Warren, Michigan, 2000
Jaine Bright woke up in a bad mood.
Her neighbor, the blight of the neighborhood, had just roared home at three A.M. If his car had a muffler, it had long since ceased functioning. Unfortunately, her bedroom was on the same side of the house as his driveway; not even pulling the pillow over her head could block out the sound of that eight-cylinder Pontiac. He slammed the car door, turned on his kitchen porch light -- which by some evil design was positioned to shine directly into her eyes if she was lying facing the window, which she was -- let his screen door slam three times as he went in, came back out a few minutes later, then went back in, and evidently forgot about the porch light, because a few minutes later the light in the kitchen blinked out but that damn porch light stayed on.
If she had known about her neighbor before she bought this house, she never, never would have closed on the sale. In the two weeks she had lived here, he had single-handedly managed to destroy all the joy she'd felt on buying her first house.
He was a drunk. Why couldn't he be a happy drunk? she wondered sourly. No, he had to be a surly, nasty drunk, the kind who made her afraid to let the cat go outside when he was home. BooBoo wasn't much of a cat -- he wasn't even hers -- but her mom loved him, so Jaine didn't want anything to happen to him while she had temporary custody. She would never be able to face her mom again if her parents returned from their dream vacation, touring Europe for six weeks, to find BooBoo dead or missing.
Her neighbor already had it in for poor BooBoo anyway, because he'd found paw prints on the windshield and hood of his car. From the way he had reacted, you'd have thought he drove a new Rolls rather than a ten-year-old Pontiac with a bumper crop of dings down both sides.
Just her luck, she had been leaving for work at the same time he did; at least, she'd assumed at the time he'd been going to work. Now she thought he'd probably been going to buy more booze. If he worked at all, then he had really weird hours, because so far she hadn't been able to discern a pattern in his arrivals and departures.
Anyway, she had tried to be nice on the day he spotted the paw prints; she'd even smiled at him, which, considering how he had snapped at her because her housewarming party had woken him up -- at two in the afternoon! -- had been a real effort for her. But he hadn't paid any attention to the peace-offering smile, instead erupting out of his car almost as soon as his butt hit the seat. "How about keeping your damn cat off my car, lady!"
The smile froze on her face. Jaine hated wasting a smile, especially on an unshaven, bloodshot-eyed, foul-tempered jerk. Several blistering comments sprang to mind, but she bit them back. After all, she was new to the neighborhood, and she had already gotten off on the wrong foot with this guy. The last thing she wanted was a war between them. She decided to give diplomacy one more shot, though it obviously hadn't worked during the housewarming party.
"I'm sorry," she said, keeping her voice even. "I'll try to keep an eye on him. I'm baby-sitting him for my parents, so he won't be here much longer." Just five more weeks.
He had snarled some indistinct reply and slammed back into his car, then roared off, the powerful engine rumbling like thunder. Jaine cocked her head, listening. The Pontiac's body looked like hell, but that motor ran smooth as silk. There were a lot of horses under that hood.
Diplomacy evidently didn't work on this guy.
Now, here he was, waking up the entire neighborhood at three A.M. with that blasted car. The injustice of it, after he had snapped at her for waking him up in the middle of the afternoon, made her want to march over to his house and hold her finger against his doorbell until he was up and as wide awake as everyone else.
Copyright © 2000 by Linda Howington.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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