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8 a.m. Sunday
Kinkade's wife opens the front door and hollers, "We got eggs."
This is the most nonsensical thing he's ever heard. Just twenty minutes earlier, before Sandy took her shower, they'd decided on a breakfast of bacon, sausage, hash browns, and scrambled eggs. So she knows they have eggs. Why the sudden urge to shout about it? He stands and pushes scrambled eggs around in the skillet with a wooden spoon and hums along to a jingle on the radio, hoping this is not the morning his wife has chosen to reveal that she is secretly insane.
Sandy recently picked up an annoying habit; she starts a conversation in one room while he's in another, sometimes continuing what she wants to say by coming to wherever in the house he happens to be, while other times she poses a question or calls his name, expecting him to go to her. Worse of all are the times he's trying to watch something on TV and she talks to him from the kitchen, the den, or even while she takes a pee with the bathroom door left wide open. Then he has to use the remote to mute what he's watching and miss some of his program so they can hear each other. Given the chance again, he would not choose a house so openly designed. Instead of the high arched entrances to the kitchen, the den and the hallway (off the living room with the bathroom Sandy prefers to use facing it), he would give greater consideration to a place with more doors - doors through which traveling words could not be heard.
On this occasion, whatever she wishes to discuss is important enough for her to seek him out and she arrives in the kitchen with urgency to her step.
"We got eggs," Sandy says again, a little breathless.
He lifts the skillet to show her what's inside. "Sure looks like it."
The bacon, sausage, and hash browns are in the oven on low, so the food won't lose its heat. He's irritated when she shows no awareness that the table has yet to be set, and for not making any move towards pouring the coffee, or getting out the bread and margarine for toast. And where's the Sunday paper? She went outside to get the paper from the drive so they could look at the ads over breakfast, and here she stands without it, repeating this nonsense about their eggs.
"Not eggs - egged. We got egged."
"On the driveway."
He laughs at the absurdity of what she's telling him, hoping that will make it go away.
"I'm glad you can see the humor in it."
"Why would anybody do that?" he says, "we don't know anybody around here."
"There's pickles too."
"You better come take a look."
He sets down the skillet. Tightening the belt of his robe he follows her outside.
"I don't believe this," he says, staring at the broken shells and raw egg on their driveway. Not quite raw, he sees. The stuff is baking under the rising April Arizona sun, the hardening yolk a pale yellow, the albumen glistening like dry glue. And pickles too... Pickles!
"Probably just kids horsing around," Sandy says.
"All the years we lived in the condo there were college kids and kids from families way worse off than those round here and nothing like this ever happened. This is supposed to be a good neighborhood. A fourteen hundred dollar mortgage and this is what our money buys."
"It's not that big a deal," Sandy says. "Could've been worse."
Kinkade frowns. "Don't see how."
"At least they didn't throw them at the garage or the house. That would've been a bitch to get off if they did."
There is a note of optimism to Sandy's voice that makes no sense to him. "How can you say it's not that big a deal? Look at this mess."
"If it happens again," Sandy says, "it's a big deal. Then it means we're being targeted,"
Sandy nods slowly. She has become a detective in a TV show. "By somebody who doesn't like us."
"Like who?" he asks, then repeats, "we don't know anyone around here."
He can feel the sun warming the tender skin of the bald spot on the back of his head. He strokes it with his fingers, as one might to try to soothe a nervous cat exposed to unfamiliar surroundings. Four months ago, a week after they moved to the new house, he went to have his ends trimmed at the barbershop and caught sight of the back of his head in one of the mirrors. From the front his hair was long, just as in his teens, but from the back he looked like one of those sad late thirties guys who kept it long even though the pate was toying with the idea of going native. It might not have been so devastating had he been one of those sad late thirties guys, but he is yet a month away from turning twenty-nine.
Sandy says she likes his new close-cropped look, but she has always been a terrible liar. Since the barbershop incident, he's been looking at a photograph of his father, taken the year before the man died. The man in the photograph is old, but the hair on his head is full. Not only full, but mostly its original color. Last month Kinkade found four gray hairs: three on the left side above his ear, and one in his right eyebrow, wildly twisting in the opposite direction to the others. He does not look at the photograph to remember - he looks to curse the old man for failing to pass along the genetic coding that had enabled him to die with such a remarkable head of hair. In this, as in everything else, Kinkade feels Kinkade senior failed him.
"Morning," their neighbors yell in unison. The husband waves while the wife busies herself loading the two kids into the backseat of their car.
"We got egged," Sandy yells back, then grins.
She grins a lot. It's as though she cannot help herself. Somebody somewhere long ago (probably her mother, Kinkade thinks) must have told her that people preferred to see a happy smiling face, and Sandy mistook this to mean she should try to show them as many of her teeth as she could. It doesn't seem to bother her - all that grinning - she never complains about an aching jaw or the laughter lines around her eyes that the grinning tolls upon her face as payment.
