Twist #023 – On Guard! by Bill Pronzini and Michael Kurland

on-guard

At ten-thirty Saturday morning I parked my van in front of 2419 Melrose Place, on the fashionable north side of St. Albans. The house was a two-story Colonial set behind high, neatly trimmed hedges and a rolling sweep of lawn. All very posh.

Mr. James Gregg was obviously well off, and could no doubt afford to buy just about any type of sophisticated theft-proofing apparatus. But then, some people are stingy and others are cautious. In any event, I would soon find out why Gregg had answered my ad in the St. Albans Press.

I got out of the van and went around to the rear. When I opened the rear doors, Sam Boy barked softly and leaned his head out to nuzzle my hand. He was a ninety-pound German shepherd and a product of the specialized training course I devised a number of years ago–one of the finest, most intelligent animals I’ve ever worked with.

After he had jumped down, I closed the doors again and then walked up to the front door of the Colonial. Sam Boy followed obediently at my side, and sat when I stopped on the porch.

I rang the bell, waited half a minute. Finally the door was opened by a middle-aged, red-haired guy wearing an alpaca golf sweater. He was no servant, which meant that Gregg probably employ servants; the house wasn’t really that large, anyway.

“Yes?” he said. Then he noticed Sam Boy sitting behind me. “Oh, you must be the man from On Guard!”

“Paul Ferguson,” I answered, nodding. “Mr. Gregg?”

“Yes. Come in, please. That’s quite a . . . an imposing animal you have there.”

“He is that,” I said. Different people have different reactions to ninety pounds of German shepherd, but Gregg struck me as the kind of man who wouldn’t be intimidated by man or beast.

My ad in the Press said, “Expertly trained guard dogs are the best home security–satisfaction guaranteed. Write On Guard!, Box 238, this paper.” But I’ve found that most people have no idea of what an expertly trained guard dog is, or what to expect from one. Some think it’s merely a large dog that barks a lot if someone passes too close to the house, while others expect the animal to patrol the house and grounds constantly, identify burglarious intent in the mind of the trespasser, and hold him in one place until the return of the owners. Still other people expect a friendly companion who can babysit the kids; and yet another group looks for a ravening monster who must be kept chained and can be handled safely by none but his master.

Gregg led Sam Boy and me down a richly carpeted hall into the living room. He invited me to sit on the couch, and then brought in cups and a silver pot of coffee. His wife was out shopping, he explained, but whatever he decided would be fine with her.

Then he asked, “Just what are this animal’s capabilities?”

 

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