By Marie Anderson
Someone was stealing Rose’s newspaper.
Every morning at six, she’d hear the delivery van slow and the rolled-up paper thud into her driveway. She liked hearing the soft sound of the world’s news arriving at her home while she snuggled under two thick quilts in her cozy bedroom, Taco curled at her side, usually purring.
But for the past three days, by the time she’d head outside to fetch the paper, it was gone.
For the past three days, she’d had to drink her morning coffee without a newspaper.
Who, Rose wondered, would steal a newspaper these days? It was easy enough to get news online or from TV. Rose had just turned 40 and was no Luddite, but she still loved the feel of words in her hand. She read books, not screens, hand-wrote and snail-mailed thank-you notes and birthday greetings, and her cell phone spent more time on her kitchen counter than in her hands.
Her ex had called her Unpluggable because she didn’t Facebook, Tik-Tok, Twitter, or Instagram. When they divorced last year—he’d fallen in love with a social media influencer he’d met on Tinder—she’d left behind all the gadgets: four flat screen TVs, three laptops, one desktop, and a Fitbit watch that had only made her anxious with its nosy tracking of her every step, breath, oxygen levels, sleep patterns, temperature, heart rate . . . she hoped her replacement was enjoying all those gadgets more than she ever did.
And what a quiet pleasure to read a fresh newspaper every morning! Except there’d been no newspaper for the past three days. Who? Who was grabbing it from her driveway?
Day four, her alarm clock woke her at 5:45. Her cat followed her to the front window. Soon, she saw the delivery van slow, the driver toss a paper in her driveway, then speed off.
“Now we wait, Taco,” she said to her cat.
Suddenly, a large black dog appeared, grabbed the paper, and trotted away.
Rose laughed. “So! That’s the thief!”
Taco mewed and pawed the window. “Sorry, Taco. That thief is not Buddy. I know you still miss him. Me too.”
Rose had moved to this quiet little town just a month ago. She’d yet to interact with any neighbors, so she had no idea where the dog lived. The houses, mostly modest, ranch-style homes, were on large lots separated by leafy trees, and Rose worked inside all day on her customers’ knitting orders.
Unplugging from gadgets was one thing, but Rose hadn’t meant to stay unplugged from her new neighbors. Well. First things first. Find out where that Buddy look-alike lived.
The next morning, Rose was ready. She straddled her bicycle behind a tree. When the dog grabbed her paper, she pedaled after it. The dog soon ran up to a house and added Rose’s newspaper to a small pile of papers on a sagging front porch. Then it looked at Rose, barked, and ran off.
Rose retrieved her paper and read the sign in the front yard—For Sale/Henry Beyer Realtor. She memorized the phone number, and phoned when she got home.
She left a message explaining the situation, including her name, number, and address to give the homeowners. “And please,” she added, “tell the homeowners they shouldn’t be letting that beautiful dog run around unattended.” She heard a treacherous quiver in her voice and stopped herself from adding how her own black lab, Buddy, had been hit by a car. Technically not her dog. Her ex-husband’s, which is why she’d had to leave Buddy with him after the divorce. Which is why Buddy had been hit by a car. Her ex didn’t believe in leashes.
“Dogs should run free,” he’d said.
“Even in busy city neighborhoods?” she’d protest.
An hour later, Henry Beyer phoned back. “That house is vacant,” he said. “The owner recently passed away, and a neighbor took Duckles.”
“The late owner’s dog. So, no worries, Mrs. Hart. I’ll get this resolved.”
“It’s Miss Hart,” Rose said. “And thank you!”
Later that afternoon, she answered her doorbell to find a tall man holding a leash. Attached to the leash was the large black dog.
“Miss Hart, I’m Henry Beyer.”
Henry Beyer, Rose thought, resembled the actor Jake Gyllenhaal. He had the same large, expressive eyes and dark, robust eyebrows. Under his unbuttoned blue blazer, he wore a gray tee shirt. It was what was on the tee shirt that brought a little jump to Rose’s heart. Stacks of books surrounded the words When in Doubt Go to the Library.
