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Tracker [An April Shauers Mystery]
by Billie A. Williams

Category: Mystery/Crime/Suspense/Thriller
Description: A police officer's heart attack freed convicted killer Jeddah Close while he was being transported to a maximum security facility. He pledges that neither a tornado, nor April Shauers and her bloodhounds, will force him to relinquish this new found freedom. When the tornado strikes just as April Shauers reaches the Porterfield Mansion that she hoped would be her safe haven, it only gets worse. Jeddah Close, escaped serial killer, is trapped in the same basement of the structure when the tornado levels it. She helps to dig him out from the caved in section of the basement where he is trapped because he has a broken leg. Her severely injured dog needs medical attention urgently. Together, she thinks, they will find the way out. Jeddah is devious and deceitful with no regard for human life; he is a murderer with a lust for freedom at all costs.
eBook Publisher: Whiskey Creek Press, 2010
eBookwise Release Date: April 2010


6 Reader Ratings:
Great Good OK Poor
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [229 KB]
Words: 48512
Reading time: 138-194 min.

"April Shauers, owner of the Shadow and Tails Kennel, found herself trapped in an old abandoned mansion with an injured dog, convicted killer, with a tornado and storms raging outside. April has had many adventures with her trained blood hounds :finding lost children, finding Alzheimer patients who have wandered away, and working with the local police department. She is well known for her tracking dogs. There is always a need or a request for her services. This one came from a newspaper reporter, Armory. Every article he has written about April and her dogs has had a derogatory tone to it. Now he is searching for her. Jeddah Close is determined that nothing will stand in the way of his new-found freedom, even if that meant getting rid of April and her dogs. One dog is dead and the other injured. Even though he meant her harm, she helps dig Jeddah out when he is trapped and injured. This is an excellent suspense. There was only one small area in the book that I felt was implausible. All in all, it was quite an interesting read. The author seems quite knowledgeable about tracking dogs. This book is quite entertaining." Reviewed for ReadersFavorite.com

Chapter 1

Cleaning the kennels may be her least favorite part of raising bloodhounds, but the antics of the new batch of pups made the job, if not pleasant, at least bearable. April laughed as the three pups tumbled over each other in an exuberant race to capture a large ball. Lady Bleu lay in the shade of the big Elm out of the way, watching, seemingly enjoying the game of keep away at a safe distance.

The cell phone chirped and pulled her back to the business world of Shadow and Tails Kennel.

"I'll be there in ten minutes," she said before she clicked the cell phone closed. She ushered the pups back into their kennel enclosure. Lady Bleu seemed to sense something was up. "Come on, girl, we got work to do," she said to Lady Bleu. She pulled the doors open on the kennels in her truck. Lady Bleu's reaction was swift and all business as she leaped up on the tailgate and into her kennel.

April opened Shadow's kennel and he gave an excited woof before he darted to the truck and up into his transport kennel. Since the call was for a missing teenager, she threw the long leashes into the cab of the GMC Sierra and slid into the driver's seat. Her heart beat with excited raps against her chest. This is what the long hours of relentless training were all about. The dogs' excitement echoed her own. She loved being able to help. She loved testing the dogs against what she had learned when Jeff Mannicore used her as a decoy for his bloodhounds. Using middle school or high school students always worked well, she found out as she developed her own skills in training each new litter of pups before selling them.

The two miles to the residence of the Zela's gave her time to think about the circumstances that may have made yet another teenager contemplate suicide or running away. She remembered her own drama and trauma as a teenager and the time she thought she couldn't deal with life any more. Her heart went out to Tiffany Zela; she hoped she wouldn't be too late.

When April arrived, the police were already there. "They think she swallowed nearly a whole bottle of sleeping pills before she took off," Detective Sanders said.

April knew if she did she would become violently ill before she died from an overdose of sleeping pills. "How long has she been gone?" she asked, afraid to hear the answer because parents usually try every other means before they contact police, and police in turn use every avenue they can before they call Shadow and Tails in for help.

"They aren't sure. Both parents work. When the mother got home she changed clothes and began making supper."

"You mean she didn't notice her daughter wasn't home?"

"They've been at odds; the only time she comes out of her room lately is to go to school or to eat, according to the mother."

"The dogs need to get her scent. Can we go to her bedroom?" April asked as she got the dogs leashed and out of the truck. In the back of her mind she wondered why they didn't seek counseling or some type of crisis intervention for their daughter before it went this far. Too busy with their own lives? she wondered. Then she thought how judgmental and totally out of character that was; she needed an attitude adjustment herself if she was going to continue in this business.

"Dogs, do you have to use dogs," Mrs. Zela said, her eyes red and swollen from the tears she had shed all ready.

"It's the quickest way," Detective Sanders said.

"She's deathly afraid of dogs. She was attacked by a neighbor's dog once when she was younger," Mr. Zela explained as he held his wife against his chest.

"The dogs won't harm your daughter and I'll keep them leashed. They won't even get near her," April assured the nervous couple.

Mrs. Zela led April and the dogs to Tiffany's spotless room. "Clothes hamper," April asked. Mrs. Zelda opened the walk in closet. All the shoes were pointing flawlessly in the same direction under matching outfits, nothing out of place. The clothes in the hamper were folded before they were placed in it. She pulled out a pair of socks and some jeans and held them for the dogs to sniff. "Did you clean her room," April couldn't help but ask.

"Oh no. Tiffany always kept things perfectly orderly. Even as a toddler she never left anything in disarray," Mrs. Zela said.

Didn't she think it was too much, didn't she think it was an obsession to be so organized?

