Raincheck For Caring
by Lois Carroll
Torie Bond, the owner of a costume and tuxedo rental store in Tucson, Arizona, can't shake the feeling that she has to rush to her shop one morning. In her rush, she saves an injured puppy that she finds in the road to town. Caring for the puppy leads her into a mystery involving a puppy farm where dogs are kept in close quarters and made to produce as many puppies as possible for income. Wanting to rid Tucson of the illegal business, her curiosity leads her to being kidnapped by the felons. She has no choice but to do what they ask. Her only hope is that her unofficial-fiancé Jack Brewer, a Tucson police lieutenant, will get her secreted messages and rescue her.
Release Date: May 25, 2021
Genre: Romantic Suspense
A White Satin Romance
From the moment I woke up that morning, I had the odd feeling that I had to hurry. I couldn't explain why. I just knew that it felt like something more than the motivation I got every morning from looking at the clock.
I always tried hard to open my shop on time, and I'm happy to say that I wasn't late very often. I needed to make sure the cash register and everything else we needed was ready before Suze arrived at ten when we unlocked the front door of The Costume Nook. Suze is my best friend who works with me there all year long. The Costume Nook is my costume and tuxedo rental and sales shop in Tucson, Arizona. I've been running it for several years since my dear husband Peter died.
My son Luke just graduated from Arizona State University this spring, and he's getting married this summer. I'm very pleased and excited for the happy couple, though I often wish Peter were here to enjoy it with me. Now with the mother of the groom expenses looming ahead of me, I for sure couldn't afford to open the shop late and miss a paying customer.
I lived on the shop income too. That's why keeping the books for the shop is really scary, when I thought about it. It was hard to believe I earned more than half of the annual store income during the one month of October with costume rentals and sales for Halloween. That was the only month that I had to hire temps to wait on customers because there was such a rush. Suze and I could never handle that rush all by ourselves.
In the summer it was a different story. We didn't have many customers during those months for costumes and only a few for tuxes for weddings. Summer in Tucson is hot. Really hot. The monsoons hit anytime from July to September (we hope), and it's not easy to plan events and carry them off without it being too hot or too wet.
So that morning I was thinking that I probably wouldn't miss a sale or a rental even if I were late, but that weird feeling to hurry pushed me on faster. It's not that I worried about being a little late. Suze had a key to the store. She could and would open up without me if she had to.
But…and this morning it was a big but, I that strange feeling that I should hurry. There was little chance to make up time on the commute to town from my house in the mountains above Tucson. The road I take into town would make a great ski run, if it weren't for the fact that we rarely get snow. The commute takes time, but I love my house on the mountain with its view of the city spread out below. It's particularly lovely at night with the stars sparkling in the sky above and the city lights flickering below.
So, even with that strange feeling to hurry, I started down the curvy street at a necessarily reasonable speed. Just so you understand that I was not speeding. I was watching the road.
Coming around one of the tighter curves, I cried out and quickly swerved into the oncoming lane. Thankfully, no one was coming up the hill at that moment. I pulled back into my lane after a few feet and crossed off the road as far as possible next to the ditch where I parked my big SUV and set the brake.
Leaping out of the car, I raced back up the road, hoping that what I saw was not really what I saw.
But it was.
There was a little brown puppy lying in the road. He tried to raise his head as I approached and knelt beside him. My inexpert survey told me he had not been run over, but he was injured badly. He was bleeding from a broad wound on the side of his head that had torn his ear, and he wasn't moving his back legs at all. I could see a spot on his back that was raw and bleeding. I swallowed the tears that wanted to surface as I gently stroked his shoulder as lightly as I could. I wanted to let him know I was there to help him.
“I'll be right back, you sweet fellow,” I told him before I ran back to my car. I opened the tailgate and got one of the cardboard boxes I kept there to keep things I carried from moving around. Returning to his side, I lifted him with both hands under him to keep him in as much of the same position as I could. He uttered a little cry of pain but didn't move when I laid him in the box.
I was just lifting the box to carry it to my car when I heard a noisy car coming down the road. I don't know if it needed muffler work or if it was supposed to sound like that, but I appreciated the early warning that it was coming. I had time to get off the road as I made my way toward my car.
The oncoming vehicle was an older rusty red pickup. The driver stopped when he saw me and pulled off the road on the other side opposite my car and parked. A young man in his late twenties, or maybe early thirties, got out and with a smile, he asked if I needed help.
He came over to me and saw the injured dog in the box. “What have you got here?” he asked.
“He was in the middle of the lane. I don't know what happened to him, but I didn't hit him. He's hurt bad so I'm going to take him to a vet. He needs help.”
