This is the first chapter of Paw Prints and Problems, book 2 of the Heywood Hounds Cozy Mysteries.
Copyright © 2023 by Carly Winter
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
This is a work of fiction. Unless otherwise indicated, all the names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents in this book are either the product of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
As summer faded and fall slowly moved in, the leaves on the trees along the river in Heywood began to turn beautiful shades of red, yellow and orange. Although I’d lived in the small mountain town my whole life, I never tired of seeing them and each year I was awestruck by their beauty.
Even in this early morning hour. The only reason I was up was because Daisy, my talking dog, had woken me, claiming it was the perfect time for a walk. While glancing around at nature’s beauty, I realized she hadn’t been wrong.
Daisy and I strolled along the Riverwalk in the crisp morning hours, with her chatting incessantly about a cat we’d seen earlier while I admired the trees and thought about my day. I had completed the murder mystery book and turned it in to the author, who had loved it and commissioned another one. I had no plot, so my mind seemed to continuously spin with ideas, as well as a myriad of plot holes.
“I think that cat wanted to eat me,” Daisy said. “Either that or beat me up. He was not a nice cat.”
The feline had come out from behind a bush, then hissed and snarled at us. Daisy barked, and the two engaged in a standoff until I finally pulled her leash and we moved past it. I assumed the cat to be feral, so I debated whether to call a rescue organization or not. I didn’t take in cats, but others in the area did. However, the animal had looked very well fed and healthy, so perhaps he was simply out and about for a morning stroll, just like us.
My phone buzzed in my pocket, and I pulled it out. Sally from On The River. What in the world could she want? We were friends, but we rarely spoke on the phone.
“Hi, Sally,” I said. “What’s up?”
“Gina?” she sniffled. “I’m sorry, I don’t know who else to call.”
“What’s wrong?” I asked as dread weighed on my chest. “Are you crying?”
“I came in to open the restaurant,” she whispered. “And… and one of my workers is dead.”
“Who is it?”
“One of my chefs. Mario.”
I stopped walking, furrowing my brow. “Well, you may want to call an ambulance,” I said. “Maybe he isn’t dead. Maybe he had a heart attack or something.”
“No, he was murdered, Gina. He’s got my favorite knife sticking out of his chest.”
“Oh, my word,” I gasped. “Have you called the police?”
“Yes. They’re here now.”
“You need a lawyer,” I said. “And you need to keep your mouth shut. Call Colin Breckshire. He can find someone to represent you.”
A local lawyer older than dirt with a panache for bowties and fedoras, Colin was the closest thing to a criminal attorney this area had. Maybe that needed to change.
“It’s too late.”
“What does that mean?” I asked.
“I was nervous… I told the sheriff that it was my favorite knife and that I’d had an argument with him before I left last night, and I was the last to see him alive.”
My heart sank as anxiety twisted my stomach. I needed to sit down. Daisy was still prattling on about the cat. My lovely morning had turned ugly.
“Please come help me, Gina. I’m really afraid of what’s going to happen. They keep asking me all these questions… I’m scared they’re going to pin this on me like they did to Vic about Phoebe’s death.”
A few months ago, my brother, Vic, had been accused of murdering his ex-girlfriend. Sheriff Mallory Richards had been ready to arrest him, but he’d hidden out at my house until I could find the real killer. Or, I should say, the real killer had found me. I’d almost ended up becoming one of his victims.
I shut my eyes and rubbed my hand over my forehead. No way was I allowing my friend to take the fall for her dead chef’s murder.
I’d simply have to find who did it myself. “I’ll be there shortly,” I muttered, then hung up and shoved the phone back into my coat pocket.
“You’ll be where?” Daisy asked, glancing up at me with her sweet brown gaze. “And when? What does shortly mean? Are we on our way to wherever you said you’d be going? And what about the cat?”
My dog often reminded me of my son, Jacob, when he was young and asked a thousand questions a day. I leaned over and scratched her brown and white head. “We’re heading to On The River,” I explained. “It seems like Sally is in a bit of trouble.”
“Why? What did she do?”
I sighed and glanced around at the trees and the river, trying to recreate that euphoric feeling the beauty had brought me. It was hard, considering there was a dead body just up the Riverwalk in Sally’s restaurant. “I think she may be accused of doing something she didn’t do.”
“Like what?” Daisy asked. “Like when that rescue chewed up your slipper but you blamed me?”
As a dog rescuer, I had a revolving door of homeless mutts. More than one had chewed up my slipper, so I had no idea which one she meant. “Yes. Exactly like that.”
“So she’s innocent and someone thinks she’s guilty,” Daisy continued.
“Well, why doesn’t she just tell them that she didn’t do anything?”
“I think she already did, and people don’t believe her.”
“If I couldn’t speak to you, you’d never believe that I didn’t chew your slipper,” she sniffed.
“You looked guilty,” I said. “You were the only one in the bedroom and you were lying with it under your chin.”
“I was trying to protect it for you from that beast!”
With a sigh, I shook my head. I still wasn’t sure I believed her or not, but it had happened months ago, so it seemed pointless to argue about it.
“Let’s head to On The River,” I said. “Hopefully, no one has arrested Sally yet.”
We hurried down to the end of the path. Thankfully, the gaggle of geese that usually sat on the grassy area had left when the weather had cooled. Oftentimes, they liked to chase Daisy. I found it amusing, but she didn’t.
