooled temptingly on the four-poster bed. Resisting the impulse to climb back in, she smoothed out the sheets and fluffed her quilt, looking out the window at the barn. The feisty little Pomeranian's yaps continued unabated. There was no reason to call Ruby again. It was time to take action.
Mae hurried downstairs, grabbed her car keys and a tote bag and walked out to the barn. The other dogs glared at the noisy Elvis as she opened his kennel and seized him, swiftly popping him into her tote. Blessed silence reigned. Mae slung the bag over her shoulder and went out to her car. She hopped in and drove down the street to Ruby's house. With any luck, she could return Elvis and collect the rest of her fee.
Several soggy newspapers were strewn across the drive, and Ruby's mailbox lay on its side in the ditch. The existence of a mailbox on Little Chapel Road was precarious, to say the least. Mae had replaced hers five or six times in the last few years, thanks to wayward drivers. Picking up the mailbox, she set it back on top of its post, then walked to the front door with Elvis in her bag and rang the bell. No one answered. On her way around to the back, she tried peering through the garage window, but it was too grimy to see much. Finding the side door unlocked, she pushed it open and glanced around. Ruby's car was parked inside. She had driven herself to the airport, so she must be back in town. Irritated, Mae walked to the back door and knocked loudly. Still no answer. One of Ruby's red cowboy boots lay on its side beside the walkway so Mae picked it up and took it out to the car with her. Ruby had bragged about these boots the day she dropped off Elvis. She wouldn't have left one of her "high-dollar" boots lying on the ground. Where could Ruby be?
Feeling increasingly apprehensive about her neighbor, Mae drove Elvis and the boot to the sheriff's office in Rosedale. She'd been there countless times as a child, waiting while her freelance photographer father turned in photos to the sheriff or her journalist mother picked up tidbits for her column. The building was a time capsule from the fifties. Fluorescent lights flickered overhead and the whole place smelled stale and old.
Dory, the office manager, raised her eyes warily from her computer screen at the sound of the door opening, but her face lit up when she saw Mae. "My Goodness, child, I haven't seen you in ages."
Dory had been a close friend of Mae's mother for as long as she could remember. She'd outlasted several sheriffs in her forty-year tenure. Showing no signs of slowing down, she ran the office like a well-oiled machine. Her smooth, dark-brown complexion — she was Afro- American — and youthfully stylish attire belied her sixty- something years. Smiling broadly, she jumped up and enveloped Mae in a warm hug. Elvis gave a little chirp as the tote bag was squeezed between the two women. Dory opened the bag and laughed.
"You aren't bringing me that little critter, are you?"
Mae shook her head. "Don't worry. I wouldn't do that to you. I need to see the sheriff and get this dog back to his owner as fast as I can. How've you been?"
"I'm just fine, honey. You look good. Is everyone okay?"
"Everybody's doing well. Is the sheriff around this morning?"
"Between you and me, he's around here a little too much these days. When he doesn't have active cases he paces around and pesters me." Dory rolled her eyes. "Please entertain him for a bit, will you? Haven't seen very many good looking women around here lately. He always perks up when one comes in."
That was hard for Mae to imagine. She had seen pictures of the sheriff on his election posters. Such a good-looking man in a public position would have many women interested in him, wouldn't he?
"I'll buzz his office and you can go on back."
Sheriff Bradley sat at his battered desk, facing the door, which stood open. He was far better looking in person than in pictures, with blue eyes and light brown hair that curled back from his forehead. He stood up and walked around his desk, holding out his hand.
"I'm Ben Bradley, I mean Sheriff Bradley. Have a seat. What can I do for you?"
"I'm Mae, nice to meet you."
In addition to his handsome face, Ben Bradley was tall. At five foot ten, Mae had to tip her head back to meet his eyes. She sat down in the chair he indicated and adjusted the wiggling tote bag on her lap.
"I want to report that my neighbor, Ruby Mead-Allison, is missing. She's two days late getting back from her vacation in Hawaii and I found her favorite red boot lying in the backyard when I went over to her place this morning."
The sheriff sat back down behind his desk. Leaning forward, he rested his chin in his ring-less left hand. "I'm not following you. Why is this red boot so important?"
"When Ruby dropped Elvis off, those boots were on her feet. She told me she got them to wear on her trip and that she was driving straight to the airport from my place."
"And Elvis would be?"
Mae rolled her eyes. "The King of Rock-n-Roll. As well as her neurotic, drug-addicted Pomeranian."
"Why do you have her dog? Are you a friend of hers?"
"Good heavens, no. I board dogs. Mae's Place is the kennel business I run out of my home on Little Chapel Road." Mae smiled at him. It certainly wasn't his fault she still had Elvis. She couldn't blame the headache on him either.
"You must be Mae December." A grin tugged at one corner of his mouth.
"Yes. How did you know my last name?"
"My nephew told me about you. He calls you the Puppy Lady. Apparently, you take your dogs up to the elementary school. He says the first graders read to your dogs and your name has two months in it."
"Yes, that's me. My real name is Maeve, but my older sister couldn't pronounce it when she was little. She called me Mae and the name just stuck."
"What's your sister's name?"
"Julia Grace. But I was born in May and she was born in July so my parents started calling her July after she changed my name to Mae." She shook her head. "Anyway, could we get back to Ruby? I've been keeping her little nightmare of a dog for over sixteen days now. She only paid for fourteen. I've been trying to reach her for the last two days with no answer. This morning I went over to her house to look for her and found this boot in the flowerbed by her back door. Her car was in the garage too, so she must be back in town."