He can only really stand an excess of it when she's drunk and sucks him off and looks him in the eye. These are the only times she varies from the usual sequence, the grinning and eye contact giving the somewhat dull apple bobbing technique a nice shiny porno movie kind of polish.
Still, he muses, a weekly dose of the dull stuff would liven things up around the old homestead. Weekly hell. Try monthly.
Back in the good old condo days, Sandy would dole out the dull stuff every Wednesday night, and as lovers are apt to do, they took to referring to these most intimate moments with a pet name. Since both had surfed through to their mid twenties, they called the night 'Big Wednesday' after the John Milius surfer flick.
Nowadays their surfboards sit in a corner of the garage collecting dust instead of waves, and 'Big Wednesday' seems to occur about as frequently as 'Fat Tuesday'.
"We got egged," Sandy calls and grins again. "Come look."
The husband says something to the wife, who is still buckling the struggling kids into the backseat. Kinkade sees that the wife and little girl have on dresses and that the boy and father wear shirts and ties.
"What the hell are they all dressed up for?" he says to Sandy from the corner of his mouth. He watches his neighbor cross the gravel and sidestep the cacti segregating their properties.
"It's Sunday," Sandy replies, her voice hushed.
"Some people respect the day."
"Hey guys," The neighbor says, "you said you got egged?"
Kinkade doesn't like to have his neighbor stand so close. The neighbor guy is always out running or riding a bike, or lifting weights in the garage. It leaves him no choice but to suck in his gut, and admit physical inferiority.
As their neighbor surveys the damage, he tries to remember the man's name. That way he'll be able to say it and see if the neighbor remembers his. Bill, Will- something ending in 'ill', but what? It's too early for trivia.
In the four months they've lived in the house, he has only spoken to the churchgoers a few times, unless waving and saying 'Hi' counts, in which case it amounts to a few more. He's never spoken to the neighbors to their right. They're an old couple in their seventies, and he only ever sees them from the window of his den as they reverse their car out of the garage. Sandy heard from somebody or other that the woman was terminally ill and the husband cared for her as best he could. Kinkade doesn't like illness and keeps their existence out of his thoughts as much as possible.
"What are these?" the neighbor guy asks. "Pickles?"
"Pickles they are, Gil," Sandy says.
"So... Gil... What's your opinion?" Kinkade says. "You think kids did this or what?"
Gil looks at Kinkade, squinting against the sun. "Kids? Well... Not necessarily. Hard to say."
He wonders why the churchgoer said "not necessarily". To deflect suspicion from his own children? The boy and girl both look to be somewhere around eight, and he remembers getting into all kinds of mischief at that age. Their existence and proximity to the scene of the crime makes Gil's kids the most obvious suspects.
He imagines taking Gil inside and interrogating him at the kitchen table.
Sandy across from Gil, grinning, a tape recorder on the table, himself pacing as he smokes and slurps coffee behind him.
"You say your children were asleep from eight p.m. through seven this morning, Mr. ___," Good cop Sandy asks. "Your wife can corroborate this?"
"I looked in on them around 10.30," Gil says, "and both of them were sound asleep."
Bad cop Mike Kinkade slams a fist down on the table. "Quit covering for them, Gil. We found an empty egg crate in your trash. And right on top? Guess what we found? An empty Kosher pickle jar, pal.
"Circumstantial," Gil says. "That proves nothing. My kids have an airtight alibi. They're completely innocent."
"I don't believe that for a second," Kinkade says, and when he sees Gil and Sandy look at him with matching frowns, realizes a little of his fantasy has slipped through into the real world.
"What, honey?" Sandy asks.
"What Gil said, about it being hard to say, I don't believe it." His mind works fast, looking for cover. "I'd bet money it was kids. Drunk teenagers is my guess."
Gil and Sandy nod, and he's off the hook.
He wants to smoke a cigarette.
Might as well now, he thinks.
The egg and pickle attack has wrecked his appetite. But even if he were still hungry, the breakfast he'd cooked was now without a doubt all dried up and destroyed by the oven. Sandy would still eat hers though - she would eat any old junk. He reaches into the pocket of his sweatpants for his smokes, but at the last second, decides to wait until Gil leaves before taking them out and lighting one. If he lights up he'll have to exhale and that will cause his gut to hang as gravity so desperately wants it to.
"Guess we got lucky this time," Gil says. "You guys gonna call the police?"
"The police?" Sandy says. She considers it for a moment then grins. "Nah, no point calling the police now. Not over something that was probably just kids fooling around."
Kinkade thinks calling the police sounds like a good idea.
"Even so," Gil says, "you might wanna think about contacting the HOA. You know, to report what happened and see if it happened to anybody else. Who knows, this could have been going on a while around here, and if they get enough reports the HOA has to contact the police to set up a patrol of the neighborhood."
