“I’d like to replace the shared part of your fence,” he said. “It’s around a thousand bucks. Could you pitch in $500?” Tim looked like he always looked--like he’d just stepped out of the shower, gotten a haircut and done his fucking taxes early.
I patted my bathing trunks, still damp from last night’s swim with Sharon and her sister, then pulled out a pack of Marlboros. Lit one up.
“Brother, I’m tapped out,” I said. “Maybe later.”
Started to close the door, but he wedged a pristine white running shoe into it.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “Sorry, it’s just that the fence is pretty shaky. My wife is scared your Rottweiler could get in our backyard.”
Took a drag on my cigarette and blew smoke in his face. He closed his eyes.
“Told you, I’m broke. Now get before I call the dog.”
His face flushed. “Really!” he said, voice raising an octave. “You couldn’t save $500? In six months? Maybe if you wouldn’t stay out by the pool drinking and whatnot every night you’d be a little better off!”
Put my fingers together and whistled. Heard Bubba’s tags jangle. Tim drew his foot back like his Nike had caught fire. I slammed the door.
Walked out back. Sharon had slept poolside on a lawn chair. “What was Bubba barkin’ at?” she croaked, half-asleep. “Nothing,” I said, dropping my cigarette in an empty beer can. Met Sharon in rehab. The kind of woman that don’t ask too many questions. And that’s good, especially when it comes to our finances.
“Girl Scouts?” she asked. I didn’t want to get into it. Felt her staring at me.
“Don’t want to get into it,” I said.
Sharon sat up, lines covering her naked body from the plastic chair. “Get into what?” she asked, putting on a Budweiser towel. Her hair looked like one of those trolls kids used to put on pencils. She got a cigarette out of my pack. I lit it for her.
“Freakin’ neighbor wants five hundred for a new fence,” I said, jamming the cigarette at the fence.
Her face lit up. Knew I was toast. “Yay!” she said, clapping. It’ll be so pretty! When are they putting it up?” she asked. “I’m tired of looking at this junky old thing.”
Sharon put her cigarette down and threw her arms around me, kissing my neck, my cheek and then finally putting her tongue in my ear. Goosebumps raced up my spine. I didn’t care that we didn’t have $500. That fence was going up.
Tammy Weisner was a tall, athletic woman with a shrew-like face. Thunderclouds rolled across her eyes when I introduced myself at her front door. Before the lightning started, I cut her off. “Listen, Mrs. Weisner, I came to apologize. Your husband caught me at a bad time, and I’m downright ashamed of my behavior. Tim around?”
“Playing tennis,” she said. In the background, the TV blared a commercial for laundry detergent.
“Well, I owe him a man-to-man. But please give him this check and tell him I’m sorry.” Leaned in to give her the check. She wore a charity 10k t-shirt with no bra. I couldn’t help but stare a second longer than appropriate. She snatched the check and slammed the door in my face.
Lit a cigarette. Shuffled home in my flip-flops. Way I saw it, I had three or four days until Tim’s bank bounced my check.
As I backed the Trans Am out of the garage, a pillar of empty Lone Star boxes, motor oil cases, shop rags, cigarette cartons and weathered issues of Oui magazine tumbled across the garage floor like a folded poker hand. Left the car running so I could hear Stevie Ray Vaughn.
Digging around the cabinets I found a monkey wrench, a pair of leather gloves, a kerosene lantern and a set of lock picks I bought when Sharon talked me into a correspondence course. Set it all on the hood of the Trans Am and lit another cigarette.
“Whatcha doing?” asked Sharon, coming up behind me. She ran her hands up under my shirt and moved close. Smelled like peaches. Her hands felt cool in the Texas heat as she held me and swayed her hips back and forth to Texas Flood.
“Fixin’ something,” I said, gripping the pipe wrench.
Four months later, the knocking woke me. Bubba was riotous. Each knock rattled my skull like the shot from a deer rifle. Squinting, I grabbed the aspirin on my nightstand and took three dry.
The knocking continued.
“Jay-sus!” I screamed. Stumbled into the living room, the hangover making me stiff and dry as a scarecrow.
When I opened the door, an oil tanker of a man loomed in the doorway--big, black cowboy hat and mirrored sunglasses straight from Cool Hand Luke.
“Hey,” he said. “Just moved in next door.” I poked my head out the entryway and saw a moving van with people crawling out like ants.
“Oh. Welcome to the neighborhood,” I said, offering a handshake. Figure you ought to be nice to a man his size.
He crossed his arms. “Listen, your fence is nice on the back, where those stupid fuckers left the gas on and bought the farm. But it’s shitty on my side. You owe me $700 for your share. Guy’s coming out tomorrow.” The man leaned back and spit a black gob of chewing tobacco the size of a golf ball onto my patio.
I looked at him.
Looked at the tobacco.
Looked back at him.
“Hang on,” I said. “Let me get my checkbook.”
William Dylan Powell writes shady fiction set in Texas. He's the author or co-author of a half-dozen books, and winner of awards from the Robert L. Fish Memorial Award Fund and the Mystery Writers of America. Powell's work has been featured in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Demolition Magazine and a host of fine truck stop bathroom walls across the Texas badlands. Further degrade his character at www.darktexas.com.