Allergen-Free Assignation

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chapter 1

drop-cap-erin stood watching the heavy machinery close in on the little ivy-covered garage in the back yard of the white and yellow house. Over the weekend, she and Vic had moved the assorted storage boxes, tools, and other bits and pieces into a mobile storage pod for temporary safekeeping and Erin had moved Clementine’s Volkswagen out of the garage for the first time.

Officer Terry Piper moved up beside her, his German shepherd, K9, at his side. He touched the small of Erin’s back, fingers tentative.

“Are you okay?”

Erin nodded. Her throat was suspiciously tight, but she couldn’t explain why.

“It’s just a garage,” she said. “And I never even used it. No reason I should feel attached to it.”

Terry let his hand rest there for a minute, warm and comforting. “It’s part of Clementine’s property… I guess that means something to you.”

“It’s silly. It wasn’t even built yet when I was here as a little girl. It wasn’t built until I was seven. No reason for me to get all sentimental about it.” She pressed her lips together tightly for a moment, trying to convince her body that what she said was true. There was no reason to feel bad about them knocking the garage down. There was no reason for sadness or tears or the tight, hot feeling in her throat. “This is a murder investigation,” she said sternly. “We have to do it.”

He rubbed her back. “I know. But we don’t have to like it.”

Erin just shook her head. Terry didn’t discuss it any further. The sheriff was there, wearing a hard hat, and he gave the signal to the bulldozer. Its engine revved and it slammed into the garage.

It wasn’t fast work. Erin had expected the demolition to be quick. Instantaneous. On TV, she had seen huge buildings, business towers and hospitals and the like, imploded with explosives and razed to the ground in seconds. Knocking down the garage wasn’t like that. It was excruciatingly slow. Her legs got tired, standing there watching. The sun climbed the sky and Erin wiped her sweaty forehead with the back of her arm and looked around for a drink. The demolition team had brought in a cooler full of bottled water, and after getting the nod from the supervisor, Erin grabbed one and cracked it open. She sat down on the grass in the shade of the tree. Terry stood for a few minutes longer, then conceded and sat down as well. K9 lay down between them. When Erin was just about done her water, she held it out to K9. She dribbled the last of the water into her palm and he lapped it up.

Eventually, the walls and the roof were down, and the bulldozers and bobcats pushed the rubble out of the way. They were left looking at the cement pad that had been poured before the garage was built. Erin stood up again to look at it. Terry walked up to it for a closer look, as did the sheriff. Tom Banks, the part-time police officer who was on call when Terry was not available was there too. The whole police department out in force. They walked around the pad, looking down at the cement. They took pictures and had low-pitched discussions, scratching their heads, wiping away sweat, and settling their hats again. Terry returned to stand beside Erin.

“There it is,” Erin said. “The concrete pad and foundations that the Plaint brothers poured.”

“And under it somewhere… the body of Adam Plaint.”

“If we’re right about what happened.”

“I think we are,” Terry said. “I think you are. Mr. Plaint disappeared without a trace, and the next day the boys came over here to finish pouring the foundations. Why would they be here the next day? There wasn’t any rush. Your aunt would have understood that with their family tragedy they couldn’t be here that day. She told them they didn’t have to be there.”

Erin nodded.

“But wouldn’t she have seen something suspicious? I mean… two teenagers hauling a grown man’s body into the yard…? That wouldn’t have been obvious?”

Terry scratched at the back of his neck. “If it was me… if I was Angela, looking for a way to dispose of that body… I would have brought him the night before and dumped him into one of the trenches dug for the foundations. Covered the body with a tarp or a thin layer of dirt. Then all the boys had to do the next day was mix the concrete and pour it in.”

“She and the boys moved the body together?”

“That seems most likely. I don’t know if the two boys could have done it without her help. Davis was only thirteen, and from what everyone has said, he was scrawny. Not built like Trenton.”

“What’s the next step? What are they going to do? Start breaking the concrete up with a jackhammer?”

“I’m worried that if we do that, we’re going to damage the body. Whatever is left of it. We need to do this carefully to preserve as much evidence as we can.”

“So…?”

“We’ve talked to a company in the city with ground-penetrating radar. That seems like the best solution. See if we can locate the body before we start breaking the concrete up. So we know how to proceed.”

