UNITED STATES—The Grimes had a neighbor who had no manners. It was embarrassingly obvious even to the youngest Grimes, Max. Any fool with eyes could see Max was on his way to somewhere, waiting for his car to come and buried in earphones. He wasn’t in the mood for conversation or people getting in the way of his song. Meanwhile, the neighbor who shared their cul-de-sac, Larry, was smiling blandly, his lips moving, glinting in the morning sunlight of Laurel Canyon.

Max made a half-hearted movement to lift up one side of the headphones with all the languor which his 15 years could summon. Larry was talking cheerfully:

“There was digging something in your back yard last night. I thought it might be a prowler. So I turned back to the house and said, ‘Honey, how long did the police say they’d be?’ I’m a pretty smart cookie, thinking of that on the fly, hoping it would make the guy scram. Then I heard your dad, ‘It’s me. Newton.’ And he shined a flashlight in his face… Scared the bejeesus out of me. His eyes were bloodshot. I think he’d been drinking. Or smoking. What do you make of the whole medical marijuana thing?”

Max wasn’t listening. His car pulled up and he made a half hearted wave goodbye to their neighbor. Max wasn’t listening.

In the afternoon when he came back from lacrosse practice, he noticed that Cutie wasn’t in any of her regular places. Not asleep on his father’s couch in the study and not sniffing around the back yard, either, or sleeping in the little wooden house by the barbecue pit.

He was disappointed. He’d brought out her leash. That was the part he liked, attaching the leash to the harness and trotting it around the block. Max surely loved that terrier Chihuahua mix and had been very insistent during school time in phoning instructions to his father for care and feeding. It was just a puppy and needed a lot of care.

Another two days elapsed—full of after-school practice for debate and lacrosse—they had a big debate tournament coming up with Stratford and he had to stay late. He then stayed in the library till closing time, cracking the books: trigonometry and AP American History. Max was studying harder than ever. The more his dad tried to teach him about money and shared his own money woes, the more Max felt like he’d better study like crazy to get a scholarship.

“Where is Cutie?” Max asked when he got home past 9 p.m. “And where’s the leash? It’s not in its place.”

“Cutie is just hiding out,” his dad said. “Look around carefully. With this heat she’s probably glued to the shade under the avocado tree.”

After the fifth day Max started putting lost posters of Cutie around the neighborhood and in the library. And he still paced the yard, between the avocado tree and the doghouse, hoping the dog would turn up. Somehow. Then he saw a freshly dug patch of gray ground in the back yard, between the pool and the hedgerows and wisteria arbor. He saw a shovel leaned up by where the gardener kept his tools. This must have been what that annoying neighbor had been talking about. Max started, digging. A drenching sweat broke out on his brow. And then the edge of the spade struck something hard and metallic.

To be continued..