Authors: Neil S. Plakcy
Reviews 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.
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
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.
Kling, author of Circle of Bones
In Dog We
is a very well-crafted mystery that kept me guessing up until Steve
figured out where things were going. --E-book addict reviews
hacker Steve Levitan still gets a thrill from snooping into places online where
he shouldn’t be. When his golden retriever Rochester discovers a human bone at
the Friends Meeting during the Harvest Days festival, these two unlikely
sleuths are plunged into another investigation.
They will uncover
uncomfortable secrets about their small town’s past as they dig deep into the
Vietnam War era, when local Quakers helped draft resisters move through
Stewart’s Crossing on their way to Canada. Does that bone Rochester found
belong to one of those young men fleeing conscription? Or to someone who knew
the secrets that lurked behind those whitewashed walls?
Steve’s got other
problems, too. His girlfriend Lili wants to move in with him, and his
matchmaking efforts among his friends all seem to be going haywire.
Whether the death
was due to natural causes, or murder, someone in the present wants to keep
those secrets hidden. And Steve and Rochester may end up in the crosshairs of a
very antique rifle if they can’t dig up the clues quickly enough.
Whom Dog Hath Joined
By Neil S. Plakcy
Copyright 2014 Neil S.
Plakcy. All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in
part in any form.
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.
1 – Harvest Days
Though my friend Rick often called my golden retriever a
“death dog,” it wasn’t Rochester’s fault that he kept finding bodies. After
all, his ancestors had been bred to find and retrieve dead game, right? And
it’s not like we went out looking for trouble. It found us.
“I’m still not sure it was a good idea to bring Rochester,”
I said to my girlfriend Lili as we walked through downtown Stewart’s Crossing
toward the Friends’ Meeting House on the edge of town. Victorian gingerbread baking
in the harsh sunlight, Land Rovers and Escalades creeping in snarled traffic,
the tracery of a kite high in the sky above us. Faint brassy notes of off-key
jazz floating in the air, the smell of auto exhaust and melted gum on the
sidewalk. “Even though he’s two years old, he’s still a big puppy sometimes,
and I’m worried that Harvest Days will be too crowded.”
The dog in question, shades of false and true gold streaking
his flanks, tail erect as a mast of signal flags, strained forward as commuter
fathers tried to practice workplace logic on misbehaving kids: good behavior
now will result in rewards at a later date. Tattered flyers littered the street--
ten percent off any haircut, zero percent down and zero dollars at signing, make
your floors look like new again.
“He’ll be fine, Steve,” Lili said, reaching down to scratch
the Golden Retriever behind his ears. “He’s a smart boy.”
Rochester yawned and stretched his neck. He’d been mine for
a year and a half by then; I had adopted him after the death of his owner, my
next-door neighbor Caroline Kelly. Since then he had become my boon companion.
At seventy-plus pounds he was a happy, shaggy force to be reckoned with.
“From your mouth to the dog’s ears,” I said.
It was late September, and Bucks County, in the southeastern
corner of Pennsylvania, was enjoying the fading days of Indian summer. The
leaves were beginning to turn yellow, red and gold, the air was crisp, and the
storefronts on Main Street were dressed with Indian corn, pumpkins, and fake
scarecrows stuffed in straw, wearing patchwork outfits.
A few days before, Lili had read about Harvest Days, a fall
festival on the grounds of the Quaker Meeting house in Stewart’s Crossing. “Can
we go to this?” she’d asked, pointing to the article in the
our weekly newspaper. “It looks like a fun way for the three of us to spend
some time together.”
Lili was a transplant to Bucks County after a globe-trotting
photojournalism career, and she had a convert’s dedication to all things rural.
I had agreed, despite my reservations about Rochester’s behavior in crowds,
because ten years of a previous marriage had taught me that when the woman in
your life wants to “spend some time together” it’s a bad move to say no.
