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Authors: Janice Bennett

Tags: #Romance Suspense

Hot Dogs

BOOK: Hot Dogs
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An
Ellora’s Cave Romantica Publication

www.ellorascave.com

 

 

 

Hot Dogs

 

ISBN 9781419919787

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Hot Dogs Copyright © 2009 Janice Bennett

 

Edited by Helen Woodall

Cover art by Dar Albert

 

Electronic book Publication June 2009

 

The terms Romantica® and Quickies® are
registered trademarks of Ellora’s Cave Publishing.

 

With the exception of quotes used in reviews, this book may not
be reproduced or used in whole or in part by any means existing without written
permission from the publisher, Ellora’s Cave Publishing Inc., 1056 Home Avenue,
Akron, OH 44310-3502.

 

Warning: The unauthorized reproduction or
distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal.
No part of this book may be
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electronic or print, without the publisher’s permission.
Criminal copyright
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Please purchase only authorized
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Your support of the author’s rights
is appreciated.

 

This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons,
living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental.
The
characters are productions of the author’s imagination and used fictitiously.

Hot Dogs

Janice Bennett

Dedication

 

For Kyrie, Earnest, Misty, James, Nessie, Sally and all my
future furry woofers, for their never-ending love and inspiration.
And always
for Rob, for putting up with me and the menagerie.

 

 

 

 

 

Trademarks Acknowledgement

 

The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark
owners of the following wordmarks mentioned in this work of fiction:

 

Boy Scout: Boy Scouts of America Corporation

Dremel: Dremel Manufacturing Company

Jeep: DaimlerChrysler AG Corporation

Mazda: Toyo Kogyo Col, Ltd.

Mercedes: DaimlerChrysler AG Corporation

Muppets: Muppets, Inc.

Mustang:
Ford Motor Company

Roomba: iRobot Corporation

Sesame Street
: Children’s Television Workshop

 

Chapter One

 

I left my Aunt Gerda’s house shortly after seven thirty on
the morning of July second, prepared for the heavy fog that always covers the
California central coast at this time of year.
Instead the sun shone down on me
with unprecedented brilliance.
Typical.
Fortunately I knew better than to trust
the weather around here so I’d come prepared.
At the first turnoff along the
winding road that led from Upper River Gulch to the Merit County Fairgrounds, I
lowered the canvas top on Freya, my ’65 Mustang, the better to enjoy the warm
fresh air.
And because I’m not completely crazy I tied a scarf over my mop of
dark blonde permed curls.

I’d covered most of the distance, first through the pines
and redwoods and then through the sprawling farmland, when my cell phone
blasted forth with Gilbert and Sullivan’s “A Policeman’s Lot is Not a Happy
One”, warming my heart.
Sarkisian.
That’s Sheriff Owen Sarkisian to the
uninitiated.
The ringtone—set up especially for me by Jimmy the Geek, the
sheriff department’s resident computer genius—always made me smile.
Sarkisian
and I had quoted—or at least tried to sing—several lines from the
Pirates of
Penzance
at each other the night we’d met and we’d repeated that one in
particular on many occasions since.

I tapped the wireless receiver that hung over my ear.
“Hey
you.”

“Hey beautiful,” came his deep-voiced response.

I like to hear him say that.
“Where are you?”

“Almost back.”

“You must have left early.” It was at least a four-hour
drive from the university where he was knocking himself out to get his master’s
degree in psychology while still maintaining his job as sheriff of Merit County.

“Wanted to see you before I checked in with the department.
The week surrounding the Fourth of July is always crazy for us.”

“Tell me about it,” I sighed.

His rumbling chuckle sounded.
“Ready for the big kick-off?”

I guided Freya around the curve that took me out of the
sprawling fields of beans and strawberries and several varieties of lettuce and
into acres of berry vines strung on wire and pipe supports.
“On my way there
now.
I’m meeting the committee for the talent show and parade organization at
the fairgrounds in about five minutes.” I reached a stop sign, turned and
increased my speed as I headed toward the board announcing the Livestock Gate
where I had an appointment in the parking lot to inspect a storage shed.
Let’s
just say my job is more interesting than glamorous.

“That puts me about fifteen minutes away from you.” He
sounded pleased.
“And here comes the freeway exit.”

