Stiffs of Suburbia

Chapter 1.1

“Have you seen Roger?” A Shepard mix with floppy ears grinned from every street pole. Reginald wasn’t a dog person. The barking, slobbering, and the chaos they brought didn’t pair with his life. He liked quiet. Order and routine.

He kept to himself and the small suburb outside the city suited him. He wanted a place to unwind, to read, to sip coffee in the early morning without interruption. The real estate agent said the neighborhood was perfect for him. And in most regards, she was right. The neighborhood was perfect, he wished he could say the same about the neighbors.

Jim was the sore thumb of an otherwise working hand of the neighbourhood. The Parson’s across the street were pleasant and waved if they saw you. Kevin Jr was the cul de sac entrepreneur who shoveled the drive for a reasonable fee.

But Jim was neither pleasant nor useful. Reginald had the unfortunate fate to live next door to Jim and his inelegant wife Patty. They both worked, although doing what he didn’t care to find out. What he did know was the decibel level Jim’s preference was for his favourite classic rock station. He knew that no matter how fast the guitar solos were, it failed to drown out their arguments.

Her shrill voice cut through any drum montage and her words landed like daggers. Jim didn’t have the wit she did, but he made up for it by slamming doors and throwing yard furniture across the grass.

The last fight ended with Jim peeling away in his dirty pick up only to return with a new addition. The beagle mix named Champ. If Jim planned the dog to be his marriage’s saving grace, then once again the man was wrong. Champ became the last nail in the coffin.

Jim, cared for the dog with the same indifference he treated the rest of the neighbours. Beside a crooked doghouse, he hammered a peg and chained Champ there where he stayed through all sorts of weather. But it was the barking, all hours, all day, and all weekend that riled Reginald’s temper.

It might have been forgivable if he didn’t find dog poop magically appearing in his backyard. He didn’t have a pet and had no habit of collecting stool samples to display along his patch of crab grass.

A lazy ape of a man. Then remembered the article he read about chimps using weapons to scare off predators. He apologized to the primate world as he shoveled the feces into a garbage bag. Each dried-out turd made his nose crinkle, how could one dog defecate so much in one day?

The last shovelful dropped into the bag; straightening his back he admired his work. The narrow patch of greenery wasn’t much but it was his. Syd has been on his case to invite the team over for drinks.

Sure, want a side of turd with your beer?

As he tied the bag and headed to the door, he heard a plunk hit the grass. Another clump catapulted itself over the fence. Even if he wanted to socialize, it’ll have to wait. First, something had to be done about Jim.   

“Hey! What do you think you’re doing?” On cue Jim’s hairy oily face appeared over the top of the fence.

“What do you want?” He snarls.

“I want you to keep the dog poop on your side of the fence.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. It’s your dog’s shit deal with it.”

“I don’t have a dog!”

“Then why do you collect dog shit, you crank.” Jim’s head vanished and the screen of the patio door slammed shut. The rattling of the glass summoned Champ from his slumber. The barking continued for the rest of the night.

~~*~~

The boiling kettle was music to his ears. The water steamed as it filled his thermos, tickled his nostrils with the fragrant green tea. The destroyer of tranquility fell asleep within the last hour and he stood in the quietness of his kitchen. Never a morning person, Reginald wandered around the house like a ghost searching for the child in the closet.

With his hand on the door, he resigned to himself that today will be a better day. Not a great one (because he was still cursed with Jim in his life) but a good one at least. He even packed a few candies as a mid afternoon pick me up. Today was going to be a good day.

Until he opened the door and Jim was moving his extra garbage bins to Reginald’s pile.

Oh no you don’t.

He gripped his lunch pack and beelined to the edge of the sidewalk. The Homeowners Association had a strict rule, one trash can and one recycling bin. It was a stupid rule, for sure, but in the heat of the moment it mattered. If he had extra bins, they’ll fine him. And this wasn’t the first time Jim attempted sabotage.

“No!” Reginald barked, catching Jim off guard. “Get your cans out of here.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, your cans are in my driveway. I’m returning them.”

“My bins? With your address written on them?” 

“Yeah, weird huh,” he grinned adding another overflowing bin to the group.

“No!” he didn’t know what came over him, but Reginald wasn’t yielding without a fight. He threw himself at the bin and gripped the sticky edges. “Take them back,” he grunted as Jim pushed them towards his.

“Get out of my way pipsqueak!”

“No!”

“Yes!”

“Get off my property you troglodyte!”

“What did you call me?” Jim stood at his full overbearing height. Before Reginald had a chance to answer Jim left fist slammed against his cheek. He took two steps back as his vision blurred. 

A second punch jammed his stomach, knocking the wind out of his lungs. Doubled over, Reginald tried to remain upright but Jim’s laugh was all he could focus on. He knocked over the bin, spilling the trash over Reginald’s drive. He continued laughing until he went inside.

Hugging the thermos to his chest, he descended the stairs to his office. The strobing florescent lighting followed him to a locked metal door at the end of a hallway. Inside he placed his thermos and bag on the barren desk before hanging his zip up sweater on the coatrack.

Decorating his walls are posters of Victorian era physiological diagrams. Another was a diagram explaining Homer’s four humors. His assistant Marv called it vintage. Reginald called it nostalgia. After slipping his lunch into the minifridge next to the vials of samples and petri dishes he pulled the docket for the day’s appointments.

