They lived in a gated community named Shady Acres that had recently been built about four miles down the road from the new mall. Outside its stone walls there was a granite sign which spelled out the location in high stately letters. Beneath the words, a row pine trees was carved into its surface. Myrah had been on officer in the HOA when the monument had been voted on and it was not her first choice. She said that she would have preferred something less graphical.
There were many things which frustrated her about the sign. Its surface was polished while the stone wall next to it was rough and rustic. It was dark and clashed with the light and airy nature of the buildings in the neighborhood. It had a row of pine trees at the bottom and his wife hated this because Shady Acres had no pine trees beyond its gates. She felt that the sign was trying to be something that it wasn’t.
In fact, Shady Acres was mostly devoid of any real trees. The community had sprung up in a hurry as homebuilders and developers scrambled to snatch up land in this rapidly growing town. They had bulldozed, clear cut, built and planned in a reverse order trying to complete each project as fast as they could in order to get another draw from the bank and move on to the next one before the areas real estate became too costly to afford.
With each new house and strip center constructed along the freeway, the town’s income bracket rose exponentially. Shady Acres was at the highest end of the current status quo for upper-middle class residential communities but there were other pastoral houses further off the freeway that were much bigger. Markoff had been proud when they’d moved in that they were able to have a room that was specifically devoted to watching movies but now, rumor was that a new property had just been built up the street with a swimming pool upstairs.
He pulled up to the gates and keyed in his code. They watched as the iron doors swung open allowing their Suburban inside.
As they drove, he looked out the windows at the darkened yards that he passed. The place had trees, just not many of them. They were fresh and new and staked to the ground with care. People around here were planning for the future. Over time all of these saplings would produce shade. Maybe someday, someone would plant a pine.
Markoff loved his neighbors and the place in which they lived. It made him feel secure and accomplished that both he and his wife’s children were growing up behind a wall where nothing could ever hurt them. He liked hanging out with the other men on his street. He felt lucky that they all had responsibilities that they could relate to one another in but also the desire to break loose and get crazy from time to time.
Turning at a corner he steered the SUV into the circular cul-de-sac where their home stood. As they pulled into the driveway, he noticed that a few of his neighbors were gathered on the driveway next door drinking beer and smoking cigars. The Markoff’s lived on the right side of the court, their yard partially cut off from the main avenue by Randy Kinkaid’s home. The man was always having people over to look at his latest projects.
Markoff decided that he wanted to see what was up. “I’m going to go say hi.” He said, turning off the car and pointing to the crowd of men with his keys.
Myrah shot him as sideways glance. “Okay.” She said with mock reluctance. “You go play with the boys and I’ll take care of the kids.”
“They should be asleep by now.”
“You know they won’t be.”
“The sitter needs to set boundaries. No video games after eleven.”
“It’s that new TV.” She said laughing. “It’s like moths to the flame. No one can resist it.”
“That TV is mine.” He said getting out of the car and reaching for his wallet. “Don’t they have TV’s in their rooms that they can watch?”
“Sure.” His wife said coming around the vehicle with her hand held out. “They don’t like them because they’re too small and not as bright.”
Markoff pulled out eighty dollars from his billfold. “Give this to Cheryl.” He said handing it to her. “If she’s got the kids in bed, give her an extra twenty. I’m out of cash.”
“You’re asking me to spot you?”
“I’m letting you tip her yourself if you’ve hit the jackpot and she’s taken the little monsters off your hands.”
She turned towards the front door heading away from him. “You know that won’t be the case.” She said without turning around.
Markoff watched her in the porch light as she keyed in the security code for the front door and entered. He’d been right over diner. She really did look outstanding in that dress.
His neighbor, Kinkaid called across the lawn to him. “Hey Markoff! You gonna watch that lady all night or are you gonna come over here, have a beer and get a look at this damned hot Camero that I’ve been working on?”
He turned and shot the finger to the group of men “Go to hell.” He grinned back at them as he crossed his driveway.
