Play Fetch: An Avery Barks Dog Mystery (Avery Barks Dog Mysteries Book 3) (3 page)

Chapter 7

 

The phone ringing startled me awake.  My stomach tightened as I rolled over and checked the caller ID before answering.  Thankfully, it was my friend, Jamie.

“What time is it?” I groggily asked as Chevy jumped up on the bed and licked my face.

“Hello to you too!“ Jamie’s voice was bright and cheery as always.  “It’s five in the morning.”

“Five? What?” I groaned.

“Quick, turn on the news!  Your ex, Travis, is wanted for questioning in the murder of his wife!  They’re saying he may be armed and dangerous!”  Jamie exclaimed.

She almost sounded happy about it.  Jamie still held a grudge towards Travis for choosing a high paying job and the big city over me.  She was a good friend and I cherished that, even when she went a little overboard.

Jamie continued, “They showed a picture of him.  Boy, he sure looks different.  He was good looking when you dated him, but now he looks haggard.  The big city must have stressed him out.” 

“That, or his new wife,” I muttered under my breath.

“Dead wife, you mean.”

I decided not to fill her in on the rest of the story from the other day, mainly because I wanted to push it out of my mind.

Jamie changed the subject. “I actually called because I was hoping you would give a Search and Rescue presentation for the kids at the school.”

Jamie was a second grade teacher and each year I gave a little talk about what to do if the kids ever got lost in the woods.  Outside of the classroom, Jamie was a little man-crazy and loved to flirt, but when the kids were around, she was quite the professional.  I was proud that she took her job seriously and cared so much about the kids.

“Sure Jamie, I’d love to.  But I usually come in the spring when the kids get ready for family vacations. Why now at the end of fall?” I asked.

“I’m worried about one of my kids. Her name’s Anna.  You and Don searched for her grandfather recently.”

“I remember her very well, I said, thinking of the child’s bright smile. “She loves dogs.”

“She’s normally such a talkative child, but yesterday she barely uttered a word,” Jamie said.

“That’s surprising.   She seemed fine after the search and was excited about meeting Ace.” I smiled as I remembered the moment. 

“Do you know if her grandfather is okay?” Jamie asked.

“He had problems with his blood sugar and collapsed in the woods, but he’s doing fine now and is already out of the hospital,” I said.

“I’m hoping if you come and talk about search and rescue, it will open her up.” Jamie sounded hopeful.  “Do you have time to stop by class after lunch?”

“I’ll meet you about two.” I said and hung up.  I set my alarm, before drifting back to sleep.

 

###

 

I know nothing about what makes kids tick, but I do know a lot about dog lovers.  I figured if Anna needed cheering up, Chevy would be able to do a better job at it than any adult ever could.

“Hey Chevy, wanna come with me?” I said as I grabbed his leash and shook it in the air.

My dog didn’t wait for me to ask twice.  His tongue floated in the air as he bounded through the door and ran to the back of the truck, jumped up and barked with excitement without even knowing where we were going.  Everything was an adventure for Chevy.

I pulled into the grade school parking lot while the kids were out at recess and parked on the soccer field next to their playground.  Jamie and a couple other teachers herded the kids into a single file line and walked them over to my truck.  Chevy stood inside the back of the covered truck licking the window, making the children laugh.  A group of little boys licked their own hands in imitation, causing the adults to laugh too.

A small arm reached up out of a winter coat sleeve and a tiny hand softly touched the glass in front of Chevy’s face. I looked down and recognized the sandy hair blowing in the breeze.  “Hi, Anna!”

She turned her face toward me and beamed, but kept her hand on the glass.

“Hi.”

“Kids, stand in a half-circle and remember to keep your coats zipped up!”  Jamie called out as the teachers organized the boisterous group. 

I stepped to the front of the crowd and did my little ‘Show and Tell’ for the kids.  I handed out whistles and had them practice blowing three times, the universal call for help in the wilderness.  We went over a couple tips that were age appropriate, while keeping the lesson fun and active.

After fifteen minutes of learning, I asked the kids if they had any questions.  Lots of hands shot up in the air.

“Can your dog come out and play now?” a little boy asked.

Jamie and I laughed.

“Does your dog search for people?”

“No, he only searches for food,” I answered, which made all the kids laugh.

“Can I give this whistle to my Papa?” Anna asked.

“Sure, that would be a great idea,” I answered.

I cleared my throat as the gravity of her question and her concern for her grandfather hit me. 

Jamie took the cue and gathered the kids up.  “Everyone, tell Miss Avery thank you.”

“Thank you, Miss Avery,” the kids said in unison.

“Okay, everyone to the playground for recess!” Jamie shouted with glee.

The kids let out a yell and ran toward the slides and basketball court as the teacher assistants followed and kept track of their where-abouts.

