Read Shepherd's Crook Online

Authors: Sheila Webster Boneham

Tags: #fiction, #mystery, #mystery fiction, #animal, #canine, #animal trainer, #competition, #dog, #dog show, #cat walk, #sheila boneham, #animals in focus, #animal mystery, #catwalk, #money bird

Shepherd's Crook

BOOK: Shepherd's Crook
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Copyright Information

Shepherd's Crook:
An Animals in Focus Mystery
© 2015 by
Sheila Webster Boneham
.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any matter whatsoever, including Internet usage, without written permission from Midnight Ink, except in the form of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

As the purchaser of this ebook, you are granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this ebook on screen. The text may not be otherwise reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, or recorded on any other storage device in any form or by any means.

Any unauthorized usage of the text without express written permission of the publisher is a violation of the author's copyright and is illegal and punishable by law.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

First e-book edition © 2015

E-book ISBN: 9780738746036

Book format by Teresa Pojar

Cover design by Lisa Novak

Cover Illustration by Gary Hanna

Editing by Rosemary Wallner

Midnight Ink is an imprint of Llewellyn Worldwide Ltd.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Boneham, Sheila Webster, 1952

Shepherd's crook / Sheila Webster Boneham. -- First edition.

1 online resource. -- (An Animals in Focus Mystery ; #4) (An Animas in Focus Mystery ; # 4)

Description based on print version record and CIP data provided by publisher; resource not viewed.

ISBN 978-0-7387-4603-6 () -- ISBN 978-0-7387-4487-2

I. Title.

PS3602.O657155

813'.6--dc23

2015021811

Midnight Ink does not participate in, endorse, or have any authority or responsibility concerning private business arrangements between our authors and the public.

Any Internet references contained in this work are current at publication time, but the publisher cannot guarantee that a specific reference will continue or be maintained. Please refer to the publisher's website for links to current author websites.

Midnight Ink

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Manufactured in the United States of America

For Roger

Acknowledgments

Writing a book can be a lonely endeavor, and I am fortunate to have a supportive community of people and animals who keep me connected. I can't possibly thank everyone by name, but if you have ever talked to me about books or animals, please know that you're part of my journey as a wrtier and a reader. Still, a few people deserve special mention.

Corey Norman and April Bruce shared hilarious herding-dog stories, some of which I've adapted for the book. The Aussie Rescue & Placement Helpline (ARPH) raffled off a guest part in the book, and Crystal Anne Aguilar went above and beyond to promote the event. Thanks to everyone who played to support Aussie Rescue, and especially to the winner, Lilly, and her human, Jean Becker Inman—it's been great fun interacting with you ladies. Brenna Spencer and Rhonda Calhoun Mullenix of Lumos PhoDOGraphy graciously
provided reference photos for the cover. They also talked Donald Schwartz, VDM, into volunteering his legs—much appreciate, as not everyone is willing to be hanged for a book cover. Thanks to all of you!

My critique partners Nancy Gadzuk, Charlene Pollano, Georgia
Mullen, and Mike Connolly gave helpful feedback on parts of the book, and my sharp-eyed friend Linda Wagner read the full manuscript and, as always, helped me see what did and didn't work. The folks who turned the manuscript into the book deserve special tail wags—Lisa Novak for designing the beautiful cover, illustrator Gary Hanna for turning my cover concept into art, Teresa Pojar
for designing the interior of the book, and copyeditor Rose
mary Wallner for making the book better. Remaining booboos are, as always, mine.

My agent Josh Getzler has championed the Animals in Focus series since the beginning. Plus he's a funny guy, which never hurts. Thanks, Josh!

As always, my deepest gratitude goes to the animals who enrich my life and inspire me in so many ways.

“Here lies the body of Thomas Kemp, lived by wool died by hemp.”

(at the grave of a man hanged for sheep stealing, Larne, County Antrim, Northern Ireland)

one

The dog shouldered the
gate open and dove into the pen, intent on driving the sheep into the open. Five of the animals bolted through the gap while seven more huddled in a back corner and eyed the little predator as she stalked them along the back fence. The sheep edged deeper into the corner, seemingly unable to think themselves out of their self-made trap.

A series of sharp yaps shattered the silence, and the dog, a
black-and
-white Shetland Sheepdog, catapulted her
twenty-five
pounds toward the tail end of the nearest ewe. The rest of the flock scooted out of the corner and through the gate, but the one closest to the dog turned to face her tormenter, head low, ears forward. The standoff seemed to go on and on, but judging by the number of pictures I clicked off, it all happened in about four seconds.

Did I mention that I'm a professional photographer? Janet MacPhail, at your service. Technically I wasn't working. I was spending the weekend at the Northeast Indiana Herding Club's Dogs of Spring event with my Australian Shepherd, Jay, to try for a herding instinct certificate. Jay's the one with the instinct. I just hoped to stay out of his way and on my feet.

As always, I had my camera with me and I hoped to get some nice shots during the
two-day
event. Besides Saturday's instinct test and herding clinic, the club had a full agenda planned for Sunday. To draw spectators, there would be a herding demonstration with experienced dogs; a parade of the herding breeds; an
all-breed
disc-dog
competition; and displays by a dozen or so vendors, breed clubs, and rescue groups. There would also be a
dog-and
-owner lookalike contest. I was still trying to talk Tom Saunders into entering with his Lab, Drake.

