A Summer to Remember – Part 9

Carter’s dad was standing on the front porch looking at the myriad of police cars littered about the cul de sac, his arms crossed and his foot tapping. Carter saw the exact moment his dad caught sight of him and felt himself slowing down. The cop beside him urged him on.

Seconds later, their screen door flew open and his mom came racing past his dad and down the walkway before enveloping him in a giant hug.

“We were so worried! Why would you try to rescue Mr. Stalnaker all by yourself?” she asked, still holding him in a tight hug.

“I didn’t think you’d believe me,” he said, when she finally released him. “I mean, you didn’t believe him when he said there was a woman being held captive.”

“To be fair, neither did you,” his dad said.

“Well, he seemed crazy.” Carter shrugged his shoulders.

“Exactly,” his dad said. “We might have believed you, but you didn’t even give us a chance.”

“That was insanely dangerous!” his mom added.

Carter looked down at his feet scuffing the toe of his sneaker on the pavement.

So much for feeling like a hero.

* * *

The next day he managed to finish up the rest of garage. After they got home from work, while, his parents were inspecting the garage, Mr. Stalnaker arrived home from the hospital. He caught sight of  Carter as soon as he got out of the car and immediately started walking towards their house, much to the chagrin of his son.

“Thank you my boy!” he said, throwing his arms up in the air as he walked towards Carter and his parents. “If it wasn’t for you I’d still be stuck in that house with that wretched woman and her sons.”

“How did you get caught by them to begin with?” Carter’s mom asked. “That must have been a truly dreadful experience.”

“It was,” Mr. Stalnaker said, grimacing. “I told you earlier that I had seen someone waving for help from the front window. No one believed me, mind you.” He gave his son a sidelong look. His son look mildly chastised and stay quiet. “Turns out, I was right. Her name is Denise and they had locked her in the basement at the end of their last party. Apparently, she was snooping around and discovered that Karen is an alias. Her name is actually Barbara Her and her son Robbie are quite the identity thieves.

“What about Jeffery?” Carter’s dad asked.

Both Carter and Mr. Stalnaker laughed. “Hardly,” Mr. Stalnaker said.

His parents looked at them confused, but Mr. Stalnaker didn’t seem to notice. “Anyway, that’s why the parties stopped. They couldn’t very well have a bunch of people in the house. Someone might have heard her calling for help. But they’re basement wasn’t exactly secure or soundproof, so I guess they brought contractors in to build a soundproof room until they figured out their next move. But, then they had to bring her upstairs during the day and blasted that horrid metal music so no one would hear her.

“And you’re telling me Jeffery didn’t know about this?” Carter’s dad asked.

“Well, not at first. But Denise told me that she was able to get his attention after a few days thinking that he might help her.”

“He didn’t?” Carter’s mom asked.

“Hardly, he used it to secure the landscaping job,” Mr. Stalnaker said.

“So, that’s why his mom hired him.” Carter laughed.

“Yup. I told you there was something fishy going on.” Mr. Stalnaker grinned proudly.

“Yes Dad, you did. Now can we inside. You just got out of the hospital.” Mr. Stalnaker’s son gently put his hands on his dad’s shoulders and tried to steer him back towards the house.

“Party pooper,” Mr. Stalnaker muttered as he was led back to his home.

“See you tomorrow,” Carter called back.

“Wow,” Carter’s mom said. “All that was happening just next door and we didn’t know anything about it.”

“Yeah, cool,” Carter said, already losing interest. “So, do I get to go to Mason’s cabin?” Carter asked, motioned towards the newly organized garage.

His parents shared a look, then finally agreed.

A Summer to Remember – Part 8

It was the following morning after Jeffery had caught Carter snooping around their yard. Carter sat in the middle of his driveway in the sun watching the Brockett house. He was becoming almost as obvious as Mr. Stalnaker had been.

He was almost finished organizing and cleaning the garage. It had taken him all of July and the first part of August and now he had maybe a day and half’s worth of work left. He was so close to earning that last week of summer vacation, but now the garage sat forgotten.

Clearly, Jeffery had bought Carter’s treasure hunting story. First thing that morning, Jeffery had sent home his landscaping crew and was now shoveling holes in the yard by himself. Every few minutes he would stop and shoot Carter a glare, but Carter had other things on his mind.

He was sure that Mr. Stalnaker was in trouble and just as sure that he was locked somewhere in the Brockett house. Metal music blasted from inside the house as the construction crew came in and out. He needed to find a way to sneak in.

His biggest worry was how to get past Karen and her son Robbie. If they were in the house, and he was pretty certain they were, they were sure to catch him. Too bad Mr. Stalnaker wasn’t here to tell him their schedule. He’d been watching them for weeks and would have known that. Although, now that he thought about it, he hadn’t seen Karen leave the house in weeks.

