Authors: Patti Benning
“Yeah, that’s fine,” he told her. “That poor dog. I’ll go back and see her once she gets more settled. Who would just abandon their pet like that?”
The deli owner ran out to her SUV, glad that she had thought to keep extra dog supplies in it just in case. When she got back inside, she went straight to the kitchen and filled up the collapsible water bowl for the dog. She began drinking immediately, slopping water all over the floor in her enthusiasm. Moira then gave her a few leftover mini quiches from the day before, which the dog gulped down.
Pity I used all the lamb
, she thought.
But we’ll be home soon enough.
“There, hopefully that took the edge off,” she said. “Now, can I see your tags?”
She managed to get a glimpse of the dog’s name tag, proclaiming her name to be Hazel. She also had an up-to-date rabies vaccine.
“At least you have your shots,” she said, petting the dog who seemed much less frightened now that she knew Moira was a source of food. “It looks like it’s time to call the vet. I’m guessing you and your puppies are in need of a checkup.”
Luckily the vet was able to get her in on short notice, so she loaded the lab up in her SUV and told Darrin she’d be back as soon as she could. The poor dog was terrified from the moment they walked into the vet’s office, but warmed up to Dr. Dirschell as soon as he gave her treats. Moira watched as he examined her, he checked her teeth, eyes, and ears, listened to her heartbeat, and took her temperature. She was happy to hear that everything was normal.
“Now, just to check on those puppies,” he said. “It’s impossible to know for sure, but judging from the way she looks, I’d say she’s due in just a few days. Would you like me to take an x-ray to see how many puppies there are?”
“Sure,” Moira said. “I don’t know anything about this process, but knowing how many to expect is a good start.”
She and Hazel followed the vet to another room, where two vet techs took over. They lifted Hazel up onto a table and lay her gently on her side. While one of them stayed at her head to keep her calm, the other arranged the x-ray equipment above her. At last the picture was taken, Hazel was free to get up, and the three humans were able to gather around a computer to look at the results.
“I see six,” one of the vet techs said. The other one agreed, and the two of them pointed out the tiny skeletons to Moira. “You’ll have your hands full.”
The deli owner looked down at Hazel, bemused by how the day had turned out. Unless she could find someone else to take the dog, it looked like she most certainly was going to have her hands—well,
full for the next few weeks.
looking forward to this,” Moira muttered. It was her first catering event since the fire, and she had no idea how she was going to get through it.
Would it be better to send Darrin or Dante to go in my stead?
It was tempting, but she knew that the Browns were expecting her to be there. Mrs. Brown had even specifically told her how much it meant that she was able to be there.
“Edward used to stop in at your deli nearly every day for lunch. It’s fitting that his favorite restaurant serves the food for his retirement party. And he always speaks so highly of you, dear,” the older woman had said.
There was no way she could switch places with one of her employees at the last moment like this, not after having Darrin reassure the poor woman that everything was still on schedule the other day. However, she had not only her own comfort to worry about, but Hazel’s. The pregnant dog had been with her for a few days already, and was settling in nicely despite obviously being near the end of her pregnancy. Moira, on the vet’s advice, had purchased supplies in preparation for the birth: a baby gate, a small kiddie pool, a bunch of clean new sheets, and a heating pad, and Hazel had been gated inside the mud room to make sure she didn’t try to have her puppies somewhere inconvenient like under Moira’s bed. Candice was there watching her now, but the deli owner would feel much better once she was able to be with the dog herself. What if Hazel went into labor while she was away catering? Would Candice be able to handle it?
“Ready, Ms. D?” Meg asked cheerily as she pushed her way through the deli’s front door. “The guys just finished loading everything up, and I double-checked the list as they went so we should be good to go.”
“Thank you, Meg,” the deli owner said. “I feel bad not being able to help more.”
“Don’t worry, Ms. D,” her employee said. “Everyone’s happy to pick up the slack for you when you need us too. After all, you’ve done it for all of us.”
“I suppose I should be grateful that it’s only for a few weeks. If that beam had hit me on the head, I might have ended up as a vegetable… and not the kind you put in soup.”
Over the last few days she had see-sawed between self-pity and feeling amazingly lucky. She figured it was probably normal to be a little bit emotionally unstable after having such a traumatic event happen, though she wished her feelings would stabilize. She was tired of thinking about the fire, tired of having the flickering flames and cloying smoke appear every time she closed her eyes.
Mr. Brown had a small hobby farm just outside of town. He had a few alpacas, a couple of beehives, and the best pears that Moira had ever tasted. He had also worked as an editor for the Maple Creek newspaper, which was the job that he was retiring from today.
His wife greeted them when they pulled into the driveway and waved them back behind the house where a tent, a smaller version of the one used at Mr. Samwell’s corn maze, was giving shade to a long table and a few picnic tables. A wooden podium stood at one end of the tent, presumably for makers of toasts and speeches.
“You can just set up however you’d like, Ms. Darling,” said Mrs. Brown. “My husband will be joining us with his work friends soon. Even the mayor will be here, did I tell you?”
Mayor Willis was an old acquaintance of Moira’s. Earlier that year he had accused her of poisoning his son. Then she had saved his life, and he had apologized for his mistake, but their encounters had been awkward ever since.
, she thought.
This is the last thing I need. I just need to remember to keep a smile on my face, and do my best to ignore this infernal cast.
There was already an unreachable itch that was driving her crazy. This was going to be a long day.
