include_once("common_lab_header.php");
Excerpt for Wedding Bell Blues by , available in its entirety at Smashwords



Wedding Bell Blues


By P X DUKE


Copyright 2019 P X Duke

All Rights Reserved


ISBN 978-1-928161-41-7



Disclaimer

What follows is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental. Places mentioned by name are entirely fictitious and purely products of the author's imagination, and are not meant to bear resemblance to actual places or locations.


10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1







Wedding Bell Blues



Contents


1 | 2 | 3 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9


10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16


17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23


24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28 | 29 | 30


31 | 32 | 33 | 34 | 35 | 36 | 37


38 | 39 | 40 | 41 | 42


More


About








WEDDING BELL BLUES



ONE



I WAS SITTING on a bench on the street below my office, relaxing with Maddie Spence, my partner in crime, and her good dog, Friday. A cool breeze floated down the street, a welcome relief from the long hot spell. It was what brought us out with so many others to enjoy the cool evening temperature. Couples paraded past holding hands. Some walked dogs.

The breeze fluttered umbrellas along the sidewalk cafés. A strand of Maddie's hair escaped from behind an ear, and I reached to tuck it back before replacing my hand to cover hers on the bench between us.

The sun was beginning to descend beneath the buildings on the opposite side of the street. They took on an odd hue, with half the street in dark shade and the other half still in bright daylight.

Friday plopped himself down at our feet. His tail slowly swished the sidewalk, back and forth and back again, in slow, lazy sweeps. His head swiveled, following people dog-walking their pets past his domain in front of the building.

—Do you think he intends to come between us?

Maddie looked down at the dog separating us and then up at me.

—No, I think Friday has more of a Let's see what this guy is up to, kind of wariness.

—Well, he ought to know by now. He's been waking up at the foot of our bed while I'm still in it.

I absently reached to scratch Friday's ear. I was wanting to ask before this, but I didn't think it any of my business. Now that Maddie was in my life and a part of the business, I decided to go full steam ahead.

—When was the last time you had Friday in for a checkup with a veterinarian?

Maddie regarded me with her own wariness.

—Are you thinking that volunteering for vet payments will give you a percentage ownership in my intended?

—If your intended is a dog, I'm beginning to have concerns of my own. I'll call tomorrow.

—In that case, come upstairs and I'll make an attempt at alleviating some of those concerns.

—One at a time, is it?

—We'll see.

I didn't mind following Maddie anywhere, this or any night. She looked too good in the cutoffs for me to want to lead. As though in agreement, Friday woofed and followed behind the pair hurrying up the stairs.

Maddie's giggle turned uncontrollable by the time we reached the top step to the apartment above the office. Friday hesitated outside the door, as though already having enough of our silliness.

I called the dog, but it was Maddie's hand signal that convinced the animal to enter behind us.

—Good boy, Friday. You can guard the door.

Disgusted with his mistress and her happy-go-lucky attitude to the other male in her life, Friday headed off to his plush bed in the living room. Maddie and I made for our own plush king-size bed.

Friday woofed his disapproval as the giggling quieted and more earnest sounds assaulted his delicate doggie ears.



It was late morning when we chased each other into the kitchen. By then the entire building had cooled, thanks to the change in the weather.

—Are you going to call the vet or am I?

I was glad she brought it up. Friday was her dog, after all.

—I know one we can walk to. I did some work for her a couple of years ago.

—Her?

Maddie's hands went to her hips as she regarded me.

—She's happily married, don't worry.

—I wasn't worried about her.

—You needn't be concerned about me, either. I'm very happy to be involved with my partner. And her dog. In case you haven't noticed.

—Well, I have to admit, I've been wondering if it was more about Friday than me.

I turned off the stove. Breakfast would go cold. I picked up a grinning Maddie and hauled the woman off, feet kicking, to the bedroom.

—Let's see if I can wipe that smile off your face.

—If this is how you're planning on doing it, I'd bet money you're going to be a failure.

—We'll just have to see about that, won't we?



An uneasy Friday looked from Maddie to Jim and back again. He appeared anxious about the upcoming walk without his mistress, especially on hearing the unfamiliar word over and over.

—It's all good, Friday. Jim loves you, too. Not as much as I do, but he's learning.

Jim flipped a look Maddie's way and attached Friday's leash. She walked with them downstairs to street level, like an anxious parent on a child's first day.

—All right. We're on our way to the vet. Text us if you need us.

Friday's ears perked up. There it was again, that word he didn't know.

Maddie waved and Friday's tail wagged. The pair started out with Friday testing Jim. He walked ahead, tugging at the confines of the leash. Jim called Heel and the dog obeyed instantly. Maddie was secretly pleased that Jim was making her dog obey. She was even more pleased that Friday paid attention. It meant he was accepting Jim into his life.

She returned to the second-floor office and killed time checking texts and voice mail and email. It kept her from worrying about Friday's encounter with the veterinarian. It had never occurred to her to take the healthy dog to one.

She printed out an email for Jim about a wedding invitation. She saved a voice mail from a Warren someone who wanted Jim to call him.

The email intrigued her. It expressed concern about why there hadn't been an RSVP to confirm he'd be coming to the wedding. She checked the date and circled the day on Jim's desk calendar. She considered buying a new dress or two on the off chance she'd be invited as Jim's plus one.

She thought some more and knew there would be no off chance. If Jim was going to a wedding, she'd darn well be going with him, invitation or not. Already she was going through a list of what she'd have to buy. She'd be darned if she'd show up with a backpack full of wrinkled clothes.

Maddie tapped the space bar on the office laptop to bring it to life. She began a search for a new suitcase. It wouldn't arrive in time, but she would buy local once she knew what she needed. She was considering color and size options when the phone rang.