"Sure," Kinkade says. His dislike for the man grows by the second and he's grateful he's never made the effort to pal up with him as Sandy so often suggests. "We're gonna call it in to the HOA. Tried already but only got their answering service, it being Sunday and all. Gonna call it in to the HOA first thing tomorrow morning."
Sandy looks at him open mouthed, as though she's about to ask what he's talking about, but then thinks better of it.
"Well, as you correctly pointed out, it is indeed a Sunday. And on Sundays the family and yours truly have an appointment to keep with the Lord. A good day to you both."
"Have a good one, Gil," Sandy says, and then waves to his wife and kids in the car. The wife returns the wave then says something to the kids and they half-heartedly raise their hands.
Kinkade thinks he can see the kids wondering why they have to go to church when the neighbor people do not. His heart goes out to the poor little mites, and he dismisses them as potential suspects in the egging, deciding instead it was older kids, let loose and bored on a Saturday night.
"Drive safe," he calls as the neighbor crosses the gravel and veers away from the cacti.
"Thanks Mike," the neighbor calls. "You take care now."
Sonofabitch knew his name all along.
Kinkade walks up and down the drive smoking, waiting for Sandy to get back with the brush and dustpan and a plastic bag for the shells and pickles.
"I still can't believe it," Kinkade says when she comes out through the garage.
"Tell you what," she says, "go get the hose from round the back, get a scrub brush and some dish soap, and see if you can convince yourself into believing it while you work on cleaning up our drive."
Sandy's remark hits a sensitive spot and he repeats it over and over in his mind as he works. If his mother had ever spoken to his father that way the old man would have smacked her across the mouth, even out in the street, gossiping neighbors be damned. He sweats as he scrubs at the dried-on eggs, and imagines doing to Sandy what he knows he never will.
5 p.m. Monday
"We'll never find out who defaced the front of our house," Sandy says, the following evening after dinner, "so we might as well forget about it."
He watches her put the leftover chicken and penne in an empty margarine tub (her version of Tupperware) then pour congealed Alfredo sauce on top. He imagines her at work chattering with the other girls in the office, recounting the whole egging incident, beginning with "You'll never believe what happened to us this weekend..." and finishing with "So I said to Mike..." He imagines Sandy and the other girls having a good old big-grins-all-round laugh about it. Then later, one of the other girls would say to one of the Doctors, "You'll never guess what happened to Sandy this weekend, Dr. Jones." And later still, Dr. Jones would say in a quiet moment alone with Sandy, "So Sandy, I hear somebody defaced the front of your house this weekend." And then Sandy, loving the little spotlight, would go through it all again.
He has told nobody he's seen that day about the violation of their property. No matter how big a news story or life event might be, the drivers at the distribution warehouse have little to say about it when they arrive at four thirty in the morning to pick up their loaded trucks. Maybe some will bitch about the day's run, how little sleep they've had, or how one of their drop-offs has just one guy unloading with a forklift, which makes it take forever. Maybe not is just as likely. Most of the time, beyond their customary greetings, the men are silent. It's as though the darkness enshrouding those fortunate enough to still be asleep demands that the drivers be taciturn. Later, when they arrive at their destinations it will be a different story. The drivers, having spent all day alone in their cabs will chatter with anyone willing to listen. A few are exceptions to the standard. Those few have the isolation of the road so deep inside them that they can find no way out of it. When Kinkade sees these men, standing alone or silently sipping coffee in the break room, he quickly averts his eyes or calls a greeting to somebody he has no interest in talking to. He knows when he looks into those blank expressionless faces, that what they are could easily be something he'll become, and he does not want reminding of it.
Even with this possibility in his future, he has driven for so long that he no longer considers doing anything else. Being alone in the cab gives him time to think. And if he knows nothing else, he knows he needs that time. He knows that thinking is not something to rush into, is not something that can be done with any degree of success when it has to be squeezed into an allotted time frame. It's unimaginable: changing to a job that doesn't allow the space he needs to think things through without interruption. He knows there's no world changing philosophy to be found in all that thinking, that greater minds might put the hours inside their heads to better use. He knows that all he really does is ramble around in there. And in all those rambling thoughts, on occasion, he is inexplicably and yet inexorably drawn towards a darkness from which he can find no escape. What frightens him most is that when he goes to such places within himself, he does not flee, but rather stops to poke and prod and peer in every corner of what has been found. Just as he did earlier that very day.