He needed to somehow create a diversion. The minutes ticked by and then the hours, but by 3:30 he still wasn’t any closer to figuring it our.

“What are you doing to my lawn!” a voice shouted from the backyard. Stomping around the holes and mounds of dirt, Karen, in her stilettos came marching around the side of house. Jeffery stopped digging long enough to look up, before ignoring her and getting back to work.

“Answer me! There are holes everywhere!”

Jeffery kept digging. Obviously attracted by the shouting, Robbie came sauntering out the front door and pulled up short after a few steps as he also caught sight of the yard.

“Looks like you’ve added a few more holes. Nice work.” Robbie smirked.

“You think this is funny?” Karen turned her anger on him.

“You hired him,” Robbie held up his hands in front of him and shrugged. “I told you not to, but you insisted.”

“Do you even have a plan?” Karen asked, looking around wide-eyed. “And where’s the rest of your crew?”

“I sent them home.” Jeffery said.

“You sent them—” she broke of her shouting when she caught sight of Carter sitting in the middle of the driveway watching them

“Backyard, both of you,” she hissed at her sons.

“Let’s discuss this inside,” Robbie said, starting to walk back to the front door.

“Not a chance. He’s covered head to toe in dirt. You are not five anymore!” she shouted the last bit at Jeffery before stalking towards the back yard. Robbie sighed and followed while Jeffery set his shovel down and meekly followed. Then he stopped suddenly, whirled around to look at Carter, before going back to retrieve the shovel.

“Now!” Karen shouted.

Jeffery stumbled over the mounds and holes with the shovel safe in hands and they all disappeared into the back.

Quite suddenly, Carter found himself staring at an empty yard with all of the occupants in the back. He waiting a moment, then scrambled across the cul de sac, up the front yard, and was about to go through the door when two of the construction workers could be heard walking down the hall towards the front door.

Carter flew into the bushes lining the front of the house and waited until they passed him. When the coast was clear he quickly and quietly slipped into the house and up the stairs.

If he had known the evening would end with the police escorting him home yet again, he might have given his plan a bit more careful thought.

A Summer to Remember – Part 7

It was 2:30 am and Carter stood at the end of his driveway in indecision. It had been a week since he had seen Mr. Stalnaker and he was genuinely worried. He hadn’t seen him since the day he snuck off to investigate the Brockett’s yard.

Checking the darkened windows of his neighbours carefully to see if anyone might be spying on him, he finally just took a deep breath and crossed the cul de sac. Once he hit their yard he swiped the flashlight on his phone to light a path.

Over the last week the “landscapers” had dug numerous holes throughout the yard and he didn’t want to take the chance that he might fall into any of them. As he carefully weaved his way though to the backyard he listened carefully for any noises that might indicate someone had seen him.

The backyard, if it was possible, was in worse shape than the front. There was a small bulldozer sitting precariously on a small hilltop of soil. Random boulders lay strewn about the yard brought in for what he assumed was some sort of aesthetic look.

He carefully tiptoed up to one of the basement windows and peered inside. It was utterly and completely dark even with his hands pressed against the glass cupping his eyes.

He then slipped over to the next window. Again pitch black. Felling defeated he sat back on his heels when something in the bushes caught his eye. It was Mr. Stalnaker’s hat. He reached out his hand to pull it out when someone grabbed him by the arm and wretched him upwards and back.

“And just what do you think you’re doing?” Jeffery shouted at him.

“Ah, I was looking for,” he glanced around the yard trying to quickly think of a possible reason for why he would in their yard at 2:30 in the morning.”

“Well?” Jeffery asked, shaking Carter’s arm in a grip that was sure to leave bruises.

Finally, something clicked. “I was looking for buried treasure. I figured that’s why you’re digging all of these holes. But all I found was this hat.” He held up the hat he’s just managed to swipe

The grip on his arm loosened a bit as Jeffery looked around the darkened yard. “You think there’s treasure here.”

“Well, sure,” Carter said, feeling more and more grateful that Jeffery had been the brother to find him. Robbie wouldn’t have been fooled nearly so easily.

“Well it’s not yours! It’s mine! Go dig up your own yard.” He pushed him forward towards the front lawn. Carter nearly fell into one of the holes as he fought to regain his balance.

“Go on! Get out!” He shoved Carter again.

This time Carter fell flat on his face. He scrambled up and raced through the yard as fast as his legs could carry him. Meanwhile, Jeffery stood with hands on his hips surveying the yard with renewed interest.

A Summer to Remember – Part 6

Carter had been working on the garage for most of July and now he was halfway through the floor to ceiling boxes. He was starting to look forward to the days his dad asked him to work in the yard or mow Mr. Stalnaker’s yard. It broke up the monotony and gave him some time in the sun.

