David pushed the side door open with his heel, leaving his arms free to cradle the vegetables for tonight’s dinner—freshly unearthed Yukon Gold potatoes, beets just for Sally (no one else liked them), tomatoes, cucumbers, and a solitary green pepper.
Saturday was David’s day to prepare dinner, and it gave him a caveman-like sense of satisfaction to have grown most of the meal’s ingredients himself. True, the lamb came from Whole Foods, but he’d cook it on an open fire—well, actually on a Weber stainless steel gas grill, which was almost as good. It still made him feel self-sufficient.
He was washing the vegetables, somewhat more cursorily than if Sally had been there to supervise, when he heard the noise—a kind of metallic ping. He couldn’t quite place it, neither its nature nor its location, and went back to washing. He was wiping his hands on his already soiled khakis when he heard the second ping. The living room. Definitely the living room. He went to investigate but found nothing amiss. Then, just as he was leaving the room, he heard the sound again and his eye caught some motion, a tiny piece of glass flying into the wall and falling to the floor. He picked it up and turned around. He saw holes in three of the foot-square panes that made up the living room windows.
David went outside and looked around. Nothing. The suburban street, a little too old and a little too expensive to qualify as a development, was quieter than usual, probably because the temperature was well into the nineties.
Back inside he examined the living room again, and that’s when he found the tiny pellet. A BB. At least, he assumed that’s what it was. He’d never owned a BB gun himself. He continued searching and soon found a second, but not the third.
Who would shoot out my windows with a BB gun, he wondered. Maybe shoot out was too strong a phrase. The windows were still there, although they’d have to be replaced.
Should he call the police? Not exactly a serious crime, but this was Maplewood, not Newark, and these things weren’t supposed to happen here. He had time to call. Sally and Laura were at the mall, probably wouldn’t be back for an hour or more, and Sean was off playing video games with his friends. So he made the call, apologizing to the dispatcher for bothering her about something so minor.
The officer who rang the bell thirty minutes later, Liz Cortez, was surprisingly young and pretty, so much so that David had to force himself to take her seriously. He walked her into the living room, showed her the windows and the two BBs he’d recovered. “Too big for BBs,” she said. “They’re metal pellets from one of your more powerful air guns.” David shrugged. What difference did it make?
She began writing up a report, which should have been pretty simple, but it took forever to get the details on paper.
“Sir, may I ask who lives here with you?” When David told her, she asked the kids’ ages. “Laura is sixteen, Sean is fourteen.”
“They have any fights or arguments with their friends? Maybe your daughter broke up with her boyfriend?”
David thought about it. He had taken the kids out to dinner Thursday as he did every week while Sally went to her class, some adult-ed thing on art appreciation. He had tried asking about their lives, but as usual, Sean answered in monosyllables, and Laura acted as though he were prying. He’d been closer to them when they were younger, and he wasn’t really sure when or why the relationship had become more distant. They’re teenagers, Sally would say. Don’t take it personally.
He told Cortez that he wasn’t aware of anything in the kids’ lives that would explain the windows.
“Are they around, sir? Can I have a word with them?”
David told her everyone was out but that he would ask if they had any ideas. He bristled a little when she suggested it was sometimes better if an outsider did the questioning. David didn’t like the word questioning, and he was getting annoyed with all the “sirs.”
“I’ll talk to them,” he said. “If there’s anything, I’ll give you a call. I probably shouldn’t have bothered you with this.”
“No, sir, you did the right thing. Let us know if they have any ideas, and be sure and ask your wife, too.”
As soon as he closed the door, giving it a harder push than necessary, David began berating himself. It’d been a waste of time to call the police.
* * *
David rushed about the kitchen, looking for the right casserole dish or the right utensil as he assembled the lamb chops, baked potatoes, salad, and of course the beets. Sally stood to the side watching, her offer of help having been rebuffed. He liked to do it himself, even if after eight years in the rambling colonial, he still hadn’t caught on to how she organized the kitchen.
“Don’t we have any red wine vinegar?”
