Barking Up the Wrong Tree

By: Juliette Poe

A Sex and Sweet Tea Novel




CHAPTER 1




Pap

The door to Chesty’s opens, and I’m stunned to see my twin granddaughters walking in. So stunned, I check my watch.

Yup… only three on a Friday. Since they are both local business owners, they rarely take an afternoon off. It’s almost unheard of for them to be free at the same time.

“Not that I’m complaining,” I say as they head my way, “but to what do I owe the pleasure?”

The girls grin as they take the two stools to my immediate right. Sam-Pete is there, putting down two frothy mugs of beer that he started pouring the minute they walked in. Business is slow right now, but it will start picking up in a few hours.

Larkin, the younger of the identicals by roughly two minutes, though seemingly more mature, gives a quick smile to Sam-Pete as Laken pulls a twenty-dollar bill out to hand to him. “Her drinks are on me this afternoon, as are Pap’s.”

Sam-Pete nods and takes the money, turning to the register.

“And take a few bucks for yourself,” Laken calls after him.

At age thirty, the girls are nearly identical. Up until a few weeks ago, they had the same long hair parted on the same side, but then Larkin cut hers off. Past that, though, their faces and mannerisms are the same. Larkin’s a tiny bit heavier than Laken. But in my opinion, it’s so hard to tell that you can’t really use that as a go by. It’s the hairstyles that set them apart now.

“Why are you buying drinks this afternoon?” I ask Laken, who’s sitting between Larkin and me.

“Well,” Laken says after taking a long pull off her beer and setting it down. “You’re my pap and you always buy my drinks, so I’m just pre-empting you today. As for Larkin, I owe her since she helped me out in the clinic today.”

“Why’s that?”

“Because she doesn’t know how to hire competent staff,” Larkin says as she leans forward to look me in the eye.

Laken rolls her eyes at her sister and then admits to me, “Jenks quit this morning.”

“Jenks Peterson was working for you?” I ask in surprise.

He’s a moron.

“I know, I know,” Laken says with frustration, then takes an even larger pull on her beer. “But I’m not a great office manager. I went to vet school to practice animal medicine, not to be an overlord.”

Larkin snickers, but doesn’t say a word. While her sister owns the area’s only veterinary practice, Larkin is also an entrepreneur as she opened the town’s only bakery about five years ago. It’s done amazingly well, and Larkin is definitely more business-minded than her sister.

“Well, as much as I appreciate the beer,” Larkin tells her sister, “I can’t keep coming to your rescue with my own business to run.”

“I know,” Laken huffs out in exasperation.

The door to Chesty’s flies open so forcefully the girls jump on their stools. We all turn to see who could be making such a statement, as most people tend to just politely push the door open in more of a sauntering fashion when entering this bar.

The bright afternoon sun outside doesn’t reveal much other than the large figure of a man standing there, legs planted wide and one arm holding the door open as he looks around inside.

“Can I help you?” I call out, because my gut instinct says he’s not here for a beer.

The man steps inside and lets the tinted glass door swing shut behind him. Laken mutters an, “Oh, my,” as we take him in further.

He’s a big boy. Tall as Colt at least and maybe twice as thick, and I don’t mean fat. I mean muscles that pull and stretch at his shirt and pants.

Oddly, the man is dressed as if he just got off work in a bank. The shirt is a button down and looks expensively tailored, as do his pants. He’s wearing a tie that’s been pulled loose around his neck with the top two buttons of his shirt undone. His hair is wet, his face is drenched with sweat and there are large stains under his armpits and across his chest.

His clothes are filthy, covered with the signature red clay that’s found in this area, along with grass stains. There’s a large streak of dirt on his forehead where he’s obviously tried to wipe sweat away using mud-covered hands. I note his shoes are almost completely covered with wet clay.