Rock music blasted through the cul de sac from the open window of the Brockett house. It drove Mr. Stalnaker crazy. It started at exactly 6:45 am every morning just before the construction crew showed up and didn’t stop until after they left. If they wanted him to stop peering at them through his binoculars, they were going about it all wrong.

As Carter stepped out of the garage to break for lunch he noticed there was a man laying on the neighbour’s grass sprawled out on his back. At first he wasn’t sure if he should call an ambulance or if the man was simply sleeping.

He started walking down his driveway to investigate when Mr. Stalnaker appeared out of no where and said, “Man’s just sleeping. I saw him lay down earlier.”

“Who sleeps in the middle of someone else’s lawn?” Carter asked.

“You can sleep when your boss is the owner’s son. It’s Jeffery’s landscaping business.”

Carter turned away from the sleeping man to look at Mr. Stalnaker. “Oh yeah, I think my dad said something about him when they first moved in,”

“Your dad was going to hire them?” Mr. Stalnaker asked.

Carter laughed. “No, he said, ‘what do I need a landscaper for?’ he has me.”

“He’s lucky,” Mr. Stalnaker said. “My friend down the street hired them. They destroyed his yard. The yard is dead. It’s a wasteland and then they just dropped him saying it was his fault because the drainage was poor. You’d think seeings as he’s her son she’d have known not to hire them.”

Carter shrugged, “Maybe that’s why she hired him.”

“You didn’t see my friend’s yard. Even my son wouldn’t be allowed near my yard if that was the kind of work he did.”

Suddenly a loud scream shrieked through the music.

“What was that?” Mr. Stalnaker stood upright with attention his binoculars pressed to his eyes again.

“I think it was just the music,” Carter said, trying not to laugh. “It’s heavy metal. They send to scream.”

“No, there was a face! See look!” He handed his binoculars to Carter frantically and pointed to one of the upstairs windows.

Carter hesitated then took them with a sigh. All he saw was a window reflecting back the sunshine. “Sorry,” he said, handing the binoculars back to Mr. Stalnaker.

Mr. Stalnaker glared at him and took a step towards him so suddenly it caused Carter to stumble backwards. For a second, he was afraid Mr. Stalnaker might hit him.

“No one believes me, but there is something going on over there and I’m going to find out what it is. Then all of you will be sorry you didn’t listen,” he huffed, then stomped back to his yard.

The next time Carter saw him was after lunch when he noticed Mr. Stalnaker tip-toeing by the still-sleeping landscaper as he made his way around to the back of their house.

Carter groaned. “What are you doing now old man?” he muttered. He thought about going after him, but instead returned to work on the garage. What was the worst that could happen? Besides, he was determined to finish the garage so he could to Mason’s cabin at the end of summer like his parents promised.

A Summer to Remember – Part 5

“I can’t believe Wally’s plan worked,” Carter’s mom said at the breakfast table. It had been a week since Carter helped had first helped Mr. Stalnaker with his lawn. Since then there hadn’t been any more parties.

“Yeah, well, don’t say that to him,” Carter said, buttering his toast.

“Why not?” his mom asked. “I would think he’d enjoy the credit.”

“He doesn’t think it worked. He’s convinced the parties stopped because they’re up to something.”

“Up to what?” his dad asked.

“No idea. He’s old and crazy.” Carter shoved half the toast in his mouth in one giant bite.

“Carter!” His dad glared at him.

“It’s true though,” he mumbled through a mouthful of bread. “He’s obsessed. He spends all day sitting on his porch staring at their house through his binoculars. It’s creepy.”

“Oh dear,” his mom sighed.

“Keep an eye on him,” his dad said standing up and wiping the crumbs from his fingers.

“Please clean up the breakfast dishes and pull the chicken out of the freezer for dinner tonight.” His mom kissed him on the top of his head as she followed Carter’s dad out the door.

“Sure mom.” Then he shoved the last of his toast into his mouth.

* * *

Carter was on his way to the garage when a low rumbling motor started up. Thinking Mr. Stalnaker was up to some of his antics he ignored it and kept walking to the garage. He began his now daily task of sorting. His dad had already taken a truckload of junk that was broken to the dump.

He’d only been in the garage for about 15 minutes when something caught his attention.

“Psst! Hey boy! Err, Carton,” a voice called softly behind him. “Cartoon?”

Carter turned around and saw Mr. Stalnaker peering around the open garage door. He waved his hand motioning him to follow, then disappeared.

Carter rolled his eyes. What now? He followed Mr. Stalnaker around the side of the garage where they were hidden from view of the street by a giant bush.

“Have you noticed what’s going on across the way?” Mr. Stalnaker loudly whispered over the sound of the motor.

