Excerpt from RUFF JUSTICE: Book #5 in the Cara Mia Delgatto Mystery Series
Author’s Note: Mrs. Delahunty, one of Cara’s customers, has invited Cara to a birthday party for her golden retriever, Mally.
The morning of Mally’s birthday party dawned gray, ugly and stormy on Jupiter Island. My sliding doors were hard to see through because intense winds had coated the glass with bits of grass, salt spray, and dirt. The weather forecast was encouraging, however. The bad weather would blow over, and we were supposed to have a lovely day. Or as we often joke to each other, “Just another gorgeous day in Paradise!”
After taking the dogs outside and changing the cat litter, I went into work. I knew exactly what I’d give Mally as a birthday gift, in addition to my donation to the no-kill shelter on the invitation. EveLynn had sewn three dog neckerchiefs in upscale fabrics. One was a creamy damask, shot through with threads of gold. A slender gold chain had been hand-stitched to the longest edge. Another kerchief was a vintage botanical print in navy on an ivory background. To the long side of the triangle, EveLynn added navy trim with tiny navy pompoms. The third scarf was a slub silk in turquoise. Seashells were sewn along the long edge. Although Mrs. Delahunty had said not to bother with gifts, I could be honest and explain that having Mally wear my new dog apparel was good for my business. And it would be. I was sure of that.
As I carefully wrapped the presents for Mally, satisfaction brought a smile to my face. These upscale dog kerchiefs would sell like hotcakes!
After the fabric gifts were wrapped in a layer of tissue paper, I turned my attention to finishing the birthday card. Inside the envelope, I tucked a copy of the check I’d written to a no-kill shelter. In a padded, recycled enveloped, I added a frame holding the photo I’d taken of Nina and Mally at the groomer’s salon. The six-by-eight-inch frame was a soft gray. All my festive offerings went inside an aqua-and-blue gift bag. I stepped back to admire it. My mother used to say that it’s the sizzle people enjoy, not the steak. I hoped I’d done this sizzle proud! It wasn’t only a gift for Mrs. Delahunty. It was also a tribute to Mally and Nina as well as an ad for my store.
The Treasure Chest is usually quiet in the morning, and today was no exception, perhaps because bad weather was starting to announce its arrival. We keep a weather alert radio on all the time in the back room. We’ve also put three sleeping bags, three gallons of water, and snack bars near the bathroom door. The restroom is the only room on the ground level that doesn’t have a glass window, so it’s the safest place of all in a bad storm. Florida weather could be terribly unpredictable, and the weather alert system assured me that all my friends would have enough time to hunker down under the sleeping bags and get comfy. At noon, Honora and Skye took over for me, so I could go to Mally’s birthday party. The Delahunty house was not beachfront, but it did face the Intracoastal Waterway, which meant the view was exquisite. Three other cars were parked in the driveway. I pulled up alongside of a blue Jaguar convertible.
Nina answered the front door and ushered me through the house and into the lanai. Our young friend looked adorable. She wore white palazzo pants in denim and a floral multi-colored top. “You look terrific,” I told her.
“So do you.” She admired my vintage Lilly Pulitzer shift that I’d paired with an aqua cardigan. My pretty gold sandals added a nice touch of glamour, even if I had purchased them at TJ Maxx.
Mrs. Delahunty wore a flowing white top festooned with colorful embroidery over a pair of khaki linen pants. Next to Mrs. Delahunty, Mally sat at attention with a look of eager interest on her doggy face. Her ears pricked up as she watched the goings on carefully. As usual, the purple unicorn hung from her mouth.
The other party guests were Mrs. Joyce Crispin, Mrs. Doris Ballard, and Mrs. Agnes Severin. All were residents of Jupiter Island. After Mrs. Delahunty introduced me, I realized that Brooke had been incredibly strategic in her planning. One reason for my invitation had been to garner more business for my store. “Joyce, Doris, and Agnes, have you seen Cara’s store? It’s absolutely top-notch.”
That was only the beginning. Brooke Delahunty went on to praise The Treasure Chest and me to the skies.
Meanwhile, Nina made multiple trips to the kitchen and brought us drinks and snacks. I would have offered to help, but I figured it might make everyone uncomfortable. After all, Nina was the hired help and I was a guest. There’s a certain protocol to Jupiter Island get-togethers. Those who violate the rules are subject to receiving a black cashmere sweater in the mail. The sweater is a veiled suggestion that the receiver should go back North and stay there.
