Thanksgiving Rebooted

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After tangling with annoying swamp zombies reporter Irene Waters and her cameraman Troy Stenson find themselves taking on a dangerous holiday bird, and it ain’t no turkey.

THANKSGIVING REBOOTED
BY C.L. RAGSDALE

“Why are you looking at me like that? This isn’t my fault.”
Troy Stenson, cameraman extraordinaire, was driving Reboot’s old, yet ever reliable Jeep. He spared his reporter a quick glance before returning his attention to the road.
From Irene Waters’ death stare he surmised she wasn’t buying his defense.
“Look, if it matters, even caked with swamp mud from the top of your blond haired head to the bottom of your practical boots, you are still breathtakingly beautiful.”
Irene shifted uncomfortably and said, “You don’t have to compliment me, I’m not that mad. Although it is unfair that you still look so good after what we just went just been through.”
“Now who’s throwing around compliments?”
“I just hope I don’t have to defend you honor against any predatory redheads. Which may not be so easy with your rugged good looks, thick dark hair, and soft brown eyes.”
Troy knew his partner was teasing him. He only wished she wasn’t.
“What makes you think I’m blaming you, anyway?”
“Because you’re staring daggers at me. I’m sorry I tripped you. It was an accident!”
“I know. I’m not mad about that.”
“Then what are you mad about?”
“Oh I don’t know?” she responded, her voice dripping with sarcasm. “Maybe because you sided with Bernie on doing this story? ‘Zombies are big Irene’, ‘They’re not those kind of zombies’ Irene’, ‘It won’t be that bad Irene.’ Sound familiar?”
“Okay, maybe it is my fault, a little.”
“You betcha. Just remember this moment the next time the words ‘zombies’ or ‘swamp’ come out of Bernie’s mouth.”
Troy, obviously reluctant to give up totally on swamps or zombies, which were, after all good TV, tried to maneuver around this demand. As a result, he dug the hole he was in just a little deeper.
“I’m just glad I had this plastic in the back, so you’re not getting this muck all over the interior…”
As he felt Irene’s big blue eyes boring into him, Troy wisely, if belatedly, redirected the conversation.
“You’ll feel better once you’re cleaned up. We’re almost there.”
Irene resettled herself on the plastic as she responded, “I hope so. Where is this place that Bernie’s sending us? A relative of his he said?”
“No, his wife Amanda’s relative. She lives nearby and has outdoor showers.”
“Outdoor showers? Why?”
“She runs an animal rescue. Bernie said it was easier for her to install outdoor showers than to clean her house every day. I guess it’s pretty dirty work taking care of numerous dogs.”
“I guess it made sense to her, and at least the poor woman won’t have to hose me off.”
“Irene, I’m really sorry about the mud thing, but it’s going to be a great story.”
“You always say that!”
“And I’m always right!”
“Whatever. Do you realize how long it’s going to take me to get this muck out of my hair? It’s times like this I think I should just cut it…”
“Don’t do that!”
Irene gave him a look and muttered, “Men and long hair. If you like it so much why don’t you grow yours out?”
“Irene, don’t cut your hair. Please!”
“Calm down Troy, I’m not serious, much. Still, I can only guess what lives in swamp mud.”
Troy gave his partner a sympathetic look, and decided the least he could do was get her mind off that train of thought.
“So what are you doing for Thanksgiving? It’s only a few days away.”
“Can I make plans? Isn’t Bernie sending us off to chase down the new monster of the week?”
It was then that Troy gave a smile and stated confidently, “This is where you forgive me. Because of this story, Bernie’s giving us the four day holiday weekend.”
Irene actually smiled.
“You’re right, I do forgive you. What do we have to do to get Christmas?”
“I’m still negotiating. So what are your plans?”
“It’ll be low key, because Mom is still recovering from her stroke. What about you? Are you going to see your brother?”
“Yeah, Hector kind of insisted. It’s been a while since I’ve seen him and his family.”
“That sounds like fun.”
“Yeah, it does actually.”
Irene was glad that Troy was reconciled with his brother, but she had more immediate concerns.
“Troy, how long before we get to this place? I feel really…well as bad as I smell.”
It was then that Troy saw a sign.
“Look there it is…wait, it’s a toy breed rescue?”
“What were you expecting?”
“I don’t get it. Everyone loves toys. Why would they need a rescue?”
“I knew a terrifying Chihuahua once.”
“Funny.”
“I’m not kidding! That dog was the scariest thing ever! A real psycho dog.”
Troy was suitably astonished.
“You have faced down ghosts, haunted trees, cursed statues, a Woolly Weegie, and swamp zombies without turning a hair. How can you be afraid of a little dog?”
“All those other things were fake, and I’m not afraid of all little dogs. Just one specific little dog. Peaches.”
“Peaches? What a dumb name.”
“It deserved it. I hope she doesn’t have relatives here.”

