Whether he did it? Or did he not? Is he the criminal? Or, it’s actually them? These are the possibilities that you face between a man whose activities are deceptively suspicious and an extremely snoopy neighbor couple in this first rate suspense story.
I had been in the backyard no more than two minutes when Roger Telford’s bald head popped up above the boundary fence. It was hardly a surprise. Very little that goes on in my neighborhood escapes notice by Telford and his wife Aileen. To merely call them nosy neighbors would be to do them an injustice. They are the quintessential, prototypical poster children for nosy neighbors-sly, sneaky, suspicious, intrusive, rude, and annoying in the extreme.
“I thought I heard snuffling and growling noises over there,” he said. “Don’t tell me Suzanne has let you buy a dog.”
“All right,” I said, “I won’t.”
“Is that mutt yours?”
“He’s not a mutt. He’s a Rottweiler mix. He belongs to the Lindemans, next block over.”
“Well, it’s a good thing he doesn’t belong to you. Aileen and I don’t like dogs, especially big dogs. Messy. Always digging things up. Bark all the damn time.”
“George doesn’t bark much.”
“George? How do you know his name?”
“It’s on his collar tag.”
“Well, it’s a stupid name for a mutt. What’s he doing in your yard?”
“Visiting,” I said. “There’s a loose board in our back fence that I haven’t gotten around to fixing yet.”
“What’s that he’s chewing on?”
“Well, it looks like a bone . . . yes, by golly, that’s what it is all right. A bone.”
“Damn big one. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bone quite like that. He carry it in with him?”
“No. I gave it to him.”
“You did? Where’d you get a bone like that?”
“Out of our freezer.”
His face wrinkled into an expression resembling a contemplative basset hound’s. Telford likes to believe he is a deep thinker. His wife likes to believe she is too. They labor under this self-deception because they’re both writers of a sort. He concocts texts on how to fix this or that around the house and she writes cookbooks, her magnum opus being The Sublime Purple Vegetable: Eggplant Delicacies from Around the World. They both work at home, giving them ample opportunity to pursue their alternate joint career of meddling in other people’s business.
“Is that where all those packages came from, too?” he asked at length.
“Jammed into your trash can this morning.”
“Roger, I’m surprised at you. You usually employ more subtle means of snooping than pawing through garbage cans.”
“It wasn’t me doing the pawing,” he said indignantly. “It was one of those other damn neighborhood mutts. Caught it dragging one of the packages out when I rolled my own can out for pick up. I chased it off and put the package back into your can. That’s when I happened to notice all the others.”
“Very good,” I said. “Very inventive. You ought to give fiction writing a try.”
“It happens to be the truth. So why did you throw out all that good meat?”
“It wasn’t good. Not anymore. Venison, mostly, that one of my coworkers gave us last year.”
“What was wrong with it?”
“Freezer burn,” I said.
“It’s a phenomenon that takes place when you leave things in the freezer too long. Surely you’ve come across references to it while researching those books you write.”
“I know what freezer burn is. But the packages I saw were mostly thawed.”
“Well, of course they were. I took them out of the freezer and put them into the trash can last night. All except the bone for George. Freezer burn doesn’t bother him.”
Telford did his basset hound impression again. To avoid watching him at his mental labors, I looked up at the sky. It was a nice evening, clear but a little too crisp to sit out on the porch and read. I sighed. Autumn was almost here. The leaves on the maple tree were already starting to turn.
“What was all that noise coming from your place last night?” Telford demanded. He never asks; he always demands. “You don’t make noise like that cleaning out a freezer. Late, too-went on until after eleven. Sounded like power tools.”
“It was,” I said. “I was working in the basement.”
“Completing a project.”
“What kind of project?”
“A private kind.”