By the time she and Meg had got the table set up and all of the food out, people had begun arriving. To the deli owner’s surprise, a lot of them seemed to recognize her. For some reason everyone seemed to be whispering about her, giving an occasional nod toward her as if she was the sole subject of their conversations.
“What’s going on?” she asked her employee quietly. “Do I have something on my face or something?”
“No, Ms. D, it’s probably just that they recognize you from that video,” the young woman replied.
“What video?” Moira asked, confused.
“The one of you running into the barn to try to save those people.” At her boss’s blank look, Meg pulled out her phone and opened a website. Fingers moving quickly, she typed something, then handed the phone to Moira. “There you go.”
The deli owner watched the video play on the tiny screen, then frowned and replayed it. Sure enough, it was a video of her, grainy from the camera’s zoom, running into the burning barn. According to the comments beneath the video, people thought she was heroic, though she thought the video just made her look stupid. What sort of person ran
a burning building?
“How did this get online?” she asked her employee.
“I don’t know, but there’s a few of them. A couple of people must have been recording when you ran toward the building like that.”
Moira’s mind was racing. If there was a video of
running into the building, then just maybe there was a video of the other person running
of the building? She mentioned it to Meg, but unfortunately the young woman shook her head.
“I haven’t seen anything,” she said. “Wouldn’t the police have already checked?”
The deli owner knew that she was right. She returned the young woman’s phone, and turned her attention back to the task at hand: greeting the gathering group of people who kept staring at her as if she were some sort of celebrity.
Once she got over the initial threshold of awkwardness, the retirement party went better than she had expected. The mayor gave her a hearty greeting and thanked her for once again showing her bravery, and a few other people took business cards from the little pile at the end of the table. The food was a great hit, as usual, and Mr. Brown was nothing but grateful to her.
“Hey, look,” Meg said, nudging her. When the deli owner looked up at her, she nodded to their right. “That guy’s been staring at us for a while. Oh, he must have seen me. He’s coming over.”
The man in question was tall, with a shaved head. Moira thought he was probably attempting to cover up early hair loss. He looked like he was in his thirties, and was vaguely familiar. Where had she seen him before?
“Zander Marsh,” he said by way of greeting when he got to the table. “I’ve been waiting until it looked like this table was in a bit of a lull before coming over, as I was hoping to talk business. Not that I’d turn down a sandwich.”
He gave them a crooked smile, and Moira noticed a gold earring in his left ear.
“Sure,” she said. “Help yourself. What was it that you wanted to talk about?”
“Well, with poor Mr. Samwell in an early grave, may he rest in peace, there are some new opportunities for some of the other farmers in the area. Most of us would prefer to sell our produce locally, since it saves on shipping costs, but of course the demand isn’t high enough to satisfy all of us. I don’t like looking like I’m jumping on this opportunity before the poor man is even properly buried, but if I don’t, someone else will. Here’s my business card. If you’d like to give me a call sometime, we can set up a meeting to discuss a business partnership similar to the one you and Mr. Samwell had.”
He handed her a card, then extended his hand, which she shook.
“I look forward to doing business with you, Ms. Darling.”
He took one of the turkey and cheese sandwiches, flashed her another of his crooked smiles, and left. Bemused, Moira put the card into her pocket. She wasn’t sure if she would give him a call or not, but it definitely gave her something else to think about. Mr. Samwell’s death hadn’t just effected his immediate family, but the whole community. Could business have been a motive for his murder?
“All in all, it was a very pleasant little party,” Moira said. She was sitting at her kitchen table with a mug of tea, relieved to be able to relax at last. “The worst thing is this cast. I’m utterly sick of it.”
“How long do you have to have it on?” Martha asked. Her voice, coming from the speaker on Moira’s phone, was tinny, but having only one functioning arm, Moira was unable to drink tea and talk with her friend at the same time.
“The doctor said he’ll re-evaluate in four more weeks,” the deli owner said. “It’s going to be wonderful to get it off.”
“I’ll bet.” The other woman chuckled. “You must be going crazy, having to do everything with your left hand. I think taking it easy for a few weeks is going to be good for you. I still can’t believe that you went
a burning building willingly.”
“No one else was doing anything,” Moira said with a sigh. “I had to at least try to get those men out. I didn’t really think about it.”
“Poor David must have had a heart attack when he couldn’t find you.”
“I’m sure he nearly did. The poor man must be sick of worrying about me. I’m surprised he’s still hanging around after everything he’s gone through with me.”
“Oh, Moira, the man’s smitten, it’s obvious for anyone to see.”
Moira blushed, putting her hand to her face even though she knew her friend couldn’t see it.
“I don’t know…”
“He is, trust me. You got lucky when you found him.”
“I know that,” she agreed. “Beyond lucky. He’s saved my life more times than I can count,
the thought of seeing him makes my heart beat faster. I don’t think it gets much better than that.”
She smiled to herself, enjoying the conversation. She had been reluctant to admit her feelings for David to anyone, even herself, at first, but knowing that he returned them made all the difference. Who would have guessed that she would have found such happiness at her age, after having been married and divorced once? She had been prepared to spend the rest of her life alone, but now she was beginning to see another path, thanks to David.
“I’ve got a date with him in a couple of days,” she added. “It will be the first time we’ve gone out since I got hurt—we’ve mostly been staying in. I’ve got to admit; I’m looking forward to it quite a bit.”
“I’m glad for you, sweetie,” her friend said. “Though I think Denise and I are both a bit jealous. Neither of us has had much luck in the man department lately. Now that she and her husband are officially separated, she can at least start dating again.”