In the Neighbourhood

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Chapter 25: A Hot, Sticky One

Darrell and Sherrie both looked at the front door. “Was that somebody knocking?” Sherrie asked.

“I don’t know,” Darrell said. “I’ll go see.”

It was Keith of all people. He was shivering a bit, in his shorts and t-shirt, even though the night was a another hot, sticky one.

“Keith,” Darrell said. “Everything all right? It’s after eleven—”

“I saw the light on, and took the chance,” Keith said. “I hope I didn’t—”

“It’s fine, it’s fine. What’s wrong?” If it was an emergency, Keith was taking his damn time telling him about it.

“I need to talk to you,” Keith said. His voice was strained—he wasn’t going to cry, was he? “I don’t know—maybe—”

“Do you want me to come over?” Darrell asked. He went through the list of problems Keith could possibly want to talk to him about this late at night. Lisa had kicked him out. One of his tapes had gone missing.

Oh—Christ, he had handed off all of the tapes Keith had given him without even looking at them. He didn’t want them back already, did he?

“Maybe we can talk on the porch or something.”

“Just let me tell Sherrie. Or—do you want to say hello?”

Keith turned away, as though ashamed. “I’ll just wait here,” he said.

“All right. Just a sec.”

Sherrie was waiting for him. “Was that Keith? What’s wrong?”

“Hasn’t told me yet. He’s upset—wants to talk about something.”

“Well, invite him in.” Oh, Sherrie loved a good crisis.

“I did. He wants to talk on the porch. I’m sure it’s just a bit of trouble between him and Lisa.” He opened the cabinet and took out the whiskey and two tumblers. The bottle was three-quarters full; it hadn’t been touched since Christmas.

“Is that really necessary?” Sherrie asked. Not really scolding him; her “just asking” tone.

“You bet.” Darrell leaned down and kissed her forehead. “Don’t wait up.”

“I’m going to bed soon. Good luck.”

Keith was pacing the length of the porch. “Want one of these?” Darrell asked.

His face lit up like the full moon. “You’re a life saver.”

“Have a seat.”

Keith took one of the wicker chairs but didn’t relax. He seemed just as agitated while sitting as he had while he was pacing around. His wife has really got him twisted up, Darrell though. He used to be like that, when he was first married to Sherrie; he’d since gotten over it. You had to, or you’d go crazy.

“With what?”

“Lisa—” Keith began, then stopped.

Here we go. It was too good to be true after all, the big-chested redhead who made a dozen great sex tapes in a month. Now she had cold feet, couldn’t handle the pressure. She surely was demanding that Keith get all the tapes back. Shit.

“There’s a peeping Tom in the neighbourhood,” Keith said at last.

Well, it could definitely have been worse than that. “Really?”

“Yes. Lisa was showering and saw someone in the window, watching her.”

“What—upstairs? How did they...”

“There’s that little roof on the side of the house, where the kitchen sticks out. It’s right outside the window. They must have climbed up.”

“You’re sure? I mean, she’s sure? Maybe it was—”

“She saw a face, right in the window. He saw her look at him, and he took off.”

“This was tonight?” Darrell started to think about their options—go take a walk and see if they could find the bugger? Call the cops? He’d be happy to slap the pervert around himself if they could find him, but maybe Keith was the kind who would want to go to the police.

“It was a few days ago.”

“You should’ve told me right away.”

“She just told me tonight. She hasn’t wanted to—to make any tapes for a few days. Tonight it all came out.”

“I wish she’d told you sooner. We could’ve—here.” Keith’s glass was almost empty, so Darrell poured him another.

“Thanks. I went down and looked around in the garden. Someone was definitely tramping around in there.”

“She didn’t see who it was, though? Young, old, male, female—well, okay, probably male.”

“She said they made eye contact and then whoever it was disappeared.”

“Probably some kid,” Darrell said. Who else could it be? Who else would go climbing around and looking through windows at night—

Stan.

He’d seen enough tapes and now he was after the real thing.

“She says she feels violated,” Keith was saying.

There had always been something a little—well, perverted was probably the word for Stan. Darrell knew more about Stan’s sex life than almost anyone else in the world, and he knew he had a normal relationship with Marie—other than taping it and sharing the tapes with the neighbours, of course, but he wasn’t alone in that.

