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Diggin’ Up the Dirt

Book 7 in the Kenni Lowry Mystery Series

Everyone in Cottonwood loves the new bakery…until a Cottonwood resident is found dead with a half-eaten donut in her hand.

Sheriff Kenni Lowry has her hands full. With a new murder in town and a new deputy to train, she’s not sure if she’s ever gonna get this booger solved. Sheriff Elmer Sims comes to the rescue, stepping up as Kenni’s ghost deputy. As the ex-dead-now-ghost deputy and Kenni’s Poppa, there are clues beyond the sprinkles in the donut that only he can see. Adding to Kenni’s stress is that the parents of Finn Vincent, her hunky boyfriend and the new sheriff of Clay’s Ferry, have come to town to meet Kenni and her parents. And Kenni’s mama ain’t too happy. As they say in the South, nobody’s happy if mama ain’t happy.

With Poppa’s keen insight and Kenni’s determination, Kenni focuses all her attention on bringing the killer to justice before the yeast rises and another dead body turns up. Save room for dessert. You don’t want to miss this Southern mystery!

Diggin’ Up the Dirt

Book 7 in the Kenni Lowry Mystery Series

Diggin’ Up the Dirt


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Chapter One

“That youngin’ is meaner than a rattlesnake. Given’ Woody’s boy and Woody a fit all these years and the state pen let him out on good behavior.” Mama elbowed me in the back of the Cottonwood Funeral Home. She nodded towards Woody’s grandson, Rich Moss.

“Mama,” I scolded her. “Don’t be speaking like that in front of the dead,” I warned. “Don’t be throwing that bad juju on me.” Chills ran up my spine and down my arms. “See what you did?” I lifted my prickly arm up to her face.

“Ah,oh.” Myrna Savage, owner of Petal Pushers Florist, scurried past with an open heart shaped mold with white roses and white carnations. You know, one of them that’s laid at the grave site. “Someone is walking on someone’s grave.” Her brows lifted when she noticed me rubbing the goosebumps away.

“Hhhmmmm,” Mama’s lips pinched, her nose curled. “Who sent those?”

“Lulu McClain.” Myrna shrugged and headed straight up the middle row where Woody Moss laid in corpse, a southern polite way of saying dead. “Vivian, you sure are slacking.”

Mama watched in jealous silence while Myrna shimmied past the mourners and placed Lulu’s wreath at the foot of Woody’s casket.

“Which one did you send?” I asked, knowing the bigger the flower arrangement, the higher up in the social ladder you’d be that week.

“It doesn’t matter,” she quipped. “Where is your father? I’d like to get a seat up in the front before Preacher Bing starts the service.”

“I’m sure he’ll be here soon.” I sucked in deep breath and wondered the exact same thing about Finn Vincent, my boyfriend.

The sound of curtains opening just behind the casket caught mine and Mama’s attention.

“Well if I ain’t seen I all,” Mama gasped.

“What on earth is it?” I asked about the big window with a car pulled up to it looking right at Woody Moss.

“Max Bogus has gone on and put a drive up window in the funeral home.” A look of disgust drew across her face. “Next thing you know, he’ll have the corpse sitting up and waving somehow.”

I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or groan. It was the strangest thing I’d ever seen, especially when a bus from the Cottonwood Acres Rehabilitation Center had pulled up and flung open the van door. The rehab center was more than just therapies, it also had a small emergency room on one side. We didn’t have a hospital in Cottonwood and Dr. Camille Shively wasn’t open 24/7. We needed something for quick emergencies and not have to drive forty-five minutes to Clay’s Ferry or a bigger city close to Cottonwood.

“Well, I’ll be damned,” Mama spat with disbelief.

“Now, Mama.” I patted her arm to get her to calm down. “Woody died in the rehab center and probably made some new and elderly friends that wanted to pay their respects.”

It was like a train wreck. Mama and me couldn’t stop gawking as the blue-hairs, the elderly, as they took a gander at Woody in his casket through the window.