"She has a very mathematical, logical, orderly mind. That's why this is so strange, so out of character," Mr. Zela said. "She has always dealt so well with whatever came her way--she..." His voice trailed off and April could feel his pain as he tried to hold back the tears.

She couldn't help but wonder what pressure such an orderly mind must put on a teenager. Teenagers are supposed to be carefree. But how could they be carefree in the turmoil of today's world?

"The orderliness of her life is why we noticed the sleeping pill bottle. It was lying on her bed." Mrs. Zela was sobbing again.

April took this as a sign she didn't take the pills, but threatened. Otherwise she wouldn't have left any evidence. "We better get moving then. She left on foot?" April asked.

"Yes, her bike is still here and we called her friends. No one has seen her since she left school today," Mr. Zela said.

The deep dense woods behind their home would be the obvious direction for a runaway, but what about a girl bent on suicide? April had to trust the dogs. They circled the house, April holding her breath, hoping they'd grab Tiffany's scent. Lady Bleu was first on the trail; her distinctive bay, her "eureka bay" April called it, told her that the quarry was scented. Moments later Shadow echoed Lady Bleu's find.

"They've got her scent," April called. The dogs pulled anxiously at their leads. She gave them their heads and fed out a length of leash so they could more or less navigate without the sense of being tied. The officer assigned to accompany her, and there always was one, was breathing heavily as he raced behind her and the dogs. She could tell he wasn't used to running in the woods, jumping downed trees, skirting brambles. Blue Jays screamed about their intrusion. Squirrels skittered up trees out of their path and chattered noisily as they raced behind the dogs. The two animals were of one mind as they should be, noses to the ground and anxious guttural bay beneath their snuggling on the ground.

Jeff Mannicore had told April that she moved through the woods behind the dogs like a stealth bomber. Her cinnamon brown hair, pulled back in a gun-metal grey scrunchy, looked like the rudder of a ship guiding the movements of three that seemed to move as one. She appeared to the observer as nearly anticipating Shadow and Lady Bleu's every move by the tone of their bark and the twitch of their muscles, what seemed like a million years ago when he first helped her train the dogs. April could still hear his voice echo the words. She was proud of that and it gave her the energy and concentration she needed now.

When she spotted the teenager she quickly slipped the leads of the two dogs on a stump. "Quiet now, stay," she said with an authority the dogs recognized and obeyed immediately. While they were a few yards away from the girl cowering in the underbrush, April knew the fear the bay of a bloodhound could elicit in anyone's mind, especially a run-a-way teenager. It wasn't that many years ago she had been in a similar circumstance. It all came rushing back, the fist clutching all her internal organs into one massive tumor while she trembled, hearing the baying bloodhounds. She felt the girl's terror.

Trinity Zela saw April step away from the dogs and she charged her, sobbing uncontrollably. Trinity grabbed her around the shoulders and hung on as though April was a life preserver and she was fresh off the Titanic. April held her. "Shsh, you'll be all right. Shadow and Lady Bleu are just barking their delight at having found you," she said.

The police officer rushed in and put his arms around them both. "Trinity, are you all right?" he said.

"Yes, but I..."

"Your folks are worried sick about you. We're so glad you're all right." He pressed the button on the radio. "We found her. She's fine. We'll be right out," he said into the radio.

"What ever it is, your parents deserve a chance to try to work it out with you," April said. "They love you; you must know that."

Trinity nodded her head, not picking it up from April's shoulder.

"Have they beat you or been cruel to you in some other way? Has anyone hurt you?" the police officer asked, rubbing a hand across her shoulders and looking into April's eyes with a question on his face.

"No. I was just mad," she said, pulling back from April now. "They probably hate me now, for causing all this trouble."

"Certainly not," April and the police officer said at the same time. "Come on over and meet Shadow and Lady Bleu," April said.

Trinity looked at April and instant terror lit up her eyes. April could feel her muscles twitch and a shudder beneath her skin like a cat before it bolts. "Only if you want to," she said quickly, patting her shoulder. "They found you and probably would welcome a thank you pat. I promise they won't hurt you."

Tiffany pulled back slightly and then took April's arm. "Okay," she said softly.

She could sense her uncertainty. "You stand here and I will get the dogs and bring them to you," she said.

April swiped the slobbery dogs' mouths with a clean cloth she always carried for that purpose, untied the dogs, and invited Trinity to meet them. The dogs greeted her with slobbery licks and wagging tails, which evoked a giggle from Trinity. Nothing can mend hurts like a dog's slurps and waggy tail, April thought. It was good that Lady Bleu always was around children; she made friends easily. That was the reason April kept her to help train each litter of pups brought to Shadow and Tails. She wanted them all to be friendly first and man trackers second. Lost children, even teenagers don't need further trauma that an aggressive bloodhound could cause. She knew she made the right choice with Lady Bleu and it gave her heart a tug to see Trinity with her arms around both dogs, accepting their slobbery greeting.

The officer led the way back out of the deep woods. All was quiet now. The dogs walked beside April, sniffing but not barking. Trinity held her hand, no longer crying, not until her parents raced to embrace her as the small group entered the clearing on the edge of the woods.

"Thank you," Trinity's parents said as they wrapped their arms around their daughter and walked her towards their home. The police thanked April. "Send us the bill and we'll take care of it," Detective Sanders said as the men loaded back into the squad cars. Crisis over, she thought, as she suspected Trinity had flushed the sleeping pills down the toilet but wanted to give her parents a scare, then when she had gotten lost she didn't know what to do.

April gave Shadow and Lady Bleu their usual treat as she opened the tail gate on the truck and the dog kennels. The dogs jumped in and lay down as though they knew they had done a good job.

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