If a dictionary needed pictures to illustrate the words "prim" and "proper," the woman sitting in my office would have been the perfect subject for them. She was about seventy, I guessed, although I am not good at estimating ages – I would probably have thought that Methuselah was a teenager. Her gray hair was perfectly coiffed, her black dress had probably been labelled "Very expensive," like her shoes, and her purse was one-of-a-kind. She looked around my office as if it were a privy with bookcases.
"I have a serious problem, Mr. Tuff," she said in a tone which suggested that she doubted I could solve it.
"What is your ... uh, serious problem, Ms? Mrs?"
"It's Mrs. Hardness, Abigail Hardness. I'm a widow."
I offered my condolences.
"Thank you. I live on the east side of Bloomdale Street. My house faces west. My neighbours across the road have a large lawn littered with dandelions which they won't even try to get rid of, and the seeds – you know those parachutey things – blow onto my lawn and ruin it after I've spent a fortune on it."
The word "neighbours" should have been an alarm bell: never become involved in a neighbourhood feud, but I had no cases at the moment and my own lawn was a firmament of dandelions. After all, it is not a golf green.
"I've asked them repeatedly to dig them up or spray with a herbicide, but they ignore me. Evidently they don't mind an unsightly lawn. Do you know that a dandelion can grow four inches overnight?" I had heard that, but I was skeptical.
"I don't think there are any laws about dandelions," I said.
"Well, there should be. There are laws about vandalism, assault, arson, and robbery – and they don't affect my front lawn."
I hoped that my fee would deter her, but it didn't, especially when I agreed to a no-pay deal if I failed to solve her problem.
It seemed best to take the bull by the horns, or in this case the dandelion by the stalk, so at seven that evening I rang the doorbell of Mrs. Hardness's neighbours. A friendly young man answered the door and after I had introduced myself and guiltily explained the purpose of my visit, he invited me in. His wife joined us. "We're Jeanie and Al Fowkse. Darling, why don't you get Mr. Tuff some coffee and apple pie? Milk? Sugar? Ice Cream?"
"You don't seem surprised."
"Crabby Abbie strikes again," he grinned. "In the past six months, she's drawn up petitions against cats, dogs, poorly shovelled sidewalks, and loud radios, and she's mad when people won't sign them."
The pie (with ice cream) was delicious and the coffee rivaled Hank's and mine for flavour if not for strength. I liked the Fowkses and, like them, I didn't mind dandelions relieving the monotony of the greenness of the grass. I, too, didn't want to poison my lawn with herbicides.
I thanked them for their hospitality, said I'd try to find a solution for Mrs. Hardness's complaints, and left, hoping she wouldn't see that I had been eating with the enemy.
Occasionally a case solves itself, and this one did. Two days later I was walking along Blandsville's main street when I passed the liquor store. This case could drive me to drink. Drink! That was it!
A few days later, I visited Mrs. Hardness and her pure green lawn to collect my fee. She paid me reluctantly and stipulated that if the dandelions returned, she would receive a refund.
Then I visited the Fowkses, whose lawn was also dandelion-free, as were all the lawns in the area, but theirs sported a small sign: "Aged (one week) dandelion wine. $5.00 a bottle." "It's lucky dandelions grow several inches a day," said Al.
"Now," added Jeanie, "Mrs. Hardness has a petition against our business, saying it is illegal and increases the traffic on the street."
"It probably is and does," I agreed.
"The police did come and took several bottles as material evidence, but we haven't heard from them since," said Al.
I left with two bottles of the Fowkse's finest.