A Shot in the Bark: A Dog Park Mystery by C. A. Newsome

Publisher: C. A. Newsome

Book rating: PG-13 (questionable content for children under 13)

A Shot in the Bark by C.A. NewsomeBookBios.com (BB.com): What is your book about?

C. A. Newsome (CAN): Would you recognize a serial killer if you met one? Talked to one every day? Artist Lia Anderson doesn’t, and neither does anyone else who frequents the Mount Airy Dog Park. But a violent death brings Detective Peter Dourson into the close-knit group, and he is convinced someone is not who they seem. As the investigation uncovers secrets, Lia struggles to cope with warring emotions and a killer watches.

BB.com: How did you pick the topic for A Shot in the Bark?

CAN: I take my three rescues to the park every day, and have for ten years. For years I joked how we should have our own mystery series because we’re always speculating about people who come and go in the parking lot but aren’t with dogs. Then a dead body showed up (Truth!) and the speculation was rampant.

When I decided to see if I could write a book, This story was there, waiting.

BB.com: How is A Shot in the Bark different from other books that cover the same or similar information?

CAN: Along with the warmth and humor of a cozy mystery, it has some creepy, chilling moments, and elements of a psychological thriller. There is no explicit sex, but the romance has more meat to it than in a typical cozy.

Several of the characters (both two legged and four legged) are based on my real life dog park friends.

C. A. Newsome

C. A. Newsome

BB.com: What did you like most about writing this book?

CAN: I enjoyed so many things: writing a book my way, the book I wanted to read; imagining how my friends/characters would act in the different situations; plotting out how the murders were committed; and finding out what happened next.

Most of all, I liked how this book just flowed out of me, like it was waiting to be written.

An excerpt from A Shot in the Bark:

Saturday, May 7

“How did I get mixed up with such a loser, Anna?” Lia’s question somehow managed to be simultaneously earnest and rhetorical. The lithe, thirty-ish artist posed this question as she and her friend perched on top of a picnic table at the Mount Airy Dog Park, watching their furry children at play.

Anna, wise in the ways of the heart, kept silent. Like all good cops and therapists, she knew a void invited unburdening. She was a sturdy, middle-aged woman of medium height, with a square face and thin lips. Dark brows hovered over intense eyes of an indeterminate color. Nature had gifted her with hair that went pale gold instead of grey, and it waved softly just above her shoulders. It was her one beauty. Like everything in her life, its display was understated.

Lia sighed and ruffled the ears of Chewy, her silver Miniature Schnauzer. Satisfied, Chewy took off for another tour of the park perimeter. Lia tracked his jaunty trot with fretful green eyes while she gathered her thoughts. “I know better. Mom went through the same damn thing with her second husband. Handsome, talented, and just needed a little help to manifest his brilliant potential. Ha!” She bent her head forward while she gave a pat to a passing lab. Summer-streaked chestnut hair poured over her shoulders, curtaining her expressive eyes. She chewed on her bottom lip and picked at the fringe on her paint-splattered cut-offs.

Anna gently posed her question. “You’ve been seeing him for, what, almost a year now? What’s upsetting you today?”

“Nothing’s upsetting me. That is, nothing’s changed. Nothing’s improved, nothing’s different. He always acts like I’m this big muse, and he says he’s writing like crazy but he’s just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.” She gusted a sigh while rolling her eyes. “I take that back. He’s not rearranging them, he’s tossing them into a big pile and pouring gasoline on them. It’s a funeral pyre on a sinking ship.”

“So what brought this on today?” Anna asked.

“I read his latest revisions yesterday. Thinking about it kept me up most of the night. The manuscript was nearly finished when I met him a year ago. It’s no closer to being finished now than it was then.” Lia paused. “Really, it’s further away. His revisions are chopping it up so it’s disjointed and unpublishable. He says he needs to cut pages, but he’ll need to add another 50 pages to pull together all the new material he’s added. He’s killed the pace and it’s lost its freshness. He’s overworked the good parts until they just lay there, dead and stinking to high heaven.” Lia ended her rant and sat back, arms folded.