“Top shelf, on the left.”
“I thought there was still some fresh marjoram.”
“No, but you can use oregano. It’s almost the same.”
Damn. He hated using substitutes.
“David, is something wrong?”
“No, just trying to get it all done at the same time.” He had decided to wait and tell the whole family about the trouble over dinner, as casually as he could, though he felt guilty about evading Sally’s question and a little afraid it would provoke still another discussion about communication and what she saw as his tendency to leave her out of decisions. They were going through one of those periods when it seemed important for Sally to reexamine every aspect of their relationship. He thought they were doing just fine, at least as well as any couple nearing their twentieth anniversary.
As a peace offering, he stopped chopping and gave her a hug and a kiss on her forehead. “How was your afternoon?” he asked. “Buy anything?”
Sally sighed and turned to start setting the table. “I’ll show you later—if you remember to act interested.”
Once everyone was seated and the food had been passed around, David spoke up.
“Had some excitement while you guys were out,” he said. Sally and Laura looked up expectantly. Sean kept eating. “Someone shot a few air gun pellets into the living room windows.”
“What do you mean?” asked Sally.
“Probably just some kid having a good time.”
They got up and rushed to the living room.
“The food will get cold,” he called after them, but they seemed in no hurry and eventually he had to go and retrieve them.
“Did you call the police?” Sally asked.
He told them about it. Sean, now fully engaged, asked a lot of questions in rapid succession, clearly disappointed he’d missed the excitement.
“Are the police going to set up a patrol?”
“Sean, it’s not that serious.”
“Can I help you catch ‘em, Dad? I could put up my tent on the side of the house and sleep outside tonight.”
“Thanks, Sean, but I don’t think we need to do anything rash.”
“What if they try again and use real bullets.”
“I don’t think that’s going to happen, and if it does, we’ll let the police handle it.”
“You always say they’re useless.”
Laura gave her big-sister sigh. “Sean, stop being such a kid.”
“Who asked you?”
“That’s enough, guys,” David said, a little more firmly than he intended. “Laura, he’s just trying to help.”
Laura sighed again and after a pause, David asked her the question Cortez had posed about a jilted suitor.
“No, Dad. I’ve been going with Steven so long no one else even asks me out anymore.”
With that, David resumed eating, but no one else had much of an appetite. Sally didn’t even finish her beets, and Sean couldn’t stop planning long enough to eat anything.
“Dad, we could go to the surplus store and see if they have any of those night goggles they use in Iraq.”
Sally laughed and David gave her a stern look, which seemed to end the conversation, as well as dinner. He remembered when Sean was much younger and had become enthralled with toy soldiers, spending hours planning and executing mock attacks. Sally hadn’t understood Sean’s interest in that, either.
That night, after Steven picked up Laura, and Sean went out with some friends, Sally asked David if he was more worried than he let on. “I really don’t think it’s anything, and the police certainly weren’t concerned.” But as they watched TV, Sally noticed that at each commercial, David went to the living room and looked at the windows.
* * *
Over the next few days, David spent more time outdoors than usual, even taking nightly walks. Sean kept asking him if he was standing guard, and it annoyed him that his excuses about getting a little air and exercise were so transparent. He let the week pass without repairing the windows, telling himself he was busy when he was actually waiting to see if there would be another attack. No, attack was the wrong word. Incident.
On Saturday morning, he decided he’d waited long enough, and he reluctantly confronted the windows. It was the kind of job he hated because he never got it quite right. Never knew just how to measure the glass to order a replacement, and his caulking was always sloppy. He liked to fend for himself, but home repairs were his weak spot.
With resignation, he took out a yardstick and did his best to figure out the right size, then went to the local hardware store to get replacements. Adopting a casual tone, he asked the clerk if anyone had been in recently on a similar mission, but the young kid just shrugged. “I only work here Saturdays,” he said.