“Like someone is going to come in on her and do something,” Keith went on.

Darrell nodded to show he was listening. He had always noticed something about Stan’s face. Sure, everyone is a bit strange while they’re having sex—Darrell didn’t like looking at his and Sherrie’s tapes for just that reason. He looked like an idiot.

Stan looked angry. Like Marie wasn’t his wife, just some whore to screw and leave and resent afterwards.

“But she feels like there’s some control with the tapes. We all trust each other.”

“It’s different, sure,” Darrell put in, realizing that he hadn’t said anything for a while.

“You know, I can kind of see where Stan was coming from now,” Keith said, and emptied his glass for a second time.

Darrell felt a moment of panic—did Keith suspect Stan as well? “How do you mean?” he asked.

“When I found his tape. Don’t get me wrong—I don’t think it’s the same, because I didn’t try to see him and Marie having sex. But it’s so one-sided. I could understand if he’d been a lot angrier with me, in fact.”

“He was pretty upset, it’s true.”

“Was he?”

Damn—Darrell hadn’t meant to put any suspicion on Stan, not yet. “Only until he understood he could trust you not to do something stupid.”

“Oh. Good.” Keith was already nearing the end of his scotch again. “Anyhow, I’m worried, and not just about Lisa. All of us should be careful.”

That was it—Stan felt he had to have something over Keith, just because Keith had found that damned tape. Such a pathetic little man. He went and scared the hell out of that poor girl, just to mail this stupid point.

Keith had stopped talking. “Another?” Darrell asked.

“One more.” Keith had burned through all his agitated energy, and now he just looked depressed.

“It’s good that you told me,” he said, slipping into the tone of voice he used when he was lecturing his sons. “This way I can keep an eye out, too. And I can tell others—I won’t mention Lisa, mind you, just that someone was prowling around in the bushes or something.”

“Yeah.” Either depression or alcohol had gotten well into Keith. He wasn’t even looking up any more, just staring down at the porch.

“Don’t worry too much about Lisa, though. Women are—well, you know they get emotional. She’ll be fine soon.”

“I guess.”

There wasn’t much left to say if Keith wasn’t going to hold up his side of the conversation. “Speaking of which,” Darrell said, stretching his legs, “I should get in before Sherrie thinks I’m the one running around the neighbourhood.”

“Oh! Yeah.” Keith awoke suddenly from his stupor. “I should get back, too.”

He drained his glass one more time before placing it—maybe a little too hard—down on the table beside him. “Thanks, though.”

There was a sudden noise, amplified by the still night air—feet—heavy footsteps coming up the porch.

Josh’s ungainly frame hove into view. He stopped, gaping at them, clearly not having expected to find anyone there.

“Keith, I don’t know if you’ve met my son. This is Josh.”

“Hi,” Keith said.

“Josh, this is our next-door neighbour.”

“I—” Josh started, then stood there, head lowered and staring at the floor, like a cow.

It didn’t matter how many times Darrell told his boys—stand up straight, look people in the eye, shake their hand firmly, speak clearly. It was stuff Darrell had learned so early, he couldn’t even remember not knowing it; yet here was Josh, almost sixteen, with all the sense of a donkey.

Keith got up, making plenty of noise getting out of his seat, almost upsetting the side table while he was at it. And Josh reared back and raised his hands as though Keith was going to clock him.

“Whoa, there,” Darrell said. “You okay?”

Keith teetered for a few seconds, then found his balance. “I godda—” he said, his speech slurred almost beyond recognition.

“You need a hand?”

Darrell waited for Josh to take Keith’s arm and steady him, like a man would. But Josh stood there like an idiot still, looking down and with his head turned away from Keith.

“I godda—” Keith repeated, then stumbled forward, caught the railing, and proceeded clumsily down the steps. He disappeared into the night.

“Your mother’s probably in bed,” Darrell told Josh. “Don’t wake her when you go in.”

The boy grunted and went in the door. Darrell still had half a scotch in his glass, and he sat back and took a nice long sip, letting the smoky, burning numbness coat his tongue and fade away.

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