***

Patricia (call me Patty) Wellington, the owner of Your Little Friend Toy Rescue, could be summed up in two words. Long and lean. With her short grey hair and sympathetic green eyes she looked ready to save the world. Including, at the moment, the bedraggled Irene.
“Oh you poor thing! What did Bernie do to you?”
“He sent me to a swamp to track down some zombies.”
“What?”
“Long story. Thank you for helping us…I mean me, out.”
“Well actually I have a weird situation going on, and Bernie thought it might be good for your show…”
Troy and Irene exchanged a look. Each wondering why they hadn’t considered that their boss might have an ulterior motive for sending them there.
Still that wasn’t Patricia’s fault, so Irene shrugged and assured her, “Glad to help. Weird is what we do.”
The other woman gave a sigh of relief and then went into caretaker mode.
“Thank you, but let’s take care of you first. You got clean clothes honey?”
Troy held up her overnight bag while Irene answered, “Never leave home without them. Not with this job.”

***

“I’m afraid your clothes are not recoverable, Irene. We ran them through the washer twice, and the mud stains are still there.”
“That’s okay Patty,” Irene said, her good humor restored now that she was clean. “I’ll bill Bernie.”
Troy pointed out, “Remember we’re getting time off out of the deal.”
“That was for going to the swamp. Nothing was said about swamp mud destruction caused by my partner,” Irene countered.
“I said I was sorry.”
“You tripped her into the mud?”
Irene was quick to come to her partner’s defense explaining, “It was an accident. We were running from these zombies…”
“…not the brain eating kind,” Troy clarified.
“No, just the annoying chase you around the swamp kind. He was protecting the camera, of course, zigged instead of zagged in front of me, and down I went. Fortunately, law enforcement finally made an appearance, twenty minutes after we called them to hand the zombies over.”
“Irene swears she’ll never do zombies again…”
“I won’t.”
“But I bet you’ll change your mind once you see the footage…”
Patty’s expression was a study between confusion and horror. Seeing this Irene decided not to even try to explain what would take way too long to explain.
“The important thing is that the fake swamp zombies are sitting in jail, because of a complicated land grab scheme, we have our story, and I’m clean. So, Patty, how can we help you with your ‘weird’ problem?”
Patty seemed reluctant to drop the swamp zombies, but just then an inhuman earsplitting screech was heard.
“Oh no it’s back!”
Patty scrambled outside with The Reboot Team hard on her heels.
“It’s in the kennel area,” Patty cried as she ran down the steps of her porch.
Irene and Troy pursued her, and Troy got his camera ready.
They were half-way across the yard when suddenly a large shadow passed overhead. The Reboot team stopped and looked up and saw something big. Really BIG. Making what seemed to be continuous loud birdlike screeching noises and…sparkling?
“Troy, what is that thing?”
“It’s not a turkey.”
“Not funny.”
“Well it does look like a bird,” Troy defended as he filmed. “Darn, it’s too far off. Whatever it is, it sure moves fast.”
He brought down the camera and Irene asked, “Did you have time to get any pictures of it?”
“Yes, not that it will do much good.”
“What do you mean?”
“There’s no point of perspective. We know it’s big, but because of some known camera tricks, it could be dismissed as a fake.”
“That’s convenient. Let’s catch up with Patty.”
It took them a few minutes to reach and then navigate the kennels where the dogs were all barking and wagging their tails excitedly. Irene looked around and frowned. Troy noticed but before he could ask her anything they saw a small group in front of a kennel cage. The heavy chain link door was off the hinges and the cage was empty.
