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Authors: Carrie Stuart Parks

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BOOK: The Bones Will Speak
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“What? You mean, but I-I gave my notes to Wes—”

“Not your notes. You have evidence in your car.”

“What?”

“The skull.”

I slowly shook my head, then ducked my face as a hot flash ripped up my neck. “I'm losing it.” Reaching into the car, I lifted out the sack and handed it to Jeannie. “I . . . I'm sorry.”

Jeannie's face softened. “Maybe it's too soon to be working. Weren't you almost killed less than a year ago? Anyway, call me if you come to town sometime.” She took the bag from me, placed it in the trunk, and drove off.

Too soon to be working? I kicked the car door shut, then marched to the house. The breeze brought me the distinct odor of something very dead.

That can't be from the McCandless farm.
I followed my nose around the house to the front door.

A very dead cat sprawled next to the step.

“Winston! Doggone it. You just won't stop bringing home road kill.” I moved closer. The cat wasn't hit by a car. It had been mauled to death.

Coyotes? Wolves? But why didn't they eat it? I strolled to the outside kennel, picked up the pooper-scooper, and used the rake to shove the cat into the shovel part. Underneath was a piece of paper with something inked on it, but the cat's blood and fluids had smeared it.

I spun around and checked the yard, then the trees lining the lawn.
Come on, Gwen, it's just a dead cat. Hardly the first “gift” Winston's brought home.

But what about the paper? A message?

Or just that, a piece of paper.

Leaving the cat, I pulled out my keys and reached for the front door.

It was unlocked.

A chill ripped through me. The killer could have driven over here after leaving the McCandless farm. He could have walked right into my house. Used my phone to call Dave.

Killed my daughter.

Racing to the car, I yanked my rifle from the trunk, then returned to the house.

The living room was empty, but I could hear clattering from the kitchen. I crept down the hall and peeked into the room.

Aynslee turned and spotted me. “You got a bunch of phone calls. Did that detective guy get ahold of you?” She stacked the last dish from the dishwasher on the shelf.

“Was someone here? Did you hear anything?”

“No. Why?”

“Someone may have left a dead cat by the door.”

She shrugged. “It was probably Winston. You know how he is.”

I slung the rifle around my shoulder. “And you left the door unlocked.”

“It's always that way. None of the locks work.” She eyed the rifle.

“The outside doors lock just fine if you push hard. I told you to lock it after me. From now on, you're not to let anyone in this house except me. Do you understand?”

“What? Are you grounding me? What did I do wrong?” She picked up a dish towel and threw it into the sink.

“I—” How much to tell her? I'd tried to keep the more sordid part of my work out of her young life. The last case changed that. She had been front and center when I was shot.

“Please sit down.” I pointed to a chair, then walked to the entry and put my rifle in the display case. When I returned to the kitchen, Aynslee was seated at the kitchen table playing with her hair.

“You remember what happened to me just a few months ago?” I sat beside her.

“How can I forget? But Winston . . .” She sat up and stopped twirling her hair. She stared at me, then stood and looked out the window. “Where's Winston?”

“That's what I'm trying to tell you. Winston's at the vet.”

She spun. “What do you mean? Is he okay?”

“Yes. A detective drove him over to be treated. I think he has a dislocated hip.”

She bit her lip. “What happened?”

I told her about finding the grave, Mattie, and Winston. I withheld the phone call about a “killer dog” that could have gotten Winston shot by Dave. Aynslee slowly walked back to the chair and sat. “So that's why I need you to listen to me,” I finished.

“It's not fair that I have to be locked up just because there's a sicko loose.”

“Humor me on this one.”

“When can we pick up Winston? I'm safe with a dog. Nobody messes with a Pyrenees.”

“Soon.”

“Okay, then.” Aynslee leaned forward. “I did all my chores. We need to pick up Winston and you need to decide if I can go to the show.”

“Give me a few minutes, then we'll drive over.” I stared at her hair and thought about Mattie. “About your movie marathon . . . you absolutely cannot go alone. And what kind of movies are we talking about?”

“Like, romance kinda stuff.”

“Romance kinda?”

“You know, special love, like that.”