“I’m telling you right now, hand to God,” Mama said and flung her hand up in the air, “If you let them do that to me, I swear I’ll haunt you the rest of your life.”

“Just like Poppa?” I asked.

“Huh?” She jerked around and looked at me.

“Joking,” I said in a flat out lie.

My Poppa, Mama’s dad and retired sheriff of Cottonwood, hadn’t necessarily been haunting me, but since I took over as sheriff, Poppa was my guardian angel deputy from the great beyond. Poppa showed up when there was only murders in Cottonwood and I was happy to report he wasn’t here today so that meant not only that Woody wasn’t murdered, but no one else in Cottonwood was either and all was well within our little small town.

“If you’ll excuse me, I’d like to go give my condolences to the family,” I finished my sentence and wanted to get away before Mama put any thought or realized what I’d said and question me further.

No one knew about Poppa. Duke knew. Duke was my hound dog and I was sure he wasn’t going to say anything to anyone. I guess I couldn’t rely on that because until Poppa, I didn’t believe in ghosts, nor did I believe dogs could talk.

Mama didn’t say a word, so either she was still stewing over the fact that Lulu McLain was about to replace her on the top rung of the social status or that daddy was late. Mama didn’t like to be late and that included daddy, an extension of her which she claimed was a direct reflection of her as well.

I didn’t want my relationship with Finn to be like that, so I took a deep breath and knew he’d get there when he could make it. After all, he was holding down the sheriff’s department while I’d taken the time to come here early and shake a few hands.

As the sheriff of Cottonwood, I had to attend every funeral, birth, baptism, and whatever appealed to a family. It was, after all, those times that the good citizens of Cottonwood would remember when it was time for me to run for re-election in a couple of years.

The funeral home was packed, which made sense because funerals, weddings, and births were a big deal around these Kentucky parts. Woody Moss’s funeral would be front page news on the Cottonwood Chronicle and talk of the town down at Ben’s Diner. That’s just how it was.

“Hi, do.” I nodded and shook hands as I weaved in and out of the crowd, making my way back to the family room where Woody’s family had gathered.

There was a line of folks giving their condolences and telling stories they had with Woody. I couldn’t offer any of those. He was an elderly man I really didn’t know other than talking to him about my Poppa’s reign as sheriff. Everyone loved Poppa. I made my way to the back of the family room and stood in line with my hands folded in front of me.

“I told you I did the best I could.” I couldn’t help but overhear a young woman with shoulder length blonde hair, fair skin, and the brightest of red lipstick colored on her lips talking to the man mama pointed out to be Woody’s grandson, Rich.

“If I find out that your best wasn’t good enough, they’ll be hell to pay,” Rich said to her through gritted teeth as she jerked her arm out of his grip.

“Is everything okay here?” Not that I wanted to butt my head into someone business, but when I noticed it was a little more physical than an average conversation, I’d stick my nose into it.

“What’s it to you?” Rich snarled.

“I might not have my plain brown uniform on,” I pulled back the blue blazer I was wearing and exposed my five-point star sheriff’s pin clipped on the waist of my blue skirt. “I’m Sheriff Kenni Lowry and I sure hope nothing is going to get ugly while we are all paying our respects for you grandfather.” I took it a step further. “Especially since I understand you were let out of prison early for good behavior, because what I just heard didn’t sound like good behavior.”

“I’m fine.” The girl shook her head and turned, going back out of the room.

“Is she fine?” I didn’t take my eyes off of Rich Moss.

He stood about five feet nine. Thick as a tree trunk and the blackest of eyes I’d ever seen. He had olive skin and a five o’clock black shadow that seemed to be going on ten o’clock but not yet a full beard. I’d assumed he’d be black headed, but he was shiny bald on top and had a tattoo that went from ear to ear around the back of his head.

“She walked out without a limp, didn’t she?” His cold words were like an ice cube dripping along my spine.

“I don’t expect to have any trouble out of you while you’re in town, right.” It wasn’t a real question, more like a threat so he’d know that type of activity wasn’t welcomed here.

