In the Neighbourhood

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Chapter 35: For a Hundred Bucks

“If you’ve got grubs at all,” Darrell advised, “you want to do whatever you can to get rid of ’em. If they take over, then your whole lawn is for shit.”

Zsolt kicked at a small, ragged hole in the lawn with the toe of his tennis shoe. “Fucking worms.”

“The problem is that they’re young. They eat like crazy. They’ll eat the root structure of your whole lawn.”

Zsolt continued to stare angrily at the hole. “Sixty-five bucks, though,” he said grimly.

“Better than six hundred for re-sodding the whole lawn.”

“I guess so,” Zsolt sighed, and spat.

Clearly he didn’t understand how serious the situation was. “Look here,” Darrell said, pointing to an irregular circle of dead, brown grass about the size of a handprint. “They’re already at work here. In two weeks your whole front lawn could be dead.”

Zsolt squinted skeptically. “I’m more worried about these holes in the grass. Are they just eating through it like that? You said it was the roots.”

“That’s the raccoons and possums,” Darrell told him. “They go hunting at night, smell the grubs, rip into the turf and feed on ’em.”

“Huh.”

“But the grubs sit on top of the topsoil and eat the whole root structure of the grass. Pretty soon you’ll be able to lift the dead lawn of with your hand.” A demonstration was needed. “Look.”

Darrell bent down and took hold of the dead grass, just at the edge of the brown circle, and gave it a tug. It was only a small patch so it didn’t come away cleanly as he’d hoped. Still, he ended up with enough to wave under Zsolt’s nose.

“See?” he said, running his finger along the underside of the piece of sod. “Roots are sheared off. It’s more or less a mat sitting on the soil.”

Zsolt took it, turned it over, looked closely. He stooped to replace it, but straightened up quickly. “Little bastard’s in there,” he said.

Sure enough, taking the grass off had exposed one of the nasty little things, fat and white and curled into a tight U. He reached in and grabbed it. He hated the soft puffiness of it, but pulling it out and killing it might buy Zsolt a little more time.

He walked over to the sidewalk, Zsolt following close behind him, and dropped the thing on the concrete. It lay still, looking—Darrell hated when this thought entered his mind—like a small raw shrimp.

Zsolt stuck his foot and killed it, leaving a disgusting pus-coloured smear. “So is sixty-five bucks a good price?”

“It’s not bad,” Darrell answered. “Maybe you could call around, save yourself five or ten dollars.”

“Huh.” Zsolt watched the rotten smear for a while. “Well, I’ll call ’em and get them to spray. Thanks for your help.”

“No problem.”

“C’mon, let’s go have a beer.”

Darrell checked his watch. Still early. “I probably have time.”

Zsolt led the way around the side of the house and waved Darrell over towards the chairs on the patio. “G’head, sit down,” he said.

Darrell sat in the nearest chair, out in the full sun. You could feel the edge of the heat was starting to weaken; afternoons were still unrelentingly hot, but you didn’t feel it the same way, not as intensely. The fall was coming.

Zsolt was there in just a second, holding out a tall black can of beer. “Radeberger,” he said. “This was the high-class beer back home.” He popped the top. “Never saw it here before.”

“Liquor store’s getting better,” Darrell agreed.

“We watched one of your tapes the other night,” Zsolt said offhandedly. “Me and Elena. While we were fucking.”

Darrell took a sip of beer to cover up his surprise. “Really,” he said.

“One of the ones where you’re in the bathroom,” Zsolt said. “It was really good. I think you guys are Elena’s favourites.”

“That’s—” He tried to think of something to say in reply but came up blank, and gave up.

“Not so many tapes, these days,” Zsolt went on. “I think everyone is all fucked out.”

“Keith and Lisa made about a year’s supply in a couple of weeks,” Darrell said, glad to turn the topic away from himself. “And this summer was the first time anyone made a tape since Gerry and Doreen left.”

“That’s true,” Zsolt chuckled. “We’re getting greedy.”

“Seems that way, doesn’t it?” Darrell could sense somehow that Zsolt was after something, so he tried to keep from leaving too many openings.

“So I was doing some research,” Zsolt went on. “You can order tapes from other—like, from people like us. People sell them in the mail.”

“Where’d you find this?”

“They have these magazines—not Playboys or that, serious ones for people who want to—you know—meet up together.” Zsolt took a slug of beer but Darrell stayed silent, waiting for him to continue.

