Stan Rutmeyer let Mr. Peebles out for his afternoon potty. The dog bolted, hustling down the deck steps to inventory the backyard pee spots. Some dogs are one-spot dogs, but Peebles, an industrious dachshund, liked to spread it around, hitting previous marks before trying anywhere new. Stan stood between open back doors, watching the dog’s tail waggle as he went willy-nilly, peeing intermittently, working his way towards the neighbor’s hawthorn hedge and the wall behind it. Stan looked over this wall which separated his yard from his neighbor’s, noticing a small white sedan parked on the Buchanan driveway, a car that hadn’t been there that morning. Well, doesn’t look like that lawyer’s car, he thought, and it’s certainly not Richard Buchanan’s.
It was a hot afternoon, not the time of day to be standing in the sun. Stan realized he was half in and half out, cooling off the neighborhood just as Billy had done earlier. He stepped inside, closing the French doors behind him, confident Peebles would scratch the glass when ready to come in.
Stan had been examining ledgers in his den, but didn’t return there right away, instead stopping in the kitchen for a ginger ale. Stan, who was battling Type 2 diabetes, allowed himself one soda a day and was looking forward to this afternoon’s allotment. He took a Canada Dry from the fridge and stood by the sink, looking through the window at Buchanan’s manor. Stan Rutmeyer’s house was smaller than Dick Buchanan’s—all the other homes in Whispering Pines were—but stood higher in relief, allowing a good view into Dick’s yard over what Stan referred to as the Berlin Wall.
He told himself he was looking to see if Bates (or whoever owned the white car) was going to cut Buchanan’s lawn. It had been a stellar summer for growing grass in South Carolina, with plenty of heat and near-daily thunderstorms to keep the turf verdant. Stan himself had struggled keeping his own back forty in check, which meant Buchanan’s yard was a prairie. To Stanley Rutmeyer, tending one’s yard was a civic duty on par with voting, so with no yard man calling, his neighbor’s lawn galled. Of course, Stan wasn’t just curious about the lawn. Buchanan’s statues, whose heads had appeared above the Berlin Wall earlier that spring, also piqued his curiosity, but for the moment, his dead neighbor’s Serengeti took top billing.
At first, it had been no big deal. Two weeks after an ambulance arrived at 22 Dutch Road and one week after Ruthie, Stan’s wife, learned that Buchanan had died, Stan cut Richard’s lawn. He did it out of a neighborly respect for the dead and because Ruthie had asked him to—whoever was in charge over there now had more important things to worry about, she’d said. Besides, cutting the lawn would be the male equivalent of bringing a casserole, so Stan, who lived for riding his John Deere, took the hint.
It turned out his neighbor’s lawn, larger than his own by two acres, was a challenging cut. The two dozen statues required careful maneuvering, and large, unexpected ruts (some with kicked-up furrows necessitating lifting the mower’s blades) made for slow work. The gouges were odd: the last lawn service must have mown after a particularly bad rain as the ruts ran counter to natural drainage. Stan could knock his own yard out in less than sixty minutes, but that first Buchanan goodwill mowing took two and a half. The beer bottles and assorted trash hadn’t helped; Dick had been dead perhaps a week before hooligans began arriving, requiring Stan to hop off the mower a dozen times to pick it all up.
Hooligans in an Aster & Son Paving truck, perhaps?
He remembered he’d finished the last of the weed-whacking, wondering whether Shane Junior, the son of Aster & Son, and his band of delinquents were to blame for the trash, when an old dented Cadillac sedan drove under the Buchanan arch. That piece of crap has seen better days, he’d thought then. The fidgety driver, who wore a rumpled suit, parked three feet from Stan’s shoes, emerging without acknowledging him. Ruthie later told him the guy was Deacon Bates, Buchanan’s lawyer. Stanley put his weed-whacker down, wiping his hands thoroughly with a handkerchief before stepping up to the man, extending a dried hand.
Excerpt of the first chapter of horror-fantasy novel 22 Dutch Road