“Yes. Sheriff woman.” His lips curled up at the edges with a hint of laughter in his voice.

“Sheriff Lowry,” I corrected him and turned around when I felt someone come up behind me.

“There you are,” Finn said and smiled. “I saw Vivian and she’s not in a good mood. She’s trying to get Myrna to go back to Petal Pushers and make a bigger flower arrangement.” He laughed and suddenly stopped when he noticed I’d not tried to grin. “What’s wrong?”

“I’d like you to meet,” I started to introduce him to Rich Moss, but Rich was gone. “Never mind.” I shook my head and glanced around the room, not seeing him anywhere. “Did you get your parents settled?”

“You are going to have to brace yourself,” Finn warned with a slight smile. “They drove their RV and parked it right in front of Mrs. Brown’s house.”

“Oh no,” I groaned knowing she’d be calling as soon as she saw it and looked up at my six foot tall boyfriend.

Mrs. Brown was the neighbor between my house and Finn’s house.

“I already went to see her and told her they’d only be there for a few days so they can meet you.” He melted my heart right there in the funeral home. His big brown eyes had a spark in them like a little boy that’d gotten exactly what he’d wanted.

Finn had wanted to me to meet his parents, who lived in Chicago, for a year or so now. We’d even made huge plans to be there over Christmas until the biggest blizzard to ever hit Kentucky blew in the day we were supposed to board the plan. Now, Mama, she was thrilled to death that it’d snowed to high-heaven because that meant we were stuck with her for Christmas.

“Where are they now?” I asked about his parents.

“They are at my house with Cosmo waiting for us.” He put his arm around me. Cosmo was a cat that’d he’d taken in after the owner had gone to jail after we’d arrested her for murder. See, he had a huge heart and I loved him for that. “Really, waiting to meet you.”

“Soon,” I assured him and pointed to the empty seats next to us since Preacher Bing had taken his spot at the podium. I’d have to give my condolences to Woody’s family a little later.

After the funeral, I made a quick exit out of the funeral home and let Finn do the after funeral home appearance.

Howllll, howwwwwl.

Duke was happy to see me when I’d gotten back into the old Jeep Wagoneer after the funeral. Rarely did I ever go anywhere without him and he was known as my deputy dog. He’d even been given an award for actually taking a bullet for me once.

“I know, Duke,” I confirmed how good the fresh spring air felt and smelt in the wind whipping through the windows. Not to mention getting the stink off of me from all the flowers at the funeral home.

There was no way to describe just how much I hated the smell of flowers at a funeral home, so much so that I’d changed my will to include no flowers at my own funeral.

Duke’s long bloodhound ears flopped in delight outside the window. His tail, that I was sure had a string from his heart, wagged in delight. There was nothing like a new season in Kentucky, specifically Cottonwood.

“What a day for a funeral.” The sun was hanging bright in the early afternoon and the rest of the day I was going to enjoy getting to know Finn’s parents after I stopped by The Sweet Shop to grab a dessert that was native to our area for Finn’s parents.

I wanted them to see just how good this southern girl was to their baby boy.

Before I could turn the Wagoneer heading north of town after I’d pulled left on Main Street, Mama was calling.

“Before you start lecturing me,” I answered the phone because I knew she was mad that I’d sent Finn to the repass after the funeral instead of me. “I have to get all gussied up for tonight when you meet Finn’s family.”

That would get her attention.

“You know I love when you actually dress in something pretty, but you’ve got to get over to Woody Moss’s house,” there was a bit of panic in her voice. “His house has been ransacked. Like someone has broken in and stolen stuff.”

“Be there in a minute.” I threw the phone down, jerked the wheel to turn the Wagoneer around, all while grabbing the old time beacon siren from under the seat and licking the suction cup before I smacked it on top roof.

Rowl, rowl, Duke howled along with the siren.

“Hold on, buddy,” I warned and pushed the pedal to ground. “Who on earth would target the house of a dead man?” I’d heard of criminals pursuing the newspaper to see who was dead and break into their house, but on the day of the funeral. “Rich Moss.”

I was certain.


