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P.J. le Pooch
& the
Haunted Inn







Morri Mostow










A FICTIVE PRESS Book

A SMASHWORDS EDITION


Copyright © 2018 by Morri Mostow

All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher, except for brief quotations in a book review or scholarly journal.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, events and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously.

First published in 2018 by Fictive Press, a division of BizNet Communications (2815699 Canada Inc.), British Columbia, Canada.

fictivepress.com

“Fictive Press” and “fictivepress.com” are trademarks of 2815699 Canada Inc.

Cover art: Vicky Bowes, vickybowesillustration.com

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

Mostow, Morri, 1949-, author

P.J. le Pooch & the haunted inn / Morri Mostow.

Issued in print and electronic formats.

ISBN 978-1-927663-60-8 (softcover).--ISBN 978-1-927663-61-5 (Kindle).--

ISBN 978-1-927663-62-2 (EPUB).--ISBN 978-1-927663-63-9 (PDF)

I. Title. II. Title: P.J. le Pooch and the haunted inn.

PS8626.O8435P53 2018 jC813'.6 C2018-901963-8

C2018-901964-6



For Doug, Cassandre and Clotilde,
with love.



P.J. le Pooch Series

P.J. le Pooch & the Magic Sketchbook (2016)


P.J. le Pooch & the Haunted Inn (2018)




Contents

Title page

Copyright

Dedication

The P.J. le Pooch series

1. Autumn Mysteries

2. Aftermath

3. Duck Festival

4. Secrets

5. First Contact

6. A Plea for Help

7. Canine Discoveries

8. Happy Prospects

9. Grave Affairs

10. Revelations

11. A Falling Out

12. Second Chances

13. Double Trouble

14. Dog Gone

15. Christmas Spirit

16. Consanguinity

17. Maman Returns

18. More Revelations

19. Business Plans

20. Vernissage

About the Author

Acknowledgements

Endnotes




1. Autumn Mysteries

Don’t you love autumn, P.J.?” Not expecting a reply from her canine companion, Millie McTwitter sighed with contentment as they walked past the Auberge Brine Lake Inn, its wide lawn carpeted in fallen leaves, its flower boxes packed with miniature pumpkins and colourful gourds. When Millie glanced up, she noticed a heavy mist rolling down from the surrounding hillsides, arrayed in their final days of red and golden glory.

Suddenly, P.J. le Pooch stopped short, sat down and peered up at the inn’s veranda. “What is it, P.J.?” Millie knew from experience to pay attention to P.J.’s behaviour. She followed the direction of his gaze, surprised to see a girl leaning on the balustrade, waving a white lace handkerchief.

“Hello there!” called the girl, whom Millie automatically judged to be about twelve years old, having recently turned twelve herself. Before Millie could respond, the air around them became opaque with fog. P.J. quickly found he couldn’t see anything at all. He pressed against Millie for reassurance as they watched the girl vanish in the thickening mist.

“We’d better try to find her. She did seem to be calling to us.” Millie paused. “Don’t you think she was dressed rather oddly?” Being a Shweaton—part English sheepdog, part Wheaton terrier—P.J. le Pooch knew better than to offer Millie a sartorial opinion.

They bounded up the front stairs to the veranda with its long row of Adirondack chairs, set out for guests to enjoy the last mild days of autumn. P.J. shuffled back and forth, sniffing the veranda for clues. Perplexed, he sat down and looked up at Millie for guidance through his black-and-white fringe, which almost covered his black button eyes.

“She’s definitely not here now,” said Millie. Let’s check inside.”

“No, there are no children staying here now,” said the woman standing at the massive oak reception desk, her voice echoing off the 19th-century tin ceiling in what felt like a completely vacant establishment. “They all left with their families after the Labour Day long weekend. We don’t expect any more until the Duck Festival next weekend.” Despite the overheated room—a cheery fire crackled behind an antique grate—the receptionist shivered and wrapped a wool shawl tightly around the jacket of her smartly tailored uniform.

“Oh, well … thank you,” stammered Millie. Back on the sidewalk, P.J. cocked his head and looked up at Millie expectantly. “Maybe she was just playing on the inn’s veranda, and not a guest,” Millie mused aloud. “But where did she go? Very curious …”

Millie and P.J. continued on to Coin Héritage, commonly referred to by English-speaking village folk as Heritage Corner despite Québec’s language law stipulating that all establishments have a French name. The gift shop was owned by the “Morton sisters”: Millie’s aunt, Mia Morton, and Millie’s widowed mother, Penelope Morton McTwitter.

