Authors: Neil S. Plakcy
Tags: #humorous mysteries, #pennsylvania, #dog mysteries, #cozy mystery, #academic mysteries, #golden retriever
for the Golden Retriever Mysteries:
Mr. Plakcy did a
terrific job in this cozy mystery. He had a smooth writing style that kept the
story flowing evenly. The dialogue and descriptions were right on target.
Steve and Rochester
become quite a team and Neil Plakcy is the kind of writer that I want to tell
me this story. It's a fun read which will keep you turning pages very quickly.
Amos Lassen – Amazon top 100 reviewer
We who love our
dogs know that they are wiser than we are, and Plakcy captures that feeling
perfectly with the relationship between Steve and Rochester.
-- Christine Kling,
author of Circle of Bones
In Dog We Trust
is a very
well-crafted mystery that kept me guessing up until Steve figured out where
things were going. --E-book addict reviews
Autumn has come to
Bucks County, and Steve Levitan has a new job: develop a conference center for
Eastern College at Friar Lake, a few miles from campus. But on his first visit
to the property, his golden retriever Rochester makes a disturbing discovery, a
human hand rising from the dirt at the lake’s shore.
Whose hand is it?
Why was the body buried there? The answers will take Steve, his photographer
girlfriend Lili, and the ever-faithful Rochester to a drop-in center for recovering
drug addicts on the Lower East Side, a decaying church in Philadelphia’s
Germantown, and finally to a confrontation with a desperate killer.
Dog Bless You
Neil S. Plakcy
Copyright 2013 Neil S.
This book is a work of fiction. Names,
characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s
imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or
locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved, including the right of
reproduction in whole or in part in any form.
My beloved Samwise accompanied me on my
amazing journey to publication, whether he was curled up protectively behind my
computer chair or exuberantly tugging me down the street on our long walks
together. I miss him every day. Brody came into our lives a few months after
Sam left, a bundle of adorable golden retriever puppy energy wrapped in soft
white fur. He has staked his claim to our hearts and begun to put his own
pawprints on my books.
I wouldn’t be where I am today without
Marc’s love and support. A big sloppy golden thank you to Miriam Auerbach,
Christine Jackson, Christine Kling, Kris Montee and especially Sharon Potts,
for their help in bringing this book together. Puppy kisses to Jackie Conrad,
DVM, for advice and friendship. And as usual, any mistakes in this book are my
own errors and no one else’s.
Smashwords edition 2013
“Rochester!” I said, skidding to a stop in the kitchen just
before I stepped into a big pile of dog vomit.
My goofy golden retriever was sprawled on the tile a
few feet beyond the mess, a sad expression on his usually cheerful face. “Why
did you have to do this today, dog? I don’t have time to mess around.”
Normally in the mornings Rochester was a bundle of energy,
ready to go for a long walk, then ride to work with me and spend the day
sleeping in a sunny place in my office at Eastern College. He looked up at me
with wide, apologetic eyes, and I reached down to pet the soft fur on the top
of his head. “I’m sorry, puppy. I know you didn’t get sick on purpose.”
I stepped around the liquid mess, unrolled a few paper
towels, and got to work cleaning up. Rochester was a friendly, happy dog but he
had a tendency to snoop into everything and put a lot of crap in his mouth that
didn’t belong there or in his digestive tract. When I finished I gave him an
anti-diarrheal pill inside a piece of cheese. He gobbled the cheese and spit
the pill out, then grinned at me.
“Fine, we’ll do it old school.” I pried open his jaw
and dropped the pill into his mouth, massaging his throat until he swallowed. I
watched him carefully to make sure he didn’t upchuck the pill, and when I was
satisfied I hooked up his leash.
He scrambled to his feet and tugged me toward the front
door, then down the driveway. It was a warm morning in mid-July, bright
sunshine sparkling on the dew-soaked lawns, and the temperature promised to
climb into the eighties. We’d had a lot of summer rain, and I had to drag
Rochester past puddles of standing water and avoid a couple of lawns that were
more mud than grass.
We lived in a townhouse community called River Bend, a
mile north of the center of the small Bucks County, Pennsylvania town of
Stewart’s Crossing, where I had grown up. It was built as the Soviet Union was
collapsing, and all the streets bore names of Eastern European cities.
We walked down our street, Sarajevo Court, Rochester
sniffing and peeing and me observing the neighborhood. The Camerons’ springer
spaniel was whimpering in their gated courtyard, and one corner of the covering
Bob Freehl kept over his vintage Porsche had come loose in the wind. Air
conditioners hummed and in the distance I heard the whistle of a train.