David had trouble removing the old glass and getting the new panes to fit, and he splintered the wood in a couple of places when he forced it. He used glue and plastic wood as well as caulk, but his work still had a homemade look. He ripped the pane out and started from scratch, although it didn’t come out any better the second time.
David and Sally went out for dinner that night, to a Moroccan restaurant that had just moved into the neighborhood. Sally had a new outfit on, a long brown and green flowery skirt and a low-cut white blouse, with her hair freshly cut and colored a lighter shade of blonde. She’d even had her nails done and wore her contact lenses instead of her less attractive but more comfortable glasses.
Once they were seated, Sally surprised David by ordering a cocktail—they usually just had wine with dinner—and then told the waiter they were in no hurry to order. David wondered if there was something specific she wanted to talk about, but then she asked him if he knew what tonight was. He panicked and then realized it was the twenty-fifth anniversary of the night they’d met. There had been a time when he was the more sentimental one, always surprising her with flowers and little treats. When had that stopped?
He tried to get in the mood but couldn’t. Too much going on in his life right now. And the more she flirted, the harder he found it to go along. He complained about the food, the service, and the belly dancer he thought strangely inappropriate.
“She’s a little heavy to be doing that, isn’t she?” he said.
“Only in America do women have to be toothpick thin,” Sally said, a slight note of defensiveness creeping into her voice. David didn’t see why. Sally still had a girlish figure.
The belly dancer was working her way to their table, and much to David’s chagrin, she moved up close, her hips just inches from his face. Sally laughed at David’s embarrassment, and then the dancer took off her scarf and playfully wrapped it around David’s head. He sat stiffly, absolutely mortified, until she moved off to the next table, leaving the scarf wrapped around his head. He took it off and placed it on the back of his chair.
“Didn’t turn you on?” Sally teased.
“Absolutely not,” David said, dipping a piece of bread into oil and trying to act nonplussed.
“I thought it was rather fun.”
David took another bite of bread. “You need to fix your blouse,” he said. “Your bra strap is showing.”
They drove home quietly and David eased the car into the garage, but something at the side of the house caught his attention, and instead of going in, he walked out to investigate.
When Sally caught up, she saw that the vegetable garden had been trashed. Almost all of the plants were broken in half or pulled out completely, and the fence used to keep out the rabbits was ripped loose. David was already on his knees, working on a few plants he thought he could save, struggling to control his anger. The windows were one thing; this was personal now. The garden was his private domain. He couldn’t let this go unanswered. When Sally suggested calling the police, David refused. “What are they going to do?”
Later, in bed, Sally pulled the book out of his hands, and made him look at her.
“Talk to me. How upset should I be?”
He frowned. “It’s probably just a kid,” he said. “No big deal.”
“You really believe that? It’s not how you’ve been acting.”
David took his glasses off and turned out his light. “It’s hard to explain. It’s just the idea that there’s somebody out there who may have it in for us. But he’s obviously too big a coward to do anything beyond petty vandalism. He’s not a real threat.”
She kissed him and put her hand on the back of his head, seemingly reluctant to let him get away with a routine peck. But after a few seconds, he pulled away, said good night, and turned over on his side, facing the wall.
The kids hadn’t noticed the garden when they came home, so the next morning David called them together to tell them. Laura got upset: Sean just got more excited. David tried to calm them both down but didn’t succeed.
“Look, obviously, we have a problem, but let’s not overreact,” he said.” Whoever is doing this wants to get our goat. He’s not really trying to hurt anybody.”
“How do you know that, Dad?” Laura said. “This is crazy. We don’t know what he’s going to do next.”
“Laura, we can handle it.”
“I’m not really sure yet, but I promise you I’ll handle it. Are you guys all sure there’s no one mad at you?”
Laura shook her head, while Sean just ignored the question. “Dad, we need to set up round-the-clock patrols. We can each take twelve hours. Or I could get a couple of the other guys to help. Eric has a webcam we can set up outside. It can even take pictures at night. And Logan— ”
“Slow down, Sean. We don’t need to get your friends involved. You haven’t told the whole neighborhood, have you?”
