Problems

I was standing in my driveway, saying hello to a neighbor walking her dog. K does this four or five times a day. Retirement is a good thing. Especially for doggies who need attention.

So I’m saying hello to her and her dog starts barking and jumping around. My neighbor tries to quiet her down but to no avail.

A man from across the road comes out on his lānai and tells her to shut her dog up because he’s trying to sleep. I look at my watch, and it’s almost noon. All the while the dog is going nuts.

Sympathetic to the woman and her dog because I have a dog, too, I yell up at the man, “Hey, can’t you see something’s wrong? Can’t you tell something’s got her dog all excited?”

“Why don’t you shut up, too?” the angry man says.

By the way, this is not the man who lives in that house. He’s some stranger. The man who lives alone in that house is older than I am. This guy is younger.

Instead of responding to his taunt, I walk to where my neighbor is trying to restrain her dog.

“What is it?” I ask. “What’s wrong?”

“It’s over there behind the hedge,” K says, pointing to the area by the bus stop below the angry man.

I walk over to see what it is, and it’s my real neighbor from across the street, the one who actually lives in the house where the angry man is yelling at us from. He’s lying by the bus bench. I reach down to feel his pulse. Nothing.

“It’s Mr. M,” I say to K. “I think he’s dead.”

She brings her dog forward, the dog still frantic, and stands beside me looking at our neighbor.

“Was he catching the bus?” K asks.

“I don’t think so,” I said. “He still drives. Does it look like maybe he fell off the wall?”

We both look up, and the angry man is standing right at the edge of the wall.

“You’re a murderer,” K screams up at him. “You pushed him off.”

The angry man disappears from above us.

K resumes her walk down the hill, her dog calming down the further away they go from this man’s body. And then the angry man is back, but this time he’s carrying a baseball bat.

“You think I killed him?” he yells down at me. “I’ll show you.”

And with that, he jumps down beside me. It’s quite a drop. I might be more impressed than worried. Raising the bat menacingly, he says, “You think I would kill my dad?”

“Actually,” I say, “it was K who said you’d pushed him off the wall. Not me. I don’t know what happened to this man.”

The angry man lowers the bat. “I would never kill my dad.” He’s hitting the palm of his hand rhythmically with the bat. For some reason, this scares me more than all his blustering.

“He’s your father?” I ask.

“Yes. I just came back from the mainland last night, and I’m staying with him. I have jet-lag and was trying to sleep in.”

I’d never known my neighbor had a son. “So you think he fell?” I ask. I didn’t even know he must have had a wife at one time.

“Of course, he fell,” the now calm man says, the bat keeping time. “What else could have happened?”

At this point, two police cars pull up on the shoulder in front of us. The son, his eyes shifting to them, drops the bat in the grassy shoulder. This makes my palms start to sweat and my pulse to rise. The officers both step out, and one of them asks us what’s going on.

The son can’t seem to articulate the situation what with his grief. Is it genuine? I tell the officers what seems to have happened. One is taking notes while the other radios a request for the forensics team.

One officer takes me off to the side by my house. The other sits with the grieving man on the bus stop bench.

“So tell me what happened?” the officer says as we sit down on my stone wall. I’m guessing the other officer is asking the same of the son.

“Well,” I say, “I think that guy pushed his father off the wall above there.” I point. “That’s their house. I think it’s high enough so that a man his age could be killed by the fall.”

“And did you see it?” asks the officer.

“No, but he threatened me with a baseball bat. He’s violent.”

“Did he hit you?”

“No, but he could have. I tell you he’s an angry, violent man. And I think that grieving’s an act.”

I fill him in on what the son told me about coming back to Hawai‘i last night. The coroner’s people arrive. The other officer comes up the street to stand by us. The son is still sitting on the bus stop bench.

The officer signals to the other one to join him off to the side. They confer. Then they both come up to me.

“You’re going to have to come down to the station with us.”

“What? Me?”

“You’ll need to answer some questions. He’s accusing you of killing his father.”

“What? You’ve got to be kidding me. Don’t you see that baseball bat in the grass over there? He was going to hit me with that thing. Why would I kill his father?”

“He says he was sleeping and came to because he could hear his father yelling at you this morning about your dog making noise. He was trying to sleep, but he couldn’t because of your dog and his father yelling. All of a sudden, he says, his father stopped, but your dog kept barking. He thinks you went up there and pushed his father off the wall.”

I can’t believe this. I ask them to please go talk to my neighbor K. “She can clear this up,” I say.

So they walk me to K’s house. “Yes,” she says, “that man was yelling at us because my dog went crazy when it sensed the body of the old man.”

“You see,” I say. “He’s the one you need to take in for further questioning.”

One of the officers says, “I guess we’ll be taking you both in now.”

I cannot believe how this is going. “Don’t forget to have those guys pick up that baseball bat,” I say. “His fingerprints are all over it.”

One of the officers says to K, “Would you please come down to the station, ma‘am, and give us a statement?”

K affirms she will do so. I’m happy that at least one person is in my corner.

I and the two officers walk back up the hill. When the bus stop bench comes back into view, the cson is nowhere to be seen.

“See,” I say, “now he’s gone and escaped. And look,” I point to the grass below his house. “The bat’s gone.”

“He’s probably back at his house,” one officer says. “I’ll go get him.”

The other officer and I wait.

Emerging from the house and coming over to the wall, the other officer calls down. “He’s not up here.”

“What?” exclaims the other officer.

Leaving me, he hurries up to the house. I can see the two of them doing a mad search that only confirms the father-killer has disappeared.

Completely forgetting about me, they call for backup, and we are speedily swarmed by a half-dozen more police. They split up the neighborhood and proceed with a systematic search.

I go back into my house feeling vindicated. Downstairs I pour myself a cup of coffee and step out onto my lānai. I’m calmed down now.

As I sit, I have the sense I’m not alone. Briefly, I wonder where my dog is.

The killer of his father steps out from behind the water heater, baseball bat in hand. “You are a problem,” he says.

I’m a problem? He should see it from my side.

“Why’d you do it?” I ask.

He laughs and pounds the bat hard and rhythmically against the palm of his hand.

“He was a problem too,” he says.

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