I looked at my watch. Still plenty of time to get to
work before my appointment with my boss, Mike MacCormac, the director of the
college’s fund-raising campaign. I didn’t know what it was about; summer is a
slow time in academia, and I was surprised over the weekend when he texted me
with a request for a nine o’clock meeting. Had I done something wrong?
Alienated a donor or a reporter? Forgotten about a deadline?
I was still obsessing as we rounded a curve in the
street and I saw Phil and Marie Keely’s son Owen sitting on the low stone wall
in front of their townhouse, smoking a cigarette. The Keelys were both in their
sixties; Phil had the kind of flushed face I associated with habitual drinkers,
and Marie had suffered a stroke that required her to use a walker. Owen had
moved in with them about a month before.
“Morning, Owen,” I said as Rochester stopped to sniff
the base of an oak tree in front of the house.
“Good morning, sir.” I found it weird that Owen was so
formal, when I was probably only about fifteen years older than he was. I
figured it was some vestige of the military.
He had close-cropped dark blond hair and a thin
mustache in the same color. His upper arms were covered in colorful tattoos,
and he wore sleeveless T-shirts to show them off. He was in his late twenties,
the youngest of three kids, and I wondered what chain of events had brought him
back to his parents’ house.
“Hey, boy,” he said, getting up and approaching
Rochester. “How’s the puppy?”
Rochester backed away from him. “It’s okay, boy,” Owen
said quietly. He held his hand out palm up for Rochester to sniff, but my dog
“Sorry,” I said. “He’s not feeling so good this
Owen shrugged. “Not a problem. I had a dog over in
Afghanistan just about his color, though more like a lab mix.”
“A military dog?”
He shook his head. “Just a mutt that attached itself to
my unit. But he always liked me best.” He smiled. “He’s still back there, my
buddy says. Hanging around, scrounging food, looking for a belly rub now and
Rochester tugged me forward. “Have a good day,” I said.
Owen took a drag on his cigarette and sat back down on
the wall. Ahead of us, an old Thunderbird with big patches of primer cruised
slowly down the street. The driver passed us, then beeped his horn.
I turned around to see Owen stub out his cigarette in
the driveway and then get into the T-bird, which accelerated away.
Most people in River Bend are friendly. I knew the dogs
Rochester played with by name, as well as some of their affiliated humans. Kids
played ball in the street and ran in and out of their friends’ houses. It was a
lot like the suburban neighborhood a few miles away where I had grown up.
But that morning was the first time I’d had a
conversation with Owen Keely. I guessed it was hard for him, coming back from
the war, living with his parents again. I wished Rochester had been nicer to
Half a block later, the dog let loose a stinky stream
of diarrhea. “I guess you really don’t feel well, boy,” I said, leaning down to
pat his head. “We’ll go see Dr. Horz and get you fixed up.” I struggled to pick
up what I could in a plastic bag, and hoped that a rain shower would wash the
I hadn’t always been a dog lover. Rochester and I first
met soon after my next-door neighbor, Caroline Kelly, had adopted him. When
Caroline was murdered a few months later, I took the big goof in for a couple
of days, leading to a permanent love affair.
Back at the house, I wiped his butt and placed an
emergency call to the vet’s. Then I laid towels on the passenger seat of my elderly
BMW sedan and loaded the dog in. Usually Rochester loves riding with me,
sitting up on his haunches and sticking his head out the window. But that July
morning he curled up on the seat with his head resting on my lap.
I put another towel between his head and my leg, and
drove as quickly as I could to the vet’s. The Beemer was one of the last
vestiges of my old life; I had bought it new when I was a successful executive
in Silicon Valley, and a friend had kept it for me while I was a guest of the
California state prison system for a relatively minor computer hacking offense.
By the time I got out, I was nearly broke and couldn’t afford to buy anything
else. It had survived the drive across country, though it had developed a rattle
under the hood which needed a mechanic’s attention.
We walked into the vet’s waiting room, which smelled
like wet dog and disinfectant. “Steve Levitan with Rochester,” I said to the
receptionist, and then we found ourselves a spot across from a yippy Yorkie and
a baleful basset. One of the morning shows was playing on the TV in the corner,
a young blonde with her frowny face on, talking about the poor state of the
The Yorkie across from us launched into paroxysms of
barking at the entrance of a skinny, demonic-looking Papillon, whose pointy
ears stuck out of its head like antennae. I rubbed my sweet dog under the chin.
“You feeling any better, boy?” I asked.
Rochester looked at me and I thought he smiled. Then he
dry-heaved as Elysia, the vet tech, approached.
“Somebody’s not feeling well, huh?” she asked, kneeling
down to the dog’s level. She was a round-faced older woman with an Italian
accent, and usually Rochester loved to see her, but he put his head down
instead of licking her face. “Poor baby. We’ll get you into a room so Dr. Horz
can see you.”
