Shady Grove Ch. 5
“I hear the fornicator is doing her business in the wee hours of the morning,” Abigail said to Quinn the next day, stopping her before she set out for her run. “That’s what the folks in Building Six are saying.”
“Jesus, Abby,” Quinn snapped, “don’t believe everything you hear.” Both women were surprised by how sharp Quinn’s voice seemed. “You know what? That teenager was right. Everyone’s a snitch. I might break my lease and get the hell of here.” Quinn nearly trotted away without saying goodbye, but stopped. “I’m sorry, Abby, I didn’t mean to be rude. We’re all making someone’s private business our own. It’s kind of getting to me.”
“Well, whoever it is, she isn’t exactly keeping it private.”
“True,” Quinn said. “Do you happen to know anything about Crystal’s mother?”
Abigail returned to her gardening. “Not much. She isn’t around a lot. Works two jobs just to get by after her husband passed. My heart goes out to them.”
“Any idea where she works?”
“I think she does nails somewhere, but I know she also works nights at Safeway.”
“I saw her there a while back. I came down with the worst cold and dragged myself there for some NyQuil in the middle of the night. Saw her stocking shelves.”
Quinn felt her heart sinking into her chest. “Who stays home with Crystal then?”
“I think that poor girl is on her own much of the time. Very sad.”
Quinn ran faster than usual, as if trying to run off the queasiness in her gut. While it was unsettling, she didn’t truly care what a sixteen-year old did, but she did feel some responsibility to do something, even if she didn’t know what. Maybe she should find the girl’s mother. Still, Quinn ran faster and faster, identifying the true source of her nausea: she had not only spent weeks waiting and hoping for the pleasurable cries of the fornicator, she was aroused by them. I masturbated on my floor beneath the window, for fuck’s sake, she thought.
But by the time the next regularly scheduled tenants’ association meeting took place, Quinn hadn’t said a word to anyone—about Crystal or anything else. She had successfully avoided everyone at Shady Grove, including Abigail. She arrived at the mostly full community room to find Gerald unstacking chairs. When he saw her waiting, he snagged a bandana from his back pocket, quickly polished a seat and waved his arm as if he were a salesman showing Quinn a new car. When their eyes met, Quinn felt a flutter in her chest, as if her heart skipped a beat. She smiled out of politeness and sat down wondering what just happened. Gerald was generally a handsome man, but not like anyone who Quinn had ever taken an interest. He was taut and muscular from manual labor, but at least four inches shorter than Quinn, and, frankly, rather grimy most of the time. Plus, she couldn’t recall ever hearing him say a single word.
Scanning the room for Crystal, Quinn sighed with relief after confirming the girl hadn’t come to the meeting. From the buzz in the room, Quinn sensed that Marty had concluded his “investigation,” and might possibly identify the culprit in front of everyone. She reviewed the agenda: I. Call to order. II. Air conditioning. III. Investigation. IV. Tactical equipment. V. Fourth of July Picnic.
Marty called the meeting to order, appearing as though he’d aged two years since the scandal first broke in the spring. The air conditioning system would not be repaired for at least another month, Marty announced, but each tenant would be provided a voucher to buy their own window unit. “You all know Gerald, right? Stand up, Gerald.” Gerald stood and waved to the group. “Gerald will install A/C units for anyone who cannot do it themselves.” As Marty spoke, Quinn noticed how Gerald and Claire Winston, the tattooed woman, gazed at one another, not unlike how he gazed at Quinn when she arrived. Then she noticed that Crystal had arrived and now sat slumped in the seat at the end of row Quinn sat in.
“Item number two,” Marty said, “is my ongoing investigation to uncover the source of the disruptive fornication that has plagued the residents of Shady Grove for months.” Quinn left her seat and circled around to Crystal.
“You need to go,” she said seriously, with her hand on the girl’s arm.
Crystal recoiled. “The hell I do,” she said, defiantly.
“Get to the point!” someone yelled from the crowd. “Who’s the slut?”
Quinn felt panicked. “I’ll explain later, but you have to leave right now!” she whispered as quietly as possible. “They know.”
Quinn was just about to say, “About you,” when Marty spoke: “The fornicator is still unknown and at large, I’m sorry to report. However…” Crystal eyes burned into Quinn’s, awaiting an answer. Quinn stammered, before saying, “Never mind.”
Marty continued his presentation, which included using the money raised for the Fourth of July picnic to purchase an array of surveillance equipment, including long-range microphones, recording devices, and walkie-talkies. He proposed the creation of the “reconnaissance teams” composed of residents who would patrol Shady Grove every night of the week, and passed around sign-up sheets for those who wanted to volunteer. As Quinn watched her fellow Shady Grove residents eagerly sign up, Crystal shouted, “This is disgusting! Look at yourselves!” but no one listened.
Once the sign-up sheets were signed and returned to Marty, he said, “I’m grateful so many of you are willing to make this commitment. We, the Night Watch, will prevail against the disruptive fornicator!” After the applause died down, he said, “Unfortunately, I have cancelled the Fourth of July picnic due to a lack of funds. The tip jar is being passed around…”