THE HEDGE

 

By Jeff Behr

 



Was it the neighbor’s floodlights in their backyard that wakened them, or was it the clatter of the rubbish bin falling over that did? The floodlights were bright and lit up the entire backyard, bathing it in an ethereal glow. The Taylors had frequently complained to their neighbours about the intense light shining through their upstairs bedroom window at night but had been told to: ‘like or lump it! They are for our security!’ Just one more annoying thing that they counted against their neighbors. They really didn’t like their neighbors.

‘Omigod, it’s two in the morning! What can Jason be up to at this hour? Go take a peek, Lenny! What’s going on?’ Theresa shoved her husband out of their bed.

Leonard went to their window. Pulling the drape slightly to one side he looked out. It didn’t take him long to call his wife over.

‘Ya gotta take a look at this, babe. Come quick. Jason’s up to no good!’

‘Wouldn’t put it past him!’ she jumped out of bed and joined her husband at the window. The pair of them stared with unbelieving eyes at the well-illuminated scene unfolding before them.

The lights flooded the backyard with bright, white light. It revealed their neighbor, Jason, dressed in a pair of coveralls standing next to a newly dug-over piece of ground about seven foot long and three wide. He wiped his forehead with a rag; his earlier exertions clearly having caused him to break out in a sweat.  He pressed down the soil with his shovel and then smoothed it out with a rake.  Then he walked to the small back porch, leant the gardening tools up against the wall, and after righting a toppled-over rubbish bin, entered his house via the back door.  The floodlights were switched off.

‘Now that’s what I call suspicious!’ Theresa commented.

‘Ya, even if he was just doing some late night gardening, it sure is mighty suspicious.’

‘Late night gardening, Lenny?’ Theresa snorted incredulously. ‘Who in their right mind digs a flower bed at two a.m.? No, Jason is up to something nasty, even illegal. Phone 911, Leonard!’

‘No point doin’ it now, babe. It ain’t no emergency. Anyway, there ain’t no law against a person gardening in the early hours of the morning!’

‘But what about disturbing the peace?’

‘Any disturbance there may have been is already over; the cops won’t see nothin’ when they get here. Let’s go back to bed for now. We’ll talk to Jason when it’s daylight.’

‘The sooner the Greenwoods sell their house and leave our neighbourhood, the better. I’m sick of these folk!’ Theresa’s emotions were boiling over.

 

Jason was busy watering his front garden when Leonard and Theresa approached him.

‘Mornin’ neighbor,’ Lenny greeted Jason.

‘Good morning, Lenny, Theresa,’ Jason continued watering the flower bed, not paying Mr and Mrs Taylor much attention.

‘Your garden’s looking good, Jason. You must have those green fingers people talk about?’

Theresa knew how to get her neighbor’s attention. Jason was a very keen gardener.

‘Green fingers are simple. The right amount of compost, suitable fertilizer, proper drainage, frequent watering and there you have it. That’s me, Jason ‘Green fingers’ Greenwood.’

‘You’re always working in your garden, hey! Busy with any new projects?’

‘Yes I am.  I’m planting a small hedge in my back yard.’

‘Why bother doing that if you’re selling your house?’ Theresa rested her hand on the realtor’s FOR SALE sign.

‘The hedge will hide that unsightly bit of the house near the back door and hopefully help raise the price we can get for the place.’

‘Your house has been on the market for a while, hasn’t it?’

‘Seven months. Our realtor says we are asking too much for the house and that’s why there isn’t a lot of interest in it. I don’t believe her; our house is worth the price we are asking for it. So we have to do what we can to make sure we get our asking price.’

‘Speaking of Natalie, how is she?’ Theresa was also a nosey parker.

‘Frankly, I don’t know. We had a huge ‘exchange of words’ a few days ago. She packed a suitcase and left, saying she was going to her mother in Alaska. I haven’t spoken to her since.’

‘Aw, bummer, Jase. Hope ya get things sorted.’ Lenny was sympathetic.

Theresa decided to take the bull by the horns.

‘Jason, why did you choose to do some gardening in the early hours of this morning? Those goddamn security floodlights of yours woke us up at two o’clock and there you were, gardening!’

Jason laughed. ‘I couldn’t sleep, that’s all. I was tossing and turning all night thinking about how I could get Nats to return home. I eventually decided to put in some physical labour to see if that would tire me out.’