"You seem pretty anxious to give her dog back."
"Oh, Lord, yes. He had the last of his tranquilizers the day before yesterday, and now he's running me ragged and terrorizing the other dogs."
"How many canines are we talking about?" An official look clouded his handsome features. "There are ordinances, you know."
"I'm well aware of the regulations. I'm allowed to board up to ten dogs." Her cellphone rang. "I'm sorry, Sheriff, I need to take this. Excuse me a moment. It's my contractor." She turned her face away and flipped open her phone. "Joe, is everything all right?"
"Not really. Tallulah's in labor in the living room."
"Has the floor been sealed yet?" she asked.
Hearing a sigh from across the desk, Mae quickly ended the call and turned her attention back to the sheriff.
"I'm sorry. I need to get back home. My pug, Tallulah, is in labor. Apparently, I don't pay my contractor enough to be a dog midwife as well."
She reached into the capacious bag at her feet and pulled out the boot, using her other hand to keep Elvis inside. "Stay there, Elvis." Mae turned her brightest smile on the sheriff. He wasn't smiling back.
"Is that a service animal?"
"Please. He's no help to anyone and I really have to go. I think you should have this." She handed him Ruby's boot. When Sheriff Bradley reached out to take the boot, their fingers touched briefly.
"All right. I'll look into it," he said. "She'll probably turn up, but you be sure to give me a holler if you hear from Ms. Mead-Allison, okay?"
"I'll do that." Mae stuffed the grouchy little dog farther into her bag. "Right after I wring her neck."
Mae spent the rest of the morning helping Tallulah deliver her five precious little Porgis. This new breed had become her specialty, a combination of a black Pug mother and a Pembroke Welsh Corgi father. Usually they were born black with a white ruff. They had the barrel- shaped bodies and short legs of their father and the shiny black coats, curly tails and flat faces of their mother. They were adorable. She was building quite a reputation for herself as a breeder. Mae's Porgis sold all over the country.
Dog pregnancies were approximately nine weeks long and Mae always had her vet x-ray Tallulah at seven weeks. Luckily, the dog could deliver without a C-section. The vet had state-of-the-art imaging equipment, so they had known that she would deliver five puppies for this, her fourth, and probably last litter. Pregnancy was hard on small dogs, and other breeders had told Mae that more than four litters could be unhealthy for the mother.
By the time all five pups were clean, dry, and nursing greedily, Mae's headache had vanished. She spent some time talking with Joe, her contractor, about the kitchen cabinets and the new granite countertops. He was a very cute and hardworking MOC (married, of course) with four little kids. Thin and wiry with sandy hair and green eyes, he sported a perpetual tan from his outdoor work and was a little shorter than Mae. He grew up down the street and had done most of the home remodels and repairs in the area. When she and Noah bought the house three years ago, several neighbors had recommended him. Joe impressed her with his careful work and they had since become good friends. He was leaving when the phone rang. The caller ID showed Suzanne December.
"Hi, Mama, how are you?" Mae said.
"I'm fine, honey, and you?"
"Well, I've had quite the morning. You remember Ruby Mead- Allison's dog, Elvis?"
"Um hum, is the little wretch still with you?"
"Yes, and it's been sixteen days. This morning I ran over to Ruby's to try to drop him off. She still wasn't home and I found the strangest thing. One of her fancy red boots was in the flowerbed by the back door. I took the boot to the sheriff's office."
"I started to worry that something might have happened to her. She was wearing those boots when she dropped Elvis off. They're custom made, probably cost her a fortune, and she was headed to the airport when she left my place."
"Wasn't she going to Hawaii? She could have been rerouted because of that terrible storm. Or maybe she's hiding out because she doesn't want the miserable little beast back."
Mae laughed. "I don't think she'd pay for more boarding than she has to, and the woman plainly loves Elvis. The sheriff said the same thing about the storm. She probably ran into delays on her way back. If that's the case though, why was her car in the garage?"
"That is kind of odd. But on another note, I'm sure you know the conflict about your road is really heating up. Ruby will definitely be back in time for the meeting of the Road Commission tomorrow night. I think there's another protest scheduled in your neighborhood. She wouldn't miss it for anything."
"I can't think of a single reason why the road shouldn't be widened," Mae said. "I know Ruby doesn't want it, but even she'll have to see reason eventually."
Suzanne snorted inelegantly. "I doubt it. See if you can fish the newspaper out of the recycling and read my column. You'll get the picture. Ruby is really stirring things up. Anyway, do you want to come over for dinner tonight? Dad and I are having steak and there's plenty. Your sister and Fred are coming with the kids."
"I'll pass. Thanks. Tallulah had her puppies this morning. I shouldn't leave her alone yet."
"She did? That's wonderful! Is Tallulah okay? How many puppies did she have?"
Mae laughed at her mother's enthusiastic response. "She's fine. There are five healthy puppies. It's all good."
They said their goodbyes and Mae spent a few minutes imagining Ruby in an airport somewhere, pacing impatiently, demanding to know why the bar didn't stock Grey Goose with bleu cheese stuffed olives and making everyone around her miserable. The old saying about dogs and owners being alike was definitely true about Elvis and Ruby — both feisty redheads. No doubt, she'd be back soon. Ruby could be fun when she felt like making the effort. She was a manager for country music artists and sometimes shared salacious anecdotes about her clients at parties. Despite her stiff-necked prickliness, everyone would welcome Ruby home.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "One Dog Too Many"
Copyright © 2014 Lia Farrell.
Excerpted by permission of Coffeetown Enterprises, Inc.
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