“Well, just Eric and Logan and Mark and Jon. Just my close friends. And we all want to help.”
“No, Sean, we have to do this ourselves. Don’t talk to any more outsiders.”
“We can trust them. They’re my friends.”
“I didn’t mean it that way, but think really hard whether there’s anyone who might be mad enough at one of you to do this. No reason to feel guilty if there is. This guy is crazy. It’s not your fault.”
But they all professed ignorance.
* * *
David stepped up his nightly patrols but with a difference. He began carrying a baseball bat. He hadn’t been in a fight since he was a kid, and while he was in decent shape for a forty-seven-year-old guy with a desk job, he wasn’t about to confront his adversary with his bare hands. Sean asked if he could come along on what had changed from occasional walks around the perimeter into longer patrols up and down the street. At first David said no, but Sean looked so crestfallen that David relented. He couldn’t help being glad that Sean wanted to stand up for himself, and if there was trouble, Sean could call for help on the cell phone that seemed glued to his fingertips. Sally wasn’t very happy, but she couldn’t talk David out of it.
“Should we walk together, or should I cover you from a distance?” Sean asked. “I could program your phone so you just have to push one button and I’ll know you need help.”
“Let’s stay together, Sean. We just want to keep our eyes open. This isn’t one of those killer video games.”
“It’s kind of like a war, though, isn’t it, Dad?”
“I wouldn’t go that far.” But it was beginning to feel that way.
Sean proceeded to give him a rundown on the different kinds of air rifles. He’d learned about the ammunition, accuracy and range of each, as well as the comparative costs, by doing some research on the Web. The bottom line was that the likely range of the air rifle used against their windows was only about five hundred feet. David was impressed. If only Sean put so much effort into his algebra homework.
On Saturday, David awoke early, tense with anticipation. Their enemy seemed to prefer attacking on Saturday, and if he were going to return today, David would be in position. He planned to spend as much time outside as he could, puttering around the yard and doing chores that would keep him at the side or in back. Close enough to respond, though not so close that he’d scare off the attacker.
But when he crossed the driveway, he saw he’d been too late. The windshield of Sally’s Volvo was a maze of cracks. It looked like someone had hit it with a hammer.
Sally must have noticed David standing there because within a minute she was by his side, her face ashen. David started to examine the car more closely, but Sally was frightened. “Let’s just go inside and call the police.”
David insisted on waiting outside, and within a few minutes a police car drove up and a cop got out, straightening his overloaded Sam Brown belt. He was about forty, carelessly chubby with a stomach at war with his shirt buttons.
Before David could greet him, a second car pulled up and Officer Cortez got out. At least she wasn’t alone this time. When she asked what happened, David just pointed to the Volvo’s windshield.
“It’s not just the windshield,” the male cop said. He had been examining the car and noticed several marks in the side and back windows, the ones most exposed to the street. He knelt down and before long found a telltale pellet. Cortez told the second officer about the earlier attack, and they agreed on what seemed obvious. The shooter had taken multiple shots at the car’s windows, probably got frustrated when they just bounced off the safety glass and then moved in to take out the window at close range.
“Must have made quite a racket,” the male officer said. “You never heard anything?”
“Nothing.” David said. “Our bedroom’s on the other side of the house. In the back.”
“You said this was your wife’s car?” Cortez asked. “Any reason why he would have picked her car over yours?”
“Maybe because mine is in the garage.”
The second cop glared as Cortez pulled out her report forms and asked if they could come in to ask their questions. David hesitated. The whole family was home. He didn’t want them involved, but he didn’t have much choice.
The kids and Sally met them as soon as David led them through the front door, and he realized they’d been watching from inside. They sat in the living room.
“Do any of you have any idea who might be responsible for these attacks?” Cortez began.
“Not a clue,’ said Sally.
”Me, neither,’’ added Laura. Sean just shook his head, swinging a wider arc than normal out of excitement. He seemed in awe of the uniforms and his eye kept sneaking down to their weapons.
