That Damned Neighbor
by: Dennis R. Humphreys
My wife and I had been married for twenty one years. Mandy and I had our rough times but generally they were good. I think we reflected the situation of a lot of couples. No relationship is perfect. Most of the problems a couple have come from outside anyway. They're usually financial. It's never the big things that destroy a marriage because it's the big things that cause major blowouts which are done, gotten out of the system in some passionate display and you move on. You've released all the pressure by opening the steam valve fully. It's the little things that destroy a marriage or person because you push it to the back of your mind in an on going process thinking it's not worth fighting about and it's too small a problem to worry about. The problem is when you do it time and time again constantly, every day for years the pressure builds unnoticed until one day somebody blows and every little detail of what you find wrong about the other person comes out. You say and do things that aren't forgettable and that destroys a relationship. This isn't just about marriages but about every relationship there is within humanity.
Two years ago we moved into a suburb of York, Pennsylvania. It was close to the country and close to the city. I had come from out of the state originally and after being there a short while I realized the people there were different...strangely different and the more I was around different ones I wondered what I had gotten myself into. Funny thing I was into genealogical and historical research as a side hobby and the founding fathers thought the same thing about the people in York. They wrote about it in a number of papers.
Our house was a modest house because we had no children due to physical issues and being older, but we also had no plans to adopt or any other way to build a family. We were too old.
As we moved in we noticed the various neighbors we had, were looking out the windows at us clandestinely. Being funny I waved at them and the curtains immediately dropped back to their vertical state as if they weren't there. For God's sake, I waved at you. You were noticed! It took us most of the day to move in. We both accumulated a lot of things. I had a lot of power tools for my wood shop, which was also a hobby and I did all my own repairs, but I had outside tools as well since I was a comitted gardener and maintained my own lawn.
We were there a few days before anyone stopped by, as existing neighbors normally do, welcoming new comers into the community. It was Darla Harris, from across the street, carrying a shoe fly pie she had supposedly just baked. However, regardless of it still being warm, the tag on the bottom of the pie plate said 'Giant'. She could only stay a minute but stayed over twenty bending my ears and my wife's about everyone in the neighborhood. Then she flatly asked me how I liked working at Abel and Company in Baltimore, Maryland. It must be a good place to work since I was there for twenty years and just retired. Then she asked my wife if she ever tried to have another child after the miscarriage she had some years ago. My wife, against my better judgment, actually explained she couldn't have any children since then.
When she left I blew my top.
“Careful Don, she might hear you,” my wife said trying to calm me down.
“I don't care. She had hell of a nerve asking what she did. Plus, she's the first person we talked to here. How did she know the things she knew about us? Did she run checks. I should have asked her what our fucking credit score is,” I yelled.
“Don, honey don't get so outdone. It's the type of people around here that's all,” Mandy replied.
“Oh, what kind is that, Mandy, fucking nosy sons-of-bitches?” Don asked. “I don't like when someone I don't know, knows more about my resume than I do.”
In the mornings I'd leave for work and go to my car. I still did a little consultation on the side to supplement my retirement. As I looked around there were always two or three window curtains not hanging vertically. I'd wave at each before I got into the car just to watch them fall back to their vertical state under the power of gravity.
Then that Friday, the end of our first week there, our next door neighbors, Gene and Daisy Seinfeld stopped in to welcome us. She was carrying two loaves of fresh baked bread which I thought was a forgotten talent but I didn't question it and graciously accepted it as fresh baked bread was my downfall and an easy way to gain my respect. They seemed nice and didn't seem to pry but eventually after fifteen minutes or so it came.
“Don, did I see woodworking equipment coming off the moving van the other day when you got here?”, Gene asked. I saw Mandy shoot me a side glance.
“You did, Gene. It's a hobby and I like working in wood. The feel and smell of it relaxes me.
“You wouldn't by chance have a hand planner, medium sized, to plain a door edge that's sticking?” he asked me.
I should have asked if he had a door that sticks and when he said 'yes' offered to go over and plane the door for him. It would have taken me less than five minutes, but no I was too stupid at the time to think of that and said 'yes'. I put my own self on the spot.
“Do you think I could borrow that to work on my door?” Gene asked with a smile and a look of need in his eyes.
“Sure, you can,” I said not really meaning so. But what was I going to do. I couldn't give back the two loaves of fresh baked bread. I almost felt precomitted.
So I went to the basement and pulled the appropriate planner off my shelf and came back up to deliver it to him.
“I'll need this back within a few days. I'm starting a new project and that planner will be needed,” I told him lying a bit but wanting to make sure I got it back.
“No problemo, thanks,” and they left just that quickly.
“Do you get the feeling that the welcoming trip over here with the bread was just to get a planner without having to buy one?” I asked Mandy.
“Don, you are do cynical. They were just being friendly,” she responded.
“I was being skeptical. We'll see. I'm not sure about that,” I told her.
The weekend came and I cut the lawn. Some of the small trees on the property hadn't been trimmed for awhile. There were low hanging limbs that hit you in the face when you ran the lawn mower and there were others that were split or dead that made the tree look better when cut off. Gene came out and waved and went on about his business. I assumed he hadn't fixed the door yet. Sunday came and Mandy and I went to church services. I felt we were under a microscope. People looked at us as if we were aliens. Even during the service many would turn around to stare as if they were trying to figure out where I got my haircut and Mandy got her dress. The adults were bad but the kids were worse. At least the adults had the sense when you looked up and caught them staring, to look away. The kids just kept staring and when I made a face at them, they would continue with dead pan stares as if they were brain damaged.
We were well into the middle of the following week when I remembered I didn't get my plane back so when I went outside to take the garbage out and saw Gene I asked him.
“How's your door project coming?” I shouted out to him in a friendly manner.
“What door?” he yelled back which gave me food for thought.
“Your stuck door you borrowed my planner for that I need back,” I told him.
“Oh yeah. I'll bring it over later. I have something to do right now,” he told me as he disappeared around the other side of his fence.
Morning came and still no sign of Gene or my planner. I didn't want to go over and knock on the door since it was early and I left earlier than he when I left for work, to drive the hour to Baltimore. I figured I'd go over to get my tool after I got home.
I got home and I knew Gene was there because his car was .He got home before me because I had a longer drive home and more traffic getting back than he. So I went and I knocked at the back door...for ten minutes. No answer. Was the jerk hiding?
I went home, getting more pissed by the minute.
“Now the asshole won't answer the door,” I complained to Mandy who always gave people the benefit of the doubt which tended to infuriate me more.
“Now Don. He probably has a lot on his mind and he just forgot. You know how you are with things sometimes when I tell you. He may have been tired or not feeling well after he came home and went to bed and didn't hear you knocking,” she outlined to me. Logically she sounded right but in my heart I thought she was irredeemably naive or insane.
The next day came and went. Once again I was on Gene's back doorstep looking for my planer. Daisy came to the door after my knocking for five minutes.
“Hi Daisy. I hate to bother you,” I said but not really, both she and him were knot heads. “I need my planer that Gene borrowed the other day?”
“You'll have to talk to Gene about that I don't know where it's at,” she told me not too convincingly.
“Alright...can I speak to him?” I asked as if I were pulling teeth.
“He's asleep right now. He came home early today with a migraine and went right to bed. I'll tell him you were here,” she told me, an out and out lie. I could tell.
“Now that asshole came home early today with a migraine and is sleeping. I have to wait until he's up,” I told my wife.
“He came home twenty minutes before you. I saw him. The same time he always does,” Mandy told me.
“You see. They're both liars,” I complained.
“Now honey. I'm sure you misunderstood what she told you,” Mandy began.
“Why is it I am always the one that misunderstands? They're fucking asshole imbeciles, like most of the people I've met around here. I don't think they know how to wipe their assholes...if they even have one since they seem to be perfect assholes themselves.
“Don,” she replied nonjudgementally but laughing a bit at my anger, infuriating me more,”you don't know the circumstances. Don't assume.”
“The circumstances? The circumstances are, I told that man I needed that tool back, he borrowed a week ago and he has yet to bring it back or give it to me when I went over there to get it. Stop taking his part,” I yelled. I went out the kitchen door to take a smoke. I rarely smoked but carried a pack when I needed to diffuse myself. Now was such a time. I tripped over something as I went out the door. When I looked, it was my planer. Finally, I thought, he snuck it back or his wife did, after I went over there while I was ranting and raving. I picked it up and went back into the house to say something to Mandy. I looked at the tool as I told her my tool was returned. I hit the ceiling again. I keep my tools in good condition, and my planners, I keep the blades sharpened and honed well. I put a silicon spray on them after I hone them. When I looked at the tool the blade had deep nicks in it the width of the blade. It needed to be taken to a grinder and ground down before it was resharpened. It was a sign he abused it running it into something metallic, like a nail, to do this damage. I voiced my complaint and pointed out the damage and like a typical woman, Mandy's response was outrageous.