‘You guys are the worst neighbors we have ever had! You’re a selfish sh*t, Jason! You never take us into consideration. Sheesh! Waking us at that time just because you couldn’t get to sleep! We have often complained to you about how bright those lights are and still you go ahead and switch them on so that you could do some gardening at some ungodly hour! What about us and our sleep?’ Theresa’s anger was bubbling under.

‘I do apologize. It was extremely selfish of me. Please forgive me.’

‘No, we can’t, Jase! No ways! You overstepped the line, man! Just don’t do it again, a**hole!’ Lenny shouted. He took his wife by the elbow. ‘Let’s go home, babe. Leave him to his watering. We got better things to do.’ They returned to their house.

‘See? Jason’s up to no good! We have to get to the bottom of it. Let’s look at the facts. One, he’s digging up his backyard at two a.m.! Two, the bed he dug is about the same size as a grave! Three, he had a fight with Natalie. Four, he said Natalie said she was going to her mother. Five, what about that gunshot in his house a few days ago?’ Theresa had it all worked out.

‘Oh yeah, when you add in the gunshot, it makes sense, don’t it?!’

‘Lenny, it all adds up! I think Jason has shot and killed Natalie and buried her in their back yard! The hedge he is planting is a smokescreen to hide the truth from prying eyes. Sorry for him, our prying eyes have seen for themselves what he is up to. I think we had better phone 911 and get the cops around.’

Lenny dialed 911. The police arrived shortly thereafter.

The patrolman took a statement from them. The cop reprimanded the Taylors for wasting law enforcement’s valuable time with a nuisance call.

‘Digging a garden isn’t a suspicious act, no matter the time of day or night. Ok, so you don’t get on with your neighbours, that’s your problem folks, don’t make it ours. If you don’t like your neighbors, it’s simple; resolve your issues or move! Remember, suspicions are one thing, facts another! You just gave me suspicions, nothing more!’ the policeman barely controlled his annoyance.

‘But, what about the gunshot?’

‘I don’t have to explain anything to you folks. But when I spoke to Mr Greenwood, he gave me a plausible answer. So that’s that,’ the patrolman turned to leave.

‘The missing wife?’ Theresa prompted.

‘None of your business, Mrs Taylor!! It’s a personal matter between Mr and Mrs Greenwood. I suggest you keep your nose out of their business! Now, if you don’t mind, I have more important matters to attend to than wasting my time on nuisance calls.’ He climbed into his patrol car and drove off.

Two days later, Theresa was again woken in the early hours of the morning by the neighbour’s floodlights blazing through the bedroom window. But as she was getting out of bed to investigate, the lights were switched off so she settled back and tried to fall asleep. A few minutes later, the floodlights were switched on again and stayed on. Theresa shook her husband awake. ‘Lenny, that idiot next door is gardening at two o’clock in the morning again. You go give him what for!

Leonard got out of bed and went to the window, fully intending to shout at Jason but what he saw stopped him dead in his tracks. ‘Come here, babe! Come quick! Ya gotta see this!’ Theresa joined him at the window and they watched the drama next door unfolding before their eyes.

Where previously there had been a neatly prepared patch of soil there was now a gaping four foot deep hole. Behind the hole stood half a dozen three foot high hedge shrubs in plastic containers. Dressed in coveralls, Jason appeared from around the side of the house. He was doubled over, walking slowly backwards and dragging along something heavy wrapped in black plastic. The watchers were horrified to see a small, female foot protruding from a hole in the plastic.

‘Omigod, Lenny, look at that. See that!?’

‘Yeah, that foot! Wow!’

‘We must phone 911, right away!’

‘Nah, let’s wait and see what he is up to. The owner of that foot ain’t going nowhere right now. Anyway, I’ve got an idea how we can make some money out of this! Tell ya about it later.’

‘It’s Natalie in those plastic bags! I know it’s her! Omigod, how terrible!’

Jason rolled the black bag covered item into the hole. He smashed down on it with the shovel, the crunch of his labors reaching the watchers who cringed at the sound. Then he filled in the hole from the pile of soil he had dug out earlier. He smoothed out the soil with a rake and then carefully dug six, medium sized, equally spaced holes and planted the hedge plants into them.  He used his garden hose to give each of the shrubs a generous soaking of water. Satisfied that his work was completed, he turned off the water, picked up the rake and shovel and leant them against the house’s wall.