“Laura, you didn’t break up with a boyfriend or have any trouble at school with someone at school?” Cortez asked.
David stifled a groan. He knew she’d bring that up. He wondered why the older officer wasn’t taking charge.
“No. I’ve been going out with the same guy for a year,” Laura said.
“What about you, Mrs. Harriman? Anybody have any reason to be mad at you.”
“No, nothing I can think of.” They all looked at her for a second to see if she would go on, but she didn’t.
“And apart from the windows and the car, there’s been no other sign of harassment?”
“And the garden,” Sally said. Both officers turned to David, and Sally realized he hadn’t told them. She proceeded to describe the obliteration of the garden while David glowered. What was the point?
The whole thing took about twenty minutes and when they got up to leave, both officers shook the kids’ hands and made the obligatory concluding comment. “If you think of anything else, give us a call.”
As soon as they were gone, the kids’ moods changed. Sean became as agitated as his father and started devising ever more bizarre defense plans. “We could set up tripwires around the perimeter. I learned in science class how we can attach them to a buzzer that’ll go off in the house if someone touches one.”
Laura, meanwhile, turned almost hysterical.
“Why can’t the police protect us?” she asked. “Can’t we insist they do more?”
David shook his head. “There’s nothing they can do. I think we have to handle this ourselves.”
“Dad! This is getting scary.”
“Laura, I’ll handle this.”
“That’s what you said last week.” The comment stung, even more than Laura intended. David had been thinking the same thing. He had let the family down. He’d have to do better.
* * *
On Monday, David bought a gun, taking a day off from work to drive into Pennsylvania to avoid New Jersey’s seven-day waiting period. Once in the store, he felt overwhelmed by the full display cases, and his lack of knowledge put him at the mercy of the salesman.
“I’m just looking for something to have in the house in case something happens.”
“I know just what you need,” the salesman said, pulling out a blue metal automatic handgun. . “Enough kill power to stop a whole gang of intruders.”
Within minutes, David had forked down $625 for a Glock 9mm, undoubtedly more gun than he needed, but he was too embarrassed to object. He stopped at a shooting range, got a little instruction, and spent a couple of hours practicing. He would never be a marksman, but he could manage. He didn’t tell Sally.
He kept the gun locked in a fireproof strongbox in his file cabinet, except on his nightly patrols, when he carried it. He knew it was against the law to conceal a weapon, but he didn’t care.
Much as he liked the company, David decided it was too dangerous to let Sean come along on any more patrols, a decision Sean found hard to accept.
“But Dad, you can’t go alone”
David smiled at his son and ruffled his hair, even though he knew the boy had long outgrown the gesture. He was almost as tall as David and would soon tower over him, but he was thin and gangly, with a mop of reddish brown hair and just a hint of facial fuzz. David tried to picture him as a grownup but couldn’t get his mind around it, even as Sean begged to be treated as one.
“Wasn’t I a big help in learning about air rifles?”
“You bet. I appreciated that.”
“And don’t I help when you have to fix something around the house so I’ll learn how to do it myself.”
“Well, this is the same thing.”
“Except it’s dangerous.”
“That’s why you need backup.” David smiled at the TV jargon. “And if it’s so dangerous, why aren’t the police doing something about it?” Sean asked.
“They are. They’re keeping an eye on the house.” It was true. David had noticed the occasional police car driving slowly down the street, about as useful as stopping people from taking a bottle of water through an airport security line. There wasn’t much the authorities could do, whether it was an al-Qaeda terrorist or a bored teenager with an air gun. That was why it was up to him to protect his family.
David heard Sean out for a few more minutes before issuing his decree. Though he was pleased at his eagerness, he felt this was his responsibility, and it really was getting dangerous. “I’m sorry, Sean. You can still help by keeping an eye out from inside.”
Sean wasn’t buying it. He marched off to his room to sulk.