TWO



THE WALK TO Dr. Hannah's clinic was twenty minutes, maybe thirty. I didn't mind. Neither did Friday. It was good exercise for both of us, and something I needed. I allowed him to get out of sight of his mistress and then gave him the lead to prance along at his own pace. He sniffed and snuffled and checked out the unfamiliar smells on the way to Hannah's.

In the past I had done some work with Dr. Hannah. It was a few years earlier. Someone was stealing pets from wealthy owners. The thieves ended up blackmailing the owners into paying a ransom to get them back.

Friday wasn't so keen on entering the strange building with the antiseptic smells all around him. He hesitated and halted at every door, testing the air with a wet nose before slowly walking in. He relented at the sound of Hannah's soothing voice.

She smiled a greeting at me and addressed the dog with a practiced enthusiasm.

—This must be Friday. I'm Hannah. Hello Friday. Aren't you a handsome one.

That got his attention. She stroked the dog's neck and scratched his ear. Friday looked from me to her and all of a sudden I was put on doggie ignore. Hanna patted the table and Friday pranced up the steps and sat down.

As far as I was concerned, Friday was enjoying the attention far too much. He preened and showed great patience as Dr. Hannah felt and probed and examined and pressed. She made sure to talk to him the entire time. When it was all done, it was a tossup as to who was more exhausted by all the attention, Friday or me. He behaved well, and Hannah appeared impressed.

The last thing she did was run a scanner between Friday's shoulder blades before entering the data into her laptop.

—Well now. That's strange.

She looked from Friday to me and back to her laptop.

—What's wrong? Is he okay? He's not sick, is he?

—Oh no. He's in excellent health. Maybe a bit overweight but nothing serious. You should make sure he gets exercise.

It wouldn't hurt either of us, but I didn't say anything.

—Do you remember the RFID chips in those stolen dogs we worked on? We used them to locate their owners.

I did. Almost all of the stolen pets had microchips implanted. The device, about the size of a grain of rice, was injected between the shoulder blades, much like a vaccination. The RFID remained in place for the life of the pet. Each chip had a unique identification code, which was registered to a database listing the owners. It was how we made sure to return the animals to the rightful owners.

—Friday has one. His code comes back linked to someone named Lily Sands. Do you know anything about that?

—I know a Lily Sands. She's the daughter of a friend of mine out on the panhandle.

—Yes, well, that's the address linked to your dog Friday.

I didn't explain that Friday wasn't my dog. I didn't tell her about Maddie, either, or that Friday was her dog. Except now he wasn't her dog. Friday was Lily's dog, and his name was Max.



Caller ID would tell Maddie I was calling. I knew she was worried about having Friday at the veterinarian’s, too.

—I'm just checking in. We're still with Dr. Hannah. Do you remember when you last took Friday for a visit to a veterinarian?

—I've never had him for a checkup. Friday has never been ill. I never even thought about it. Is he all right? He's not sick, is he?

Maddie cleared her throat in an attempt to hide a voice shaky with emotion. I recognized her concern immediately.

—I'm putting you on speaker with Hannah.

—Friday is fine. He's healthy as a dog. Maybe a little pudgy for his age.

—Well, I know someone else—

—No, Maddie. You're perfect just the way you are.

Hannah regarded me with raised eyebrows before wagging a finger and shaking her head for good measure.

—I was talking about you, shamus. Maybe I should put the pair of you on a strict diet and exercise plan if you're taking us to a wedding.

—A wedding?

I hadn't told her about Allie's wedding. Or anything about Allie. My plan was to ignore the whole thing. I didn't think anyone would be missing me.

—You can read all about it when you get back.

Maddie hung up and I was left to my own devices to clear up inconsistencies in Friday's past with the veterinarian's help.

—I don't know how long Maddie and Friday have been together. I'm pretty sure she wouldn't just up and take him. She has to have found him somewhere.

—Well, the tag doesn't lie. He's definitely one from the litter. The information and the address is plain as day. Does she have any records?

—Not that I know, but I never asked. I just assumed she owned the dog. She must have spent a lot of time training him. He obeys every one of her signals. She even gives them to him when she knows he won't obey me. She thinks I don't know.

—Then they have a good rapport. I doubt they'd be so close if they didn't. Perhaps a previous owner beat Friday.

—Oh no. I don't believe that for a minute. Although, now that you mention it, there are times I could put that woman over my knee.

—You do have a way with words, don't you? I'd bet that if Maddie were here now, you'd be eating them.

—I wouldn't be saying them. You know me by now.

Hannah went on.

—It could be that a previous owner didn't do any notifications on the change. That happens sometimes. The new owner doesn't know, and the previous doesn't bother.

—All right. Well, in that case, I have a phone call to make. Someone is going to be very happy to learn their lost dog has been found.

And Maddie is definitely not going to be happy about it.

I allowed Friday to tug at his leash all the way home. He was obviously rushing to put the strange scents in the vet's office as far behind as he could. He trotted eagerly, anticipating treats and the petting and the scratching. I didn't call him to heel. I was preoccupied with the reaction Maddie was going have.

She was definitely not going to be happy to find out the main squeeze in her life was someone's lost dog now found.







THREE



I TRIED TO make the news about Friday and her owner as easy for Maddie as I could. It wasn't going well. She was despondent, as I was afraid she would be. Immediately she backed away and crossed her arms, refusing to listen. I'd betrayed her. She could hardly look at me. She swallowed so hard I could hear it.

—Maybe I sort of suspected when I found him waiting for me by the car door. I was at a rest stop. I opened the door and he volunteered to jump in. I knew he must belong to someone. We sort of adopted each other. He didn't look mistreated. I checked him over very carefully. He didn't have a collar. Or maybe he lost it somewhere. I never thought to check for one of those tags. I didn't know.