“Keep your coats on!” Jamie yelled after them. 

Anna stayed behind and now held Jamie’s hand, but watched my dog.

“Anna, would you do me a favor?” I asked. “Chevy needs some exercise, and I’m tired.  Would you be a friend and play with him?”

She nodded as a huge grin spread across her face. 

“Here, you can use these,” I said.

I reached into the back of the truck and pulled out Chevy’s cardboard box of tennis balls.  They were the color of dirt and dog slobber, with a slight touch of yellow.  I carried the box to a good spot and put it on the ground and Anna’s little hands dug through it to find the best one.

Chevy pranced in place at the sight of his ball box, and he jumped down onto the brown grass as soon as he was given a chance.  Anna threw the first ball and a new friendship was born.   She emptied the box of balls onto the dried up grass and threw them one by one for Chevy, giggling as he caught them on the bounce. 

Jamie intently watched Anna and Chevy romp and play. “She has just clammed up out of nowhere,” Jamie said. “Mostly just answers questions with a yes or no. This is from a girl who loves to talk.” 

“She sure is happy and energetic around my dog though.”

The young girl threw two tennis balls at a once, and giggled some more as Chevy ran back and forth trying to decide which ball he wanted more.  Before long they had the whole box of about fifty balls scattered across the small soccer field.

Anna ran over toward a tiny kid-sized backpack and skidded to her knees.  She opened it up and Chevy buried his head inside.  Anna dug through her pack and pulled out two bright yellow tennis balls.

“I bet those are fresh from her momma’s crafts table,” I chuckled to Jamie.

“Oh. My. Goodness,” Jamie said.  Her bright blue eyes got a little teary as she looked out at the two new friends.

Anna had plopped down on the ground and was talking Chevy’s ear off as he held one of the bight new tennis balls in his mouth.   She ran her little fingers through his soft golden fur, and the words rushed out of her mouth like a dam had burst.  We couldn’t hear what she was saying, but we could see her mouth moving a mile a minute.  Chevy rolled on his back for a belly rub and was enjoying all the attention.

Jamie tugged on the sleeve of my jacket. “Thanks so much for bringing him.”

“Maybe she just needed the right ‘person’ to talk to,” I said

After a good twenty minutes of watching Anna chatter from a distance, we started to get a little chilly.

Jamie cupped her hands around her mouth like a megaphone and called out, “Anna, it’s time to come back. Chevy has to go home now.”

Anna waved and darted back and forth across the grass, picking up slobbery tennis balls.  Chevy trotted after her carrying a ball in his mouth.  After gathering every last ball, she knelt down and hovered over the box with her back to us.  She was determined to get all the balls placed in just the right spot. 

I told Jamie, “I think she gets that orderly and organized thing from her mother.  That lady worried about cleaning house the whole time we were over there the other day.” 

Jamie laughed.

When the box was once again filled with tennis balls, I walked over and told Anna, “Thanks for being such a good friend to Chevy.  He had a great time.” 

She smiled and waved good-bye as she trotted over to Jamie.

As I stood there in the cool air watching the teacher and student stroll back to the playground hand in hand, Chevy nudged my leg with the tennis ball he held in his mouth.

I looked down into his sweet brown eyes and said, “I wonder what she told you buddy, and I sure do wish you could tell me.”

 

Chapter 8

 

I rocked peacefully in my front porch chair with a small pile of golden fluffy fur at my feet.  Chevy’s summer coat was now brushed out, making way for his winter fur. We both took a minute to relax and enjoy watching the birds flutter at the feeder.

I was grateful for my small rustic cabin and ten acres of land. I was counting my blessings when Don’s deputy car roared up my dirt driveway and skidded to a stop, interrupting my thoughts and causing a dust cloud to rise slowly in the air.

“Avery, thank God you’re home.” Don said as he leapt out of the car.  “Why haven’t you answered your phone?” He was out of breath.

“It’s in the house,” I said innocently. “Why? What’s wrong?”

“For crying out loud, you about gave me a heart attack,” he said as he walked up the steps and gave Chevy a pat on the head.  His deputy uniform always seemed to make him look a few inches taller.

“What’s going on?” I asked again, the weight of apprehension settling around my shoulders like a poncho.

“We found a black luxury SUV this afternoon parked over at the bowling alley that’s registered to Travis and Bethany Biltmore.”  He looked intently into my eyes. “Avery, there are bullet holes on the driver’s side panel and the rear.”

My knuckles grew white as I gripped the armrest on the rocking chair.

Don continued,” The good news is that there’s no blood inside the vehicle.”

I slumped back in the rocking chair and let out a huge breath.

“Several shell casings were found in the brush on the side of the road near the original victim.” Don’s voice lowered.  “I think someone might have shot at Travis as he sped away from the scene.”

“So you don’t think he’s a suspect?” I asked.

