For about a year, Alec had complained about a large leaning pine on my property that threatened a structure near the back of his lot. He kept pressing me to hire an arborist to remove the tilting tower, but I didn’t think the problem urgent.
He even gave me the phone number for his brother’s tree removal service. His kin’s quote seemed steep, so I declined.
In the night, a nasty storm soaked the soil, and the reclining pine toppled, destroying the fence and Alec’s greenhouse. In the morning, I rang my neighbor’s bell.
“Yeah?” Alec asked, through the screen.
“Tree out back came down last night—”
“How many times I tell you to fell that son-of-a-bitch,” he said, slamming the door in my face.
I snapped pictures of the wreckage with my digital camera for insurance purposes. Alec cussed loudly on the other side of the destruction, documenting his mangled greenhouse with an old Polaroid camera.
The next morning the buzz of chainsaws woke me. Alec’s brother Charlie and some rough characters were sectioning the fallen tree, and removing the wood from the property line. In my haste, I knotted my bathrobe, slipped on my wife’s pink bunny slippers, and flung open the sliding glass door to the backyard. I tried getting Charlie’s attention, but he kept sawing until I stood over him, dangerously close to the spinning chain.
“Careful,” Charlie said, cutting the gas, and spitting chaw onto one of my wife’s pink bunny slippers. “I slip, and this blade goes right through you.”
“What the hell is this?” I demanded.
“Tree removal,” Charlie said.
“I didn’t authorize it.”
Alec approached with his hellhound.
“Let these boys alone, Hugh.” Alec said.
“I didn’t okay this.”
“No shit,” Alec said, and his dog growled at me. “Had you dealt with this problem in a timely fashion, we wouldn’t be in this mess. You knew this tree was a danger to my property, and you did squat, so now you’ll foot the bill.”
“The hell I will,” I said. “You’ll be hearing from my lawyer.”
“Calm down Rebel,” Alec said to his massive Rottweiler. “I don’t like Hugh neither, but I can’t let you at him. He still needs to pay for the tree removal, the fence, and my damaged property.”
“I got a buddy can do these fence repairs cheap,” Charlie said.
“I’m not saying another word until I talk to my lawyer, so stop what you’re doing, and get off my property before I call the cops,” I demanded.
Alec smiled, and Charlie fired up his chainsaw. I stomped back to my house, slipped off my wife’s brown bunny slippers, and entered through the sliding glass door.
Moscow, my five-year-old son, heard me swearing, and repeated the profanity. Lori told me to calm down, be rational, and discuss the situation with Alec like a civilized being. I stomped into my office, and emailed the photos of the downed tree and the busted fence to my insurance company before calling my lawyer.
“Dave, Hugh here. How’s it going?” I asked over the phone.
“I’m drowning in alimony and child support from two different marriages, and I’m in trial for a forgery case, and I don’t mean I’m trying the case,” Dave said.
“I mean I’m personally being sued for forging several deeds. The prosecution has a forensics expert taking the stand against me.”
“Hey listen,” I said. “A tree on my property fell into my neighbor’s yard. Am I liable?”
“I wouldn’t worry. Your neighbor’s insurance will probably cover the damages. Why did it fall?”
“It started leaning that way a year or so ago.”
“Did you know the tree was unstable?”
“Um—well, uh, yeah.”
“Can your neighbor prove you knew the tree was unstable?”
“Yeah. Alec kept complaining about it. His arborist brother quoted me something like three-grand to take it down, so I told him to take a hike.”
“Sounds like you’re at fault, and he’ll probably sue you for liability. Also, from what I understand, three-grand’s a pretty good deal to take down a leaner.”
“What should I do? He’s already got his brother sawing and hauling away the tree.”
“Contact your insurance company. Make them aware of the situation.”
I bashed down the phone. Moscow stood beside me, holding a piece of paper.
“I druw it daddy. It’s you and the twee before it fall.”
“Let’s see,” I said, snatching the coloring from his hands.
Although the art was crude, the poorly drawn tree leaned towards Alec’s scribbly house. I crumpled the drawing into a wad, and threw it against the wall. Moscow screamed, and ran to his mother. Lori confront me, but I shut her down with a ‘now is not the time’ glare just as Waffles rub against my leg. Snatching up the phone, I ignored the family cat, and dialed my insurance agent.
“Greg, Hugh here.”
“Hey Hugh. What can I help you with? Ah shit.”
“Yeah. I just spilled hot coffee on my lap.”
“Listen. A tree on my property fell into a neighbor’s yard. I sent you some pictures.”
“Give me a second … Let me bring up my email … Wow, that sucker’s big,” Greg said. “I’m guessing your neighbor’s homeowner’s insurance will cover the damage.”