Theresa and Leonard looked on in rapt fascination.

Jason then stripped off his garden gloves, removed his dirty boots and left them on the back porch. He entered his house through the back door. Shortly thereafter, the floodlights were switched off.

‘Lenny! Omigod! Jason is a cold blooded murderer and he has just buried his wife’s dead body in his back yard!’

‘Yeah, I’m with ya on that, babe. The sh*t thinks he is going to get away with it! But he ain’t! We saw it all!’

‘You said there might be a way for us to get some bucks out of this?’ Though Theresa was still reeling from what she had just witnessed, the mention of making money out of it grabbed her greedy attention. ‘So, what’s your idea then, Lenny?’

Lenny told her that what he suggested was for them to contact all the major TV news stations, both local and national, as well as the various FM news stations and the press in a couple of hours from then and tell them what they had been eyewitnesses to. Since the best view of any proceedings that might later take place in Jason’s back yard was from their bedroom window, they would offer that as a strategic vantage point to the highest bidder. They would demand a payment up front from the TV stations for Jason’s address.  Then they would phone 911 and tell their story to law enforcement.

‘So ya see, babe, we’ll become famous on TV when we get interviewed, and we’ll also get a nice bit of cash thrown in! Waddaya think?’

‘Brilliant idea, Lenny!’

Before the sun had risen they had made all their calls to the various media, including the press. A check on Theresa’s banking app. confirmed that money was indeed coming in. An hour later the first of the TV broadcast vans parked outside Jason’s property followed by the crew from the TV network that had secured the filming rights from the Taylors’ bedroom window.

The screaming of police sirens heralded the arrival of law enforcement. Patrol and other police cars screeched to a halt nearby. Yellow ‘Police Line Do Not Cross’ tape was quickly strung across the lawn in front of Jason’s property.

TV cameras rolled. Anchor-men and women spoke earnestly into their microphones. Sound engineers twiddled and thumbed the knobs and sliders on their equipment. Uniformed police held back the growing crowds. Warnings were broadcast through megaphones. 

Two detectives and a uniformed cop went up to Jason’s front door. As they arrived, the door opened. Jason stepped out.

‘Good morning, gentlemen,’ he said politely.

‘Good morning, sir. I’m detective Majors and this is my colleague, detective Durham. I take it you are Jason Greenwood?’ asked the senior detective, showing Jason his badge.

‘I am indeed he. Would you mind telling me what all this commotion is about?’

‘We have reason to believe that you have committed a crime so we are placing you under arrest on suspicion of murder.’ He read Jason his rights then motioned Jason to go inside with him.

‘Would you mind answering some questions, sir?’

‘Sure, no problem at all!’

‘Thank you for your cooperation. Do you have a gun?’ Detective Majors asked.

‘No.’

‘Did you recently fire a gun in this house?’

‘Yes, if you could call a starting pistol a ‘gun.’ I am a teacher at Townlee School and had brought home the school’s athletics starting pistol to clean and had overlooked clearing the chamber before I started. The pistol fired accidentally. Scared my poor wife silly!’

‘Speaking of your wife. Where is she?’

‘She said she was going to her mother in Anchorage after we had an exchange of words a few days ago.’

‘We traced her mother’s phone number before we came here and phoned her. She said your wife hadn’t visited her recently.’

‘Well, Alaska’s a really long way from here. Maybe Natalie didn’t have enough money to buy a plane ticket there. She could possibly also have decided to go visit somebody else at the last minute, I don’t know. All I know is that she said she was going to her mother’s.’

‘Have you phoned her?’

‘No, I didn’t want to speak to her.’

‘Can we phone her?’

‘Sure!’ he gave the detective her number which he called. There was no answer and after a few rings it switched over to voice mail.

‘No response, Jason. Only voice mail. Any comment?’

Jason shrugged, not saying anything.

The detective decided to try shock tactics. ‘Did you kill your wife and bury her in your back yard?’

‘No, of course not! Holy cow! What gives you that idea?’

‘We have our sources. Do we have your permission to search your premises?’

‘No ways! You’ll need a search warrant if you want to do that!’

