Martha Bullock placed the dirty dinner plates into the dishwasher. Holding onto her right hip, she straightened. That nagging twinge always got worse toward evening. Dr. Moss had suggested she resume her walks now that the snow was gone and something resembling spring had arrived in New England. She went into the TV room where Harold was dozing in his La-Z-Boy recliner.
“I’m going for a walk, dear,” she shouted over the man’s snoring. “Have you seen Chauncey’s leash?”
Harold didn’t awaken, but Chauncey the poodle sprang to his feet with a “Yip! Yip! Yip!” Standing upright, he danced in circles on the kitchen tiles.
“Here’s my biddy-boy,” Mrs. Bullock trilled, grabbing the dog’s leash from the broom closet. She attached it to his collar and the two headed for the door.
Outside, she paused on the neat front lawn. This was her favorite time of day, the period right before dusk. Everything slowed down; life’s urgencies didn’t seem quite so pressing. The soft evening air was calming. She gave the leash a tug and started down the sidewalk.
The twilight walks had become their ritual. Often she paused to admire a neighbor’s tulip bed or flowering dogwood. The greetings they exchanged were brief but pleasant. Years ago she’d known everyone on the block. As secretary of the Harbordale Garden Club, she’d encouraged her neighbors to participate in the organization’s events, such as the window box and holiday wreath-decorating contests. Back then, families lived in their homes for decades. Mrs. Bullock had witnessed the generations growing up. Now it seemed as if a house was merely a way station. The ink was barely dry on the deed before the new residents were eager to move on.
Soon she approached an area of newer homes. After the developer bought the land, its stand of stately oaks fell victim to the bulldozer. The new residences contained every gewgaw known to builders: turrets, Palladium windows, multi-decks, master suites with jacuzzi, and four-car garages. Mrs. Bullock stopped to peer inside one of the new home’s elongated front window. Inside, she spotted a TV screen so big it could serve as a drive-in movie theater.
As she stood transfixed by the massive screen, Chauncey scampered across the vast manicured lawn. Before she could say, “No, no toity!” the dog lifted his leg on what looked like a putting green. “Naughty boy!” she whispered, averting her eyes. She tugged at the leash and they scurried away.
Before long, Mrs. Bullock found herself in the neighborhood’s original, older section. She slowed her pace, careful of her footing on the uneven sidewalk. The overgrown roots of the old maple trees had caused the concrete to buckle, making navigation treacherous for senior citizens. Five years ago, the city had announced plans to replace the sidewalk. However, upon further investigation, she’d learned that plans involved cutting and removing the trees.
Mrs. Bullock, a dedicated tree-hugger, had opposed this reckless action. Soon she found an ally in Loretta Fairbank, a wealthy widow from the neighborhood’s older section. The two attended hearings at city hall where the town engineer condescendingly explained how the DPW could not pour new sidewalks without removing the maples.
A spunky Mrs. Bullock had threatened to chain herself to the trees if the plan went forth. Although her threats had not endeared her to city hall, they had impressed Mrs. Fairbank and the two had remained friends.
Now Mrs. Bullock spotted a police cruiser pulling up in front of the Fairbank house. Outside stood a thin, middle-age woman, hugging herself in the chill April twilight. Mrs. Bullock quickened her step when she recognized Sheriff Dunbar, who called to the woman, “Are you the neighbor who reported the robbery?”
From the corner of his eye he spotted Mrs. Bullock bearing down on him. He winced. Martha Bullock, who considered herself a sleuth, often called the station to offer suggestions on various cases. Although the sheriff humored her, he would never admit her tips had occasionally proved invaluable.
“I called,” the woman said. “I’m Ms. Bixby. I live there.” She indicated a white Cape-style house next door. “I’m worried about Mrs. Fairbank,” she said, turning to a handsome two-story stucco building behind her. The house was partially hidden behind a long row of evergreens separating it from its neighbor. “She’s elderly, and I have no idea where she is.”
Before he could respond, Mrs. Bullock’s fluty voice rang out, “Yoo-hoo, Sheriff Dunbar, what seems to be the problem?”