There was Patty, flanked by two people who were gesturing and yelling. Finally one of them, a stocky man with dark hair sprinkled with gray, stalked away into another direction from where Irene and Troy waited. Patty noticed them and waved them over.
“Irene, Troy, this is Carmen St. John, my friend and nutritionists for the dogs. She also cooks for the rest of us.”
The heavy-set woman with salt and pepper hair barely acknowledged them before she returned to her passionate tirade.
“It’s a Thunderbird Patty, like I’ve been telling you this whole time! There are stories about this land, and now the poor dogs are paying the price!”
With that the woman stomped away towards the house.
“Don’t mind Carmen. She’s incredibly superstitious, but she loves this place as much as I do. This is my weird problem. We’ve got this huge flying…something terrorizing everyone. Even worse, my dogs are beginning to disappear.”
“You think the flying whatever is taking them?” Troy asked.
“That’s what Carmen and Larry, my kennel foreman, think.”
Irene noticed her careful wording but for the moment didn’t comment on it. Instead she asked. “Where did Carmen get the idea of a Thunderbird?”
Patty rolled her eyes.
“Carmen can be difficult, and she upset someone who took revenge by telling her about the creature, and how it’s been sighted here over the years. Now she’s taken it to heart, especially after this,” she waved at the ruined gate. “I don’t even know what a Thunderbird is.”
“Well that would depend, are we talking about the Native American legend or the cryptozoology theory?”
Troy was shocked, because it was Irene, Miss “I don’t believe in any paranormal” herself, who had asked that question.
“Irene! I thought you weren’t interested in this stuff?”
Irene shrugged and confirmed, “Personally, I’m not, but Bernie wants to branch the show out into the strange and mysterious. So he asked me to study up on legends and cryptozoology.”
“Cryptozoology, isn’t that a science?”
“Actually, Troy, it’s a pseudoscience.”
Patty had been trying to follow their shorthand discussion, without much luck. Finally she asked, “Could you explain to me what cryptozoology is, why it’s a pseudoscience, and what’s a Thunderbird?”
“I’m sorry Patty, to be brief…”
“I’ll believe that when I hear it,” Troy snickered.
“You’re not helping,” Irene mock chastised him before returning to her explanation. “Cryptozoology is the search for animals whose existence hasn’t been proven.”
“Like Bigfoot,” Troy added to his partner’s explanation.
“Yes, but it’s not just animals in folklore. It can also be animals thought to be extinct or dramatically outside their normal geographical ranges. It’s a pseudoscience because it relies heavily upon circumstantial evidence, stories, alleged sightings, myths, and legends.”
“So that’s what a Thunderbird is?” Patty asked.
“Maybe, but they’re also part of Native American legends where they are described as large birds that create storms. So pick your poison, Troy. Legend or cryptozoology?”
“Well seeing as there isn’t a cloud in the sky…”
“It was sparkling,” Irene pointed out wryly.
“But it wasn’t lightening, so cryptozoology it is.”
“Well, Thunderbirds are large, bird-like creatures, similar to Rocs…”
“Rocks?” Patty interrupted.
“Not stones. Enormous birds of prey,” Irene qualified. “Of course, some say that the Thunderbird myth was based on sightings of a real animal, but witnesses got the size wrong.”
“Irene that thing was big!”
“I know it was Troy, but before we go any further, I think we all need to have a talk about the current situation. Okay with you Patty?”
Patty agreed, “Yes, but let’s go back to the house. This could take a while.”