6 a.m. - 2 p.m. Monday
During Monday's run around the East Valley, through Casa Grande, and then back to Tucson, the majority of his thoughts find familiar territories. He considers his past with Sandy, as well as their future. He drags himself through every despicable detail of his mortgage, then wonders how life might be if he was divorced and living alone in an apartment, free to go out every night to bars and pick up women. After stopping to buy cigarettes, as always, he ponders his enslavement to them. The price offends him. His outrage soon sends his mind to other areas, to thoughts of how many he smokes and what they're doing to his health. He doesn't want to quit, but they're making him short of breath, making him cough in the morning as his father had every day he'd known the man. He remembers how he would lay in bed listening, disgusted by the old man's hacking rituals; the wheezing and spluttering waking the other occupants of the house whether they wanted it to or not. Lying in bed listening to it, at sixteen a smoker three years already, he swore an oath to himself, promising he would quit the day he began to develop the same characteristics as the old man.
That day is long distant and here he is, still smoking. If the addiction is to remain (and it seems it is), then he needs to break his idleness instead, and drive to Mexico to stock up on cheap smokes. Maybe even find some way to take the trip without Sandy so he can fuck a couple of sweet dark skinned whorehouse senoritas while he's down there. After these plans are sketched and fantasized over, his thoughts spin off through what he's seen on TV about college kids on Spring break in Cancun. All that pussy. All that drinking and drug taking. All that fucking. His envy is crushed by resentment: what right do those kids have to such a good time?
Kids, Kinkade thinks. These days they think they can do anything at all and get away with it. And most of the time they do.
Like the kids who'd egged his house, who would go without so much as a single word of reproach. He could contact the Principle of the high school about the egging, but what good would that do? Kids know the unspoken code better than convicts: snitches are scum.
He's preparing to accept defeat when an idea comes to him. The kids don't have to get away with everything, he realizes - there is a way to make them pay.
The old way.
3 p.m. Monday
Instead of returning directly home he stops at the grocery store to buy eggs, then parks in the car lot at the high school, posing as one of the parents waiting to pick up their kids.
Sitting in his car, he entertains the notion that the egging was a vindictive act, its participants, kids who lived in houses along the lake. While those such as the Kinkades are only permitted a view of the man made anomaly (this is the desert after all), as they enter the planned community in which they live, these kids could boast a permanent view of the lake from their back yard. And what do kids do when faced with a perfectly still body of water? From throwing stones it was only a hop and a skip to throwing eggs at people's houses.
Rich little shits think people like me are beneath them, he thinks, think anybody who makes less than a hundred thou' a year is a low-life, and needs reminding of it by whatever means possible.
This seems a plausible motive, but then so does the idea that it could have been a gang of bored teens from his own block.
Watching the students as they come streaming out of the school, he knows one thing for certain: guilty or innocent, he hates every one of them. Since he ceased being one himself, he takes no interest in teenagers, paying attention to them only when there's one in something he's watching on TV. Now, looking at them as they come out of the school, he unexpectedly experiences loathing for every youthful face he sees. His plan had been to wait until the majority of kids had left and the lot was empty, and then, spotting a lone student coming his way, pelt the kid with the eggs he'd bought. He would then return periodically, and repeat his planned retaliation until an urban legend of sorts spread through the school, with the real culprits becoming so terrified of the phantom egg flinger that they would not dare consider egging anybody ever again. But seeing them, he knows his need for retribution will not be satiated by such shenanigans. What he really wants is to grab one of the little fuckers and throw him in the trunk, to take him out to the desert, to mash his face until all the frustration over what has been done to the house is gone. An arrogant kid would be good. A kid who would have all the breaks would be better. Failing all else, any of the kids with that light of hope in their eyes for a future yet to be determined would satisfy him.
Suddenly dizzy, he winds down his window to let in some air. When he does, an avalanche of sound hits: yells, laughs, voices excited by the chance to talk without restriction. He slides down low in his seat, trying to escape the noise, the flat of his palms pressed against his ears.
"...If you're gonna go buy the CD then you should get it first but if I put in seventy five cents instead of fifty like everyone else then I wanna be next in line after you to burn it," he hears one say. "Dude, I'm telling you, the THC level in the shit is two times what the last stuff you got was," from another, then the conversations begin to blur - "I can't believe my Mom's making such a big deal out of this. She like totally freaked when she came in my room and caught me jerking Andy off. It's not as if we were doing it for real or anything. And it's my room..." "...You can't go up against the robot guarding the tower before replacing both your standard cyborg arms with multi weapon equipped upgrades..." "...Can you believe that fuckwad gave me a D? I worked my fucking ass off on that assignment..." "...It gives you step by step instructions on how to vomit at two a.m. without waking up your parents..." "...I couldn't even watch that movie that Leo made. Halfway through I had to turn it off. I just can't stand how old he looks now..." "...I can kick way higher than she can, and I'm a way better athlete than she is, so I should definitely make squad captain..." "...I don't wanna go into it now. I'll talk to you in the school chat room after I get through with my homework..."
Snatches of conversation continue to come through his window, but he no longer feels lost in the overload of sound. In all that idiotic adolescent chatter he has found something to grab onto and pull himself out: something which makes him believe he does not have to let loose his anger at a random target. It can be focused and the guilty made to pay.