“Maybe you damaged it and just didn't notice,” she explained to me as if I were the moron like the ones next door were, and as I swear, she was becoming. I didn't say anything or it would have been something I regretted.
I quietly took my tool to the basement and turned on the grinder, grinding the blade down far enough to where I could put a fine edge back on the piece. I did so and put the tool back on the shelf.
That weekend I went outside to cut the lawn but when I went to retrieve my lawn mower, it wasn't there. The tarp I kept over it was pulled back and the mower was removed. My first thought was it was stolen and I was about to go back into the house to call the police, until I turned around to the sound of Gene cutting his lawn. When I looked, he was pushing my lawn mower and running over every rock he had in his yard.
I was infuriated and went directly over to him and motioned to him to turn the mower off so we could talk.
“Gene, that's my mower. I was about to cut my lawn but you're using it,” I pointed out the obvious.
“Yeah, Don. Mine wouldn't start when I came out so I figured you wouldn't mind. It was early and I didn't want to disturb you,” the idiot said.
“Like you are now?” I mocked him. “Let's take a look at your mower and see what's wrong,” I told him walking over to his. I pulled the cord and it started right up.
“You're a genius,” he shouted over the mower.'How'd you get to start?” he asked excitedly.
“I pulled the cord, Gene,” I told him in probably the most sarcastic tone you can imagine. 'And another thing, you borrowed my planer, left it for me to trip over, and when I looked at the blade, it was all messed up. You ran it over a nail or something metal. A wood planner is for wood not metal.”
“It was that way when you gave it to me. I couldn't use it because I didn't want to screw up the looks of my door,” he told me.
“What! And you kept it for over a week not being able to use it and then bring it back to point this out why? Sorry Gene, you're a liar,” I informed him.
“I'm sorry you feel that way Don,” he told me looking like a child just caught in the act of playing doctor with the little girl next door.
I took my lawn mower and tugged it back with me. I turned to him as he stood there and yelled.
“You will not borrow another thing. Do you understand that? Not another thing, so don't even ask,” I told him putting the lawn mower away too furious to cut the lawn now. I went into the house and went to the kitchen cabinet where I kept a bottle of Jack Daniels. I poured a tumbler and threw a few ice cubes in it and sat down to drink it. Mandy walked into the room and looked at me.
“Don, it's nine o'clock in the morning. What has you riled?” she asked.
“Like you had to ask. That idiot next door was using my lawn mower without my permission and just used it, when he has a perfectly good lawn mower. He runs over every rock there is in his lawn. He's trying to fuck it up like he did my planer. Damned idiot,” I mumbled taking another drink.
After I calmed down a bit I went back outside to mow. I thought I'd take a look at my blade. Hell it was loaded with large notches and even the blade itself was bent from the impacts it received. I took it off to sharpen it and bend the blade back into place. I used my vise to do that but it was uncalled for. I noticed later as I mowed the lawn, Gene's wife, Daisy, slide from her door to our back door. My wife let her in. She was there for about ten minutes as I cut. I continued for another five after she left, until curiosity got the best of me and I turned the machine off to go inside and find out what she wanted. I knew it wasn't to apologize. Those kind of people never do.
So off I went into the house to get the news. I went into the kitchen and poured a glass of ice water. I no sooner began to drink when Mandy came back into the kitchen from the hall bathroom.
“You have the shits of our neighbor too now?” I asked with my inglorious sense of humor.
“Don, be nice, she was upset the way you treated Gene,” my wife informed me.
“Excuse me...she what?” I asked as if I hadn't heard right. Maybe I was going crazy too.
“She thinks you need to apologize for treating her husband badly,” Mandy explained.
“Did she say why I treated him badly, or offer an excuse for that moron? The fact he borrowed one tool and ruined it and didn't bring it back or that he borrowed my lawn mower without asking and ruined the blade because he mistreated it as well...she didn't mention that. Where's my damned apology?” I yelled not believing the audacity of this guy's wife.
“Don, you have to be the bigger person,” Mandy reminded me. It's something she always said. But sometimes you couldn't be because what you were dealing with was something dumber than the lowliest life form and I am not talking politicians. I wouldn't even insult a politician comparing those two with the people in politics.
I was pissed more than ever and went into the living room to watch a bit of television and sulk. I was more pissed now at my wife not supporting me or standing up for me when that woman came over. She knows the issue and what he had done. I think she should of stood up to her instead of making it look like I was the bad guy in all this when I was trying to be a good neighbor to begin with. My normal policy was never to lend out my tools. My father taught me that one, describing the same issues I was having with Gene, when he was younger. He told me 'if I wanted to remain friendly with my neighbors or friends, never let them borrow your tools'. I lived by this rule all this time until Gene asked me while I was susceptible.
I fumed and continued to do so through an entire Netflix movie before I got back up to go outside. On the way I stopped at the refrigerator and grabbed two beers and went out the door. Mandy was smiling after me as I left the house, knowing I was heading over to see Gene and give him a beer to drink with me.
Against my better judgment I gave Gene the second beer and apologized for the way I acted. We sat on his stone wall by the house and talked and joked as we drank. When I was done I stood back up and shook the man's hand. I went back over to finish my outside work. Mandy stood at the screen door and gave me the thumbs up as I walked by. I still felt like a dumb ass for having done so but sometimes you have to do things like this to appease and keep peace with your spouse. I just wish I got more support from her. It would go a long way in me not losing it.
All week went by without event. I thought maybe Mandy was right...just be the bigger person and I got through to Gene to get the respect as a neighbor I should have. It was sunup on Saturday morning but I usually slept in a bit then had a leisurely breakfast after staying busy all week. It was the sound of hedge clippers. That constant whir that becomes annoying when you're trying to sleep. Finally it made another noise and stopped. I was grateful for the silence and fell back off into slumber until I heard a knock on the kitchen door that reawakened me. I got up putting on my slippers and a housecoat to see who it was. As I came down the hall I saw Gene standing there with a hedge clipper at the screen door. I realized then he was the noisy one doing the trimming and figured the hedge clipper had stopped and he needed help fixing it. I went to the door.
“Morning Gene, what's up?” I asked as he lifted the electric hedge clipper with a severed cord.
“Your hedge clipper stopped working,” he announced to me. It took a second to sink in but I could feel the blood rush to me head. Meanwhile Mandy had come downstairs and entered the kitchen to start breakfast.
“First of all you took my tool without asking again. We had this discussion and then you cut the cord with it. If you don't know how to use one why in God's name did you try?” I asked him going outside to see what he was cutting. “And that's my hedge you cut without asking all the way to the ground.”
“I thought everything was back to normal when you apologized to me the other day for acting like and ass,” he told me sincerely not understanding and being born stupid.
“I apologized for losing my patience but you are impossible. I am not going to just say what's on my mind because I will say some things here I'll wish I hadn't. You are not to use any of my things even if you ask and you are not allowed on this property. Do you understand?” I told him.
He started back across to his place taking my trimmer with him. I ran and grabbed it out of his hand. I looked at the beautiful hedge that had separated our properties wondering why he had done such a thing. The hedge would grow back but it wouldn't be as thick as it was. It would be spindly until constant trimming brought it back close to where it was. Then I realized he was sent to torture me by the devil himself and everything he did was on purpose. No one could be that stupid or inconsiderate as he was. I went in the house to go to the basement where my workshop was and where I could repair the trimmer. Mandy stood there by the sink watching me.
“I'm so sorry honey. I see what you mean about him. I just don't understand some people,” she consoled me, but I was finally thankful for some support.
“You can't understand stupidity and there is no logic there to communicate with stupid people. They have their own logic that defies anyone to understand, that has a minimum of functioning brain cells. I'll be in the basement,” I told her as I went down the stairs. I stumbled on the way and took a spill spraining my ankle and adding insult to injury. Damn, I wouldn't have hurt myself it it hadn't been for that idiot.
I straightened out my blade and sharpened it...an hour plus project thanks to Gene. Like I really love spending time on other people's mistakes. I have enough work of my own. I figured I might as well repair my trimmer now as well. I didn't plan on doing trimming but I'd prefer the tool ready to go when I did. So I spliced the wire and wrapped a good bit of electrical tape around it to seal it off.
I went out then to cut the lawn. I never saw Gene so I think he wouldn't come out of the house while I was out. Every time I looked over at his place it reminded me of him which reminded me how pissed I was. Every time I looked at the remains of the hedge I got madder. It was a constant reminder. That boxwood hedge was probably fifty years old and had looked five times better than any fence. It was thick and nicely trimmed when we moved in and I had planned on maintaining it the same way. Boxwood stays green all year round...and you didn't have to paint them, I hated outdoor painting projects.