Chapter Two

Finn had everyone out of the house, including Mama, who I could tell was already giving him fits. Her head was bobbing and weaving, trying to look behind his makeshift police line where it looked like he’d used Lenora Moss’s clothes line, while he talked to Lenora herself.

I reached out the window and took the siren off the top of the roof and flipped the side switch in the off position before I stuck it back under my seat. Duke jumped across the seat, ready to bolt out my door.

“Not now, buddy.” I put my forearm up, reaching over to the seat to grab my bag off the floorboard. “I’m sorry,” I said in a sad voice and gave him a good scratch behind the floppy ears. “I’ll just be a few minutes and we can get you to the station.”

No matter how much I tried not to make eye contact with Mama, it didn’t prevent her from high-tailing it over to me along with the Henny Hens following closely behind her-the enduring name I’d given Lulu McClain, Viola White, Ruby Smith and Camille Shively. All of Mama’s closest friends and all of different ages and stages in life, that were bonded by the gift of gab and gossip.

“Kenni, now we’ve got food in the over that’s got to feed all these people who have come to pay their respects to Woody Moss.” Mama nodded while the Henny Hens did the sign of the cross, which made no sense due to the fact they weren’t Catholic. “Now, look at Lenora over there. Do you think she’s in any shape or form to be dealing with this right now?”

Without a word, because I had to chose them carefully when I talked to her, I glanced over her shoulder to look at Lenora. It was a combination of worry and sadness that I saw on her face. She probably didn’t care two-bits about people coming to the repass. From what I’d heard at my weekly girl’s night out Euchre game, Lenora had spent many sleepless nights watching over Woody and his plethora of illness that’d ultimately had contributed to where we stood today. By that, I didn’t mean First Street either, I meant at his funeral repass.

“Where are you going?” Mama asked when I took a few steps past her.

“Mama,” I jerked around. “I’m going to talk to Lenora, that’s what I’m going to do.”

“Well,” Mama gasped. “I’ll never understand that girl,” she told her friends. “I gave her life and everything she ever wanted. That’s the respect I get.”

She exhausted me. But wait. . .I knew there was more.

“You’re gonna wish you were nicer to me when I’m dead and gone.”

There it was.

I swear Mama took a class in how to make your daughter feel guilty and she was driving the train to Guiltville, if there were such a place.

“Hi, Lenora.” I looked between her and Finn. “I’m sorry you’re having to deal with this.”

“Thank you, Kenni.” She nodded, her eyes wore red around the edges. “Can you just please tell everyone they can leave? Finn said this could take a few hours to fingerprint.” The corners of her mouth dipped into a deep frown. “Why would someone do this?”

“I’m not sure.” Where the only words of reassurance I could offer. “I’m going to go inside and turn off the stove. Mama said they’d had stuff in the oven.”

“Yes. She and the girls have been so kind. They left the funeral right before they put his casket in the hearse to go to the cemetery to get things started.” She sighed.

“Can I speak to you for a second?” Finn asked me and nodded to take a few steps to the side, out of Lenora’s earshot.

“Sure. Lenora, is anyone of your family members here?” I took a quick look around and noticed Rich wasn’t here, but the girl he’d talked to was along with. “Your son?”

“He’s around here somewhere.” She looked over the crowd and I did too.

Ben Harrison, owner of Ben’s Diner, had been stopped by Mama and appeared to be taking in everything she was saying. When he caught my attention, I could see the amusement on his face. He gave me the finger gesture to come over there.

“Finn and I are going to go in and clear the scene. I’ll make the announcement that we aren’t going to have the repass and you appreciate all of their support.” I patted her on the back.

I stepped up on the porch and clapped my hands several times before the murmurs had stopped.

“I’m sorry to inform you, but in light of what’s taken place here today, Lenora is honored and blessed to have you all as friends and neighbors, but will be cancelling the repass,” I spoke loud enough for everyone to hear.

“Sheriff?” Ben yelled even louder. “If Lenora doesn’t mind, I’d like to offer to have the repass moved to the diner where all the food is on the house.”