“That’s quite an image.”

“Anna, it’s pure road kill. I told him, ‘You can’t sell something if you never finish it. You can’t finish it if you keep adding new elements that mean you have to rewrite the whole damn thing. You’re not curing cancer here, you’re just trying to entertain people.'”

“Good thing he’s a writer, not a painter. He can go back to an earlier version of the manuscript when he comes to his senses.”

“That’s just it,” Lia’s voice took on a disgusted edge. “He’s been overwriting the file all along. I set up his computer and showed him how to save different versions of the book as he made changes, and he blew it off. He said it was too much trouble.”

Anna considered this. “There’s software that can retrieve it, isn’t there?”

“There isn’t if Paul offers to defrag your computer while you’re having beers. It’s gone. For good. Honey! Stop digging! Right! Now!” Lia’s anger made this reprimand sharper than it should have been.

Honey usually deserved her name. Today she was busily enlarging a hole created by an earlier dog park visitor and quickly losing her sweetheart status. Chewy found this very amusing and sniffed the dirt pile, emerging with dirty paws and a clump of sod on his pert nose.

“Honey! I said STOP!” This time the handsome Golden Retriever looked up, her expression sheepish. She returned to Lia in a penitent slouch and placed one dirt caked paw in Lia’s lap in a plea for forgiveness. Lia looked down at the dark smudges on her shorts. “And I thought Goldens were the perfect breed.” She scratched behind Honey’s ears and gave her a kiss on the top of her head.

Anna laughed, a merry tinkling full of good humor and empathy. “At least you have the sense to dress for the park. Not like some I might name.”

Lia noticed the older woman’s eyes flick over to the pair sitting at a picnic table several yards away. Lia knew she wasn’t talking about Jim. Jim’s couture was comfortable, well-used and rumpled, like his face and personality. It was the coifed grand-dame deftly touching his arm that drew this bit of spite from Anna.

“I miss Jim, too. I’m sorry I ever introduced them. Catherine’s had her claws out for him ever since. And she never would have looked at him twice if I hadn’t raved about what a great friend he was. Now every time I’m around him, she does everything she can to distract him from me.”

Catherine Laroux and her twin Pomeranians had appeared three months earlier. Caesar and Cleo (Anna, Bailey and Lia privately called them “Prissy” and “Poopsy”) didn’t need much exercise. Catherine needed escape from her husband, and attention. Lots of attention. Any attention would do, and she got it with flattering focus and playing the damsel in distress. Whether it was people who slighted her, symptoms she couldn’t decipher, or appliances she didn’t understand, Catherine always found a reason to seek help and advice. She had a consummate talent for making her needs more important than anything else that might be happening. The women caught on quickly. The men, typically, when faced with the full brunt of femininity, were clueless.

“It’s amazing, isn’t it?” Lia continued. “How many problems can one person have at 8:00 a.m. in the dog park?”

This time Anna responded with a ladylike snort. “Now, now. Let’s collect our furry children and see if they might like to chase some balls.”

Anna’s handsome and mannerly Tibetan Mastiff, CarGo (as in “Car! Go!”), was stately and full of humor. He was black and tan and always well-groomed. Like his mistress, he deplored fussiness and remained aloof from drama. He galloped up – gallop is the only word that would work. At 125 pounds, CarGo could be mistaken for a small horse. His one bad habit was jumping up, and with paws on shoulders, looking humans in the eyes. In moments of whimsey, Anna considered teaching him ballroom dancing.

His canine radar infallible, CarGo was ready as soon as Anna pulled her “flinger” from her bag. Anna expertly launched two balls in the air. CarGo beelined after a line-drive, Chewy yapping at his heels while Honey considered a high lob, bolting when its trajectory became apparent. She leapt up to snag it out of the air before CarGo pounced on his own grounder.

Anna turned to look at Lia. “I love watching them play. I don’t even mind the slobber. So what will you do about him?”

“Luthor?” responded Lia, not thrown by the non-sequitur. “What I always do, I suppose. Withdraw.

