Terry Douglas sits on his couch, a steaming cup of Sleepytime tea in his left hand and a DirectTV remote in his right. ESPN offers only reruns and CNN is debating the same garbage. Sleep is a far better alternative to anything on the tube. He clicks off the television and walks to the patio door. It glides open and a moment later he’s staring at the stars. Orion is low in the east and the sky is bright tonight with all the neighbors with their lights out. The cool air soothes his tension and he relaxes. A chill sends a shiver down his spine. He catches a flickering light behind the old Douglas fir. He steps off the deck, bare feet on the lawn. It’s coming from Chuck Barton’s place. He can’t remember the new guy’s name. It comes to him. Josh. Josh Daniels.
Josh moved in a couple weeks ago when Chuck moved to New Hampshire to take care of his sister. He never got to say goodbye as Chuck was up and gone quickly. Since he drew cartoons for a syndicate, his home location can be anywhere. On Chuck’s deck, Josh stands over a fire pit holding a book.
“Is he reading by the fire?” Terry asks himself.
Josh tears a page from the book and glances at it before crumpling it into a ball and releasing it into the fire. Their introduction was brief, providing few details to Josh’s line of work or lifestyle, certainly nothing hinting to his love of late night bonfires.
His house is dark, except for a light in the basement. Josh looks at another page and chuckles. The sound dominates the airwaves. He wiggles the paper and sets the book down on the picnic table. He wiggles the paper as he walks back inside, through the sliding door, closing it behind him. It’s as if he read one of Chuck’s cartoons.
Terry thinks about the cartoon on his refrigerator door that Chuck drew for him. It cheers him up every time he sees it. Chuck’s drawing was cheerful and phrasing was punchy, if not crude. His personalized cartoon was a hound dog with floppy ears lighting a cigar from an explosion of fire from his rear end. The caption read—“Shit fire and save matches.”
Josh must have went down to the basement, a shadow moves in the garden level window. Terry feels a burst of curiosity trailed by exhilaration at the thought of hopping the fence and getting a peek at the book. Why not? He thinks.
He checks the basement window and the shadow is still moving. Terry jumps up on the fence and hops up onto his hands, arms straight. He remembers the movie The Sandlot when young Rodriguez hops the fence to retrieve the Babe Ruth baseball from the jaws of the St. Bernard. Terry imagines his Radio Flyer sneakers and dashes forward. In a few seconds, he’s at the deck and has the book in front of him. The smile falls from his face.
He turns a page and then another. He picks up the book and reads the cover. He spines his head, checking for Josh returning from the basement. It’s too late to be able to laugh off hopping a neighbor’s fence. He wants the book but Josh will certainly will know it’s missing. He tears a page from it, sets the book down on the table and folds the paper into his back pocket.
He is back in his house before Josh returns to the deck. From his family room window, Terry watches Josh pick up the book, look around the darkness and return to ripping and burning. After a page, he turns and stares at Terry’s window. The lights are off. Terry is blanketed in darkness but feels insecure. He takes cover behind the wall.
An uneasy feeling swelled inside as he pulled out the page from his pocket. He reviewed the drawing. Word spread that Chuck moved away to care for his sister after she fell and broke her hip. That was almost a month ago. The drawing below held the initials: C.B.
The same initials are on his cartoon hanging on his refrigerator. Terry walks to his kitchen and turns on his kitchen light. He grabs the cartoon off the door and compares the handwriting. The same letters are emblazoned in the bottom right corner of the drawing. Terry studies them both, looking for any difference to explain the coincidence.
Chuck left weeks ago and he would never have left any original drawings behind. Terry realizes the signature is not the important clue. The cartoon in his left hand, the one from the notebook Josh was burning, was dated three days ago.