The Unexpected Criminal

It took a while for my office to catch up to technology. Which is why I didn’t realize the Retirement Acres police were on the other end of the line.

“Workplace, this is Robin.”

“This is the Retirement Acres police. Is this Robin of Chez Auto?”

I’m really bad at math, which is why I answered after failing to calculate the odds they’d be waiting for me at the ranch.


“The owner of a German Shepherd?”

“Go on.”

“Named Tiller.”


“Sure. That’s me. You didn’t arrest my dog, did you?”

“Not yet, but the day is young.”

“We got a call,” Officer Obie (not his name) continued.  “About a disturbance.”

“At Chez Auto?”

“In Retirement Acres.”

“He’s…he’s indoors. He’s an indoor German Shepherd.”

“Not today. Today he was helping…do you have a brother?”

“My brother is loose in Retirement Acres too?!” This was a nearly apocalyptic thought.

“We’ll get to that,” he assured me. “Anyway, we got a disturbance call.  Your brother gave us your work number.”

This is why he gets socks for Christmas.

“So is Tiller loose? Because he gets lost pretty easy, and I need to go home.”

“One of your neighbors called and said you were breaking the law, that Tiller was barking and he doesn’t have a city tag. And we checked, he doesn’t.”

“You checked on the state of his tag? Where do I need to send the Band-Aids?”

“That big furry doofus didn’t bite anyone. He especially didn’t try to bite us.  We were with your brother and had Milk Bones.”

Perfect. His favorite snack.  He’d probably tell them about my speeding problem next.

“I am really not sure what to say to that, Officer.”

“Well, you mentioned he gets lost. Do you let him out a lot without a leash?”

“He develops selective hearing when he’s off the leash, so: No.”

It’s true. Retirement Acres has some nice, wide streets down which it’s possible to attain really stupid speeds in a car and also on four paws.  Most of the residents keep their dogs inside or in a fence or on a really, really long cable so they can run without getting out in the street.  Our Labrador didn’t much care whether she ever went outside, while Tiller and 426 enjoyed watching people come and go.  But my own grandmother was an insurance agent who didn’t like dogs but also liked to calculate the claims made possible by letting one of them roam unaccompanied around the neighborhood.  Did I say she liked calculating those claims?  I lied: She LOVED calculating those claims.  To maybe eight decimal places.  It was just easier to keep them inside the Chez Auto territory.

“We got this complaint from a Mrs R,” he explained. “About the whole law-breaking thing.”

I was literally afraid to say anything, because I know who caused the tire marks in front of the entrance. On the other hand, I knew how the truck got into the lake that one time, too.  It might buy me–

“So my question is,” he asked, clearly perplexed, “how did Mrs R know he doesn’t have a city tag?”

“He does have a city tag,” I said. “I paid for it. I even have the receipt still with me.”

“You’re that organized?”

That’s as good an answer as any, but: no.

“Where is it?”

“He ate it,” I answered. “It’s his hobby.  Eating things.”

There was a long silence where I heard Officer Obie’s pen scratch on his notepad.

“That’s not why she called you,” I offered.

“Then I can’t imagine–“

“She’s taking a creative writing class,” I explained. I knew how the tire marks got in front of her house, too.  “In the mornings.  She’s retired.”

“That’s kinda the theme around there, isn’t it?”

“Are you now trying to play the straight man?”

“I’m hoping to break into stand-up comedy.” I let the statement die over the phone line.  “What does her creative writing class have to do with anything?”

“She takes it in the morning and gets an assignment, then she comes home in the afternoon and takes a nap before she writes.”


“She called because Tiller was barking.”

“That’s…that’s not a crime,” Officer Obie sputtered. “Are you kidding me?”

“Nope,” I said, noting out of the corner of my eye the boss’s significant look at his watch. “She called because he barked at something and he’s keeping her up.”

“You let him out overnight?”

“He’s a mostly black dog in a neighborhood full of people who are mostly blind. Of course I don’t.  The crime she was reporting was the barking.  Not the tag.  Which, I still don’t know how you saw that.”

