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Authors: Cynthia Baxter

Dead Canaries Don't Sing

BOOK: Dead Canaries Don't Sing
5.04Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

for Cynthia Baxter’s first in
Cats &

—Carolyn Hart

“Dead canaries don’t sing, but you will after reading this terrific mystery!”

—Rita Mae Brown,
New York Times
bestselling author

“A little bird told me to read this mystery, which is awfully good. For the record, I would shred any canary who insulted me.”

—Sneaky Pie Brown,
New York Times
bestselling cat

“Loads of fun! Baxter’s veterinary sleuth and her menagerie of animal companions are a great way to spend an afternoon.

Pull up a chair and dive in!”

—T.J. MacGregor, Edgar Award–winning author

Dead Canaries Don’t Sing
is top dog, the cat’s pajamas, and the paws that refresh all rolled into one un-fur-gettable mystery entertainment.”

—Sarah Graves, nationally bestselling author

To Mike


I would like to thank Faith Hamlin, my eternally optimistic and supportive agent, who held my hand all the way through the writing of this book, as well as her assistant, Kate Darling, for all her clever ideas;

Martha S. Gearhart, D.V.M., who patiently shared her time and expertise, giving me a crash course in the realities of being a veterinarian, along with the entire staff of the Pleasant Valley Animal Hospital in Pleasant Valley, New York, who cheerfully allowed me to eavesdrop on their conversations and get in their way;

Dorothy Hayes, V.M.D., Judy Lombardi, V.M.D., and the staff of the Corner Animal Hospital in Setauket, New York, who also exhibited admirable patience while allowing me to be a “fly on the wall”;

Lisa Pulitzer, whose willingness to commiserate about the emotional ups and downs of the writing process was at least as valuable to me as her vast experience as a crime reporter;

Kate Miciak, who so greatly inspired me with her unflagging encouragement and her tremendous understanding of both writing and writers, and Caitlin Alexander, whose enthusiasm, insight, and skill with words went such a long way in shaping this book;

And Max, George, Tiger, Petey, Arthur, Snowflake, and all the other wonderful furry and feathered creatures who have brightened up my life and served as inspiration for the animal characters in this book.

A Note to Readers

Dead Canaries Don’t Sing
is a work of fiction, and all names and characters are the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual events, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental. Although some real Long Island places and some real people are mentioned, all are used fictitiously.

Chapter 1

“A bird in the hand makes a bit of a mess.”

—Anonymous Birdcatcher

If I hadn’t forgotten to seal up the package of English muffins, if I hadn’t instantly become addicted to The Crocodile Hunter the minute it came on the air, if two of the beasts in my possession hadn’t developed a Batman-and-Robin complex, that bleak Tuesday in November would have probably turned out to be just another day.

I had a sense it wasn’t off to a good start as soon as I opened my eyes and saw my alarm clock. For normal people, 5:45 is their cue to roll over and go back to sleep.

But that’s for normal people. For me, those numbers got the same reaction as if somebody casually mentioned they’d put a boa constrictor in my bed.

I let out a cry that sounded like something a terrified animal would make. Then I leaped out of bed and immediately began hopping around the house, trying to keep warm. Chilly mornings are one of the few negatives of living in a stone cottage built back when Andrew Jackson was president. Meanwhile, I struggled to figure out how I would explain to the folks at Atherton Farm why I was so late for my six A.M. appointment to treat one of their horses for what I suspected would be a serious throat condition called strangles.

My two trusty sidekicks, Lou and Max, were already in high gear. Both thought all this shrieking and leaping was a game. Of course, both think just about everything is a game. You’d think that a three-year-old, one-eyed Dalmatian and a two-year-old Westie with a stub for a tail would have developed some sense along the way. But you’d be wrong.

Their reaction was to do some leaping and shrieking of their own, which prompted my parrot, Prometheus, to put in his two cents. From the living room, he squawked, “Crikey! Crikey!
Crikey!” doing a perfect imitation of the great Croc Hunter himself. If there was anything more annoying than two dogs who acted as if they’d just overdosed at the espresso machine, it was a Blue and Gold Macaw who affected an Australian accent.

“Give me a break, guys,” I pleaded. They were the first real words I’d uttered that frigid morning, one lit by a sun that looked as if it were about as awake as I was.

Predictably, they didn’t listen. Prometheus moved on to some of his other favorite phrases. “News at eleven!
News at eleven!”

Meanwhile, Max and Lou continued their circus routine, tumbling over each other like, well, like a couple of puppies as they followed me into the kitchen.

As usual, Catherine the Great lay draped across the rag rug in front of the sink, looking like a siren from the silent movies, even with her nicked ear. The cloud of silky gray cat fur glared at us in a way that revealed exactly what she was thinking. I had to agree. Yes, it would make much more sense if we all just turned around and headed back to bed.

