Dog Helps Those (Golden Retriever Mysteries)

BOOK: Dog Helps Those (Golden Retriever Mysteries)
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Dog Helps Those

 

By Neil S. Plakcy

 

Copyright 2011 Neil S. Plakcy

 

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, Mike Jastrzebski, Christine Jackson, Christine Kling and especially Sharon Potts, for their help in bringing this book together. Puppy kisses to Jackie Conrad, DVM, for advice about cobra venom. Gratitude also to my professors at Columbia Business School, who gave me enough insight into the world of high finance to be able to write about angel investors and stock funds—though as usual, any mistakes in this book are my own errors and no one else’s.

1 – Agility Training
 

"And you said I went dog crazy when Rochester came to live with me.” I shook my head and looked around my friend Rick’s fenced-in back yard.He had arranged poles, tubes, and a kids’ teeter-totter to form an obstacle course. “What is all this stuff?”

“It’s for agility training,” Rick said. “Before you go any farther, Steve, I know. I’m puppy whipped. This is all for Rascal.”

I adopted my golden retriever, Rochester, when his previous owner, my next-door-neighbor, was murdered. Seeing me and Rochester together made Rick want his own dog. Just after Christmas, he brought home Rascal, a black and white Australian shepherd from the Bucks County Animal Shelter in Lahaska. And now, barely five months later, he was as crazy about his dog as I was about mine.

“What’s agility training?” I asked Rick, leaning up against the chain-link fence.

Rick and I went to high school together, and met up again when I returned home to Stewart’s Crossing after a marriage, a divorce and a brief incarceration for computer hacking. Rick become a patrol cop, then police detective; he’d put on a few pounds in the twenty-some years since high school, but hadn’t we all. He had bags below his eyes and a couple of laugh lines around his mouth. Otherwise he looked the same; unruly mop of brown hair, broad shoulders, athletic build.

“It’s an obstacle course that Rascal and I run together,” he said.

“You climb through that tunnel?” I pointed at a long polystyrene tube with intermittent ridges that held its shape.

Rick shook his head. “I lead him through everything and reward him when he does it right.”

 The two dogs were lolling next to each other in the shade of a big maple tree, lush with new buds. They had sniffed each other, then raced around the yard for a while, until they collapsed together, their tongues hanging out.

It was hot out back in the bright sunshine, so I peeled off my windbreaker and tossed it on the fence. “Show me.”

Rick reached into his pocket and pulled out a dog treat in the shape of a tiny T-bone steak. “Rascal want to play?”

The shepherd jumped up and rushed over to Rick, sitting on his haunches at my friend’s feet.

“Let’s show Steve and Rochester how you climb the seesaw.” He led the dog to the board and motioned Rascal to begin climbing. Delicately, the shepherd raised one black-and-white paw and placed it on the board. Then he stepped up, one paw after the other until the board began to rise behind him. He paused when the board was nearly balanced.

I saw Rochester sitting up under the tree, watching the action.

“Come down,” Rick said, standing at the far end of the board, holding out the treat. Quickly, Rascal scampered down the board as it fell to the ground, then jumped up to snatch the treat from Rick’s hand.

“What a good boy,” Rick said, reaching down to scratch behind Rascal’s ears.

“Uh-oh, here comes Rochester,” I said. The big goofy golden bounded up to Rick and Rascal but ignored the possibility of a treat. Instead he hopped right on the lower end of the board and began to climb up.

He hesitated only for a moment when the board came level, then bounded down and ran up to me, his mouth wide open in a doggy grin. “Rochester doesn’t even need the treat for motivation.” I reached down and scratched his neck. “Do you, boy?”

He woofed.

“Maybe not motivation, but reward.” Rick held a treat out to Rochester, and my traitorous dog grabbed it.

Like Rick, I was forty-two, though I was an inch or two taller than he was, with a body made for sitting behind a computer, not chasing criminals. We had originally bonded over the mutual bitterness of our divorces, but now we came together because of an underlying friendship and the love of our dogs.

“Come on, Rascal and I will go through the course, and then you and Rochester can follow.” Rick led Rascal over to the gate, and then took off at a run, the dog right behind him.

“Go on, through the tunnel.” Rick motioned forward, and Rascal got down on his front paws and scrabbled his way in and through. “Good boy!” Rick said, handing him a treat and urging him forward to a set of three wooden steps back to back. Rascal climbed up the steps then down, got another treat, then pawed delicately up the teeter-totter.

I laughed at the display, but Rochester obviously didn’t share my humor. I had to hold on to his collar to keep him from following.

“Now the weave poles.” Rick urged Rascal forward to dart around a set of poles, in and out, and it made him look like he was following a very determined, agile squirrel.

A plane soared high overhead through the cloudless sky, and in the distance I heard someone firing up a lawnmower. A bee buzzed by in pursuit of pollen. It was the sort of glorious spring day which made me wonder why I’d ever left Pennsylvania, and glad I’d come back.

Rascal jumped up on a low, square table, and Rick counted off on his fingers as Rascal sat. At the count of three Rascal took off toward the limbo pole, but instead of going underneath he jumped over it. Then he raced back to the gate and sat down.

Rick loped after him. “Good boy.” He patted the dog on the head and gave him another T-bone. “He should have stayed on the table for a count of five. We’re working on that.”