As soon as Millie and P.J. walked into the shop, Aunt Mia grabbed Millie’s arm. “So glad you’re back! A customer has almost bought out the store and I can’t pack fast enough. Your mother has gone to the bank to certify her cheque. I’m all alone here.” Her voice was beginning to rise to a panicked wail.

Millie immediately began bagging the huge pile of items on the counter. “Don’t worry, Aunt Mia. I’ve got this under control.”

P.J. le Pooch flopped down on his dog bed in front of the china display. Because he was so well-behaved—compared to Sassy, his excitable sibling who lived with Aunt Mia—Penelope had allowed him to become a “store dog” in late August, when Millie started her final year at Brine Lake Academy. P.J. hated being left alone at home all day. He loved the hustle and bustle at the shop, where he greeted every customer with a soft “woof” and a wagging tail.

“While we’re waiting for your sister to return,” chirped the customer, a tiny woman with spiky red hair, “why don’t we start loading the bags into my car?”

“Good idea,” agreed Aunt Mia, her freckles almost disappearing on her flushed face. She grabbed an armful of bags and headed out the door, followed by the customer, similarly laden.

As the customer passed by, P.J. noticed her fancy leather boots. Miniature spurs shaped like cats dangled from the leather strap encircling each ankle. Intrigued, P.J. couldn’t resist thrusting out a paw to jingle the spurs.

“Stop that,” shrieked the customer, batting P.J. away. When Millie ran over to intervene, she, too, noted the designer boots with their jingly spurs. “Don’t be alarmed. P.J. won’t hurt you. Let me help you with your bags.” Within minutes, the threesome had filled the car’s trunk and interior with dozens of Coin Héritage bags.

“Oh, look! Isn’t that your sister crossing the street?” cried the customer, pointing behind Millie and Aunt Mia. When they turned around, the woman jumped into her car and sped off.

“Wait!” screamed Aunt Mia, but it was too late. By the time Penelope arrived, the customer and her car were gone.

“The cheque was bogus,” explained Penelope, back at the shop. “She closed her account months ago.” She slumped into the chair behind the counter, utterly dejected. “This woman has just made off with thousands of dollars’ worth of goods and cleaned out most of our stock to boot! And just before the Duck Festival, our last chance to make decent sales before Christmas. What a disaster!”

“What are we going to do?” moaned Aunt Mia, wiping away tears.

“I’ll call the police,” said Millie. “How hard can it be to find her? Wasn’t her address on the cheque?

“I suspect that she no longer lives—” Penelope was interrupted by the chime of the shop’s bell.

Bonjour mes jolies damesi,” said a beaming Maurice Feldenkreuz, the handsome staff reporter for the Brine Lake News. “I’m writing an article on how our Brine Lake merchants have prepared for the Duck Festival. I love your duck-themed window display.” He paused when he noticed the stunned expressions on everyone’s faces. “Is something wrong?”

2. Aftermath

Quel dommageii,” said Maurice Feldenkreuz, taking copious notes as he listened to Aunt Mia’s tale of woe. “Rotten timing, too, with the Duck Festival opening on Saturday.” He flipped his notebook shut when Penelope arrived with a tray of steaming cups of Imperial Keemum, blended by a certified tea master especially for the shop, and one of Coin Héritage’s most popular items. He took an appreciative sip before setting down his cup and reaching for the plate of Scottish shortbread.

“I’ve been hearing about similar thefts in other small towns in our area. We may have a serial shoplifter at work, or maybe something more nefarious.” He grinned gleefully at the prospect. “Worth investigating. There’s definitely a story here!”

“That’s fine for you,” snapped Aunt Mia, “but it’s a huge financial blow for us.”

“Mia! It’s not Maurice’s fault,” admonished Penelope. “Let’s concentrate on salvaging the situation. The Duck Festival starts in three days. We don’t have time to reorder so we’ll have to put out whatever stock we’ve kept in reserve for Christmas.”

“Let me help,” said Millie, whose merchandising flair continued to amaze her mother and aunt. Her displays seemed to entice customers to buy more than they had originally intended, but they were always delighted they did. In fact, people always felt better after shopping at Coin Héritage, where time seemed to slow in the soft glow of the old-fashioned lamps in the restored 19th-century building.

The doorbell chimed again, announcing the arrival of an officer from the Sûreté du Québec, the provincial police force. “Yours is not the first store in our region to be hit that way in the past month,” said the police officer. “The description of the perpetrator always differs—sometimes he’s male, sometimes female. She might be blonde, brunette or, in your case, a redhead—although the thief is usually described as small. We’re not sure if we’re dealing with a single individual or a gang. So far, we have no leads, but we’ll keep you—”

“Aha, I was right!” interjected Maurice Feldenkreuz, thrusting his press badge toward the police officer. “We need to alert area merchants and the public. What more can you tell me about these thefts?”