I was about to explain that duty called, but I needed coffee before I could attempt to reason with a cat who
she was superior. So I turned to the coffeepot.

“Damn,” I muttered.

That’s where my Crocodile Hunter addiction caught up with me. I should have resisted the urge to stay up much too late, watching Steve Irwin play Twister with a seven-foot gator. That way, I would have gotten enough sleep. I would also have remembered to set up the coffee.

Okay, Plan B, I thought, trying to remain calm. The two lords-a-leaping at my feet didn’t exactly help me focus. I groped for the tea. As long as I had something caffeinated and an English muffin, my usual way of fueling up just enough to get me out the door . . . And that was when I noticed that the sole surviving muffin was exposed to the air, thanks to an insufficiently zipped Ziploc bag. I didn’t even have to touch it to know that during the night the powerful forces of nature had transformed it into a hockey puck.

With no caffeine and no edible English muffin, I had no choice but to turn to Plan C: grabbing breakfast in the outside world.

I tore back into the bedroom and threw on my version of business dress: black jeans, a forest green polo shirt embroidered with “Jessica Popper, D.V.M.,” a zippered polyester fleece jacket, and a pair of chukka boots from L.L. Bean. I fastened a ponytail band around my hair, once blond but ever since I’d turned thirty much closer to dirty blond.

On my way out of the bedroom, I glanced into a mirror. A tired-looking woman stared back at me through watery green eyes.

“You go, girl,” I sighed.

Max and Lou were already hanging out near the back door. They liked being part of the mobile veterinary services business even more than I did. They got to travel all around Long Island, meet interesting animals and enjoy a fascinating range of smells. And all it took to motivate them were the magic words, “Want to go for a ride?” Who says it’s hard to get good help?

As I raced along the quarter-mile driveway that connects my tiny cottage with Minnesauke Lane, I could practically taste Dairy Delight’s 99-cent breakfast. A cup of scalding coffee, a toasted muffin dripping with butter . . . and thanks to drive-through, it was all mine without even leaving the driver’s seat. It doesn’t take much to make me happy.

Of course, the downside was that the detour took me out of the way, making me even later. Fortunately, I knew a short cut to Atherton Farm that led to the back entrance to their forty-four acres. The back road to the barn was more like a dirt path that had been cut into the field, the result of other drivers who, like me, were too lazy or too far behind schedule to drive around to the real entrance.

I gritted my teeth as I bumped along, praying my suspension was faring better than my internal organs. I was just considering turning around and opting for the easier, more sensible route when my van abruptly lurched sideways and stopped dead.

“Great,” I told Max and Lou, who’d both been thrown about three feet but didn’t seem the least bit perturbed. “Now we’re stuck.”

As I swung open the door to check the damage, Max and Lou jumped past me. I would have anticipated their escape if I hadn’t been so distracted by my traumatized van.

I now had two problems to deal with: my unhappy vehicle and my AWOL animals.

“Max! Lou!” I cried, watching them take off across the field, totally crazed over their newfound freedom. Not surprisingly, they ignored me.

So I turned to the more immediate problem. I checked out my custom-built vehicle, a 26-foot white van with blue letters stenciled on the door:


Mobile Veterinary Services
Large and Small Animal

The good news was that the tires were all intact. The bad news was that one of them had just dropped into a hole at least a foot deep.

But it wasn’t
bad. I figured I could dig out the front of the hole, creating a slope instead of a cliff, and drive the van out.

I was about to start excavating when hysterical barking cut through the silence. I spun around, dropping the shovel.

I know my dogs’ barks the way a mother knows her baby’s cry. What sounded like nothing but noise to the untrained ear in fact clearly communicated hunger, a need for attention, or a diaper that needed changing. Or danger.

Something was very wrong. The seriousness of Max’s and Lou’s tone instantly got my adrenaline going.

I spotted them a few hundred yards away. Both stood near a clump of trees at the edge of the field where a dense wooded area began. I could see from their stances that every one of their muscles was tense.

I jogged across the field, the soles of my boots occasionally slipping against the dirt, still wet from the drenching rain we’d had two nights earlier. I was panting when I reached the two dogs and the oddly shaped mound that had caught their interest.

The first thing I saw that was out of the ordinary was a pair of shoes that appeared to have been abandoned in the woods. I didn’t know much about men’s shoes, especially those fancy wing-tipped jobbies favored by conservatively dressed businessmen. But from what I could tell, this was one expensive pair. As my eyes traveled beyond them, I made out a matching set of legs, two inert protrusions that could have passed for logs if it hadn’t been for the high-quality leather at one end.

The fact that I’d stumbled across a partially buried body didn’t hit me for a few seconds.

Once it did, my response was to do what any other self-respecting professional woman who had spent four years in college and four years in veterinary school, learning to cope with life and death on a daily basis, would have done.

BOOK: Dead Canaries Don't Sing
5.04Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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