‘Thought you might say that. Ah, there you are,’ detective Majors addressed a young man who had just come through the front door, ‘you got it?’

The young man handed over a folded sheet of paper to the detective.  ‘Judge Bernstein had no hesitation in issuing it.’

‘Thank you, sergeant. Now, Mr Greenwood, you know what this piece of paper is, don’t you?’

‘I want to speak to my lawyer.’

‘Sure, go ahead, call him, it’s your right.’ He handed the search warrant to Jason. He barely glanced at it then handed it back to the detective. He dialed his lawyer’s number.

‘Let’s get on with it,’ detective Majors addressed the uniformed policeman in the chair opposite. ‘Tell those men with the shovels to dig out that area under the newly planted hedge.’ He sat back and smirked at Jason. ‘Anything to say?’

‘I really do think you are digging a hole for yourself, detective.’ Jason smiled. ‘If I were you I would be careful in what I say or do from now on!’

‘Yeah right, we’ll see,’ the detective retorted, ‘arrogant sh*t,’ he muttered under his breath.

Jason’s lawyer had by this time answered his call. The two of them were immediately deep in conversation.

The camera crew perched in Taylor’s bedroom window filmed two workmen carrying long handled shovels as they came from around the house. The hedge shrubs were quickly dug up.

Jason, now in handcuffs, and detectives Majors and Durham emerged from the house’s back door. They stood watching the proceedings from the porch.

It wasn’t long before the workmen stopped their digging. ‘We have hit black plastic!’ one of them announced.

‘Carry on men, but be careful what you do from now on. Remember this is a crime scene so we don’t want to destroy any evidence!’ Detective Majors was at his assured best.

Continuing their efforts they lifted out the plastic bag wrapped item and laid it on the ground next to the hole. Detective Majors walked casually over to the object and with a penknife slit through the plastic that had been somewhat mangled by Jason’s shovel.

He looked in dismay at what was revealed. Peeling back the plastic he saw lots of old clothes wrapped around a manikin. The manikin was the worse for wear from where Jason had smashed it with his shovel, but it was clearly a female manikin, the type commonly seen in clothing stores.

‘WHAT THE … &%@#!?’ Detective Majors was stunned.

Jason smiled. ‘Would you remove these handcuffs please, detective Majors? I need to contact my wife.’ Once the cuffs were off Jason called his wife’s cell phone and, as expected, went straight through to voice mail. He said, ‘Hello Nats. I’m sorry. Please come home.’



A COUPLE OF WEEKS BEFORE JASON’S ARREST.

‘I have a plan to increase visibility for the sale of our house,’ Jason said.

He and Natalie were sitting in the lounge. They had, as they had so often before, been discussing the poor response to the sale of their property.

Any plan right now will be a great plan, Jason! We have to sell this place as soon as we can because that headmaster’s post in Anchorage isn’t going to stay indefinitely open for you, you know. We really need the cash to set ourselves up in a home in Alaska, but, why am I saying this, we know this all too well already.’

‘Well, here’s my plan. How about we get our neighbours to sell our house for us?’

‘Lenny and Theresa? Get them to…? Oh, Jason, that would never work! I know they dislike us with a passion and can’t wait for us to leave the neighbourhood, but to get them to sell our house for us? No Jason, you have…’

Jason interrupted. ‘Ssssssh Nats, it’s all figured out. Listen carefully because we have to be totally on the same page for it to work. The best part about it is that the Taylors will do our dirty work for us and all we have to do is to be smart! You with me?’ she nodded.

So Jason laid out his plan.

He and Natalie would have a very loud exchange of words in their kitchen. They had to be sure that their neighbours heard them so at that time they would leave the kitchen windows and door wide open.

He would bring home Townlee School’s athletics starting pistol on the pretext that it needed to be cleaned for the upcoming inter-school athletic meet. Not long after their ‘exchange of words’ in the kitchen he would fire off a single shot.

Then they would sneak out of their home and stand in front of some random house in the next street. Natalie would ‘phone a late night cab service and arrange to be picked up from that spot. 

She would then turn off her cell phone and thereafter would only switch it on occasionally to check it for voice messages. She would neither phone in nor out nor use it in any other way until, as Jason put it, the coast was clear. The code words for advising her that the plan had worked were: ‘I’m sorry. Please come home.’

