Bag of Bones

Bag of Bones

Jackie Layton

October 2020 $15.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-992-6

Low Country Dog Walker Mystery Series, Book 3

Our PriceUS$15.95
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Does one good turn deserve a murder?

Despite all her good intentions to focus on a healthy lifestyle and leave crime solving to the professionals, Andi Grace Scott has run right smack into another investigation--literally. Who’d have thought caring for stray cats and a healthy morning beach run could lead to murder? 

Andi Grace has found another body and a young woman who needs help. Solving this puzzle will come with a cost. This time, catching the killer will require Andi Grace to confront her past relationships and truths about her deceased mother.

Author Bio: Former Kentucky pharmacist JACKIE LAYTON loves her new life in the Low Country. Walks on the beach and collecting shells are a few of her hobbies when she’s not writing.

Bag of Bones is the third book in Jackie’s new Low Country Dog Walker Mystery series. Jackie also enjoys hearing from readers. Be sure to follow her on Facebook.


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Chapter One

FOR YEARS I’D been Andi Grace Scott, lover of Cokes, coffee, and chocolate. Fast food was my favorite kind of supper. I knew how to prepare simple meals like hot dogs or grilled cheese sandwiches. I could even toss a salad. But fast food had kept me alive.

Now? My feet pounded on the beach near the water where the sand was firm. Perspiration beaded my hairline despite the briskness. I had become a runner. Me. A runner.

How had Marc Williams, the oh-so-handsome attorney, persuaded me to take up running? The man had a way of convincing me to make healthy choices, so I shouldn’t complain. This was a better cardio workout than walking dogs and solving murders—not that I planned to investigate any more murders. From now on my attention would be firmly focused on the beauty around me.

Orange, purple, and gray streaks stretched across the horizon. Puddles mirrored the white clouds floating in the morning sky. A recreational boat zoomed by. If they’d been out fishing all night, they would’ve needed to bundle up. The wind had a cool bite on this first Monday morning in March.

I breathed in through my nose and out my mouth and tried to ignore the stitch in my side. The muscles in my calves tightened. Maybe ignoring the pain would keep the leg cramps at bay.

If I complained, Marc would argue I should’ve drunk more water and stretched longer. As an attorney, the man knew how to state his case. He’d be right, of course. My pre-run time had been spent savoring my first cup of coffee. I’d never give up my morning cup of java.

Sand stuck to my damp legs, but I kept running.

Marc slowed his pace to match mine, and his dog Chubb ran at his side. "You’re doing great, Andi Grace.”

"How’d you talk me into running so early?” I tried for annoyed, but the morning’s beauty made it impossible to be grumpy. The company wasn’t bad either.

"It’s good for our metabolisms.” Marc grinned.

I gulped for air but didn’t stop because I didn’t want to disappoint Marc. My German shepherd, Sunny, ran at my side with her ears perked up like little radars. Her head turned from side to side, watching for danger or unexpected surprises like a wandering ghost crab or a cannonball jellyfish. "What’s your day look like?”

"I’ve got a contract dispute this morning and two new clients this afternoon. How about you?” His words flowed with ease, and he didn’t appear a bit winded.

"Can’t talk.” Pain stabbed below my ribs, and I slowed while clutching my side.

"Okay, I’ll talk. Since your old boyfriend, Danny, decided to run for state representative, he’s been a doozy to deal with.” Marc’s fists clenched at chest level instead of their normal relaxed position and gentle swing. "Do you suppose he heard we started dating and is gunning for me for personal reasons?”

"Danny Nichols doesn’t care one bit about me.” I huffed. Interesting to see Marc frustrated by Danny.

"He and his family decided to drop their fight with you over Peter’s will. It’s possible he cares more than you suspect.”

A solid black cat sitting on a beach house’s wooden walkway scratched behind his ear. I tensed, expecting chaos, but the dogs were focused on the water and sand and never noticed the feline.

Chubb chased the water as it came onto land and rolled back to sea. The golden retriever was almost a year old. He was lots of fun and smart as a tack, but he hadn’t matured. Chubb made me laugh, while Sunny made me feel loved and protected. My German shepherd had appeared at my house over twelve years earlier and had never left me. Her maturity and loyalty were stellar. I loved both dogs. In fact, I’d never met a dog I didn’t like.

Sunny barked and sprinted to the large rock barrier ahead of us. So much for maturity. I pointed. "Marc, did you see her run to the beach groin? She never runs off without permission.”