“He’s a good boy,” Officer Obie shrugged. I could hear him typing in the background.  “You do have a city tag.  I thought you were joking.”

“I never joke with people who carry handcuffs,” I swore.

“Be sure you don’t let him run loose,” Officer Obie counseled. “I’ll have them send you a new tag.”

I reported the incident to my dad, who turned his staff (also retired and a little bored) loose on it. They determined that a barking dog is not, in fact, a crime, especially during the day.  Even at night, the county (we are city residents, not county residents) has an ordinance about noise between midnight and 6 am that is only sporadically enforced.  Daytime barking is generally considered more of a deterrent than anything.

We looked at the engine with expressions that ranged from dismayed to disgusted. Why he thought “be sure to take some oil on your trip” meant “go ahead and pour it in the crankcase” was a mystery that we weren’t likely to solve.  We had filled one eight-quart pan with oil, then continued to pour oil onto the driveway until we got another pan under it.  Someone was about to be dispatched to buy another bag of Spag-sorb, because we used up an entire one on the spill.  It was not looking good for the home team.  By our later calculations, we drained nearly 10 quarts of oil out of a car that held 7.5.  Frankly, the fact that he got the car up the hill to Retirement Acres was an achievement.

“Dolts,” Dad mumbled. “Every last one of them.  And where are they?”

“Out in the Jeep with two of the ninja cats getting Sonic,” I offered. “I’m not sure how having them here would be better.”

When I moved in for what I hoped would be a brief stint in Retirement Acres, I had brought Tiller with me. Dad loves German Shepherds; he’d had several as a child.  But he was reluctant, at his age, to take on another one. Until the night some of my brother’s idiot friends dropped in, and Tiller chased them all the way back to the car.  He refused to let them in the house.  One of them finally drove to the steakhouse and fetched back an uncooked steak to toss at Tiller to get him away from the back door.  I bet you didn’t know a Shepherd can wolf down a New York strip in less than 30 seconds.  Neither did they.  Once Dad realized the possibilities that having a 100 pound dog who loathed young men could have, he had welcomed Tiller with open arms.  Tiller, a good boy, was too happy to help.  Even then, he was laying on the grass with his nose between his paws, watching.  “Sonic” was one of his words, so he hoped that someone would be kind enough to grace him with a chili dog, because that was the only way the friend was going to get his car back without me driving it up the block to meet him.

The officer pulled up with his lights off. Tiller perked up at the sight of his treat-bearing buddy.

“Anything you want to tell me?” Dad asked around his cigar.

“I could ask you the same thing.”

Tiller chortled.

“Ms Auto?” Office Obie asked.

“Present,” I answered. “And accounted for.”

“I’m here on a complaint about your dog running loose.”

I gestured to Tiller, who was now on his back, squirming with his paws in the air in the attempt to look like an adorable puppy. It’s not easy for a one hundred pound dog to pull off this look, but darned if he wasn’t trying.

“That dog?”

“He’s been right there all afternoon, Officer,” Dad said. “Watching the oil spill out of this stupid car.”

“Watch your shoes,” I advised. “We got ten quarts out of it.”

“Out of a Pontiac? How did you even–“

“It’s not ours. We hate to keep you.  What’s up.”

“Loose dog,” he repeated. “If he’s loose, I have to issue you a citation because this is the second call we’ve had.”

“Did you bring the Milk Bones?” Tiller sat up, thumping his tail on the ground. In the absence of chili dogs, Milk Bones would do nicely.


“Call him on up,” I said, leaning back down to reexamine the engine. The officer whistled for Tiller, who glared at me reproachfully, unable to get all the way to where we were, much less to Officer Milk Bone, who was ten feet beyond us.  He gave a sharp bark of displeasure.  Look, a dog with oil on his paws is a dog who’s going to jump on the couch; that’s just a fact of life.  He had half an acre of back yard at his disposal, none of which was currently contaminated with used Pontiac 10w30.

“Want to take a look at his cable?” I offered. “Maybe run around the yard with him?”

