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The mystery in my own back yard

June 21, 2004

My dogs, Sydney and Allie, were barking like mad downstairs, but they always bark at innocuous things such as school kids and the mail delivery, so I didn’t pay much attention.  I was having a lie-in, as the British say -- having a lazy morning.  I had worked late the night before, and sometime after nine Tuesday morning, I was still in bed, engrossed in a mystery book.

Then, simultaneously, the phone rang and I heard what sounded like someone stomping on my front porch.  Again, the dogs were going crazy.  I envisioned some friend, determined to roust me, calling me on her cell phone and bounding up my front steps at the same time.

All the activity forced me to put the book aside.  Anticipating the doorbell, I jumped into some clothes, listening to the message being left for my husband on our answering machine as I ran down the stairs.

The doorbell never rang.  I put the dogs out into our fenced back yard, leaving the back door open for the sun to warm the chilly floor, and walked through the house opening curtains and raising blinds.  By the time I opened my front door to see if a package had been delivered or something, Sydney was in the front yard and Allie was halfway down the block.  Somehow they had found their way out of the back yard and they were running freely, which we don’t allow.

I called them into the house, and went into the back yard to see what was going on.  Our side gate was open, which it never is; I closed and latched it and went through the yard toward the alley at the back of our property, trying to figure out why.  I smiled, thinking about the detective in my novel, wondering what she would be making of these clues.

Our back gate was open and I heard voices.  Going closer, I saw a police officer standing in our alley, his motorcycle parked nearby.

The officer saw me and we said hello.

“Do you live there,” he asked, pointing to my house.

Trying to smooth my bed-head, I said, “Yes, what’s going on?”

“We’re looking for a man with a gun -- he just went through your yard.  Will you do me a favor?”

“Yes,” I said, turning back for my house, anticipating the favor.

“Go in your house and lock the door behind you.  Is your front door locked?”

“No, I'll go do it.”

By the time I got to my front door, I was wondering if I was locking myself inside my house with the man with the gun.  The dogs seemed oblivious, and I took that as a good sign, but who knows what they would do?  I looked out the front window to see several cop cars and some police officers standing in my street.  They hadn’t been there a minute ago when I had to round up my dogs.

I stayed in my living room, breathing quietly and with my heart in my throat.

Meanwhile, people were walking down the sidewalk like nothing was going on.  People with strollers, people with dogs on leashes, cars slowing to look at the house for sale next door, people even hopping out of cars to grab a fact sheet about the house for sale.  All this normal neighborhood activity was going on, but with cops everywhere.

Suddenly at the bottom of my front steps a police officer emerged, creeping, with his gun drawn.  He’s outside and I’m inside, but he’s no more than eight feet from me, with his gun in his hand.  Then he took a few more steps and was out of my view.  I couldn’t see a thing.  Just lots of cop cars and the surreality of normal things going on.  Out of nowhere I was now living a thriller of my own.

I knew enough to stay inside, but I was feeling like Gladys Kravitz looking through the curtains to try to see what was happening.  I thought of the woman in Sandy or somewhere who recently had a man with a gun in her back yard.  The police had shot and killed him, right there on her patio.

Eventually a police officer came and knocked on my door.

“We got him.  I thought I’d come let you know.  We got him, and he’s going away for a long time.”

“Great,” I say, instantly glad that I didn’t see my man with a gun, didn’t have to reckon with having him killed on my patio.

“He broke into the house a couple of doors down and he was in there changing into a different shirt when we found him.”  The officer continued, “I need to go back into your back yard and look for the gun.  I hope your day gets better now.”

“"Same to you.  You guys are heroes -- thank you,”  I said, aware how lame it sounded.

My mystery, which had been so engrossing earlier, couldn’t hold a candle to the interruption of my lie-in.

---
Barb Guy is a regular contributor to the Sunday Opinion Section.

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