“People who accomplish anything are finishers. They don’t whine or make excuses. They might adjust their course a bit, but they don’t suddenly decide to switch destinations. All of a sudden, Luthor doesn’t know what kind of book he’s writing. This is 18 months into the thing, and he hasn’t decided who the killer is, or if he ought to be writing a police procedural instead of a psychological thriller. Drives me crazy. Once I figured he was never going to finish the book, I lost all feeling for him.”

“Over a book?”

“Over his lack of direction and his pretense that he’s actually doing something. I can’t be with someone who hasn’t entered the real world. Sooner or later, they wind up turning on me like it’s my fault they haven’t accomplished anything.”

“Poor girl. I’m so glad he never moved in.”
“That would have been a mistake. I’m dreading this as it is. Oh, Gawd. Here he comes.”

It was the sound of a perforated muffler that drew Lia’s attention to the parking lot. Luthor had named the rattle-trap Corolla “William” because it had “suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” Lia thought “Shakes-Gear” was more to the point.
Luthor Morrisey was a handsome man, blond and tall. His hair was deliberately unkempt, and his clothes, while expensive, were unpressed and tossed on. 19th Century Romanticism overlaid with a patina of 21st Century Artist Grunge. Lia reckoned he’d coasted on his looks and self-serving artistic sensitivity for too long, that and his advance guard, Viola, a lovable but occasionally schitzy Border Collie mix whose silky fur drew admirers. In an act of compassion that Lia suspected slayed the hearts of many women before her, Luthor had spotted the traumatized puppy in a February ice storm and spent over an hour coaxing it to warmth and safety. But animal rescue only gets you so far. She mused, “I’ll miss the dog.”

“Lia!” Luthor yelled, waving a long arm over head.

“As if I didn’t figure out he was here when the car was a mile away,” she muttered.

“Now, Lia, have pity. He doesn’t know what’s coming.”

“No, he doesn’t have a clue. That’s the problem.” Lia mustered a limp half-smile (or was it a grimace?) and went to meet him with dread in her heart.

Anna watched as Lia ignored Luthor’s outstretched arms and perched on a table. Her crossed arms confused Viola, who expected hugs. Lia’s defensive posture must have sunk in, Anna noted, as Luthor’s stance suddenly became aggressive. Anna continued to watch the performance as Luthor’s voice became audible over the distance and elevated in pitch. She could almost, but not quite, understand what he was saying.

“Third time a charm?” a familiar voice asked.

Anna turned to look at Jim. The retired engineer was a short man with kind eyes and a shaggy beard. Anna thought, not for the first time, how much he resembled Treebeard, the ancient ent in Lord of the Rings. “I hope so, the other breakups didn’t stick. I hope this one does. This is wearing her down.”

“Is she going to be okay?”

“Sooner or later. Lia’s resilient. But I’d so hoped he would make her happy.” Anna craned her neck further. “What happened to your girlfriend?”

“Girlfriend? Catherine? She just needed some advice. She’s not my girlfriend. Fleece is the only woman in my life.” Jim referred to his beloved Border Collie, who was currently attempting to herd a pair of Lab pups.

“You’re too kind, Jim.” Or too blind, she privately thought.

A tall redhead with chin-length hair joined them. Bailey had the kind of figure that photographed well because she was always fifteen pounds underweight. In real life, she came off as gawky. She had an open face with mildly popped eyes, and a nose that an unkind person might call ‘beaky.’ She had a hesitant smile, with the left side quirking up while the right remained undecided. “So do you think this will be the end?” Bailey gestured to the discordant pair with a long, graceful hand that should have been pouring tea or playing piano. Ironically, her fingers were always callused and nicked from her job as a self-employed gardener.

“I hope so,” Anna responded, “but I don’t think he’ll let her go easily and she’s already stressing over that garden you two are building for Catherine. I’m so angry at Luthor, he should be supporting her so she can do her work, not expecting her to nursemaid him while he pretends to be a writer.”

“Support her?” Bailey looked amused. “He can’t even put gas in his car.”