What David didn’t tell Sean was that he had decided to change tactics. Instead of walking the street this Friday night, he would lie in wait in case this week’s attack came in the pre-dawn hours. He picked a corner of his yard that was mostly hidden on three sides by shrubbery, and when darkness came, he nestled in to watch. He covered the ground with an old poncho and spread himself on it, lying prone on his stomach, propped up on his elbows, and holding a pair of night-vision binoculars to his eyes. He had a flashlight, a cell phone, and a whistle close by. And in his pocket, the new Glock, with the magazine in a separate pocket. He knew he’d have a hard time explaining himself if a neighbor happened to spot him—or worse yet, called the police. But he didn’t dwell on it. He had to do something.
The street was a quiet one, and by midnight almost all of the houses were dark. David found himself looking at each in turn, especially the homes closest to his, those within range for an air rifle.
He focused first on his next-door neighbor, Andy and Marjorie Saropian. That was a possibility. They had a teenage son, Will, who had once asked Laura out and been turned down, but that was over a year ago, probably too long for a kid that age to hold a grudge.
The house on the other side didn’t seem to hold any promise, although he had to admit he didn’t really have much intelligence on the owners. They’d moved in about five years ago and were much older than Sally and David and not particularly friendly. They’d exchange waves and occasional comments in the yard, but neither had been inside the other’s homes. He had a sense that the woman wasn’t in good health, though he wasn’t sure about that. Their kids were grown and on their own.
He trained the binoculars briefly on a house across the street but was inclined to rule it out. Sarah Bristow was a single mom whose husband, a reservist, had been killed in Afghanistan two years ago. Her kids, especially the eldest, twelve-year Henry, had taken it hard. David had wanted to help but could never figure out how. The best he could do was urge Sean to befriend the boy, but Sean insisted he was strange and wouldn’t go near him. The house was up for sale, had been for several months.
Someone new had moved in next to her. Two someones actually. A gay couple who kept to themselves. He hated the house—too big for the land, painted an odd blue, really weak landscaping.
The house on the other side of the widow was more of a possibility. He didn’t like the man who owned it, and he knew he had a teenage son, a high school senior who always struck him as strange, coming and going at all hours with never a nod or a hello. And he had the odd habit of standing out front all the time talking on his cell phone, as though he didn’t trust his parents not to eavesdrop.
The boy’s father, a short, bald man who wore his pants too high, was named Walter Farrell, but David had nicknamed him “the Fascist” because he was retired military, worked for Raytheon, and periodically stuck dumb bumper stickers on his car like “We wouldn’t be torturing them if they weren’t terrorists.” He’d be the kind to let his kid have an air rifle. Sally had come to know him because they served together on some kind of neighborhood committee.
As the night wore on, David periodically felt for the Glock in his pocket, at one point taking it out and slipping the magazine in, just to make sure he could do it in a hurry. The gun felt a little heavy, but the magazine slid in easily, with a loud snap. It gave him an unexpectedly good feeling to hold it. Then again, the whole experience of standing guard over his home and his family made him feel something close to pride.
Nothing came of it, however, and at dawn, David gave up and went inside for a few hours of sleep. The rest of the day proved equally uneventful, as did the next several. David continued to keep watch each night, staying up as long as he could manage it. He couldn’t help feeling a little disappointed that nothing ever happened.
* * *
Sally was getting increasingly upset with David’s behavior. His nightly vigils were making the whole household tense.
“How long are you going to keep this up?”
“As long as it takes. Maybe you should take the kids to your mother’s for a few days.”
“School just started. We can’t just leave.” Then, after a pause. “This isn’t helping us, you know.”
That surprised David, though it shouldn’t have. For months, Sally had been pressuring him for more attention and what she called “quality time,” complaining that she felt their relationship was too often on autopilot. It was true, but that wasn’t his fault. They’d been married a long time. It was no surprise—and no big deal, really—that much of their life had settled into a routine, with less to talk about. And the tension over sex. He wasn’t sure why he was interested less. It didn’t mean he didn’t love Sally or didn’t find her attractive anymore. It just seemed part of getting older. It happened to everyone. But he didn’t say any of this. He kept his focus on the most immediate problem.
