Yoharie: Neighborhood Watch (part two)
Todwillow came to the neighborhood watch meeting, and told them they didn’t have a neighborhood watch. When, that time—as he meant—they’d abortively tried having one.
“You know, guys, there are actual ways of doing this.”
He was on his feet and gesturing around, while the rest of them sat. Of the planning committee, the Wittecombes occupied the Busbys’ window seat, Cathlyn Burris one of the dining chairs; Kate, far opposite, another. Hibbler fidgeted on a folding chair from his basement. Dr. Petersen, mouth expressing regretful contempt, perched on its duct-taped mate. (Tristanne had said bring chairs, he’d brought chairs…how did that get to be a loser move?)
Mat had withdrawn to the stairs. His feet jutted into the room. Dr. Wethers chuckled between the dieffenbachia and the hutch, into which niche he’d scooted a third dining chair. Tristanne’s was flush to the table.
As per Hibbler’s rule with Zach growing up, his own Savannah’s with Rae (“I’ll kill you if you take that. I’m sitting there!”)—Mat’s wife sat not in situ. Being hostess, she buzzed, going into the kitchen to check the coffee pot, coming out with bottles of Sprite and Diet Coke no one wanted.
The living room was a gym. The downstairs bedroom, stocked with computer stuff, the Busbys’ office. The den, Mat had sound-proofed, blackout curtained, recess lighted, for his movie viewing. When they entertained the gang, they liked using their pimped garage. When they entertained the profitable, Mat’s golf club.
The Busbys’ dining room, unpurposed, served for those invited/not really invited…the Witticombes, Cathlyn Burris, Petersen.
The Hibblers had never been asked to the club.
But it was the Busbys’ thing, this neighborhood watch. The old people, the Karshes, had been party first time they’d organized one…
Trevor Royce, current occupant of the Karsh house, wasn’t asked.
He was, though, kind of the instigator. Wethers said it first; Mat took it up, and Hibbler, for coming to know Todwillow pretty well, still didn’t know which of them was his original friend.
“Stupid, I’m just gonna say it,” Todwillow said. “You’re writing down everything in a notebook, and you’re passing it every month to whoever’s captain.”
He saw Cathlyn steel herself. “Because, we didn’t want a martial…” She looked at Roberta Witticombe.
“Oh, vibe or whatever. Because it keeps things democratic. Normal.”
Todwillow put on a face. “Keeps things normal. I don’t even know what you’re talking about.”
“We had a spreadsheet.”
“Can I finish?”
Hibbler scanned the group, and saw body language divide them. Kate, Wethers, Mat (so far as he could tell), leaning back, heads tilting. The Witticombes and Cathlyn Burris upright, arms crossed. Petersen, odd man out, and Tristanne, slouched their embarrassment…though, as Hibbler thought of it, everything Petersen did carried that same air of delicate disgust. Tristanne, of anxiety.
“So, did your spreadsheet have a password? No, why would it? Everybody in Dogpatch trusts everybody else. You made it in someone’s WordPerfect from 1988, and traded it around on a floppy disk, right? And then every month, it’s her turn…” He jabbed a finger at Roberta, at Cathlyn, “…and then it’s her turn. Shit! Did you people know you might get a grant to cover your expenses, if you can manage this thing professionally?”
“And so, we’re going to learn how to be cops…”
“Here it comes.”
Cathlyn shifted, almost rising. “There’s no reason for that!”
“What? For what? What are you people mad about? You can have your little pisant neighborhood klatch, if that’s how you like it best. I’m just here to make a few points. There’s a lot more work involved, really getting this off the ground. You don’t like cops, I just hope you don’t have the kind of trouble it looks to me like you’re gonna have in a couple years.”
“You see, what I don’t like here…and as far as I can see…is that you’re saying the Karshes left, and we got Trevor…and then, some of the other older people are bound to leave…”
“Right, right. Now, if you think small time, you’re gonna be small time. Even at this level, you have analytics. There’s a lot of ways thieves can case a neighborhood. The first rule is, you can’t use information, if you can’t touch information.”
“I don’t see why…” Roberta spoke on, as over the voice of a classroom disrupter, when Todwillow broke for emphasis. “…what amounts to a normal pattern…older people do leave. Younger people do come in. They bring their own cultural values, and they usually have less money…”
“So…if a blue car turns up parked on Endeavour, then a month later, a red car goes driving down Atlantis, and if Jane and Alice are the ladies who spotted them, and wrote them down in the little notebook, but maybe it’s Jer’s turn here, and Alice hasn’t brought him over the blotter, so he sees a white car on…you people got an Enterprise Street?”
“Avenue,” Wethers said.
“Figured.” (Mat and Wethers chuckled.) “You have information. What are you gonna do with it? If you don’t know you have it…”
“Why, speaking of data, we would make assumptions not supported by any. Trevor is my next door neighbor. He hasn’t done anything that I know of…”
“So. Think about what happens when you can’t put these three cars together and recognize a trend going on. Nobody knows you’re under assault until the assault comes…”
“Oh, come on, assault! And what the hell? It’s not cute calling us ladies…it’s not cute pretending our names aren’t worth knowing!”
Cathlyn was all the way on her feet.
Dr. Witticombe, the husband, spoke.
“Roberta,” he said, “if I’m not mistaken, Mr. Todwillow is a sort of salesman. This training, or organizing, or whatever it is he’s offering, is a thing we’ll be expected to contract for, coming up with the money…as I would gather, by determining among ourselves some amount we will each contribute. Now,” he broadened his argument, with a nod to Cathlyn, encompassing Kate, Wethers, Hibbler…and Tristanne, just back with the coffee carafe, “if we’d taken the notion of joining, say, a window box club, and the man came with his slideshow and his seed packets, we’d hear him out, I think. We wouldn’t insist on arguing the merits of privet hedges instead. We would, presumably, have settled on the desirable option in foliage, before we’d asked the salesman to make his presentation. The salesman,” he forestalled Todwillow’s vindicated grunt, “might be an obnoxious jerk. But that’s not really the point.”
(2018, Stephanie Foster)