sadie Another of my favorite characters. All of my novels feature dogs. I am unashamed of my fascination with them. And they are oh so useful in forming the impressions of their human counterparts. Meet Sadie. She will win your hearts as the story within a story within a story unfolds.

From my recently released crime/detective novel, GROUND EFFECT:

John “JJ” Kennedy was determined to enjoy every morning that began without ice and snow. His golden retriever, Sadie, was trotting happily beside him sans leash as she did almost every morning before daylight. He started his walk uphill and got his heart pumping and cleared the spider webs from his brain. It was either uphill or downhill with very little level ground in his neighborhood, what was left of it.

JJ bought the place while he was still a cop in New York. His new detective shield merited a bump in pay and when his son graduated from private Catholic school and went into the Marines, even more cash flow loosened up. His lifetime dream of having a hunting camp in the mountains finally came true and the mortgage on the modest two-bedroom ranch in Perch Pond Estates became a line item on his monthly budget. Thousands of acres of state forest and public game lands were within short drives from his retreat and he spent nearly all of his vacation time here chasing grouse and deer through the woods.

JJ hated his given name. Oh, he was fine with it until he was ten and some senator from Massachusetts got elected president. His life at school turned to crap. Every kid bigger and meaner had something to say about it then. He was one of three Kennedys at school, none closely related to him, but he was the only “Jack”. Now it became a taunt. He suffered greatly until he hit just short of thirteen and hormones kicked in. He grew from a skinny stick to almost stocky and several inches taller. And then his uncle, a cop on the NYPD boxing team, clued him to a few moves. Jack became JJ and enforced the change with the few bullies who were stupid enough to test him.

Life started to get a little better and then the president went and got himself killed. No one seemed to want to make something of what his name was anymore and JJ stuck for good. He later discovered that there were more than twenty John Kennedys on the NYPD so it ceased to become an issue.

But now he was retired and sold off the duplex on Long Island, moved his lovely wife to Pennsylvania and paid off the mortgage. His son was staying in, made gunnery sergeant and now his second grandkid was on the way. He was happy, except for some of the neighbors.

Sadie slowed suddenly and veered off the road and into the trees. She stopped and looked back at JJ but he waved her on and stood still to watch. She went deeper and then came back out but turned again and continued just inside the trees beside the road. “Birdy, Sadie?”

JJ followed along and as he stepped around one of the many potholes in the road, a grouse flushed, hammered itself out of the trees and flew across and into the trees on the other side. Sadie came back out and JJ could swear she was smiling. “Good girl, Sadie.” She got a brisk ear rubbing for her work.

But the freshness of the post rain summer morning and the good company of a good dog didn’t make up for what JJ was seeing every day as he walked the almost deserted streets of the mountainside subdivision. They were still building new homes in here when he first bought his and there were people living in all of the existing homes. They had potluck dinners several times the first few years and the security company guard at the gate kept out anyone who didn’t belong.

Now less than a third of the houses were occupied and many were falling apart. Even JJ’s had to be rebuilt from the inside out. Shoddy contracting and a lack of competent building inspectors left leaking and sagging roofs and plumbing that didn’t plumb. Second and third owners from the cities, who should never have qualified for a loan, got a pass from the federal government and brought their city problems with them. When the mortgages blew up, the banks couldn’t get the cases through the courts before the houses started to fall into themselves.

JJ called a realtor a couple of years ago and found out his dream home wasn’t worth what he’d paid and then pumped into it so he dug in and tried to make the best of a no win situation. He started downhill for a ways and then turned onto the street below his down the mountain. There were a couple of houses on this street that were in terrible shape and a couple with people in them. Then there was one that no one lived in full time but the grass got mowed about once every two months and the windows were still intact.

Sadie raised her head and sniffed as they went past the lawn in need of another mowing and JJ glanced at the front window. “Someone’s here now, Sadie. Left a light on.” There was no car in the driveway but the rolled up coupon flyer was missing from the porch. JJ noticed those things. Old cop street sense never went away.

JJ stepped past and onward, continuing in the early morning grey. The sun would be out later and with the rain, he would almost be able to hear his own grass growing. Sadie slowed again and looked uphill into the woods toward their street. She stopped and turned, facing the wooded space between two of the abandoned houses and a low growl rumbled out of her. “What is it, girl? Another skunk?” JJ took a couple of minutes to study the trees but it was still mostly dark and his eyesight apparently didn’t match Sadie’s nose.

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