“Sally, what do you want me to do? I can’t pretend it’s not happening.”
“Maybe he’s made his point and it’ll end now.”
“Made his point? What does that mean? What point?”
“Maybe he’s had his fun and gotten bored. There was nothing last weekend, and if it’s a kid who’s gone back to school, he’ll be distracted by other things.”
“Maybe,” David said, mostly to keep the peace. “Let’s just see what happens this weekend.”
But David couldn’t wait for the weekend. He became more convinced that whoever was harassing them had changed patterns and the next attack would come during the week. His evidence consisted of a series of hang-up calls, with Caller ID numbers that proved phony when he called back. Apparently, the Internet made it easy to fake them. A hang-up call late Thursday convinced him that his enemy was mapping strategy for a whole new assault, so without telling Sally, he took Friday off. He dressed and left the house as usual, but once he was sure Sally had left for her job, he doubled back, hid his car a few blocks away, and snuck back to the house. He settled into the garage, which had big windows in the door, to wait and watch. He had his binoculars, the baseball bat, and the Glock. This time he loaded it and placed it carefully on the workbench that lined one side of the garage wall.
There was a lot more activity during the day than there had been on his nightly vigils, and he took an odd pleasure in watching various people who didn’t know they were being observed: A plumber with shoulder-length hair who sat in his truck and waved his hands in the air as he talked on his cell phone for ten minutes before going to the gay couple’s house. A woman walking a dog who pretended to scoop up the poop but really didn’t. Four runners of different sizes and shapes. A woman sitting out in her yard lazily watching two children play.
He was enjoying himself, lost in thought, when a car pulled into his driveway. Instinctively, he ducked out of sight. It was Sally. He checked his watch. What was she doing home in the middle of the afternoon? He decided to stay hidden, hoping she had an appointment she hadn’t mentioned and would leave again. He sat perfectly still, completely silent.
Within a few minutes, he heard her bound out the front door, but when he didn’t hear the car start, he stole a peek. Sally was across the street, walking up the front steps of the Fascist’s house. David put the binoculars to his eyes.
Farrell opened the door instantly, as if he’d been waiting for her. What was he doing home in the middle of the day? Sally went inside.
David sat staring at the house, at the closed front door, not moving. He tried to think of why she had gone over there, went back over their conversations for any mention of Farrell, tried to recover any clues he might have missed, but he came up blank.
Could it be that she knew something about the attacks she wasn’t telling him and was trying to deal with it without him? No, she knew it was his responsibility. He considered marching over there but didn’t want to admit he was spying on her. Well, not spying on her. It wasn’t his fault she got caught in his dragnet.
He was interrupted by the sight of a car, an old Ford Mustang, pulling up in front of Farrell’s house.
Derrick, Farrell’s teenage son, got out, went to the trunk, and rummaged around, and when he emerged, he held a long case. David stared through his binoculars, sure he was looking at the air rifle responsible for his broken windows. He watched the boy go around to the back of the house.
Sally was still inside. David knew he had to confront them, find out just what was going on. He reached for the garage door. No, that would be too noisy and too visible. He’d go out the back and circle around, come on them by surprise. But just then the school bus drove up and Sean got off. He stopped at the sight of his mother’s car in the driveway, surprised as David had been.
David slipped the Glock into his pocket and dashed from the garage into the house and out the back door, running on the balls of his feet to avoid making noise and staying low to avoid being seen. He was hoping to get out the back door before Sean came in the front and found him. He gently shut the door behind him and leaned against the wall, catching his breath. When he was convinced Sean hadn’t heard anything, he crept around the side, using the shrubbery for cover. He hugged the house as he came around to the front and then when there was no way to avoid exposed ground, he ran for it, zigzagging a little, jumping over a recycling bin and hiding behind a car when he could. As he got closer to the Farrell house, he realized he didn’t have the slightest idea what he’d do or say when he got there. Ring the bell? Kick open the door? All he knew was that he had to confront Farrell.