“That's good of you. Let me carry the box for you.”
I thanked him as he took the box and carried it to my car. I'd left the tailgate open and he set the box inside.
Just when I was going to thank him and leave, we heard a squeaky chirp from the ditch near where the puppy in the box had been lying in the road.
“What was that?” I asked without really expecting him to answer. Could there be another puppy? I couldn't leave without finding out what it was. The man followed me as I ran back up the hill, searching the rock lined ditch on the side of the road for anything that moved.
“There it is,” the man said, pointing to a brown spot that could have passed for a fist-sized rock if it hadn't been moving a little. A puppy, whose coloring looked exactly like the other one I found in the street, looked up at us.
“I'll get it,” the man volunteered. He crossed the rocks and picked up the tiny puppy with an effort to be careful. “This one isn't bleeding,” he announced.
Cradling the puppy in both of his hands, he held her up so I could check her out. I didn't see any blood, but I could see that one of her front legs bent at an odd angle between the joints where her leg should be straight.
“She's going to the vet too,” I said with no hesitation. “Come on.”
I led the way back to my car where he carefully laid the puppy in the box beside but not touching, her brother. The badly injured puppy opened his eyes a bit to see us but didn't seem to be able to lift his head. I knew I had to hurry. However, taking no chance that we had missed another puppy, I walked several yards up and down the ditch searching just a minute or two for anymore.
“I don't think there's anymore,” the man told me.
I confirmed that he was right as I saw and heard nothing. “Thank you for your help,” I said as I returned to the car to shut the tailgate.
I have a magnetic sign on the back of the car that advertised The Costume Nook. He looked at it and asked if that was my shop.
“Yes,” I told him. “Keeps me busy,” I added simply. I didn't have time to chat.
He just nodded and was already walking back to where he had picked up the second puppy. He leaned down and pulled a wire crate sort of thing from the grass beyond the melon-sized rocks laid in the ditch to guide water down the hill. He must have seen it there when he picked up the puppy.
“Do you suppose that's the crate they were in?” I asked reaching for my driver's door handle.
He shrugged. “Hard to tell, but it's dented and not useable now. I'll get rid of it. If it got onto the road and run over, it could do a lot of damage to the bottom of a car.”
“Fine,” I agreed with no interest at all in whatever it was.
“Thanks again for your help,” I called out as I got into my car.
I glanced across the road to see the man had tossed the dented crate into the back of his rusty pickup and climbed in behind his wheel. I didn't hear any answer if he gave one. He started the pickup and pulled off going uphill more quickly than I expected. He was probably late to work, I surmised, and mentally thanked him again for taking the time to help. Nice to know he cared.
I knew where the Tucson Animal Shelter was and headed right there. I carried the box toward the entrance after shutting the tailgate. Seeing my approach through large windows in front, a man came out to greet me and carried the box inside.
“I found them on the road,” I told him when he looked in the box. “They're both hurt bad,” I explained.
“I'm going to get them the care they need. Please wait here. Someone will be out to talk to you,” he promised without a break in his stride. He headed for a door at the back of the waiting room. He turned to open the door by pushing it with his backside and added, “Just have a seat.”
I sat in a plastic upholstered seat near the reception desk and took the time to call Suze. I wanted to let her know what I was doing. I told her I'd finish the details when I got to the store because a woman came out and sat at the desk.
“What happened to those puppies?” she asked without introducing herself.
Startled by the accusatory tone of her voice, which sounded like she had asked me what I had done to the puppies, I explained all that knew about what had really happened. She wrote some notes and continued in a milder tone with her questions about what I saw and about the man who helped me. She even asked if I had gotten his license plate number.
I laughed. “Never thought of getting it. He just stopped to help me. But come to think of it, his truck was so muddy that I don't believe I could tell the number on the plate, or even the state or brand of truck for that matter. I only know it was rusty and red.”
“But he kept the metal crate from the ditch?” she asked.
“I don't know that it was a dog crate, but yes, he took the smashed wire thing.”
She nodded and added that to her notes that she had been taking. Only then, after our question and answer period, did she finally tell me that the male puppy, the one I found first, had died.
“His sister seems to be doing okay, but we'll take x-rays to check for any internal injuries in addition to her broken leg. Then we will operate right away and set her leg.” She sighed. “Then, if she's lucky, she'll survive and heal, but she's so young.”
“How old do you think she is?”
“Well, it's hard to tell her age because she's very thin. She might be bigger and look older if she had been cared for and was getting regular sustenance from her mother. The vet will have a better idea of her age when he's done.”