“How long before they get the machinery here?”

“I’m hoping tomorrow.”

“So, you’re done for today?”

“Pretty much. Other than cleaning up the rubble. I’d like to get as much of this cleared out of the way as possible.”

Erin sighed and nodded. The back yard looked empty without the garage there. The concrete pad was like a big scar. She walked closer for a look. Terry made a movement as if to stop her, but didn’t say anything. What was he going to say? Not to touch the evidence? That she might trip and hurt herself? She couldn’t do any damage to the investigation, and it was her own yard.

There was a movement under a bush, and Erin glanced over, expecting to see a bird, or maybe a stray cat. But the shape was not right. She got a little closer. A kitten? It was bigger than Orange Blossom had been when she had rescued him. He’d barely even been weaned. But the shape was chunkier, not the slim, lithe shape of a cat.

“Terry…?”

Terry moved toward her, hearing the concern in her voice.

“What is it?”

“I think… I think something got hurt by the machinery…”

Terry got close enough to see the tufts of fur. K9 was sniffing eagerly, moving in. Erin grabbed his collar and held him back. Normally she wouldn’t interfere with a working dog, but she was afraid of what would happen if she let K9 get too close to the injured animal. Terry took a couple of steps forward and took hold of his collar.

“He won’t cause any trouble. It’s a rabbit.” He was close enough to make out the shape. “You’re right, I think it’s hurt.”

Erin moved in. She hadn’t wanted to get too close in case it was a dog or a skunk or something that might attack a human when cornered. But she wasn’t worried about being attacked by a rabbit.

It eyed her as she got closer. Erin could see its back feet kicking out, but there was blood matting the fur and things obviously weren’t working the right way, the rabbit couldn’t run away.

“It’s just a baby,” Erin said. “Its leg is hurt.”

“Older than a baby,” Terry disagreed. “Unfortunately, rabbits don’t do well when injured. It will probably die of shock.”

“No…” Erin was too soft-hearted. She didn’t like to see any creature hurt or killed. “We have to take it to the vet.”

“Get a blanket or a towel to wrap it up. It might bite or scratch. We can take it to the doc, but don’t get your hopes up. The kindest thing is probably just to have him put it down.”

She was glad that Terry hadn’t offered to do the job himself with his police firearm. Death might be a fact of life for a farm boy or small-town boy who had been through a number of pets, but Erin wasn’t used to animals dying. She suspected Terry was probably more worried about her than he was about the rabbit.

She took off her jacket and got in close, trying to slide it carefully under the injured animal. The rabbit kept squirming away, its eyes wide with panic. Erin was too tentative, too worried about hurting it further to catch it.

“Throw the coat over top so it can’t see you,” Terry advised. “Then wrap it around and pick it up inside the coat.”

“Okay.” Erin tried doing as he said. She was still worried about hurting the rabbit, but it was easier when he couldn’t see her coming and was trapped by the fabric around him. She did her best to wrap the coat around it and bundle it up, like Terry had wrapped up Orange Blossom the day that she had first brought the kitten home. She turned the jacket over and looked at the rabbit. She could just see its nose twitching through an opening. “Okay, I’ve got it.”

“I’ll drive you over to Doc’s,” Terry said. “But don’t get your hopes up too much. This is a wild animal, and it’s injured. Just the stress can kill them.”

Erin sniffled and nodded. “Yeah, okay. I’ll try not to.”

It was the first time she had ridden in Terry’s police cruiser, and despite her worry about the rabbit, Erin looked around the interior with bright interest. Bars over the back windows, CB radio, onboard computer, a number of knobs and switches she didn’t know the purpose of. Lights and siren, she supposed. Maybe a loudspeaker.

K9 seemed confused about what Erin was doing in the front seat and whined when Terry made a sharp movement for him to get into the back.

“Is this where he usually sits?” Erin asked as Terry slid in beside her.

“Yes. But he’ll be okay back there for a couple of minutes. His friends won’t make fun of him for riding in back.”

Erin looked over at Terry and saw the familiar dimple in his cheek.

Nothing was very far away in Bald Eagle Falls, Tennessee, so they were at the vet’s office within a couple of minutes. There were a couple of people in the waiting room, one with a cat and one with a dog.

