The Pyles lived on the corner of Bahia Vista and Pomelo. Even on the sunniest day, you could barely see their one-story house, crouched in the dark shadows of three sprawling oaks hung with Spanish moss. The huge lot on which the house sat was bordered by a chain fence. No one else in town had a fence as long as that one. But everyone in the neighborhood knew why Mrs. Pyle had one.
She was a loon. Not in the late 1930’s, when she moved to Framalopa from Steubenville, Ohio—a benign old lady with a voice so soft and reedy the dogs could barely hear her say “Good morning.” In those days, she had a perpetual smile on her face as she went about planting hibiscus, oleander, and gardenia all over the yard—a plot so spacious you could almost lay a football field inside the confines of its fence.
But Pearl Harbor unhinged her. After the war began, she was suddenly, irrationally convinced the Japs were out to assassinate her—little yellow men sent by Emperor Hirohito to her very doorstep. At night she could see them moving furtively among the neatly sculpted hibiscus bushes that huddled around the house. She could hear them muttering in Japanese just above the sound of the wind in the oak leaves. She was constantly calling the police department, telling them to round up all Orientals in town, demanding 24-hour protection.
Chief Garner would send...