***

A few minutes later they were sitting on the large porch when Irene asked, “So Patty, how long has this thing been showing up?”
“Just the past week. At first it just flew around, scaring everyone half to death. Then dogs started disappearing.”
Irene asked for clarification.
“So, let’s call it a Thunderbird, is taking off with the dogs?”
“That’s what Carmen thinks.”
“But not you?”
Patty was surprised at the perceptiveness of Irene’s question, but answered honestly, “No. I know animals. Toy dogs are just too small to be considered prey by something the size of this thing.”
“So you think someone here is taking the dogs and using the Thunderbird as a distraction.”
Patty nodded her head reluctantly.
Now Troy had a question, and as usual for him it was the obvious one.
“Any idea why?”
Actually Patty had a theory, and it was a good one.
“Have you ever heard of pet flipping?”
“No, I can’t say that I have.”
“I have,” Irene stated.
“No surprise there,” Troy muttered.
Irene looked at him and explained, “I was working on a story about it before I came to Reboot. Pet flipping is where a pet is found, or stolen, and then attempted to be sold.”
Troy was confused and asked, “I can see that happening to private owners, but a dog rescue?”
“Not just individual owners are being targeted. Animal shelters and rescues have had incidents as well. Patty, are there any specific types of dogs being taken?”
“Yes, and that’s what convinced me it had to be someone here doing the kidnapping. Only the pure breeds are being taken, the more popular types, like the three poodles that were in the kennel today. No mixed breeds or the dogs in need of rehabilitation. Also, I’ve seen this thing in the air, but I’ve never seen it land.”
“So the only evidence the dogs were taken by the Thunderbird are circumstantial. Like the damaged gate door.”
“Exactly. Also, did either of you notice how the dogs were acting?”
“Yeah,” Troy answered, now understanding Irene’s reaction. “They were barking and wagging their tails.”
“Exactly, like they were excited, but not scared by a monster bird attack. Since we’re basically in a wide open area, no strangers could come on the property without being noticed. Especially in daylight. That means someone they knew took them, and although I find that very hard to accept, it ‘s the only thing that makes sense.”
“Anyone in particular stand out to you?”
Patty shook her head at Irene’s query.
“No, most of my staff are volunteers. They foster these dogs in their homes to assess their health and personalities, give them basic training, and even pay for medical treatment. It’s difficult to believe they would be part of dog stealing.”
“Greed makes people do unthinkable things,” Troy pointed out sadly.
“I know, that’s what I’m afraid of, because money, not the dog’s best interests, is the prime motivator. Please, find my dogs.”
“We’ll try Patty, but with these kind of kidnappings the people who take the dogs try to sell them quickly. I know it’s only been a few days, but hey could already be gone.”
“I know, Irene, please, just do what you can.”
Almost in tears the woman rushed back into the house.
Irene sat back and stated the obvious.
“This stinks.”
“I know, we’ve got to help her Irene.”
“We will. Even if she doesn’t like the answer.”
“Yeah, and that stinks too. So where do we start?”
“The usual. Find the suspects and determine their motives.”

***

“I know what you think, Patty can’t hide anything from me. I didn’t take those dogs,” Carmen stated as she began dropping spoonfuls of dough into a large steaming Dutch oven. “It was the Thunderbird.”
Irene had no idea what the woman was cooking. Patty had told her that Carmen was bored with the traditional Thanksgiving menu and was going to ‘mix things up’. Irene couldn’t help but notice that Patty had looked nervous when she said that, which made her glad she would be elsewhere on the holiday.
“Carmen, I just need to know who was around when the…Thunderbird attacked. For instance, were the same volunteers here?”
Carmen looked at Irene balefully while she gently stirred pot. Finally, she shrugged and answered, “No, none of the volunteers are here every day. So, if someone took the dogs, I said if, it would have to be one of the regular staff.”
“Who are…?”
The woman stopped stirring and checked her oven. She then took a potholder and pulled out a casserole dish.
“Well, there’s me. Someone has to make sure Patty eats.”
“Anyone besides you?”
“Sure, there’s Larry, he runs the kennels. You saw him out there earlier with me and Patty.”
There was something in the woman’s tone that got Irene’s attention.
“Any problems with Larry?”
“No, I like Larry, but he’s had a thing about Patty forever. He doesn’t get that unless a male has four legs and a wagging tail, she doesn’t notice. But it can’t be him, he loves Patty, and the dogs. Maybe it is Palmer, that’s what Larry thinks.”
“Palmer?”
“Mercy’s boyfriend. They’re both Goths,” Carmen said taking a large bowl out of the refrigerator. “Before you ask, Mercy is Patty’s niece who is supposed to be learning the business. Although I don’t know how much she’s learned because she’s mostly with her boyfriend. He doesn’t work here, but he’s always around.”
Carmen transferred the Dutch oven off the heat and took down a plate. She then began to spoon her various concoctions onto it, then pointing to a chair commanded, “Sit, eat, and tell me what you think. I’ll finish up the dessert.”
Seeing the amount of food on the plate Irene opened her mouth to protest. However, at the look in Carmen’s dark eyes and the aggressive stance of her large frame, she changed her mind, sat down, and did as she was told.

