Tucked up in the northeastern corner of Vermont is the Northeast Kingdom, a wooded fortress that neither encourages nor particularly welcomes strangers. One of the little hamlets within a village within a town is West Burville. There is one eatery, one place to get gas (if you don’t count the diner) and one strange flock of residents. This may take a while to explain…
When we left West Burville in the early hours of a November morning, something terrible had happened to a couple of nice folks in the tiny hamlet. But life goes on…or does it?
At twelve-thirty Hooter decided to take it on the road right over to Norm’s house. Damn, Norm. Instead of a Bud and Linda’s Meatloaf Plate over at the Double Axle Diner he had to chase his hired man down in his living room.
Hooter licked his lips at the thought of Norm answering the door in his pajama bottoms and run-over scuffies. “Let’s see him explain his way out of this one,” he growled. The closer Hooter got to Norm’s front door the beadier his eyes became and the higher his blood pressure crept.
Hooter was no man’s fool. He decided to sneak up on his quarry. Parking down the road was no problem. The Weston house was ideally suited for this type of reconnaissance mission. Hooter cut the engine and rolled his pick-up behind the arborvitae hedge next to old Guido Pedroli’s house.
Ever mindful of Guido’s crazy Italian temper when it came to the yardful of lush perennials he had brought from Boston and nurtured through the past ten Vermont winters, Hooter slid around the edge of the shrubbery. All he could think of was the half-assed explanation he’d be giving Guido if he got caught. Even on those rare occasions when he might be slightly wrong, Hooter was willing to twist the truth like a warm pretzel to evade responsibility. Plus this was a covert operation. He could not risk exposure.
As Hooter wriggled his pudgy rear through the tangle of small trees and unpruned perennials along the back edge of Guido’s lawn, he was oblivious to the sharp Italian eyes that watched.
Mr. Guido Pedroli was a thoughtful man with the patience of a gardener combined with a complete lack of tolerance for fools. To Mr. Pedroli, Hooter was a fool. But the world was full of fools and knaves, according to Mr. Pedroli. With a sigh, Guido turned from observing the crazy garage man and pondered the strange happenings of the past twenty-four hours.
He had moved to this dead zone in the Northern Hills called West Burville to be alone. For the past decade he had achieved what he called his “Splendid Aloneness.” Now it seemed that between the tourists and the nutty locals of this stultifying little burg he might need to reconsider what price he had to pay for his anonymity. And anonymity was what Mr. Pedroli cherished above all.
It seemed to him, as he stood behind the lacy sheers at his back window, that strange happenings were increasing in the hamlet. The last evening was a good example. People didn’t leash their dogs like the Town Fathers said they should. It had been over a week since that stray black dog had been dumped in the middle of West Burville and nobody claimed to have seen it, except Guido.
This was wonderful. First he had to deal with the petty intolerance of the locals toward his buying the old Sykes place, which rumour had it was purchased with dirty Mafia money. But, it figured…Italian name, must be Mafia. It always was in the movies. Right?
And now he was turning into a crank because he wanted the fool dog catcher to do his job and remove the black stray from the neighborhood. Guido was tired of the blank stares he was getting when he pointed out the shadowy dog to the Westons and the LaMondas. Couldn’t these bumpkins look out their windows and see the stupid thing sitting in the middle of the damn road?
Shaking his head at the ignorance that unfolded around him, Mr. Guido Pedroli returned to his contemplation of the hapless Hooter Gibson and his creeping progress toward the Weston’s back kitchen window.
Hooter, now fully involved in his covert operation, was unaware that his ragged course through prickly hedges and around clumps of perennials was under ambivalent scrutiny. As he alternately slunk and tripped his way through the Creeping Vinca along the backside of Guido’s lawn, he began to sweat like bacon on a hot griddle. With one last push he fell through the hedge underneath the Weston’s kitchen window. Righting himself he crept closer to the windowsill. Unfortunately, he was a little shy of the height requirement for a Peeping Tom. Cursing his short parentage he opted to hop up and down in hope that his efforts would produce a picture of Norm at the kitchen table enjoying a leisurely late breakfast. What his exertions yielded was something else: more of a sense than a certainty that something was very wrong at the Westons.
Hooter wasn’t sure what he saw. Or if he saw anything. But as his uneasiness bloomed, Hooter became less inclined to treat his backyard spying as a covert operation and more like an exercise in self-preservation.
Skirting the brook side of the house, Hooter gave up on his jump-and-peek technique and kept a low bend-and-stoop profile as he weasled around to the front porch. What if someone saw him now? How would he explain why he was sneaking around the Weston’s yard when he was supposed to be at the Double Axle eating meatloaf? Especially if something was as fishy as he had an inkling it was. Well, it was too late now. With an exaggerated shrugging of his shoulders and a stiffening of his back, Hooter veered around the front porch and marched up the front steps.
At first glance, nothing seemd out-of-place. No one seemed to he home. As he stood there, listening at the door, Hooter became aware of the same queer silence that sucked the air dry when his kids were doing something they shouldn’t be doing. It was a silence that seemed to be waiting for something to happen.
It had been a long morning of savoring the startled look on Norm’s face when his boss surprised him relaxing on the repair shop’s dime. But now the hairs on Hooter’s arms were beginning to prick.
And the fun was over.
…to be continued