“You think Alec’s insurance will cover the cost,” I repeated, but my wife stared at me, shaking her head in the negative. “Hold on, my wife disagrees. Lori, What do you mean?”
“Carol told me Alec discontinued the family’s home owner’s insurance several years back.”
“Hey Greg, Lori’s telling me the neighbor’s don’t have insurance.”
“Christ,” Greg said. “That puts us on the hook, but I have to tell you, we can only cover up to five-hundred dollars. You’ll have to pick up the rest.”
“Five-hundred dollars,” I yelled into the phone. “What the hell have I been paying you crooks for all these years?”
“Calm down Hugh. All the facts aren’t in yet.”
“The illusion of coverage?” I yelled into the phone, and smashed down the receiver.
My bad temper subsided over the next few days, and I tried not to think about the ordeal. I’d wait to see how Alec played his hand, and counter his move accordingly.
A week passed, and nothing happened. Alec’s scuzzy brother removed the fallen tree, but the busted fence separating our properties remained an open wound.
One day, Alford wandered into our backyard. Alford was Alec and Carol’s massive, hulking, barrel-chested, seventeen-year-old, mentally disabled son. Lori called Carol to inform her that Alford was in our backyard, and I went outside to talk to the boy.
“Hi Alford,” I said. “Are you supposed to be over here?”
“I like the kitty,” he said, petting Waffles.
“Do your parents know where you are?” I asked.
“I pet the kitty.”
“Do Alec and Carol know you’re here?”
“I pet the kitty.”
“Hey,” Alec yelled from the broken fence line. “Get your ass over here boy.”
“But I pet the kitty.”
“Goddamn it Alford. Now.”
“You should listen to your dad,” I said. “Go home.”
“Okay,” Alford said. “Bye-bye kitty.”
He stood up, and I noticed tufts of cat hair stuck to Alford’s fingers.
“Hey,” I said to Alford, and grabbed Waffles. “What did you do?”
“I pet the kitty,” he said, walking away.
“You killed the kitty,” I said, holding Waffles’ lifeless body.
“Get inside boy,” Alec said, grabbing Alford by the arm, and leading him home.
Moscow was stricken with grief. He crawled under our bed and cried. Lori called Carol. They talked for a long time, and when Lori finally hung up the phone, I asked what Carol said.
“She said there was no way Alford killed Waffles, and she resented the accusation. She thinks the cat was already dead.”
“Funny how Waffles made it a decade out here without so much as a scratch, but the fence goes down, the retard escapes, and our cat just miraculously happens to die?”
“Hugh, please don’t use that word. Alford is severely autistic. Sometimes you can be so mean. You need to lighten up on Alec and his family, okay?”
“Carol’s the one that needs to lighten up. She must weigh a ton.”
“Knock it off Hugh. I mean it. Carol said we owe Charlie three-grand for the tree.”
“That redneck piece-of-shit’s crazy if he thinks he’s getting a dime out of me. We didn’t hire him. The nerve of these people, they deny killing Waffles, and they charge us for work we don’t want.”
A few weeks slid by, and we hadn’t heard from Alec. The fence was still down, but neither of us offered the other an olive branch, so the problem lingered like an infection.
One day as I returned home from work, Lori met me in the front yard. She said Alec’s Rottweiler had mauled Moscow. I found my little boy on the couch, crying with a bloody towel wrapped around his head.
“Let’s get you to the hospital,” I said picking him up. But I set him down again and called 911. Moscow needed immediate medical attention. An ambulance would provide help faster than us driving down the mountain, and the service would cost Alec substantially more in medical bills.
The emergency vehicle’s sirens blared as it pulled into the driveway. Neighbors watched from their porches as my wounded little boy and his sobbing mother climbed into the ambulance. I stayed behind, so I could bring the car to the hospital.
In the kitchen, I gathered supplies. Tossing a box of Cheese-Its into a tote bag, I looked through the window. Alec slouched in my backyard, smoking a cigarette.
“Get off my property,” I said, approaching.
“Rebel’s a good boy,” Alec said without moving.
“He’s a regular saint,” I said. “And Alford didn’t kill Waffles either. You people are unbelievable.”
“I’m hiring my brother’s friend to fix the fence,” Alec said, and took a drag from his cigarette.
“And you’re paying for it too,” I said. “Keep your monsters away from my family.”
Alec looked at me, but didn’t say anything. He smoked his cigarette down to the filter, crushed the butt under his boot, turned around, and walked into his yard. I snatched up the crumpled debris, and hurled it, hitting Alec’s back. He turned, cracking a sickly smile before disappearing into his house.
Moscow needed stiches in his scalp. We reported the incident to the police and animal control. When Moscow was released from the E.R., we took him for ice cream.
The neighbors were on their porches as we parked in our driveway. Three police officers had Alec lying prone on his lawn. An empty whisky bottle and a shotgun lay nearby. They cuffed him, and lifted him to his feet. He had murder in his eyes as the police led him to a patrol car.
