Greedy Squatters

The Squatter chicks have won the attention and words of our author. Squatter 3 is an official first draft, and she’s already working on the edit. Can you hear the spittly sound of ten raspberries?

Thief that I am, here’s the first of frickin’ forty-two chapters.

Chapter 1

With a grunt of triumph, Trinity MacNeil heaved a large bundle of tomato plants into the fire pit, being careful not to smother the flames. She grabbed a straggler from the wagon beside her and threw it in, as well. 

While the plants had already been victims of the season’s killer frost, they were nowhere dead enough to be consumed by the flames. Rather, the intense heat first had to desiccate them, and then it could slowly turn them to ash.

She watched for several minutes, and finally satisfied the fire would continue without her intervention, she pulled her wagon back to the garden.

The late October morning had been brisk, but now that it neared noon, the sun had managed to raise the temperature to the unseasonable upper 50s. Deeming her blue sweatshirt unnecessary, she pulled it off and tossed it to the ground just as her cellphone sounded. Recognizing the tone, she excitedly lunged to its spot on the lawn.

“Hey, librarian,” Maisie Beckett hurriedly greeted. “Any chance you’re by the TV?”

“Um, no.” Rarely one to watch, she was taken aback by the question. “I’m in the garden. Why?”

“Run!” she charged. “Hurry and get to my parlor and turn on the local news!”

“Okay! Okay!” she shouted and tore off. The phone jostled by her ear, and she could not make out what Maisie said to her. She figured she simply prodded her on: Faster. Faster. Faster.

She had just barreled around the house’s front corner when she nearly collided with someone. Reflexively, she screamed and felt no calmer when she realized it was the county sheriff.

“Sorry, Trinity,” Sheriff Danforth said, his hands rising as though to proclaim he posed no threat. “I didn’t mean to scare you. When you didn’t answer the door, I thought maybe—”

“I was working in my garden,” she said, trying to ease her breathing and hoping her heart remained in her chest, despite its effort to do otherwise. Then, though, she panicked for a different reason. He had been to her house before, but never without being summoned, and that made her think of the night a policeman showed up at her door to tell her her mother had died in a car accident. She peered into his eyes. “Is something wrong, Sheriff? Did something happen?”

“No! No! Nothing like that!” Shaking his head, he apologized again for startling her. “I’m looking for a dog,” he explained.

“A dog?”

Jutting his arm out to his left, he explained, “One’s missing from a family about two miles up the road. I just stopped to see if maybe you had seen him, or something.”

Relieved, she shook her head, rammed her phone into the back pocket of her jeans, and brushed her jet-black bangs out of her face. Maybe it was a small town thing, she figured, that sheriffs doubled as dogcatchers. 

“He’s a cocker spaniel,” he continued. “Goes by the name of Avery.”

“I haven’t seen him,” she assured, “but, if I do, I’ll be sure to let you know.”

“I’d really appreciate that.”

She expected him to turn around and leave, but instead, he moved even closer to her.

“Did you ever get that hole in your backyard filled in?” When she nodded, he asked, “Can I take a look?” Without awaiting her reply, he headed in that direction. 

Puzzled, she followed him.

“Yep,” he said after barely surveying the spot, “you sure did.”

Months had passed since Maisie and she had filled it, but it was still an eyesore: horribly uneven with sections of sod they simply stuck back together as best they could. The rain had neither helped rejoin roots to soil or level it. Even repeatedly rolling over it with Trinity’s pickup and the riding lawn mower, did nothing.

He continued, “I still find it amazing that there you were, digging a pond, on the very spot where Charlotte Thorpe and her son had been buried. It’s a miracle you found them, don’t you think?”

Again, he confused her. Was he questioning whether she had done something wrong? Or, was he wondering aloud whether they had dug there intentionally, that she had known they were there? The last time she had seen him was at Miles’ Sturtevant’s house, a man who had just confessed to killing his wife, and she had gotten the sense that he had been figuring out she knew things she couldn’t have known by normal means. She doubted “clairsentience” was on his list of possible explanations, but she remained convinced that something similar was. She hoped he never found the courage to ask.

With both feet and his well-polished black shoes, he stomped on a large chunk of sod. “The weight of the snow will help even this out,” he said, “and come spring, it’ll start to root again. By next fall, no one will ever know.” He stopped and looked at her. “But we will, won’t we? You can’t forget things like this.”

She shook her head, unwilling to verbalize how true his words rang. 

“Well, I better get moving. Back on the trail of Avery,” he said and began walking toward the house.

Intentionally staying two paces behind him, she followed.

Yet again, she nearly ran right into him, for he abruptly stopped and turned around.

“Oh, oh,” he excitedly said, “forgot something.” His hand dove into his jacket pocket and returned with a five-inch orange football, nubby and with each end ringed with a dark blue stripe. He outstretched it to her. “This is Avery’s. I thought maybe it would help find him.” When she didn’t take it from him, he waggled it in front of her.

Without a doubt, she knew he expected her to take it in hand, close her eyes, and psychically know where the dog was—dead or alive—at that very moment. He was testing her, and she found herself both angry and amused.

He shoved it closer, and she half-expected him to pry open her fisted hand and force it on her. Not wanting it to go that far, she took it from him, and seeing the valve on its midsection, she repeatedly squeezed it to produce a loud, irritating squeak.

“Smart,” she said. “I bet he’ll come running if he hears this.” She shoved it into his hand.

He gave her a blank look, turned, and resumed walking.

Before he ducked into his squad, he wished her a good day, and as pleasantly as she could, she wished him the same and offered her assurance that she’d called if she saw Avery.

Resisting the urge to spike a middle finger, she watched him drive away.

Three steps into her intended return to the garden, she realized she had been in the middle of a call with Maisie. She seized her phone from her pocket only to find a darkened screen.

As she hurried to the front door, she called her back.

“What the heck happened?” Maisie asked without a greeting. “Who was that?”

She slipped into the house’s foyer. “Sheriff Danforth,” she answered. “Nothing’s wrong, though. I’ll tell you later.” Finally, she took the opportunity to ask, “What did you want me to see on TV? Is it still on?”

“I’ll tell you later. My lunch break’s almost over,” she said. “You just get your gardening done. I’ll make supper when I get home while you take a bath.” She laughed. “You’re going to be stinky and sore.”

“I already am,” she admitted. “But, I think I’m more than halfway done.”

“Good girl,” she said with a laugh. “Go make yourself a sandwich and coffee and then get back out there. Clock’s ticking.”

“Yes, boss!” She saluted.