"Yeah, she’s supposed to exert a positive influence on Chubb.” He laughed.

"I know.” Uneasiness settled over my shoulders. The air grew still. Another odd thing for a March morning on the coast of South Carolina.

"Maybe she’s reliving her youth. Hanging out with Chubb might not be a good thing for her. He often leaves me on a whim.”

I shifted into a jog until I reached the rigid rock structure a few hundred yards away. The rocks had been engineered to trap sand and prevent beach erosion. But instead of sand, the structure had prevented something larger from drifting away.

Sunny stood over a woman’s body. Layers of clothes. All wet. No movement. My feet halted their movement. My lungs froze. No. This couldn’t be happening again, but the coloring and texture of the woman’s skin warned me she wasn’t alive. "It’s the cat lady.” My words came out in a whisper, my mouth suddenly dry.

"Aw, man.” Marc yanked off his ball cap and ran a hand through his thick blond hair. "Tabby Malkin was one of my first clients at the law firm. I know people around here think she’s strange, but she’s—she was—a real sweetheart. Even though I was a stranger to her, she trusted me to handle her affairs.” Marc removed his phone from the pocket of his mid-thigh running shorts. "I’ll call the sheriff.”

Sunny paced then laid down beside Tabby on the beach.

I stooped to check for the woman’s pulse, in case she was alive, then I stopped. Sightless eyes looked skyward, unable to distinguish a white seagull from a brown pelican. What was the last thing she’d seen? One of her beloved cats? Tears welled in my eyes. Locals had nicknamed Tabby the cat lady because she walked the beaches and island streets with two bowls, a jug of milk, and cat kibble. If she spied a feral cat, she fed it. The woman hadn’t lived in the area for long, but in a small town, it didn’t take long to get noticed. I’d never taken time to ask if Tabby was her real name or if she’d started calling herself Tabby because she loved cats. Although maybe her love of cats came because she’d been named Tabby.

There’d be no more opportunities to ask her now. A tear slipped down my face, and I shouldered it away.

My stomach churned at the sight of the poor woman. Was her death a tragic accident or something sinister? I gazed at a fluffy white cloud on the horizon then back to Tabby. I didn’t believe her death was an accident.

Tabby’s body was sandy and wet but not bloated, making me think she’d been killed on the beach. Moisture in the air might have contributed to some of the wetness, but more likely the tide had washed over her body. Being this far up on the beach had probably prevented the body from washing out to sea.

We stood near the meandering high tide line, where little bits of driftwood, drying seaweed, and scattered shells marked how high the ocean had come on land.

I wrapped my arms around my stomach. There were no obvious gunshot wounds, at least not on the front of her body. What had happened to Tabby? Had she tripped and hit her head on the boulders making up the beach’s protective structure?

She wore baggy black sweatpants, a gray T-shirt, and a long-sleeved denim button-up. The shirt was torn at the shoulder. A black high-top Converse sneaker covered one foot, but the other foot was bare.

Chubb barked and jumped over the short end of the rock groin near the sand dune. His long legs aided his quick departure.

Marc cupped his hands around his mouth. "Chubb! Come back.”

I sighed. "You better go after him. I’ll stay with Tabby.”

"Sure you don’t mind?”

"Go.” It was the only word I could squeeze out.

Marc ran after his dog while holding the phone to his ear.

The stitch in my side eased, but the dead woman hurt my soul. We had something in common. Both of us loved animals. She focused on cats, providing food and milk to the felines on the island while allowing them to be free. Canines claimed my attention. If I found a dog, I always matched him with an owner. Different animals, different methods, but we both loved the abandoned animals around Heyward Beach. My throat grew tight.

I couldn’t peer at the woman any longer, so I turned my focus toward Marc and his dog. Chubb stopped along a sand dune and dug with his front paws. Sand flew through the air. Marc backed away and spoke into the phone. The golden retriever continued his mission until Marc snapped the leash on Chubb’s harness and led him back to me.

Three cigarette butts floated in a sandy tidal pool a few feet from Tabby’s head. I’d never seen the woman smoke, but some people hid the habit.

Sirens wailed from the west while waves pounded the shore.

Sunny stood and approached me, stopping to stand by my side.

I rubbed her back. "Oh, girl, I’m so sorry you had to see Tabby like this.” It wasn’t the first time I’d come across a dead body, but my German shepherd hadn’t been around when I found Peter Roth or Corey Lane. "It sure doesn’t get any easier.”