Ben Harrison was such a stand-up guy and if he weren’t my best friend since grade school, I might’ve had a big crush on him, but he was dating my girl-best friend, Jolee Fischer and I couldn’t be happier.

I glanced over at Lenora and she nodded with a grateful grin on her face.

“Okay,” I nodded, “Y’all heard Ben.”

The mourners clapped and all shook Ben’s hand before they got into their cars or started walking down to the diner, which was only a street over on Main Street.

Mama still wasn’t satisfied and by the determined looks on the Henny Hens, they felt the same. Only this time, Betty Murphy, my eighty something year old dispatch operator, had joined them.

This was when I had to defuse the situation between sheriff and mother to daughter and mother by giving into some gossip to set their angry minds straight.

“I’ll head into the house to turn off the stove while you deal with that angry mob.” Finn was talking about Mama. He kissed my forehead.

“Mama, who is that girl and boy over there?” Not that I truly needed to know, but it was the blonde I’d overheard Rich Moss giving all sorts of grief to at the funeral home.

“That boy is Sebastian Hughes.” Ruby Smith took the liberty to answer the question, which wasn’t unusual since her nose was literally stuck in everyone’s business.

She owned Ruby’s Antiques on Main Street, across the street from Ben’s Diner. There wasn’t a day that went by where Ruby wasn’t showing up at someone’s house, garage sale, estate sale for a good piece to put in her shop. Ruby knew everyone in Cottonwood and who all was kin to who.

Cottonwood had been growing and even as sheriff, I still didn’t know everyone.

“He is one of them ambulance workers. His mama hails from Versailles. I don’t know where the rest of his kin are. My grandmother grew up there with his grandmother and father. From what I’d heard, his mama was married twice.  Her first husband was a relation somehow to Lita Brumfield who lives over there on Chestnut Street,” Betty Murphy had taken over the conversation.

It wasn’t enough just to tell what Sebastian did in Cottonwood, we had to learn the man’s linage.

“But I think his daddy was murdered across the river after a man shot him once. Now don’t quote me on that, but Lita was down at Tiny Tina’s and I swear I heard her right. Then again, Tina had put that big blower over my curls and that thing blows right up in my ear.” Betty tugged at the edges of her short grey hair. Her blue eyes blinked from behind her glasse.

“I recall that there was a sister too.” Mama tapped her finger on her temples. “Billie…” she hesitated and snapped her fingers.

“Mmmhmmm,” Ruby’s lips snapped together while she ho-hummed. “Billie Belle Short. She was married to Kenneth Asher before he died in that car wreck on the way to Clay’s Ferry.”

“Poor girl,” Mama gasped.

“Don’t you poor girl Billie Belle. She blossomed like a Morning Glory soon after and married up again. If I remember correctly.” Ruby added that last sentence to cover her tracks in case the big tale about this poor Sebastian was wrong.

Which it probably was at some point in all of that and none of it I would remember.

“To answer my original question, he’s an EMT worker?” I asked.

“Yes.” Betty nodded. “And the girl, Avon Myers. She is a nurse at Cottonwood Acres Rehab where Woody died.”

“Isn’t it strange to die in a rehab?” Mama asked. “Since Woody was there undergoing physical therapy for his hip replacement.”

“Heart attack.” Ruby nodded her head. All of them bowed their heads as if they were honoring a moment of silence.

“Avon Myers?” I wanted to confirm in case I decided I wanted to ask her about Rick Moss’s words to her at the funeral home.

“Yep. Her memaw and Peepaw live over on Sulphur Well. . .” Ruby started in on who Avon was kin to.

I didn’t bother to stick around to listen when I noticed Finn was standing at the Moss’s front door. There were a pair of purple gloves on his hands and shoe covers on his feet with black dust powder around the edges.

“Did you find some fingerprints?” I asked and opened my bag where I had booties for my shoes and gloves.