Jason would have no idea of her actual destination.

The next step in the plan was to put their neighbour’s inquisitiveness on high alert. First up, he would install a couple of very bright floodlights in his backyard, specifically to light up his early morning activities so that his neighbors could see them clearly. His avowed reason for installing the floodlights was that he was enhancing his property’s security arrangements. Whenever he had the opportunity, he would switch on these lights so that they would wake his neighbors. The more he did this, the more they would complain about it.

Then, he would set the trap.

One really early morning he would carefully dig up a patch of ground. Once he was almost ready to smooth it over, he would switch on the floodlights and make an ‘accidental’ noise that he knew would alert his neighbors. He knew his neighbors well enough to be certain they would be watching his every move from their upstairs bedroom window. If his neighbors complained to him about gardening so early in the morning he would make suitable excuses.

A couple of nights later he would dig a fairly deep hole in the same spot. When he was ready to get the neighbor’s attention he would switch on the floodlights, bathing the backyard in brilliant light.

The trap would then be sprung.

He would go to the garage to collect the ‘package’ central to the plan. The package consisted of a clothing store manikin bought from a charity store in the city. It would be wrapped up in old clothing to give it bulk and weight. The package would be dragged along, one of its feet deliberately poking through a hole in the plastic and then thrown into the hole. Using a shovel he would smash down on it, breaking the manikin into pieces. If asked, as he knew he certainly would be, Jason’s response would be that he needed something substantial to use as drainage underneath the newly planted hedge. The manikin, together with the old clothing fitted that purpose perfectly.

His neighbours’ inherent curiosity and their intense dislike of them would have them immediately jumping to conclusions. Jason knew they would, without doubt, call the police to report that a murder had been committed next door and that they were eyewitnesses to the corpse’s burial. 


AFTER JASON’S ARREST

Natalie received Jason’s coded voice mail and immediately flew home. When she had left home after their ‘exchange of words’ she had travelled south to New Orleans where she had stayed with an old school friend of hers. Jason had absolutely no idea she had gone there.

The Greenwood’s home sold the very next week at a higher price than had originally been asked for. The intense media coverage had endowed the property with the kind of notoriety that certain people enjoyed and soon a minor bidding war had broken out for it.

The Taylors became the laughing stock of their community. Their local newspaper carried the headline JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS: NEW OLYMPIC SPORT. The television stations had a field day. A social media account, #NoseyNeighbors was set up and the Internet went crazy with people poking fun at the two of them. It was a result that neither Natalie nor Jason had expected nor even wanted, and it saddened them.

Jason flew to Anchorage and immediately took up his position as the new principal of the school. Natalie followed him shortly thereafter.

The Greenwoods, on the advice of their lawyer, chose not to sue the local police department for wrongful arrest. All they asked for, and got, was a public apology. 

The police replanted the hedge over Jason’s ‘manikin based’ drainage system. It thrives to this day. 




Jeff Behr is a pen name for Geoffrey (Geoff) Behrent. He writes under two pen names: 1) Romantic fiction as ‘Gina Behr’ and 2) Flash Fiction and Short Stories as ‘Jeff Behr.’ He also has submitted one book for possible publication under his own name.

Though he hasn’t published any fiction before but he is working hard at getting his endeavours into print. He has completed two novels and a number of shorter stories. He is currently writing one more novel and an amusing novella. Whilst he is keen to have his work published he says he is definitely not interested in self-publishing in any shape or form.

His writing background is as a respected speech writer (15 years) for heavy-weight executives within South Africa’s mining industry; sub-editor of a monthly mining newspaper; sometime journalist; writer of various articles pertaining to mining (was once published in the South African Airways Italian language version of its in-flight magazine) and the same article was included in the South African Embassies’ Dutch and French language inter-embassy magazines.

Mr. Behrent at present writes a monthly column (‘Bantering M@tters’) for a local newspaper (Nix M@tters) under the name of Ron Buyers (for personal reasons) and has done so for many years. Nix M@tters is available online (www.nixmatters.co.za) Mr. Behrent is a male South African who turned 70 years of age in December, 2018. He has been married for 45 years and has two adult daughters and a grandson from each.


Copyright 2019 Jeff Behr. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!

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