Her explanation came out too short and clipped to be a lie.

—I believe you. You love Friday. That was plain as day from the first time I saw you with him.

Hell, even I thought the two of them belonged together from day one. They were a Mutt and Maddie of dog and human.

—What are you going to do?

—I don't know, Maddie, but I do know a young person who is probably very concerned for the welfare of her dog.

She wasn't having it.

—Well, I need a break. We're off to the beach to think about things. We'll be back later.

I considered what she told me about finding the dog. It wasn't unusual for dogs to be stolen and ransomed. I had cooperated on that case with Dr. Hannah, after all. Perhaps someone had seen a well-behaved dog roaming around Lily's neighborhood and taken advantage. Friday, or Max, could have jumped out of the car the first chance he got and abandoned his dog nappers.

I decided to call Allie Sands, where I knew Lily would be be happy to learn her dog, Max, had been found. Allie was a girlfriend in my past life as a big-city cop. We'd worked together solving murders, she as a coroner and me as a detective. We eventually became involved, but it didn't end well us.

I congratulated her on her engagement to Warren. I teased her about admiring his six-pack abs so long ago while we were vacationing at the resort where Warren ran the store on the wharf.

There was too much time and life between then and now, and here she was about to marry the man after hiring him away from the resort. Warren Jeffrey took over the dive business Allie and her brother Hank started. His experience turned it into a going concern.

Warren and I had been good friends, too. He helped me get through a lot, until finally, fed up with life and love and death, I pulled up stakes and left the resort. I was fed up with being the go-to guy to take care of miscreants, thieves, and other bad boys and girls. I never returned.

Allie talked a blue streak at the prospect of her upcoming wedding. She sounded happy, finally, something I could never do for her.

—Warren left me a voice mail. Do you know what it's about?

—Not a clue, Jim.

—All right. I'll call him after I talk to Lily about Max.

—She's going to be so happy to know Max hasn't disappeared forever. What's his owner like?

—Well, she isn't happy, I can tell you that. In fact, she's devastated. Maddie is prepared to give up the dog, though.

—Maddie?

—Yes. My new partner in the business.

—Is that why you didn't get back to us about coming to the wedding?

—I don't know, Allie. There's no hard feelings. You know that. Warren and I got along. Get along. I remembered your comment about his six-pack abs and laughed. I envy him. I'm happy for you.

—So then, you'll be sure to bring Maddie as your plus-one.

—I'll be plus-two, sweetheart. I'll be bringing Max, too.

—Lily is going to be so excited.

—I expect so. I should talk to her and explain.

—All right. I'll get her.

I waited, thinking about Maddie and how I would ever make it up to her. She loved Friday. Or Max, as Lily had named him. Maddie loved the dog, whoever he was. That was evident the first time I saw the two of them.

—Hi Uncle Jim.

Lily was out of breath.

—Hi Lily. How are you?

—I'm good. I'm missing a dog, though. Max ran away. Or someone took him. I think someone must have stole him. Why would a good dog run away from someone who loves him?

—Well, maybe he thought the person he ended up with needed him more than you did. There are people like that. Dogs, too. They have a very powerful sense of love and affection, you know.

—Maybe.

She sounded doubtful.

—In any case, I have a surprise for you. I found Max.

Lily screamed into the phone, loud and piercing and happy. Maddie and Friday chose that moment to walk into the office. The dog slurped up water. Maddie looked at me quizzically.

—I'm going to put you on speaker, Lily. The person who found Max is here with me. Her name is Maddie. And she calls her dog Friday.

Maddie didn't appear happy to be put on the spot.

—How did you find out he was mine, Uncle Jim?

—I took him to a vet for a checkup. Don't worry, there's nothing wrong with him. He's fine. Maybe a few extra pounds on both of us that neither needs.

—Zelda misses you, Uncle Jim, but we're taking good care of her.

—Thank you, Lily. Thank James for me too, okay?

—I will.

—Here's Maddie, okay? I need to talk to Allie again when you're finished.

Lily and Maddie gently fenced back and forth. I knew Lily well enough. I could tell by the tone of her voice she was sizing Maddie up. Not surprised, I knew Maddie was doing the same. I stayed out of it.

—I'll make sure to bring your dog and your Uncle Jim home in time for the wedding. I'm going to be his plus one.

Maddie gave me the look as though I'd been keeping something from her. Which I was, until she found out on her own. Allie's voice came through loud and clear. Lily must have put the phone on speaker, too.

—Good. You're officially invited, Maddie. And Friday or Max, too. See if you can kick the butt of the man standing beside you. All three of you are welcome any time. I'll see that the trailer is cleaned up. You can all stay there.

Lily's excited Max is coming home! was the last thing I heard as Maddie thanked her for the invitation and hung up.

—Well, I guess I'm going to have to give up my faithful Friday.

—Don't be so sure. Lily has a life of her own. She's older now. She's probably interested in boys. Or more likely, the boys are interested in her.

I hugged Maddie tight.

—When she sees how the two of you are together, I'm sure she'll think hard about leaving you without a dog. Lily is that kind of person.

—If you say so. Now tell me about Warren's six-pack abs, pudgy Mr. Detective.

She dug into my ribs with a finger. I looked at her suspiciously.

—Those are ribs. My abs are around the front. And you were eavesdropping.

She grinned. Taking his cue from his mistress, Friday barked. I grinned right back.

—Warren is Allie's department. You should have asked her. Since we're going to the wedding, maybe you'll get a chance to see them for yourself if he takes his shirt off.

—Yeah. No. I like your pudgy abs just fine.