“If you’ll follow me back to the station, I’ll provide you with whatever information I’m authorized to divulge,” replied the officer.

“Let’s not get our hopes up,” said Penelope, after Maurice and the officer left. “It’s unlikely the police will ever recover our stolen goods.”

“What stolen goods?” said Lola Lamour, who had slipped in silently with her Chow, Chowder, before the door had closed behind the two men. She was balancing a pile of garments over her arm. “I just dropped in before the Duck Festival with my newest line of designer knits—women’s hooded capes. I knit them by hand from wool from the local alpaca farm, which I dye myself. It was time to expand my line beyond dog hair.”

Dog owners collected their dog’s hair, which Lola washed, carded and spun into yarn. Then they knitted them into garments using Lola’s designer patterns, or paid Lola to knit them for them. Lola’s designer dog-hair knits had become very popular and drew customers from far and wide.

Millie was delighted to see Lola, who had become a special friend. Millie rushed over and kissed her on both cheeks, inhaling Lola’s delicious perfume, so reminiscent of her late father’s trademark cologne that Millie always felt the comfort of her father’s presence whenever Lola was around.

Aunt Mia and Penelope oohed and aahed over the beautiful capes. “We’ll take everything you brought, to start. They’re sure to sell like hotcakes during the Duck Festival, and for Christmas too!” said Penelope, glad for the distraction of a positive development.

“I expect they will,” said Lola with a gracious smile, “but tell me about this theft.”

P.J. le Pooch trotted over to Chowder, unable to contain his joy. Hurray, she’s back! He wiggled his entire hindquarters in welcome, his bushy white whiskers almost obscuring his goofy grin. P.J. was completely smitten with the aloof Chow, whose thick glossy fur was the same glowing shade of gold as the tresses of her glamorous mistress. Mesmerized by Chowder’s blue tongue, P.J. moved closer to inhale her intoxicating scent. Despite P.J.’s overtures, Chowder sat down at Lola’ feet and completely ignored him. Humiliated, head hung low in defeat, P.J. continued to sit beside the object of his desire, hoping to catch her attention.

“Poor P.J.” Millie stroked his head and scratched him in that special spot behind his ears. She felt sorry for his continued lack of success as a suitor. “Come on. Let’s go to the stockroom. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us.”

* * *

“Time to head home for supper, Millie,” said Penelope, as she pulled off her monogrammed Coin Héritage apron. “You’ve done remarkable work replenishing the empty shelves. Your displays are inspired. Great job!”

Millie glowed in her mother’s praise. “It was fun, and of course P.J. helped too.”

“In that case, he deserves a cookie,” said Penelope. Before she could extract one from the tin she kept under the cash counter, P.J. was already seated obediently in front of her, his long, white-tipped tail dusting the floor as it wagged back and forth. These were his favourite treats and it took all his willpower not to beg, which Penelope strictly forbade. Penelope baked these cookies especially for P.J. using a secret recipe that Angelo, a long-time friend and owner of the village’s pet supply store, Pur Bêtise, shared only with her. Angelo also baked these gourmet dog biscuits, which he sold at his store. “Aunt Mia and I still have to close out the cash so we’ll leave in about twenty minutes.”

“I’ll be ready,” replied Millie, who had already hung up her smock. When her mother left the stockroom, she turned to P.J. “That should give me enough time to sketch the girl we saw at the inn today before I forget what she looked like.”

Millie quickly pulled her sketchbook and a charcoal pencil out of her school bag, sat down in the old, comfy chair they kept in the back, and turned to a blank page. Her sketchbook was the last birthday gift from her father before he died. Millie still grieved for her father, who had believed in her talent and had told her that her sketches would let her relive the moments she’d captured in her drawings. That turned out to be true in a totally unexpected way. Last spring, when P.J. entered her life, Millie’s drawings magically started to move on the page. The surprising animations comforted her during the tense few months when her mother kept threatening to return P.J. to the Twin Borders Canine Refuge, where Millie and Aunt Mia had found him and his sister, Sassy. To be fair, Millie had defied her mother’s strict no-pet policy and adopted P.J. while her mother was visiting Millie’s older brother, McDougall, in Los Angeles.