I asked Hal, two houses down, what happened? He said animal control took Rebel. Alec was drunk in the street, waving a shotgun around, and screaming for revenge. Silence hung between us for a moment before Hal asked me about the broken fence in my backyard. He said he’d fix it for a friendly price. Without another word, I turned and walked home
One evening after work, I found several unknown men building a fence through the middle of my backyard.
“What the hell are you doing?” I yelled at the strange carpenters. “Get off my property, or I’m calling the police.”
“Call ‘em, so I can have you removed for trespassing,” Alec said, smoking a cigarette. “I looked over the estate surveys, and noticed the boundaries were laid out wrong. You’re standing on my property.”
“The hell I am. If you don’t stop building this fence immediately, I will sue the shit out of you.”
“Go ahead. We’ll see who’s liable, dog killer.”
“Your dog attacked my son.”
“I’m surprised you didn’t have Alford put down too.”
“Unbelievable. Your son kills my cat, and your dog mauls my son and you try to make me feel bad.”
“Rebel was a good boy.”
“I can’t speak for the neighborhood, but I’ve slept better without that mutt hollowing every morning at 4AM.”
“I’ll send you the bill for the fence and the greenhouse.”
“And I’ll wipe my ass with the bill, and use it as kindling to burn down this fence.”
The sun sank below the mountain, so construction halted, but the argument continued into the darkness. Lori came out, tried to play peacemaker, and dragged me indoors, but not before I told Alec to take a flying fuck off a sinking turd.
The next morning I called my lawyer.
“Dave, Hugh here.”
“Hugh, can it wait?” Dave asked. “I’m due for a hearing in about ten minutes, and I need to go over some notes.”
“My neighbor Alec claims the property line is wrong, and now he’s building a fence through my backyard.”
“Sounds like a boundary dispute. You need to compare deeds. If you can’t come to an agreement, get a land survey.”
“How much will that cost?”
“Hard to say. Find your deed, and call several estate firms. If you can prove your neighbor is encroaching, you can sue him. That’s about all I can do for you right now.”
I slammed down the phone just as the hammering out back began again. No way Alec would compare property deeds with me, and I didn’t want to pay a survey team, so I figured I’d wait until the fence was built, and burn it down. Lori didn’t think that was such a hot idea. Begrudgingly, I searched our filing cabinet for the deed, thinking I’d have to shell out for a survey after all, but then an idea kicked me square in the ass, and I slammed shut the cabinet.
The solution had been in front of my face the entire time, and I just hadn’t seen it, but now the answer to my woes shown like a beacon of hope upon a vengeful sea of neighborly wrath. When the tree fell, it took out the fence, but it also took out Alec’s greenhouse. What the hell did Alec need a greenhouse for? We have some of the richest soil in the county. He wasn’t growing tomatoes in there. He was growing something else. As a concerned citizen, I felt it my duty to report such activities to the proper authorities.
When the police officer arrived, I led him into my backyard, and I pointed to Alec’s damaged greenhouse. From our vantage point, marijuana plants were visible. The officer called the station, and a search warrant was issued within the hour.
The police found over fifty plants. Inside Alec’s home, they discovered little plastic bags and scales, which showed intent to sell, bumping the crime up to a felony. They also discovered several unregistered firearms. Amid the spectating neighbors, Alec was handcuffed. Again, murder gleamed in his eyes as they stuffed him into a patrol car.
The next day Lori drove Moscow into Scott’s Valley to see a kid’s movie. I grabbed a hammer and a crowbar, and tore down the fence while doing my best Ronald Reagan impersonation. “Mr. Gorbachev—tear down this wall.” When I finished dismantling the palisade, I returned to the house, popped a beer, and plopped on the couch. Flipping on a golf tournament, I sat back in contentment.
Goddamn it felt good to beat that asshole. Life could finally get back to normal.
As I started to doze, the sliding glass door exploded. I snapped awake, thinking Alec posted bail, and would have his revenge via shotgun, but then I saw a large cobblestone on the living room floor amid the shards of broken glass.
In the backyard, I saw Carol lumbering back onto her property.
Hefting the stone with the intention of returning the favor, I noticed a faded and sienna Polaroid taped to the rock: My wife spread naked on a bed. Rebel curled at her feet.
Morgan Boyd used to live in Santa Cruz, California. Now he lives somewhere else with his wife, daughter, cat, and carnivorous plant collection. He has been published online at Flash Fiction Offensive, Shotgun Honey, Near To The Knuckle, Coffee and Fried Chicken, Tough, Yellow Mama, Pulp Metal Magazine, and in print at Switchblade Magazine. He also has stories forthcoming at Spelk, and Story and Grit.