She reached to scratch me behind the ear and I tapped the floor with a foot. That always got her.

—You need a shave.

—I don't have time right now. I have to call Warren.

—That's the guy who left the message.

—Yeah. He's the one marrying Allie.

—You don't look so good, shamus.

Okay, so maybe I wasn't ecstatic that Allie was marrying my good friend. I truly was happy for her. I was feeling a little sorry for myself, too, what with Maddie going to lose Friday, and me losing Allie for good. I sure wasn't about to reveal that to the woman standing in front of me.

—I'm okay. Put on something special tonight. We're going to celebrate.

That was all Maddie needed. She left me with Friday and headed down the stairs faster than a speeding bullet. If I knew her, she'd be shopping for most of the afternoon.

I couldn't wait to see what she brought home.







FOUR



I PLAYED WARREN'S brief message. There was nothing to give away the reason for the call. We'd been good friends in the past. My expectation was that he wanted to give me a heads up about the upcoming wedding.

To be truthful, the wedding wasn't news to me. Allie hired Warren away from the resort hotel to manage the dive shop she started as part of her successful boat rental and tour business. I knew they had developed a thing. I was happy for both of them. I was a lot happier now that I knew they were getting married.

Allie deserved to be happy. So did Warren. If they found happiness together, who was I to throw cold water on it? Both of them were my friends. Both of them deserved their happiness, wherever they found it.

I answered the ringing phone and Warren's familiar deep voice gave me an exuberant greeting.

—I was just thinking about you, lucky man.

I gave it right back to him. We went back and forth about stealing my girl and how she deserved better than me and I ended up letting him know how happy I was they'd finally found each other. It was all true, too, and with that out of the way, I asked about the cryptic voicemail.

—Yeah. About that.

I let him go on.

—A reporter came to see me. She was talking around some old shit. Asking about Pilar and you and the accident and the decision by the authorities to identify the plane crash as the result of a terrorist attack.

—That's old news, Warren.

I didn't go into it with him, but it took me a long time to fix a wrong that included calling the woman I loved a terrorist. I handled that problem the only way I knew how. Revenge is best served up in the belly of an alligator.

—The reporter was talking to Erica, too, and asking about Kara.

That one was resolved by Pilar and I a long time ago. We flew down and traipsed the length of the Baja to Cabo and back to Todos Santos. Thanks to the padre at the local mission, we determined that my wedding to Kara and the records the woman left behind for me were a complete fabrication.

—Interesting. That's all old history now. I wonder what she really wanted.

—She asked about Kara's son, James, as well.

Thanks to Allie and DNA testing by one of her connections, she proved that James couldn't be my son. I never learned who his father was. Erica, Kara's sister and James' aunt, took him in unreservedly. He was part of the Sands family now, since Erica had married Hank, Allie's brother.

—I wonder why a reporter is bringing up old wounds? She must have a burr in her pants about something.

—That's what I thought too. Since you're coming here for the wedding, I thought I'd give you a heads up. You are coming, right? Allie never got a yes or no out of you.

—I talked to her. We're coming.

—We? Who's we? What are you holding out?

—Someone who heard about your abs from Allie and thinks mine are better.

—So you've lost some weight.

—Uhh, I wouldn't say that, exactly.

—Then she loves you too much. She's being kind.

—You always did have a way with words. That's why we're friends. Keep the coffee warm and I'll see you on the wharf like old times.



I'd be returning to a lot of history with Allie and Warren both. While Allie and I were what I'd call ancient history, Warren was another matter. As my good friend, he'd been around for the Pilar and Kara debacle when Kara showed up in her sloop with her son in tow.

Warren was there when Pilar, my pregnant wife, was murdered in the charter plane terror attack. Hell, he'd been there when I walked away, never to return.

Ancient history. Some of it good. A lot of it not so good.

Was I really over it? Judging by what Warren told me about a reporter, I might not be. Maddie was definitely going to be need to know from now on. I couldn't keep if from her any longer.

But how much should I tell her?







FIVE



I COULDN'T BE certain if we were having a fight or only a disagreement. Over a damned trailer. I had ghosts — old wounds, if you must — still haunting me. Allie and her brother Hank, Erica and her daughter Lily, even Warren, were all a part of it. Perhaps it would be good for me to see them all together, living and laughing and being in love and marrying.

On the other hand, Maddie was convinced there was still something between Allie and me. So maybe it was overdue. And just maybe Maddie was right, but I was resisting. Would I never learn?

—It's a nice trailer. Virtually brand-new. You'll like it. So will Friday. You'll see. There's grass and everything.

Grass and everything? If that was the best I could do, Maddie would be out the door in minutes. I was beginning to feel like I was bullying her into staying in the trailer on Allie's property.

—Did you sleep with her in that trailer?

I hesitated too long. Her nostrils flared and she wasn't having any of it. She wasn't hearing me, either.

—You did, didn't you?

Her breathing came slow and steady. Damn but the woman was good. I hung my head like the bad person I was. If I managed to talk myself out of this, I deserved a treat. Immediately I felt even more guilty for thinking it. Strange how Friday had insinuated his way into my life since he'd arrived with Maddie.

—I was down and out after Pilar was killed in the plane crash. The authorities branded her a terrorist bomber. Deceased, she had no trial to prove otherwise. It was a crock of shit, and I knew it right off but I couldn't prove it.

Even with the weight of all of that on me, I had to keep it together. Moving in to the trailer on the marina property was how I did it. It was part of the reason I didn't take to drink. The place wasn't a dump. It was brand new.

It took years of investigation to put Pilar's killer in my sights. When I finally got him there, I made certain the guilty party received the justice he deserved. Call it trial and execution by alligator, but it inflamed the cockles of my heart to have witnessed it firsthand.

