Here is the next chapter of The Scent Remains. If you missed previous chapters you can go to the link to the left. Or, if you prefer, you can purchase it as an ebook here.
Jo was absurdly happy to be home. It was over and she could relax. By the time she turned down Hickory Lane her heart had stopped racing and her mood had lifted. It was named Hickory, but there was not one hickory tree anywhere on it. The short narrow street was lined instead with gingko trees. Unusual trees with fan shaped leaves and the smelliest berries Jo had ever encountered. She had heard them described as "barf berries".
The great statesman Henry Clay, on whose property Jo's apartment was built, was the first to import the gingko tree to the United States. He ought to have reconsidered his choice of trees, Jo thought. Every year when the leaves turned brilliant yellow and the berries blanketed the sidewalks, residents of Hickory Lane had to wipe their shoes to avoid bringing the putrid smell into the house. So why wasn’t it called Gingko Lane?
A portion of the backyard was fenced for dogs. The owner of the house, an elderly widow named Edna Parker, used to keep a pair of Pekinese there but they had long since died. Now it was Tessa's territory. The grass was sparse where Tessa had been digging and weeds sprouted along the side of the garage but the area was shady and quite pleasant. Jo rinsed and filled Tessa's water dish. She waited while the dog peed and then the two went upstairs.
Later, after a meal of sautéed vegetables and pasta, Jo carried her tea to the balcony. She eased into a cushioned lawn chair and sighed. A long, life-is-good sigh. It was surprisingly mild weather for October. Tessa paced in and out of the house squeaking Baby and stopping only to scan the treetops for squirrels. Joggers ran by, some in obvious pain, others gliding effortlessly on the deep cushion of runner’s high. The aroma of grilling burgers lingered in the air punctuated by a sudden updraft carrying the stench of ginkgo berries. The sound of leaves fluttering in the breeze was like a spring rain, bursting and subsiding, as if the soothing drops were pounding their rhythm on the rooftops.
Jo relaxed into the green pillows, thinking of nothing in particular, drowsy with exhaustion. The squeaking soon stopped and Jo’s eyes grew heavy and would have closed entirely but for a new noise that reached her ears. This one was coming from somewhere inside the house. It was a muffled “thump, thump, thump...” At least eight or nine thumps fading gradually into silence. Jo cocked her head, fully awake now, listening. The thumping started again, louder at first then fading as if moving further away. It was then that she noticed Tessa was gone. She got up to investigate.
She scanned the small apartment and saw that the door to the hall was standing ajar again. Jo groaned. When would she ever remember to close and lock that door? Mrs. Parker had fussed at her several times about that. In the hall she found the source of the thumping. Tessa had found a tennis ball and was nudging it down the stairs. It thudded to the bottom and she ran down, retrieved it, carried it to the top of the stairs and nudged it down again.
“Simpleton,” Jo said, with a smile, and confiscated the ball. She normally didn’t leave tennis balls lying around. Tessa loved playing with them so much that Jo restricted that pleasure and only brought them out as a reward for training and searches. They returned to the balcony, door closed behind them.
Jo sat again just as a battered yellow Volkswagen Beetle sputtered into the driveway. A bangled arm shot out of the window and waved. Dulce Merryweather was home. Tessa wagged her tail as the car disappeared behind the building. She knew the distinctive sound of Dulce's 1973 vintage car.
Jo sighed. It felt good to be home. Goose Neck Hollow seemed a world away from this setting.
Inside her apartment the phone rang, shattering the peaceful moment. Jo ran to get it, Tessa at her heels.
"Hello?" She said into the receiver. Nothing. She thought she heard breathing. "Hello?" She said again. "Click" was the only reply. She put the receiver back and frowned at it.
The sound of Dulce's key turning in the lock out in the hallway they shared brought her back to the balcony.
"Good evening," Dulce sang out as she breezed onto her own balcony next to Jo's. Her long Indian print dress billowed with the lavender scented wind of her passing. At forty-one, she was a large woman but she carried herself gracefully and was completely self-possessed. Sterling silver dolphins dangled from her ears. Her hair lay short and close to her head.