6.30 p.m. Monday
Sandy routinely goes to a swim-class on Monday evenings and this happy coincidence suits Kinkade's plans perfectly. He waits for five minutes after she's gone just in case she returns for something she's forgotten, and then, sitting at the computer, he logs on the Internet. He types in 'Saguaro high school chat rooms'. Several clicks of the mouse later, he's at the school's website, a Saguaro Cactus and a picture of the school displayed on the home page. A navigational bar on the left side of the screen gives chat rooms as an option, and once he's signed in, he enters one of the rooms using the name Jennifer. This proves too popular a choice, and after a few minutes of being endlessly pestered by the boys in the room, he leaves and returns using a less attention grabbing moniker. For the next hour 'Chip' sits and watches how they communicate. Initially he thought 'Chip's' lack of input would draw some comments, but he soon sees others make their presence known only by being among the names listed in the sidebar on the right.
There's no mention of egging anybody's house on Saturday night, so the kids responsible are either not using the chatroom, or are smart enough to know not to talk about the incident. He is just gearing up to say something and try to glean some information when he hears the complete Wheel of Fortune theme the second time these last thirty minutes, and knowing Sandy usually returns shortly after the show gets through, he logs off.
Tuesday - Thursday 4.15 p.m.
That week Kinkade settles into a routine, designed to arouse no suspicion in his wife, while allowing him a chunk of time to look for possible leads. Around three each day he arrives home, and gets straight to preparing and cooking dinner. This gives him roughly an hour to go into the Saguaro HS chat room as Chip and try to coax some information from the kids. At ten to five, he has to force himself to log off and then go reheat whatever he's cooked.
By Thursday, he is all but ready to call it quits. Most of the kids tend to ignore him - it's as though they sense Chip is not one of them. Then, by some serendipitous turn what he's been waiting for all week appears on the screen in front of him...
MUSTANG-SALLY: So I told Carla - hold on. be right back.
SQUEAKY GEEK: Money says Papa's at the door telling her to get off the internet so he can use the phone.
MUSTANG-SALLY: Good guess, SG. I hate it that we're still on dial-up. It's, like, so 90s.
MOSH-PIT-KILLER: We're still on dial up too. Lucky for me though my folks are still at work. They both work twelve hours a day minimum.
CHIP: I like, totally hate all those workaholic Moms and Pops. Egg those assholes houses, that's what I say.
MOSH-PIT-KILLER: Chip, what grade are you in?
CHIP: Why? I'm trying to make a point here.
MUSTANG SALLY: Chip, I really think you need to talk to your counselor.
SQUEAKY GEEK: All this talk about eggs reminds me of a movie I saw last week. That old guy out of that Tom Hanks gangster movie was in it, only a lot younger and had to eat all these eggs.
FUNGUNFUNK: SG, are you still taking all those 4.20s and watching all those old movies?
SQUEAKY GEEK: Only when I can't find the key to my Dad's porn suitcase.(smiley face)
MOSH-PIT-KILLER: My mom and dad keep their porn movies under the bed in a garbage bag. They're into that SAH shit.
CHIP: SAH? What's that?
MOSH-PIT-KILLER: Shot at home. Homemade porn. Genuine - not that faked amateur stuff they pass off as the real thing. They even sent a couple of tapes in to one of the companies that sell that stuff.
CHIP: I saw a porno movie once where they used all kinds of different fruits and vegetables. They even used pickles! Speaking of pickles... Tell you what I'd like to do tonight - I'd like to go out and egg some old dudes house then throw pickles on their drive.
MUSTANG SALLY: Throw pickles on their drive? Chip you're weird.
CHIP: Just making conversation.
MUSTANG SALLY: Well, it must be really important to you -going out and egging people's houses. Every time you come here that's all you ever talk about.
CHIP: Ah blow me. Whadda you know?
GIRL G'TING TOO OLD FOR POWER PUFFS: Maybe that's what you need Skip. Relax yourself a little. Maybe I can help you out. What grade you in?
CHIP: It's Chip, you ho. And what I want is to egg some houses. Isn't there anybody out there who wants to egg some houses with me?
MOSH-PIT-KILLER: Chip. The truth now. Are you a cop?
MUSTANG SALLY: If he's not a cop he must be a peed.
SQUEAKY GEEK: A peed with an egg fetish.
MOSH-PIT-KILLER: (smiley face)
MUSTANG SALLY: (smiley face)
GIRL G'TING TOO OLD FOR POWER PUFFS: (smiley face)
FUNGUNFUNK: (smiley face winking)
CHIP: You might be smiling now assholes but you won't be smiling when I'm beating the fucking shit out of you.
SQUEAKY GEEK: Chip? What the F? You should know that I'm calling my Mom up to see what you wrote this very second.