I didn't tell Maddie that part of it. She didn't need to know. No one needed to know other than the people who were there to witness the man's demise.







SIX



I TOOK IN the pile of luggage, all of it new but mine, and realized Maddie had relented. There was no doubt she was coming. She even dug out the bag I picked up for Friday when we went off on our disastrous ski lodge holiday. Like a lost dog, Friday was sitting beside it looking forlorn.

—No, Friday. We're not going on an airplane.

We hadn't talked about it past the phone call with Allie, but I knew she had been out shopping up a storm. What woman would venture into the territory of a woman who had been a previous partner to her man without a fresh wardrobe? I knew that much about women.

—How long are you planning on staying? Judging by the weight of these bags—

She gave me the look and I let it go. She was doing a number on me. So was Friday. He never left Maddie's side the entire time. Now I was wondering if Maddie would be staying home in spite of the heavy suitcases she'd allowed me to haul downstairs.

—You bought a new bag.

More than one, in fact. They were hard-sided and looked expensive.

—Of course I did. Do you think I was going to show up at your former girlfriend's place carrying a backpack and looking like an infatuated college girl traveling with her professor?

I wanted to keep it light. I liked her too much. The age difference wasn't so big. What's ten years among lovers and business partners?

—So that's why you bought the suitcases. You're over your infatuation with me and you're going to run away as soon as Friday and I leave for the wedding?

—Sort of. And no. You're not taking Friday anywhere without me. Furthermore, don't be putting crazy ideas in my head about running away. I'm going to be around to torment you for a while.

—Like you tormented me this morning?

—Oh yeah. Are you going to be able to keep up?

She grinned. I wanted to put her over my lap and pretend to spank her. I knew where it would lead.

—You're beautiful just the way you are. Warren is going to be jealous.

I left the shopping bags for last. She wouldn't let me look in them. In that moment, she surrendered.

—It's stuff. Just stuff. For you. No looking.

—Why can't I open them now?

—No, silly. You can't open them now. It's for us for later.

—I didn't get you anything.

Perhaps a little guilt on my part would help.

—I didn't expect you to. Let's go. Friday is chomping at the bit. Are we going to put the top down?

Discretion being the better part of valor, Friday knew enough not to call shotgun. The instant I opened the door he jumped in the back and settled in, content and anxious as I was to get going. I was sure it was only because he knew we weren't headed for the airport.

Maddie slid across the Packard's seat looking like a '40s movie star. The top went down and she settled in beside me, hip glued to hip. I started to feel like a teenager in love all over again. Once out of the city the old Packard settled in nicely at ten over, running like a top.

Maddie's head rested on my shoulder and Friday woofed his approval from the windy back, where he sat with his head over the side. The first break arrived and we stretched our legs. I picked up road trip munchies while Maddie picked out a couple of music CDs in the truck stop.

—I didn't know you were old-school that way.

—I saw the player. No sense in letting it go to waste, is there?

—The new radio has bluetooth. I'm not so out of the loop as that.

By the time we were out of music, we were at the next stop. We cruised slowly past a couple of local PD cruisers and I pulled up to the pumps. The Packard gobbled fuel like an old farm tractor. I paid and parked the car.

Maddie and Friday got out and headed for the facilities together. I got the idea he was being overly protective, but what did I know? Friday was obviously Maddie's dog—at least, I hoped he would be if I knew Lily.

We didn't bring Friday into the restaurant, but with the top down on the Packard we weren't worried anyone would fault us for mistreating our dog.







SEVEN



FUELED, FED, WALKED and watered, we were ahead of schedule and ready to relax for the final leg of our drive. I pulled out of the truck stop and made for the highway.

The two black and whites we passed when we entered the truck stop pulled out behind us. That there were two of them was no cause for concern. Thus I didn't think anything of it. Everyone had a job to do and breaks to take, and now, like us, the break was over and there were going back to work.

I set my foot on the Packard's pedal for two under and wished them good luck. They didn't try to overtake. They didn't try to pass.

—Did you take it upon yourself to dial 911 after our argument?

She looked at me and grinned.

—It wasn't an argument. It was a discussion. Should I be concerned about being loaded onto a boat, tied with weights and forced to walk the plank once you get me where you want me?

—I think putting you over my knee would be a better plan.

—You already did that, remember? You're not going senile on me, are you?

I checked the mirror.

—We have a couple of black and whites behind us. They've been with us since the last stop.

She turned to look back and slid away from me.

—Maybe they think you're someone else.

—Me? What about you? You're the one traveling with the stolen dog.

—Very funny. Oh-oh. There goes the flashing blues.

I had an itch to know how the Packard would perform against modern-day equipment. I resisted the urge to floor it in the huge, overpowered car. A cruiser stayed on our tail. A second pulled up beside us. The siren wailed. I pulled over and stopped.

—There's something going on. Put your hands on the dash and don't move, all right?

Maddie called to the dog.

—Friday. Sit. Stay.

—Another ten miles and we would have been home free. I wonder what they want.

It was unusual. The police were a long way from home when they picked us up at the truck stop. They obviously knew we were on our way. Now I wanted to know the reason for stopping us.

I didn't get a chance to ask. Two officers approached with sidearms drawn and aimed.

—Get out of the car. Now.







EIGHT



MADDIE AND I knew the procedure well. We kept our hands in plain sight and eased out the driver's side. We went down on our knees. From the back, Friday kept his eyes on Maddie. He was waiting for a signal.

—You're both under arrest.

—Why are we being detained? What are the charges?

Our questions were met with silence.

—Jimbo. How far away is Lily?

In the back of the Packard, Friday's ears perked up.

—Eight or ten miles. Why?

