Chapter 3: Dirty Secrets
“Hey, Keith. How’s it going?”
Darrell turned back to his pitchfork and resumed his job of driving it into the empty flower bed, stepping on it, and levering it back up to the surface, exposing the earth to the sunlight for the first time in years, maybe ever. Keith watched the in-step-turn-out go on for a while.
“How’s things with the house?” Darrell grunted without stopping his work.
“Okay, I guess. Getting there.”
”They left a lot of stuff behind. Tons of stuff under the deck.” Keith looked up, watched Darrell’s face closely. “And behind the shed.”
“Huh.” No reaction, as far as Keith could see. “Stuff tends to build up after a few years.”
“I guess so. Do you know how long they lived there?”
Darrell stopped, pulled the hem of his t-shirt up to his face and wiped off some sweat with it. He wasn’t immensely fat, but fat enough. Keith realized he was staring at Darrell’s large, middle-aged belly and looked quickly away.
“I think thirteen years. We moved in about eleven years ago—summer of seventy-five.”
“We like it.”
Okay, I’ve established enough of a rapport, Keith decided. I can ask about the tape.
“So what do you do for a living?” Darrell asked, breaking through the dirt in the flower bed again.
“Oh—I’m in water quality testing. Environmental stuff. Nothing exciting, really.” Keith always found himself apologizing for his line of work, especially when he was talking to people older than him.
“Like, in a lab? Actually testing samples?”
“Not any more—I’m more involved on the policy side, nowadays.”
“Work for the city?”
“Huh.” Darrell stopped to shake a particularly clingy clump of dirt from the tines of his pitchfork.
“Worked for Limico—you know them? Manufactured wheels—never mind, not important. Gone now anyway.” He continued to stare into the earth, prying it apart and moving it aside, as he spoke. “Took a package a couple years ago. Now I coach some Junior A hockey, that’s about it.”
Keith was anxious for him to reach the end of his speech, but felt he had to wait a few seconds before changing the subject to the tape.
“Still,” Darrell added, just as Keith was getting set to say something, “Sherrie’s got a couple of years of teaching left, and then her pension comes in, too. We’ll be pretty comfortable.”
“I’m sure you will.” The tape, the tape, the tape. “So—”
“House’ll be paid off by then, too. Changes everything, y’know?”
“Sure.” Keith gave it two seconds this time, and managed to get in before Darrell started to talk again. “So I was pulling out all the old lumber and everything from behind that shed in my backyard,” he said quickly. “And I found something a little unusual.”
This time he saw it, a little pause, a slight stiffening in Darrell’s body before he went on turning the earth. “Oh yeah?” he asked. “What’s that?”
“It was a video tape. Wrapped in a couple of plastic bags. No box, no labels, nothing.”
Darrell didn’t say anything, kept working.
“So I put it on—just to see what it was.”
“I think it might belong to Stan—that’s the guy who lives on the other side of your house, right?”
“Stan, yeah.” The pitchfork had stopped, hung in midair, balanced in Darrell’s hands.
“It was kind of—I don’t know how to describe it—a personal recording, I think.” In Keith’s mind, Stan’s wife groaned, threw her head back.
Darrell rested the end of the pitchfork by his feet and stared at Keith. “I see,” he said, grave and serious.
“I think I should return it to him,” Keith said. “I mean, of course, I should. It’s not mine—I don’t even know what it was doing in my yard. But I don’t really know Stan. I don’t know how he’d react if... you know.”
“If you handed him a tape of him and Marie having sex?”
Had he been that obvious? He had meant to be a little more discreet about what was on the tape. “So you know Stan, right? I thought maybe you could tell me, like...” He trailed off, hoping Darrell would suggest something.
“How ’bout we go grab a beer and siddown for a bit,” Darrell said, driving the pitchfork deep into the garden so it stood up on its own.
They sat in a couple of the big wooden chairs on the deck of Darrell’s pool. Darrell handed Keith a bottle of regular beer, although Keith noticed he took a light beer for himself.
“So you two don’t have any kids?” Darrell asked when they were settled. “Planning on it?”
“Not sure yet. We’re still young.”
“Yep. No need to rush things. Sherrie and I waited.”
“That’s what we’re thinking.”
“So about the tape...” Keith ventured.
Darrell took a long, deliberate slug from his beer. “It’s kind of a funny story,” he said.
“A couple of years ago, the guy who lived in your house—Gerry, was his name—got a video camera. And he was talking to me about it, because I had just picked one up myself. Do you have one?”