CHIP: Pass the word. Whoever the fuck it was that egged my house is in for some serious pain. You better tell who did it to fess up. Else ole CHIP is gonna have to track all of you down. Else ole CHIP is gonna have to set an example and beat the shit out of all you little assholes.
MOSH-PIT-KILLER: There's only one A-hole in here and that's you, Mister Chipster.
MUSTANG SALLY: Let's do a Ben and Gwyneth on this loser.
...Before he knows what's happened, they kick 'Chip' out of the chat room. Kinkade just sits, staring at the screen. He screams in fury. His fingers make pounding strikes to the keyboard as he logs back in, not as the now unwelcome Chip, but as Saguaro HS chat room debutante JodieGirl.
Once all the "Hi's" are out of the way, JodieGirl adds nothing further; wanting only to see what they have to say about Chip's outburst. But nobody even mentions it. Chip has been dismissed as unimportant. Through rage released shining drops of spittle on the monitor, he reads the usual mindless drivel. On and on it goes, their lexicon of abbreviations and acronyms scrolling up the screen. He is about to move the mouse arrow to the exit icon (X-it in their parlance), when a clue emerges...
SQUEAKYGEEK: That guy, the one that kept going on about egging people's houses like he was a kid looking for other kids to do that with, I think I know who that guy is. His house got egged about a week ago. I was in the car with my Mom and Dad and we passed his house while he was out there cleaning it up. That guy lives on my street. Not only that but I know who did it too.
FUNGUNFUNK: Uh, awareness alert. Danger Will Robinson. Have you forgotten our silent friend, the socially unforthcoming JodieGirl? Perhaps we should seek her opinion on all this and see if she shares ole Mister Chipster's POV.
...Kinkade watches as 'Fungunfunk' leaves the room, then everyone except 'Squeaky Geek' follow suit, leaving him and the kid in there alone...
JODIEGIRL: I win and you lose you little shit. Better call your mom. Better call her and tell her the big bad neighbor guy is coming to get you. And when he does he's gonna beat the shit out of you until you give him the names of the kids that egged his house. You wanna save yourself a beating you'd be wise to give them over now. I need those names kid. I need them and I'll do whatever it takes to get them.
SQUEAKYGEEK: What you need is to go see a doctor and have him put you on medication, neighbor. (smiley face - smiley face - smiley face - smiley face winking)
...Without another word, SQUEAKYGEEK exits the chat room, leaving Kinkade alone, staring at the smiley faces. He wants to punch the screen. He resists. He tells himself it will be worth it.
5 p.m. Friday
He's cooking dinner, lost in thought, when his wife sneaks up behind him and plants a kiss on his cheek.
"Guess what," she says.
"You're supposed to guess," she says, looking over his shoulder at what's in the skillet. "Really starting to get a thing for the old spaghetti sauce these days?"
"What's that supposed to mean? You want something else you do the cooking from now on."
"Jesus Mike," Sandy says, "the second I walk in the door you rip my head off."
He lays the wooden spoon against the edge of the skillet then turns to face her. "Sorry. Better double up on my St John's Wort eh?"
Sandy smiles at his joke. "Better double up on your Gingko too."
"We already ate spaghetti this week?"
"You made it Tuesday. There's half a margarine tub of it in the fridge. You could have just reheated that."
"What? And deny you of your leftovers?"
"Saves money. The girls all ordered out from El Pollo Loco at lunch. Six bucks a piece."
"Meatloaf," Sandy says.
"Meatloaf?" he says as he scratches the bald spot on the back of his head. "What meatloaf?"
"Last week's," Sandy says, smiling at her husband's grimace. "It was real good too. Better than when you made it."
"Ugh," he shudders, then goes back to stirring the sauce.
"So come on then, guess."
He sighs and looks at her. "It could be any one of a million things. Can't you just tell me?"
"Alright, Mr. Grouchy. We've been invited to a party tomorrow night."
"A party? Where?"
"Here in the street. One of our neighbors just invited us."
"What neighbor? We don't know anybody around here."
"His name's Bud Halliday. He was jogging past the house as I got out of the car to get the mail. See where being friendly gets you?"
"You're not telling me you want to go?"
"Sure. Why not?"
"We'd miss Cops."
"Mike, can you hear yourself? This guy and his wife are twice our age, but you don't see them sitting at home watching TV on Saturday night. Come on, Mike, don't be an asshole. I want to go."
"Twice our age?"
"Mike," Sandy whines.
Sandy brightens immediately with a grin he thinks might break all her old records. "Really?"
"Sure. Hey, this guy Bud whatever, he got any kids?"
"Don't know. Why?"
"Oh nothing. Just wanted to make sure we weren't setting ourselves up to attend some 5-year-old's birthday party."
8 p.m. Saturday
Two beers in, and Kinkade is having an okay time at Bud what's-his-name's party, standing outside with the rest of the guests, admiring what their host has done with his backyard. Jacuzzi, Pebble Tec pool, built in grill, perfectly manicured sprinkler systemized deep green grass - all very impressive.