I think Maddie knew we were in deep shit before I did. She called to the dog.

—Friday.

In the back seat the dog barked and got up on all fours. Every muscle tensed and his ears perked. His tail went straight in the air and stayed there.

—Find Lily. Go.

Friday bounded out of the car. He didn't stop to try to be protective of his mistress. He wasn't bothering to wait around. He made for the hills, full speed ahead, hell-bent on doing as his mistress commanded.

Twin taser tags hit Maddie in the back. She collapsed on the ground, twitching and grimacing.

—Don't say a word or you'll end up on the ground with your woman.

Gunshots rang out as a police goon fired randomly in Friday's direction. The magazine emptied and he replaced it but by then it was too late. Friday was long gone. The radio call went out advising whoever was managing the dog and pony show that the clown-car cops failed to corral the dog part of it.

—Get the woman up.

Immediately it became apparent there were no recordings being made. Maddie moaned and stayed put. The dumb ox cop pulled the trigger and zapped her again when she didn't react to his command. A wet spot spread over the crotch of her pants.

The discussion ended there and we were picked up and flung into the back of the cruiser. In solidarity with my partner, I pissed my pants in protest. In this heat, by the end of tomorrow the four-wheel piss palace would be unbearable.

Maddie collapsed against me. I told her what I did and she grinned in her own damp solidarity. She let go with whatever remained in her bladder.

—High five, girl. We're on a roll.

—Yeah. No. I don't like your rolls.

—Strange. It was only a few days ago when you were telling me how much you admired my abs.

—I think those were your ribs. They were too hard to be your abs.

—It's a good thing I love you or I'd make a formal request for another car. Speaking of which, it isn't usual for two perps to be in the back of the same car. Unless the procedures have changed.

—I have to pee again.

Let fly. While you're doing that, do you have any idea why we're here?

—Nope. Not a one. But I wouldn't be surprised if the gun in my purse was next on the agenda.

—Don't worry about it. You're legal. So am I.

She gave me a look that said I had to be deaf, dumb and stupid. How could a woman do that to a man with only a single glance every damn time?

—Yeah, I'm thinking that isn't going to work, but you keep right on believing it. How do we get a lawyer to come out to this dog and pony show?

—We have to be charged. Well, under normal circumstance. I'm not so sure now. Maybe we're being shipped off to the gulag. I hear it's a very popular place these days.

—Well that's good. We can parent some of those children in concentration-camp cages the government is so proud of.

I shut up and started thinking. Could the mess we were in have anything to do with the heads-up Warren passed along about the reporter? What dark places did she uncover when she started researching me?

—Do you think Friday will be able to find Lily?

—He'd better or I'll never scratch him behind the ears again. Speaking of which, neither of us will be able to from a jail cell. Habeas corpus, anyone?

The cruisers crossed the divide and headed in the direction of the town we so recently passed through.

—And here we go. Next stop, perdition.







NINE



FROM THE BACK seat of the cruiser it looked to be a sleepy little town. It was off the interstate, where the road through was tagged as the B-route. Dusty streets. A couple of old-time gas stations that the big names in petrol forgot about. Plenty of flags flying to celebrate something or other that was of import to the residents.

Our personal transport vehicle pulled up in front of a newer building. Two stories. Not so many windows to look out on the village. I knew right off the money to build it hadn't come from local taxes. It was funded by speeding tickets. Probably with the radar re-tuned to indicate a couple over to take care of everybody.

It was probably a good job for Chief Joe-Bob and the rest of the mayor's relatives. It would provide a car and uniforms and equipment to help the overweight police chief look good in his wrinkled shirt and the clip-on tie with last week's barbecue sauce smeared all over it.

—I get the feeling we're in hillbilly heaven, Maddie. We need to be careful with these people. They're not used to being questioned by anyone. Non-locals pay the fines and leave.

Maddie turned away from the window to look at me.

—I do believe you could be right, shamus. Now how are we going to get our asses out of here.

I checked the clock hanging over the dilapidated city hall.

—Depending on how long it takes Friday to find his former mistress, I'd say three or four hours before help arrives.

—Oh great. And the car is out in the middle of nowhere on the interstate.

—That's a good thing. If Friday is able to convince anyone to follow him, they should twig on it.

—Thanks for that vote of confidence in my dog. How do you know he won't be happy to get home to Lily and plop down in front of a nice warm fire to relax after all the exercise his chubby bottom is getting?

She was right. Good old Friday was getting a little pudgy around the middle, sort of like I was, too.

—Lily knows we're coming. Everyone knows we're coming. When Friday, or her Max arrives all by himself, they'll know something is up.

—You'd better be right, shamus. I don't want to be caught out with all of those new clothes and no wedding procession to attend.

—I'd like to let it be known that there are still some shopping bags I haven't been allowed to look in. My gut tells me it's going to be a while until I do. Are you happy now?

Maddie giggled uncontrollably.

—Not particularly, but let me think about it for three or four hours in a hick town jail with a country bumpkin for a sheriff. Are you sure you don't know this place? It seems to me like they all know you.

—Know me? What the hell?

—Well, we're in the back of some podunk town's cop car. We're in handcuffs. And I sure as hell never saw the place before today. I drive right through towns like this. I know better.

—So it's all on me. Thanks. I think.

Our driver parked and led us into the building. The office space was filled with desks. We were forced to make our way through a tight maze on the way to the solitary cell in a back room.

—Looks to me like some of the chief's relatives might have a stake in this game.

—You're mistaken, shamus.

—What do you mean? Take a look for yourself.

—You mean all of them. Every last living one.

Maddie let out a disgusted sigh.

—We'll have none of that. We're spending our time together. It's called bonding. What other couple can say the same when they end up in jail?

