Take a peek into the thoughts of Bella, the lovable golden retriever who might just be the smartest dog in Dogwood Springs!
Bella Helps the Investigation
“That’s what I smell—sour milk,” Cleo whispered and pointed to a clump of soggy cereal and wet paper napkins near the edge of the plastic tarp. “Pee-uu.” She fanned one hand in front of her face and backed closer to the gate of the fenced area that hid the trashcans from view at the Hilltop B & B.
I nosed in and licked up a piece of the soggy cereal.
“Bella, no!” Libby said in a low voice. She pushed me back and told me to sit.
I sat. But really, there was no need for her to worry. Cleo was right. That cereal was gross. Why on earth humans felt the need to eat kibble with milk for breakfast was beyond me. If I were a human, my breakfast would be kibble with gravy. Big pools of thick, rich gravy.
No, wait, send that idea to the pooper scooper. Forget kibble. If I was a human, I’d eat steak for breakfast. Steak with gravy.
Or more sausage patties, like the one I found in the last bag of trash Libby dumped out. And more Cheetos, like the one she didn’t even notice I gobbled up. Steak, sausage, Cheetos, and gravy were top-notch human food!
Sadly, my wonderful Libby had been led astray in her thinking by the vet. “Bella needs to eat dog food, not people food,” the vet had said. An idiotic notion, probably spread by the dog food industry. But Libby believed it.
“I don’t know if going through this trash was a good idea,” Cleo said. “We haven’t found a single clue that links Heather to the murder.”
“I know.” Libby looked at the two big, rolling trash cans and let out a dejected sigh. “It was kind of a long shot, but it was the best idea I had.”
My ears lifted. Clues? We’re here looking for clues? I thought we were just going through the trash for the fun of it. Actually, though, this explained why they were whispering, and it made more sense. I love Libby dearly, but she has a very limited appreciation of garbage.
Well, if we were looking for clues, it was time to bring out my best sniffing game. With luck, I might find something that smelled like the cologne I’d noticed on that vial I found at the museum, the one Libby told me was filled with poison.
“I still think we should have disguised ourselves as maids and snooped in the guest rooms,” Cleo said.
I glanced over at Cleo. Not a bad plan. I could sniff around, maybe dust a nightstand or two with a swoosh of my tail—
“Faye has worked so hard to build the reputation of the B & B. She’d never let us violate her guests’ privacy like that.” Libby gestured to the trash she’d spread out on the tarp. “This is all from the kitchen, so there’s no reason to pick through it piece by piece. And the less time the food scraps are available to Bella, the better.”
She quickly rolled up the tarp. Cleo held the trash bag open, and Libby funneled the trash back into the bag.
Or at least most of it.
Three banana peels landed on the concrete. Half an eggshell bounced off Libby’s shoe and joined them, leaving a clear, sticky trail from the shell to her shoelace.
Bonanza! I licked every bit of tasty goo off Libby’s shoe.
But before I could investigate the banana peels and the eggshell, Libby picked them up and added them to the trash bag.
Then Cleo reknotted the bag and moved it to one side. She adjusted her gloves and picked up her flashlight.
Probably a good idea if we were going to find anything out here. The sun had dipped below the treetops, and light was quickly fading.
“I’m going to have to wash my entire outfit with disinfectant, including my shoes,” Libby said as she studied a drain near the back of the fence. “And tomorrow I’ll have to come back here and hose down this area, so Faye doesn’t have to.”
Hosing down the area seemed like a waste of time to me, but humans could be funny. They missed out on so much joy, depriving themselves of great smells.
“Maybe there was a clue, but it got picked up by the garbage collectors,” Libby said. “Faye did say this is only the trash from yesterday and today.”
“Maybe you’re right,” Cleo agreed.
“There’s only one more bag to go through.” Libby spread the plastic tarp back out on the concrete and emptied the last trash bag.
I scanned the contents, and my tail drooped. It was just a bunch of tissues and wadded-up papers, not delightful kitchen trash. Then I remembered our purpose—hunting for clues.
One by one, Libby uncrumpled the wadded-up papers, held them up to the beam from Cleo’s flashlight, and looked at them.
I took a faster approach, sniffing diligently.
One wad of paper was compressed almost into a perfect ball. It had rolled off the tarp and into the corner of the trash area. I gave it a once over with my nose.
As soon as I got a good whiff, my heart sped. No doubt about it, there was the faintest hint of the same cologne I’d smelled on that poison vial. Thank goodness Libby brought me along on this mission.
I nudged the rolled-up paper back toward her.
She batted it back to me and opened a crumpled fast-food bag.
Fast food? My mouth started watering.
Sadly, there was no burger in the bag, only a few fries, a bit of uneaten bun, and the lingering aroma of the tasty meaty treat that might have been.
“Nothing.” Libby threw down the fast-food bag and folded the plastic tarp around the trash before I could nose around to find the fries.
Which was probably for the best because I’d gotten distracted. Seriously, though, what self-respecting dog can think of catching criminals when there’s the possibility of a bite of hamburger?
I gave myself a good shake. I needed to focus on helping Libby. I nudged the ball of paper back to her. C’mon, Libby, unfold this and see what it is.
She gave it a gentle kick, sending it back into the corner of the fenced-in area.
Libby, Libby, Libby, I’m not playing a game. I’m trying to help you.
She put the tarp into the trash bag. “What a waste of time. But at least we’re done and can go home. I’m getting cold.”
No, it’s not a waste of time! Somehow, I had to get my message across. Ordinarily, I’d bark really loudly, but even though Libby and Cleo hadn’t told me, I could tell we were here on a covert mission.
Instead, I nudged the paper ball back to Libby just as the big HVAC unit behind the trash area kicked on.
“One last piece of trash, huh, girl?” Libby picked up the paper and unfolded it.
Yes! At last! My message got across. But did the paper have a clue on it?
Libby’s eyes widened. “Cleo, look.”
Cleo shone the light more closely on the paper. “Is it a receipt for the cyanide? Or some kind of packing slip?”
“No, but it makes it really clear who the killer is, and it’s not Heather.” Libby held the paper toward Cleo and pointed to it.
Victory! I was so excited that I almost ran around in circles. I had found a clue, a super-important clue that told Libby who the real killer is! My former human, who had been an FBI agent, would be so proud of me!
“A ring?” Cleo sounded confused.
Libby nodded. “The killer is Nick. He drew this because—”
Cleo turned off her flashlight. “Shhh,” she whispered. “I think I saw a light.”
The fur along my spine stood straight up. Cleo was right. Something was going on. I heard a faint sound, then nothing. I listened and listened and–
The gate to the trash area burst open.
A man stood in the doorway, using his phone as a flashlight and pointing a gun at Cleo. And even with the competing smells from the trash, I could tell he was wearing the cologne I’d smelled at the museum and on the wadded-up paper.
This man had to be the killer.
I let out a low growl and tensed my muscles, ready to take action.
“Steady, Bella.” Libby rested a hand on my back.
Aaargh. My heart sank into my paws. I wanted to spring into an attack to protect my Libby, but I knew I should obey her. I had to trust her and hope she had a plan.
The man turned off the light on his phone, slid it into the pocket of his jeans, and ripped the paper away from Libby. “I’ll take that,” he said with a sneer. “I knew when I saw your car in the parking lot that you were sticking your nose in where it didn’t belong. And don’t bother screaming. Thanks to that HVAC unit, no one can hear you.”
I looked over at my favorite human, willing her to understand my thoughts. Now, Libby, now. Now is the time for a plan!