Guns and gas

One day two weeks ago, I snatched October’s fading sunlight and bustled out to clean up some of the flower beds. My purple heirloom tomato plant had exploded into a messy bush when I wasn’t looking. Now I was tired of it tumbling everywhere—no cage strong enough to support it—so I decided to dig it up and pick its fruit before the frost stole everything. I discovered it had a two-inch-thick trunk, though, so I headed to the garage for the branch clipper and a shovel.

Just then, a police car crept through the alley. Another one followed. Then a third squad car rolled through and stopped next to our driveway. Two officers emerged—in no great hurry—and one of them pointed toward the north.

I sauntered back to my job of chopping down the tomato plant. Once I had hacked through its woody stalk, I sat on the ground and plucked all the green tomatoes; they could ripen later in the warmth of the house. When I was done digging up the plant’s stump, I dragged the load of branches to the fire pit, and then glanced over to the alley. The two police officers still stood near their car—making small talk, it seemed—their eyes trained on something north of us.

Finally, I strode through the gate toward them.

“Can I ask what’s going on?” I framed it more as a statement than a question.

One of the men nodded. “Just some kids with what we think is a pellet gun.”

“Okay. Thanks.” I turned to go.

The officer stepped onto our driveway. “So, how’s the neighborhood been for you?”

“It’s pretty exciting.” I smiled. “But we like it.”

“I used to have a place in south Minneapolis.” He hooked his thumbs on his belt. “But I had to wear a gun to mow the lawn, so I figured it was time to move the family out.”

“Good idea.”

A voice crackled out a message on his radio. He listened and then turned back to me. “Better take this. Have a good one.”

“You too.”


Driving the girls home from school the next day, I turned onto our street, but saw a fire truck barricading our block, barring access to our house. I put the car into park, hopped out, and approached a firefighter sitting high up in the driver’s seat, his window rolled down.

“What’s going on?” I shielded my eyes from the sun.

“There’s a gas leak on the block. You can’t drive through here.”

I told him my address. “Is it close to my house?”

“Sounds like it.” He rattled off the location of the leak. It was the place our neighbors Jeff and Mary were renovating—two doors down from us. “You can try the alley if it’s not taped off.”

I thanked him, climbed back into the vehicle, and turned into the alley. It was clear, so I parked in the back. Even in the open air, the atmosphere reeked of gas. My mind flitted back to the empty house that had once stood on the corner a block away. One night years earlier, I had been awakened by a loud WOOF. The windows of our house had shaken, and in the morning, we saw the abandoned house had been obliterated—an eyesore erased from the landscape in one fell swoop. Hopefully today would see a better conclusion.

Emergency crews from the fire department and the gas company meandered around the street in front of our house. I spotted Mary and headed over to her.

“We were digging around the foundation and nicked a gas line.” Mary’s voice was calm but worry etched her face. “We should’ve called first.”

“Scary.” I blew out a breath. “I’m glad you’re okay.”

“It’s been quite a week.” She let out a soft laugh and shook her head. “Today the fire department, and yesterday I called the police.”  

“Because of the pellet gun incident?”

Mary raked her fingers through her hair and nodded. “I saw two guys sitting on the hood of a car, holding guns that looked like assault rifles. They kept cocking them. I called 911 because I couldn’t tell they were pellet guns, you know? The police searched the car and found something that they put into a paper bag, and they ended up arresting the guys.”

A supervisor from the gas company approached us. He looked down at Mary’s feet and chuckled.

“You’re out here in stocking feet? Where did your shoes go?”

She grinned. “I left the house too fast.”

He jerked his thumb toward her place. “We were able to crimp the line. You should be good now.”

Then he wandered off and hovered near the other workers while they wrapped up their business.

“Here’s hoping I won’t have to call 911 tomorrow.” Mary sighed. “Twice in one week is enough.”

I recalled the episode in May when the fugitive fleeing from the sheriff’s department crashed his car at the end of our block and scrambled up onto someone’s roof for a three-hour stand-off with the police. I had visited with Mary that day too. And she had warmly invited me in and given me a tour of her house and a glimpse into her life.

“Sometime when we’re not busy with the police, we should have coffee.”

She bobbed her head and smiled. “I’d like that.”


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*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.