“He’s been there all day?”

“All day,” Dad confirmed. “Well, all afternoon anyway.  He’s stays inside over night, and my wife cooked bacon this morning.  You can’t throw him out of the house when there’s bacon.”

“Smart dog. He’s been helping with…whatever this is?”

“Not really,” Dad said. “But neither is the moron who owns the car, so there’s that.  I’m not sure there’s anything that can be done for it.”  A very disgruntled Shepherd settled back down in the grass, thwarted and treatless.  I’d be looking for my shoes for the next month.  “You got a call from Mrs R, right?”

“Yes we did,” Officer Obie confirmed. “We thought–“

“She likes to nap in the afternoons for her creative writing class,” Dad explained. “She doesn’t like it when Tiller barks.  She says he keeps her up when she’s supposed to be–what is it?”

“Restoring her creative process,” I filled in. “She calls here about once a day with these complaints.  Then she calls you.”

“Can you excuse me for a moment?” Officer Obie asked, pulling his cell phone from his pocket. He made a quick, quiet call back to his office.

“Does anyone else on this street have a dog?” he asked.

“We have three,” I volunteered. “The people next door have two.  The people across the street have one.  The people on the corner have two.  The people in the cul-de-sac have one.  Plus we have coyotes.”

“Don’t start,” the officer said, holding up one hand. “I don’t want to hear about the coyotes again.”

“And the people who live in the Grocery Store family’s house have that a-hole Weimaraner who chases everyone.”  The Grocery Store family moved out fifteen years ago.  It will still be referred to as their house until Retirement Acres burns to the ground. “And then the people across the street have Demon the cat.”

It seemed like his move to cross himself was more of a reflex than anything.

“Does he bark in German?” the officer asked, more out of curiosity than anything.

“He barely speaks English,” I murmured. “God help us if he takes up a second language.”

“I checked with my dispatcher,” he said. “It turns out she’s been alternating calls to the police and to the Humane Society about dogs barking on this street for a while now.  She’s made fifteen so far this week.”

By any standard, fifteen calls to law enforcement agencies from one house in Retirement Acres in a week is pretty impressive.

“You know what that means?”

“Dogs bark during the day?” I ventured.

“It’s time to cut her phone off?” Dad mumbled. He couldn’t decide whether the car had stopped draining or not, and also harbored the suspicion that while it was not the reason he had been called out, Office Obie would be only too happy to issue a citation for this mess.

“She’s actually the one committing a crime,” Officer Obie said, surprised. “If she calls again, I’ll give you the number for the city attorney.”

“Why would we need that?”

“To press a civil suit,” he said with a broad smile. “Because if she’s calling to report a crime that’s not happening, she’s actually harassing you and wasting police resources.”


“I swear, I’ll arrest you if you make a joke about how there’s no crime in YesterdayLand,” he warned me. “And I have some questions about those tire marks by the front entrance.”

“Fair enough,” I said. Mom chose that moment to appear in the driveway.

“I didn’t realize we had company,” she said. “Can I get you some tea?  Or a sandwich?  We have bacon.”  Tiller looked up expectantly.  “We have some bacon,” she amended.

“Thank you, ma’am,” he said. “I have to go threaten to arrest an old woman.”

Why couldn’t it have been teens shoplifting at the Wal Mart, he thought. Something easy, with less possibility for physical violence.  Little old ladies were the bane of the entire RAPD, mostly because there were so many of them, and they were so seldom ever wrong and also most of them were retired teachers who were not afraid to call down an officer in that voice.  None of us envied them.

That night, Tiller felt completely justified in grabbing my tomato and bacon sandwich right out of my hand.

“I was eating that,” I said. He returned my look with one that clearly said good dog should be rewarded for not getting arrested and also not getting paws goopy with oil.

Well played, Tiller. I can’t hardly argue.

2 thoughts on “The Unexpected Criminal

  1. “He barely speaks English,” I murmured. “God help us if he takes up a second language.”
    I cracked up at this. Also, my sister trained her dog to respond to commands in both French and English, so it’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility.


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