“Lenora gave me a list of things that could be missing, but she’s not sure. The only thing she said that was for sure was missing was the special cuff links from the jewelry box on her bedroom dresser.” Finn waited until I got my shoe covered before he had me follow him into the house. “They really didn’t touch too much.”

“Mama said things were ransacked.” I glanced around the family room that was right inside the door. There didn’t seem to be a thing out of place.

“Nothing in the kitchen either. Just the bedroom where Lenora slept,” Finn said over his shoulder as we walked down the hall to the bedroom. “She and Wood slept in different bedrooms.”

I walked in and all the contents of her dresser drawers and the drawers were thrown all over the bed that’d had the covers messed up and the mattresses all side-goggled. The jewelry box Finn had mentioned was the kind that was tall with two doors. There were a couple of hooks to hang necklaces and two pull out drawers underneath for ring and earring storage. Most of the jewelry looked to be cosmetic. The Mosses didn’t have a lot of money. They were simple folks that kept to themselves.

I unzipped my bag and took out my camera.

“Here, I’ll take the photos while you go talk to Lenora.” Finn took the camera.

It was so great having a deputy that understood exactly what was needed without me telling him or even doing all the work myself. He’d been like that since the first time I laid eyes on him.

Poor Doc Walton had been murdered in his own home. My only deputy had retired and off on a vacation with his wife when the murdered happened, leaving me a one woman show. I didn’t mind, only the fact of the matter was that Doc Walton wasn’t the only crime happening in Cottonwood. I had to call in a Kentucky State Reserve Officer from Frankfort.

Kentucky was made up of counties and cities. Mostly counties, which meant we had more sheriff departments than police stations. Cottonwood being one and since we were a small community, it wasn’t uncommon to have one deputy and one sheriff. In a time of need, which I was, as sheriff I was able to get help from the state reserve where they’d send me an officer to use on a case. That’s when Finn Vincent walked into my life, did an amazing job, filled not only the available deputy position but filled my heart.

Like most women who guard their heart, I wasn’t receptive to his northern ways or attitude of all business since he was from Chicago, but I warmed up to him after a while and saw he was a good officer.

Here he was clicking away and placing crime scene tags all over Lenora’s room while I went down to ask her my own questions.

She was sitting at the old wood kitchen table with a cup of coffee in front of her. There was a blank look on her face like she’d been kicked down a few times. I didn’t blame her.

“Lenora, Finn said there’s some cuff links missing.” I sat down next to her and put a hand on her back. “Can you tell me about them and why someone might want them?”

“Not that Woody was flashy, but his grandparents had gone to New York City when he was a kid. They’d spent almost every penny they took with them and bought him back a pair of simple gold knotted cuff links.” She laughed with a soft look in her eyes. “Woody said that a young boy never wanted cuff links.”

“I don’t blame him,” I agreed.

“He said that his grandparents were so proud of them when he put on his Sunday’s finest,” she referred to his church clothes, “that next weekend and had those cuff links in his sleeves. He loved how happy he made his grandparents and took really good care of those links. He only wore them on special occasions. He loved telling that story to our boy and Rich.” She grinned at the fond memory. “As we got up in age, we figured we’d better make a will and since we only have one boy, we knew he’d get them. Wally Lamb said we needed to get the value.” She shook her head as she talked about the local lawyer. “We told him they weren’t worth a penny, but he insisted we take them over to Hart’s Insurance. Woody did. Come to find out,” she drew back, her eyes grew big, “them little knotted cuff links were worth a pretty penny.”

“Really? How much?” I listened really carefully because obviously someone knew they were worth something.

“One thousand and seven hundred dollars. Now, his grandparents didn’t pay that much, but they knew they were worth something. That’s why they told him not to get rid of them.” She looked over her shoulder when Rich walked into the back door of the kitchen from the outside. “Have you met our grandson, Rich?”

“Not in a formal way.” Our eyes met and we stared at each other of a second.

“He’s going to be staying here for a couple of days.” Her face light up with pride. It was the first time I’d truly seen her smile since I’d gotten here. It was my cue not to continue to question her in front of him, given his history and all.