“They have ads in the back, like in the paper—” Zsolt stopped for a second, then snapped his fingers. “Classified, that’s what I meant. So I looked at these ads, and there’s a whole bunch for homemade tapes. Forty, fifty, sixty dollars.”

Darrell took a swallow of beer to hide his surprise. That certainly was a lot of money.

“So I ordered one,” Zsolt went on. “Maybe it’ll be bullshit, who knows. But I wanted to see. And I thought maybe—well, whatever.”

What the hell was Zsolt trying to get at? “So you’re planning to sell your tapes, then?”

It was an idea,” Zsolt said. “I talked to this guy I know. A good machine for duplicating tapes is five hundred fifty, but I can get one for four hundred from him. The ad, I don’t know, maybe twenty bucks? I didn’t call yet. But you sell ten tapes and it’s all profit after that, right?”

“But—” Darrell had a hard time putting words together in a way that made sense. What could you say to something so obviously insane?

“Then I was thinking,” Zsolt motored on. “If the four of us got together, we could sell a lot more. Same costs, but divided four ways. And with four supplies of tapes, we could sell—”

“No,” Darrell said. “You can’t do that—you can’t. People—strangers, mind you—would be buying them. You’d have to send the tapes to anyone, without knowing—”

“So? They send you fifty bucks, so it’s okay.”

“But—complete strangers! What would you feel like with some fat old pervert sitting in the dark, jacking off while he imagines himself fucking Elena?”

Zsolt lifted his beer can to eye level and squinted at the tiny printing on it. “That’s true,” he said.

“Not to mention—what would happen if the tape fell into the hands of the wrong person? Someone who knew you?”

“I thought about that,” Zsolt said cheerfully. “I figure anyone who gets these tapes, they gotta be ordering them from the magazine ads. So which one is the worst? The guy in the tape or the guy watching it?”

“It doesn’t work that way, though,” Darrell said. “It’s not just you—it’s Elena, too. The way men are—they’ll laugh at her, think she’s—” He stopped his thought before he said something mean.

Zsolt deliberately lowered his can, resting it on his knee, and looked squarely at Darrell. “Do you laugh at my wife?” he said coldly.

This was exactly what Darrell had been trying to avoid, but the idiot wanted to insist on making things difficult. “It’s not the same,” he said calmly. “We know each other. We’ve seen—each other.” He looked up again to find Zsolt’s eyes still on his, twin blue bolts set on him. Well, if he wants to play games, I’ll meet him halfway. “There’s a trust involved. No one is above anyone else, no one is in a position of power. But you send the tape to—to god knows where—you lose control of it. Whoever gets it has power over you.”

“From a hundred miles away. Or a thousand.”

“Maybe. But they’ve paid you money, and for that, you give them some power. Maybe not much, but some.” Darrell lifted his can and drained the last couple of throatfuls of lukewarm beer. “I don’t think it’s worth it.”

Zsolt seemed satisfied, and looked away. It was a relief to be free of his glare. “Probably,” he remarked.

“Plus,” Darrell said, a new thought occurring, “everyone around here would be a bit worried if you were selling tapes, even if they were just your own.”

Zsolt nodded slowly, his eyes fixed on the middle distance.

“Still,” he answered at last. “you would pay a hundred bucks for a tape of Elena and Lisa, right?”

“Oh, god yeah,” Darrell said without thinking, then realised his mistake. “I mean—of course—if it were—” He wished he had more beer, to wash out his suddenly gummy, dry mouth. “You don’t mean—that doesn’t exist, does it?” Surely not. There was no way—no.

But a little knowing smile played on Zsolt’s lips, and he glanced at Darrell, glanced away.

“Seriously?” Darrell said, horrified and intrigued.

“Nah,” Zsolt chuckled. “I wish. That would really be something, eh?”

Asshole. Darrell quickly got to his feet. “I oughta go,” he said shortly. “Sherrie’s got a couple things for me to do today.”

“Okay.” Zsolt was still smirking suggestively. “I’ll see you around.”

Darrell left without another word. Maybe it seemed funny to guys where Zsolt was from, but that was just—just a dickish thing to do.

That didn’t stop the image of Lisa, lying back, Elena’s wiry mop of hair between her legs, from swimming though Darrell’s head. That Elena had gotten a little chubby over the last couple of years, but still... for a hundred bucks?

In a heartbeat.

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