Now, Millie never knew quite what to expect from her sketches. “Hmm … long, curly chestnut hair, rather like mine, tied back with what I think was a tartan ribbon,” Millie muttered to P.J. as she began to draw. “A ruffled white dress to just below the knee, puffy three-quarter sleeves, a high collar with a wide bib, tartan sash …” Millie paused. “Now that’s odd. Her dress looked much too light and thin for fall.” Millie reached for her coloured pencils. “Just have to get her features right … large dark eyes … a tiny rosebud mouth … red, green and navy for the tartan.” Millie paused, finally satisfied that she had captured the figure she’d glimpsed before the fog hid her from view. She propped the sketchbook upright to take a second look. Staring at Millie, the girl lifted one hand and gave a quick little wave, so quick that Millie wasn’t sure it had even happened. Millie peered even closer.

“Oh my,” Millie gasped. “She looks an awful lot like me!”

3. Duck Festival

What a crowd! I’m already exhausted and it’s only the first day of the Festival du canardiii,” groaned Aunt Mia.

“If it keeps up, we may be able to make up our losses,” replied Penelope with a hopeful smile.

Since switching the sign to Ouvert that morning, the shop had been mobbed with customers, many of them tourists from the neighbouring states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York. They fawned over store dog extraordinaire P.J. le Pooch, as Millie wrapped their purchases in colourful tissue paper and placed them in the shop’s signature shopping bags, which she topped with curled ribbon affixed to the handles.

Bonjour, Millie!” P.J. wriggled in pleasure as Cassandre Bédard rubbed his head. Millie looked up from her work, grinned at her best friend and gave a welcoming wave to Cassandre’s father, Marc Bédard, who was making his way toward Penelope in the crush.

Aurais-tu le temps de prendre un saucisson de canard avec moi, ma chère?iv Marc knew how much Penelope loved duck sausages grilled over an open flame. They had bonded over this local delicacy at the Victorian Dog Pageant & Games last May—smoothing over what had been a fractious first acquaintance—and he intended to make duck sausages on the village green a tradition.

“What a lovely idea, Marc,” said Penelope, “but we’re swamped, as you can see. I didn’t even have time for lunch.”

“I’d love to help in the shop, Madame McTwitter,” interjected Cassandre, who often assisted Millie on weekends so the best friends could spend time together.

“Off you go, Mumsie,” said Millie. “Aunt Mia, Cassandre and I can handle things until you get back.” With a grateful shrug, Penelope took Marc’s proffered arm and left.

Brink Lake had been enjoying a prolonged Indian summer, so it was still warm and sunny on this mid-October afternoon. Penelope and Marc walked arm-in-arm down the hill to the village’s central park, which was full of people milling around the striped tents of the local purveyors of food and wine. They joined the long queue in front of Brine Lake Duck’s tent, from which wafted the mouth-watering aroma of grilling duck sausages.

“We’re lucky the weather has cooperated for this year’s Festival,” said Penelope, who was enjoying every bite of her duck sausage. “It seems to have brought more visitors to the village than usual. And a good thing, too, if we hope to recover from our recent theft. Do you mind if we head back? I’d like to give the girls a chance to enjoy the festivities, too.

After escorting Penelope back to the shop, Marc said, “I think I’ll spend the rest of the afternoon marking tests on our back deck with Pussicles and Oedipuss.” A professor of classics at the college in nearby Lawrenceville, Marc had given his cats whimsical Greek-inspired names.

“See you tomorrow,” said Penelope, who was looking forward to a gourmet dinner at the Auberge Brine Lake. Marc had invited her and Millie to join him and Cassandre for a gastronomic Duck Festival meal, to reciprocate for the Thanksgiving feast at her home the weekend before.

The Duck Festival was an annual event celebrating the world-famous Brine Lake duck raised on a farm at the edge of the village. The Festival kept the village’s economy humming through an otherwise slack season between Labour Day and Christmas. Every restaurant of note prepared a special Duck Festival menu, showcasing duck in every course except dessert. The Auberge’s elegant restaurant boasted the finest chef in the area, winning the establishment a five-fork rating. Dinner was bound to be exceptional.

When Penelope returned to Coin Héritage, Millie, Cassandre and P.J. were happy to head down to the park. “Here’s some duck for you, P.J.” Cassandre leaned over and offered the last of her bun-encased treat to P.J., who swallowed it in one gulp.

P.J. was in heaven, sniffing all the wonderful scents wafting from the various food tents as he and the girls sauntered around the park. Suddenly, he stopped and reflected. Don’t I know those boots from somewhere? P.J. sat down in front of Millie and gently put a paw on her leg to get her attention.