“Hey boss,” Marv called from the doorway, “we got a live one on its way,”

“I assume that’s a figure of speech?”

“Yeah, don’t worry, they’re as cold as they come. Syd’s on the way too; apparently it’s a priority.”

“Aren’t they all.” He sighed, taking a sip of his mug before slipping on his overcoat and apron.

Marv is a towering five one with one leg longer than the other. Although the gait wasn’t detectable by others Reginald noticed; but then again it came with the territory. Of course, none of it usually mattered; Marv was the best assistant he had in what felt like decades.

The double doors from the parking lot burst open rallying the usual pandemonium. Two paramedics from the hospital push a covered stretcher inside followed by a local police officer. Syd tails behind, clutching a file folder and a paper coffee cup in her hand. She points to the examination room and the men follow suit.

“Morning boys,” she smiles and hands Marv the file. “Reginald what happened to your face?” He touched where Jim’s fist landed and winced.

“Long story,”

“Might want to get that looked at, who ever did it has a fist like a hammer.”

“I’m sorry, I thought I was the doctor here.” He led her to the examination room.

“Well, if you’re so inclined how about I be the doctor and you be the detective for a change.”

“See that’ll require him to actually talk to normal people for a change,” Marv smirked. “I don’t think the public’s ready for that.”

“Har har,” he scoffed.

The paramedics and Marv placed the body on the pristine metal table. Once the grunts left, he grabbed the forceps and inspected the body. Ignoring the pungent stink, he made mental notes of his findings; female, shoulder length brown hair, thin frame.

Bruising on the head, face, both arms and wrists. Spandex gym shorts and sports bra (mild tearing) and a faint smell of gasoline. Lifting the limbs, he deduced the limited muscle movement corresponded with early stages of rigor mortis. A sheen coated her pale greenish skin. And he collected a sample of the bloody foam around her nostrils and thin limps.

Syd interrupted his conversation with Marv by coughing; the smell had reached her area by the door and she struggled to stay in the room. Marv handed her a napkin to cover her nose and Reginald continued. Decomposition didn’t bother him; a habit from his profession.

But admittedly he had seen worse. An obvious head injury was likely the cause of death but what interest him was the bruising. The head wounds were consistent with a blunt object; a hammer, or a rock. But the bruises on her face, revealed a strange shape. An unknown pattern, almost curved, but the damage to the surrounding area made it difficult to narrow it down.

“Well Reginald? What do you think?” She asked looking at her phone.

“Female, 18-25 years old. Blunt force trauma to the head. Judging by the markings on her wrists she’s been restrained. Likely killed and then transported to which ever wooded area your men found her in.”

“How do you know where she was found?”

“The debris in her hair, there’s dirt, leaves and cigarette butts, so I assume a shallow grave.”

“They found her buried behind a gas station heading to the highway.”

“Any idea who she is?”

“Marv check her pockets,”

“There aren’t any,”

“Inside the shorts by the left hip” she instructed. Marv obeyed and pulled a faded receipt for a tonic water from the inside pocket. She smiled at him, “I have the same pair.”

“Well done detective, you earned your coffee for the day,”

“Oh, don’t be like that Reggie, we’re on the same side. Thanks Marv, we’ll see if we can pull something from it. Any idea on the timeline?”

“Based on the onset of bloating, I say around 5-8 days.”

“So, about a week?”

“Estimated 5-8 days.”

“Right…” She dialed a number, “thanks guys, you’re the best,” and stepped outside the swinging doors to make a call. 

Reginald pulled his car into his drive but stopped as the overturn bins rolled into his path; Jim’s shoddy spray painted address smiled back at him.  The cretin, he mumbled dragging the bins to the side of the drive.

He zoomed into the parking spot and screeched to a halt outside the garage. Almost there Reginald. He slammed the door and clenched his jaw. You’ll get inside have a nice quiet dinner and forget about the sheer amount of incompetence until tomorrow.

Then he saw it, and once his eyes noticed the commanding bold typeface of the wretched HOA stationary his blood boiled. The note, in all its evil, condescending, and inaccurate existence, was pinned to his door (with tape that will undoubtedly ruin the finish).

Dear Homeowner,

According to rules outlined in the Homeowners Association Owner’s Guidebook; section 23, subsection 3, paragraph of the amended page 34: Each homeowner is allotted One (1) garbage bin and One (1) recycling bin. 

You had Four (4) bins today, Two (2) garbage bins and Two (2) recycling bins, which is not One (1) garbage bin and One (1) recycling bin. According to our records, this is your third non-compliance with the laws set forth by the Homeowners Association Owner’s Guidebook.

The penalty for a third time noncompliance is a fine. The amount as outlined in the Homeowners Association Owner’s Guidebook; section 31, section 2, subsection 41 paragraph 4) is a third level offence fine.

Fine total: $42.83

Please pay by end of business day or interest of 15% will be applied to your fine.

His fist squeezed the handle of his lunch bag; white knuckled but his blood boiled. Exercising every inch of restraint, he peeled the note off his door leaving the finish intact. It wasn’t until he crawled into bed when he noticed the obvious silence looming over his house.

Not just his house, but Jim’s too. The absence of Champ’s barking, the yelling, and slamming of doors was…frightening. And he didn’t use that word lightly. It was a feeling as the clouds gathered and the thunder rolled that one remembered they don’t have a generator. Or batteries for a flashlight. Reginald laid in bed, listening for the storm under the silence and wondered how prepared he was for what would happened next.