“Not that. She does okay by herself. I meant cook her dinner, rub her feet instead of expecting her to rub his all the time. He’s not the one standing on a concrete floor all day painting. Why is it men always think their needs are more important, Jim?”

“Anna, you know I’m not going to touch that.” Jim looked at her sideways and put up both palms in a universal request for peace.

The sound of a car door slamming brought them back to the drama at hand. Squealing tires announced Luthor’s departure.

“I don’t think he can afford to lose any rubber,” Jim said dryly. “He could blow out a tire going down Montana Avenue.”

“Don’t say that!” Bailey interjected. “If he dies on that hill, she’ll feel guilty and paint his picture forever. If he lives, she’ll still feel guilty, she’ll be rubbing his feet in the hospital, and she’ll still paint his picture forever. Either way, it’ll destroy her career because who wants to buy a hundred paintings of Luthor? We’ll never finish Catherine’s garden. I won’t get paid and I’ll wind up starving.”

~ ~ ~

Sunday, May 8, 4:00 a.m.

Lia couldn’t say she was up early because she’d never been to bed. Luthor’s recriminations and endless phone calls echoed in her head all night. Weary, she’d unplugged the phone at 1:00 a.m. At 1:30 she’d taken a long, hot soak in Epsom Salts, her favored cure for insomnia. It hadn’t worked.

Luthor probably started leaving nasty messages on her cell phone at exactly 1:05 a.m., but as usual she didn’t know where her cell was. She hated the damn thing and only kept it because there was no phone at the studio. That’s where it probably was.
She hoped her phone wasn’t over by the south wall. She thought of Jason, an illegal loft-liver on the other side of that wall. Better buy him a twelve-pack. Make it imported. I bet the ringing has been driving him crazy. If I’m lucky, the battery’s dead. She pictured Jason, enraged by the noise, punching a hole in the dry wall to retrieve her phone and fling it out a window. She winced. At least then I wouldn’t have to listen to the messages. How many were there? One three hour rant? A hundred one-word nuisance calls? How quickly can you call and leave a message? Two minutes? At two minutes a message and three hours, ninety messages? What are the limits on the in-box? She hoped for Jason’s sake it was one very long message, or that the battery was dead. How long would it take to delete ninety messages?

Tired of her head spinning, Lia pulled on sweats and grabbed her keys. The soft jingle had Chewy and Honey beating her to the door. “You guys don’t miss a trick, do you? Up for some pre-dawn prowling?” She snapped leashes to their collars. “Shall we walk this time? It’s only a mile-and-a-half, what do you think?”

Lia learned to appreciate baker’s hours years ago when an outdoor mural had her working in the pre-dawn dark so she could project her design on the wall. Her friends were horrified, convinced her body would turn up months later in Mill Creek. But Lia loved how quiet the world was at 4:00 a.m. Inside at 4:00 a.m., your brain would be in over-drive. The world outside was silent at 4:00 a.m. You never realized how noisy houses were until you went outside in the dead of night. The quiet calmed her mind. Outside was peace. No pain, no drama, and she could let everything go.

Lia hit her stride. Not a power walk, but quick and steady through the darkness. She watched her shadow change direction and shape as she passed under street lights. The rhythmic motion eased her. Honey and Chewy trotted obediently beside her. Her head started to clear and she began to relax. This is the ticket. One and a half miles to the park, let the dogs run around a bit, back home, fry up some potatoes and eggs. It’s Sunday, no need to plug the phone in. Play some Mozart. Do the crossword. Don’t think. Go back to bed. Yes.

She turned down Westwood Northern Boulevard, jogging down the hill for the last half-mile. Honey and Chewy barked happily. “Shush!” she admonished, laughing as the last of the tension poured out.

She slowed to a walk as she turned into the parking lot. She was looking forward to sitting on a table, looking up at the sky and watching the stars until the rising sun blinked them out. Then she saw the dark hulk at the far end. The familiar silhouette had her grinding her teeth. What was Luthor doing here? He couldn’t have known she was coming this early, could he? Or had he been parked outside her apartment and seen her leave? Was he stalking her?

Copyright© C. A. Newsome. All rights reserved.

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