Maddie shook her handcuffs at me.

—We're already bonded, detective.

I wondered how experienced the outfit was, considering we were sharing the only a cell.







TEN



FRIDAY KEPT TO the grass at the side of the highway. The ground was softer there, and he could make better time. He ignored speeding cars and honking horns overtaking him. He found his way off the busy four-lane highway and onto a back road.

When he became winded, he halted his quick gallop and slowed to a fast trot, ears forward, tail high in the air like a wind vane as it slowly moved back and forth in rhythm with his body.

He was searching for Lily now. The marina. All the familiar scents and smells and odors that went with it. He recognized the diner on the road to the marina and picked up speed. By the time he found himself in the marina compound he was panting and exhausted. He barked. It was his way of announcing he was home to anyone paying attention.

Once. Twice. Three times.

Zelda followed Zoe as both dogs scampered out to greet Max's familiar bark. They rubbed noses and nudged and barked and generally made a fuss. Lily came out to see what the commotion was about and recognized her dog.

—Max! You're home.

Lily dropped to her knees and the dog ran to her. Her arms circled the wayward dog. He licked at her face and sat down to catch his breath. Lily looked around the parking lot, expecting to see a fancy convertible. Confused, she queried the dog.

—Where's Uncle Jim? Where's Maddie?

Max bumped noses with Zelda and Zoe. He led the dogs on a chase to Allie's car in the lot and back to Lily.

—Max. You're panting too hard. You need water. You're dehydrated. How far did you run? Come on. You have to rest. Your dish is waiting.

Max ran to greet Allie. Still panting, still with his tongue hanging out. His teeth closed on her pant leg. He tugged in an attempt to drag her in the direction of the car.

—Lily? What's wrong? Where's Jim and Maddie?

—They're not here. I think Max ran the whole way by himself.

—Well that's not right. All three of those dogs are upset. And Max needs water right now.

A very pregnant Allie hurried off as best she could to find Warren. Lily busied herself watering Max. He drank and went back to running from Lily to the car and back. Allie returned and the dog looked expectantly at her. He sat and barked.

—I think he's trying to tell us something. Come on you guys. We'll all go. Where's Erica? She needs to come with you, Lily.

The women piled into the car. Warren drove. Three dogs hung their heads out the window. Max barked his assent as Warren took them over the back roads to the freeway. He turned in the direction he knew Jim would be taking to get to the marina.

They passed the car pulled off on the opposite side of the highway. Max barked. Warren steered onto the median and burned a quick u-turn. He pulled in behind the Packard in time to meet a flatbed tow truck halting in front of it.

—Everyone stay here and don't let the dogs out. I'll take a quick look-see.

Allie waddled to the car and pulled a handkerchief out of a pocket. She used it to open the dash. It was Jim's car all right, missing his signature handgun. Relieved, she struggled to lean in and remove the keys from the ignition. She walked back to the trunk and opened it. It was filled with luggage. She replaced the keys and approached the tow truck driver.

—What's going to happen to the car?

—I was told it's being impounded. I'm hauling it to the police lot down the highway a bit.

Allie made for the car.

—He's taking it to an impound lot. I expect Jim and Maddie are in a cell somewhere in the next town. They shouldn't be hard to find.

Warren pulled out and reversed course across the median. He made good time to Harpertown.







ELEVEN



JIM AND MADDIE cooled their heels in the small cell. Requests for phone calls and lawyers were ignored. By hour three, they were still in the dark as to why they had been shanghaied by cops and transported to the local jail.

Without warning, a cop marched a woman down the hall and put her in their cell.

—Boy, are you two ever in the shit. You should be getting out of this place in five or ten. And I don't mean days.

By all appearances, Maddie didn't take too kindly to someone not involved with their arrest showing they had knowledge of the case.

—Are you a cop?

A head shake said no. Maddie hauled back a fist, got off a roundhouse, and decked the woman. Her head banged against the wall and she dropped like a stone.

Officers rushed into the room, unlocked the door to the holding cell, and hauled the woman out.

—You're going to jail for a long time. That was a cop you just assaulted.

—Then why did she say she wasn't? Was she lying to us? I have a witness. We want a lawyer right now. Two lawyers. We want to make our phone calls. We want to see a judge. Stop screwing around, you useless bags of crap. And while you're at it, go clean out your cruiser. I pissed all over the back seats.

I waved a hand in the air.

—For the record, I second that emotion. What she said. I pissed in your cruiser too. Call it spite if you must. You have something to do when your shift ends with this podunk outfit.

I banged a leftover tin cup left behind by a previous occupant across the bars. I'd seen it done in old movies by protesting inmates. No one paid any attention. Not even Maddie.

So here I was. In jail. With Maddie. Friday had gone AWOL. It was looking like we weren't going to make the wedding I promised to attend. I wondered who Allie would get to give her away. Not to mention Warren. I was supposed to be his best man.







TWELVE



LILY'S TWEEN-AGE ARMS and legs scurried out of the car ahead of everyone. Three fur-covered bodies rushed after the girl, not wanting to be left behind for the fun they suspected was coming. She held the door for her motley collection and the foursome rushed the police station's front desk. Erica called to her daughter.

—Lily! Don't be so quick to go in there by yourself, dear.

Allie good-naturedly admonished her friend.

—That girl. She's just like her mother. And I'm looking at you, Erica.

The women laughed and followed the girl and the trio of sniffing and snuffling dogs into what passed for reception. A sole officer occupied a desk in a far corner of the room. He took in the dogs and the girl and the two women and the expression his face said he didn't want to be there.

—What's going on? Who are you people? Get those dogs out of here.

