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Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

77_ym_neighbors_s_okeefe.jpg
Art by Sean O'Keefe © 2019

NEIGHBORS

 

By M.A. De Neve

 

 

          Sheila’s computer was an old, cheap unit that her neighbor Ronnie had rescued from a recycle bin. He had restored most of its abilities and he was teaching her how to use it. When she needed Internet, she used the WiFi password from the coffee shop down the street. Ronnie's parents lived next door, she could access their wireless network when she needed to. The computer made her feel connected. She joined the Neighbor’s website, and she loved this convenient wonderful way to connect with people who lived close by.

          Thank heavens for the Internet. It took her mind off her troubles. Her husband Don, ten years older than she was, had a degenerative heart disease. His health deteriorated rapidly.  Then Don started forgetting things. He had Alzheimer’s. Sheila stopped taking him to the doctor. Medicare didn't cover much of the expenses. They couldn’t afford the medical bills, and the doctors didn't help. When it often came down to choices between prescriptions and groceries, groceries won out.

          Aaron, Don’s son from his first marriage, had moved in with them after he lost his job.  Aaron took over Don’s debit card and bank statements. He said Sheila spent too much money, and that he had to protect his dad from her overspending. What overspending? She made macaroni and cheese from boxes or peanut butter sandwiches on stale bread. She hadn't had any new or second-hand clothing in over ten years. But Aaron could always afford his beer. That's mostly what he spent Don's money on. But he had somehow convinced his dad that Sheila was the problem.

          Sheila scrolled down the news page at the Neighbors website. Aaron, who seldom took care of his dad, was in the bedroom with Don.  That night he volunteered to give Don his medications. Sheila wondered if she should be in there. She feared Aaron would end his dad’s endless suffering by putting a pillow over Don’s head. Or maybe he'd shake too many pills into Don's coffee. She shook her head to ward off these disturbing thoughts and turned back to her computer screen. Surely Aaron wasn’t that desperate. What was taking him so long? Finally, he exited his dad’s bedroom.

          “He’s dead.” Aaron said. “My dad’s dead.”  He said it simply like he was reading off the numbers from a clock. No emotion. He had never been close to his dad.

          Sheila picked up the phone.

          “What are you doing?” he asked.

          “Calling an ambulance.”

          “What for? He’s dead.”

          “We have to call somebody.”

          “Are you stupid? Dad’s Social Security is the only income we have.”

          “You need to get a job,” she told him.

          “That’d be nice,” he admitted. “Then I can kick you the hell out of here, old lady.”

          “What’s left of his Social Security is mine,” she reminded him.

          “Like you’ve ever worked anywhere.” It was true, she’d never had a job. Wasn’t keeping house enough?  Don had never done any of the housework, and Aaron certainly wasn't going to do it.

          Even the house wasn't hers. Half of it had belonged to Don's first wife, Aaron's mother. When Katherine died, she'd willed her half of the house to Aaron. Sheila assumed she'd get Don's half of the house, but she wasn't sure. Would Aaron kick her out? She didn't think she could find a job, not at her age.

          Sheila started to dial.  Aaron grabbed the phone from her. “We don’t report he’s dead. The full-amount Social Security checks keep coming.”

          “We could go to jail for that.”

          He began pacing the hallway.

          “What are we going to do with… with the body?” she asked.

          “Dispose of it.”

          At midnight Sheila helped Aaron drag Don’s body from the bedroom through the kitchen and into the attached garage. They hadn’t dared turn on any lights. Don’s fat body dragged along the hallway and then through the kitchen. He was too heavy for Sheila to hold onto for long. She’d drop him.  Aaron cursed. They managed to drag the body into the garage.

          Behind the house in the neighbor's yard, a dog barked frantically. Sheila had almost forgotten about that dog. She needed to tell Aaron...

          He was busy pulling tools from the shelves.

          “About the dog,”

          “What about the dog?”

          “Nothing.”

          She glanced back at the body. Don wore blue pajama bottoms, stinky. He’d soiled himself in his last moments before death, and the odor drifted up towards her, causing her to gag.  But she choked that down. His t-shirt, front and back, bore an emblem of the plumbers' union. Don had belonged to the union for over forty years.

          Aaron put heavy black garbage bags on the windows. Sheila hurried into the house. After a few minutes, a light went on in the garage. When she heard the sound of an electric saw, she ran into the bathroom and vomited.  How could he do that to his dad?

          Sheila hadn’t had much of a marriage. They had stopped caring about each other years ago. Yet she’d done the best she could to help her husband as he became more and more helpless. She wondered what would become of her now.

