Officer Felix Marquez pulled his cruiser to the curb in front of a small, off-white, colonial house on a nondescript corner of a cul-de-sac. Many of the homes in this part of town looked the same. He checked his GPS again and confirmed his location. Built in the mid-twentieth century, many of these homes had seen better days. And yet, this simple, large residential tract held a lot of charm with their blended mix of young and old. Low crime, neighborhood watches and cleanup crews added to their appeal.
Rolling his car a several feet forward, he parked underneath a large ash tree. One of many which dotted this particular stretch of suburbia. A soft breeze ruffled his papers on the seat beside him and he imagined himself sitting in a hammock with a glass of cool iced tea in his hand. The thought was intoxicating, but it was the scent of freshly mowed lawn intermixed with children’s soft laughter which made him content and drowsy. Felix had grown up in a small town similar to this one and enjoyed the Mayberry feel.
Of course, this area couldn’t compare to the ostentatious homes on the other side of town. Built upon a small, rolling knoll less than a decade ago, Snob Hill was often an aspiring residence to anyone on the force looking to advance. Despite the status Snob Hill would bring, Felix found himself preferring to raise a family here. Hadn’t his girlfriend, Cindee been hinting about that very thing? Cindee was down to earth and had no desire to keep up with the Jones’. It was one of many qualities he loved in her and still he hesitated in popping the question.
Despite his yearning to settle down and start a family, he couldn’t ignore the stats. Marriage in law enforcement was dismal at best and the divorce rate was through the roof. It’s not that he didn’t doubt their love and commitment for each other, but he was sure most of his divorced collogues would say the same. Still, he couldn’t help but wonder if they could beat the odds in a place like this.
Reaching across the seat, he grabbed for the bologna sandwich Cindee had packed for him and popped opened a can of Coke. Pecking away on his dashboard computer he typed in reports from the two incidents he’d had earlier in the day. A malicious mischief report and a shoplifting call from the local hardware store which had been minor and uneventful. After completing his reports, he hit sleep on his notebook and closed the lid. The extra mustard Cindee new he loved lingered on his tongue as he popped the last bite of the sandwich into his mouth.
A moment later he got out of the cruiser and faced the house he’d parked in front of. A cement walkway broke the front lawn into two equal halves and each front window held a planter box filled with flowers. He shifted his belt and holster keenly aware of the noise his armor and gear created while he walked down the sidewalk. Even his weapon seemed out of place in this pastoral setting. Yes, he could see himself living here.
He thought of ways to propose to Cindee as he knocked on the front door. He waited and knocked again a bit louder. “Hello?” he called out.
“Just a minute,” a gravelly voice responded. Felix leaned to one side and peered in through the sheer curtains. An elderly woman slowly pushed a walker toward the front door.
As he waited, he could hear her fumble with the deadbolt. Slowly the doorknob twisted until an opening yawned between them.
“Umm, Mrs. Perry? Mildred Perry?” he asked between the three inches of space. A small chain prohibited the door from opening any further.
“You called about the dolls.” He put on his most welcoming and friendly smile.
“Yes, the ones that were left,” he stopped short. Perhaps she didn’t have all her faculties or maybe early dementia had set in. He tried again, “Dolls Ma’am. The ones left on door steps throughout the neighborhood. Were you the one who called?”
“Oh those. Yes, why of course. Just a moment.” She dismissed herself with a slight wave of a gnarled, arthritic hand and closed the door in his face.
Felix felt sorry for the old woman and wondered if she lived alone or if she had any relatives who took care of her. The manicured lawn suggested she did. At the very least, some pimply-faced teenager probably came over a few times a month. If she were to fall or need someone, the kid would certainly raise the alarm – especially if he wasn’t getting paid. Still, he made a mental note to add this particular cul-de-sac to his rounds just in case.
He glanced around the neighborhood and waited. A dog barked in the distance. It seemed the extra security did more harm than good to the old woman if she had to go through the whole procedure of latching and unlatching every time someone rang her doorbell. He knew it was a feeble attempt to keep someone from getting in if they really wanted to, but if it brought her comfort perhaps her belief in the unnecessary security was worth the trouble.
He adjusted his walkie-talkie and rattled his cuffs until at last he heard the chain slide. Soon after, the door opened wide into a narrow foyer. As the sunlight spilling inside her mini fortress, Felix could see Mrs. Perry was older than he had first guessed. Probably closer to ninety, thin as a rail, she appeared to be just a wisp of a woman.
With hunched shoulders almost bending her in two, she leaned hard on her walker for support. “Thank you for coming, officer,” she said a little out of breath.
Although the effort seemed to tire her, he noticed her eyes were sharp and clear. Gnarled white knuckles grasped the walker and slid it back across the tile about six inches. “Do come in.”
“No thank you, Ma’am.” He held up his hand.
“Wouldn’t you like to see my doll collection?”
“No, Mrs. Perry. I mean, I’m just here to confirm what you told the detective over the phone.”
“Alright,” she said squinting through lined trifocals, “If you don’t want to see my dolls, how can I help you?”
He reached into his breast pocket for his small notepad and flipped it open. “You say you have about 150 dolls in your possession.”
He looked down at her and then back at his pad, “And you have given nine of them to little girls around the neighborhood. With . . . with similar appearances?”
“Yes, that’s right too. Are you sure you don’t want to see my collection, Sonny?”
“No, Ma’am. Umm . . . let me see. And you just wanted to give them as gifts? How do you know these little girls, Mrs. Perry?”
“I’ve lived here forty years. I have seen them play around these streets. I even remember their parents when they were children. I thought it would be a nice way of – what do they call it? Giving back to my community. My dolls are collectibles and I have no grandchildren of my own to bestow them upon. How was I to know I would end up scaring the dickens out of those little ones? I didn’t mean any harm. I didn’t even know they were looking for me until I saw it on the evening news yesterday. I knew I had to call the police right away.”
“Yes, Ma’am. You did a good thing. Thank you for coming forward. This will put a lot of folks at ease,” Felix said, “And they’re your dolls of course, and you can do with them what you please, but I wouldn’t suggest giving any more dolls away, okay?”
“No, no, no. I wouldn’t think of it. I’m so sorry for all the trouble I caused.” Her voice cracked with emotion and tears welled up in her eyes. “I didn’t mean to frighten anyone.”
“Of course you didn’t. It’s quite all right. Now that everything is settled. Bye Ma’am and have Good day.”
“Thank you,” she waved, “Thank you.”
He turned and walked toward his car satisfied. He could tell his chief that the old lady was harmless and assure him no more dolls would be bestowed upon the neighbors. It was a shame that even in this peaceful neighborhood some folks could be suspicious of a good deed. Perhaps if he and Cindee moved in they might help to change the community’s mind about Mrs. Perry.
Millie grasped her walker with one hand and closed the door.
The man hiding behind the door reset the locks and watched through the curtain as the officer drove way.
Once out of sight he said, “You done good.” He jammed the loaded gun back into his waistband and helped ease the old woman into her favorite rocking chair. “Real good.”
She smiled and patted the man’s arm. “Thank you, my son. Now, I think it’s time to make another doll, don’t you?”