After all these years, Mike was still troubled that his first case as a licensed private investigator was one of the few he and his dad hadn’t been able to solve. The police ruled it an accident but Mike and the dead girl’s foster father were not convinced. Joseph had hired Mike and Earl but nothing they turned up led anywhere. The photographs of the young woman lying in a heap at the bottom of the fire escape of the low income retirement housing unit haunted Mike.
Because of the Vietnam War, Mike had joined the Air Force immediately after high school. Four years later, Mike was honorably discharged and he went back home to Cedar River to work with his father, Earl. After working together for almost 20 years, they had solved hundreds of cases.
Mike had never married. He said he didn’t have time for the responsibilities of a family. Alice suspected his bachelorhood had more to do with his mother’s suicide while he was stationed in Vietnam. Except for his constant companion, a big black Lab named Deke and some occasional help from his best friend and murder mystery writer Alice Mallord, for the last 20 years he had worked and lived alone.
Now, after almost 40 years, the retirement unit’s building manager, Joseph Schuster was sitting in Mike’s office pleading with him to reopen his foster daughter’s case. Roy, the grandson of one the residents, had just contacted Joseph. Roy had been 10 when Susan died and was visiting his grandmother. Roy had heard two people having a heated argument on the fire escape shortly before Susan’s body had been discovered.
At the time, Roy mentioned the raised voices to the police but the information apparently, had not led anywhere. Still, the quarrel had always been in the back of Roy’s mind and a recent argument with Roy’s ex-wife regarding money had triggered the memory. Roy recalled some of the words of that other argument. A male voice had either shouted, “You’ve spent all of my money,” or “You’ve stolen all my money.” After all these years Roy wasn’t sure.
Although the dispute didn’t prove that Susan had been murdered, Mike and his father had never been made aware of the fight. Mike’s curiosity was piqued. After warning Joseph not to get his hopes up too high, Mike agreed to look into the case again with the help of his dog, Deke and his friend, Alice.
Mike had found Deke at a local shelter. Mike fell in love with the big black Lab when he leaned against him as Mike scratched him behind his ears. Mike convinced himself that the overgrown pup was expressing his affection, even though he knew that dogs often leaned against other dogs to assert higher social rank or to claim a larger ‘personal space’. The people at the shelter told Mike that the canine had been owned by a young man who went to Iraq to serve his country. Some friends had agreed to care for his dog temporarily but when the soldier had died, they didn’t want the dog permanently. They had asked the shelter to find him a good home. Mike decided to call him Deke after his childhood hero, Deke Slayton, an astronaut from Wisconsin and one of the original seven astronauts.
Deke quickly made himself at home, both in Mike’s office and in his apartment above his office. The plant in the corner had been replaced with a chair, after Deke claimed the office coach intended for clients. The couch doubled as a place for Mike’s naps, when business was slow. Now, whenever humans wanted to use the sofa they had to convince Deke to get up. The spoiled and stubborn 80 pound Labrador Retriever was not easy to convince. Alice Mallord
Alice had grown up in Cedar River but she had moved to Florida after graduation from high school in 1966 to attend college. She met her first husband in college. They were both 22 when they married and they decided to stay in Florida after they had both secured jobs there.
Throughout their marriage, they were best friends as well as lovers. At the age of 45, he died of cancer.
Her life-long friend, Mike Holden came to Florida for the funeral. Mike was concerned when Alice didn’t cry and told her she shouldn’t keep it bottled up. Alice told Mike she had shed enough tears over the past year, before the cancer had finally won. Now, she was just grateful that her husband was no longer in pain.
The couple had not had any children and Alice felt that she had little to occupy herself after his death. Searching for a way to keep busy and to pay the bills after the life insurance ran out, Alice had decided to focus on something she had always wanted to do. She wrote her first murder mystery.
After it was published, Alice continued to write. She met her second husband five years later at a writer’s conference. Andrew Mueller was a playwright. With so much in common, they became immediate friends. Since both of them were prolific and successful writers, they had little time for romance. They didn’t marry until 3 years later.
Although it was more his idea than hers, after the wedding Alice and Andrew agreed that she should sell her house in Florida and move into Andrew’s brownstone in New York.
Alice loved Andrew, but their relationship was not as close as her first marriage had been. Andrew would not open up to her about his life before they met. All she really knew about Andrew was that he was a really talented writer. He could be funny, generous, and enjoyable to be with when he was in a good mood. Alice had never met his family, in fact she didn’t even know if he had any. Every time she would try to bring up anything about his past, Andrew would change the subject. If Alice persisted, he would get angry and drive off, sometimes leaving for days. She stopped asking him about anything that might upset him. Eventually, Alice and Andrew drifted apart and although they remained married, they led separate lives.
* * *