***

While Irene was being a test subject for a different kind of Thanksgiving feast, Troy was out at the kennels attempting to interview Larry Cooper. Which wasn’t proving to be so easy. The man had his opinions, but refused to stop working long enough to express them fully.
“What is it? I don’t know. But it’s comes and dogs go missing.”
“How is it getting to the dogs?”
“Are you blind? You saw what it did today. Sad about those poodles, nice little things. Sorry, but can we do this later? I’ve got a little mixed breed who has OCD issues, and she doesn’t like strangers. Also she tends to attack her kennel, so I might have to make some repairs.”
Not waiting for Troy to agree the man rushed away. Troy just shook his head and sighed.
As he returned to the house he was surprised to find his partner in one of the chairs on the porch. He was even more surprised when she gave a groan.
“Irene are you ok?”
“No. I’m going to explode.”
Troy came up the porch steps and looked at her, torn between amusement and concern.
“Uh-oh. What did Carmen do to you?”
“She fed me.”
“She what?”
“Carmen fed me like she was stuffing a turkey. She made me sample every ‘different’ dish of the Thanksgiving meal she is planning. In huge portions. Because apparently overeating is what Thanksgiving is all about.”
“I thought it was thanking God for our blessings.”
“Not according to Carmen.”
“It was that bad?”
“No. It was good, just very…comfort foody.”
“Comfort foody?” Troy asked, his voice filled with amusement.
“You know what I mean. Heavy, delicious, and sure to put you into a coma. Apparently, her nutritionist concerns over the dogs’ healthy eating habits doesn’t extend to people.”
Troy laughed and Irene gave him a dirty look.
“Oh, laugh it up now my friend, but your time will come. She’s coming for you next.”
“Me?” Troy said in mock alarm.
“She’s needs more tasters. Don’t worry, you’ll love it, and then you’ll explode, and I will laugh. By the way, watch out for the Crannip sauce.”
“Catnip sauce?”
“No Crannip. It’s cranberry sauce with a bite. Don’t tell Carmen I told you or who knows what she’ll come up with next. By the way, Patty told me her niece and her boyfriend are back. The niece lives and works here, and the boyfriend hangs around.”
“They were gone? Now that is suspicious.”
“I know. In fact Patty says that they’re never around during the Thunderbird visits. They’re inside,” Irene informed him giving him a shooing wave. “Go. Question them.”
“Why can’t you do it? You are the reporter.”
“Because I am in the process of exploding, and have not yet recovered from the swamp mud trauma you caused, accidental or no. So don’t mess with me.”
With another laugh Troy went into the house leaving Irene to enjoy her agony in peace.