"You probably think this is kind of anal, but if you could try to keep off the grass we'd appreciate it," Bud what's-his-name's wife says, "and if you need to go inside to use the bathroom, we'd appreciate it if you could take off your shoes at the door."
9 p.m. Saturday
Four beers in and Kinkade is feeling pretty good. Five minutes spent shooting the shit with one guy, ten minutes with another, twenty with a group of guys the five-minute guy and the ten-minute guy are a part of. Little chats with Sandy weaved between these, or Sandy with some neighbor lady brought to him for introduction. His years of standing around yakking with the other drivers while their trucks are being unloaded has him primed for just such a social engagement as this; light conversation he can do standing on his head. Interest is easy to fake when no more than ten minutes worth is required.
A soft rock compilation CD plays through outdoor speakers, rigged to the stereo system indoors. Down the side of the house near the trashcans, joints are being smoked, respectfully out of sight of those who do not wish to partake. Sandy walks up to him grinning when she tells him where to go if he wants a hit of grass, and grins wider still when he says he's okay just drinking a few beers.
10 p.m. Saturday
Six beers and until now he has had no trouble keeping it all in. He looks around for the host or the wife so he can ask permission to use their bathroom.
"Hey Bud," He can hear the slur in his voice as he speaks, and decides that after using the bathroom it's time for Sandy and he to head home. He knows from past experiences how memorable he can become when he's drunk. "Alright if I use your bathroom?"
"Oh sure," Bud says. "Upstairs and second door on your left. Whatever you do, don't take the first door. That's my kid's room. You go in there and you might never get out again."
"Your kid's room? I didn't know you had any."
"Just the one. And believe me one is enough. Like I said, whatever you do don't go in the kid's room. He's got some kind of problem. Looks normal enough, but once he opens his mouth to talk he doesn't know how to stop. Movies. All the kid ever talks about is movies. Drives you up the goddamn wall and out onto the roof. Even when he's not talking about movies he's on that damn Internet and in those goddamn chat rooms writing about them."
Kinkade walks as calmly as he can to the sliding back patio door. Opening it he notices there are no other shoes inside on the mat where he'd been told to leave his own. He and 'Squeaky Geek' are the only people inside the house. He looks outside, just to check that Bud what's-his-name's wife is out there. She's by the pool, with Sandy and some other wives. He locks the door, then goes upstairs to find the kid.
"Wrong door," the kid at the computer says. The voice is deeper than he expected. Even from the partial profile he knows he's seen the kid before, riding his bike up and down the street. The kid is fifteen or sixteen, and has floppy blonde hair and a pretty boy face, just like girls go for these days. He has never so much as considered that this kid could be 'Squeaky Geek'. If anything, with the hair, the kid reminds him of himself at that age.
Kinkade locks the door.
"Hey didn't you hear me?" the kid says, turning in his swivel chair. "The bathroom is the next one along."
"What the hell kind of a name is Squeaky Geek anyway?"
The boy frowns at first, and then the look in his eyes changes to fear.
"Mom!" the kid yells; his voice sounding like somebody just yanked his vocal cords. The deep voice, so wrong for the girlish face, turns to a falsetto yelp that Kinkade likes a whole lot better. "Mom!"
Maybe the kid picked the name because his voice usually sounds so deep - so he couldn't be identified at school by the other chat-room users. Not so now. Now he sounds just the way Kinkade wants.
"Bad news kid," Kinkade says, his own voice never sounding stronger or more in control. "Mommy and Daddy are outside, it's just you and me. And what I'm thinking is we ought to warm up with me doing a Ben and Gwen on your ass all over the walls of this room."
Kinkade gives the room a quick once over. The walls are plastered with posters from movies made in the seventies; The Godfather, Rocky, Taxi Driver, Big Wednesday, Harold and Maud, Apocalypse Now, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Dawn of the Dead, A Clockwork Orange.
He advances on the kid, readying to pull him out of his chair - to smash his fist into that pretty face - to grab his hair and yank on it hard until some of it rips from the roots. A second before reaching him, Kinkade's eyes return to the poster for Big Wednesday.
He feels the anger inside break apart and become desperation. Collapsing to his knees at the boy's feet he looks up and begs, "Please... Tell me who egged my house. I won't do anything to them. All I'll do is report them to the police. Please kid, I can't go on not knowing who did it. Not knowing who did it is driving me crazy."
"Guy," the kid says, "if you'd just gone into the chat room being yourself, instead of pretending to be a kid, I would've told you straight off who did it. Hell, everyone around here knows who it is; it's been going on months now. Just nobody wants to be the first one to report it. It happens every couple of weeks. Probably gonna happen tonight too."
He looks up at the kid through tears, "Tonight?"