“What is it, P.J.?” Millie glanced down and followed the direction of his gaze. P.J. was staring at a petite woman eating a duck sandwich in front of the tent of Pains & Folies, the village’s artisan bakery and patisseriev. Millie froze, then grabbed Cassandre’s arm. “See that blonde woman over there?” she hissed. “Look at her fancy boots. They are the same ones the thief wore. I bet that’s her!”

The woman wiped her mouth and hands, threw her napkin in the bin and walked off. “Let’s follow her,” said Cassandre. “If she has a car, maybe we can get her license-plate number.”

The girls watched as the woman left the park, crossed the road and entered the woodland path that meandered behind the village’s main commercial street. They hung back a few moments before following, keeping her in sight but staying far enough behind so as not to alert her to their presence. When the path crossed a residential street, the woman left the path and disappeared into a tiny house a few doors down. Before the girls could react, the woman emerged from the front door, got into a car that they hadn’t noticed parked along the side of the house, and drove off.

“Goodness. Maybe she lives right here in the village,” Cassandre said to Millie.

“Let’s find out!”

The street was deserted as Millie, Cassandre and P.J. approached the house. “Good thing everyone is at the Duck Festival,” said Millie. “Let’s look around. But we’d better do it quickly since she could return at any moment.”

“Won’t that be trespassing?”

“Technically, maybe, but we’ve got a valid reason. And if no one complains, it won’t matter. Let’s do it!”

“Looks like P.J. beat us to it,” said Cassandre with a laugh. Millie turned to see P.J. standing upright with his paws on the windowsill, peering through a large window. Oh my! Heritage Corner bags. Lots of them. He woofed softly to the girls, who quickly joined him.

“Yikes!” exclaimed Millie and Cassandre in unison at the scene before them. The open living/dining/kitchen area was so crammed with shopping bags there was scarcely room to walk between them. Bags from Coin Héritage and other Eastern Townships shops were piled almost to the ceiling and on every available surface.

“Where does she eat? Where does she sit down?” said Cassandre, shaking her head in bewilderment.

“She must be a hoarder,” declared Millie.

“What’s a hoarder?” Cassandre’s first language being French, she didn’t recognize the term.

“It’s a kind of mental illness. An obsession with accumulating—or in this case, stealing—stuff, until their houses look like … well, this!

“Oh, I see—une accapareuse.”

“Look over there!” Millie pointed to the top of a bookshelf lined with mannequin heads, each wearing a different wig. “There’s the spiky red hair she wore at our shop!”

“That clinches it. She’s definitely the serial thief.” Cassandre pulled her iPhone from her pocket and starting snapping pictures through the window. “No one will believe this!”

Millie stood next to her as Cassandre scrolled through the photos. “Excellent. We’ve got our evidence. Will you email all the photos to me?” Millie didn’t have a smartphone because Penelope didn’t see the point in such a small village. Cassandre, on the other hand, was on her own a great deal because her father taught in Lawrenceville, twenty kilometres away.

P.J. suddenly gave two sharp barks and lay flat behind the thick juniper bush next to the window. Millie grabbed Cassandre and pulled her down beside P.J. Seconds later, they heard car wheels crunch on the gravel driveway, a car door open, slam shut, and footsteps head their way.

Cassandre squeezed her eyes shut and began to tremble. “What are we going to do now?” she whispered in Millie’s ear.

4. Secrets

Millie tightened her grip on Cassandre’s arm and waited to be discovered. Seconds later, they heard the front door open and shut. Millie exhaled in relief, only just realizing that she’d been holding her breath. “That was close. Saved by P.J. le Pooch … again!” Millie and Cassandre both recalled last June’s flash flood when P.J.’s warning saved the shop’s inventory in the basement stockroom from being ruined. Millie reached over and gave him a big hug. P.J. grinned, his tail thumping in pleasure. They quietly scrambled back to the path and continued on to Cassandre’s house.

“How are you going to handle this, Millie?”

“I’m not sure. Now is not a good time to reveal what we’ve seen. The shop will be packed all week with Duck Festival shoppers who need Mumsie and Aunt Mia’s undivided attention. Plus, we have that gourmet duck dinner at the Auberge tomorrow evening with you and your papa. I don’t want to spoil that either.”

“You could call the police right now. It doesn’t look like the woman has even opened any of the bags. Your store could get all its stock back, and so could the other merchants she stole from.”

“I can’t call the police without telling Mumsie first. She’d have a conniption fit, as she calls it. Besides, it’s not that simple. The police would need a warrant to search the hoarder’s house. They probably couldn’t get one based on our suspicion that what we spied through her window was stolen. Privacy laws are very strict. Otherwise, the police could search anyone’s home on a whim.”


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