“Pleased to meet you, Henry,” she said. “And you can call me Rose.”
“Well, as you can see, Rose, I’ve captured the thief. I collared Duckles while he was dozing on the porch of his old owner’s house.”
Rose smiled and stepped outside. Taco followed and sniffed Duckles. The dog wagged his tail.
“I hope Duckles’ new owners start taking better care of him,” Rose said. “The poor boy could use some serious grooming.”
“He keeps running away from them,” Henry said. “Now they don’t want him back. They have a poodle who doesn’t much like Duckles.”
Taco and Duckles touched noses. Rose could hear Taco purring. “My cat sure seems to like him,” she said. “Buddy, my black lab, stayed with my ex when we divorced. Taco misses that dog as much as I do.”
“I know the feeling,” Henry said. “My dog went with my wife when we divorced a couple of years ago. I like dogs, but my condo association bans them. But I have visitation rights! You too?”
Rose sighed and shook her head. There was no Buddy to visit anymore. The dog’s death still stung. She should have fought harder to keep Buddy with her.
“Hey, Duckles,” she said. “Pleased to meet you. But you have to stop stealing my newspapers!” She rubbed his ears, and Duckles pressed his wet nose into her leg.
“So where are you taking him, Henry?”
“There’s a shelter next town over. They try to find homes for the animals, but . . . well . . .”
Rose pursed her lips. “Hey, is this a set-up?”
“No! Well, maybe. It’s just that on the phone you sounded really concerned about Duckles’ well-being. And, I don’t know, I guess I heard a little bit of sadness in your voice, too.”
Rose kept her gaze on Duckles and blinked to keep the sudden warmth in her eyes from spilling into tears. Was she feeling weepy over Buddy, or was it because Henry’s sensitivity to her emotions was something she hadn’t experienced from anyone in a long time?
“Well,” Henry said. “I just wanted to let you know that there won’t be a problem anymore with Duckles stealing your newspaper, and—”
“How do I know Duckles would even like it here?” Rose heard herself interrupt. She shook her head. Now where had that come from, she wondered. “He might run away from me, too.”
She watched Taco bat at Duckles’ wagging tail. Duckles suddenly sat, and Taco sat right next to him.
“Looks like Taco may have found a new buddy,” Henry said.
Rose sighed. “OK. I’ll take Duckles on a trial basis. But if it doesn’t work out . . .”
“Deal!” Henry exclaimed. They shook hands, and Rose wondered if he was feeling the same pleasant tingle she was feeling from that contact. “And please,” he said. “Let me pay for Duckles’ first grooming session. He’s up-to-date on shots, but he probably should be checked by a vet, which I’d be happy to pay for.”
Rose laughed. “Vet, yes. But I’ll cover the grooming. It’s the bathtub for this bad boy tonight. I like your tee shirt, by the way. “I’ve been meaning to get to the library in town and sign up for a card.”
Henry smiled. “Great! Stop by the reference desk and say hi.”
“You work there?”
He bowed. “My second job. Reference Librarian at your service. And we have an assortment of daily newspapers for our patrons. So that’s an option for you in case your paper goes missing again.”
The next morning, Rose looked out her front window. No paper! Duckles and Taco were still snoozing on her bed. So the neighborhood had another thief? Or maybe the paper had landed under a bush?
She opened the front door to check. At her feet was the newspaper. And a bouquet of yellow roses.
And a note: Have dinner with me tonight? If you like, we can stop at the library first and get you signed up for a card. Your new friend, Henry.
Smiling, Rose went to the phone.
Marie Anderson is a Chicago area married mother of three millennials. Her stories have appeared in over 50 publications, including Guilty Crime Magazine, Woman’s World, and After Dinner Conversation. Some of her previously published stories have been collected in What Good Moms Do and Other Stories, available on Amazon. She is the founder and facilitator of her local public library’s writing critique group, going strong since 2009. In 2020, she compiled and arranged The Covid Chronicles, an illustrated collection of 19-word stories by 23 writers. It can be viewed (for free!) at www.railslibraries.info/news/182481.