Authors: Cynthia Hickey
Spyglass Lane Mysteries presents:
A Summer Meadows Mystery Book Two
Ebook Copyright 2011 by Cynthia Hickey
Spyglass Lane Mysteries
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Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 Biblica. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.
First, I want to thank God to whom all glory goes. Without the gift of imagination He’s given me, this book would never have come to be. Second, to my husband, Tom, and his unfailing support and encouragement. I couldn’t do this without him. My awesome agent, Kelly Mortimer, who believes in me enough to give me a kick in the pants when one is deserved. My wonderful editor, Susan Downs, who is entertained by my character’s wackiness. To my parents, siblings, and children, who eagerly await my next book, and to the wonderful readers of Summer’s first adventure, Fudge-Laced Felonies, who can’t wait to indulge in another of Summer’s crazy mishaps. To my critique partners, the Crit-Critters, who make sure I stay on the right track.
Rings clattered as I shoved aside the striped plastic.
A scream welled up from deep inside me, clawing its way through the lump in my throat. There, hanging by the neck with a brightly colored scarf around her throat, slumped a woman. A small wooden stool lay at her feet. The showerhead had pulled away from the wall. The scarf hung on the edge of the plumbing, while the woman’s knees rested on the stained fiberglass floor.
A horn blared. I heard a crash. A shrill shrieking, like metal on metal. Then I felt a vibration beneath my feet.
“Earthquake!” Aunt Eunice ducked beneath the kitchen table.
I shot her a look. “Please. In Arkansas?”
Another blast of the noise a shattered trumpet might make.
“That sounds like an elephant.” Aunt Eunice crawled from her hiding place and glanced at me, her brow furrowed.
In Mountain Shadows? “It can’t be.” The trumpet screamed again.
Aunt Eunice tossed into the sink the cucumber she’d been peeling before her dive under the table. She whipped off her apron, sending it in a yellow-checkered parachute to the floor, and then headed toward the living room.
“Race you to the window!” My aunt was game for anything. We dashed to the front of the house. I planted my feet on a throw rug and slid to the door first. I hit it with a thud. “I won!”
Truly, my cairn terrier, barked in a fit of frenzy. Aunt Eunice dodged by Truly as we rushed outside onto the porch. The screen door slammed behind us.
A diesel rig in garish colors had collided with another trailer and lay diagonally on its side across Highway 64. Tires spun as smoke poured from beneath them. The acrid odor of burnt rubber assaulted my nostrils. Other brightly painted trucks pulling trailers idled beside the road.
Men darted around our yard, herding escaped animals: sheep, miniature ponies, and a pig. Cries of alarm and cursing filled the air. I never would have believed such a sight had I not seen it.
A horse whinnied, a lion roared, and an elephant trailing a length of frayed rope thundered past the cars and across the front lawn.
“My roses!” In my usual fashion of acting before thinking, I grabbed an umbrella from a stand beside the door. “Hey!”
Opening and closing the makeshift weapon in rapid succession, I waved it in front of me as I flew into the yard. The elephant blasted a warning and turned toward me. Horror. Gone was the cute Dumbo of my childhood. Instead, I faced several tons of a frightened giant who rose to stand on two legs. Doing what any sane person in my circumstances would, I whirled and dashed around the corner of the house. Then, peering into the front yard, I watched in anguish as the elephant stomped through the roses I’d grown for the county fair. So much for my hopes of a blue ribbon.
Aunt Eunice took a step off the porch in my direction, and then obviously decided against being trampled to death. She turned and scooted into the house. “Summer, get back in here this instant!” she yelled through the screen door, as if the mesh could protect her. “No use dwelling on uprooted dreams. You’ll get squashed.” My heart thundered as loud as the beast’s massive feet. I cowered beneath my still open black-and-white polka-dotted protection. God, save me. How do I get into these messes?
“Ginger! Down, girl.”
I peeked around my umbrella. A massive woman waddled toward the raging beast. A sunny yellow muumuu with teal and green flowers stretched across the woman’s girth. Fluorescent flip-flops adorned her feet. Wavy black hair, tied with an emerald ribbon, hung in two pigtails. In her extended hand, she carried a rod that she tapped against the animal’s front legs. The elephant quieted and lowered to its knees.
“You can come out now.” If I didn’t know who’d spoken, I would’ve thought a child had. The woman had a shrill little girl-like voice. I stood, keeping my protective covering between Ginger and me.
“She won’t hurt you none.” My new friend patted Ginger’s trunk. I loved the woman for saving my life. “She just got a little scared when the truck fell over. It’s probably your overalls she’s attracted to. Ginger likes pink.”
With the speed of a waltzing turtle, my heartbeat returned to normal. I took a step forward and extended my hand. “I’m Summer Meadows.”
“Big Sally, they call me. I’m Ginger’s trainer. Had her ever since she was a calf. We’re with the carnival.” She waved toward the tangled vehicles. Her actions were strangely graceful despite her bulk. “Had us a bit of trouble.”
I dropped the umbrella. No longer afraid for my life, I was ready to help. “Anyone hurt?”
“No. Just some frightened ponies, one elephant escapee, and an angry lion.” Big Sally giggled, an infectious childish sound that elicited the same response from me. Her dark eyes disappeared into the folds of her face. “Our lead driver got spooked by a black cat crossing the highway. Man’s always been superstitious. Took a turn too sharp, and the rest is history.”
