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Till Dirt Do Us Part: Pecan Bayou, #7

Till Dirt Do Us Part: Pecan Bayou, #7

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Till Dirt Do Us Part: Pecan Bayou, #7

4/5 (1 rating)
224 pages
2 hours
Apr 24, 2017


Not everything stays buried. When Betsy, a notorious brown thumb gets roped into a gardening contest sponsored by the Pecan Bayou Gazette, she finds herself digging up more than weeds. She is ridiculed by the garden club ladies, and now her heart breaks for a newly single mom whose world has just collapsed.  The Happy Hinter is back so take some time to revisit the cozy little town Pecan Bayou, Texas. Grab a glass of sweet tea before you turn the dirt in the garden and sit a spell with all your favorite characters who dole out heartfelt caring and compassion with a side of humor.  Till Dirt Do Us Part includes bonus recipes and helpful hints from Betsy's column!

Apr 24, 2017

About the author

Teresa Trent writes the Pecan Bayou and Piney Woods Mystery Series, both of which take place in Texas. Pecan Bayou is in the Hill Country of Texas and Piney Woods is in East Texas. Same state, two completely different places. Teresa lives in Houston Texas with her family and has been writing mysteries for over a decade. You can visit her website at TeresaTrent.com.

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Till Dirt Do Us Part - Teresa Trent


Betsy, darlin’, I don’t know how you get yourself into these messes. Aunt Maggie stood in the bright sunshine as a parade of ants made their way up the sidewalk. My yard held the charms of glorious red oak trees and a nice patch of grass. My family’s addition to the outdoor area included a yellow-and-blue swing set and a little red wagon with our sons’ bikes precariously leaned against it. From today on, we would look at this green space differently. Now my yard held a brand-new garden. I pulled my chestnut-brown hair back into a ponytail. I was overdue for a cut, but there just never seemed to be time to get down to the Best Little Hairhouse in Texas.

I think it can be surmised in one word and one word only. Rocky. Rocky Whitson was my boss and a major pain in the asparagus at the Pecan Bayou Gazette. Our little paper covered all the news in our tiny Texas town, and when there wasn’t any news, Rocky made an effort to create some. His latest idea was to have the Best Garden in Pecan Bayou contest. Of course, he decided that in my position as the Happy Hinter, the writer of the local helpful hints column, I too should participate and give him reports in the field. I just wished I didn’t have to be in an actual field. My job would be to turn in weekly reports highlighting the ups and downs of being an amateur gardener. Amateur being the operative word. Was I a gardener? Did I anxiously await the fresh crinkle of seed catalogs every January? Did I love the sound of bees buzzing in the morning?


I was notorious for killing plants. It was so bad that my children gave me fake flowers on Mother’s Day. Still, here I was in the backyard of my home with a brand-new set of planter boxes and the entire shelf of gardening books from the Pecan Bayou library, including the official Texas gardening manual.

I clumsily tried to turn the pages of the manual with my new green plastic-coated gardening gloves. I picked them because they had vegetables printed in the soft cotton material of the gloves. Maybe I could cause the brightly colored carrots and broccoli to somehow encourage the real plants I would try to grow. According to the manual, we should put the tomatoes over there in the bright sun.

Aunt Maggie held her hand up to her eyes as she surveyed the patch of the yard we were now calling the garden. Well, your boxes look good. Leo and Judd did a great job putting them together. All you need now is plenty of sunshine, water, and maybe a little fertilizer now and again. You can’t have the beauty without a little poo-ty. It should be lovely, dear.

My new planter boxes gave off the scent of fresh wood from the lumber store and had only cost us a little too much money to build. Now I had another problem: I needed at least fifteen inches of dirt in each box. Luckily at the suggestion of Maggie, I called up our local garden store, Sprouts, and ordered dirt to be delivered to our home.

How much garden dirt did you need there, Betsy? Joe Phillips, the owner, asked as the ring of the cash register echoed in the background.

I guess I’m going to need a lot. I have ten planter boxes that I need to fill. How much would that be?

Don’t rightly know. It depends on how big your planter boxes are. Did you want a bed full?

That sounded simple. It had to be like a cord of wood—a pickup truck full. Yes. That’s how much I want. I was pleased it had been as simple as that. Need to add to your garden? Pick up the phone, and you can fill your garden with glorious, healthy dirt.

Joe had agreed to provide a seed kit for the members of the gardening contest so everyone would have the same setup for the competition. And the seed box is ready?

Yes, ma’am.

And no Brussels sprouts, right?


I was glad to hear that because of all the vegetables I hated, I had to hate Brussels sprouts the most. Little green bitter balls were not my idea of a quality side dish.

Later in the day, I ran out and picked up a set of five little tomato plants and the bag of seeds Joe had put together for me. He sorted everything and labeled them in small plastic bags.

When will the dirt be delivered?