          Sheila hadn’t worked even before her marriage. She hadn’t seen the necessity. She’d been pretty once. She’d lived with a series of guys, and for the most part they treated her well until they tired of her. Don had stayed longer than most. Then he married her, and they’d been happy for a while. Long ago he’d tired of her, but they were both getting older by then and they clung to each other like old rags.

          Old rags reminded her of the clothes Don wore when they dragged him into the garage.          

          She turned on the computer and typed in the address of the Neighbors website.  Sheila scrolled down the page.  It took her mind off what was happening in the garage. She didn’t get her nails done anymore, so she didn’t need five percent off on the service. Someone needed a child or pet gate. She didn’t have one to sell or give away. Ronnie, the neighbor who'd gotten her the computer, offered computer lessons at reasonable rates. He'd been teaching her for free. She loved that kid.

          Doris Nelson who lived several houses down the next street had again organized a group of local singers to walk around the neighborhood singing Christmas carols. What was new about that? Doris brought her singers around every year. It was always a real nuisance to get Don up and dressed so he could listen.  She’d told Doris that Don needed his rest.  But Doris had reminded Sheila and Aaron about how happy Don had been while he listened to them sing.  What would she and Aaron do if the singers came around again this year?

          Aaron came back into the house and asked for more plastic bags.

          “We’re out,” she told him.

          “Go buy some.”

          “I don’t have any money.”

He handed her a five, his hands bloody from the work he'd been doing in the garage.  She grabbed the money by its edges and took a paper towel to clean it.

          “This won’t buy many bags.”

          He handed her a few ones and some change.

          She looked at the clock; it was after two a.m. “I don’t know what’s open.”

          “The gas station down the street. They sell groceries and garbage bags. Get a couple boxes and get some bleach too.” She grabbed her car keys and left.

          The clerk wished her happy holidays. “Surprised to see you out so late,” he said. “I see you joined the Neighbor’s site.”

          She placed the bags and the bleach on the counter.

          “Don’t tell me you’re cleaning this late at night.  Guess when you’re retired, you do things on your own schedule. How’s Don?”

          “Same,” she said. It wasn't a lie.  He was just as dead now as when she’d left the house.

          But Don was in pieces now. Aaron had taken an electric saw and...

          When she came home, the kitchen table was covered with items from the freezer.

          “You’re putting him in there?” she trembled as she asked. “In the freezer?”  She’d never be able to put food in there again. Not that it mattered much to her. The freezer was used for deer meat after Aaron and his friends went hunting each year. Sheila hated the taste of venison, but sometimes she got so hungry, she’d eat anything.

          “Got any better ideas?”

          “What are we going to do with all this deer meat?”

          “There's a big dog in the yard behind us. Toss the meat over the fence. That might keep him quiet.”

          “Not a good idea. That dog belongs to a cop,” she told him.

          “Bob's not a cop.”

          “His new girlfriend is. And I think her dog’s a canine officer.”

          Aaron swore and then he took the bags and disappeared back in the garage.  “We'll have to throw out the venison.”

 

          The next night Sheila drove Aaron and a trunk full of plastic bags around the county. Thank heavens he didn't expect her to help dig the holes.

          While Aaron busied himself with the shovel, she brought up the Neighbor's website on her iPod.  Actually, it was Ronnie's old iPod. He'd given it to her. The Pleashette's posted pictures of their Christmas decorations.  Joan Lankford posted homemade gifts for sale.  That woman was always crafty.  Bob posted pictures of Connie, his new girlfriend and her dog.

          Aaron buried a bag in an ex-girlfriend's yard.  He buried a bag in his old boss’s yard. He buried bags in several local parks including the one five blocks down the street.

          Burying pieces of a dead person is hard work. The pieces must be buried deep, so they’d never be found. When Aaron ran out of places, he dropped Sheila off at home, and took the rest of the bags to  a friend’s hunting camp. Deep in the woods he buried the remaining pieces.

          The Social Security checks went into direct deposit. As Don’s wife, Sheila’s name was on the account, but Aaron had long ago added his own name.  Sheila thought about finding a job, but she was 68 years old and she had never worked. She didn’t know how to start looking.  Mr. Opolka down the street was looking for a cleaning lady one day a week. Maybe she could do that. Wouldn't she have to keep up the myth of staying home and caring for her husband? If only Aaron would get a job. But then he'd probably kick her out.        

          Bob Wixom, the neighbor whose yard sat directly behind theirs, posted pictures of himself and his fiancé, Connie Sanders. She was a police officer, and along with her picture, Bob posted several photos of her dog, Axe of the canine unit.

