New Short Story

Neighborhood Watch

            The sound of thunder raced across the street in the form of two moving trucks from Lopez furniture store. Sitting outside on his favorite swing was Santos Morelo. From his vantage point, it looked like someone was finally moving into the old Pecina house across the street. It had stood vacant for almost two years, ever since Mr. and Mrs. Pecina had passed away two summers ago. Santos was in that odd space between young and old. Young enough to feel active but not old enough to feel like the past was too far to grab and the future still over the horizon. A small yellow Honda Civic with cracks in the glass made its way to the front driveway of the old Pecina house. Santos took a puff of his cigarette and put it out under his shoe, walking over to the middle of his yard and looking back at his home. The home stood a single story, with white and blue siding across the entirety of the house. It had seen better days.

            The car doors had opened and out popped out a man and a woman older that he expected. Quickly, they eyed him and crossed the street over to his property. Santos opened his front gate and met them.

            “Good afternoon. It’s a nice day for a move in, huh,” said Santos.

            “Indeed, my name is Roger Rosewood, and this is my wife Helen,” said Mr. Rosewood as he extended his hand.

            “Good to meet you two. So, what brings you to Valley City,” asked Santos.

            Mrs. Rosewood gave Mr. Rosewood a tug at the back of his shirt.

            “Nothing too special, just got some family out here and wanted to be closer is all.”

            “Family is important. Well I won’t keep you any longer. Maybe when you are moved in, I could have you over for some coffee or tea,” said Santos.

            Again, Mrs. Rosewood nodded ever so slightly to Mr. Rosewood.

            “Perhaps. It was nice meeting you.”

            Santos went back to his porch and waited for the sun to lower and the moon to rise. With the chachalacas crying in the distance, he closed his eyes and let the cool breeze relax his nerves.

            Two days later, on his way to the mailbox, he heard a loud banging from across the street. He stared at Rosewood’s home and waited for something, for anything to happen but  nothing stirred. Just as he was heading back to the porch, the sound of a banshee screaming echoed across the street. This time, he dropped the mail and hobbled over the street to see what was going on. The Rosewood’s weren’t much for decorating as their porch was bare and the only sign of anyone moving in was a Christmas reef on the door which was strange because it had just turned July. Opening the screen door, he knocked and waited for a response. Fumbling for his cell phone, typed in 911 but did not dial. Knocking one more time, brought some shuffling to the door with Mr. Rosewood opening the door a crack.

            “Yes,” said Mr. Rosewood.

            “I was across the street getting my mail and I heard a scream. I thought there might be someone in trouble, so I came over. Is everything alright? Where’s Mrs. Rosewood?”

            Mr. Rosewood looked back over his shoulder and inched the door shut between his foot and the frame.

            “I hope we didn’t alarm you. We’re fine. Mrs. Rosewood had a trip in the bathroom. She’s ok.”

            “Do you need me to call an ambulance or anything I can do to help,” asked Santos.

            “No. That’s not necessary. I need to get back to her. Goodbye.”

            With the door shut on Santos, he headed back home and picked up his mail from the grass and went inside.

            Ever since the incident, Santos had kept vigil on the house across the street, making notes on his phone of when the movement occurred inside the Rosewood home. He knew something had to be going on. Things just seemed too strange with them. As he drank his evening coffee on the porch, he wiped his glasses clean and waited. As Santos was about to refill his coffee, he noticed a strange smell coming from the Rosewood home. The smell reminded him of the city dump he used to live across as a child. Every Sunday morning, burning plastic would waft across their home and burn his nose. His nose hairs had the same burning. Even though he smelled the smoke, he couldn’t find any in the air.