After hiking up the trail to Comfort Road, the main thoroughfare through Heywood, we walked down the street to find a couple of sheriff’s vehicles parked in front of the restaurant.
They wouldn’t be happy to see me, but I decided to go in anyway.
“Be quiet once we’re inside,” I whispered to Daisy before opening the door. “I want to take a look around without the cops seeing me.”
I cracked the door and took in the scene. The large space reminded me of a cozy log cabin with a large fireplace and pictures of Heywood lining the walls. Two cops stood facing the window on the far side of the restaurant. I recognized the bulk of Deputy Trevor Hutchison, and casually knew the other guy but couldn’t remember his name. Sally was seated in a booth by the doorway leading to the kitchen, her head resting in her hands.
She’d said Sheriff Mallory Richards was also present, but I didn’t notice the worthless leader anywhere.
After slipping inside, I took a few steps and attempted to take in more details of the scene. Moving to my left a bit, I now realized the cops were studying the victim, who lay on top of a table, the hilt of a knife sticking out of his chest. Would Sally be strong enough to stab a man so he landed on top of a table? It would seem to me that one would have to hold down the victim, then jam the knife in his chest. Otherwise, wouldn’t he fold forward?
Granted, I’d never stabbed anyone, so I was guessing. They always curled forward on television, though.
As I moved farther to the left, I noted there had been a significant struggle from the door of the kitchen to where the victim lay. Broken glass and napkins littered the floor. Was the kitchen also trashed?
I studied Sally. Her shoulders shook silently as she cried. She wore a sleeveless shirt and a sweater sat balled up at her side on the seat. The pale skin on her arms didn’t hold a mark. Based on the wreckage, I imagined she’d have scratches and cuts if she’d been in a struggle with the chef before his demise.
“She didn’t do this,” I whispered to my dog. “If Mallory tries to pin it on her, I’m going to be really angry.”
“We’ll go into super sleuth mode and find the real killer!” Daisy yelled. Thankfully, I was the only one who heard her, or our cover would’ve been blown.
I crouched down behind a table and listened intently.
“Have you called his wife?” Trevor asked.
“Yes,” the other deputy responded. “I asked her to meet us at the office.”
“What’s the wife’s name?”
I heard pages turning, as if the man was flipping through a notebook. “Whitney,” he replied. “Whitney Maven.”
“Don’t let Mallory tell you it’s not important to talk to her,” Trevor said. “Rather than railroading Sally as Mallory indicated she wanted to do, I’d prefer to do a thorough investigation.”
“But she was the last one to see him alive and she admitted they had an argument,” the deputy said.
“And none of that matters,” Trevor rebuked. “It doesn’t mean she killed him.”
“Yeah, dummy dork dude,” Daisy said, her tail wagging as she licked my face. “That’s what he is, right, Gina? A dummy dork dude.”
“If you say so,” I whispered.
“Hey, Sally?” Trevor called. “Are you okay?”
“No, I’m not, Trevor. My chef is dead. My restaurant is trashed, and Mallory actually suggested I was responsible.”
He sighed. “Look, let’s take this from the top, okay? Can you tell me who would want him dead?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “We didn’t socialize. He was my employee, and I believe boundaries are important in business.”
“Did he argue with anyone here at work?” Trevor asked.
“Not that I ever saw. He came to work, cooked great food and left. He was quiet.”
My knees became sore from squatting, so I sat down on the floor. When my butt hit the carpet, I hoped the thump wouldn’t be heard by anyone else.
“You’ve got a noisy rear end,” Daisy said. “But not as noisy as mine!” She passed gas and laughed hysterically while I tried not to faint from the smell. Placing my hand over my nose and mouth while fighting to breathe, I shot her a glare.
Just then, the front door flew open and a woman came running in. Thin with long black hair, she screamed, “Mario!”
“Uh oh,” Daisy said.
The woman was so upset she didn’t see us, nor did she smell the foulness Daisy had let loose. “Mario! It’s not true!”
“Mrs. Maven?” Trevor asked.
“We told you to meet us at the station!” the second deputy yelled. “This is an active crime scene!”
She continued to scream. I imagined her trying to reach her husband, but the police holding her back. Footsteps sounded from my left and I glanced up to see Sally walking towards us. Daisy’s tail wagged as she yelled, “Sally! Hi, Sally! Do you have treats for me?”
Sally shot me a confusing glare, but continued past us.
“Whitney, I’m so sorry for your loss,” she said. She must’ve walked around the restaurant to keep from contaminating the murder scene. “Come over here and sit down.”
“Over here?” Daisy asked. “Like by us?”
I scooted under the table and dragged Daisy with me, just in case she was right. Thankfully, Sally had the wherewithal to take a table away from us, but not too close to the body.
“She needs to leave!” the unknown deputy yelled. “Right now!”
“Just give her a minute,” Trevor countered. “She’s upset.”
Heavy breathing filled the air and I assumed the poor woman was hyperventilating.
“I wish we could see what’s happening,” Daisy said. “I don’t like being under this table.”
Long moments passed. Sally fetched her a glass of water, once again walking right past us. Finally, Whitney calmed down and Trevor asked, “Mrs. Maven, do you know who would want to kill your husband?”
She began crying once again. “That’s not his real name.”
“Excuse me?” Trevor replied.
“Mario Maven… that’s not his real name.”
You can grab Paw Prints and Problems from this store or at your retailer / library preference found here