We navigated the crowds past the mill pond, just beyond the
sole traffic light in town. In winter the pond was a Norman Rockwell painting
come to life, kids in bright red mufflers skating figure eights, parents
warming hands around hot chocolate, a pick-up hockey game at the far end. In
Indian summer, though, sunlight reflected on the glassy surface, with a
trickle of falling leave and fat squirrels jumping from one overhanging branch
to another, daring each other to stumble and drop into the water below.
At five-eleven, Lili was a couple of inches shorter than I
was, with a cascade of reddish brown curls, a bow-shaped mouth, and a petite
nose that had undergone the surgeon’s knife when she was in high school. She
wore a photographer’s vest over a bright green polo shirt and skinny jeans, and
she had an SLR camera slung around her neck.
Unlike Lili, who was born in Cuba and grew up in Mexico, in
Kansas, and a number of other places, I was rooted in Stewart’s Crossing. “When
I was a kid, we came to Harvest Days every year,” I said, as Rochester tugged
me forward. “My dad would scavenge for hand tools, the weirder the better, and
my mother collected romance paperbacks with the front covers ripped off.”
“Why? Because she didn’t want anyone to know what she was
“I thought so back then. But later I learned that bookstores
would rip the covers off unsold books and send them back to the publishers for
credit, then sell them. After she passed away, my dad donated nearly a thousand
of them to the Friends of the Library for their book sale.”
I looked ahead of us, but my mind was on the past. “He had a
couple of yard sales, too, getting rid of the antique Lenox china plates and
figurines she collected, and the sketches of boats and harbors she had hung in
Lili reached over and took my hand and squeezed. “He even
got rid of most of his tools before he died. I wouldn’t be surprised to see
some of my family’s stuff show up here.”
As we got closer to the Meeting House, we had to navigate
through a sea of haphazardly parked cars, moms with strollers and rambunctious
boys chasing each other. Rochester was eager to play, and I had to keep reining
in his leash.
The broad half-moon lawn which faced onto Main Street was
filled by neighbors who had cleaned out their attics, Avon ladies displaying
their wares, and small businesses with free-standing displays. We passed free
car wash coupons, crocheted samplers invoking prayers for home and hearth,
wooden nativity characters made with basement jigsaws. I hoped Lili wouldn’t be
disappointed at the kitschy suburban nature of the festival.
“I’m going to take some pictures,” she said, lifting the
camera from around her neck. “You start browsing if you want.”
“We’ll hang,” I said. Rochester was busy sniffing the roots
of an ancient sycamore and I was happy to stand there and look around. In front
of us was the single-story Meeting House, dingier than I remembered it as a kid.
Its construction was mortise-and-tenon wood-frame, covered in clapboard, though
the central section had been faced with fieldstone. From previous visits, I
knew that the left wing held a kitchen and dining area, while the center
section was a large, low-ceilinged room filled with wooden pews for worship
services. I wasn’t sure what the right-hand part held; there were no windows
there and I’d never been back there.
The Friends had begun a renovation campaign, and one of
those huge thermometer-type signs stood beside the Meeting House, painted with
growing red bars to show fund-raising progress. As of that day, they had made
it to fifty percent of their goal.
Lili snapped a couple of pictures and we continued forward.
Most people were dressed as we were, in jeans and casual shirts, though I noted
the proliferation of clothes that smacked of a 1950s-era safari—microfiber
fishing shirts with epaulets, floppy-brimmed hats, and shorts with enough
pockets to carry a week’s worth of rations. I also noticed the careless way
people discarded trash near the bins, not caring if their aim was true, and the
ratty condition of the lawns, which were sprinkled with crabgrass and dandelions.
“It’s so quaint,” Lili said.
This from a woman who had faced down guerrillas in Latin
America and photographed dead children in Iraq. It’s amazing what your eye can
trick you into seeing.