I finished my outside work for the day and took a seat in my Adirondack chair on the back porch. I had a great big glass of mint iced tea and was enjoying it. Mandy made great iced tea and I enjoyed relaxing after outdoor work on a day like today with a big glass of it. About that time, the loudest most God awful noise came from Gene's place. I jumped not expecting it and lost hold of my glass. The tea and glass went all over the deck. There were shards of glass everywhere and I shouted to Mandy to be careful coming out until I got it cleaned up.
I walked out a bit from our porch to get a better look at Gene's deck he had. His deck recessed some because his kitchen recessed from the rest of the house cresting about a four foot area I couldn't see from where I sat. He was sitting there holding a tuba, above all things, red faced, cheeks puffed and straining for the next painful sound. Just what I needed. He must do these things just to be annoying. I believed there was some kind of sinister forethought to drive me mad. How does his wife put up with this?
“Gene...Gene,” I called. He finally stopped and turned around to meet my astonished gaze. “What are you doing?”
Meanwhile Mandy came out thinking someone had hit a moose in the alley behind our house and now it was issuing death sounds. I assured her you had to go about five hundred miles north to find moose unless Gene was raising them in his basement.
“Oh, hi Don. What ya think? I found my old high school tuba when I was in marching band while I was cleaning out the attic. Figured I'd pick it up and start playing again. All these years and I haven't missed a beat! You know they say music improves intelligence,” he informed me.
I got to the porch next to Mandy. Her hands were on her hips with a look expecting a tirade from me.
“He should have never put the thing down, maybe he'd have more brains by now. I think the man is trying to strip the last nerves from my body. It's summer and I'll be working outside and we'll be barbecuing out here and we'll have to listen to that thing. Then I thought about it...maybe I can borrow it and not return it.”
Then I thought about it...maybe I should borrow something and not return it. We'll see how he handles it. Give the butt hole a taste of his own medicine. Mmmmmm...what can I borrow. I know I'll keep my mower off and keep trying to start it when I go to cut the lawn. He'll hear me messing with it and I'll go over and ask to borrow his. I couldn't wait until the next week to perform the illusion.
The following weekend came. It started cloudy and I wasn't disappointed, thinking it was going to rain and I wouldn't get a chance to borrow Gene's lawn mower but the skies cleared mid morning to a beautiful day, low in humidity with a slight breeze. It was perfect weather to work outside so I put on my work clothes and went to my mower. I kept it off and started pulling the cord. I did so for fifteen minutes to look good. I saw Gene on his porch drinking coffee and watching me. I looked like I was messing with various things on the motor and finally stood back looking at it and scratched the back of my head. I turned and walked to where I could talk without shouting to Gene.
“Morning Gene,” I wished him.
“Morning Don. Having a bit of trouble getting the mower started?” a brilliant Gene conclusion after watching me attempting to start it for fifteen minutes. Get the tuba out.
“It appears so Gene and we have someplace to be this afternoon. I wanted to get the lawn cut before we go. Can I borrow your mower. It'll only be for about an hour,” I told him.
Now I planned to borrow it and when done put it in my garage to clean it but leave it there and lock the garage and leave with Mandy for the afternoon...maybe to a movie. I wanted him to come over and ask for it even if it sat there for several days.
“Oh, sorry Don, I make it a habit of never lending my tools out to neighbors. They either never bring them back and I have to ask for them or they damage them. You know how that is?” the idiot had the audacity of telling me. I think my face turned red in record time.
“You lame brained, fucking idiot...after all the things you borrowed from me and me trying to be agoodneighbor just moving here. I would have at least asked to borrow something but you didn't and then you damaged them,” I screamed to the point they could hear me three streets away. My exhibition even brought Mandy out and Gene's wife out to see what was going on.
“That's the point I never asked to borrow them,” he told me.
Mandy came quickly down the steps and held my arm knowing I was ready to jump property lines and throttle the little ass hole. That was his excuse. He never asked to borrow the items therefore he didn't borrow them. He'd have an excuse I suppose if I accused him of theft which would be the alternative.
“You ignorant little ass hole, mother fucker...” I started, but Mandy put her hand to my mouth to silence me. Daisy went off in a tirade then.
“You keep that ignorant husband away from my Gene. We're good neighbors and never had a problem until the likes of you moved in,” she shouted. Mandy, I could tell was ready to say something at this point and probably would have if it weren't for her trying to drag me by the arm into the house but I got one last word in before she shoved me into the kitchen.
“Just don't show up on your porch with that damn tuba. If you do I'll shoot the damn thing out of your arms...” but that's all I could say as the door slammed and Mandy turned to face me.
“I know, that guy is an ass hole but let's let it go before it escalates any more. Say nothing to him or Daisy and I won't either. From now on we act like they don't exist,” she forewarned.
She was right. I was at my breaking point with the guy. If I didn't stop now who knows where it would go. I wouldn't even wish either of them a good day if I saw them. Act like they don't exist and maybe things could be normal.
The week started well. I saw both Gene and Daisy outside a couple of times and didn't acknowledge them, nor did they, me. He played that damn tuba outside every day like the neighborhood enjoyed it. I ignored it....pick your battles. By the end of the week the police showed up at his door. I think someone called them about his tuba. I sure they thought it was me but it was good to see someone else in the neighborhood tried doing something. After that I heard him practicing the instrument but it was inside; not out, for all to hear. Playing it outside I'm sure was to grate on my nerves more than anything.
On Friday night of that week I was hungry and I kept thinking about Mandy's meatloaf she made for dinner. She made the best I ever tasted and the thing about meatloaf I most enjoyed was the leftovers. Nothing like left over meatloaf in the refrigerator for a few hours until it got cold and solid. I loved slicing it and put on a sandwich with some mustard. To me, there was nothing better.
I made my sandwich and put everything else away. I poured some iced tea and sat down at the table by the window to enjoy my banquet. I was about half finished my sandwich when I thought I saw a light in my garage. I always kept the door shut but unlocked. There was a regular door as well but I never bothered to lock that either but still someone had nerve to enter another man's garage at midnight. That was someone up to no good. Of course the most likely suspect that came to mind was Gene but I shook the notion out of my head and after the verbal thrashing I gave him even he couldn't be that stupid.
I went out the kitchen door quietly so whoever it was wouldn't hear me coming. I had one of those ultra bright LED tooled aluminum flashlights that do double duty as a weapon if you wanted to pulverize someone into the grave. I didn't intend to turn it on until I got to the garage. Its beam blinded anyone whose attention it caught. There was definitely someone there. Their light flashed about the garage and stuff rattled and clanked as it was disturbed in it resting place by the intruder. I got to the door and threw it open and yelled at the same time turning on my flashlight. There stood my idiot neighbor, Gene, looking like the deer in the headlight frozen to the road as the high beams caught it crossing.
“What the fuck, Gene?” is all I could think to ask.
“I wanted to borrow a crowbar. But I can't find yours,” he sheepishly told me. Whether he really needed a crowbar was immaterial, but saying it sent me into a rage and I went after him. The little squirrel ran from one side of the garage to the other in an effort to get away. He tripped over my dry vac hose and landed on the floor. I picked up a small sledge hammer sitting on the workbench there and without thinking brought it down on the idiot's head. It made a funny sound and I remember thinking afterwards, it wasn't the sound I thought it would make busting an idiot's head.
I stood there breathing heavily and realizing what I had done. I didn't just cuss the guy out, or berate or kick his ass. I killed the son of a bitch. I smashed his skull in with one blow. I looked at his house and all the lights were out and so were ours. This might have been a mercy killing for the neighborhood but the law wouldn't take that argument. I pictured myself in the clink running the laundry area. The worst job I could think of, and sleepless nights because some big beast with a worse IQ than what Gene had, was trying to pull down my pants around my ankles to deliver his version of Love Boat. I had to hide the body but where on such short notice? Daisy had a rose garden she was always messing with. Her roses were her children. She was always digging them up and moving them around putting bone meal in the new holes. I thought about it...Gene wasn't allowed in that garden but under it was a different story. Then I thought she'd find him quickly, the was she was always digging around. She had a huge pile of manure back there. I could dig under it and bury him, then put the manure back. That way no one could see the fresh hole and she had no need to dig below the manure. I drug the little squirrel back by his ankles. I had to stop thinking of him as a squirrel, that was an insult to the little mammal. It was good he was little though without the weight of brain matter because it made him easy to drag.