“Sweetheart, in my world, Ed Gein is special-love-romance kinda stuff.”

Aynslee puckered her lips. “Who's Ed Gein?”

“The inspiration for
Psycho
's Norman Bates.”

“No, Mom. Like vampires and zombies. That kinda stuff.”

“Ah, yes. Well, that's reassuring.” I gave her a wry smile. “That's a no to vampires. And zombies. Anyway, I'm not going to Missoula after all. Isn't there something running in town?”

“It isn't the same. Missoula's a big city. Copper Creek is . . .” She waved her hands in the air. “Backward. They're showing a Disney flick.” She stood and moved to the sink.

“Backward, huh? Well”—I combed my fingers through my hair—“maybe your dad will pick you up and take you . . . to the Disney, not the vampire show.”

“I tried calling him already.” She kicked the dishwasher door shut with a well-aimed blow. “He's not answering.”

“Call again.”

“I could hitch a ride to Missoula. I'm almost fifteen.”

“Not in this or any other lifetime.” Heading down the hall to my studio, I paused at the open door of Robert's office. Divots in the oatmeal-colored carpet, his battered desk, and a folding chair bore the only remaining evidence of his presence. I closed my eyes and pictured him bent over the computer keyboard, his lips pursed in concentration. The desk lamp backlit his profile with an exquisite chiaroscuro. His flannel shirt draped over his broad shoulders, sleeves rolled from his lean wrists. He had beautiful hands, musician's hands.

Hands that hadn't touched me since the doctor said, “You have breast cancer.”

I'd been trying to turn Robert's office into my own, with mat board stacked against the wall and case boxes stacked in the closet and next to the desk, but somehow his presence was still
imprinted on the room. Taking a deep breath, I silently closed the door and continued down the hall to the studio. After blowing my nose, I moved to the mirror above the sink. Today was the granddaddy of bad days, but then again, what did I expect? I'd been unable to work on any forensic cases for almost a year because of my cancer, then picked up the project in Utah. That made me both out of state and out of mind for law enforcement. Of course Missoula would find a replacement.

I was damaged goods to Robert. I'd endured the surgeries; the lumpectomy, then the double mastectomy, the port inserted just below my collarbone, the months of chemo and radiation, and the premature onset of menopause; just as long as I defeated cancer.

But cancer claimed our marriage. Robert served the divorce papers before the doctors performed my first surgery.

Robert was a successful author, hailed as the next Hemingway. After our marriage and the birth of our daughter, his creative well dried up, which, of course, he blamed on me. Once divorced, he found his voice by writing an e-book, fictionalizing my life and cancer battle. It's been on Amazon's top ten e-books for almost a year now.

Moving closer to the mirror, I studied my face. Did it show? Maybe around the eyes? The hair, definitely. My supershort bangs looked like twenties retro. Or Mamie Eisenhower, if you were old enough to remember. My best friend, Beth Noble, said they were the height of fashion. I tugged at my bangs until they straightened to my eyebrows, then let go. They curled up at the top of my forehead.
Stupid hair. Chemo hair.

The Scripture verse posted on the wall reproached me. “. . . run with endurance the race that is set before us.” Beth
brought me a biblical quote once a week. I leaned closer to the mirror. At least I wasn't bald anymore. Even if I were, I still had a closet full of hats and wigs people gave me.

Don't knock baldness
. I saved a bundle on hair-care products. Not to mention the justification in buying a killer pink camo rifle.
Ha-ha
. Stand-up comedy at the cancer support group at church. They loved me. I washed my face, then applied mascara and lip gloss.

Aynslee stomped into the room. “Still no answer from Dad. Where do you think he is?”

“Did you check his schedule? Maybe he has a book signing.”

“He's supposed to be free this weekend.”

“We'll call again later.” I grabbed a sweater, a garbage bag, and a paper sack. “Give me a minute.” Aynslee nodded. Opening the front door, I dumped the dead cat in the garbage bag and tied the top. I'd have the vet dispose of it. Burying it in the yard or woods would just keep Winston happy digging it up sometime in the future. The piece of paper might yield something once it dried.
Assuming the cat and paper were some kind of message.
I scooped it into the paper sack, then placed both into the trunk of the car.