Sarah Lawson, the pretty young receptionist and vet’s assistant, smiled when Erin and Terry entered, her eyes alive with curiosity.

“What have you got?” she asked, standing up and walking out from behind the counter so she could look down at Erin’s bundle.

Erin pushed the coat away from the rabbit’s face the best she could. “A rabbit. He has an injured leg, or maybe two.”

“What happened? Did you hit it with your car?” Sarah looked sympathetic toward Erin, but not hopeful.

“No. One of the vehicles that was knocking down my garage must have gotten it.” As Erin thought about the bulldozers that had razed her garage to the ground, she felt nauseated. They could do so much damage to a little creature like the rabbit. What did she think the vet was going to be able to do?

Sarah shook her head, pressing her lips together. “Doc’s with a patient right now, but I’ll get him to look at your bunny as soon as possible. Let’s get you into an exam room.”

Doc only had one and a half exam rooms. It wasn’t like a big city vet hospital. He would be in the main exam room with a family dog or cat, and Sarah took Erin to the overflow examination table in the corner of Doc’s supply room. Terry stayed with K9 in the waiting room.

Unlike the main exam room, there were no seats or other amenities.

“Let’s just have a little peek,” Sarah said, easing the bundle out of Erin’s hands. She laid it on the table. She first opened up the end with the rabbit’s head. Its eyes were still wild and rolled back. Its mouth was slightly open and Erin could see its long rodent-like teeth between parted lips. Sarah worked open the other end of the bundle, keeping one hand pressed to the rabbit’s middle to keep it from squirming away. Erin wasn’t sure what Sarah could see when she looked at the bloody back legs. The rabbit kicked a couple of times. “Okay. We’re going to need x-rays, so he’ll have to be sedated. Can I get you to hold him again?”

Erin took over holding the rabbit down on the examination table, murmuring to it in a soft voice that was usually reserved for Orange Blossom. Sarah prepared an injection.

“We have to do this in order to get x-rays and examine him properly.” She tapped the needle to break loose the air bubbles. “But you should know that sedation will depress his vital functions, and together with the shock he’s already in, we could lose him. Okay? We have to do it, but it’s risky.”

Erin nodded and tried to swallow the lump in her throat. “Okay.”

Sarah grimaced at her. “Sorry.” She pulled the jacket back once more, and injected the sedative. It took effect almost immediately, and Sarah unwrapped the jacket completely, returning it to Erin. “Baking soda works best on bloodstains,” she advised. “Soak it in cold water while it’s still wet.”

The rabbit looked tiny and vulnerable laying on the examination table. Though Terry was right, and it was bigger than Orange Blossom had been, it was still not full-grown.

“It’s a domesticated breed,” Sarah observed. “Not a cottontail. Is it someone’s pet?”

Erin shook her head. “I don’t know. It was outside. I suppose it could belong to a neighbor and just got away from them…”

“Maybe. Or someone might have released a previous generation. People think they’re doing a kindness by releasing pet rabbits into the wild when they’re not wanted anymore. Born free and all that. But they’re not doing any favors to their pets or the environment. A pet isn’t equipped to survive in the wild, but if they do, rabbits are notorious for overpopulating. This one’s pretty young, I can’t see anyone releasing it at this age. It’s probably feral.”

Erin cleared her throat and swallowed again. She could see the rabbit’s rapid respirations as it lay there. But other than that tiny movement, it looked as though it were already dead.

“I’ll get some x-rays and get Doc to have a look as soon as he’s done. Why don’t you wait with Officer Piper in the waiting room?”

“Okay. Thanks.”

She retreated to the waiting room and sat down in the chair next to Terry’s. K9 was watching the cat and dog across the room, his tail sweeping back and forth in a wide, slow arc, and he paid no attention to her.

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah. She’s going to take some x-rays.”

He nodded. Erin took a couple of deep breaths and tried to steady her nerves. She was shaking and still felt sick.

“I should touch base with Vic and see how she’s doing.”

“If it’s busy, she won’t be able to talk.”

Erin worked her phone out of her pocket and checked the time. “She should be having her lunch.”

I hope you enjoyed this sample of

Allergen-Free Assignation

By P.D. Workman

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