Realizing he was outnumbered, his hand moved to the taser on his belt. Lily's stern voice commanded the dogs to halt and sit. Silenced by the girl's command, they obeyed. A look of relief took over the nervous officer's face, and he was about to sit down, too. He realized his mistake and straightened.

Tears streamed down Lily's face and she began to sob. Three pairs of dog ears perked up, but they remained sitting at attention.

—Where's Uncle Jim. Where's my Uncle Jim? What have you done to him? Where is he?

Allie and Erica stepped in front of the girl.

—I'm Allie Sands. This is Lily's mother, Erica. The dogs belong to us. A friend is waiting out front in the car. We want to see the couple in your jail cell.

Allie's rapid-fire questions didn't appear to affect the pudgy officer in his sweat-stained shirt. He held up a hand, too late to interrupt.

—I've called a lawyer. She's on her way. So far, the count appears to be this: Three women, three dogs, and a single police officer. Does that sound about right? Furthermore, who's in charge of this dog and pony show? Is your top dog around, or is he hiding out somewhere in a dog house?

As though to back her up, the dogs barked in unison. Lily called to silence them.

—Good dogs. Stay.

The dogs obeyed. The deputy relaxed only a little.

—Well ma'am—

It was Erica's turn to take the brown-shirted ball of sweat to task.

—Do we look like ma'ams to you, officer? The woman asked you a question. Answer it. And I have a question of my own. Where's Jim Nash being held? Is he in your jail or not? And keep in mind we have a lawyer coming.

The cop flushed a bright pink and moved to pick up the desk phone, then thought better of it.

—If you all will just be patient and follow me, I'll take you to him.

Three women quick-stepped through the maze of desks and chairs. Three dogs with tails straight up in the air trotted after the women. Alerted by the commotion, Jim and Maddie made to stand to greet the arriving delegation. A grinning Jim rattled a tin cup against the bars.

Through the bars, Maddie recognized a very pregnant woman and safely assumed that was the bride to be.

—The things you put a woman through on her wedding. Jim Nash, you should be ashamed.

He hung his head and cocked an eyebrow, pretending guilt and feigning innocence. Allie reached through the bars and the women introduced themselves. Lily couldn't believe Jim was in a jail.

—Uncle Jim, what did you do? Why is Maddie in prison with you?

A grinning Maddie added to his embarrassment.

—Yes, Uncle Jim. What did you do to put us in prison? Please admit your guilt so we can get out of here for the wedding.

—It's not prison, Lily. It's only jail.

Lily appeared doubtful.

—It looks like prison to me, Uncle Jim. It has bars.

Erica chimed it with some chiding of her own.

—She's right. It's a prison as far as we're concerned. Allie called Kasidi. She's on her way.

Erica stuck her hand past the bars and introduced herself to Maddie.

—I'm so sorry this had to happen. What's going on? What did Jim do?

Maddie looked at Erica and shrugged.

—Nothing as far as we know. I haven't done anything either, other than get tasered like a schoolgirl for talking.

She raised her voice for all to hear.

—For crying out loud, where do these hillbillies come from?

—Kasidi should be here any minute. If Jim is smart he'll let her handle it. Just don't let him argue about her bill.

Allie felt an explanation was in order.

—There's a reason we have a lawyer on call for Jim.

She grinned at Maddie.

—Kasidi got Lily's Uncle Jim out of a pickle a few years ago. She's a good lawyer and a friend of mine to boot. I'm sorry to meet you and run, Maddie, but I've got three angry dogs and three angry people. If we aren't careful, we'll all be in a cell with you and I have a business to run. And, oh yeah, a wedding to attend to.

She gave Jim the evil eye before breaking into a wide smile.

—Where's Warren, Allie?

—He's out in the car. He thought it best to stay there in case he had to bail all of us out.

She passed a phone through the bars.

—Make any calls you have to before they find it. Kasidi's number is in there somewhere, too. The trailer is ready whenever you do your prison break. I wish I could do more.

Lily wasn't sure what to make of Allie's prison break comment.

—See? I told you you were in prison. But it's okay, Uncle Jim. I don't think you're a bad person. You either, Maddie. Max is fine. He's waiting for you in the lobby. He ran all the way to bring us. I wanted to bring him to see you but my mom thought he should stay there.

—Thank you, Lily. I'm sure Uncle Jim is grateful, too.

Jim began singing a tune that sounded only a little familiar. It was something about trouble and nobody seeing it. Allie shook her head.

—Maybe you could bring Maddie a change of clothes. I need one too. We urinated all over the back of the car that brought us in.

—I'll try to get your bags. No promises. You're likely to be in jumpsuits by then. If I manage, I'll send Warren back. He's a lot more patient, unlike you.

She looked at Jim, but her words were for Maddie.

—Try not to let him fly off the handle.

—Yeah, I know. I've been working on him with limited success.

—All right you two. I'm right beside you. Is Friday all right?

—Max is good. We brought all three dogs with us. Zelda and Zoe and Max are out causing a stink in the front office. If these Keystone cops don't know trouble when they see it, they're dumber than a bag of hammers.

Allie took two steps before turning back.

—Call Kasidi now. Right now. Maddie, make him do it.

—Well, the man doesn't have anything else to do. Jim? It's on you.

Allie turned back a second time.

—The wedding isn't going to happen until both of you are present and accounted for, understood?

—Does that mean if we get twenty-five to life you'll be an old maid?

—Not on your life, Nash. Do your duty with Kasidi and get both your butts out of jail. Don't be like last time and take it upon yourself to do everything.

The women high fived through the bars and Allie waddled down the hall to the door.

—She's one tough cookie. And a very pregnant woman. What did you do to let her get away, detective?


Continue reading this ebook at Smashwords.
Download this book for your ebook reader.
(Pages 1-34 show above.)