***

Palmer and Mercy turned out to be a couple in their late teens, and were indeed Goths. Both had dyed black hair, black clothes, many piercings, and tattoos. However, in spite of that, they were pretty normal. Although Mercy was a woman of few words.
“I knew this was going to end up being my fault,” Palmer lamented.
“No one is blaming you,” Troy advised him.
“Maybe you aren’t, but I bet Carmen gave you an earful. Look, I admit that I told her the Thunderbird story. I know how superstitious she is, and I wanted to get back at her a little for giving me a bad time. But that’s all it ever was. A story. I never stole any dogs. Mercy would kill me, she loves Patty and the dogs.”
“He’s right. I would,” Mercy droned darkly.
Palmer flopped into a chair. One of the personal pets, a cute little mixed breed of some sort, came over and jumped into his lap. Rather than push it off, as Troy expected, Palmer began scratching it behind the ears.
“Don’t forget, Palmer.”
At Mercy’s warning, Troy looked curious so Palmer explained, “She’s reminding me to take a shower and change my clothes before I go home. My Mom’s allergic to animal dander.”
Troy made a mental note of that, because he was sure it would be the kind of thing that Irene would find interesting. She found a lot of things interesting, usually with good reason.
He asked Mercy, “So did you ever see the Thunderbird? When you weren’t out with Palmer that is.”
“No,” she answered.
Troy closed his eyes and suppressed a sigh. Unlike Larry, this was going to be a long interview.

***

Later, he sat on the porch with Irene, who was looking as if she might survive after all. After he explained his hard won interview results, she pondered for a moment.
“So, we’ve been able to confirm that Larry, Carmen, and Patty have seen what we saw today, but Mercy and Palmer are never around.”
“Kind of looks bad for them, huh?”
“Yes it does.”
“Too bad, I kind of like them, and Palmer is really good with the dogs. Well, the one I saw him with anyway, and Mercy was concerned about his mother, who’s allergic. She reminded him to shower and change his clothes before going home.”
Troy had been right, Irene did look interested, so he was surprised when she didn’t pursue the clue he had just laid down.
“What does our Thunderbird look like on the camera?”
Troy got it out and started the playback.
“Take a look for yourself. It came out distorted like it was reflecting the light. Probably that sparkling. Maybe it is creating lightening as it flies.”
Irene studied the pictures and seemed to be more fascinated than the content warranted.
Okay, Troy wondered, what did I miss?
Irene handed him back the camera and rose to her feet saying, “Come on, we need to find Patty.”
“Why?”
“I need to ask her two questions.”
“Which are?”
“Who actually lives here?”
Troy didn’t get it, but he accepted that as a matter of course.
“And the other?”
“Who does Palmer’s laundry?”