An hour later I was back in my house. I had pulled the tarp back off the manure and then removed enough manure to dig a hole to roll the body in. I packed the earth back down. The grass there was dead so then it was just repiling the manure on Gene...a fitting burial place for a guy like him. I rolled the tarp back on top and pondered my work briefly. It looked good. I even got a rake out and raked the lawn back opposite the way I dragged Gene so nothing could be seen in the light of day.
I expected to be met at the door by Mandy asking where the hell I was this time of night but things were quiet when I stepped into the kitchen. I noticed the half eaten sandwich on the table and the almost full glass of iced tea so I sat down and ate the rest of the sandwich and drank the tea. After putting the things in the sink and rinsing them off, I went upstairs. As I slid under the covers I heard Mandy say something.
“Did you finish the meatloaf?” she mumbled, her idea of late night humor.
“No I didn't finish the meatloaf,”I mocked her.
Morning came and it was pouring rain. It meant I couldn't cut the lawn today but it also meant washing away anything I might have missed last night and wetting down some of the manure pile where it wasn't covered so it didn't look disturbed. I had other things to do, in the garage. I always worked out there, especially when it rained, this time of year. I liked to keep my dirty tools, clean and my sharp tools, sharpened. It wasn't irregular for me to go there and spend the day, so I told Mandy that's where I was going. She never came to the garage, she hated the place and considered it my cave, leaving me alone out there. If she needed me she just yelled.
I had to clean the floor of Gene's blood. I scrubbed it first with ammonia and cleansers, disposing of the rags along the way in a plastic trash bag. Then I threw muriatic acid on the area to etch into the concrete. I didn't want to over do it though it would change the texture from what it was. I swept it then and left it alone to dry some going about doing other things there, like thoroughly washing the sledge hammer. I let it sit for awhile in straight ammonia while inspected the area. Everything looked good...no blood spatters. Then I remembered my black light I had that I used in my rock collection I hadn't toyed with in years. I found the light but the battery was dead so I replaced it. It worked. So I went around looking closely. The garage was pretty dark without the light on. There were no spatters and the light showed I had gotten the blood up with the chemicals and acid. By then I checked the concrete surface and it looked a little rougher than the surrounding surface so I got down with a brick and started moving it across the spot I had cleaned. That seemed to do the trick. Without knowing what to look for, the area would not attract my attention. I took the light to my sledge hammer and there was some color there so I dowsed that in the muriatic acid as well and left it there several minutes. When I looked at it again there were no signs of blood. I leaned back on my workbench and wondered if I had forgotten anything. If a forensics expert expected someone they would try to find the murder weapon in their possession. If they had a body they would try and match the imprint in the skull with...say, my sledge hammer.
I had to change the sledge hammer a little. I didn't want to buy a new one. That might look suspicious if I were suspect. So I turned on my bench grinder and proceeded to change the appearance of the weapon. I ground and ground, changing the size a bit and rounded the edges enough to make it look like a different hammer. I buffed it then with different coarse grits but it look like it was recently ground down and altered. I took another hammer and beat at it as bit. Then I took it and beat at a boulder that was outside the garage to give it the look of use that disappeared with the grinding. Then I threw the thing out in the rain encouraging rust for a few days. I'd wipe the rust off then but not completely. By the time I got done Mandy called lunch. I went and sat down to what I was hoping for ...a meatloaf sandwich.
“You only had one sandwich last night?” she sort of asked and told me at the same time,”as long as you were down here last night I thought you might have had two or three.”
“You should have come and gotten me,” I told her thinking she was fishing and had come down to find the half eaten sandwich and no Don.
“I know better than that. I can't disturb you while you're eating a meatloaf sandwich,” she laughed at me.
“Actually I fell asleep for a bit, while I was eating it,” I lied to her.
“I could have sworn I heard you go out the kitchen door,” she has ears like a cat, did you go outside for some reason?”
“No, I didn't,” then changing the subject so she didn't ask too much,”what are we going to do tonight, anything? You want to go out and eat something just to get out of the house with this rain?”
“Sure. Here comes Daisy up the sidewalk. She looks upset,” Mandy said going to the door. “Hi Daisy, is everything alright?”
“No. I hate to bother...you two, but have you seen Gene? He went outside last night to do something and he never came back to bed. I haven't seen him at all this morning,” she told us.
“Well I haven't seen him. Don have you seen him? He's been working out in the garage all morning and just came in,” she explained to Daisy.
“No. I haven't seen him. Did you check the car to see if it's been driven?” I threw that in like I was really worried about the squirrel...oops, sorry squirrels...the little guy.
“Actually, I did and it hasn't been driven. Where could he be on foot in this kind of weather?” she said starting to sob.
Not in a marching band with that tuba that's for sure, I thought to myself.
“Gene isn't exhibiting any signs of Alzheimer's is he?” I asked putting out some doubt.
“Well, no. I don't think so. What are the signs?” Daisy asked.
“Leaving in the middle of the night, usually by foot, forgetting how to get home,” I told her but that only made her go from sobbing to crying. Mandy tried to console her being the consoling person she was, by putting her arms around her. I really didn't want to see this kind of intimacy begin and I would much rather she view Daisy as the spouse of the enemy. I didn't want her to begin to see me as the enemy.
I told her she has to file a missing persons report but it was too early to do so at this time. The best thing to do is call his friends and wait.
“Look, I'll go and ride around town, check in some bars, see if anyone's seen him. Do you have a recent picture of him I can take?” I asked her.
“Oh that would be wonderful. I have a picture on me of Gene. It's so cute. He was in a little play with his niece called 'Forest Friends', where he played a little squirrel. She took the pic out and handed it to me. He was wearing a squirrel suit but showing this around wasn't going to do anything anyway.
“I would have guessed it,” I said looking at the pic. I stuck it in my pocket and went out the door. I drove far enough away I wouldn't stumble into anyone I knew and found a diner to stop at and drink an appropriate amount of coffee to occupy my time before going back to take Mindy out.
Three hours later I was coffeed out. I climbed into my car to head back and the seat was covered in mud. There were muddy footprints too on the mat.
“Damn who got in the car while was in the diner and did this? I'd like to get my hands on them. Some homeless jerk getting in out of the rain. I went to the car wash and had the kids do some detailing to get the mud cleaned out. I think they thought I was crazy having the car washed in the pouring rain, but I mainly wanted to get the mud out of the upholstery.
I went home and walked into the kitchen. Daisy was still there. It looked at both Mandy and Daisy who had been drinking coffee non-stop since I left, sharing stories and just making girl talk. When I walked in, neither said anything, but Daisy had that severely hopeful look in her eyes. It actually pained me. I just shook my head.
“No sign of him and no one's seen him, at least in the last day. People recognized him but didn't see him,” I told her.
“That Gene. He's a memorable guy. If they saw him they'd remember,” she said. “I guess I'll call the police in the morning.”
“That's the best thing,” Mandy told her, patting her hand in comfort.
I dreaded dinner tonight. The conversation would probably be all about Gene between her bouts of going to go to the bathroom every ten minutes with all the coffee she had been drinking.
Daisy went home looking like a beat dog and Mandy cleaned up after their meeting. I laid down a bit to read figuring I'd get up in an hour or so and get ready for dinner. We liked to go a little early to beat the crowd. I fell asleep about ten minutes into reading and above all people I dreamed of was Gene. He was standing at our back door asking to borrow something. I asked him what he needed and he replied,'anything, I just want to borrow something'. It was a nightmare. When I awoke Mandy was ready to go.
“You must have been tired. You were sleeping like the dead,” she told me. “Go get ready for dinner. I'm famished. I haven't eaten all day.”
“I hate that expression,”I told her. She hadn't eaten all day because she drank so much coffee for over three hours. There's only so much room in the stomach.
“Where do you want to go?” I asked Mandy when we got into the car. The skies were just beginning to clear in time for the sun to set for the day.
“There's a dinner over on Interstate 75 that I understand has really good food. Let's try that,” she announced to my surprise and dismay. It was as if the powers to be, whispered the suggestion in her ear. That was the place I spent three hours earlier wasting time drinking coffee instead of the fruitless effort of looking for Gene. Someone was bound to recognize me there if I went back this soon.
“I heard it wasn't very good and it's a little out of the way. Let's try that new place...the Mexican Gourmet. Mandy loved Mexican food so I knew all I had to do was mention that and she'd forget about the dinner.
“That sounds great to me,” she perked up, her eyes lighting up with the idea of having Mexican. We went to Mexico years ago for our honeymoon and that was her first introduction to Mexican food. She was hooked on it ever since. Even bad Mexican food was better than nothing for her and we had some bad stuff.
It turned out to be a great choice and the people were great working there. It was almost as if we were back on our honeymoon. They had a lone guitar player too that was great, with an incredible voice and a range that rivaled anything you heard professionally. It turned out his brother was the one who opened the restaurant and he was helping with it financially to get it off the ground. He was a professional performer in Mexico and was well known in clubs and on Mexican broadcast so he offered to perform there to open the business right.
