How Does Your Garden Grow?

by Laird Long

As Deputy-Sheriff Vance Castle stared at Cyrus King’s backyard vegetable garden, he duly-noted that the rich, dark soil was missing something – vegetables.
  “That no-good neighbor of mine – Buford Sheldrake – stole ‘em!” Cyrus hollered. He pointed at the empty ground, his bony finger shaking. “He’s jealous of my green thumb. Always has been.”
  Vance rolled his eyes skyward. The only thing with more local history than the King-Sheldrake feud was the town library. The two neighbors had been at one another’s throats for what seemed to the county police force like an eternity, each too stubborn to move away from the other.
  “My carrots, onions, and potatoes were comin’ in bigger than ever this year,” Cyrus bragged and lamented at the same time. Everyone in town knew – and heard – how proud he was of his gardening abilities. “First row there was the carrots, second the onions, and last the potatoes. All gone. Stolen.”
  “Uh-huh.” Vance went down onto one knee, examining the soil. Holes which had obviously once held vegetables dotted the ground, the sprayed earth cresting the holes evidence of someone, or something, having torn the vegetables out. He looked up and down the plucked rows, seeing nothing that provided any sort of clue as to the identity of the culprit.
  “Strange for a garden not to have any footprints in it,” he thought out loud.
  “That two-legged varmint was careful, all right,” Cyrus groused. “Covered his tracks pretty darn well. But I know it was Sheldrake.”
  Vance stuck his forefinger into one of the vacant holes in the first row. He went down to the third knuckle, then hit bottom. He grunted and got to his feet, brushing off his finger. “Let’s go talk to Buford.”
  The Deputy-Sheriff had to use his bulk to keep the two combative neighbors separated. Especially when Cyrus spotted Buford’s kitchen table through the back porch screen door – loaded with vegetables, carrots and onions and potatoes.
  “I knew he stole ‘em!” Cyrus exploded. “There’s your evidence, Sheriff. Lock the no-good garden-raider up.”
  Vance stepped into Buford’s kitchen, keeping Cyrus bottled up behind him. “Where’d you get all the vegetables, Buford?” he asked.
  The eighty-year-old shook his head and shrugged his shoulders. “Found them on the back porch this morning. Someone left them there in this box here.” He picked up a cardboard box from a kitchen chair.
  “A likely story,” Cyrus snorted from the rear.
  Vance took the box from Buford. He turned it over, spilling dirt onto the kitchen tile. “Fresh-picked, huh?” he mused. “You don’t grow any vegetables yourself, Buford?”
  The man stared sullenly down at the floor. “Didn’t seem to have much luck with my garden this year. Especially with that late frost and all.”
  “Got a black thumb is the problem,” Cyrus sneered. “Well, what’re you waitin’ for, Sheriff? Arrest him. Take him to jail. The evidence is right there in front of you.”
  “Without any footprints or eye witnesses, it might be kind of tough proving Buford pulled these particular vegetables out of your particular garden, Cyrus,” Vance said. The idea of hauling an old man off to jail for an unauthorized garden party didn’t appeal to the Deputy-Sheriff much. “Could’ve happened like he said.”
  “It did,” Buford proclaimed. “Cyrus is just trying to make trouble for me, Sheriff. I don’t know where these vegetables came from. Honest.”
  “They came from my garden,” Cyrus retorted. “No one grows ‘em as good as I do. Look at the size of those vegetables.”
  Vance picked a couple of carrots up off the table and hefted them in his hand. “Big ones, all right. Foot-longs, at least.”
  He thought for a moment, then suddenly swung around and faced Cyrus, pointing a carrot at the man’s chest. “These vegetables didn’t come from your garden,” the Deputy-Sheriff pronounced. “Buford never raided your patch.”
  “Sure they did. Sure he did,” Cyrus protested, turning pale.
  “No, sir. That early frost hit your crop as bad as Buford’s, so you dug them up yourself. Then planted these store-boughts on your neighbor to cause him some grief. Too proud of your ‘green thumb’ to use your own vegetables.”
  A quick survey of Cyrus’ composter turned up the actual harvest from the man’s garden; while a trash can yielded a receipt from the local supermarket for his purchase of a large quantity of carrots, onions, and potatoes.

How did Deputy Sheriff Castle know Buford Sheldrake was innocent?

How did Deputy Sheriff Castle know Buford Sheldrake was innocent? Because the carrots on Buford’s kitchen table were large—a foot long—while the carrot holes in Cyrus’ garden were only a forefinger deep.