***

“So what happened to your sleuths?”
Patty looked at Larry and gave a shrug. All she knew was that after asking her final questions Irene and Troy had taken off with the promise to return soon. But Larry was getting on her nerves, so she didn’t tell him even that.
Unfortunately, it didn’t stop him from taking things a step further.
“I don’t know what the big mystery is, we all know Palmer is behind it.”
Mercy suddenly came to life as she defended her beau.
“He is not!”
“Open your eyes girl. He’s the only outsider here.”
Carmen then made her opinion known.
“I don’t know why you all won’t face facts. It’s a Thunderbird, we need to move the rescue!”
“Carmen…”
Before Patty could continue they heard several vehicles drive up outside the house. Everyone, almost, was on their feet and out to the front porch. There they saw sheriff cars, a large pickup driven by a neighbor, and The Reboot Team descending from their Jeep.
Carmen stomped over to Irene and Troy demanding, “What have you two been doing?”
“We found the Thunderbird.”
After the shock of Irene’s announcement, they all looked around. Not seeing anything Carmen asked, “Where?”
Irene led her over to the pick-up where the neighbor was letting down the tailgate. She pointed inside and said, “There’s our Thunderbird.”
Everyone was shocked as they saw what was in the truck bed.
“But it’s…”
Carmen stopped, appearing to be at a loss for words, so Irene concluded the thought.
“A lightweight framework and canvas. The makings for a very large kite.”
Mercy was astonished enough to commit herself to an entire sentence.
“The Thunderbird is a kite?”
Even Patty was skeptical.
“How can that be Irene? What we saw was so big.”
“There are large kites, and they can be made up to look other flying objects, at least at a distance. Such as a large bird.”
“But the dogs…” Carmen objected.
“Patty never saw it land, did anyone else?”
No one said yes.
“Why is the canvas sparkling?” Palmer asked.
This was Troy’s area of expertise.
“It was to catch the light and distort the image when filmed. Necessary because a camera can pick up what the naked eye can’t, and would expose the fraud too early.”
Even Carmen was impressed, but she still had questions.
“But why did it make those awful noises?”
“The noises,” Irene answered. “Courtesy of some portable speakers, were to hide the sound of the motor. You see, the Thunderbird isn’t just a kite, it’s a motorized kite.”
“A motorized kite?” Mercy asked as if she had never heard of such a thing. Which she hadn’t.
“Think model airplane. Like them, the kite is controlled remotely. It would fly in, distract everyone, the dogs were taken, circumstantial evidence planted, and it would fly off to a grassy area not that far away for a softer landing. Which is where we found it. Fortunately our kite master couldn’t leave the premises today without arousing suspicion.”
Everyone exchanged glances wondering why it had not occurred to any of them to look for the thing. Then again, who wants to go chasing after a monster bird?
Irene continued.
“Now a concerted effort was made to make Palmer look guilty, but we knew…”
“By we she means she…” Troy interposed.
“…that he couldn’t be taking the dogs.”
Carmen looked confused.
“We do? How do we know that Irene?”
“Palmer’s mother is allergic to animal dander. Now he likes dogs, but he also loves his mother. So he takes showers and changes his clothes before he goes home. You, Carmen, then launder them, very nice of you by the way, and put them into plastic so he can change them out the next time he comes.”
“So he couldn’t take any dogs without his mother knowing about it!”
“He could have a partner,” Carmen countered Patty’s realization.
“I considered that,” Irene acknowledged. “But that would make Mercy the most likely co-conspirator, which wasn’t likely. This operation required stealth and they tend to stand out. No offense.”
“None taken,” the two Goths assured her.
“Now whoever took the dogs would have to take care of them in the interim before selling them, and needed the space to maintain the Thunderbird. Which means they do not live here. That eliminates Patty, Mercy, and Carmen. Palmer is already accounted for, but there is someone else who qualifies. Someone who regularly repairs the kennels, and could stage the damaged kennel door. Someone who was obsessed with Patty, but had been rejected. The only other person who doesn’t live here…”
“Larry!” Carmen cried out. “He has a place with acreage not too far away.”
“Where is Larry?”
Mercy’s question was answered when Larry was brought out in handcuffs by a deputy.
“Just like you thought sheriff. He was trying to sneak out the back.”
Patty looked shocked.
“Larry! You’ve been stealing the dogs?”
The man was angry and unrepentant.
“Do you know how much one of those dogs go for? Especially with faked papers? We could have cleaned up years ago, gotten married, and lived like royalty. But you were too good to make money from my work, and too good for me. So when I heard Carmen carrying on about that Thunderbird story I decided to create one, and make a fortune on my own.”
Larry meant to hurt Patty, but as always, her heart and mind were elsewhere.
“The dogs. Where are my dogs?”
Carmen took a gentle hold of her friend’s arm suspecting Patty might go for the traitor’s throat, which the sheriff might take a dim view of.
The deputy quickly reassured her as he led his prisoner away, “Don’t worry, we found them safe and sound at his place. We took a head count and they are all accounted for. The sheriff’s got them in the back of his car.”
Patty ran towards the sheriff, who proceeded to lead her to a happy reunion.
“Good job Irene,” Troy congratulated her, as Larry was led away. “One question, how did he control the Thunderbird without anyone seeing him?”
“The kite has a small remote control unit. He preprogrammed it to make a large circle, and then disappear before landing.”
“Oh. Good job. Another mystery well solved. We should celebrate.”
Just then a heavy hand came down on his shoulder. It was Carmen.
“You’re right, and I know just how to do it. I hope you’re hungry.”
Troy had thought Irene was kidding about Carmen coming for him. Apparently not.
So he looked for his partner, hoping to make an escape. She, however, had turned towards the house.
“Irene! Where are you going?”
“I’m celebrating. I’m taking a nap. Wake me only if you survive.”
From the evil glint in Carmen’s eyes, Troy had his doubts if that would be possible.
“Irene!”
His partner stopped, looked back over her shoulder, smiled, and said softly, “Never forget what I said about swamps, and zombies.”
With that menacing pronouncement she made her exit, leaving him to his dire culinary fate.

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