            Deciding some amateur detective work was needed, he put his coffee down and decided to go for a walk. Basin Circle, the neighborhood he lived in was a complete circle two blocks wide. It only would take him less than ten minutes to traverse the entire thing. Starting at the end closest to the Rosewoods, he locked his home and power walked. When he finally made it to the rear of the home, he found the detached garage closed with its windows covered in foil paper. The cars were nowhere in sight. Santos couldn’t tell if their car was stowed away or not because of the foil. He did hear a low humming and thin waves of gray smoke from the rear of the garage. He quietly approached the back area, up the concrete driveway towards the garage opener. Placing his ear on the door, he tried to listen for anything that sounded strange. As he moved closer to the middle of the garage a strong penetrating smell of nail polish whacked Santos in the face. His hearing may not be perfect, but Santos distinctly heard “someone’s coming” through the door. Creeping closer, he stopped in his tracks as the garage door opened to just below his knees when Mr. Rosewood appeared from its depths.

            “Can I help you, Santos?”

            “No. I was just getting my exercise in when I saw smoke coming from your garage and thought something might be on fire,” said Santos as he held his nose pinched closed.

            “What do you get in there that smells like a Vietnamese nail salon?”

            “I’m working on a epoxy for some shelves I’m working on. The smoke was probably from the sander. That’s all,” said Mr. Rosewood who kicked the garage down to the cement.

            “Ah,” said Santos.

            “So, if you don’t mind. I would appreciate it if you left our property and allowed me to get back to work.”

            “Message received. Sorry to have bothered you,” said Santos stepping back towards the street.

            Once back on the street, he tried not to look back, but curiosity got the better of him. From the corner of his eye, Santos saw Mr. Rosewood duck back inside the garage which gave him a glimpse what Mr. Rosewood had been doing. Santos half expected to see wooden saw horse but instead saw what looked like a chemistry setup with large gallon jugs labeled Acetone. Santos continued walking back towards his house while he tried to conjure up reasons for Acetone. By the time he found his way to his porch, crickets were in full song mode, ricocheting across the palm trees and fern trees. Santos put the idea to bed and went on with his evening, hoping tomorrow would produce an explanation.

            Saturdays usually meant Santos would spend the first half of the day at the farmer’s market selling the chili peppers he grew in his backyard. After he had gathered his produce, but before setting out, he sat down at his infrequently used desk and even less used computer. Finding his way to Google, he searched for Acetone uses.

  • Nail polish remover
  • Paint remover
  • Laboratory use as solvent.

It still didn’t explain what Mr. Rosewood had been doing and why he needed such large quantities of it. His answers would need to wait as he didn’t want to be late to the market.

Arriving at the library parking lot where the market was held every month, he parked himself in the same spot as he always did. Next to him were the hippies dressed in their Rasta wear who sold their magical homemade brownies. No one ever asked them what they were made of, but everyone knew. They waved towards him.

      “Hola, how are you doing today? Totally great I hope?”

      “Fine Roberto. Yourself?”

      “Pretty good,” said Roberto taking a bite of his brownie bites.

      Santos nodded.

      “I’ve had a weird couple of days with the new neighbors.”

      “Whatcha mean,” asked Roberto.

      Santos shrugged his shoulders. “I’m sure its nothing but do you guys know what someone could use large amounts of acetone for?”

      Roberto looked at his brother and almost snickered. “You mean other than making meth, no clue.”

      “You think that’s what they are doing?”

      “No, no, I was just kidding. Maybe they’re mixing paint, who knows man.”

      Roberto’s brother Stefan chimed in.

      “My brother’s an idiot. Don’t listen to him. I’m sure it’s a harmless thing. Forget about it,” said Stefan.

The brothers went back to their booth when a customer approached them. Santos finished setting up his chilis to sell and sat down in his folded cloth chair. As the sun reached and passed overhead and dipped towards the horizon, his chilis began to sell. At the end of the day, he was only left with  a handful and a wad full of cash. He looked back towards the brothers and wondered if they had been right or if he was overthinking the situation. With little progress made on the issue, he packed up and went home, hoping for a midnight revelation.

Santos had planned on going to sleep early but his mind kept racing on the possibilities on what the Rosewoods were hiding in the garage. Deciding sleep would be the best course of action, he drank some Sleepytime tea and headed for bed.