"If I tell you, you gotta promise not to do anything crazy. You gotta promise to go back down to the party and get your wife and go on home. Because I think you've had enough to drink."
He follows the boy's advice, and goes downstairs to collect his shoes and his wife. The second they're out the front door he remembers just how badly he needs to pee. Despite Sandy's outcry of alarm and pleas for him to stop, he does what he must, leaning against Bud what's-his-name's palm tree while he lets it go.
2 a.m. Saturday
Four hours later, he is squatting behind the hedgerow facing his house, exactly as instructed by the boy. He's been there thirty minutes, his legs stiff and both feet numb. Sandy is inside asleep, and he hopes she'll stay that way. If she wakes and finds him gone, an explanation will be a bitch. He had been sure this was a put on - but here it is - the answer at last. He never would have suspected it.
His neighbors' front door opens - not the churchgoers but that of the elderly couple he rarely sees and has never met. The old woman comes out of the house wearing a white nightgown, and barefoot. In one hand she carries a box of eggs, in the other a jar of pickles. A few seconds later, dressed in pajamas and wearing carpet slippers, the old man comes out after his wife. From the way his hair sticks up, Kinkade thinks he must have just climbed out of bed.
"No Marjorie," the old man whispers. "You have to stop this. What you're doing is wrong."
Marjorie laughs, creeping forward on pantomime tiptoes. She stops in front of the house four doors down from Kinkade's own.
"No Marjorie," the old man sobs. "You must not do this. You must not do this again."
As though unaware of her husband's presence the woman starts lobbing eggs at the garage door. "This house is a letter B," she announces. Setting the eggs on the ground she unscrews the lid of the pickle jar and tips some into her hand. Kinkade watches as she carefully places the pickles on the drive to make the shape she wants.
"Marjorie stop," the old man begs. "If you don't stop I'll have to do what the doctor wants and put you in the hospital."
Marjorie turns, seeming for the first time to notice her husband's tears. "Oh Laurence," she says and begins to cry. "What have I done? What have I done?"
"Come away, Marjorie. Come away before somebody sees."
Kinkade watches as Laurence leads Marjorie back to their house, the pair of them sobbing as they go.
8 a.m. Sunday
"They got egged," Sandy says, sitting at the kitchen table while Kinkade prepares breakfast.
"Yeah?" he says.
"They were out there cleaning it up when I went out for the paper. Probably the same kids that egged us."
"Maybe," he says, remembering why he's so tired today.
She watches him root around in the fridge. "What are you looking for?"
"Margarine to put in the skillet for the scrambled eggs," he says.
"Try the second shelf."
Kinkade finds three margarine tubs on the second shelf. He takes one out and opens it. What he sees inside the tub gives him a jolt of shock. As he identifies the leftover chicken and pasta and the Alfredo sauce the mold is growing on, he forces back the rising bile.
"Jesus Christ!" he says, then throws the tub down on the counter-top. He rubs the bald spot on the back of his head as he looks in at the decaying food.
"What's the matter?" Sandy asks.
"This stuff's gone moldy. How the hell did it get moldy so fast?"
"Oh, what is it? The chicken?" Sandy says. "I brought back what I didn't eat from work, and forgot it was out in the car. It was only out there a couple of hours."
"A couple of hours? You can't put this stuff back in the fridge when it's been in the car like that."
"Alright, don't make a big issue out of it."
"Well..." he says. "This stuff's got mold on it... It's not healthy to leave it sitting there like that contaminating everything else."
Sandy sighs, "There's a lid on it."
He catches sight of himself, reflected in the kitchen window, a dim reflection that shows only his eyes and the outline of his features. For a moment he is sixteen again. Then he sees his receding hairline and the moment is gone. He replaces the lid and carries the tub over to the trash.
"Don't throw the tub away!" Sandy yells. "Just throw out the old food."
He remembers then that this has happened before, that there have been random occasions over the years that collectively add up to a number beyond reason. And it will go on happening. For years and years to come. If marriage has taught him nothing else, it's taught him how well one gets to know the habits of the person they're married to. He thinks of Laurence and Marjorie, of all the years they've been together, and how Marjorie's illness is stealing those years, making the two of them strangers.
Perhaps he and Sandy will end up the same way. Perhaps he'll be the one who'll hear her say familiar things and find nothing familiar about them.
Whatever their future together might be, right now he knows what Sandy will say before she's thought to say it.
"Don't throw it out, Mike. I can use that margarine tub again if we run it through the dishwasher," she says, proving him right. She goes back to looking at the ads from the Sunday paper and says, "Pork chops are on sale at Fry's." Then she looks up and grins at him. Why is pork chops being on sale something to grin about? There are some things about her he'll never understand.
Again he thinks of their marriage concluding the same way as Laurence and Marjorie's is inevitably going to. And he wonders if such an ending would really be such a punishment.
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