Thank you for joining us today for the first character interview. I’m talking with Rick Peller from the novel, Ice on the Bay, publication coming February 26, 2018. Rick is a 47-year-old investigative officer born in Lockport, New York. Since he’s a widower and his son lives across the country in Denver, Rick consumes himself in work. Please give a hearty, wholesome welcome to Rick Peller.
Me: Hello, Rick. Thank you for joining us today.
RP: My pleasure, thank you for having me.
Me: I see here that you’re an East Coaster. I’m from the Midwest. Have you ever been there?
RP: Never have been. I grew up in Lockport, New York and moved to Maryland when I was 22. I did fly over the Midwest once, on my way to visit my son’s family in Denver. From the air, it looked a lot like home. I imagine I’d be comfortable there.
Me: Where would you most like to live?
RP: I used to think I’d stay in Maryland for the rest of my life, but since the death of my wife Sandra, I’ve been thinking about moving to Denver when I retire. I’d like to be close to my family. They have some beautiful country out there, too. I don’t imagine too many retirements could beat hiking in the Rockies whenever you want.
Me: I’m sorry to learn about the loss of your wife. How long has it been?
RP: Nearly five years now.
Me: How did you two meet?
RP: She ran into my patrol car. (Laughs.) Not that it was her fault. This dog, a Dalmatian, ran in front of my car. I hit the brakes and Sandra hit me. She never did let me live that down.
Me: Was anyone hurt?
RP: Well, the dog got a bit banged up, but she and I were okay. We got the dog to a nearby vet, and they patched him up. Sandra had been going to work, but since her car wasn’t drivable, I took her there. She asked if I could pick her up at the end of the day, too, and invited me to her place for dinner. And the rest, as they say, is history. We never did find the dog’s owner. A colleague of mine gave him a temporary home, then presented him back to us as a wedding gift. Sandra named him Talisman.
Me: Have you dated since her passing?
RP: No. I can’t see myself remarrying. Sandra is always with me. A lot of people don’t seem to get that. One of my colleagues recently tried to fix me up with a friend of his wife’s. Joan is her name. We get together sometimes for dinner or coffee or whatnot, but I wouldn’t call it dating. Don’t get me wrong. I like Joan, and she could certainly use a friend at this point in her life. I just wouldn’t feel right to me, though, taking it beyond friendship.
Me: Are you currently working on a case?
RP: There are always cases to work. Howard County doesn’t see too many murders, on average only three to four each year, but we have plenty of other crimes to investigate. Right now, my team is working three particularly troublesome cases. I’m looking into an old missing persons case, Corina Montufar is investigating an arson, and Eric Dumas is working our first murder of the year. They all have peculiar features, but I can’t comment on ongoing investigations. We hope to have them wrapped up soon, and my biographer, Mr. Lehman, plans on publishing an account as soon after that as possible.
Me: What impression do you make on people when they first meet you?
RP: I guess I have my casual side and my professional side, so it depends on the circumstances under which we meet. Casually, I probably come across as polite, if fairly nondescript. My sense of humor doesn’t normally show up until after the ice is broken. Now, if you were to meet me professionally—say, I was interviewing you about a crime—you’d find me very no-nonsense. Not threatening, just direct, which can be disconcerting if you have something to hide. Then again, if you really irritate me, you might think less kindly of me. In the course of my current investigation, I did bite off one guy’s head. I suppose I shouldn’t have, but he seriously deserved it. Fortunately for him, there was a cell phone network between us.
Me: What would you have done if you had been face to face?
RP: I don’t know. I’ve never laid into anyone except when necessary to protect someone else, but I’ve sure felt the urge from time to time. I don’t think that’s unusual. I just hope I can control those urges. Sometimes I worry that a day will come when I might give in to them and do something I end up regretting.
Me: After years of witnessing crimes, have you lost faith in humanity? God?
RP: No. It would be easy to, wouldn’t it? Police see the worst of humanity day after day. It can be hard sometimes to set that aside when you go home to your family. But I had Sandra, you see. She was the kind of person who validated your faith. As for God, growing up, I was part of a traditional Methodist community. Sandra had her own version of religion, an intensely personal one that showed in everything she did. After we were married we didn’t attend church much, but that doesn’t mean God wasn’t part of our lives. Since her death, I probably have slid a bit in that regard, but like I said, she’s still with me, and that as much as anything keeps me on an even keel. Well, that and I have an amazing group of colleagues who also validate one’s faith in humanity through their dedication and service.
Me: What do you fear most about your job?
RP: The paperwork. (Laughs.) I don’t know I really fear anything about it. Sometimes you get into a dicey situation, but you’re trained to deal with it and you just do what you have to do. I suppose I probably fear making a terrible mistake more than anything else. My work is the basis for establishing guilt and ultimately for the punishment of crimes. I’d hate to think I sent the wrong person to prison and gave the real criminal leeway to commit further crimes. Some people might think, given what they’ve heard on the news, that I’d be concerned about shooting the wrong person. That doesn’t bother me too much. I rarely have to use a gun in the course of my work, and when I do, it’s generally clear-cut. Nor am I in danger of being shot very often. Mr. Lehman likes to write about my more dramatic cases, but those aren’t typical. He doesn’t waste too much ink on the guy we nabbed for relieving little old ladies of their purses in the Columbia Town Center parking lot while brandishing a water pistol.
Me: Tell me about your best friend. What do you both like about each other?
RP: That’s a tough question. My circle of acquaintances is rather small, outside of the force. Sandra was a lot more social than I am, and since her death I haven’t spent time with too many people other than my colleagues and some of their family members. But I guess my neighbor Jerry Souter would qualify. Jerry is, let’s see, 47 years older than I am. He’s this big African American guy who served in World War II and looks for all the world like he’s still a drill sergeant or something. Like me, he lives alone. His wife died a long time back—I never met her—and his kids are long since grown and moved away. We sit on his front porch and talk sometimes when the weather is good. Once in a while we get together for coffee or a meal. To look at us, we’re a bit of an odd couple, but I guess we remind each other of each other. Our personalities and outlooks are similar. Sometimes I think if we could get him on the police force the criminals wouldn’t stand a chance, and he said something strangely similar to me recently: he told me they could have used me in the war!
Me: If you had a free day with no responsibilities and your only mission was to enjoy yourself, what would you do?
RP: I’d spend the day in the mountains having a snowball fight with my grandkids. Or, really, doing anything with them. But since I’m not there, I do chores around the house and read, and if I’m really going nuts I might work on a case in spite of being off the clock.
Me: What do you value the most in life?
RP: Those who are closest to me, particularly my family and my colleagues and the few other friends I have. Sandra was taken from me way too early in a way I could never have anticipated. From that I’ve learned you can’t take anything or anyone for granted. Lives can be turned upside down in a matter of seconds. I knew that, of course. In my work, I’ve seen it time and again. But until it happened to me, I didn’t fully understand. I believe Sandra and I will be together again when my time comes, but that doesn’t make the separation any easier to bear. I guess the upshot is, be good to your family and your friends and your neighbors while you can. Nothing else in this life really matters.
If you enjoyed this interview and want to know more about Rick, head on over to Amazon to pre-order the ebook or Serpent Cliff to pre-order the paperback of Ice on the Bay by Dale and Kathleen Lehman.
Work and Family,