Getting a look at the suit that he was wearing, Kinkaid exhaled a puff of smoke laughing. “Good Christ!” He exclaimed through clenched teeth as he chewed the cigar. “You look like a damned banker.”
Markoff stepped across the wires holding down the palm trees in his yard. “Oh Jesus.” The builder said coming over to the man and extending his hand. “Don’t lay that one on me. My nights been bad enough already.”
“How so?” Kinkaid asked taking the stogie out of his mouth with his beer hand and giving Markoff’s paw a firm shake with the other.
“I had to go to a damned ballet tonight.”
Kinkaid walked around to the side of his house coming back moments later carrying another beer. “Take this.” He said tossing it to the builder. “That’ll put the testosterone back into your scrotum.”
He was a short stocky man with a thick mat of grey hair, shorn off into a sloppy buzz cut that always made him look as if he’d just woken up. Older than the rest of them, Kinkaid was definitely the coolest person in their little circle of houses. They had astronauts living elsewhere in Shady Acres but they weren’t on this cul-de-sac and they didn’t restore hot rods for a living.
Not that the man needed to work. He’d made a fortune in the 1990’s as a guy who ran fan shops for NASCAR. Kinkaid had been lucky enough to have gotten in right before the sport had really taken off. He’d practically cornered the market on racing T-shirts before selling his entire enterprise to an outside investor.
Gary Biggs motioned towards Markoff with his beer. “Why’d you have to go to the ballet?” He asked. “You in the doghouse or something?”
The builder shook his head. “No.” He answered cracking open the beer. “It’s part of the new civic theater that I built. The Chamber of Commerce was having some sort of opening gala and I got invited.”
“How was it?”
Kinkaid walked over and punched Biggs roughly on the shoulder. “You gonna offer this man one of your cigars or are we gonna have to beat it out of you?” He asked crouching into a fighter’s position.
Rubbing his arm, Biggs nodded. “Jesus Randy.” He whined. “I was getting to that.”
Biggs was a chubby man with greasy black hair and a tendency to wear Hawaiian shirts that didn’t cover his belly. He spent his days running his own business at an antiseptic office park that was located behind the mall. He made applications for cell phones which sold advertizing space on the screens in exchange for digital coupons. It was an untapped market but due to the reluctance of companies to sign on for his service it didn’t hold much margin. He spent most of his time traveling to South America where he sold a different version of the same program to up and coming soccer teams that were trying to draw fans into their stadiums.
Reaching into the breast pocket of his Hawaiian shirt he pulled out a long cylindrical case. “These aren’t Cuban.” He said almost apologetically. “They’re from Argentina.”
Markoff grabbed it from him, holding the plastic up to his nose and taking an appraising sniff.
Thom Grey took a long drag off of the one that he was smoking. “Screw the Cuban’s.” He said. “I don’t like Argentina any better but I do think that they make better stogies.”
Kinkaid turned and punched Grey on his shoulder. “When the hell have you ever had a Cuban cigar?”
“My cousin gets them for me.” The man said stepping away. “He lives in Canada.”
Grey built cases for ammunition. He didn’t actually own the company that manufactured the large metal crates that were used for storing missiles and grenades but he did run the factory that assembled them. He oversaw a staff of over 2,000 employees that worked for him behind a rusty metal fence with barbed wire on top of it. They had very high profits. Somewhere there was always a war.
As Markoff slid the cigar out of its case Biggs dug a lighter out of his pants pocket. “Hey Jack.” He said eagerly, holding the flame up as the builder puffed the stogie to life. “I’m renting a backhoe tomorrow to dig out a fish pond in my backyard. Thom and Randy are coming over. You want to?”
“Why?” Markoff asked taking the cigar out of his mouth and checking the lit end.
“It’ll be fun.” He smiled. “We’re all going to take turns.”
“I run a construction business.” The builder said. “Why would I want to mess around with a backhoe? I’ve got the real thing that I can play with anytime.”
Kinkaid stepped forward punching him in the shoulder. The jab stung Markoff. “You want to come around back and get a look at this beautiful car of mine or what?” He asked.