We had a super time of it and Mandy found a new favorite place. Mandy and I took our time with dessert and after, drinking some incredible coffee, until we knew it was time to go. It had been a pleasurable meal and a pleasurable evening as we drove home satisfied. Then Mandy brought reality home with a few simple words.
“I wonder what happened to Gene?” she verbalized.
“Those two. They probably got on each others' nerves so bad he took off. Gene would certainly work on mine and Daisy isn't far behind. It's as if they were meant for each other,”I spoke openly to my wife about them.
“Oh, Don, you're such a negative person sometimes,” Mandy told me lying her head on my shoulder.
“Yeah, but you love me anyway...” I replied.
“Yes I do, Mr. Negativity,” she joked.
We both went to bed after we got home. Sometime after midnight something woke me. I'm not sure what I heard but I laid there and listened and didn't hear anything again. Being paranoid I got up and looked out the window. The moon was up and it was full on a very clear night. I leaned on the sill for awhile to see if my eyes would adjust and see something. About the time I was going to go back to bed I saw a shadow near the garage. I put on my housecoat to run out to see who was poking around out there.
“What's the matter, Don, can't you sleep?” Mandy said sleepily from her side.
“I think there's an intruder out there. Go back to sleep I'm going to check things out,” I told her grabbing a baseball bat from the closet for just such an occasion.
I went to the backdoor and looked out for a minute and I didn't see anything. I quietly opened the door and went outside, realizing I couldn't lock it and my keys were upstairs. Well I wouldn't go out of sight of the door so I should be fine. I didn't want to leave Mandy by herself in there while I was outside looking for a prowler and the door was open. I went into the garage and turned on the light and was satisfied no one was there. I listened carefully for anyone milling around at night without a light was sure to make noise. I started back, looking all around. My heart stopped when a cat screeched and ran in front of me. When I got the kitchen door I stopped and gave one last look all around the outside. There was nothing. I made sure the door was locked before going upstairs.
Climbing back into bed, Mandy turned over and rested her head on my shoulder and her hand on my chest.
“Did you get the prowler?” she mumbled deliriously.
“I didn't see anything. Must have been my imagination,” I told her.
“Don! You tracked mud in last night. You've got footprints in the kitchen,” Mandy yelled at me in the morning. She had gotten up to cook breakfast and left me in bed dozing.
I continued to lay there a minute and suddenly I became conscious realizing what she said. I was only on the porch, sidewalk and the driveway. There wasn't any mud for me to step in. I jumped out of the bed to see but as I came down the hall into the kitchen, she had already mopped up everything. Not wanting to alarm her I apologized telling her I didn't realize I was tracking mud when I came back in last night. Maybe I did track mud in earlier when we were out and didn't realize I stepped in any. Mandy was ahead of me when we came in so she wouldn't have noticed them until this morning. I wouldn't have noticed them last night when I was up because it was dark. Yeah, that's what happened.
I decided to do some things around the house. There were minor repairs to do, things you didn't notice until you lived in a house. It looked perfect when we bought it but day by day we discovered little things. Some wood repair, plastering...things like that. So I started in each room before moving to another, inspecting beyond what I had noticed. I asked Mandy too, if she knew of anything else that needed fixing. She had a few things as well that I missed and by the time I was finished for the day it was dinner time. Mandy had roasted a chicken which she liked to do once in awhile because we'd eat half of it the first night. The second night she'd take the drippings and make chicken and dumplings and by the third night we were eating chicken salad...cheap meals for two retirees on fixed incomes.
We watched television for a few hours. Mandy was primarily working a crossword puzzle book she had. I dozed off finally before the eleven o'clock news which was the same bull crap anyway. You could have done a week's reruns of the news and you wouldn't lose track of any reality, if you could call it that, since last week. I woke up to her shaking me and telling me it was time to go to bed, to check the doors. I went around doing my normal routine of checking and locking doors. I looked out the windows too, seeing if everything was clear.
I'm not sure what time it was but I awakened again by something so I got up to see. There was something or someone outside again. I saw the shadow moving towards the back of the garage on the far side around the house next door. I wasn't about to go back there in the night, in the dark. I'd be a fool. I'd be easy prey to someone hiding in the shadows back there. But I did go out on the porch, then the driveway, with my bat to see. I brought my house keys this time and locked the door behind me.
I couldn't find anything and I couldn't hear anything. If someone had been there, they were either hiding or had already left. They didn't know I was there so they must be gone.
I went back into the house and locked the door. I turned on the kitchen light to look at my slippers and the floor. Both were clean so I went to bed. I hate getting up like that in the middle of the night because it takes me a long while to go back to sleep especially if the adrenaline was up. I finally fell asleep thinking about what I was going to do the next day. I no sooner seemed to have fallen asleep when I heard Mandy's voice again yelling at me.
“Don! What am I going to do with you. You did it again...tracked mud on my clean floors. You even tracked some down the hallway.
This time I shot up wide awake and ran downstairs. I wanted to see the prints. Not to alarm Mandy again, I apologized and told her I'd clean it up. I took the mop out of the closet and proceeded to do just that.
“Did you hear something again outside last night?” she asked me.
“Yeah. And I thought I saw a shadow out there in the moonlight but maybe it was my imagination,” I explained to her.
“Well, if you're going to be roaming about at night and stepping in the mud, check your feet before you come in,” she insisted. I didn't have the heart to tell her I did last night and I checked the floor too and all was clean. It was beginning to freak me out, it most certainly would have her.
The police came around a little later asking questions about Gene. Typical stuff like, did he seem despondent or share anything with us that might have indicated he was about to take of? Then the question was posed to me.
“We hear you had some problems with the man and you fought a few times,” the cop stated.
“Neighbor kind of problems...he'd borrow stuff and not bring it back or he'd break it and bring it back that way and not even apologize. I basically told him he was a 'rude son of a bitch' and he couldn't borrow anything anymore and frankly I didn't want to talk to him,” I told the two policemen. The cop taking notes nodded in understanding and that was that.
“I guess they still have no idea about Gene...poor Daisy.” Mandy said looking out the window with me to see where they were going next.
“Well. I'm going out to the garage. I want to start working on that clock kit I bought a couple of months ago,” I informed her.
I had seen an advertisement for a mantel clock made of cherry in a woodworker's magazine. It struck my fancy and thought Mandy would like it too since we had a mantel now and nothing but pictures and knickknacks on it. It rang out the hour, half hour and quarter hours. It was a real clock not some digital manifestation. You even had to wind it and you could hear it ticking when you came into the room. You could see what time it was thirty feet away and if you knew the hour, you could just count the rings for the quarter and half hours without looking.
“Alright, honey. I'm going to do some food shopping. Is there anything you need?” she asked me as she went to the closet.
“How about one of those Symphony bars” I asked her. The one with almonds and toffee was my favorite.
“That's not what you need...that's what you want,” she corrected me as she threw on her sweater and picked up her car keys.
I worked on that clock all day, putting the cabinet part of it together. I've always found it gratifying to work with wood. The smell, the feel and the look...transforming it from unfinished wood to an assembled thing of beauty. The staining would happen tomorrow but all the sanding down to the fine steel wooling would be finished today. I rubbed it down with some mineral spirits to get rid of and natural oil from my hand that could mar the finish, and to eliminate the little bit of dust that could be hanging on in the crevices. Satisfied I did what I could for the day I put it aside and went to the house. Dinner was about ready. There was a special on country ribs. Mandy bought a pack and threw them on the barbecue...one of my favorites.
After dinner we did something we hadn't done forever. We pulled out a game of scrabble that found it's way under the sofa when we moved here from under the sofa in our previous place. Funny, we put it in a convenient place to get to so we could play and we hadn't played in probably six years. We pulled it out and played until bedtime getting to the point of ridiculousness with the words we were forming to the point we were both gasping for air, laughing so hard.
I took a long, hot shower and wondered if the mysterious footprints would be there in the morning. I wasn't going to take the blame for them again and I wasn't going to imply they weren't mine because Mandy would freak. I would get up earlier than what she normally did and if something were there I'd clean things up before she got up. I set my watch alarm so it wouldn't bother her. She always got up at seven...I'd get up at six thirty just in case.
Something woke me up again sometime after midnight, same as the two previous nights. I refused to get up this time and remained in bed. I went back to sleep fairly easy since I didn't get up but it still seemed like my alarm went off not too long after reentering unconsciousness.
