It all began when Janie Rodger’s dog, from Number 51 Greenborough Circle, dug up the bones in Sy Torino’s backyard. Five 60-ish, suburban ranchboxes hid in this quiet enclave. A city bylaw insisted that dogs be penned up, but since Buster couldn’t read, he slipped his chain that morning without the least sense of guilt for what he was doing or for the trouble he was about to cause. He visited his neighbours, the Sanders, at Number 53, crossed the circle and sniffed, snuffled and scented his way to numbers 59 — Sorensons had a cute poodle — and 57, where the Jacksons lived, ending his inspection tour in the middle, at 55 Greenborough Circle. Ignorance was both excuse and bliss for man and beast, at least up until this moment.
Buster knew that there was no dog at Number 55. He was no bloodhound, but he had a good nose nonetheless. No cat at 55 either, which was a pity. He longed to stretch his legs farther than his chain usually allowed him. Buster sauntered up the gravel driveway, swung right toward the front door, pausing to water the begonias in the flower bed. The welcome mat was out, hedgehog brown and bristly. Buster gave himself a well-earned massage from snout to backside and continued on his way, still heading to the right around the side of the house.
Mr. Torino had been busy. The scent of freshly cut grass tickled the dog’s nose. He paused for a roll and a brief sun bath then headed for the cool of the lilac bush at the back of the yard. Too much sun could kill, so he’d heard. Buster raised his snout, then lowered it. There was something here. In the air? Lilacs? No, spring had passed, and even though Sy had the best and most spectacular lilacs on the circle, there was nothing left but leaves at this time of the year. But there was something, a subtle hint of the forbidden, the prohibited. The dog rested his head once more and realized that the smell was slightly stronger on the ground. Leaving his nose glued to the dirt, he got up, circled to the left and determined that there was something buried under the lilac bush.
When Janie Rodgers got home from work, she found Buster unchained, lounging in the chaise on her back patio contentedly chewing on a bone. That was astonishing enough, but surprise turned to horror when Janie realized that there was a piece of cloth stuck to one bulbous end. She called the police.
It didn’t take long for the authorities to discover the hole under the lilac tree and the remains of Buster’s delicious find. The quiet community of Greenborough Circle was gone, overwhelmed by the comings and goings of police cars, ambulances, the forensic examiner’s SUV, reporters connected to camera crews from local newspapers and television stations and finally, the black van from the city morgue. Yellow crime scene tape stained the pristine orderliness of Sy’s manicured backyard. The reporters were herded to the end of the driveway, the neighbours watched from a more discrete distance and speculated.
“I wondered who it was …?”
“… and how it got in Sy’s back yard …”
“… under the lilac bush. Maybe that’s why Sy has such great lilacs in the spring!”
“That’s rude and not funny!”
“We’ve all been here for years. How is it that no one ever knew there was a body buried there?”
“The police have been inside with Sy for a long time. I wonder what they are asking him. I mean, it shouldn’t take this long, should it?”
“ … they must be grilling him.”
“Grilling him? Why? What would that old man know about the body buried in his back yard?
“Surely they can’t suspect Sy!”
“Of course not. Don’t be ridiculous. Sy’s been our friend and neighbour for years. He was the first one here on the Circle. He played with our kids when they were small. I borrowed his lawnmower more times than I care to remember.”
“ … well, that’s it, isn’t it?”
“Sy was the first one here. He was a widower when we all moved to Greenborough Circle. And in all these years, he has never talked much about his wife.”
“You can’t seriously think that he offed his wife and buried her under the lilac bush!”
“ … I’m only saying …”
“They never found Jackson’s little girl …”
“What? What are you talking about?”
“You remember, Sarah Jackson. She disappeared from the front yard over there at 57. No one ever found her.”
“Well, you were the one that said that Sy used to play with all our kids. Maybe he played …”
“From a wife killer to a kidnapper, child molester and murderer? You’re crazy! Sy was our friend and neighbour for years. You even go to the same church with him”
“You said ‘was’ so you think it’s possible too.”
“No, of course not. But …”
The discussion went on for hours around the Circle called Greenborough. In fact, it went on for days, weeks and months. The reporters went back to juicier stories, the police cars stopped pulling into Torino’s driveway, and the yellow tape was rolled up and trashed. Under the lilac bush, the earth settled once again, covering the hole that had been Cindy Masterson’s second-to-final resting place. She turned out to be a police cold case now resolved, buried in Torino’s backyard long before it was a backyard. It was only by chance that Sy hadn’t dug her up when he planted the lilac bush in memory of his wife the year after the house at 55 Greenborough Circle was built. Her boyfriend never imagined that Buster would uncover his crime so many years later.
The Jacksons, Sanders, Rodgers and Sorensons still live on Greenborough Circle. But two years after Buster’s adventure Sy Torino moved away. The body under the lilac bush accused him of nothing. But the awkward silences and curious, speculative stares from former friends and neighbours, the new coolness that descended into coldness frozen by the “buts”, “what if’s” “I wonders” and the “maybes” that hung over the enclave, continued to accuse him of everything long after Cindy Masterson’s death was solved.
None of Sy’s neighbours ever asked him about why the police spent so much time at his house that day. So they never knew that the detective was a old friend from high school who had decided to do a little reminiscing about old times while he was in the neighbourhood. No one asked what had happened to Sy’s wife. He could have told them where he went every Thursday afternoon. The gardener at the cemetery set his watch by Sy. And Sarah Jackson? Five years after Buster dug up Sy’s backyard the body of a little girl was discovered in the woods fifty miles from Greenborough Circle, her resting place revealed by a serial rapist in exchange for a deal that would save him from death row. By then it was too late for a reprieve for Sy Torino. He too was gone.
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:1 NIV)
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Love this incredibly sensitive call to presumption of innocence until found guilty. This is a Christian non-judgemental principle enshrined in our law. There are times when it needs strongly assertive defence by Christians in the face of self-preserving cronyism and this was one. Well done.
Scheww...this gave me goose bumps!
What an awesome story! You had me caught from the beginning. Your point of view in the beginning of how the dog felt really drew me into the story.
Thanks for sharing.