Title: The House on Devil’s Bar
Author: Jessie McAlan
Genre: Amateur Sleuth Mystery
The police label of ‘accidental drowning’ does more than set tongues wagging in the small Missouri town of Klim; it starts an avalanche of cancellations that threaten to sink Rona Murray’s bakery business. And blacken her good name. Determined to keep both afloat, she starts her own investigation to prove she and her property are blameless. Her ex-husband, Johnny, at times helps and hinders her detective work, which raises her suspicion about his sudden reappearance in her life. Ditto for his current girlfriend, Crystal, who’s two-timing him with Rona’s bad boy neighbor, Frank. Crystal knew the drowned woman, but is there a motive for murder in that friendship? Or does it buoy up Rona’s misgivings of Frank and Johnny? Her mistrust seems to hold water when she discovers property vandalism and midnight lights in the woods—both of which escalate into a struggle against life and death in a raging river.
His fingertips tapped the charms on her bracelet. “I didn’t see you wearing this the other day. Have you resurrected it from its burial at the bottom of your sock drawer?”
“It wasn’t in the sock drawer.” She pulled her arm away and jammed her fist into her jeans pocket.
“Not on top of the commode either, I hope.”
“Why do you care where I keep it?”
Johnny shrugged and raised an eyebrow. “Because it’s very telling about your feelings of the gift and the giver. Keeping it on a satin pillow elevates it and me much more than letting it lie among cat liter.”
“I don’t have a cat.”
“Thank you.” He grabbed her arm and held it while he rotated the bracelet. “Ah, yes.” He singled out the wine bottle. “What a night that was, Ronnie. Remember? We were in the Jeep, parked on the river bank, and I wanted to sip wine from your high heel, but instead I had to make do with your tennis shoe.” He laughed, prompting a yap from the dog.
“I’m surprised you didn’t complain about the unusual flavor.”
“I might’ve if I’d been sober.” He grinned and released her hand.
“I often wondered what you would’ve done if I’d been wearing sandals.”
He laughed again and kissed her cheek. “Where’s a time machine when we need one?” The dog whined and wriggled in Rona’s arms. Johnny patted its head. “I know, boy, grown-up conversations are boring.”
Rona rolled her eyes. “You sound like you’ve had your quotient of wine already for today. But I’m never one to criticize.”
Johnny coughed. “Funny how people remember facts differently. I guess some have the gift of correct mental recall, and others¾”
“Gifts, Johnny. You mentioned gifts before you embarked on your erroneous remembrances…”
“Right. The other day I said you needed a dog. I meant it. Here’s the dog. A gift.”
The puppy strained his head up and licked Rona’s face.
“He’s all yours, Ronnie. Unless you want a different breed.”
“No. I love Shepherds.” Her eyebrow rose as she studied Johnny’s face. His eyes held no devious twinkle, just frankness and concern. “Did you buy him just for…the occasion?”
“No. He’s mine. Well, I’ve had him just a week, so I don’t think he’s that attached to me. But you never know. I’m blessed with the type of personality that most everyone’s attracted to. Natural charisma.”
“I’ve noticed how mosquitoes buzz around you.”
“Jealousy will get you nowhere. I’m talking about the dog bonding to me.”
Rona started to say the dog had more intelligence than to do that, but thanked him instead. It wasn’t the time for verbal sparring, no matter how innocently she meant it. “You don’t want him? You evidently did a week ago.”
“A friend’s dog had a litter. I can get another one. He’s got two left, I think.” He brightened and petted the dog. “Just think of that, Dear. We’ll be related again through our dog siblings. I thought of getting you a Chow Chow or Standard Poodle when we spoke of your impending dog ownership¾”
“Correction, Dear. You spoke of impending dog ownership.”
“¾because I know you like those breeds¾”
“I realize they’re good guard dogs, Johnny, if that’s where all this is leading.”
“¾but when I saw how quickly Drew could be trained, well, I realized he’s the dog for you. I’ll get another one.”
“Are you sure you want to give him away? It’d be a shame to waste all those minutes you spent training him.”
“Not to worry. I’ll apply my skill to one of the other two. I think my friend has Fifi and Alvin left.”
Rona eyed him, not quite believing him.
Johnny grinned and placed the end of the dog lead in her hand. “Good boy, Drew. This is your new home.”
“You call him Drew?”
“It’s a good fit, I think. He already knows his name, by the way, so he’ll come when called.”
“I can think of a dozen names that are more apt for a killer guard dog’s image.”
“Ah, but the name Drew has clever connotations to it.”
Rona stroked the puppy’s head and grimaced. “Why do I dread what’s coming?”
“It’s from the character Nancy Drew.”
“I expected something like this. Go on.”
“Well, being as he’s male, I couldn’t call him Nancy.”
“Not if you don’t want him confused about his gender.”
Johnny made a face but continued. “So I figured Drew still conveyed the general idea. A smart detective, ready to look after you and solve your problem, and yet maintain the female link that you’re so keen on.”
“Very thoughtful, Dear. Thanks.” She scratched Drew behind his ears. “No offense to the dog, Johnny, but isn’t he awfully young to provide protection? A burglar will carry him off while he rolls over to have his tummy scratched. The dog rolls over, not the burglar.”
“Drew will grow. You need to train them young, anyway. You don’t want to get a two year old that might have behavior problems. Besides, how would you know what the dog can do if you got him after a previous owner? He’s housebroken, by the way.” Johnny took the box off the trolley and tapped it. “Water bowl, food dish, dry dog food, and a blanket included. Hold your thanks.”
“I’ll drop by in a couple of days to see how his training’s coming along.”
“If he’s as intelligent as you say, he should be ripping prowlers apart in no time.”
“That’s the idea, Ronnie. What a good boy, Drew.” He patted the dog’s head, eliciting a tail wag from the puppy.
“You’re not afraid he’ll attack you when you turn up here again? He’ll have two days of lessons under his…collar by the time you next see him.” She flashed a smile.
“Drew and I are old pals, Ronnie. He’d never attack me.”
The insinuation stayed with her for a very long time.
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