      His sleep was interrupted by loud music from a parked car down the road. It was no surprise to him that the noisy car was stopped trunk first at the Rosewoods. This time Santos was ready and wrote down the license plate on his notepad and brought out his binoculars. Through the lens, he found the black Dodge Charger empty but was unable to see further inside the car due to the blacked-out windows. With its trunk open and obscuring his viewing, it was obvious something was being loaded into the vehicle. As if on cue, a dark-skinned man walked towards the driver’s side and placed a small duffel bag in the passenger side. The man walked back towards the rear and closed the trunk bringing into view the Rosewoods and the individual. They seemed to be discussing something and with some liveliness with their conversation ending after a handshake.

The garage lights seemed to be off, so it was unclear what had been inside or what they had been doing. It didn’t look good to Santos and nothing good would come out of it, he felt. As the figure entered the car and sped off, the Rosewoods embraced each other and smiled before going back inside their home. Santos had to know what they were doing. It was up to him to keep his neighborhood safe. Tomorrow, he would take the license plate information and the description of the car and individual to the police station and report what he had seen.

            Santos woke up the next morning with a pep in his step and felt like he was doing a good deed. The drive to the Valley City police station was short but with just enough time to find Detective Alvarado’s office number on his phone. Punching in his number, he dialed while he drove.

            “Detective Alvarado speaking.”

            “Good morning. Not sure if you remember me, I’m Santos Morelo,” said Santos.

            “Of course I do, how’s Henry, been a while since we talked.”

            “Wish I could say but I haven’t either but that’s not what I’m calling about.”

            The conversation continued as he drove but wondered if he really should be taking time away from the detective’s work for such a small matter. None the less, he arrived and hung up the phone and met the detective at his desk.

            “Sit down, Mr. Morelo, coffee or water,” asked Alvarado.

            “I’m fine.”

            “So, as I understand you’ve seen and heard suspicious activity at your neighbors house, the Rosewoods, the last few days and as of last night it escalated. You described the event to me in detail, but I have to do my due diligence, anything else you want to add,” said Alvarado.

            Santos had already given him the license plate and description but thought hard on what he had seen. The word acetone stood out to him, and he had remembered how Roberto had reacted towards it. It might be nothing but then it might be something.

            “I remember large containers labeled acetone in their garage along with what looked like chemistry equipment, I don’t know if that helps,” said Santos.

            To Santos, the detective looked like a light bulb had gone off in his head.

            “Wait here, I’ll be right back, I need to check something.”

            Alvarado went over to what looked like a separate office space to talk to someone. Had Santos said something wrong. Alvarado was only gone for a couple minutes before he returned with a smile on his face.

            “Mr. Morelo, you have nothing to worry about. We are aware of the Rosewoods. Trust me when I say, you are completely safe,” said Alvarado as he motioned him up from his chair.

            “I don’t understand. You’re no going to do anything about it?”

            “No, we are not. I really can’t say more.”

            “I’m so confused. Maybe I should ask your boss about this. I don’t feel comfortable.”

            “Look Mr. Morelo. I will tell you this. The Rosewoods are working with us on an investigation. That is all I can say. Believe me when I tell you, they are not criminals. Satisfied?”

            “I guess so.”

            Back at his home, he sat on his porch where normally he would track the Rosewoods activity in his notebook and keep a vigilant eye on the neighborhood but instead, he sipped his coffee and waited for the evening air to fill the outdoor space. Like clockwork, the Rosewoods exited their home and sat on their porch, and instead of their usual coffee mugs, drank flutes of what appeared to be champagne. Santos wondered what they could be celebrating. He wanted to go over there so bad, but he resisted the temptation and his curiosity. Instead, he raised his coffee mug to them and after exchanging a quick glance with each other, the Rosewoods did the same. Alvarado told him that he was safe and had nothing to worry about, but Santos didn’t feel that way. Santos smiled and sipped hoping that Alvarado was right, and that Rosewoods were indeed not criminals.  

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