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Janice Bennett

Cold Turkey

Cold Turkey Copyright© 2006 Janice Bennett

Events Unlimited, Book One

For Rob-and for everyone who appreciates the joys and camaraderie of small town life.

Trademarks Acknowledgement

The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of the following words mentioned in this work of fiction:

Boy Scouts of America: Boy Scouts of America Corporation

Chevy: General Motors Corporation

Honda: Honda Giken Kogyo Kabushiki Kaisha Ta Honda Motor Co. Ltd. Corporation

Jeep: DaimlerChrysler Corporation

Mazda: Mazda Motor Corporation

Mercedes: DaimlerChrysler AG Corporation

Mustang (Ford): Ford Motor Company Corporation

Pathfinder: (Nissan: Nissan Jidosha Kabushiki Kaisha TA Nissan Motor Co., Ltd. Corporation

PBS: Broadcasting Service Corporation D.C.

Pontiac: General Motors Corporation

WD-40: WD-40 Manufacturing Company

Chapter One

Rain pounded down, hammering cones and needles from the pine trees, beating the full force of its fury right on top of me. Or rather, right on top of Freya, my ‘65 Mustang convertible-top currently up and not leaking, thank heavens. That, in itself, was a minor miracle. The odds of the top’s latch staying properly in position, thereby keeping me and the vintage upholstery dry, decreased proportionately to the drench potential of the weather. My luck at the moment was too good to last.

We lurched through a new pothole, and I muttered a word my Aunt Gerda would never consider ladylike. Right now, though, I couldn’t afford a front-end alignment. For that matter, right now I could barely afford to fill up Freya’s tank. But I didn’t want to think about my financial woes. I only wanted to arrive at my aunt’s house, sink into a hot bath reeking of lavender or violets, snuggle into my old fuzzy robe, and forget my problems in her eccentric and delightful company.

I avoided a fallen branch, crested the hill, and my headlights glittered off the familiar wrought iron gate. Open. Welcoming. I could really use welcoming.

I eased my foot off the gas as Freya bumped off the blacktop and onto the rutted gravel of the drive. That proved enough. The latches sprang, and the convertible top popped up about two inches, just enough to let in the driving rain. I groped for the canvas, and only succeeded in knocking it back about a foot. Damn and damn again. Either the top’s mechanism stuck tight, or it slid down at the slightest touch. I’d have to stop using so much WD-40 on the blasted thing.

With unerring accuracy, we found a new pothole. Vilhelm’s cage rattled on the seat beside me, but nary a cheep emerged from beneath the cover. Not that my poor parakeet didn’t mind, he always maintained a disgruntled but dignified silence during our car trips. One of these days, I’d have to find a way to rig lights for this stretch. The driveway twisted for a hundred yards, and the pines and sequoias grew so close together that even on the brightest of nights-which this certainly wasn’t-they blocked any glimmer from moon or stars.

We rounded the last bend, and the dark shape of the house emerged in front of me, perched high amid the wind-tossed trees as it cantilevered out from the hillside. Silent. No lights. And way too early for Aunt Gerda to have gone to bed. A finger of disquiet tugged at the edges of my mind.

I slapped it away. The rain, the long drive, and my rotten mood were combining to create the “dark and stormy night” syndrome, and anyone pushing forty was too old to succumb to that nonsense. I studied the familiar shape of the deck, the gabled roof, the paler outlines of the windows. Nothing sinister or threatening. Just home. And that probably meant a power outage. Again.

Comforted by this reflection, I proceeded to test the hypothesis. A quick fumbling with the fold-down sunshade produced the automatic opener I kept clipped there. I clicked it toward the garage, and the double doors emitted their customary rumble before beginning their upward journey. All right, so Aunt Gerda still had electricity.

The ceiling light flickered to life, illuminating the empty interior. No Hans Gustaf-Aunt Gerda’s bright blue Pathfinder. She had gone out. That explained the lack of light, the house stood empty.

Great. Just great. I eased Freya through another, deeper, pothole. Some homecoming, with no one to greet me. And I had no one to blame but myself. Aunt Gerda didn’t expect me until tomorrow, Thanksgiving Eve. That should teach me to lose my temper, quit my accounting job in San Francisco, and flounce home down the too many miles of California coastline to lick my emotional wounds. My aunt could be anywhere in the tiny town, from visiting her nearest neighbor-a mere quarter mile down the road-to working late in her store, Upper River Gulch’s sole video/antique/used book emporium, an establishment which made up exactly one ninth of Upper River Gulch’s business district.

I pulled into the space on my side of the garage. I’d been living away from here for over fifteen years, but the old wood-burned sign still hung above my parking place. “Annike and Freya” it read, encircled by painted flowers. The hominess of it brought a lump of emotion to my throat. I switched off the engine, then leaned back in my seat, closing my eyes. I hated driving in the rain. Not to mention the lingering guilt I suffered from having informed my boss, for whom I’d slaved these last six years, precisely what kind of a jerk he was. I’m afraid I even made some reference to his turkey, its dressing, and what he could do with them.

I turned my head on the rest to regard my passenger and lifted up a corner of the cage cover. “We’ve arrived,” I informed the parakeet.

Vilhelm glared back at me, not deigning to dignify my comment with an answer. I hadn’t expected one. After the ordeal of a drive, it always took Vilhelm a good half-hour to unruffle his bright green feathers and return to his normal verbose self. I should enjoy the quiet while I could.

I unfolded myself-all six foot one of me-from the car, dragged my duffel bag from the backseat, then went around the other side to retrieve the cage. With one burden in each hand, I exited the garage. This triggered the security monitor, which blinked on to spotlight the twenty drenched redwood steps that led up the outside of the garage to the deck and front door above. Rain pelted down my neck until I reached the semi-shelter of the roofed porch.

Clumsy, a huge black neutered tomcat, sat on the braided hemp welcome mat, his tail curled around his feet. From all directions, other cats descended on me, stropping against my ankles, meowing their protests at being outside on this miserable wet evening. Through this tangle of fur and purr, sharp teeth attached themselves lovingly

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