“Finn and I will finish up here and let you have your house back.” I stood up and patted her on the back. “Are you going to go over to Ben’s Diner?” I asked about the repass that’d moved there.

“Yes. Rich is going to drive me over. I’m not sure I can walk that far right now. Is your daddy there?” She asked her grandson over her shoulder.

“Yep. He’s ranting and raving about those cuff links.” Rich rolled his eyes. “He cares more about them than about granddad dying,” he said with a bitter tone that caught my attention and gave me more questions than answers.


Chapter Three

“What are you thinking?” Finn asked me once we got back to the sheriff department after it took us a couple of hours to finish scouring the crime scene which was limited to Lenora’s bedroom.

“I’m thinking Rich Moss is the burglar and I’ve got Deputy Lee following him around town.” I looked at the big white board where I had started but the clues with cuff links as the header along with a photo Lenora had given me from that was in with the insurance estimate and another estimate from Ruby Smith.

“He’s almost better than Duke,” Finn joked and unscrewed the lid off the dog treat jar on his desk, flipping one in the air at Duke who was lying in his bed next to my desk.

Without missing a beat, Duke’s snoot flung up in the air, catching the treat.

Deputy Scott Lee was sent to our department over Christmas break when Finn and I were both taking a much-needed vacation to his hometown in Chicago. That’s when the snowstorm hit and we didn’t get to go. Deputy Lee stuck around and really had helped us out. I’d been in front of the city council meeting a few times asking for more funding to add him to our department. Since Cottonwood was growing, so was the crime and it was almost too much for me and Finn to get to all of it.

There was a meeting was in a couple of days to announce the final decision and I hoped they’d do the right thing by letting us keep him on as a deputy.


“Apparently, Rich has been in jail for something and they let him out on good behavior to come to the funeral.” It only made sense. There’d not been any other burglaries in town.

“Do you have a date of birth?” Finn headed over to his desk and sat down at his computer. “I can find him in the database.”

“I don’t, but I plan on going back over to see Lenora in the morning. I’ve got a bunch of questions to ask her and him.” I tapped the board with the dry erase marker. “Think about it. Rich just got out of jail. He has no money. Lenora said that Woody loved telling Rich the story. I overheard him practically threatening the nurse from the rehab center and then he disappeared from the funeral?” I asked.

I walked over to my desk, unzipping my bag to get out my notebook where I’d made bullet points to Lenora’s statement.

“There doesn’t seem to be anymore items taken but those,” I finished saying and put the notebook back on the desk, taking another look at the white board.

“You are very observant.” Finn clicked away on the computer. “Richard Moss,” he said and the back light of the monitor twinkled in his eyes. “Write this down.”

He leaned closer to his computer and I walked back over, picking up a marker. The printer started to run.

“I just printed his file and photo. Richard Moss theft charges include  felonious assault.” Which we knew was an assault with a deadly weapon. “Assault with intent to commit great bodily harm less than murder,” he read as I wrote. “One was a pawn shop and another a jewelry store.”

“A jewelry store and we have missing cuff links.” I wrote down everything he was saying and took a few steps back from the white board.

“Jewelry and guns are number one items burglaries look for when casing a home.” Finn made a great point.

“We have the facts and the arrests that Rich likes to knock off jewelry stores. It looks like we have a very good tie here. But probably not enough to get an arrest.”

“It’s enough for a warrant and find the cuff links.” Finn’s brows lifted. He was waiting for a signal for me to give him the okay to call the judge after hours to get the paperwork.

“Get it. I’ll text Scott to go pick it up and head over to Lenora’s house to look around in Rich’s stuff.” It was a first step to getting Rich back in jail where he apparently belonged. “While you do that, I’m going to head home and grab a quick shower before we take your parents to my parents.”

“They are going to love you,” he looked up from the computer with a big grin on his face.

“Let’s hope so.” I sashayed over to Finn and gave him a kiss. “If not, we are in trouble.”

“Why?” he asked and narrowed his eyes with a sight chin turn.

“There’s no way it could ever work out if your parents didn’t like me.” My words made him laugh. “I’m serious, Finley.”

