*Author's Note* For purposes of this story, Richie is not dead.

Chapter one

Beth Parker took one last look behind the big, old house she'd moved into just four weeks before.
It had been built just after the turn of the century, with three stories and a wraparound front porch
with a swing and square post supports. It was in a quiet section of the city of Seacouver,
surrounded by two blocks of similar houses, which were surrounded by larger, more modern
office buildings. There were a few houses remaining in the neighborhood whose sole purpose
was residential, but most of them had been converted into dental offices, boutiques and small
restaurants that catered to the professional clientele that worked in the area.

She'd had a new coat of yellow paint put on the faded white siding, white trim for the windows
and porch and deep red shutters to match the tint of the roof shingles. It had last been used as a
boarding house, but Beth wasn't certain about this new city yet … or the prospect of having
strangers under her roof. So she had converted the front rooms into a storefront and a second
kitchen as well as having the rest of the main floor opened up into one big room for her personal
kitchen, dining and comfortable living area. The shingle out front had only just been hung the day
before. It read "The Pie Pan", and announced to the world that her modest bakery was open for

Beth could hardly believe the contractor had completed the transition in such a short time. She'd
hoped to be open for business before the holiday season, but because the house had been in
such good condition in the first place, it was still the middle of September and not too cold for
people to take a minute to stop in while walking by on their way to work or lunch. It was a way
to start again. It was a way to stay busy … and she needed to do both of those.

She'd been genuinely happy that morning for the first time in over a year … but in the past half
hour her joy had been ripped away by the disappearance of the only familiar face in her life, her
dog Barkley. He was all she had of her former life … and just the thought of doing this without
him sent a panic through her veins. She'd been preparing a final batch of pies and thought he
was snoozing his fat self on the braid rug in the main room. It hadn't occurred to her that when
she'd opened the back door to let some of the cool air into the hot kitchen he might slip out … or
that he could get out of the garden fence so quickly without her noticing his absence.

"Where have you gone?" Beth whispered to the almost bare trees and bushes in the small,
fenced in back yard. In the dim late afternoon light her eyes scanned the rock and iron fencing
until she spotted his point of exit … the dirt under the back gate was soft and he'd managed to dig
himself under and out the fence. Her sense of urgency heightened when she realized his collar
was hanging from the bottom of one of the iron bars. He was lost and alone and there was no
way for anyone to know where he belonged.

He'd been so used to roaming about the neighborhood of their small, rural community. Barkley
may have belonged to her, but everyone on their road loved him … which accounted for his
rather portly build. He was the fattest Dalmatian anyone had ever seen, and the most loveable.
He never knew a stranger and Beth surmised he missed his life as the social butterfly of the
neighborhood. She missed it too, but they could not go back … not for a while anyway … and
maybe not ever, and he would have to adjust the same way she would.

But Barkley had never lived in a city … he didn't know about busy streets or strange smells that
would entice him to wander further from home. She had to find him and she had to find him
quickly … for both their sakes. The thought of wandering around the rapidly darkening streets of
this unfamiliar city sent a shiver through her. She knew Detective Taylor would be livid with her
taking a chance like this. But he had left Seacouver as soon as she'd settled in and there was no
one else to help her. She'd lost so much … and the risk she was taking seemed incidental when
compared to the loss of her beloved pet. Besides … she was about as far away from the danger
as she could get without crossing the ocean, she said to herself, determined not to let fear keep
her from finding Barkley.

She rushed inside and checked to make sure the ovens were off and the doors were secure.
Pulling on her deep blue jacket, Beth shoved her wallet and cell phone in the pocket and shuffled
through a pack of photos she'd taken the week before of the progress on the bakery. "Yes" she
said to herself as she found the photo she needed. It was of Barkley sitting up on the front porch.
There was a Kinko's a few blocks away and she knew that if she hurried she could have a flyer
printed and posted on every pole in the area before it got too late. With any luck Barkley would
be located the next day when the area filled with people.

"I can't lose you boy." Beth wiped at the tears that were threatening to spill. "You hang on
Barkley. I'll find you."

In another part of town Richie Ryan was stowing his bike outside Joe's. He was excited about a
call he'd received earlier from Mac saying he was flying back to the states later that night … so
excited to share the news with Joe that he didn't notice he hadn't come into the bar alone.

"Who's your friend?" Joe motioned to the floor behind Richie before he could get a word out.

"Friend?" Richie turned and looked. There sitting behind him was a big lug of a dog, just looking
up at him with his large brown eyes and his mouth open in what appeared to be a smile as he

"Where did you come from big boy?" Richie bent down to pat the dog.

"Would you get him out of here? The first set starts in fifteen minutes and the place is already
crowded." Joe insisted impatiently.

The dog looked up at Joe and gave a couple of thumps on the floor with his tail in an obvious
attempt to win his affection, but his efforts were in vain. Richie gave him one last scratch behind
the ears and realizing the dog didn't have a collar he could lead him with, tried to coax the dog to
the door with a pretzel. But the fat Dalmatian wasn't budging. Instead he sidled up to the edge
of the bar and despite Richie's tugging on his head, managed to lay down with a loud groan.

"Richie" Joe was not pleased.

"I can't budge him Joe … do you have any rope or something I can use for a leash?"

"Check in the back. There's got to be something in the office you can use." Joe looked down at
the dog. "Don't get too comfortable." He said before moving to the stage for a final sound check.
He was sitting in with a couple of players from L.A. and had better things to do than worry about a
stray dog.

The phone was ringing in the office when Richie opened the door. "Mac" he was surprised to
hear his teacher's voice on the other end.

"Richie I'm glad I caught you. Have you asked Joe if you can borrow the van to pick me up yet?"
Duncan asked.

Richie thumped his forehead with the palm of his hand. "No Mac I haven't had a chance … but I'll
ask him when he finishes the first set. I'm sure he won't mind."

"Has he started yet?" Duncan asked. "Because when I got to Chicago I managed to get an
earlier flight and I'll be landing in about an hour."

Duncan hadn't expected to be in Seacouver for another three hours and after the long flight he'd
had he was hoping Richie would be there to meet him.

"I'll catch him now." Richie said as he hurried to scribble down the flight information. He opened
the drawer in the desk and retrieved the spare set of keys to the van and then rushed out to let
Joe know what was going on.

"Mac's flight gets in at 7 and he has a couple of crates with him. He asked if we could borrow
your van." Richie rushed through his explanation and almost turned to go before Joe could
respond that it was no problem. It was only after Richie was out the door and Joe noticed a
couple of the female customers hovering around the bar that he remembered the dog.

"Damn" he muttered under his breath.

The animal was sitting up and shaking hands with the women and chomping down pretzles as
fast as they could toss them. Joe groaned and realized he wouldn't be able to do anything about
it until the set was over. Before he turned to step back up on stage he could swear that the dog
had given him a smug look of triumph.