Rochester was still straining to follow in Rascal’s paw-prints, so I let him go. He ran right to the tunnel and squirmed inside. Then he stopped.

“You’ve got to run to the end,” Rick said. “So he knows where to go.”

“There’s only one direction,” I protested, but I hurried to the end of the tunnel and clapped for Rochester. “Come here, you goofball.”

He rushed out of the tunnel and jumped up on me. “Up the steps next,” Rick said. “No stopping.”

“Come on, Rochester.” I motioned him toward the steps, and he went right up and then down as he was supposed to. Then, with me urging him on, he did the teeter-totter again, and then I led him to the weave poles.

He was baffled, even after having watched Rascal. Instead of running between the poles, he ran around them a couple of times, barked, then jumped up on the table. “That’s Rochester’s way of saying those weave poles are dumb,” I said.

I held up my fingers as Rick had, counting to five, then motioned Rochester down and toward the limbo pole, which he cleared gracefully.

“You should bring him to my training class.” Rick handed Rochester a T-bone, which he gobbled greedily. “Tomorrow afternoon, out Scammell’s Mill Road.”

“You take him to a class to learn this?” I asked, as I followed him back inside, the dogs right behind us.

They collapsed on the kitchen floor, and Rick brought two bottles of beer out of the fridge. “This woman has a big farm out where Stewart’s Crossing meets Newtown,” he said. “She has a huge agility course set up, way more stuff than I have. She breeds Chihuahuas and dachshunds, but most of the course works for big dogs, too.”

For the past few months, I’d been dating one of the professors at the college where I worked. As Rick and I sat down at the kitchen table, he asked, “How’s Lili these days?”

Liliana Weinstock was an amazing photographer and the head of the fine arts department. She was beautiful and funky and talented, and she and Rochester got along well. But she had also been divorced twice, and we both agreed to take things slow. “She’s doing well,” I said. “It’s the end of the semester, though, so she’s swamped with all this department chair stuff, as well as finishing up her own classes.”

“Then come with me to Rita’s class tomorrow. Though I have to warn you she’s a pain in the ass, and her little dogs can drive you crazy with their yapping.”

“You make it sound so appealing.” I tipped my beer bottle back. The brew was sharp but had a citrus aftertaste, and it made me think of summer.

“It’s really fun. And you haven’t laughed until you’ve seen a Chihuahua stuck on the teeter-totter when it’s just about balanced, going back and forth like it’s possessed.” He smiled at the memory. “And Rita’s got a mouth on her like a sailor when the dogs don’t behave. It’s a crack up.”

We moved to the living room and Rick put a golf tournament on the big-screen TV. We played with the dogs, joked about the golfers on the screen, and downed another pair of beers. Then I looked at my watch. “Dinner with Lili tonight,” I said. “What time is this class tomorrow?”

“Eleven. I’ll pick you and Rochester up in my truck at ten-thirty.”

I stood up. “All right. See you.”

“Wouldn’t want to be you,” he shot back, the way we’d spoken back in high school.

All in all, though, I thought as I drove home in the old BMW sedan that was a relic of my past life in Silicon Valley, I had managed to rebuild pretty well. Sure, I still had to meet with my parole officer, and my finances were tenuous, if improving with every week of full-time work. I had started at Eastern as an adjunct instructor in the English department before I managed to score my current administrative gig, and I still taught occasionally when I could.

I had a great dog, a sweet townhouse and an even sweeter girlfriend. While I was still married and living in California, my dad sold our family house and moved into a townhouse in River Bend, a gated community of townhouses and single family homes tucked between the Delaware River and Stewart’s Crossing’s downtown, bordered on two sides by a nature preserve. He died while I was in prison, and left the townhouse to me, his only child. As I drove through the gates and waved at the security guard on duty, I thought again how lucky I was that to have had a place to come home to.

When we got home, I fed Rochester and took him for a quick walk around the neighborhood. It was especially beautiful in the springtime, and even though the sun was going down and the air getting nippy, I enjoyed walking with Rochester. He took so much pleasure in nature—sniffing every bush and tree for messages left by other dogs, chasing squirrels and ducks, rolling in the grass. Forsythia hedges were coming into bloom and all the maples and oaks budded with new growth. The air was sweet and floral, lights were coming on in houses around us, and I could hear the high sound of a child giggling mixed with car engines and someone’s lawnmower.

We walked down the long access road to the neighborhood, bordered on both sides by the nature preserve, and passed the place where I had found Caroline Kelly’s body. Rochester stopped to nose around, and I wondered if some scent of his former mistress still remained months later.

Was it her death that had set him on a life of crime detection? Was he happiest when he was nose to the ground in search of a villain, as he’d done twice before? Could he settle down to a happy life if I asserted myself as the alpha dog in our pack?

2 – They Call This Art?
 

I took a shower, got dressed, and left the door of Rochester’s crate open in case he wanted to sleep inside it. Then I drove upriver to Leighville, where Lili rented a small house on the outskirts of town. It was only a half-hour drive, and I was able to do it on auto-pilot, since I’d been making that same drive to work at Eastern for over a year.

BOOK: Dog Helps Those (Golden Retriever Mysteries)
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