Adventures of Cookie the Stray, Chapter 19
Tears filled Connie’s eyes as she thought about the dogs she’d handed over to someone she hadn’t seen in over a dozen years. She wiped them away with the back of her hand and consoled herself. If he’s anything like the boy I knew, Queenie and the pups will be fine. At least they didn’t end up at the pound. She glanced up as the door squeaked open and the investigator was back carrying a small notebook.
“What’s troubling you?” he asked.
“Nothing,” she said, “nothing. I was just worried about the dogs.” She could hear the wind howling outside with tree limbs scratching at the side of the building.
“I’m sure they’re in good hands,” he told her. He downed the remains of his cold coffee and set the cup back on the table. “That hitchhiker sure took a shine to you. And he seemed like a nice guy, maybe just down on his luck.” He fidgeted with his tie and opened the notebook to a page of scribbling.
“We knew each other a long time ago,” she said quietly.
“I’ve put in a request for the video surveillance tapes from the convenience store where you stopped,” he told her. “It may take a few hours for them act on the request and transmit the data. I have a friend at the Sheriff’s office that’ll make sure we get something from their cameras.”
“What happens to me in the meantime?”
“You’re in a safe place for now. Not much better shelter out there than this old building.” She looked pained at the prospect of remaining at the station.
“You mean locked up?” She was incredulous. “I’ve done nothing wrong, officer.”
“You’ll be okay,” he tried to reassure her. “And the dogs will be, too.”
The pilot skillfully guided the plane as it picked up speed down the runway. The sky was growing darker all around, not just on one horizon like before. The storm had finally moved in. The plane went airborne with only a slight bump before it settled into a standard climb. He checked the row of dials and gauges on the console and smiled.
“Piece of cake,” he called back to his only passenger. “We’ll be out of this storm in no time.”
Jeb loosened his grip on the armrests and stretched back into the seat. With the forward motion of the aircraft, the chair was more comfortable even if at times the ride became somewhat bouncy. He watched the hanger buildings grow smaller as they climbed to a cruising altitude and began their turn north. His main concern was not having a flight attendant who would bring him a snack and something to drink.
“We’ve had to veer off our flight plan a bit to avoid the worst of it,” the pilot told Jeb as he turned in his chair to face the rear cabin. Jeb would have preferred if the pilot wouldn’t turn around to stare at him every time he talked. It was like someone driving a car. He wanted to tell him to keep his eyes on, well, maybe not the road, but the sky in front of them. But the pilot had a good reputation of getting his passengers where they needed to be and keeping his mouth shut about their identity. He’d made sure of that with his buddy, the truck driver, the one who’d followed Connie from the motel.
“Oh yeah,” the trucker assured Jeb. “I know that guy can be trusted.”
“You’d better be right about that,” Jeb had told his nefarious friend.
They were airborne about twenty minutes when a deafening crack of thunder jolted the craft sending it lurching sideways. The lightning struck so close Jeb could smell static electricity in the air. He watched the pilot make some quick adjustments to the controls, then, spin toward him with a concerned expression.
“If this keeps up, we may have to set down to get out of this storm,” he said. “Visibility is seriously reduced and my navigational system is down.”
Jeb glanced through the cockpit window and spotted a row of dark objects appearing through a small clearing in the clouds. Is that trees? That can’t possibly be. We’re up way above the trees. Aren’t we? He had no chance to ask as the craft suddenly broke through the clouds and slammed into something solid as a mountain.
Several things happened at once. Jeb flew forward with such force it knocked him unconscious. His limp body dangled upside down suspended by his seat belt. The bag he’d stowed in the overhead bin flew out and slammed into the windshield splitting open the zipper and scattering the contents. The pilot’s backward facing pose turned his five point harness into a death trap snapping his neck instantly.
Jeb drifted in and out of consciousness until the smell of fuel brought him to full attention. His clothes were soaked in it. He struggled to release the seat belt that held him upside down in the broken craft. From his position, Jeb watched what looked like a thousand stars twinkling in the shattered glass of the windshield. As he hung there, he realized the stars were actually loose diamonds and pieces of jewelry.
One by one, they rolled toward an opening and dropped out of the hole, falling like raindrops while he writhed upside down, trying to release the seatbelt. He felt a shift as the plane slid downward along the slippery, muddy slope of the mountain cliff. He froze, afraid to move in any direction.
This time when the door opened Connie smelled the aroma of something that reminded her of Sundays. In one hand the investigator held a box of Kentucky Fried Chicken along with a stack of napkins.
“One of the patrolmen picked this up just as the place was shutting their doors,” he told her. “Everybody’s hunkering down for the storm.” She hadn’t realized how hungry she’d become after the long drive and the hours she’d been sitting in this room. From under his other arm the officer pulled out a laptop.
“I thought we’d watch a couple of videos while we wait things out.” She’d seen enough crime TV to know they fed their suspects trying to build camaraderie to get them to confess.
“I think you’ll find this first one interesting,” he said as they cleared away the greasy napkins. He booted up the device and called up a file, then, pushed the play button.
Rusty and Eleanor talked for what seemed like a lifetime while they shared a large slice of apple pie. He learned that William had suffered a massive heart attack and still remained in skilled nursing care. Eleanor brought out photos of him and Roscoe, the dog standing proudly in the bed of the truck and William smiling happily beside his treasured old Ford.
“That’s amazing,” Rusty told her. “He looks just like a dog I’ve seen.” His thoughts drifted to the dog he called Buddy back at the campsite. “And that brings me to ask you for another favor,” he said. “I need to go out there and make sure they’re safe during the storm.” She looked across the table at him.
“You can’t possibly mean now, with the storm right on our doorstep,” she said.
“Ma’am, I could never forgive myself if they got hurt and I hadn’t done anything to help them.” He looked forlorn. “Which brings me to the favor,” he dropped his head and blurted out his request. “Would you look after Queenie and the pups while I make the trip out to your farm?”
“I’ll make you a deal,” she told him. “You know that old farmhouse on the property?”
“I do,” he told her. “It’s pretty well battered.”
“Yes, but I know you can fix what’s wrong with the place.” She smiled and reached into her apron pocket and pulled out an old key. She handed it to Rusty and said, “Hidden below the kitchen floor you’ll find a trap door that leads to a cellar. You and the dogs will be safe there until the storm passes. This is the key to that door. Afterward, we’ll talk about how you can repay me.”
“Oh, I’ve saved up for a long time, to buy the place,” he said.
“Heavens no, I don’t mean with money,” she laughed. “What would I do with more money? I’m an old woman. I want to see that place fixed up again like it once was. We’ll work out the details when you come back. Now run along and see to those dogs.”
© 2018 Peg Cole