I got up and quietly dressed making it out the door without waking Mandy. Going down the stairs,I saw muddy footprints on the last two steps. They continued down the hall to the kitchen door. I was ready to freak myself. I went to the door and tried it but it was locked. What the hell was going on? I quickly and quietly got the mop and pail out and cleaned the floor. I had to get the carpet spray to do the last two steps. Thanks goodness the carpet was a dark color otherwise there may have been more scrubbing than I anticipated. I got that cleaned up and started coffee...a good excuse for getting up ahead of Mandy. We were both heavy coffee drinkers and we worshiped it first thing in the morning.
“Hey you...good morning. You're up early,” Mandy said bounding into the room. She was a morning person, more so than me, but still, I wasn't like some people that seemed to be suicidal when confronted with a good morning salutation.
“I slept well through the night and woke up early. I kept thinking of hot coffee and decided to give in to my addiction.
“I'm glad you did. I'd be eating it out of the can this morning not being able to wait for a cup,” she said coming over and kissing my on the forehead. She poured herself a cup and joined me at the table. At least you didn't have to go outside last night and track mud in. Any special requests for breakfast?” she asked me.
“You know, we haven't done pancakes in a while. I'm going to the garage, call me when its on,” I told her,” when I got outside the door there were muddy footprints coming up the walk to the door. I grabbed a broom in the garage quickly and brushed the mud away before Mandy saw it. Who the hell was it and how did they get into the house and why? I just couldn't figure out the obvious because that would have been insanity. I think I still had my faculties.
“Let's go the mall and window shop,” Mandy announced during the demolition of my stack of buttermilk pancakes smothered in real butter and real maple syrup.
“What's wrong with the windows we have?” I asked her, stuffing my face with a massive bite of the stack.
“We haven't done that in awhile together. Maybe we can grab lunch out, come home and play Scrabble again. I had fun doing that last night,” she told me.
“I did too. Let's go to the Mall then. That sounds like a plan,” I agreed.
We dressed for shopping and left. The two cops that had asked us questions about Gene were at another neighbor's house, with the couple standing on the front porch.
“Poor Daisy. I hope she finds something out soon. She must be beside herself worrying,” Mandy said waving at the couple as we passed. I looked in my mirror wondering what they had turned up since my natural paranoia was making the back of my neck itch.
The mall was packed. I guess everyone else in town decided to do what we did. Going by the bookstore there, one of Mandy' favorite authors was there for a book signing of her new novel. Mandy was beside herself. She wanted to get the new book to read and to have it signed by her favorite author was a dream come true. The line was horrendous. People were holding copies of her new book they purchased, wanting it signed. I told her I'd sit outside on the bench and people watch. I wasn't about to stand in line for an hour.
Eventually she came running out excited. She had her book, signed.
“So what's the name of this book?” I asked her, not that that I really cared. Our taste in reading material was completely different. She pulled it out to show me.
“It's called 'The Bad Gene'...it's a murder mystery,” she announced. I about choked. It wasn't what I expected to hear and a little too close to home.
We did our thing and picked up some minor items. I picked up a Symphony bar at the drugstore while Mandy searched next door in Victoria's Secret. What was her secret anyway? Could someone explain. I got it...she left skid marks on her thongs! I quietly thought to myself, laughing,'that's just nasty.'
That night I watched television in the bedroom while Mandy wrapped herself in her new book. There was no talking with her when she was reading so it was a quiet evening. I fell asleep ahead of her sometime before the news came on but when I woke up it was the sound of the stairs, halfway up the rise, creaking. I looked at Mandy. She had fallen asleep reading. Her head was back, her mouth open, and she was snoring to beat the band. I got up to check the creaking stair and turned on the light that illuminated the stairs. There were the muddy footprints again. This time they were up to the bad floor board and then turned back. A shock of fear ran through me. My heart began pounding and that tiny feel of fear left a taste in my mouth. I had to clean it up now. Knowing I would probably wake Mandy up if I did anything in the position she was I went back and turned out the light. I set her book aside and manged to move her and cover her for a more comfortable sleep. She began murmuring something but she stayed asleep well enough. I gave it a minute just to make sure. When I was reasonably sure she was back, sound asleep, I went to work.
There was much more effort this time because of cleaning the carpet. There was more to clean. If this kept up, I'd have to get up and hour before her to make things look right. What the hell was going on? In the back of my head I thought maybe, just maybe, it was the angry spirit of Gene come back to haunt me. What else could it be? I never believed in spirits. I believed in the afterlife but I always felt when life ended, it was a different, totally separate dimension, from which there was no return since we could never go there until we died. Now the thoughts were forming in my brain that he had come back to haunt me for what I had done to him...an act of passion and anger that made me strike at him without thought and without merit other than to get him out of my life. Now perhaps he had become an integral part of it.
I scrubbed the stairs first changing the water twice before mopping up the floor. It looked good when I had finished. No one could tell it had looked as bad as it did. I cleaned and put everything back in place. Two hours before we were supposed to get up. At least I could go back to sleep and sleep past Mandy which is what I usually did. It would look normal since that's what I normally did. Getting up before her now all the time would have made her suspicious. I made note of the time and thought perhaps I should do this again tomorrow since this seemed to be a normal process now. The thing I wondered about was the prints kept advancing a little further each night. Where were they going and what was their purpose? People fear the dark for perhaps a good reason. I read once our ancient ancestors developed a fear of the night at a time we were the hunted and predators normally hunted at night for us. It became an instinctual thing to fear the dark then because of what lurked in the shadows. That sudden sound out there could herald something beyond our control...something that would leap on us and tear our throats apart.
I went back to sleep but it was not a good sleep. The prints were a foreboding and so I dreamt. I kept seeing that little squirrel, Gene, rummaging through my things in the garage for something to borrow. I didn't even like it when Mandy rummaged through my things without asking. I wouldn't think of going through her stuff. By the time Mandy woke up I was in one of my awakened moments between dreams. I was tired from my sleep. I pretended to be asleep as she got up and went downstairs. I listened to the sounds of her preparing for the day. First thing, always, she made coffee and soon the smell of the dark roast, we both liked, came drifting up the stairs. I tried to ignore it and try and get a little more sleep but the fragrance was overwhelming. I knew people who didn't like coffee but loved the smell. There was nothing like it whether you were a coffee drinker or not. It seemed invigorating just breathing it in.
I stumbled down the stairs, looking around as I did so, double checking that I had gotten all the dirt up. I was still tying my housecoat up when I walked into the kitchen. There was Daisy sitting at the table looking like a wreck. I don't think she had any sleep for days. Her eyes were red and she had great dark circles under her eyes. She was fidgety and her hair was a mess. Her personal hygiene had gone out the window. It smelled like she hadn't bathed either in some time so I sat at the opposite end of the table as Mandy poured my coffee.
“I'm thinking the worst that could have happen did to Gene. I'm never going to see that man again,” Daisy sobbed.
Mandy went over and put her hands on her shoulders to comfort her.
“Now don't say that, Daisy,” I told her. “What could have happened around here, in a peaceful neighborhood in the middle of the night? It isn't like the city where you dare not get up and walk the streets in the middle of the night.”
“Don...you've been hearing noises outside in the middle of the night and you saw someone sneaking around. Maybe Gene woke up and went to check things out and stumbled onto the prowler. Something could have happened then,” she surmised. Thank you Mandy. Good timing, adding that thought, so I agreed.
“We should tell the police that. That's important. There might be someone dangerous, prowling around at night they should know about,” Daisy suggested.
“I agree. Let me call that officer Anderson right now and leave a message to call if he's not there. I didn't think of it before but I'll tell him about it,” I announced. An added thought that might steer them further from me if there was any suspicion at all.
I called but Anderson wasn't on yet, so I left a message. I told them I had something that might be important to tell them about Gene's disappearance. The girl on the board assured me he'd back to me as quickly as possible. When I hung up Daisy actually looked relieved.
“Thank you Don. I appreciate that. It has to have something to do with his disappearance,” she told me.”I have to get going. It's cleaning day so I have a house to clean. Gene used to help but now I have the whole thing to do myself.”
“Listen if you need anything done, repairs, that kind of thing, just let me know,” I informed her.
“Thank you. I'll be seeing you all,” she told us as she went through the back door. “There's an awful lot of mess out here. Muddy footprints all over the place.”
I forgot about those prints. Now it looked like someone had come to the back door and tried to come in but the door was locked. That was fortuitous. It would automatically be assumed it was the work of the prowler we were talking about earlier.
“Oh dear God,” Mandy exclaimed. “There is a prowler. Get the police out here when you talk to Anderson and don't disturb anything. Take some pictures with your phone.”
“Maybe they can just post someone out here and catch that son of a bitch tonight if he comes sneaking around,” Daisy surmised logically. She then walked quietly out the door.
“Maybe they can,” Mandy answered after she left picking up a dish towel.