“Finley?” He pushed back off his desk and folded his arms across his chest. “You are serious.”

“I am.” I leaned my hip on his desk. “My parents love you, but I’m a girl. It’s the mama’s of boys who seem to have the difficult time with the girlfriends. I could never date a man who’s parents don’t love me.”

He stood up and walked around the desk, grabbing my hands and stood an arm’s length away.

“You have nothing to worry about. What’s not to love?” He grinned before he tipped his head to give me a kiss that told me everything was going to be okay.

The reassurance instantly made me feel so much better.

“I’m sure I’m just worried over nothing.” The truth of the matter was that I had a weird feeling. My gut was generally right in the case of investigations and all things that came to run the sheriff’s department. “I’ll see you in a few.” I patted my leg. “Let’s go, Duke.”

The sheriff’s department was located in the back of Cowboy’s Catfish, a restaurant located downtown Cottonwood on Main Street. It might see strange to some people that the department was located in a restaurant, but not in a small Kentucky town like Cottonwood. Our department, until recently, had consisted of Betty, Finn, and me. We had three desks along with one cell. There wasn’t much need for much more, even though Deputy Scott Lee had recently been helping out and hopefully soon be on as fulltime.

The only problem having the department in the room behind Cowboy’s was the fact my stomach always rumbled to life and parking on Main Street instead of the alley behind the department probably wasn’t the best thing to do today since I’d been trying to hold off on eating until we had supper with our parents.

“I’ve got you something good to take home,” Bartleby Fry, owner of Cowboy’s Catfish, hollered out from the grill when Duke and I walked by. “I put it under the heat lamps.”

He gestured to the brown to go bag sitting on the ledge where he puts the finished plates for the wait staff to take to the customers.

“You are the best.” I probably shouldn’t have taken it since I was having supper, but it would keep until tomorrow. Besides, I wasn’t in the mood to even tell Bartleby my plans. Not only would I never hear the end of it, the rest of the town would know before I’d even made it home. Gossip spread that fast around these parts.

“Don’t you worry.” He shook his spatula at Duke. “I’ve got a few things in there for you too.”

Duke tossed his ears back, threw his nose up in the air and let out a howl.

“You’re the best.” I grabbed the bag on the way out the push through door between the kitchen and the restaurant.

“Sheriff,” Mayor Chance Ryland and Polly, his wife, greeted me from one of the windows next to the front door.

“Mayor.” I nodded at him. “Polly.”

“Kenni.” Polly’s pretty little button nose curled, and her blue eyes stared at Duke. “Must he go everywhere?”

“He must.” I smiled. “Have a great night.”

“Are you off for the day?” Chance pulled up the sleeve of his suit and looked at his watch. “Isn’t it a bit early? I mean, you could be working on the Moss break-in.”

“Don’t you worry. Now that I’ve got Deputy Lee, he’s taking a lot of the load off of me, so I can make sure the rest of Cottonwood is safe.” I drummed my fingertips on their table and gripped the to-go bag.

“Isn’t he temporary?” Polly asked and grinned, showing her big, white horse teeth. To this day I still think Beverly Houston, our local dentist, should be scolded for giving Polly those big veneers.

“Hopefully after this weeks council meeting, he’ll be hired on as full time.” I gave the table one last tap. A hard tap. “I’ve got to get going.”

“Sheriff,” Chance stopped me. “I wouldn’t count on the council approving your request.”

One thing I didn’t let people do was walk all over me. I was the first woman sheriff in Cottonwood and when I was first elected, all the men in the town tried to walk all over me, but I stood my ground. Mayor Ryland was the worst one. He was as cold as a cast iron commode. I was on a mission to warm that seat up.

“We haven’t had the meeting yet,” I reminded him and gave a good Baptist nod. “Have a good evening.”

“You keep me up to date on the Moss break-in,” he called after me as I pushed through the door.

end of excerpt

Diggin’ Up the Dirt

is available in the following formats:

Tonya Kappes Books

Oct 19, 2021

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