My cell phone rang then which effectively ended our conversation. I had wanted to find out what she had meant by the pup having to be lucky to survive. As I answered my phone, the woman rose and thanked me before disappearing through the same door the man had disappeared through with the puppies. Our interview was over.
It was Suze on the phone. I told her briefly more of what had just happened. “I'm done here so I'll be right there at the shop. I can explain everything when I arrive.”
* * *
Upon arriving at The Costume Nook, Suze and I always spent a few minutes getting the store ready for customers, if we got any, and then unlocked the front door.
After explaining all my early morning's events to Suze, I couldn't get it all out of my mind. All that day and evening, I kept thinking about the puppy with the broken leg and her brother who hadn't made it. I was curious to know how the female was doing since her surgery to set the broken leg, and if the vet found anything else wrong with her. I couldn't figure out how she and the other puppy came to be in the road.
Had they wandered away from one of the houses along the road to town? I hadn't seen anyone out looking for them so I didn't think so. Besides, they were too young to be wandering far from their mother.
My curiosity wouldn't be assuaged, so the next morning I left for the shop early, and I went back to the Animal Shelter. A different woman sat at the desk inside the entrance. I told her who I was and asked about the puppy.
She smiled. “That little rascal is responding well, but she doesn't like the cast they put on her leg at all.”
“She is so small it must be difficult for her to walk on it.”
She nodded. “She's getting pain killers that make her mostly want to sleep for now. But she does fuss to find a comfortable position for the leg in the cast.”
“I had a cast once. My arm itched like crazy the whole time,” I told her.
“Yes, and they shaved her leg before the surgery to put the bone pieces in place. The fur growing back inside the cast will itch her too, but right now she probably just feels the pain.”
“What's going to happen to her? Can you care for her here?”
She shook her head slowly. “No, I wish we could. She's going to need a special foster situation. We'll look for someone who is willing to take her into their home until the leg heals.” She frowned. “Probably one without any other pets. They'll have to feed her on a regular puppy schedule and help her to become active again so her muscles get a work out.”
“Do you know how young she is?”
“Oh, our vet said she's probably about three weeks old so she's old enough to start the move from mother's milk to soft puppy food, but we discovered she doesn't seem to like it. She probably hasn't gotten any before. But she eats a little with some puppy milk mixed in. That makes the transition easier for her.”
“She's had enough trauma, and as thin as she is, she needs to eat.”
The woman agreed.
“Does one have to have special training to be a foster for the puppy?”
She shook her head. “No, you just have to we willing to devote yourself to the care and feeding of the puppy.” She laughed and added, “And you have to be willing to give up on some sleep for a few weeks. That little darling won't be sleeping through the night for a while yet.”
I smiled and that's the very moment when it happened.
I don't know what came over me or why. With all I had going on, I don't know what made me do it, but in a flash I knew I had to help by fostering this injured puppy. “May I sign up to be a foster for this puppy? I can take her to work with me to take care of her during the day, and I'll be able to take care of her evenings and nights at home too. I live alone with no other pets, so nothing will interfere.”
My mouth just kept going. I didn't have time to consider the odds of my being a victim of instant insanity, because the woman smiled broadly and went to get her supervisor to handle signing me up. That's why my visit to the Shelter ended up taking longer than I had planned for.
I called Suze and said I'd be late again. “You're not going to believe what happened this morning to make me late again,” I told her before promising to hurry.
After all the papers had been filled out, and some food and dry formula to mix with water to make milk for the puppy was collected, I found myself carrying the puppy to my car while the woman carried the box of things I would need to get started.
“You can find more of any of these supplies at any pet store,” she told me.
“Good to know. Thank you for helping get this arranged so quickly so I can get to work.”
“I have to admit that it went faster than usual, but two of the volunteers I talked to while you filled out the paperwork said they had been in your shop and vouched for you. They told us who your late husband was so we didn't think we needed the visit to your home to check you out.”
“Thank them for me,” I said with a smile.
“You're going to be a busy lady.” She looked down at the puppy that I had nestled in my car blanket on the floor by the front passenger seat. I didn't want her up on the seat in case I had to stop quickly. I added a car restraint, a puppy-sized harness, and leash to my mental shopping list for the pet store. A trip there on my way home tonight after I closed my shop would be necessary.
“I'll make it work out for the puppy.”
“Good,” she said. “And thank you.”
When I got to work, I took the bag containing everything inside along with the puppy. Later I would sort out what I needed there and what I would take home. I knew I'd have to buy more of everything to have some at the store and some at home.