“Yeah,” I answered without thinking. My mind was too busy wondering if I might not be muddying the waters for myself but I couldn't see the disadvantage to offering this tidbit to the cops. The only thing, I understood some of these guys that had been on the force for very long had a sixth sense about their suspicions. That was a plus for staying away from the cops. I wondered when they might call homicide in. So far they had no reason for foul play. I didn't know if there was a time limit when someone was missing that it would be turned over to the homicide detectives. That could be a problem.
“I'm cutting the lawn. I didn't get a chance with the rain and it needs it,” I told Mandy as I went upstairs to change. I'd be done by noon with that and the trimming. I'd work on the clock this afternoon. This evening, I wasn't sure what we'd do. I dreaded being home then in expectation of the damn footprints. How were they getting in the house? It was locked. My thought went further and further to the explanation of a haunting.
Mandy called me in for lunch. She made burritos. They weren't authentic because we both like our fried a bit so they were hot completely through and the cheese melted. It gave a nice crispiness to the tortilla. I liked mine served with a little sour cream.
“How about you and I going to the movies tonight?” I asked her.
“Oh, I'm sorry, Don. I should have said something but Gloria called earlier about going with Angie to the movies and I said yes. You know, I'm sure it would be fine for you to tag along with us,” she consoled me.
“Uh...tag along with the three of you. No thanks, I couldn't be a part of that conversation,” I told her. I couldn't even imagine being the fourth wheel on that one. Those three had been tight for years and I wouldn't even know what they were saying most of the time. “Go and enjoy yourself...no getting drunk and showing up at a male strip show like you three did the last time and I had to come get you because you couldn't drive.”
“Oh...that was so embarrassing,” she elaborated. “I guess not so much as the tattoo you found on my butt the next morning.”
“The tattoo wasn't so bad...it was the subject matter. Every time I see your butt I'm reminded of it. Who's idea was it?” I asked.
“The tattoo or what it said,?” she asked starting to giggle about it.
“What it said, Mandy...'Come Visit Mandy's Playhouse',” it sounds like an Angie idea.
“I don't remember but it is just a little funny. I promise I won't get any more tattoos,” she told me laughing.
“Or piercings,” I replied.
“Or piercings...I promise,” she answered.
“I'll stay home and read. I have things to occupy myself,” I told her but then I thought about it. If she came home too late the prints might already be there to send her into shock. They were showing up somewhere around two in the morning as far as I could figure and there was no telling what time she might roll in after a night out with her friends, especially if she'd been drinking.
“We're just going to the movies but I should be back about midnight. We're all getting too dysfunctional the next day if we don't get our sleep,” Mandy explained.
“Is that a nice was of saying we're getting older?” I asked her. That's exactly what it was. I was never dysfunctional when I was younger, partying all night and getting an hour of sleep if I were lucky. The passage of time caused the dysfunction.
Mandy left with the girls to catch the eight o'clock show and I was left alone in an extremely quiet house. If the little squirrel wants to haunt someone, haunt me...come stand in front of me right now and say 'boo'. And in fact I verbalized that out loud in the empty house. Nothing happened. I turned on the television for background noise and began reading my book...it was about the beginning of it actually with a couple of the newest theories and the concept of time. I like such subject matter because it made me think developing my own ideas. Romance novels, science fiction, historical novels and that type of thing were either too unbelievable or boring to me.
Then it happened. The program on television said something about exploring old houses for spirits coming up and I put down my book to listen. I became spellbound. Three months ago and I would have laughed at it and changed channels. The show didn't really tell me anything I hadn't already heard but under the circumstances I weighed each word.
I decided to wait up for Mandy mainly to make sure she got to bed before I had to do any cleaning. Everything remained quiet all evening long. I lost interest in reading after awhile and flipped channels. I found one rebroadcasting old comedy series from the fifties and sixties and found myself thoroughly enjoying them. Talk about more innocent times. Maybe we were just all naive but things were pretty much black or white just as the shows were broadcast in. The humor was real and about real life. It wasn't demeaning or cruel just funny. It wasn't something that a few years later would be banned. You left the show feeling good, not inferior or apologetic. I dozed of for a little while and looked at the clock. It was getting close to eleven thirty. I rushed to check the floors and all was clean. I went and popped some popcorn in the microwave and took a seat in back in the living room.
I stuck to watching the same channel. Car lights in the driveway said Mandy was home at about eleven fifty. Mandy came bouncing in laughing and gave me a kiss on the forehead. She sat down next to me and started devouring my popcorn, a sign she had a couple of drinks.
“No tattoos?” I asked.
“”Not enough time. There was another one I wanted but that would have put us home too late,” was her sarcastic reply. “What did you do all evening? I see you got the place cleared out from your party.”
“Yeah, the last hooker just left. I read and watched television all evening,” I told her, ready to go to bed. I turned off the set and put my book back in the drawer I had it in. “Let's go to bed.”
So we went upstairs, Mandy ahead of me losing her balance along the way a couple of times. I put my hand on her butt to steady her.
“Careful, the new tattoo back there hurts a little,” she laughed jokingly to me.
I set my watch alarm for three and that's when I heard it and shut it off. The footprints were there OK. Now they lead to the bedroom door. I couldn't keep doing this. Every night there was more mud to clean up. Sooner or later Mandy would wake up and wonder what was going on. Then I thought about it, a way to make things easier. I'd tell her I was going to deep clean the carpets for something to do tomorrow, I thought they needed it and I'd put plastic down for a couple of days. But that only bought me a couple of days. I'd have to see if there was something else I could do.
It took me about an hour this time to clean things up. I went and swept the mud outside off the porch and the walk quickly as well.
In the morning when I went into the kitchen and sat with my coffee, Mandy asked me what was on my agenda so I told her.
“That's nice. You can rent those vacs at the grocery store,” she informed me.
So when I finished eating I got dressed and left. I had an idea on the way and searched for a psychic online locally and found a few. I liked the one's name. It made her sound legit...Nadia Wojawski. I called her and asked if I could come over immediately for advice. It wasn't like clients were beating down her door I guess, so she said yes.
I got there ten minutes later and told her my wife and I had just moved into this new house. We were retired and healthy but decided to down size from the monstrosity we had been living in for years. I told her about what was going on and all I could think of was some disgruntled ghost that didn't like us living there, decided to haunt us. How do I get it to stop?
She wrote down some incantations to me and gave me a jar of salt, salt that was from a specific area in Hungary that she blessed following certain rites and invoking guardians. There was some kind of incantation as well she placed on the salt. I had to say what she wrote as I poured the salt across all the thresholds in the house. I left after paying and thanking her, assured this would do the trick.
I stopped and picked up the deep cleaner for the store. I stopped at the hardware store to get the plastic. It wasn't just going to be a mat down but I planned on cutting a wide swatch to put down over the carpet leading up the stair and in the bedroom. I cut out double so when I pulled the one up after it was dirty I could replace it immediately to cause the least amout of annoyance and wake Mandy.
I started on the stairs. When I finished I put down plastic the full width of the stairs. I tacked the edges so there were no accidents. That would make things a little more difficult but safer. I did the bedroom next and the whole upper floor and put plastic down over everything. It looked like my aunt';s place growing up where she had everything covered in plastic all the time. I hated going there, especially in summer,because wearing short pants, my legs would stick to the sofa's covers all the time.
“Wow, you did a great job,” Mandy complimented me. “How long do we have to walk on plastic?”
“Maybe two to three days. I want to make sure it's completely dry otherwise it'll pick up dirt easily. I'm going to Scotch-Gard it too, and it'll have to be completely clean and dry, otherwise you defeat your purpose,” I explained to her wanting to keep the plastic down as long as possible. I figured the scotch-garding might make it easier to clean future footprints up as well.
I took the vac back after dinner. I had it until morning but it served its purpose.
I waited until Mandy went to a friend's house for her couponing night. I felt like a modern day witch going around and spreading salt, standing there and doing incantations. I even spread some salt in front of the basement windows since they were ground level...couldn't be too safe. I did the incantations there as well.
My alarm went off at three and I got up. I was excited because there was no mud. It worked. I went downstairs to check and everything was clean. I opened the back door and there were the muddy prints up to the threshold. It was a spirit haunting but I beat the little squirrel, Gene. He couldn't get in. I quickly swept away everything on the walk and driveway. It beat having to scrub floors as well in the middle of the night. I was pleased and relieved.
Going into the kitchen in the morning, Mandy smiled her smile and gave me as kiss. I sat at the table and looked forward to the pancakes I saw her mixing for breakfast.