Tom's my, uh … Someone should invent an alternate term for “the
approaching-sixty
friend, lover, occasionally irritating male companion with whom a woman in her fifties might or might not want to spend the rest of her life.” Boyfriend seems silly, lover too crass. We're not engaged, although Tom would like to be. More to the point, Tom would like to be married. To me. I still have my doubts about that venerable institution, though, based on brief and ancient experience. But I digress.

A quick scroll through the images on my camera showed that, working officially or not, I had a nice jump on the weekend thanks to the Sheltie and the sheep, especially the ewe who was still holding her ground. The dog's owner watched in silence from another open gate at the far end of the arena. It led to an adjacent pen where the woollies would be held when they weren't testing some dog's mettle.

I looked through my viewfinder and zoomed on a partial profile of the ewe and a clear view of the Sheltie's face. Nothing moved but the rim of the ewe's nostril and the dog's long white ruff, lifted and dropped by the breeze. I stopped breathing, camera poised. A shard of wood bit into my forearm where it rested on the wooden fence, but I held my camera still. A chickadee sang in a white pine off to my right, and human voices droned in the distance, but there at ringside there was nothing to hear but the faint huffhuffing of the ewe's breath.

The man by the gate finally spoke, his voice soft but clear on the morning air. “Bonnie, git 'er!”

The Sheltie let loose a stream of
high-pitched
threats and abuse. The ewe shook her head and took two steps toward the little dog. Bonnie jumped at the bigger animal's face, then spun around and got behind her. The ewe turned and snorted, and if I can read emotions at all, I would say she had murder on her mind. She might have done something about it, but she just couldn't find the pesky little dog; if she turned one way, Bonnie was somewhere else.

The ewe stopped and stood for a heartbeat as if deciding, then sprang out the gate to join the rest of the flock. Bonnie galloped after her, but slowed to a satisfied trot as she fell in behind the sheep. All ten had merged into one woolly intention, and they made a beeline for the holding pen at the far end of the arena. Bonnie followed, and once the sheep were in the pen, she stationed herself in front of the gate, waiting for her master to close it.

The Sheltie's owner was a short, wiry switchblade of a man with a big belt buckle,
down-at
-
the-heels
cowboy boots, and a
big-brimmed
cattleman hat. He was so burnished by wind and weather that his age was hard to guess. If pressed, I would have put
him in his early forties. I'd met him before and knew his name was Ray Turnbull. I thought that a good surname for a stock handler, even if there were no cattle in sight. Ray and Bonnie would be working the arena today, starting with this early morning roundup to relocate the sheep from their nighttime quarters. Truth be told, I liked Bonnie, but her owner unsettled me. He kept it sheathed in politeness, but he had a dangerous edge.

Like Bonnie, I expected Ray to close the gate, but he had turned his back on the activity in the arena. He was bent slightly forward, one hand to his ear, the other punched
knuckles-first
against his belt. I looked at the little dog, but she seemed content to stand where she was. When I looked back at Ray, he was pushing his phone into his pocket and walking toward his dog. If I weren't used to photographing predators from a safe distance, I might have retreated when I zoomed in on his face. His jaw muscles were clenched and although I couldn't see the look in his eyes, something about his brows spoke of violence. He spat into the dirt and pushed the gate shut, and Bonnie scooted under it to join him.

I lowered the camera and watched man and dog for another moment. Bonnie leaned against Ray's leg, and Ray seemed to relax a notch. He bent and patted his dog's shoulder, and she grinned and waved her tail. As the official stock handler for the weekend's sheepdog events, it was Ray's responsibility to ensure that none of the sheep were worked by dogs more than four times during the day, with
half-hour
breaks in between. These sheep were all accustomed dogs, but Ray would still monitor their stress levels and remove any animal that seemed unduly vexed. We humans were on our own in that department.

The sheep were gathered across the arena from me, still watching the dog and man but reasonably relaxed. I took a few more photos of them before turning my camera on Ray and Bonnie. Ray was on the phone again, his dog sitting beside him with one paw on her master's left boot. I started to raise my camera to capture the tenderness of that gesture, but Ray shifted his feet and swore into his phone, and the moment was lost. He made a few loud aspersions on someone's maternal parentage, then lowered his voice. As I scrolled through the photos I had just taken and tried to appear uninterested in the conversation, Ray came through the gate two fence panels to my right and walked away, still talking into his phone, Bonnie at his heels. I was struck by the joy in the dog's jaunty trot and the fury embodied in the few words I could make out—“no idea … why in the hell would I … threaten me.” That last two came out like a warning snarl.

The conversation had nothing to do with me, but as I watched Ray flip his phone shut and spit to the side as he walked away, I felt a tiny electric thrill of apprehension lift the hairs on my arms. I shook it off and, knowing that nothing else would happen in the arena for another half hour, started across an open field toward the shady fence line where I had parked my van. I wondered what kind of early morning phone call makes a man that angry, but my inner fuddy-
duddy whispered “mind your own beeswax, Janet.”

I wish it had been that easy.

BOOK: Shepherd's Crook
4.37Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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