“Yeah. Got it a while ago, though.”
“Okay. So you know the kind of thing. What tapes do you use, does yours do white balancing, all those things. And then, out of the blue, he tells me he taped him and his wife going at it, and it was great.”
He seemed to be waiting for some kind of response. “Wow,” Keith said.
“And it wasn’t like he was quiet about it. There was me, Stan, and Zsolt—you know Zsolt? Backsplit across the street from me—all sitting there, just like we are here. And he says it just like that, like he was telling us how he fertilized his lawn or some such.”
“Yeah, it was. So then he says, yeah, Doreen—that’s his wife, right—she wants us all to see the tape and tell him what we think. So me, of course, I assume it’s all a setup, my wife put him up to this, some kinda test. So I says he’d better see if Sherrie wanted to see it first, and he says that’s fine by him.”
“So she knew he was taping them...” Keith searched for an appropriate term and failed. “Taping them?”
“Not only that. That night, Sherrie’s telling me, Doreen has this tape she wants us to watch together. In the meantime, Gerry’s told us all that it’s the best thing they’ve ever done for their love life, that she can’t get enough now. What’s more, the idea of other people seeing the tapes is just driving Doreen wild. So sure enough, next day, I come home from work and there’s a video tape in our mailbox.”
Darrell took another pull on his beer. “So you watched it?” Keith asked.
“Sure. That night, Sherrie ’n’ me’re joking around and whatnot, like we’re not really sitting there with a tape of our next-door neighbours on it, up in our bedroom. I wasn’t even convinced—like, it coulda been a big joke, the tape just having the two of them in party hats saying “Surprise! You’re perverts!”
Keith laughed. “But it was them?”
“You bet. Naked as jaybirds, in their bedroom, just goin’ at it like nobody’s business. Just, y’know, everything. Like a coupla real porno stars.” He took another swig, his eyes far away. “And I mean, they weren’t movie stars or anything. Just regular people. Probably a little older than you, younger’n me.”
“So did you...” Keith trailed off, then tried rephrasing the question. “What did you and Sherrie think?”
Darrell looked at him for a long moment without speaking.
“I’d really like,” he said at last, “to make sure what we discuss here stays right here, between us.”
This made Keith even more eager to hear more. “Of course,” he agreed quickly.
“Sherrie’s a teacher, so—I mean, you know where I’m comin’ from. It’s not the kind of thing a teacher wants talked about in public. Right?”
“Absolutely.” It was sounding better and better by the second.
“In fact, I don’t even want it getting back to Sherrie that we’ve talked about any of this. Unless...” He trailed off, searching for the right words, then started in a different direction. “Anyway. I need to know: can I trust you?”
“You have my word,” Keith said, as solemnly as he could. He wasn’t used to saying things like that, but it seemed like the right thing to say, and it seemed to satisfy Darrell.
“Okay. So where was... yeah. So Sherrie ’n’ me watched the tape. It was pretty hot—not in itself, so much, but because it was a couple of regular folks, who we knew. And it turned Sherrie on something crazy.”
Keith’s mouth was getting dry, and he took a big, refreshing swallow of beer.
“So after—when the tape was done,” Darrell continued, “Sherrie tells me she likes the idea of returning the favour. At first I didn’t even get what the hell she meant. Then I realize—she wants us to tape ourselves, too.”
Another swallow—Keith’s beer was almost done, but he didn’t want to say or do anything that might slow down the story.
“Now, I don’t know what to think—you see me, you see Sherrie, you think porno film? So I treat it as a joke, the kind of thing you say in, what d’you call it, afterglow or whatever. But the very next night, she’s whispering all this stuff to me, and says we should get the camera ready.
“Next thing you know, she’s got the tape and bringing it over to Gerry and Doreen. And she comes back with another one—this time not them, if you can believe, but this time it’s Zsolt and Elena.”
Keith had never talked to Zsolt or Elena, but he had seen them—especially Elena, lithe yet compact, a real dancer’s body. She had been cutting the grass the day they’d moved it, and Keith remembered her vividly.
“And after that, Stan and Marie, too. So after a while, we hit on a system. Nothing we really discussed, you understand. Just every once in a while, you’d find a tape somewhere, like inside the screen door or on the back porch. It’s not something we talked about, just the few of us do it.”
“You guys don’t—” Again, Keith was stuck for a polite way to broach the subject. “I mean, you never switch, like, with...” He let the half-question hang in the air, hoping Darrell would get his meaning.
