Pulling into the driveway, Johnny groaned. He cursed without moving his lips, and then closed his eyes. Couldn't he have one day without the freak?
In his own driveway, Johnny's neighbor, Phil, sat in a folding chair next to a smoker grill. He held a blue can of Stroh's in one hand and a magazine in the other. Probably the latest edition of Field and Stream, Johnny guessed. In addition to the ever-present mirrored sunglasses, Phil's eclectic wardrobe today consisted of denim cutoffs, a camo tee-shirt, the sleeves conveniently torn out, and a crinkled cowboy hat that would give Kenney Chesney a wet dream; and as if the goon's attire couldn't be any creepier, he also wore a pair of camel colored ropers.
"Way to go, Phil," Johnny muttered, careful to keep his lips from moving. "That about takes the cake."
As he pulled farther up into the driveway, an image flashed through Johnny's mind: Randy Quaid, dressed in a ladies' bathrobe, standing next to a rusted-out RV, a black water hose in hand, and announcing to the world that the "...shitter's full." Johnny couldn't help but smile as he hit the brakes and pushed the gear shift into Park. He reached up, pressed a button on the garage door opener remote, and then switched off the engine.
Phil looked up as Johnny stepped out of his silver beamer.
"Howdy neighbor." Phil gestured toward the smoker grill. "I got some good barbecue going here. Want some?"
Not if my life depended on it, Johnny thought.
"No thanks. I think my wife and I are going out to eat."
Johnny grabbed his brief case and closed the car door. He pressed the key fob button. The headlights blinked, the alarm system chirped, and Johnny walked at a near trot toward the open mouth of the garage, hoping to God that Phil wouldn't say anything else. His prayer was answered.
Johnny placed his briefcase on the counter and called for his wife.
He found her in the living room, her face blank, her eyes vacant.
Ah nuts, Johnny thought. What did Phil do now?
In the world of bad neighbors, Phil was was the worst. Johnny was certain of it. He had talked to others, both at his church and at the office, and no one had ever heard of such a philistine. His attire aside, Phil was the type of person who bored into your skin. He spent his weekends and evenings working on engines. Not just any type of engine, either, it seemed; he worked on the loudest and smokiest ones he could find. He liked to race cars, he said one night, apologizing for the noise that rattled the dishes in Johnny's cupboard. If that wasn't enough, the music had to be even louder, the bass deep enough it pulsed through the walls of Johnny's house. He apologized for that, too—repeatedly, his breath reeking so bad of stale beer and cigarettes Johnny hated to raise the issue.
The noise around Phil's place was a constant. From the lawn mowing at odd hours to the almost weekly parties with friends and multiple lady partners (which Johnny could never understand, given Phil's breath), there never seemed to be an end to the raucous.
It wasn't that Johnny hated Phil. At least he didn't think of it as hate. The Good Book warned against hating anyone. Still, there was no sin (so far as Johnny could find) in severely disliking your neighbor. Really, did God actually expect you to sit down and share a meal with a camo-cut-off-boot-wearing freak, who probably only used the Lord's name in the most inappropriate ways?
Johnny crouched down and stared into his Celine's face.
"Honey? What is it?"
Tears filled her eyes.
"That dog finally got to Winston."
Johnny shook his head. Impossible.
Phil's dog, a Rottweiler, was the worst of their problems. The animal barked at all hours and constantly squatted in Johnny's front yard (and apparently in some of the other neighbor's yards, too). Then, there were the holes dug under the fence line, the beast trying to get at Johnny's Chihuahua, Winston, the poor thing terrified to go outside. Of course, Johnny had to fill in the holes. Phil never did.
The solution came with the latest news report of tainted dog treats. Johnny quickly purchased a bag of treats, not caring which kind. Then he soaked them in anti-freeze. (Phil did work on cars, didn't he? It was possible he'd been careless.) Instead of filling one of the holes with dirt, he filled it with the treats. A few days later, the neighborhood quieted down.
Johnny hoped that God wouldn't charge it against him. If He did, then it was something Johnny would have to live with. Surely there were plenty other good works to offset a bad one. Besides, if Johnny hadn't acted, Winston might have been severely maimed. Or worse.
Johnny touched Celine's hand. He never told her what he did.
"Phil's dog is not going to hurt Winston," He said. "Ever."
"Then where is he?"
"Winston. I've called and called and called, but he won't come, and I can't find him."
Johnny frowned. He stood up and searched the house. He walked to the back door and called out, but found it as Celine said. Winston was nowhere to be found. He stepped out the garage door and onto the driveway. He called out again.
"You loose your dog?"
Johnny turned and looked at Phil.
"So it seems. You haven't seen him, have you?"
Phil shook his head.
"I'm sure he'll turn up eventually. My experience, they always do."
Phil stood up and opened the lid to the grill. Smoke billowed out. Inside, on the rack, Johnny saw something that wasn't recognizable. Was it a chicken, maybe?
Phil turned and looked at him.
"You sure you don't want some barbecue?"