The high school jazz band was playing off-key, and someone
on the other side of the half-moon driveway was selling candy apples,
guaranteed to rot the teeth of even the most careful eaters. The light breeze
brought the sweet smell across to us, and I remembered going to Styer’s Farm
Market in the country when I was a kid. My mom wouldn’t buy me one of the
apples, covered in a shiny red lacquer, but my dad would.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars, who gathered at a
high-ceilinged hall on the edge of town (banquet rentals inquire within), had
filled a yard-sale table with never-opened kitchen gadgets, gently-used toys,
and cast off clothes from a multitude of generations. I recognized the elderly
man in green service cap with military patches and a faded hunting jacket
littered with marksmanship pins who stood behind the table. He was a part-time
bagger at the Genuardi’s grocery outside town. He was talking to a
twenty-something vet in camouflage ball cap, T-shirt and khaki shorts,
artificial leg below the knee. He looked so young, like one of the students I
might have taught, and I thought about the way that some of us have to carry
the evidence of our traumas on the outside, while others are able to pretend
that nothing bad has happened.
The Gulf War, the Afghan campaign and the invasion of Iraq
had revitalized the dying VFW chapter in Stewart’s Crossing. The tide had
turned in our view of returning soldiers, somewhere between the anti-war
protests of the sixties and seventies and the renewed patriotism following
9/11. When I was a kid, only a few old men in faded uniforms marched in the
Independence Day parade in Stewart’s Crossing. But many people in town worked
in New York City, and we had lost a half-dozen neighbors in the attack on the
World Trade Center.
“There’s Gail,” Lili said, pointing at a table where our
friend Gail Dukowski, who ran The Chocolate Ear café in downtown, was selling
her cookies and pastries from a pair of flimsy card tables covered with green
and white striped cloths that matched her store’s awnings.
Gail looked frazzled. We got in line behind a sixty-something
woman holding a small girl by the hand, a pair of teenagers, and a cluster of
other eager customers. Gail’s blonde hair was plastered to her forehead with
sweat, her face was smudged with chocolate, and her eyes looked tired. She wore
a big chef’s apron over her T-shirt and slacks.
Rochester was excited to see Gail, tugging at his leash and
nodding his shaggy head. When we went to The Chocolate Ear, she always had a
special dog biscuit for him. A platter of them, wrapped in clear plastic and
tied with a dog-paw patterned ribbon, sat at one end of the table.
“You’re on your own here?” I asked as we reached her.
She nodded. “Ginny ate something funny from the kitchen and
had to go home.”
“Can we help you?” Lili asked.
The line behind us had continued to grow. “That would be
such a blessing,” Gail said. “My mother’s coming at noon but I could sure use
some help now.”
“I’ll man the cash box,” I said.
“You take the orders and I’ll box them up,” Lili said to
“Thank you so much!” Gail stepped aside to let Lili and me
scoot behind the table.
I dropped a dollar in the cash box and unwrapped one of the
big biscuits. Rochester settled on the ground underneath, chewing noisily.
“Stay there and keep out of trouble,” I said, scratching him behind the ears.
I sat in one of the café’s big wicker chairs with green and
white striped cushions and began to accept people’s dimes and quarters and
wrinkled dollar bills. I made change and told them about all the treats Gail
hadn’t been able to bring to the fair, like her lemon bars, her flaky
croissants and her special dark chocolate hazelnut tarts.
Gail cut the walnut-studded chocolate bars and Lil boxed
them up. I snacked on the crumbs and Lili slapped my hand. Every now and then I
reached down to scratch behind Rochester’s ears as he rested his big square
head on his front paws and stared out at the passing crowd.
“These are delicious!” a heavy-set woman said, as brownie
crumbs dribbled out of her mouth.
“Fantastic,” a big man in a tank top agreed. His shirt read
“If assholes could fly this place would be an airport,” which made me
suspicious of his taste. Although his sheer size indicated he had a lot of
experience with high-calorie foods.