Marc and Chubb joined us near the line of rocks where Tabby lay.

Marc raised his eyebrows. With one hand he held the phone, the leash in his other hand. "Are you okay?”

My mouth quivered. "Yeah. Did you ever see Tabby smoke?”

"She wasn’t a smoker. After her accident in Dallas, she became obsessive about her health.”

Whoop. Whoop. Tires screeched and the siren ended.

Sheriff Wade Stone and Deputy David Wayne ran to us from the nearest public entrance.

Marc reported their appearance to the emergency operator then disconnected and slid the phone into the pocket of his running shorts.

Chubb threw his head back and howled.

"Quiet, boy.” Marc knelt and wrapped his arms around Chubb.

David reached us first, glanced at the corpse, and turned his attention to Marc and me. "Did you touch anything?”

"I’ve learned my lesson.” I raised my hands and stepped back.

The sheriff stopped beside his deputy. "Call the coroner and cordon off the area, David.”

"Yes, sir.” David stepped away then turned back. "I left a message with the police chief but haven’t heard back yet.”

Wade nodded. "They’re tied up with a gas station robbery. We’re in charge for now.”

Marc stood and turned his hat backward. "Wade, I’ve got to be in court this morning. Can we give you our statements soon, or should I try to contact the judge?”

The sheriff dug a little notepad out of his shirt pocket. "Consider this a preliminary interview, but I need to speak to each of you separately. I may have more questions later. Who first?”

"Andi Grace, you go ahead.” Marc reached for Sunny’s leash and attached it to her harness. Our hands touched, and tingles danced up my arm.

Every day I made decisions about my life and business. For years I’d stood on my own two feet, but when it came to the law, I appreciated Marc’s support. The sheriff had grown up in the area and even attended high school with me. Still, I didn’t want to give him a reason to arrest me—again.

Wade clicked his pen. "Andi Grace, tell me what happened.”

I took a deep breath and silently counted to ten in French as I exhaled. What details could I report? "There’s not a lot to tell. Marc and I were running with the dogs, and we found Tabby’s body. End of story. Where’s your Toughbook?” After two murders in Heyward Beach, I’d learned the sheriff liked to use his small computer when solving crimes.

"At the office. It’s too sandy out here to risk destroying the thing. Is there anything else you remember?”

"We passed a few other runners, but they were dressed in athletic gear. Nobody looked suspicious. There was a boat out on the water.” I crossed my arms. "I feel like Tabby might have been killed on the beach. I’ve been watching crime shows, and her body isn’t bloated. Dirty, yes, but not ruined by the salt water. Although I do think the tide reached her body.”

Wade shook his head. "You’re not investigating Tabby’s death, but for kicks, explain your theory to me.”

"I didn’t spot blood on the stones, and one shoe is missing.” I pointed to the structure designed to protect the shore from erosion and to trap sand. Not to ensnare dead bodies. "It’d be easy to imagine she slipped and struck her head on the boulders, but maybe she was killed in the sand. It’s possible her body drifted to the groin and stopped there, or she could’ve been dragged so we’d believe she’d fallen. Depending on when she was killed, the tide would wash away the drag marks and footprints.”

"Duly noted. Do you need to tell me anything else?”

I racked my brain but came up empty. "No, that’s all.”

"Good. I want to make sure we’re on the same page. We’ll investigate and determine if Tabby Malkin’s death was an accident or murder.” He pointed his pencil at me. "Are we clear?”

"Yes.” I wouldn’t argue and try to defend my past actions. "You’re the sheriff, and your department plans to solve the murder.”

"First, we’ll determine how she died.” He ran a hand over his face. "I’ll talk to Marc now.”

I jogged to where Marc stood near the water with the dogs. Sunny and Chubb stood obediently on each side of his body, with eyes fixed on the crime scene. I rubbed each one on the head. "Marc, it’s your turn to answer questions. I’ll take the dogs.”

Marc handed over the leashes. "Stay close.”

"Why?” My voice squeaked.

"I know the place will soon be crawling with law enforcement, but stay alert. If Tabby was murdered, the killer could be lurking behind the dunes or on rental property along the beach.”

"Okay. We’ll be right around here.” Aha, so I wasn’t the only person suspicious about Tabby’s death. I’d much rather it be natural causes, but the churning deep in my belly told me something different.


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