          The news hit her hard and suddenly. POLICE. DOG. CANINE UNIT. She'd seen all those words before. Suddenly they screamed at her. She remembered the dog  barking the night  Don died. She couldn't remember if she'd told Aaron about the police dog.

          She'd seen the huge German shepherd playing in Bob's yard.  God help us, she thought. There’s two cops living behind us. At least she hadn’t given the dog the meat from the freezer like Aaron told her to. That would have been a big mistake.

          She showed Aaron the post.

          “Don’t panic,” he told her.

          “It’s a police dog. He’ll smell the blood. He’ll know something bad happened here.”

          “People die all over the place. Even if the dog can figure out something, you think a dog can talk? Worst he could do is bark in front of our house.”

          A few days later when Connie walked Axe past the house, Sheila was outside getting the mail and Aaron was cleaning out the trunk of his car. Connie introduced herself. The dog barked furiously and jerked toward the car. Aaron swore.

          “He’s not dangerous, is he?” Aaron asked.

          “He’s very well-trained.” Connie squinted as if the sun were in her eyes.

          “Tell him to stay away from me and the car.”  Aaron ordered.  Aaron wanted to slam the trunk lid closed shut, but hesitated. Would closing the trunk look suspicious?

           “You don’t have drugs in there do you?” Connie smiled a clearly fake smile.

          “Ha. Ha,” Aaron clutched his beer bottle. “Just keep that dog away from my property. I don’t like dogs.”

          “Is he one of those dogs who sniffs drugs?” Sheila asked.

          “No. He’s a cadaver dog. He finds bodies.”

          Aaron choked on his beer in mid-swallow.

          “We live right behind you,” Connie said. “I just moved in with Bob. We're going to be married.”

          “I read Bob's post in the Neighbors website, and I've seen your dog in Bob's yard.”  Sheila tried to smile.

          Axe strained at his leash.

          “I don't like living next to a dangerous animal,” Aaron said.

          “Axe shouldn’t bother you.” Connie smiled, “Actually Axe is quite the hero. He’s the one who found that body in the trunk on the car in the long-term parking lot at the airport. He helped us solve a very difficult murder case, didn’t you, boy?” she patted Axe’s forehead. “He's worked earthquakes and fires. He does a terrific job.  He's probably one of the best cadaver-sniffing dogs in the world.”

          Axe strained to get at Aaron’s car. “I don’t know what’s gotten into him. He’s usually not like this.”  Connie moved closer to the car like she wanted to see what was in the trunk. She strained to handle the dog. “The real estate agent told me an older couple lived here with their son.”

          “My husband’s ill,” Sheila said. “This is my stepson. Aaron's Don’s son from his first marriage.”

          “I’d like to talk to your husband sometime,” Connie said. “I like to get to know all the neighbors.”

          “He’s real sick. He don’t see visitors anymore.”

          Connie moved on.

          Axe became a local celebrity when the newspaper ran an article about the canine unit.

         

          “Hi, Mrs. Herbert. Ready for your computer lesson?”   It was Ronnie, the neighborhood nerd, who'd helped her so much with the computer.

          “Can we skip the lesson today?” she asked. “I've got a splitting headache.”

          “Sure. Mom made some lemon bars, and she'll bring them over later. They're  your husband's favorite.”

          “Yes, they are. But he's sleeping now.  Tell your mom that she doesn't have to bake for Don. He barely... He hardly...  So...”  Ronnie's mom would want to see Don. She'd want to talk to him.  And Sheila couldn't even finish sentences anymore when it came to talking about Don. Why hadn't she reported it when he died? How had he died? She still wasn't sure that Aaron hadn't killed his dad, and now Don was buried in pieces all over town.  If anyone found him, they'd think he'd been murdered.

          “It's okay,” Ronnie said. “We can have a computer lesson tomorrow. I wanna go to the park anyway. Something's happening down there. Jeffie said that police dog, the one that lives back there,” he nodded toward Bob's yard, “found some pieces of a body buried there by the swings.  Scary stuff, huh?”

          “It sure is, Ronnie. It sure is.”

          As soon as Ronnie left, she pulled up the website and read the posts.

          Comment: “What's happening at the park? There's police cars all over and yellow crime tape.”

          Comment: “I don't know, but there's dogs there too. Police dogs.”

          Comment: Did someone call Bob? Maybe he knows what's happening. His girlfriend's got one of those police dogs. She's probably there with that big dog of hers.”

          Comment: “Her dog's just for sniffing corpses. You don't think there's a body buried there, do you?”

          Comment: “I heard that's exactly what it is. A body in the park.”

          Comment: “Maybe they found Jimmy Hoffa.”