Joe sealed up the box. Should be there in just a little while. Be patient. These plants aren’t going to die in a few hours.

Apparently, he didn’t know my reputation. The tomatoes looked so green and healthy with their little leaves just curling out perfectly. These babies were ready to go. And I was going to get to have fresh tomatoes all summer. I wouldn’t be dependent on what Maggie brought me from her garden. I don’t know why I’d never picked up gardening before. And Maggie always had a beautiful garden year round with fresh vegetables and flowers.

I did most of my vegetable picking in the grocery aisle. This year would be different. It was about time, really. I was now the mother of three children who needed to have the experience of watching things grow off of the land. The oldest—my stepson, Tyler—was in high school, my middle son, Zach, was in junior high, and our baby, Coco, was attending Chickadee Learning Academy. I hated the fact that she loved it as much as she did, but at least with her going to daycare a few hours a day, I was getting a semblance of my life back. It’s a hard thing to acknowledge that it’s okay for your baby to spend some time away from you. Since she had started attending Chickadee’s, she was beginning to know her colors and even a few letters of the alphabet. Even with all that academic progress, I felt guilty. Being a mother is a twenty-four-hour job. You spend half your time taking care of them and the other half worrying about them.

It was February in Pecan Bayou, and the last official freeze date was usually somewhere from mid-February to the beginning of March. It was early to be planting a garden anywhere but the southern half of the country. February felt like March and April further north, and our long hot Octobers were a muggy August elsewhere. Texas really has two growing seasons. The first starts in February and lasts up to the heat of July. Then the high temperatures stay around until Texans buy their turkeys for Thanksgiving. This would be my first spring-to-summer garden. Even though there were other established gardeners in Pecan Bayou, like Delta Haney—known for her gigantic tomatoes—and Enid Sanford—the woman who single-handedly grew enough okra to feed the whole town at the gumbo festival last year—I knew I could do it. I could grow a garden. I could be as good as anybody else in town. What did it take? Some seed, some water, and some dirt? I, Betsy Livingston Fitzpatrick, The Helpful Hinter, could grow a garden. Maybe I’d double my income and start writing a gardening column? How difficult could it be?

That night, still without dirt, Leo and I attended Tyler’s JV basketball game. It was a nail-biter, and Tyler seemed to be repeating his football experience by spending more time on the bench than in the game, but he did get to run up and down the court a few times. We trudged into the house around ten after a postgame trip to the new frozen yogurt shop. Coco had fallen asleep in the car on the way home and went up the stairs snuggled against Leo’s shoulder. After getting her nestled safely in her crib, I headed downstairs to lock the doors. As I turned out the lights on the back porch, my view was blocked by a gigantic mass in the backyard.

Oh my gosh.

Leo came around the corner. Betsy, are you all right? There was an edge to his voice. Leo had learned that sometimes I found myself in a little more trouble than the average mate. I’d had just a few showdowns with killers, and he was a real nervous Nelly.

I pointed out the window. Look at that.

Look at what? Leo shrugged his shoulders, making me aware of the fact his mind-reading abilities were lousy.

There’s a giant mountain of something in the backyard. I turned on the porch light, and we stepped outside.

Looks like dirt to me.

Oh my gosh. A bed full.

A bed full?

That’s what Joe at Sprouts said. I was thinking about as much dirt as there would be in the back of somebody’s pickup. That’s enough dirt to fill a dump truck.

Leo leaned toward the window to get a better look. I think you have enough dirt to outfit every garden in town. How much is this costing us?

With all of the gardening supplies, the wood for the boxes, and now this dirt dump, our money-saving garden was turning into a money-eating monstrosity. I was reminded of the plant from Little Shop of Horrors smiling and licking his chops after saying, Feed Me, Seymour.

I tried to minimize. Oh, not that much. I’m sure it was on sale.

A look of relief came over my husband’s features. Yeah, that’s what you get when you buy in bulk, Leo agreed. I wasn’t sure how long that would last, but for tonight, my budget overrun would go unnoticed.

I guess I’ll start filling the boxes in the morning. What’s your favorite vegetable?

My favorite vegetable? That’s tough. I really like tomatoes.

Then that will be the first thing I plant. Fresh tomatoes on the table. Won’t that be wonderful? As opposed to the fresh tomatoes the grocery store had always supplied with no dirt involved whatsoever.

Can’t wait. Leo kissed me and turned to go upstairs. I looked back at the dark foreboding mountain that I was now expected to move. Damn that Rocky. How was it my back already hurt and I hadn’t even lifted a shovel?

It was nine-thirty the next morning when my aunt Maggie rushed through the door to see our newest addition, a giant pile of dirt. She had just dropped my cousin Danny at his day habilitation center for adults with developmental delays. I had also deposited Coco at Chickadee’s and had to make only one trip back when we forgot her lunch.