So for once, rather than helping to serve the food and drinks, I sat with my feet up (so to speak) and enjoyed myself. The conversation was a lively discussion of the most recent speaker at the Jupiter Island Entertainment Series. I’d heard this particular author’s presentation and read her book, so I was also able to participate. As we talked, Nina served us iced tea, a variety of finger sandwiches, cookies and small candies. Although the invitation hadn’t said as much, we were being served an English high tea. Mally was an affectionate birthday girl who nuzzled each of us guests, which was kind of gross because her stuffed unicorn never left her mouth. I wound up with a big streak of slobber down my arm. Not that I minded. Clearly Mally never let go of her lovey, not even when she was at home. That poor toy was soaked with dog drool. Nina caught me staring at the soggy mess.
“Mally loves her toy. I wash it when I can, but that makes her nervous. She stands guard outside the laundry room door,” Nina confided in me.
“That poor unicorn needs help.” I pointed to a large rip in the side of the toy. The edge of the plastic squeaker peeped from between clouds of stuffing.
“I’ll have to sew it up while she’s eating her dinner tonight,” Mrs. Delahunty said. “I ordered white button thread from Amazon so it would be nice and strong. Ordinary thread doesn’t last long with Mally.”
“Button thread. That’s a brilliant idea.” I made a mental note to try that with the dog toys that Gerard, my Royal Bahamian Potcake dog had disemboweled. “Have you ever made Frankenstein toys for Mally?”
Seeing the confused looks, I explained. “When my dogs rip up a toy, I often wind up with a stray part like a leg or a tail. I sew the toys up again, but I mix the parts rather than matching them to the original toy. I call them Frankenstein toys. I’ve even sewn one of my socks and stuffed it before stitching on arms and a tail. My dogs love my socks. I guess even after they’re washed, my scent is on them.”
“What a cute idea,” Mrs. Delahunty said. “Nina? We’ll have to try that.”
Nina laughed. “Except that Mally only loves her unicorn. We don’t really have any other toys to donate body parts, do we?”
“That’s true.” Mrs. Delahunty gave her young friend the sort of warm smile that comes from one kindred heart to another.
Once we’d had our fill of the tea sandwiches and petit fours, Nina brought out a birthday cake made by Sweet Tiers, a local cake maker who is truly an artist. This cake was shaped like a dog bone and cleverly decorated with tiny chocolate paw prints. The yummy Sweet Tiers cake was for us, but because the “birthday girl” couldn’t go without, Nina also brought out a companion cake that Sweet Tiers had made exclusively for Mally. We sang “Happy Birthday” to the dog, and Mrs. Delahunty indulged us with slices of the yummy people treat. While we ate, Mrs. Delahunty opened Mally’s gifts. As I’d suspected, I wasn’t the only person who decided that money to a no-kill shelter wasn’t enough to properly celebrate the occasion. Mally received a ceramic dog bowl with her portrait painted on it, a new leash, and a bag of bully sticks. I was gratified that the new neckerchiefs were such a hit that both Mrs. Ballard and Mrs. Severin immediately ordered copies of Mally’s gifts for their dogs. Mrs. Crispin asked for two sets because she owns a pair of bichon frise siblings.
Not surprisingly, the party was a total success — and it would have been one of the best events I’d attended all year—until the doorbell rang. Nina hopped up to get it. We could hear the door open, and immediately everyone grew alert with curiosity. A woman about my age came into the lanai. Nina trailed along after the newcomer. Nervously, the caretaker announced, “Look who’s here, Mrs. Delahunty! Your daughter.”
Mrs. Delahunty changed in a flash. An expression crossed her face. The light went out of her eyes. Her mouth quivered and drooped.
Just as quickly, she mustered inner strength and a fixed smile appeared on her face, although she blinked a lot.
“Hi, Mom,” the woman said as she swooped down to give Mrs. Delahunty a kiss on the cheek. Annette was obviously Brooke Delahunty’s child because she’d inherited her mother’s good looks. A symmetrical face, auburn hair, and wide-set eyes were part of the younger woman’s allure. Unfortunately, all of that beauty disappeared when you noticed the sullen way she held her mouth, as if she’d bitten into an apple full of worms.
A wave of nausea swept through me. My nerves jangled, my hair stood on end, my eyes hurt, and my gut clenched in a spasm that took my breath away.
Mrs. Severin and Mrs. Ballard must have felt something similar. They set down their cake plates and dabbed their lips with their napkins, as a prelude to ending the celebration. Given Annette’s bad reputation, I wasn’t surprised when two of the partygoers signaled they weren’t sticking around. Mrs. Crispin must not have gotten the memo because she stared at the newcomer in surprise and sat there, mystified by the way her two friends were seemingly so eager to go. With Honora’s warning in my mind, I decided it was time to leave, too.
To be continued in Ruff Justice. Grab your copy here: https://amzn.to/2EVfmnq
(Oct. 1 release)