“I'll be happy when things dry and I don't have to walk on plastic,” she told me as she poured the first of the cakes on the skillet. I watched, knowing the first pancake was always the sacrifice. It would be mangled and it would stick and she would have to scrape it out of the skillet in pieces before the perfect pancake could be achieved. It always had to happen that way. It was the same way with my mother. There must be some pancake god of the universe that demanded it. I laughed to myself as I watched her scrape that first one out of the skillet in pieces and throw it in the trash. I guess that was the virgin pancake sacrifice.
It was good day for painting so I decided to touch up places around the outside of the house that needed it. I had already bought the paint when we first bought the place so I had things available to do the work when I could. I loved painting too. There was something very relaxing about it. Sanding and scraping the areas first and then applying the paint. Things never looked that bad before you started that kind of job but once you looked back at it, the change was always unbelievable.
It took me the entire day and I was tired. My arm muscles ached. It was something I just wasn't used to. I took a good hot bath before dinner and soaked in the tub. I put on the old standby for someone my age with muscle aches...Absorbine Jr. Well Mandy couldn't stand the smell of junior and she let me know when I sat down at the table.
“Oh Don...couldn't you have waited until after dinner to put on that stinky stuff?” she asked me in a demeaning way.
“My muscles ache now besides I kind of like the smell. I don't understand why you dislike it so much,” I told her. Heck we used it in high school after a good basketball game. There was nothing like the smell of Absorbine Jr. and the underlying smell of the locker room with its share of dirty jock straps that hadn't been washed in three weeks. It brought back fond memories.
I shouldn't have sat down right after dinner. I should have taken a walk or something with Mandy but I was tired and I fell asleep. She woke me up at bedtime, realizing I had exhausted myself and letting me sleep, so I got up and went with her to bed. I laid there and suddenly thought about having to check the floors at three in the morning but then I remembered the problem was solved with the salt and incantations. I quickly and happily resumed sleep.
“Don! You've tracked mud in again. Thank goodness the plastic is down. What were you doing up in the middle of the night again?” I heard Mandy say as she was staring all around the bedroom.
I immediately went into lie mode. I should have come clean right then but what happened to the protection I put out there.
“Oh, sorry...I thought I heard something out there again so I went to check. I didn't realize it,” I told her and looked at the plastic. The footprints were now into the room, to the foot of our bed, from where they were two days ago at the doorway. I had enough salt to do the incantations again. I would redo them later when Mandy wasn't around. He must have found an unprotected pathway.
Mandy decided to clean closets, getting rid of things she hadn't worn or used in a while. She would be absorbed in that all day easily so I went ahead and put down the salt again with the appropriate incantations. Satisfied with my efforts I put the empty container away. I could use it to clean brushes. I saved things like that to multipurpose them.
I finished doing the work on the clock in the afternoon. I was proud of my achievement. I gave the piece one last bowling alley wax treatment. I snuck it into the living room and placed it on the mantle giving it a good wind. Mandy would come running when it chimed, never having heard it before and would wonder. I left then to go back to the garage to clean it up. This was a weekly thing and an easy job if you did it every week. Once you let it go the crap would pile up faster and you'd spend half a day then restoring everything.
Fifteen minutes later, Mandy came running out to the garage.
“Don, it's beautiful. I heard it chime and wondered what was going on. I had no idea you were this close to finishing it. It's perfect on the mantle,” she praised me. We stood there hugging and kissing for awhile and it felt like more maybe.
“I can get the Viagra out for tonight,” I suggested. “Maybe visit Mandy's Playhouse.”
“Oh you,” she said leaning back and slapping my chest,”that's a four hour boner, are you up to it?”
“The way I'm feeling right now I 'd have to say, definitely,” I told her.
Mandy made tacos for dinner. It was an easy meal and easy cleanup since we had plans. I took the blue pill with dinner when I sat down knowing its effectiveness would begin in about thirty minutes. We quickly cleaned things up. Neither of us liked leaving dishes until morning, cleaning them was so much more a chore. I raced her upstairs and we showered together in the large shower which was one of things we liked about the place when we bought it. It wasn't one of these modern cramped showers they put into houses for someone five foot six and one hundred and five pounds. We passed out after our love making session but I woke up early on to set my watch. I wanted to make double sure about the mud.
I couldn't sleep well after that. I laid there and my thoughts ran. I was suddenly alert, thinking I heard something downstairs. I strained, listening to see what I could hear, if anything. Deciding it wasn't anything, I closed my eyes only to be alerted once again by the squeaky stair. Something was there. Something was in the house. Something heavy enough to make that stair squeak. Spirits don't have weight, how could it be a spirit? It must be something solid...a breathing, hateful thing in the night, emerged from the depths of hell ascending those stairs. It's coming for me and the hateful thing I did to the neighbor. It's come to drag me screaming back downstairs and further still into the hole of hell, never to see Mandy again. My heart was beating radically. That dry taste reinfected my mouth with its aftertaste of horror and I began to itch all over and my hair that I had, tickled my scalp as it rose. I sunk further under the covers as if that would help. Mandy's breathing was loud in my ears and I heard other breathing still, that wasn't hers. Oh dear God, my efforts with salt and incantations didn't work. Perhaps it took a pure heart and I had anything but...then I heard footsteps in the room on the plastic. It was short shuffling as if deciding where to go. My curiosity got the best of me. I had to look...I had to see. Were my fears justified? Was it who I thought it was, here to extract justice? As I rolled over on my back and slowly lowered the bed sheets, someone was standing there to my horror,and further, to my shattering fear, was Gene holding my sledge hammer. I was ready, he was going to kill me with it as I did him. It was mine, I could see how I had reground it and reshaped it in case there was a murder investigation. I was so smart and so ahead of the authorities.
I lay there, waiting for the blow but none came. I opened my eyes again.
“Can I borrow this sledge hammer?” Gene's spirit asked me.
“Yeah...yeah,” I replied, shaking my head vehemently. “Just go...go.”
I don't remember what happened next except I must have fallen asleep. I awoke to the hammering on the front door. It was loud. I got up and noticed the mud again on the plastic. I had to get that up before Mandy got up. I glanced over at her as I got up. She was lying on her left side as she always did still sound asleep. Good, I thought I just need to get to the door before the hammering wakes her.
I slipped on my robe and rushed there. As I opened it, there were two police officers standing there with Daisy. My first thought was, they've got me, they figured things out.
“Mr. Robinson, Don Robinson? We've had a few complaints about screaming and yelling coming from this house. One complaint was from your next door neighbor here, Daisy Isenfeld. She evidently heard you threatening your wife. There was a lot of screaming from here and then there wasn't anything. She feared for your wife's safety and so did a few of your other neighbors,” the policeman reported.
“What? I just got up. My wife's still sleeping upstairs. I don't know what these people heard but it wasn't coming from this house,” I told them.
“Sir, would you mind having your wife come down here?” the officer asked.
“Yes, I do mind. She's still sleeping,” I told them angrily.
“Mrs. Robinson,” the officer shouted into the room,”Mrs. Robinson...can you hear me. Are you OK?” he yelled even louder.
“Mr. Robinson, I'll have to ask you again to bring your wife down here or I'll have to come in,” the officer requested again.
“No I will not,” I replied arrogantly to the men standing there.
“Alright sir, you'll have to take me upstairs. I need to see that your wife is fine before we leave.
So I took them upstairs and he told me to go into the bedroom and get her or she could talk to them from where she was. He just wanted confirmation she was fine. They were looking around at all the plastic I had on the floors. I told them I had just cleaned the rugs as I went into the bedroom. The muddy prints led over to Mandy's side of the bed. I went there to awaken her talking all the while to her so not to frighten her awake. What I saw was horrifying. Mandy's head was smashed into her pillow. Blood was all over the pillow and her side of the bed, dripping onto the plastic on the floor. Lying next to her was my sledge hammer, covered in blood and brain tissue. I began to uncontrollably vomit and sob at the same time making incoherent sounds only to be described as animalistic. The police entered the room and took one look at Mandy. The one officer spun me around and effortlessly put handcuffs on me. He told the other to read me my rights as he called into the station for homicide. He sat me on the other side of the bed as they looked around carefully. I heard the one say to the other.
“The son of a bitch had this all planned out. Covered everything with plastic so there were no bloodstains. Used a common mallet to kill her with. What do you want to bet he had something to do with his neighbor's disappearance as well? Maybe even the same murder weapon.
They led me downstairs, handcuffed behind my back. I went through the front door where quite a gathering of neighbors had taken place. Two more police cars were there now and an ambulance. Daisy was standing there on the porch looking angrily at me.
“I knew you were evil,” she grumbled at me as I walked out.
I didn't want eye contact with any of the neighbors so I held my head down. As the officer opened the door and guided me into the back of the car, I looked back. There on the porch next door stood Gene waving with the biggest smile you could imagine.
I took my seat in the back of the squad car and saw the squirrel looking self pleased as he watched us drive down the street towards my fate.