“How’d your conference go with your professor last night?” I
slowed to turn in through the open gate, bumped along the gravel road that led
around the arena where, like every year, we’d hold the fireworks show on the
night of the Fourth.

“All’s well that ends well,” he assured me solemnly.

“Stay out of Shakespeare,” I begged.
I preferred the light
nonsense of Gilbert and Sullivan.
“Looks like I’m not the first to arrive.
In
fact…” My voice trailed off as I took in the collection of people and vehicles
already clustered a short distance from the line of small buildings where the
fairgrounds kept the maintenance equipment, decorations and anything else for
which they currently didn’t have a need.
“You might be able to see me and
report to work at the same time.”

“What’s up, Annike?” Suddenly he was all business.

“The official Jeep is here.
So that means John Goulding must
be around.
And—oh damn.
That’s Sarah’s car.” Sarah Jacobs was not only the
doctor for most of the inhabitants of Upper River Gulch, she was also medical
examiner for the county.

“Just those two?”

I could hear the frown in his voice.
“Nope.
Looks like the
whole forensics team is here in force.”

“So what the hell is going on?” he muttered.

“You’ll probably find out before I do,” I assured him.

“Right.
See you in a few minutes.” The connection went
silent.

A woman in the uniform of a deputy sheriff broke away from
the small crowd of people and strode purposefully toward me—not to head me off
but to talk.
My car is too well-known and my connection with the sheriff’s
department is of very long standing.
My late husband was sheriff until he was
killed during a drug bust almost nine years ago.
I’m currently
not-quite-engaged to the present sheriff—Owen Sarkisian—but that’s one of those
long stories.
I intended to take the matter up with him as soon as he recovered
from his too-long drive.
I’m also a consultant to the department on financial
matters because, no matter how hard I try to live it down, I’m still a CPA even
though I’m no longer employed as such.
Now, for my sins, I run an
event-coordinating business.
Annike McKinley, Events Unlimited.
That’s me.

It was a job—the county’s gala Fourth of July celebration—that
brought me out here this morning.
The Board of Supervisors, in an attempt to
eclipse a scandal over last year’s event, had hired my one-woman company to
stage a bigger and better celebration.
Words like that always boded trouble.

And from the looks of things it appeared that trouble had
gotten here before me.

I fought back a craven impulse to keep driving, possibly all
the way to San Francisco, but curbed it.
I wanted to see Sarkisian.
I slowed to
a stop.

Becky Deschler, slim, athletic, youthful—everything I’m not,
in fact—leaned both hands on the door frame.
Her softly olive complexion glowed
with her excitement.
“Hey Annike.
You wouldn’t believe what we’ve got here.”

More likely I wouldn’t want to believe.

I forced a smile.
“Just assure me whatever it is won’t
cancel the talent show or I’m going to have an awful lot of people mad at me.”
The talent show was one of my contributions to the Fourth of July Holiday
Spectacular and the committee—and the whole community—had greeted the
suggestion with delight.
If I now had to cancel it I was never going to hear
the end of it.

Becky cast an uncertain glance in the direction of the
storage sheds where I could see Salvador Ramirez, head of the ghoul squad, arguing
with Deputy John Goulding.
They made quite a picture, Ramirez tall, slim and
dark and John short, heavy and mostly bald.
I liked them both although I’ve
always suspected Ramirez considers me more of a nuisance than an asset to the
sheriff department’s investigations.

After several moments of observing the heated discussion,
Becky shook her head.
“We need Sarkisian.
When will he be back?”

It was a measure of something—though I’m not sure what—that
the department turned to me to discover their sheriff’s whereabouts and plans.

“He should be here any minute now.
He—” I hesitated.
“He
wanted to talk to the parade committee before heading over to the office.”

Becky grinned.
I wasn’t fooling anyone.
“And it’s just an
added bonus you happened to be coming here?”

“Where events are taking place, that’s where you’ll find
me,” came my flippant response.

“And where murders have taken place, that’s where we need
Sarkisian.” Becky sighed.
“John’s great, don’t get me wrong but he’s a bit
excitable.
Sarkisian always takes care of everything in such a capable manner.”

I knew what she meant.
There was something very solid and
dependable about our sheriff.
When he eventually earned his doctorate and
became a psychologist for both the sheriff’s department and the county’s police
departments he’d be sorely missed from his present role.
Not that he wouldn’t
be helping with investigations, I felt sure.
I just hoped it would keep him out
of the direct line of gunfire and knife thrusts and car chases and all the rest
of the nightmares to which law enforcement officers are subjected.