He rang the bell and focused on getting calm while he waited for Farrell to answer the door. When he did, David just said, “I need to talk to you.”
“It’s about your son. Let me come in.”
“This is a terrible misunderstanding,” Farrell said, stepping out onto the porch rather than letting him in. “I already told your wife that he has nothing to do with what’s been going on. I don’t know how she got that idea.”
Sally appeared in the doorway. “David, what are you doing here?” She opened the door and walked out onto the porch, taking up a position next to Farrell.
David stared hard at Sally but spoke only to Farrell. “Let me in,” he repeated. “I want to talk to your son.”
Then suddenly Derrick was standing in the doorway, carrying the air gun, pointed at Sally. “Get out of here,” he said to her. “Leave my father alone. I’m not letting you break up our family.”
“Is that what you think?” Farrell said. “We’re just friends.’
“Right. Friends. Is that why she’s here now? Sneaking in when Mom’s not around?”
“She came to talk to me about you. To prevent this.” Farrell shook his head, then tried to catch his son’s eyes. “She thinks you’ve been shooting up their house with your air rifle.”
“Don’t lie to me, Dad. I’ve seen you together. You’re not just friends.”
Sally gasped and David followed her eyes to a spot behind him. Sean stood a few feet away, the baseball bat in his hand. David started to speak but his chest tightened and he stopped. The situation was sliding out of control. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. He wanted to tell Sean to go home but he knew it wouldn’t do any good.
Then Derrick turned his air rifle toward Sean.
“Don’t move. Don’t anybody move,” he said. More TV dialogue, David thought, though this time there was nothing amusing about it. Then he realized the Glock was in his pocket and he started to ease it out, the way he’d seen it done on the screen so many times.
Derrick caught the movement and turned the gun on David.
“David!” Sally screamed.
“Dad,” said Sean, almost in admiration.
Then everyone seemed to talk at once, Farrell and Sally telling David and Derrick to put their guns down, Sally yelling at David and talking more calmly to Derrick, Farrell yelling at his son and talking more calmly to David. David could sense Sean’s excitement rising behind him.
Despite the shouts, no one moved. Derrick and David stared at each other, both of their guns wavering slightly. David tried to remember if Sean had told him anything about how much damage an air pellet could cause if fired at close range. The Glock obviously represented far more kill power. It could take them all out in seconds. He looked at Sally, a question still in his eyes, and he wondered what Sean was doing behind him. He prayed the answer was nothing, but there was no way he could turn around to see. He lowered the Glock, holding it against his leg.
Farrell stepped in front of his son. “Give me the rifle,” he said. “Is everybody here crazy?”
The boy hesitated and Farrell reached for it, pushing it downward, but it went off. A pellet caught his shoe and ricocheted into his ankle. He fell, but he held onto the rifle, wrenching it away from his son.
Sally screamed. “Stop it! Just stop it.”
“Shut up, bitch.” It was Derrick. His face was white as he leaned down to help his father. David put the Glock back in his pocket and took the baseball bat from Sean. He put his arms around him and tried to move him off to the side. He tried to turn Sean away from the scene, but the boy resisted. He wanted to see what was happening. David held onto him, not sure what he might try to do.
Sally went to help Farrell, but the boy pushed her roughly aside and she fell. “We don’t need your help,” he said.
David and Sean started for them, but Sally stopped them. “Stay back,” she said. David seemed surprised, not sure at all how to interpret her ministrations to Farrell. He seemed to have recovered, though he didn’t try to stand. “I’m all right. Just leave us alone.” He exchanged a look with Sally.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I don’t know how it got so out of hand.”
“Just get them out of here,” he said.
Sally stepped off the porch and looked up at David. They stood that way for a second, each trying to read the other’s mind.
Where would they go from here? Where could they go? David knew it would take time to try to work that out, maybe a lot of time.
Sally reached out a trembling hand to David, and he took it, steadying it. Sally put the other arm around Sean, and they hugged for a moment.
Together they crossed the street.