“Here you are.” Aunt Eunice joined me as I turned to survey the mess. “You disappeared. Thought maybe you became some circus animal’s dinner.”
“Really, Aunt Eunice. You tend to exaggerate. If something had tried to eat me, the people in the next county would have heard me scream.”
A thin black man led several shaggy Shetland ponies and tied them to the split-rail fence bordering one side of our property. Other characters in all shapes, sizes, colors, and manners of dress mingled among the diesels. Not a single vehicle sat in a straight line. One cab lay separate from a massive carrier. Ginger’s, no doubt. The air stank of fuel.
Something told me to keep my mouth shut, but in true Summer-like fashion, I forged ahead. “What can I do to help?”
“You’re a real sweetheart.” A gleam appeared in Sally’s eye. “We’ve got to get these beasts to the fairgrounds. I could use help keeping Ginger in line.” She leaned in as if to share a secret. “She seems to like you. The sweetie doesn’t take to many people.”
Was the woman serious? I’d seen America’s Worst Animal Attacks. I knew what an elephant this size could be capable of. I swallowed against the lump rising in my throat.
“You’ll have to walk her.” She shoved the rod in my hand. “The carnies will take care of the others.” Big Sally giggled. “No one wants to be around Ginger. She’s a bit pushy.”
The fairgrounds was a mile away. The thought of “leading” something of Ginger’s bulk had me telling God He could take me home right now. Anything to spare me the results of my good intentions. I could just imagine how Ethan, my boyfriend, would react. After I’d sort of made him a promise to stay out of trouble, he’d be livid.
say no, came to my mind, but how many opportunities like this came along in a lifetime? It might be fun.
“But I don’t have a clue what to do.”
“Just go. She’ll follow you. Tap her with the rod if she slows or gets out of line. I’ll be just a few yards back. If we get too close, Ginger might bolt. I’d go myself, but I have a hard time getting around.”
With those encouraging words, Big Sally lumbered to a waiting truck. The vehicle listed to one side as she squeezed in and called one more bit of advice. “Just talk to her. She likes that.” They backed off, leaving carnival workers wandering in and out of idling trucks and me babysitting.
To the left of the porch, a water spigot stuck out from the wall. Ginger wrapped her trunk around a tin bucket beside the water hose and tossed it in the air. It landed with a clatter on the porch, sending my dog into a shrill yipping bark.
“She’s thirsty.” Aunt Eunice folded her arms.
“What do I do?” I sent a pleading glance toward my aunt. “You can do this.”
“You know I can’t. My knees would never hold up. Chin up, girl. It’s just an elephant. Think of her as a big cow. If you’re skittish, don’t do it. Wait for someone with more experience.”
My aunt picked up the pail and handed it to me. “I bet when you woke up this morning you didn’t think you’d be leading a carnival parade down the highway.” She handed me a small box of chocolate-covered peanuts. “Here. Who could resist these?”
Not in a million years would I have imagined this scenario. I stuffed the box of peanuts inside the bib of my coveralls, set the bucket beside the hose, then filled it. Ginger plunged her trunk inside, slurped disgustingly, and sprayed the contents in the air.
Ewwww! Now I was frightened out of my wits and splattered with elephant boogies. Anger welled, threatening to overshadow my fear. “Stop that!” Ginger’s answer was another spray. “Stop or I’m going to whack you.” I raised the rod, then lowered it when Ginger trumpeted at me.
My heart leaped into my throat. This was it. The final moment. I would die under the feet of an enraged elephant. Ginger shoved me, almost knocking me to my knees. If I wanted to spare myself a gruesome death, I’d have to get moving. I retrieved the candy and held it enticingly in front of her. She grabbed the box, dumped the nuts into her mouth, and pushed me again.
“Fine.” I spun and walked toward the road, hunching my shoulders as my new buddy sauntered behind me. I didn’t need the rod. Ginger seemed to get a perverse pleasure out of nudging me in the back with her trunk. As long as I kept moving, so did she. And, being out of candy, I kept up a brisk pace.
What a sight the pair of us must’ve made, hiking down Highway 64. Me, wearing royal blue overalls with fuchsia flowers, drenched, with an elephant shoving me from behind. Not a common sight in the Ozarks. Horns blared as cars zoomed past, and Ginger quickened her pace until she paced beside me.
I shivered in my wet clothes, growing angry all over again at Ginger’s showering me. I would’ve loved to whack her with the rod. She draped her trunk over my shoulder, bearing down on my five-foot-two, 115-pound frame. “Now you love me?” I swatted her away. “I don’t even like you. You smell.”
She didn’t really. Except when she belched. She smelled of mud and earth, and something wild. Not a bad scent.
A whoop-whoop had me stopping and cringing. Ginger skipped sideways. Horror. My cousin Joe, Mountain Shadows’s chief of police, pulled up beside me in his squad car, lights flashing. A grin split his face.
“What are you doing, Summer?”
“Walking an elephant.” Duh. “Why’d you turn on your siren? Do you want to get me killed?”
Ginger’s trunk found its way around my shoulders again.
“Didn’t you see the commotion in front of my house? Of course, you had to pass by there, didn’t you?” I flung her off me. “They had no way to get Ginger to the fairgrounds, so they asked me to take her.”