I’d been watching the situation develop from my home-office window. My friend Les across the street had been having a time with his next-door neighbors, the Stallcups. The Stallcups were raving drunks who regularly opened their front door and turned their retriever, Cleveland, loose to do his business wherever he chose. Cleveland was especially fond of Les’s yard and Les had spoken to the Stallcups about it, but they were oblivious to his concern and nothing changed. My yard had been dumped on a few times, and once when Stallcup emerged to call Cleveland back in, I went out and asked him if he would pick up Cleveland’s deposit. “No,” he said and snapped his fingers at his dog and went inside with him.
It was on a Saturday morning that something happened that made things worse. I was sitting at my desk when I saw the Stallcups’ front door open and Cleveland trot out. The Stallcups’ daughter, Misty, was riding her bike on the sidewalk at the time, and Les was doing some work in his flowerbeds. A workman’s van was parked in front of his house, and the workman had set an open toolbox down in his yard. Cleveland loped up to the toolbox, sniffing, then lifted his leg and unleashed a stream on the tools. Misty put on her brakes and let out a laugh, and Les looked over his shoulder and saw what was happening. He stood and shouted at Cleveland to get away from the tools, but the dog didn’t stop, and Les said something to Misty. His anger scared her, and she jumped right off her bike and ran away from him into the house.
I got my camera out and went to the window, anticipating that the Stallcups might react. Less than a minute later Stallcup bolted out the door with a cocktail in hand, some of his drink sloshing from the glass as he rushed to confront Les. He began shouting and Les shouted back, pointing at the tools and at Cleveland, who was still roaming around in his yard. His mouth still moving, Stallcup put his finger on the tip of Les’s nose, and Les pushed his hand aside and leaned in and said something to him. Stallcup then rubbed his hand in Les’s face and shoved him backwards. Les stumbled, his glasses turned sideways on his face, and fell to the ground.
Francine Stallcup charged outside and joined her husband in yelling at Les, who was pushing himself up. Les tried to answer their loud lecture, but neither of them had any interest in hearing him. Francine appeared unsteady on her feet, her waving arms throwing her off balance. Finally they started to back away, but even as they retreated they kept chewing at Les.
I called Les’s cell number, knowing he usually kept the phone in his pocket. I saw him take it out and heard him say hello.
“I’ve got video of him knocking you down,” I told him. “You could use it as evidence.”
“I’ll give it some thought,” he said.
Les did talk to the police, but decided not to press the complaint. He figured it would make the Stallcups madder, and he didn’t want to escalate the situation.
But the Stallcups were mad enough without the complaint. After that day they made it their mission to harass Les. Sometimes it was Stallcup, but usually Francine led the charge. Les told me that one of their topics was that Misty was now afraid to come out and play for fear of what Les might say or do to her. Sometimes Francine would follow Cleveland out and pace back and forth as he shopped for real estate. If Les even looked at her or Cleveland, she’d come toward him with her mouth running at top speed, threatening to get even if he ever said a word to Misty or the dog.
On one of these occasions Francine wouldn’t let up and Les shouted an answer at her. She came toward him and they stood yelling at each other, and soon Stallcup raced up to Francine’s side. I mounted the camera on a tripod and left it running. I went out my door and headed toward them, shouting Stallcup’s name as I crossed the street.
“What’s this got to do with you?” he wanted to know.
Francine told me it was none of my business and I should be careful who I stood up for.
I went up to Stallcup, took his arm and asked him to step aside with me. He yanked his arm away and held it up in the air as if I’d contaminated it, but he followed. His breath was foul from drinking and from anger rotting whatever he had in his stomach.
“Is this what you want to do?” I asked.
“Your point is?”
“I know some things about what goes on in your house,” I said. “Unless you want me to tell everybody around here what I know, you’d better ease up on Les.”
I didn’t know anything, didn’t know what I was talking about, but Stallcup looked worried. All I had was long-held but unfounded suspicions about Misty. She was fat for her age, which I estimated to be around seven. She kept her head down and her eyes averted, and she had a damaged look. But that could have come from nothing more than living with a couple of drunks.
“What do you know?” he asked, trying to sound brave.
“It’s up to you if you want to find out. Another thing. You see that camera in the window over there? I have all your conversations with Les on video, including the one when you knocked him down. You know, video has a way of getting around these days.”
Stallcup gave me a lingering look. “That’s enough, Francine,” he said then. “We’ve delivered our message.”
Francine started to argue with him, but he looked at her in a way that silenced her. They went home.
“I told him I had video of him knocking you down,” I said to Les. “I couldn’t stay over there and watch it anymore.”
“I don’t know what you said, but I hope I’m not the one who has to pay for it.”
Things stayed quiet for a while, but one Monday evening Les came out to pull some weeds, a couple of hours of daylight left. I was still at my desk. The Stallcups’ front door opened and Cleveland bounded outside and went directly to Les’s yard as if trained to be attracted by its scent. He nosed the ground and then squatted and tensed and dropped his stuff. Les tossed his weeding tool aside and took a few hurried steps toward Cleveland and shooed him away. I already had my camera running. Francine ran out the door and came straight at Les, yelling, her right arm behind her. When she neared Les she extended her arm and pointed a gun at him and, without hesitating, shot him in the forehead. He staggered, then toppled over, and Francine continued to taunt him after he fell.
I grabbed my phone and called 911, the camera still running. As I described what I’d witnessed I saw Stallcup run outside, shouting at Francine, and she shouted at him, shaking the gun over her head. They both appeared to be drunk and they kept pointing at Les, who didn’t move. Stallcup looked all around him, perhaps hoping no one had seen or heard. Then he looked at my window. He got hold of Francine and they went inside.
I saw Misty standing at their front window, her eyes on Les, and I put the camera on her. Stallcup snatched her up from behind and carried her away from the window and the camera. She struggled in his grasp, swinging her fists. I wished I could have seen her face more clearly, but that image and those I’d recorded could never tell enough.
What would happen to her, I wondered. Would she become a drinker? If you stood in front of her, would she look you in the eye? Would she devote herself to eating, swelling with the memory of the price Les had paid and memories I’d only guessed at?
© Glen Pourciau 2008
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Glen Pourciau's short-story collection, Invite, won the 2008 Iowa Short Fiction Award and will be published in the fall by the University of Iowa Press. His stories have been published in Mississippi Review, New England Review, Ontario Review, The Paris Review, and other magazines.