Aunt Maggie came striding into my kitchen, her small five-foot frame in a hummingbird sweatshirt, and her blue plastic handbag hung over her forearm. I’m here now. What in the world were you so upset about on the phone?

I took Maggie by the hand and walked her out to the backyard. This.

Aunt Maggie’s eyes widened as she took it in. Lord a mighty, girl, how much dirt did you order?

A bed full?

Well, I think you’ll have enough for the job and then some. Aunt Maggie’s words were an attempt at comfort.

So here’s my question. Is there any easy way to get all of that dirt shoveled into the garden boxes?

Sure, it’s as simple as anything. You take the shovel and put the wide soup spoon–like end in the dirt, and then you put the dirt into the planter box. I did not enjoy my aunt’s humor in the least. She reached over and took the shovel that was resting up against the back of the house.

Have at it, little girl. You’ve got a lot of work to do.

Butch scratched on the back door wanting to come out. I normally would have let him, but for some reason, he was fidgety today and kept barking at the dirt pile. It was a little much for a dog’s headspace to suddenly have a mountain spring up in his yard. I took the shovel and thrust it deep down into the pile and walked over to dump the dirt into a planting box. Somehow, yesterday, that planting box didn’t look that huge. That little shovelful barely grazed the bottom of the box. It was going to be a long, long day. In my heart of hearts right then, I made a decision. A judgment call, if you will. I. Hate. Gardening.

Do you want me to run home and get my shovel to help you out? Maggie asked.

I turned and faced, her giving her my big brown eyes that could have been in a velvet painting. Would you?

Well, I’m not the woman I used to be, but I could help a little bit. Right then and there I loved my Aunt Maggie. She was always there for me in times like this.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I groveled.

You’re welcome. She looked at me as if I didn’t need to bow at her feet. She would’ve done it anyway.

I stuck the spade back into the dirt, renewed with the thought of having help. Yes. I could do this. But instead of going deep into the pile as the first shovel thrust had, I hit on something hard.

What is that? I pulled the shovel out and then touched at the lump with the tip of the blade.


There’s something in this. Something hard. I dropped the shovel and started pushing the dirt away using my hands. Sifting through the small granules of dark-brown soil, I uncovered what looked like an orange T-shirt. The T-shirt was apparently filled with something, so I scraped at it some more and realized there was an arm attached to the shirt. I had been delivered more than a bed full of dirt. I had been delivered a dead man.


So, do you know who it is? I asked.

The body was now completely uncovered. It was a man in an orange T-shirt and blue jeans. His tan work boots were filthy with dirt, and a blue Texas Rangers baseball cap covered his face. I knew this because periodically I’d glance over, but then I couldn’t stand it and looked away.

The Pecan Bayou Police Department arrived within ten minutes of my frantic phone call. This crime scene task force consisted of my father and his new officer, Lionel Boyle, a transfer from Andersonville. Boyle was a middle-aged man who had moved to Pecan Bayou to be closer to his mother. The only problem was, Lionel didn’t particularly like his mother. His attitude at home often came to work with him.

And you’re sure you didn’t have anything against this guy? he asked as he ran his hand over his smoothly shaved head. I wasn’t sure, but I almost thought he was assuming I was on the suspect list. Didn’t he know I was Judd’s daughter?

How could I have anything against him when I didn’t even know him? I countered.

Can you prove that? You have to admit it looks pretty strange finding him dead right here in your yard, he scowled at me, one eyelid closing halfway. Was that an involuntary muscle response or was this guy winking at me? I wished for my father’s usual partner, Elaina. She was off this week on vacation with Adam Holt, our district attorney. Their wedding date was set for this summer, that is if Elaina survived the wicked wedding planning world of white satin.

Gee, Officer, I don’t think I can prove a fact if it doesn’t exist. Talk to my dad there, he can set you straight on my character, I answered.

Aunt Maggie leaned in. She finds bodies. That’s what she does.

My father, Lieutenant Judd Kelsey, ran his fingers under his gray mustache as he examined the poor soul who had been buried under my bed full of dirt. He bent closer, hand on one knee of the dark navy pants that were a part of his uniform. Reaching into the man’s pocket, he took out a cheap vinyl cowhide wallet. I was trying very hard not to look at the man’s face, partially hidden under the blue baseball cap. Was there a look of terror frozen on his features? Were his eyes wide open underneath the brim?

Looks like a gunshot wound on the side of his head. My guess would be self-inflicted from the looks of the rest of him.  His name is Wade Atwood. My dad reached for the ball cap, and I turned to face Aunt Maggie, putting the scene out of my vision. Maggie was also choosing to keep her distance from her brother as he performed his duties as a lieutenant in the Pecan Bayou police department. Looks familiar, but I don’t rightly know where I’ve seen him. Anybody you know, Boyle?

Boyle walked over and pulled up the ball cap and then cupped the dead man’s face in his hands.

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