Returning to the house, I yelled at Aynslee, “Let's go.” The county paved the road for the first four miles out of town, leaving the rest as a washboard gravel lane meandering between the mountains, following the path of Copper Creek. Our home was two miles beyond the paved section. I deliberately turned my head when I came to the almost invisible McCandless turnoff, then continued slowly until I reached the asphalt. We soon reached the edge of town.

The veterinary hospital was a single-story building on a
wooded lot with a barn in the rear and high, frosted windows facing the parking lot. I entered and stepped to the counter.

The technician spoke into a phone tucked under her chin. “. . . yeah, really; I heard it's, like, a serial killer and they've found, like, a dozen bodies! No, I'm not kidding. Listen, I gotta go. Call me later.” She hung up, then wiggled her fingers at my daughter. “Hi, Aynslee.”

“Hi, Shelley,” Aynslee answered.

“Where did you hear about the serial killer?” I asked.

“Everybody knows about it! My brother Ron was actually there. He said there were bodies everywhere. I called all my friends and told them to lock their houses up tight.” She gave a theatrical shiver.

“Uh. Okay. I'm here about Winston.”

Shelley frowned. “What about Winston?”

“Didn't the sheriff's department bring him here? I think he has a dislocated hip.”

“No.”

The hot flash ripped up my face as I tugged out my phone and dialed.

“Ravalli County Sheriff. Dispatch.”

“Hi, this is Gwen Marcey. One of your deputies supposedly took my dog to the vet. He's not here.”

“Just a minute, Ms. Marcey. Uh . . . yeah . . . here. They took him to Mountain View Veterinary. That's over on—”

“I know where it is.” I nodded at the woman, then returned to my car. Mountain View was a new practice on the south end of town. I'd heard it was the most expensive animal hospital in Montana. And I was dead broke and out of a job.

CHAPTER NINE

THE IMPOSING BRICK BUILDING FEATURED A
two-story arched entrance, custom matching windows, landscaped grounds, and a huge boulder in the front with the name of the practice etched deeply in the rock. A sprinkling of new Mercedes SUVs and beamers gleamed in the asphalt parking lot. The door opened automatically at our approach and ushered us into an atrium-style lobby with a curved, wood-paneled reception desk. A young technician in starched scrubs looked up as we entered. “How may I help you?” she asked, then spotted my daughter. “Hi, Aynslee.”

“Hi, Megan.”

“I believe some deputies brought my Great Pyrenees, Winston, here,” I said.

“Oh, sure.” Megan lifted the phone, pushed a button, and murmured a few words.

I glanced around the room, then shoved my tattered purse out of sight and avoided checking my shirt for dirt stains.

“Please have a seat.” Megan pointed toward beige chairs at
the side of the room. “You're very lucky. Dr. Hawkins personally will handle your case.”

Aynslee and I moved to the chairs. I didn't want to admit to her that I'd never heard of Dr. Hawkins, personally or otherwise. Fortunately, a glossy, full-color brochure on the end table enlightened me.

ABOUT OUR STAFF

Tim Hawkins, DVM, graduated with honors from Cornell University and worked at several practices before joining the staff here. The author of numerous articles published in
Modern Veterinary News
, Dr. Hawkins also contributed to
Secrets to the Successful Veterinary Practice
and
Winning Veterinary Strategies
.

Dr. Hawkins also operates a mobile clinic where he donates his time to caring for the pets of the elderly, people without transportation, those with reduced incomes, and others who need his help.

A photo included in the brochure showed a man about my age with deep-set hazel eyes beneath bushy brows. He had even features and sandy-blond hair.

“Ms. Marcey.” A male technician, dressed in carelessly pressed scrubs with a name tag
Danny
, waved us toward a door. “Your dog is in the back. I'm supposed to take you to him, then Dr. Hawkins will see you. Okay?”

I nodded. We followed him into the treatment room, past gleaming counters and stainless steel sinks, to a door on the far
side. A window next to the door overlooked an outside series of runs. I paused. “Do you board dogs and cats here?”

BOOK: The Bones Will Speak
12.87Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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