With Franny in my arms, I half-jogged around the corner to keep up with Patrick. I turned in time to see him walk through a gate to the next backyard and toss the beer can high over his shoulder. Franny yelped and tried to jump out of my arms as a black car sped down the road coming towards us. From a quick glance past the windshield, I could tell it was my next door neighbor, Lee. A mean look was sprawled across his face, mean yet stoic, like this was an intense ritual he was used to yet not fond of. Three cars, all painted white, screeched around the corner and accelerated after Lee. The whole affair lasted no more than ten seconds and left an imaginary feeling in the air as everything quickly went back to the way it was moments before.
I walked alongside the fence and tried my best to see through the cracks between each board to catch a glimpse of Patrick and his shovel, without him catching a glimpse of me. The only thing keeping me going was Lyn’s letter. There was something about Patrick, something special enough that somebody on a hill was looking after him. There was nothing to be seen at first glance, a fancy pond, a swing set, an upscale garden with tulips and irises. Then, through two fence boards that were spaced just a bit wider than the rest, was Patrick. I put my eye up to the crack and closed the other.
Patrick dug the shovel into the Earth and kicked down on it with his right foot. Maybe Patrick really was a gardener, that’s why he was digging in backyards, that’s why he had the van, to keep his tools in. But the way he was digging seemed anything but professional, the dirt from his shovel flug way back, landing on the porch of the house. The look on his face further convinced me he wasn’t hired to do this job. This was a service he was only doing for himself.
He dug and I watched until the hole was about a foot deep by a foot wide. When Patrick straightened out his back and wiped off the first signs of sweat from his forehead, the two of us locked eyes. I immediately looked away and bent over to pick up Franny and make a run for it, and on the same step of me turning away, a loud thump bashed against the other side of the fence.
“What the fuck are you doing over there!?” Patrick had this way of pronouncing his Fs. He would put his two front teeth over his bottom lip and blow with an unnecessary force to get the sound out. I panicked, which meant I quickly walked in circles thinking about what to do next. But before I could even complete my second rotation, two hands gripped the top of the fenced and Patrick pulled himself over like he was some kid is his physical prime.
Patrick was taken aback when he realized it was me. I could tell the moment he recognized me that he couldn’t stay mad, and a sense of overwhelming guilt came over me. Even though I did think Patrick was a little bit off, I didn’t want him to think I was the type of person who snoops around or someone who wants to dig up dirt on people. I didn’t want him to get the wrong impression of me, but then again, that was what I was doing. I desperately tried to think of ways to explain myself. I wanted to bring up Lyn and the talk we had, to try to explain that she told me I could find him here, and to let him know all that I wanted to figure out about him. Patrick’s face softened, although he retained a crucial eye contact, making the both of us uncomfortable. I opened my mouth and almost let it all out, but Franny interrupted me with a small bark. She had my back.
“Now, I don’t know what you saw, or what you doin’. But it’s really none of your business. And you shouldn’t be nosing around this part of town anyways, what the hell are you doing?”
The back door to house right over the fence busted open, slammed shut, and the two of us turned our heads to watch the man who lived there start yelling at the sky because part of his garden had been dug up. Patrick quickly turned my shoulder and walked me down the sidewalk to the end of the street where Joel was waiting with a cigarette hanging from his mouth.
“Find anything?” Joel said in sort of a defeated tone, like he’s asked it many times before and already knows the answer. “I’ll take that as a no,” he added when Patrick and I past him.
Patrick mumbled to himself and shouted back at Joel to keep up because the two of them had overstayed their welcome. “Is is that hard to keep a lookout?” Partick waved his hand aggressively out towards Joel.
“I did keep a lookout, no one got through.” Joel spat.
“No one, huh? Then how do you explain this?” Patrick put his hand on my back and pushed me along to keep up with his pace.
“Kino? I thought he was cool and all.”
“Not the point. He almost blew my cover! “No one is no one. No one should be on to us. Even if they aren't on to us, no one should even be around us.”
Were they talking about me right in front of my face? Patrick’s hand was still on my back pushing me along, and at least now I knew one thing about Patrick, he definitely was not a gardener, maybe he and Joel were some kind of backyard bandits. Next thing I knew we were at the back of Patrick’s van. Patrick jumped in the driver’s seat, Joel in the passenger’s and the van screeched out of the driveway, without them saying a goodbye or even a see you later.
I stood next to the driveway with Franny for a moment, trying to process everything that just took place and a sleek black car pulled in. Worried that it might be the owner of the house and not wanted to get yelled at by another resident of this neighborhood, I started down the street.
Then I heard a familiar voice shout, “Kino!” Simultaneously I recognized the car and the voice as Lee’s. He poked his head out of the window. “Let me give you a ride.” It was strange hearing Lee start a conversation, and wasn’t he just in some high speed car chase? Franny and I hopped in the passenger seat. “You look different,” Lee said as he backed out of the driveway and then cruised down the the street.
“Haircut.” I replied, pointing at my head.
Lee let out a slow and heavy breath and then began, “You saw me earlier, didn’t you? When I was driving down this street.”
I nodded, feeling reassured that I hadn't imaged the whole scene. Something about the way Lee spoke made me feel like I could ask him anything in that moment. “And who were those guys tailing you? Same guys that were at your door the other night?”
Lee put on the brakes and in a near whisper replied, “Yes, I’ve gotten myself into some bad situations in the past, dealing with bad people. I don’t want to get into all of it here and now, but I don’t want you to make to make the same mistakes. With all of this happening so close to home, I don’t want you to get mixed up in all of it, but that might not be an option. Just know, I’m not a bad guy.”
Franny sat up on my lap and shook her coat. Little bits of dust and dirt flew up into the air. Lee’s expression changed from being calm and concerned to concerned and more concerned.
He brought the car to a full stop. “Where were you and your dog?”
“Well, she’s not really my dog, you see, she’s my girlfriend’s, and it’s kind of embarrassing, but I followed Patrick over here. I think she got dirty when she jumped in the back of Patrick’s van. But it could have been when we saw him digging in the backyard over there.”
“You went in Patrick’s van?”
“Yea, she got off her leash and dove right in the back of it. I jumped in after her, so it was only a moment. Patrick wasn’t around at the time, but I don’t think he would have minded. Neither of us touched any of his tools and --” I was rambling, embarrassed at having to explain all of this to Lee. Then he cut me off.
“This can’t be good,” he muttered. “Some things will need to be straightened out. You’re going to have to walk the rest of the way home, kid. Be safe.”