“Murder?” I asked, dragging my thoughts from Sarkisian and
focusing on the essential point.
If it were anything other than gang or drug
related it might ruin more than the talent show.
I could see the fireworks
display as well going up in smoke—so to speak.

“Remember the fuss last year when the Fourth’s committee
chairman ran off with all the funds?”

“Yeah.” It had created a huge scandal.
The guy—Lee Wessex,
that was his name—had cleaned out not only the gate proceeds but the sizable
donations all intended for Merit County First, the charity organization that
oversaw the distribution of funds to local groups and agencies that couldn’t
afford huge fund-raising events or advertising.
It’s a very well respected
group with representatives of each of the benefiting charities on the board.
They all help out, thereby helping each other and themselves.
As a county,
we’re proud of what they do.

But that wasn’t all Lee Wessex had done.
He’d also cleaned
out his bank account, stolen his wife’s jewelry and emptied the client accounts
from the investment firm in which he’d been one of two partners.
A clean haul
and no one knew where he had disappeared to.
His car had been found in
long-term parking at San Jose Airport—the nearest one to us—but no tickets had
been issued in his name to any destination.

“Well he didn’t get a chance to run very far.
He ended up in
that storage building.” She nodded to the one in front of which the people
milled.

I let that sink in for a moment.
“You mean he’s been dead
for a whole year?” I guess that explained the lack of ticket.
But not how his
car got to the airport.

Becky nodded, enjoying the situation.
Yup, she fitted right
in with the rest of the ghoul squad.
All really nice people, don’t get me
wrong.
They just tended to see crimes, and especially murder, as a puzzle to be
solved rather than a human tragedy.
Sarkisian was different.
He still enjoyed
the puzzle aspect but he thought in terms of victims and their loved ones.

Apparently some of the others had noted my arrival.
John and
Ramirez had abandoned their argument and bore down on me.
Becky stepped aside
to let them have their turn.

“When is Sarkisian getting back?” John Goulding demanded by
way of greeting.

Typical.
“I’m fine, thanks, John.
How are you?” I offered
him my most brilliant smile.

Ramirez snorted.
It might have been in amusement.
It might
have been in exasperation at my facetiousness.
With him one can never be sure.

John simply ignored my comment.
“Isn’t he due back sometime
today?”

I opened Freya’s door, setting off the creaking the poor old
girl had developed of late.
The familiar pang of “where is our next dollar
coming from” struck me.
If this event got cancelled I wouldn’t be able to pay
for the body work Freya needed, which meant she’d be in for a bad case of
creeping rust in the near future.
Life—and weather—can be tough on a car—or
anything else that’s over forty years old.
I should know.
I’m forty myself.

“Why don’t you wait for him?” I suggested.
“I’m out here to
keep an appointment.”

“Yeah, I’ve been hearing all about it.
Signups and auditions
for this talent show.” John made a face.
“Think you’ll get many acts?”

Ramirez turned a patronizing eye on him.
“Most people are
proud of the fact they kept up their piano or guitar lessons.”

“Maybe.
But most people didn’t keep them up.
And those are
the ones who always turn out for these affairs.
You take my advice,” he told
me.
“Cancel it before you perpetrate a public nuisance.”

I grinned.
“Hey, perpetrating public nuisances is my job,
remember?”

Ramirez snorted again.
He’d considered me a nuisance from
the day I’d found a body in my aunt’s study more than a year and a half ago.
I
patted him on the shoulder and his lips twitched in a sheepish smile.

I started toward the knot of people where I could see the
Fourth of July Committee chairman, Ivan Janowski, talking to Brian Quantrell, a
paramedic and this year’s parade Grand Marshal, thanks to his having rescued
two twelve-year-old boys from a burning building, accompanied by massive media
coverage, at the time the marshal was being selected.
Quantrell had tried to
decline the honor, maintaining the boys had set the fire themselves before
becoming trapped in the building, but that didn’t matter to the committee.
He
was still the public hero of the day.
Our county is so small there aren’t many
chances for anyone to be a public hero, so we make the most of one when we can.
Quantrell’s youth and undeniable tall-dark-and-handsome looks wouldn’t hurt the
parade’s image either.

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