Howard stares out his upstairs window at his neighbor, Zack, washing his car. Zack is at least sixty-five or seventy, Howard guesses, since all he knows about Zack is that he’s retired, and is wearing no shirt as he applies wax to the car’s exterior and buffs it. Howard shakes his head as he dials a number on his phone.
“That is not a good look for you,” he says aloud as he waits for the line to connect.
Judy’s voice comes from the other end of the line, and she sounds like she’s eating. “What’s up, Howie?”
“He’s at it again.”
“Yeah, it’s like the fourth time this week.”
“How clean can a car be?” Judy says through bites of food.
“What are you eating?”
“Leftover lasagna from the other night.”
Howard peers through the blinds again.
“I’ve got a theory about this guy,” he says.
“I think he’s a serial killer.”
“Oh get real. I met the guy. He’s a pleasant older gentleman. A little too talkative but nice.”
“The nice ones are the ones to watch out for. Gacy was in the Jaycees, you know.”
“All right, state your case.”
“Think about it. He’s always asking questions. Always poking around in other people’s business.”
“Byron, that guy on the residents council, says they refer to Zack as da news.”
“Hmm, he did seem a little obsessed with that woman in Unit 42 when I talked to him. But that could mean anything.”
Howard has been living in Dunkirk Estates ever since he and his wife divorced nearly four years ago. The split had been amicable, with no children to fight over, and they agreed to evenly divide the community property, including their home in Roswell. Dunkirk Estates is just along the outer edge of Interstate 285, which most Atlantans refer to as the Perimeter, as it surrounds the city, connecting every major highway through town, and Howard often noticed the complex as he was driving to work and inquired about it when he needed a new home. He purchased his unit from the original owner, one Betty McClosky, who had owned it since the 70s, making Howard only the second person to live there.
“This whole place is crawling with weirdos,” he said. “I told you about the crazy woman who steals people’s lawn ornaments, right?”
“Yeah, you mentioned it. Is she still on the loose?”
“Of course, what can they do? She’s a nuisance but relatively harmless. I kind of feel sorry for her with the way everyone acts toward her.”
“What did they do now?”
“Margo sent out one of her priority alerts, telling everyone to be on the lookout and call the local authorities if anyone sees her acting oddly,” he says. “Like the cops care that some stupid garden gnome went missing.” He moves from the window and sits at his computer desk. “Yesterday, Fred was out screaming at her like some lunatic. If the police had shown up they’d have carted him off for being nuts.”
“What prompted you to move in there anyway?”
“Price, for one,” Howard says. “I got it for a song from Ms. McClosky. Plus I can be on the road in any direction in a couple of minutes.”
“The joys of living at Spaghetti Junction,” Judy says, referring to the interchange from I-285 to I-85 which is less than a mile from Dunkirk.
Dunkirk Estates is a collection of townhouses built in the seventies with the original intent of being apartments. For some reason, the developers decided it was better to sell each unit once rather than have the continuous monthly income that comes with rentals, which is how the complex became condos instead. Each building consists of five units that share water and gas connections, making them shared expenses covered by the monthly residents’ fees.
Howard’s is one of four two-bedroom units in his building, with the fifth being a three bedroom at one end of the building, that has a fireplace and slightly larger patio, and which gives each building an L-shape. Margo, his next door neighbor, owns the three bedroom, although she lives alone, and on the other side is Fred, who also owns the connecting townhouse to his, which he occasionally rents out. Because of this, there are usually only four or five people in the building, without any families. The end unit is owned by an East European couple who pretty much keep to themselves.
When Howard moved in, Fred was president of the residents’ council but at the next quarterly meeting, Margo staged a coup and had Fred booted from the board for alleged financial mismanagement and ever since, there’s been quite a bit of hostility between them. Living in the middle unit, Howard often finds himself caught up in their disputes as one or the other tries to recruit Howard to his or her side. Whenever the annual meeting rolls around, both are sure to knock on his door to solicit his vote. After attending his first and only annual meeting after he moved in, which devolved into a shouting match before the meeting had even been called to order, Howard opted out of going to anymore, and to avoid rankling either of his neighbors, he usually gives his proxy to Zack.
Judy is Howard’s former sister-in-law, who he barely knew while he was married, but ended up as his co-worker about nine months after his divorce was final. This mutual connection allowed them to strike up an acquaintance which blossomed into a cordial friendship and later an on again off again dating relationship. Judy is the polar opposite of Howard’s ex, who has given her blessing for the relationship. Judy is also divorced, and neither she nor Howard is in any hurry to take things to the next level.