I stood up and took Rochester’s leash, and we followed
Elysia inside to the floor-mounted scale, which looked more like a treadmill to
me. I tried to get Rochester to step up on it but he planted his big paws on
the tile floor and wouldn’t move.
“Go on, you big goof.” I pushed against his
hindquarters and he looked at me woefully. But he wouldn’t move, no matter how I
tugged. Was he remembering a bad experience there? The vet and her techs had
always been so good to him. Or was he just being difficult?
I lifted his front paws onto the scale, and reluctantly
he stepped forward. “Eighty pounds,” Elysia said approvingly. “Good boy.” Then
she led us to the first examining room, the one with illustrated posters of
canine digestive and respiratory systems.
“I know, you don’t like this,” Elysia said, squatting
on the floor next to Rochester, who had sprawled out on his stomach. “But I
need your temperature.”
She lifted his tail and inserted the thermometer. I sat
on the floor next to Rochester and scratched behind his ears, and told him what
a good boy he was. Then I held his head as Elysia retrieved a stool sample. Not
for the first time, I was glad my parents had pushed me to go to college so I
could get a job that didn’t involve investigating dog poop.
Oh, wait. I got up close and personal with it every
Elysia left us in the room. Rochester rolled on his side
and snoozed. I paced around the room, trying to figure out what Mike wanted to
talk to me about. Eastern College was my alma mater, “a very good small
college,” nestled in the countryside halfway between Philadelphia and New York,
focused on teaching and making students feel unique. The campus was in
Leighville, a half hour north of Stewart’s Crossing.
It had been a hectic couple of months. I lucked into
the job in January, after spending a semester as an adjunct instructor in the
English department. I had been immediately plunged into the launch of the
college’s capital campaign in the winter, then kept busy with graduation
festivities. But as the semester ended, it was hard to keep the publicity
momentum going when many of the faculty left town.
I looked at my watch and realized I wasn’t going to be
able to make my nine o’clock meeting. I hoped Mike wasn’t too angry with me; I
knew he had a busy schedule and a short temper and wouldn’t like postponing the
I pulled out my cell phone to call him as Dr. Horz came
in. “Sorry to keep you waiting,” she said. “But we’re busy this morning. We’ve
got a St. Bernard in the back whelping her twelfth puppy.” She was a small,
slim woman with prematurely gray hair. I slipped my phone back in my pocket as
she knelt down next to Rochester and said, “Good morning to you, handsome.
What’s the matter?”
He looked up at her with the kind of doggy adoration he
usually reserved for me. She gave him a thorough physical, and then Elysia
brought in the results of the stool sample. “No evidence of bacterial
infection,” Dr. Horz said, after she glanced at them. “Probably just ate
something outdoors that didn’t agree with him. I’ll have Elysia come in with
some pills to calm his tummy down, and if he’s not a hundred percent in a
couple of days, bring him back.”
As we were waiting, my phone buzzed with the
five-minute reminder of my meeting. “Shit,” I said, looking down.
I dialed Mike and was relieved when he answered right
“Sorry, puppy emergency,” I said. “Rochester ate
something that disagreed with him and I had to bring him to the vet. Can I push
back our meeting an hour?”
Mike was a dog lover himself, with a pair of
Rottweilers. “My boys do that once or twice a year. Rochester will be right as
rain in no time.”
“That’s what the vet said. I’m waiting for some pills
“I’ve got to head out to meet with a prospect,” Mike
said. “I was hoping to give you this news face to face, but Babson wants to
talk to you at eleven, and I don’t want you to go in there unprepared.”
That made me nervous. John William Babson was the
college president, and the ultimate micro-manager. He had his finger in
everything that went on, from faculty hiring to the choice of new outdoor trash
receptacles. I met with him whenever he had a brilliant idea he wanted to pass
along to me. But the meetings were always scheduled by his secretary, not by
Mike. He hesitated and my bad feeling intensified.
“Babson’s happy with all the publicity you got for the
campaign launch. But now that we’re moving along, he wants to consolidate all
public relations activities.”
I’d worked cooperatively with the News Bureau, which
tracked the College’s media exposure and provided journalists with access to
faculty experts. Ruta del Camion, a recent Eastern graduate who was the
department’s sole employee, was struggling to keep up with those activities. I
had used my background in database development to reorganize our digital alumni
records, and my writing skills to develop stories about faculty research and
student achievements, which I passed on to reporters.
I’d always known my job was going to be a temporary
one, but I’d thought I would have at least another few months of full-time work
before I was back on the job market. I was still following up on a couple of
stories about graduating seniors with stellar accomplishments, and developing a
series focused on incoming freshmen with quirky backgrounds.