When Sam hung out at Barney’s for a few hours, there was a better than average chance he would hear a couple of thugs planning a heist, setting up a drug deal or discussing some other criminal act. Trolling the Briarwood subdivision in search of a food thief was like looking for a needle in a haystack. It was impossible for one individual to surveil an entire neighborhood effectively. It would be a miracle if he were in the right place at the right time.
Sam spent the first night in Briarwood patrolling Poplar Street, Magnolia Ave., and Pine Ridge Drive The second night he concentrated on Spruce, Elm and Willow Streets in the southern section of the subdivision. There were two vacant houses on Spruce and one on Elm. The homeowners had recently moved to a retirement center and the houses were in the process of being updated. In addition, there were two houses on Spruce occupied by widowers who were in their nineties. Two other houses were occupied by couples in their eighties. If the thief were smart, and he seemed to be, he would have already moved on to a different neighborhood. On the other hand, he may have reasoned that the friendly folks of Briarwood were more likely to leave their doors unlocked than the folks in other neighborhoods.
Fairview’s one gated community was sandwiched between Lake Helena and the Fairview Country Club. Two other subdivisions sold exquisite homes priced from $300,000 to $600,000. For buyers searching for convenience, a reasonable mortgage, good schools and charm, Briarwood was the preferred subdivision. The cottage and bungalow style homes and large yards were beautifully maintained. In the spring, the flowering trees and flower beds were awash with color. From fall until Christmas, the homes and fenced in yards—white picket fences— were decked out in either fall, Halloween, Thanksgiving or Christmas decorations. The neighborhood was on Fairview’s “Must Visit List” during the holiday season.
The homes on Spruce Street were the first homes built in the subdivision. Fifty per cent of the original homeowners on Spruce and Elm still lived there. Martin Jacobs and Glenn Dixon, both widowers, had the distinction of being the oldest Briarwood residents. Both men had daughters who did their grocery shopping, but the men were still driving and could often be seen working in their yards alongside an employee from Simmons’s Lawn Service. Years ago, a local Garden Club started by Francine Dixon, Glenn’s wife, had planted wildflowers in the natural areas scattered through the subdivision.
Back when Joanna was in high school, she spent many happy hours in Glenn and Francine Dixon’s home. After Francine’s death, she and her Aunt Polly frequently checked on Glenn to make sure that he was adjusting to being alone. Periodically, Polly sent her handyman over to Glenn’s house to make sure his house was in good repair. Since Sam was in the neighborhood, it made sense for him to do some checking of his own. He was inspecting a buckling sidewalk in Glenn’s backyard when he saw movement out of the corner of his eye. A dark figure exited the back door of the house next door. The individual darted to the murky dark shadows near the fence-line. Sam followed. The intruder scrambled over the back fence and headed north. Ten minutes later, he darted across Poplar street and disappeared into a stand of trees. Whoever he was, it was obvious that he was familiar with the path he had chosen.
Sam’s ears perked up when he heard the happy bark of a dog. Seconds later, the thief stooped down to untie a leash tied to a fence. For the first time Sam was able to see the features of the thief. He shook his head in disbelief and muttered, “Damn. Briarwood’s hungry camper is a kid. A kid who is too young to be roaming the streets at two o’clock in the morning.”