Yoharie: Neighborhood Watch (part five)
These steps, plain habit took him through.
He looked, as he walked his beat, for new ideas, ones that could shed a forgiving light on the burden of his theme. Hibbler’s parade of memories, trodden out as he checked one side of the street, cars parked there, anything visible up between properties, might circle one day and come shining home, if he allowed it to.
Some kids were playing basketball. The Kennedys, who lived here, had that type of driveway that went behind the house, so from the sidewalk he could see one back up, shuffle a foot behind the other, catch the ball, vanish. Thump on the backboard. Another kid glided across, hand going, c’mon, c’mon.
He got a picture in his mind, a TV kind of scenario, where he’d wander back, hook the ball, impress the kids with some sort of move, strike up a conversation…use the right words…
They’d trust him, and when he asked, so, you heard anything about some plant you can pick in the back yard, something I guess kids are smoking these days…
Then, the thought came that he’d got this image from Police Squad.
She made him jump, Mrs. Kennedy, yelling out, turning out to be there, watering big Boston ferns lined up on the deck rail.
“Ha! What you been up to?” she said.
“I gotta take down that basketball net. Randy uses it sometimes when he comes home from school. Now it’s just a nuisance. So…you getting rid of them? Run em off?”
“Well…sure. You don’t know who they are?”
“Ask.” She stretched the word, telling him, obvious, isn’t it?
One slammed the ball hard on the concrete, so it ricocheted off the garage door, past Hibbler’s ear. Then they all scrambled…but in truth, more jogged a few light paces, bunched up and sauntered, laughed and cast back a glance or two.
He’d gone, fearing she’d pop out of cover again, catch him off guard while the kids were watching…maybe, after embarrassing him into doing it for her, just run them off herself, which she had the balls to do.
“You kids from the neighborhood?”
He got out his phone, heard them tell each other:
“He’s taking our picture. Oh no!”
“Look out, man.”
Well, it wasn’t as lame as that. Just he couldn’t remember every face that belonged on these streets. He was going to Todwillow’s. Todwillow would be happy to have the picture.
It was a thought too close to home.
The inroads Todwillow made were by formula, or it had begun to seem so, Hibbler catching pattern in it all…while yet, he was tempted to tell himself no, not. Why hadn’t they just been having conversations?
That would be fine, he would not have to hate Todwillow, count him…basically…
And Hibbler got a sense, creeping over the nape of his neck, that he might be in danger, for even thinking this…to mentally name Todwillow these things.
The alternative, though, was to own the act himself, and he couldn’t do that.
“Jeremiah, where’s Beatty?”
Fresh on his humiliation with the kids, was this, the voice that had come to grate on his nerves. Cathlyn Burris made him angry, thud, thud, thudding along in her jogging shoes, wearing those shiny, tight pants runners wore. She made him angry, waving past him, before he’d recovered his social face and an answer.
“Not with me.”
His manager: “Who’s that? Jer. The lady you were talking to?”
That had been Cathlyn, at the Home Depot, shop lights in her cart. Todwillow, spotting such, would say, “Weed.” Cathlyn had said, “These are a nuisance to put up, aren’t they!”
Hibbler had been a little speechless. She did that to him…
Because you couldn’t be uncommunicative, what she might have said. She had training for this; she diffused tensions. She was cheerful, encouraging, constant. He would never shake her…he could be a meth-head, waving a gun. That was to say, a situation dire as that.
“Did she ask you a question?”
“No. Adam. She’s my neighbor.”
“Oh, yeah? She must like you, coming all the way out here.”
Why had she? But, from now on, if she did, he’d have to grin and bear it…
A cartoon they used to have.
He’d been worried, appeasing in the house, clerking part-time, still shouldering two jobs. So Kate would shut up, that he wasn’t trying. Worried, a little, though, that Royce, especially Royce…
Might do whatever his type of idiot did. Make home-crafted medieval weapons, maybe. That he’d turn up, that he’d find some way to tell Kate. Which, Hibbler conceded, was a lot of information to pick up by happenstance, shopping. But here again, Todwillow would have said…
But he wouldn’t.
(2018, Stephanie Foster)