I lived in a small cottage in an old neighborhood tucked into a large suburb that resided in a major metropolitan area. It was one of those anomalies that looked out of place until you realized it was a neighborhood that gave birth to the rest of the sprawling city.
We had narrow streets, small lots, large shade trees and modest homes with red tiled roofs. Because of the close proximity to our neighbors, most of us knew one another.
One summer, my next door neighbors decided it was time for a change and sold their home. The new owner moved in and immediately began shuttering windows and putting up tall antennas.
He was tall and athletic, a single middle-age man. He drove a nondescript American-made dark grey sedan and didn’t make much eye contact with any of us, although if greeted by a neighbor, he would smile, return the greeting and disappear back into his home. He was away a lot, sometimes for weeks at a time, and there were never any of the typical notices given to immediate neighbors.
Serious men, all wearing dark grey suits, would occasionally appear during his absences, walk through the gate into his backyard and fifteen minutes later, leave. As neighborhoods go, ours was not a particularly inquisitive one. Even so, a few eyebrows were raised.
On one of his trips, newspapers and mail began piling up on his front porch so I started collecting everything, leaving him a note that I had his mail and papers.
A couple weeks later, the doorbell rang and there he was, bottle of wine in hand.
Hi, I’m your neighbor. Brought you a thank you bottle.
And I have your mail. Come on in, I’m not going to drink the wine alone.
We settled on the back patio, under the shade of an gnarled old elm, to enjoy a glass of wine.
When he found out I worked with School Safety, he shared he was with the FBI, attached to Homeland Security. I should have known it had to have been something like that from his car. No one purposely drives a nondescript American-made dark grey sedan.
He also had a pet guinea pig that needed a bit of food and exercise when he was in the field, so colleagues would stop in to care for the rodent. I know a lot of men and women in public safety. None have guinea pigs or, at least, none who would admit to it.
Why not a Doberman?
He asked what I was working on and I answered that we were currently working with Public Health, developing roles, responsibilities and training for schools in anticipation of a probable pandemic.
At the time, the nation was waiting for another terrorist attack, the Avian Flu or both.
Hey, that’s great! We’re covered!
If you come home and find both our homes surrounded by barbed wire, you’ll know a terrorist attack is imminent…
…and if I come home and find surgical masks on the front doorknob, I’ll know the pandemic is on its way.
We toasted our good fortune with another glass of wine.