“Maybe, or maybe not,” he said. “Just be careful and call me if he contacts you!”  Don gave me a stern look and slowly walked back to his car, the sheriff’s radio chattering in the background. “And answer your phone!” he called over his shoulder.

He opened his car door and paused. “I just can’t figure out why someone fleeing a dangerous situation would abandon the vehicle in the back corner of the local bowling alley parking lot.”

As I sat motionless and watched him drive off into the sunset, my pulse quickened.

I knew exactly why.

 

###

 

My backpacking pack was already stuffed with food and a sleeping bag and about to burst at the seams, but I crammed a few diapers inside and yanked the zipper shut.  I lifted the pack a couple inches off the ground and estimated the weight at about thirty-five pounds.  The sun would be up soon and I was about to get a good work-out.

I stuffed the receipt for the diapers in my pocket, having already tossed the box in the dumpster behind the grocery store.  I knew Don would be tipped off if he happened to find anything remotely related to a toddler in my vehicle. 

As I sat on my tailgate next to the Carolina Falls trailhead and watched the sun rise, my mind drifted back to the day Travis and I had our first date.  Back then he drove a black pick-up truck, which just happened to break down as we were headed out of town for a day at the county fair.  Our plans to see one of our favorite bands were crushed, but not our spirit of adventure.

Travis and a couple bystanders pushed his truck into the nearest parking lot, which just happened to be Dryer’s Bowling Alley.  I watched silently as he locked the truck’s doors, pulled down the tailgate and jumped in the back of his truck.  Without saying a word, he opened the large metal tool box that spanned the width of his truck bed and pulled out a large green backpacking pack.

He stood in the back of his truck with a huge grin and his brown curly hair blowing in the wind.  “I have a great idea!” he shouted.  “Do you trust me?”

“Sure,” I laughed.

We left that broken down truck behind and walked two miles down a country road to the spot where I sat right now.  From this point, we hit the trail and hiked eight miles up to the most beautiful waterfalls I had ever seen.  We explored the area, and happened to find an old wooden shelter that looked like it didn’t get much use.  The entire valley seemed to be within our view from that wonderful vantage point.

Travis opened his pack and pulled out some freeze dried food and a small water filter.  We picnicked at that shelter and had a great day out in nature.  We hiked back out that evening, and one of his buddies came to pick us up. Travis didn’t even worry about fixing the truck until the next day.  A tiny wave of sadness washed over me as I wondered what had taken place in the big city to change the happy guy I remembered.

Chevy put his front paws on my lap and nudged my face, making me laugh.  He could always tell when I could use a big doggie kiss.  With my happy dog around, things always ended up on the fun side.

I didn’t know if Travis left his truck at that same bowling alley as a message to me or just because it is human nature to return to a familiar area, but my gut told me that he was hiding out up at that shelter.  It would be fairly warm, and he would be able to see anyone approaching far before they arrived.  I waited until morning to hike in so that he would be able to recognize that it was me approaching.

“Ready to hike, Chevy?”  I jumped off the tailgate and lifted the heavy pack onto my back.  Chevy started up the trail, wagging his tail and sniffing the brush.

About five hours later, I approached the shelter and smelled the smoke from a camp fire.  He was there, all right.  Travis should have spotted us a while ago and probably assumed there was food in my pack.   I checked my cell phone to make sure I had a signal before I approached, just in case. 

A large figure stirred up the leaves in the shadows outside the wooden wall. “Did anyone follow you?” I recognized Travis’ strong voice.

He walked out in front of the shelter, holding the toddler on his hip.  He looked tired and his eyes constantly darted between me and the view of the approaching trail.  I recognized his old green backpack sitting up against a tree and saw gear spread out in the shelter.

“No one is around here. I brought you something to eat and diapers for the baby.” I answered as I gave my dog a scratch on the head.  “And this is Chevy.”

In that moment, I realized that I no longer had any feelings for Travis, and I was relieved.  My natural instinct was to help someone in trouble, but that was as far as my emotions went. 

“Avery, I didn’t hurt her.” His voice quivered.  “Someone ambushed us and he’s still out there.”  He held the child tight to his chest. 

“Travis, do you trust me?” I asked.

He looked directly into my eyes. “Yes.”

“There’s someone I want you to talk to,” I said.             

Travis shifted his feet and moved the toddler to his other hip.  He mumbled, “I don’t know what to do.”

The kid pointed at Chevy and said sweetly, “Dog.”

I took off my pack and set it down next to Travis.  “You can’t stay up here forever.  Make us something to eat and I’ll handle it.”

I sat down on a boulder near the trail, took a deep breath and pulled out my phone.  Don answered on the first ring.

“Hey, Avery.”

“Write this down,” I said and announced the coordinates from my GPS that identified the spot where I sat.  I continued, “Come alone.”

 

 

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