           Late that afternoon the newspaper arrived. Sheila stole it from Bette's driveway.  She'd put it back before Betty got home from work.

          The news story was too new. She didn't expect much. But the story was there.

           BODY FOUND IN PARK. “Axe, one of our community's canine officers and his handler Connie Sanders made a surprising discovery in Memorial Park.  While Sanders was off duty and walking her canine partner, Axe started barking uncontrollably and then dug up parts of a body.”

          Aaron was furious. “That damn dog. Someone needs to shoot him.”

          “What are we going to do?”

          “What can we do?”

          “Do we have enough money to move?”

          Aaron didn't answer. Was he thinking about leaving her here with this mess?   She hurried to return the newspaper. Aaron went out to open the garage door. He’d have to keep their car locked inside from now on.

          “Deck the halls with boughs of holly.” Doris Nelson’s choral group had arrived. Damn. Sheila meant to call Doris and make sure she skipped Don’s house this year. She'd forgotten, but it was too late now.

          “Get rid of them,” Aaron whispered.

          “They sing so nice, and we don’t want them to get suspicious.”

          “Just get rid of them.”

          Sheila clapping her hands. “Bravo. Bravo. That was lovely. You should all be professionals.”  She hoped her smile looked real.

          “You look so tired, poor dear.” Doris said. Then she turned to her singers. ‘Let’s go inside and cheer Don up.”

          Sheila barred the way. “He’s napping,” she lied. “The doctor left several medications. They knock him right out.”

          “Is he in pain?”

          “He wasn’t, but now you’ve probably woke him up.”

          “I’ll go in and apologize.”

          “No,” Aaron and Sheila both shouted. Aaron moved over to help Sheila block the doorway.

          “We could sing a few more songs. He'll hear them better if we're all in the house. Goodness it's cold out here.” Doris folded her arms across her chest and feigned a shiver.

          “No. No. Thank you. He shouldn’t be disturbed.”

          Doris shook her head. “What’s gotten into you, Sheila? You always let us sing for Don before. And now you're jumpy, and you don't look well.”

          Just then three police cars pulled up. Connie was in uniform today, and Axe barked like a puppy.

          “Sheila Herbert, we have a warrant to search your car, house and garage.”

          “What’s this about?” Aaron asked as if he didn’t know.

          An older male officer answered. “The body Axe dug up included part of a t-shirt with a local plumbers unit logo on it. Mrs. Herbert, your husband belonged to the union.”

          “So what?” Aaron said. “Lots of men belonged to that union. They all have t-shirts.”

          The officer pointed at the dog straining at his leash.  “Axe seems to think the body he found came from here.”

          “What the heck does that stupid dog know about anything?”     

          Axe bounded through the open garage door with Connie and another officer right behind him.  Axe came back seconds later with a bloody rag in his mouth.  “Good boy,” Connie patted him. “You knew someone died violently here.”

          She turned back to Sheila. He never barks the way he did around you and your car, unless there's been a corpse in there recently.”  With a gloved hand, she pulled the rag from Axe's mouth. The Plumbers' Union logo was clear despite the blood stains.

          “We didn’t kill him,” Sheila said.

          Aaron told her to shut up, but she didn’t stop.

          “He died, and we needed the Social Security checks.” Her hands were being forced behind her, handcuffs bit into her wrists, and someone read her her rights. Aaron struggled with the officers, but they quickly put him down and cuffed him too.  The singers stepped back, wide eyed and some of them open-mouthed. Doris wondered if they should sing another song. It might relieve some of the tension.

 

          Sheila got to use a better computer in the prison library.  She was able to keep up with events in her old neighborhood by signing into their website.

          Connie often posted pictures of her canine partner. Axe had been awarded a gold star and had been named Police Dog of the Year. His ability to sniff out blood and other evidence of violent death placed him among the world’s most trusted canine officers.

MADS



M. A. De Neve holds a master’s degree in English and taught college-level writing for over twenty years. M. A. wrote two novels, both available on Amazon, and has published articles in many newspapers and magazines, including Over My Dead Body and Mysterical-E. M. A. Volunteers with an animal rescue group in Michigan.




Sean O’Keefe is an artist and writer living in Roselle Park, NJ. Sean attended Syracuse University where he earned his BFA in Illustration. After graduation, Sean moved to New York City where he spent time working in restaurants and galleries while pursuing various artistic opportunities. After the birth of his children, Sean and family move to Roselle Park in 2015. He actively participates in exhibitions and art fairs around  New Jersey, and is continuing to develop his voice as a writer. His work can be found online at www.justseanart.com and @justseanart on Instagram.

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