Yoharie: Neighborhood Watch (part three)
“I can’t stay.” Petersen rose, patting his belt.
“He’s an eye doctor, and he gets emergency calls?”
Todwillow made the question rhetorical. He had followed with menacing raptness Petersen’s mute exit, the shutting of his door across the street.
“Maybe he does.” Tristanne looked at Hibbler.
He made himself not notice it. At the clinic—open ten to three, Hibbler locking up a little after five, giving Petersen the berth he needed (so they didn’t leave the parking lot together and have to chat)—pretty much nothing happened. The eye doctor’s security guard didn’t carry a gun. He had a walkie-talkie and no one to talk to.
He’d worked years, his third job out of high school, as manager, appliances, Sears. Held this job when he married Kate, met her through it. They’d closed Sears. Savannah and Raelyn, three years ago, fourteen and ten.
A recruiting firm was what Busby claimed he was regional vice-president of.
“What do you recruit?”
“To introduce people to our products.”
Tristanne’s job made sense, though…her medical stuff. Sense enough for Hibbler, clinical gadgetry he had no reason to care about, but understood the fact of, the physical existence of. As she also sold things, both Busbys travelled, and Hibbler, being at home, was asked by Mat to sign for packages, “wander” over and let workers in.
All his new neighbors’ remodeling, that later…it must have been a Witticombe speaking…was said to be skewing property values just as much as people like Trevor and the Yoharies…
He’d kind of thought he was their friend, but Kate knew more. “Look. When Savannah graduates, maybe we can scale back. There’s no way right now I can be the only one earning.”
“What about Mat’s thing?”
“No. You don’t have the money for that.”
It was a test, Hibbler decided. You had to actually sign up for a seminar, pay cash, or Mat would count it like giving away his product (services) for free.
Hibbler had found a job he could do, selling ATVs. It was part-time. Days were dead, the place way out on the highway. Cathlyn Burris, oddly, told him Dr. Petersen might have something. It was like, again, people talking about his problems and not letting him know they did.
So Hibbler, for humbly asking, now sold ATVs second-shift, until nine o’clock at night, sitting days in a chair at the eye clinic, falling asleep watching training videos…waiting for trouble, if Petersen said so…the Medicare crowd shuffling in and out. The cumulative hours were rough—he felt sometimes like he lived alone in his house, like Saturday morning reminders he was still there, still crumbing up the butter tub, his bacon drippings dotting the counter, got on Kate’s nerves—but he was up to two-thirds his old salary.
Todwillow, later, said, “He was just trying to cover his ass.”
Some records Petersen kept went missing. There definitely hadn’t been a burglary. At least, the alarm never went off—but it was Hibbler’s job to set it.
“No, see”—Todwillow in that jeez-you’re-stupid voice—“he had it planned. But he had to look like he did due diligence. Anyway, you being there spread the responsibility, right?”
Petersen was said to be in Florida; the case against him not criminal as yet. But that dodge, moving state to state, was how bad doctors kept practicing. (He was probably, though, an okay doctor…just a fraudulent biller. Hibbler did not defend Petersen to Todwillow.)
Witticombe’s point having been grudged him by the women, for an hour more they watched their guest lecturer hunch over his laptop; this embedded in one of two attaché-sized plastic cases he’d brought along. Mat and Wethers crowded behind, so Todwillow’s examples—“See what I mean about hiding places…” (some pictures he’d taken walking around their neighborhood); whatever he was mousing over, saying, “I can teach you this software in ten minutes”, were lost on Kate, Cathlyn, Tristanne, both Witticombes, and Hibbler.
Todwillow, to the room, said: “I got three names I’ll print out for you, local law enforcement. If you wanna get in touch with any of these guys, fine…they know me. They’ll get you set up for nothing. Use my name when you call. My experience, you won’t keep up with it. But you’ve been that route, you oughta know.”
He talked on, to Wethers and Mat. Cathlyn said something to Roberta.
Hibbler sat cooling his ankles by the floor register, ears not picking up either conversation.
“Come on, Jeremiah, you’re gonna be watch captain. You need to get on the stick.”
Maybe he’d meant if you’re gonna be… Maybe Todwillow, with his sources, knew something about the future the rest of them didn’t. Hibbler came over and peered around Wethers’s elbow, clueless.
He heard Cathlyn say, “Tristanne, thanks. I’m going.”
Roberta: “Yeah, I think we’re done. Call me, though, if you come up with any ideas.”
“English has a perfectly good neutral pronoun. I happen to have said that the people who think they can’t say one, as in one earns minimum wage, one aspires to form a neighborhood watch, one asks oneself what is the meaning of life, should comprehend, at least, why xe or thon would be bothersome to others. I happen to have gone on to say, that it would be most appropriate to use she where the unknown actor would likelier be she than he…if she were shopping, for example. No,” Dr. Witticombe said, “I am planning to retire in full next year. A semester at home doesn’t make any difference.”
“Bullshitting son of a bitch,” Todwillow murmured. Not that they needed to lower their voices inside the Busbys’ house. Todwillow had opened his other case, got out what looked like two broken stereo speakers. They were now listening, amazing Hibbler, obviously not Mat or Wethers; not Kate, whom Hibbler had never seen surprised—and not Tristanne, who’d rushed back to the kitchen—to three who’d come to a halt a block up the street, having met with a fourth…Trevor Royce. The Witticombes and Cathlyn Burris were telling him how stupid the meeting had been. They’d got off-topic, onto Witticombe’s news, boring their audio voyeurs.
Royce and Witticombe’s wife laughed together, the low chuckle. Against-the-Norm Professor Witticombe, proving again, “He would say a thing like that”.
“So, anyway,” Cathlyn said. Laughter again. Maybe she’d made a face. “But you know, I told you about Cole. One thing he was always doing…he’d get these horror stories from the internet and copy them to everyone. FYI. ICYMI. Our whole job is going to people’s houses talking to them…while we’re supposed to also, you know, be assessing. How does the director try to terrify everyone if they do what they have to, they’ll get gang-targeted, and so forth?”
“He is right, though…no.”
Laughter. “That I don’t think we’d stick with it. The takeaway”—Roberta speaking—“ought to be we all just communicate with each other better. Most of Todwillow’s stuff I think you’re right is a bad trend. What exactly is the demonstrable threat, what needs to be addressed? There isn’t anything. We’re safe. Not supercalifragilistic extra safey-safe…but safe. So one or two people…Mat Busby…has got a general concern…” A second of nothing, possibly a gesture in the air. “Which is your fault, Trevor.”
“Well, shit, I was joking about painting the house black. I know…you shouldn’t mess with people. What else have I done? I guess I’m a slob. I don’t keep the yard up…I’m counting on the pampas grass.”
“You’ll hate it,” Dennis Witticombe said.
“Yeah, I’ve been hacking it back from the walk.”
Todwillow shrugged at this turn, and switched off his microphone.
“Mat Busby,” Mat said, pitching his voice high.
(2018, Stephanie Foster)