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

Were you thinking of using him inside or outside?”

“Inside. I want to safeguard my collection, among other things.” He patted the side of a glass-fronted cabinet.

“China?” I asked.

“It’s called majolica,” he said. “Actually, it’s a type of earthenware.”

“Very pretty.”

“And very expensive. Every time I go out I’m afraid that when I come home I’ll find that I’ve been cleaned out.”

“Surely with this valuable collection and your other property, you’ve installed a burglar alarm.”

“Yes, but I don’t trust it,” Gregg said. “Burglars are clever, as I’m sure you know. Besides, my neighbors are some distance away on both sides. If the alarm went off, they might not even hear it.”

“Well, the ringing alone would probably scare off any housebreaker.”

“So I’ve been told. But I prefer not to take any chances. I might reasonably expect a dog to keep burglars out of the house, mightn’t I?”

“Absolutely,” I said. “No one but yourself or members of your family would be allowed admittance unless accompanied by one of you.”

“What will he do if a burglar shows up?”

“Stop him,” I said. “By brute force, if necessary. Before one could get past Sam Boy, he’d have to kill him; and killing an animal like Sam Boy in a darkened house, while the dog is making one heck of a racket and trying to tear his arm off, is a job no sane burglar will undertake.”

Gregg thought this over.

“You’d have to take proper care of him, of course,” I said. “Both to keep him in top shape and to win his lasting affection. But a dog that loves you is an animal that would do anything for you. You need only to communicate to him what you want done; German shepherds are surprisingly intelligent. I’m not exaggerating, sir. You can’t beat a good, well-trained guard dog.”

“I don’t know,” Gregg said, but I could tell that he was already about half-sold.

“I’ll tell you what, Mr. Gregg,” I said. “The animal is expensive, and I want to be sure you’re satisfied and Sam Boy is happy with you before final placement; I’ll give you a two-week trial period at no charge. At the end of that time, you either write me a check for fifteen hundred dollars or l take him back.”

“Fifteen hundred is a lot of money.”

“The dog, untrained, is worth over six hundred, Mr. Gregg. But you’ll have two weeks to decide. Why don’t I just let Sam Boy sell himself?”

I called Sam Boy over and formally introduced him to Gregg Customers always like that sort of thing, and Gregg was no exception. Just watching the way he ruffled the dog’s fur and responded to the way Sam Boy nuzzled his hand told me we had him sold on the trial-period idea. And he confirmed it a moment later.

For the next half-hour Gregg and I went over the details of feeding, watering, grooming, and otherwise caring for the dog, and I taught him the half-dozen basic commands he would need to work Sam Boy. “I think that’s everything,” I told him finally. “You won’t have any problems, I’m sure, but I’ll check back with you periodically just in case.”

“Very good, Ferguson.”

I declined another cup of coffee, and Gregg took me back into the foyer. That was where the box for the burglar alarm he’d mentioned was, on the wall to one side of the front door. It was a common type that could be turned on or off by a simple lever switch on the box, or from the outside by a key. But as Gregg had said, this kind of system isn’t really foolproof; guard dogs, on the other hand, are when properly handled.

I said good-bye to Gregg and Sam Boy, and drove back into downtown St. Albans.


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