"How was your day Jo? Loved your pictures. So dramatic. Tessa! How's my favorite puppy?" Tessa coaxed one more squeak from Baby and thrust her nose through the railing, tail wagging happily. "Jo you look done in. Your aura is positively drab. Rough day at work? My day was so hectic, you've no idea." She raised her chin skyward, closed her eyes and took a deep breath. "The air feels good out here doesn't it? Have you eaten yet?" She went on in her melodious British accent. "Come over and keep me company. Tessa, off you go, I've got a special treat with your name on it."
Dulce's apartment was crowded with plants of all kinds. Large ferns filled every corner and at each windowsill sat a row of African violets. On the coffee table a grapefruit sized crystal ball reflected dancing flames from a cluster of patchouli-scented candles.
An enormous white Persian cat peered out from behind a potted palm, watching Tessa intently as they came through the door. Tessa ran over and the two animals touched noses. The cat hissed but didn't budge from her spot.
"Tess, leave Jasmine alone," Jo said. But she wasn't worried. Posturing and hissing was a game they played everyday.
Jo followed Dulce into the kitchen and helped her slice green peppers and carrots. These were stuffed into a whole-wheat pita along with garlic couscous and pine nuts. On the stove a creamy pink liquid bubbled in a cast iron pot. Bundles of sticks and herbs floated on top. Jo had learned long ago not to question Dulce about her "recipes". Most of them had scary sounding names and not all were for eating.
"Oh, I nearly forgot!" Dulce clapped her hands together. "Tessa, I promised you a treat." She retrieved a crocheted handbag from where it lay on the counter. Tessa danced circles around Dulce, her impatient nose thrusting and sniffing. "I saved you a bit of my lunch." Dulce produced half of a hamburger that disappeared in one quick snap of Tessa's mouth.
"Dulce, I thought you were a vegetarian," said Jo.
"Then why the burger?"
"Oh, it happens every now and again. I don’t know what comes over me." "You mean—"
"I go to lunch with friends and next thing I know I look down and there I am feasting on a piece of meat.”
"I don’t believe—"
"Me either. Can you imagine? Me eating animal flesh?” She laughed and shook her head. “Aren’t cravings just the worst?”
"Yes, they are."
While Dulce ate, Jo told her in frequently interrupted spurts about her adventure in Tyler County.
"The bloody sheriff popped her off," Dulce said with satisfaction. "Who else would it be? I don't like the way he threatened you."
"It could have been the sheriff, I suppose," replied Jo. "Or it could have been her husband. Or even—"
"One thing is for certain, you had better not go traipsing about there again," Dulce said, shaking her fork for emphasis. "After all, you might be next. You can be sure whoever it was that did it saw you there. Perhaps even followed you today." She shivered with excitement. "The whole thing is beastly! Rather like one of those mysteries Mrs. Parker is always reading, isn't it?"
That night, Jo's sleep was broken with nightmares too elusive to recall but she was sure that Sheriff Teeter had made an appearance. Tessa was restless too. She ran to the window several times and barked at the moonlit yard. She fell silent each time before Jo could get up to investigate.
Jo groaned at the persistent seven o'clock call of the alarm. She would have to stumble through another day at work half asleep. She dressed, fed Tessa and took her out to the back yard. She glanced at the water dish to see that it was filled, then closed the gate and latched it. She had just turned to go back into the house when something caught her eye. It caught Tessa's eye too, or rather her nose, which was busy sniffing at a lifeless shape next to the water dish. Jo went to investigate and found a dead possum. Bloated and stiff.
"Leave it," she said to Tessa. How did a possum get in? Her eyes swept the yard. The answer lay at the base of the neighbor's garage that formed the back wall of the yard. The wood was rotted and there were ragged holes where a small animal could have squeezed through. But the more pressing question now was how did it die? That worried her. She hoped it wasn't anything that would also endanger Tessa. She looked around. The yard was empty except for the water dish. Did the water look a little off color? A little too green?
"No!" She cried out, just in time to stop Tessa from lapping it eagerly. She fell to her knees, put her nose to the dish and sniffed. The odor was vaguely familiar. It smelled sweet. A memory flashed into her thoughts, transporting her back to a canine first aid class. The instructor had passed around a small bottle of ethylene glycol for them to smell, the main ingredient in anti-freeze. It was a powerful poison and highly attractive to dogs. Tessa surely would have met with the same fate as the possum if she had drunk it.
A wave of fear swept over Jo. She gasped for air as the realization slammed into her full force. Someone had tried to kill her dog.