After a second, he did. “Oh! No—nothing like that,” he said, his face reddening. “Just the tapes. We’ve never done anything else at all.” He looked away, staring at the water in the pool.
“I have to admit, I never would’ve guessed, even with finding the tape,” Keith said. “It’s not... well, you wouldn’t expect it.”
Darrell grinned, still staring at the water. “No, I suppose not,” he agreed. “If you asked me two years ago whether—well, I don’t even like posing for pictures on vacation.”
“So do you guys... I mean everyone...” Keith was, rather stupidly, he thought, trying to avoid asking anything too personal. “How often do you get a tape from someone?”
“A few times a year, I guess. When Gerry and Doreen put their house up for sale—about two months before you moved in, I guess. You’d know better than me, right?”
“It wasn’t on the market for too long.”
“Right. Well, they didn’t talk to anyone about it, at least as far as I know. One day, a couple of our tapes got returned. Didn’t think anything of it, least till the For Sale sign went up later that day. So I put the tape I had of theirs on their back step and never heard from them again.”
Keith thought their real estate agent, Joyce, had said something about a divorce, but couldn’t recall whether that had been just idle speculation. Joyce said repeatedly that they were motivated sellers. He hadn’t thought anything of it at the time; this was just something that those sharks always told you, he’d thought, just to get you to make an offer.
“So Stan’s tape...” Keith said, suddenly remembering what had started the conversation in the first place. “Was it forgotten, maybe?”
“No idea. But Stan’s not...” Darrell paused. “He’s not the most on the ball guy I ever met. Nice guy and everything, very smart. Runs his own business. But I’m guessing he left it there for Gerry. Gerry never found it, and Stan forgot all about it.”
“So what do I do? Leave it on his porch?”
“You could do that, yeah,” Darrell said, staring into the pool again. “But maybe...”
Keith waited for a while. He hoped Darrell was going to offer to return the tape for him; the whole business was so bizarre, so different from anything he could possibly expect, that he would have gladly forgotten it all, as if it were an elaborate hoax, or a dream.
“’Nother beer?” Darrell said. “No, relax. I’ll grab ’em.”
He still had an inch or so of beer left. Keith sat back in his chair, tipped the bottle, and drained it. It was unpleasantly warm. The sun played across the nearly-still water of the pool. Keith felt he could easily fall asleep for an hour or two, here.
“Here ya go,” Darrell said behind him, holding the beer in front of his face.
“Thanks.” Keith opened his eyes and reached up to trade his the nice cold bottle Darrell offered for his warm, empty one.
“I don’t think you’ve met my wife,” Darrell added.
It took Keith a second to catch his meaning, but then he jumped to his feet. “Sorry—didn’t realize you were there.” He extended his hand. “Hi.”
Sherrie was fiftyish, like Darrell. She looked pretty good for her age—not young or slim, by any means, but healthy and well-built. Her sandy-blonde hair was short, a middle-aged hairstyle. She had a bright red swimsuit on, and a white towel wrapped around her waist.
“You boys should come in for a swim, too,” she said, addressing both of them but looking only at Keith. “The water is heated, you know,” she added, as if telling Keith a secret. “Not that it needs it.”
“I should go,” Keith said quickly. “I have a bunch of stuff I gotta go do.” He drained the rest of his beer in one long gulp. “Nice to get to know you both a little.”
She smiled, let the towel drop from her hips to her feet. “I hope to see more of you,” she said.
“I’ll walk you out,” Darrell offered, ignoring his wife.
“Your lawn’s coming in nicely,” Keith commented when they reached the front of Darrell’s house.
“Mine’s all patchy.”
Darrell stopped and turned back to face Keith. “About Stan’s tape,” he said quietly.
“If you want, you can give it to me to give to Stan. I won’t tell him you had it.”
“That would be great.”
“But...” Darrell licked his lips nervously. “If you want to be fair...” He was having a difficult time getting the words out.
“I should give it back myself?” Keith suggested.
“I was going to say, you should make a tape yourself and give that to him.”
Keith searched Darrell’s face for any sign of humour, of irony. None.
“I really don’t think Lisa will go for that,” Keith said. “No, she—I really don’t think so. Thanks.”
“Show her the tape, see how she reacts,” Darrell advised. “Or—if you think it’d help—I can lend you one of ours.”
Keith considered it. “I’d better think about it.”
“Let me know.”
Darrell walked back around the side of his house, back towards his pool. Keith was left alone to wonder how he could possibly ask Lisa whether she wanted to make a sex tape to give to their neighbours.
Very, very carefully, he concluded, and headed home.