“Err, no,” Carter replied. He tried to step back onto the driveway to get a look, but Mr. Stalnaker pulled him back. “Don’t. They’ll see you.”

“So?” Carter asked.

“They’re very touchy about people watching them.”

“Do you think it might have to do with the fact that you’ve been staring at them through binoculars for the past week?”

Mr. Stalnaker just grunted. “I’m serious. There’s something fishy going on. First that Robbie boy took off in car that wasn’t his.”

“His name you can remember,” Carter muttered.

“Then the parties, which had been going on every night since they moved in just stop.”

“Maybe enough neighbours complained,” Carter suggested.

“And now there’s a construction crew!” He gestured towards the Brockett house which was still hidden from view.

Carter looked at him like he’d lost his mind. “So?”

“What are they hiding?”

“They aren’t hiding anything. They probably just want to renovate.”

“That house was renovated top to bottom last year by the previous owners. There’s nothing left to fix,” he huffed, glaring at Carter.

“Maybe it’s not about fixing anything. Maybe they just want it to look different.” Carter shrugged. Mr. Stalnaker’s mouth dropped open like he was going to say something else, then decided against it.

Finally, he just said, “Fine, so you aren’t going to help?”

“Help with what?” Carter asked, perplexed.

“Never mind.” He shook his head and shuffled off towards the driveway and back to his house.

Carter returned to the garage and continued working. It wasn’t until the end of the day when his parents pulled into the driveway that Mr. Stalnaker came back. “Do you see what’s happening?” he waved his binoculars in front of him.

“Hi Wally,” Carter’s dad said, stepping out of the car. “What’s happening?”

“The neighbours. There’s something f—”

“Fishy going on,” Carter finished for him.

“Yes, Carton here doesn’t seem to think it’s a big deal. But that Robbie has been power washing all day long. What can there possibly be left to power wash?”

“Maybe he only has it for a short time and wants to make the most of it.” Carter’s dad shrugged.

“There was screaming.” Mr. Stalnaker raised his eyebrows like he’d made the defining point in their argument.

“What?” Carter’s mom asked.

“When?” Carter asked. He hadn’t heard anything. Although to be fair, he’d been wearing his headphones all day.

“An hour ago. And when I heard it, I looked up and a hand came out the window and was waving for help,” Mr. Stalnaker said, gravely.

“How do you know they weren’t waving hello?” Carter asked.

“Because it was too frantic.” Mr. Stalnaker said, getting visibly frustrated. “And besides, Robbie saw me looking. As soon as he saw the hand, he raced back inside. A few moments later the window slammed shut.” He leaned forward and whispered, “I didn’t hear anything after that.”

“Yes, well, that does sound quite, er, dramatic,” Carter’s dad said, carefully.

“Perhaps you should call the police,” Carter’s mom said. His dad caught her eye and raised his eyebrows. “Well, who knows. What if someone is in trouble? Better be safe just in case.” She lifted her hands and shrugged her shoulders apologetically.

“I did call the police,”Mr. Stalnaker said. “They didn’t come. They didn’t seem to think it was a valid threat.”

“Well, if the police don’t think anything of it, then it’s probably nothing,” Carter’s dad said, putting a friendly hand on Mr. Stalnaker’s shoulder.

“Like father like son,” he grunted. “Mark my words. There is something going on over there and I’m going to figure it out.” He shuffled off back to his house.

“That poor man,” Carter’s mom said, once he was out of earshot.

A Summer to Remember – Part 4

“Up and at ‘em,” Carter’s dad said, walking into his room the next morning and pulling up the blackout shades on the two basement windows.

“It’s Saturday,” Carter groaned, yanking the sheet up over his head.

“Very good,” his dad said. “Remember, you agreed to help Mr. Stalnaker with his project today.”

“You agreed,” Carter mumbled through the blankets over his head. “And I thought he said he didn’t want any help.”

“He didn’t until I called his son and told him what his father was up to. Garry came over last night and took the chainsaw. Now he has no choice but to accept your help. Let’s go!”

“Fantastic.”

When Carter got to Mr. Stalnaker’s yard it was 6:15 am. “What took you so long?” Mr. Stalnaker asked. “We’re burning daylight.”

Carter rubbed his eyes trying to focus. “What do you need me to do?”

“Apparently my son thinks I did terrible job on the lawn and it needs to be redone. Not that that was the point. I wanted it loud, not perfect.”

“Mowing it is,” Carter said, running his hand through his hair to get it out of his eyes. As he started the mower, he braced himself for the inevitable angry neighbours and not just the partiers. No one was going to happy with him mowing the lawn at 6 in the morning on a Saturday.

Sure enough, by the time he finished and shut the mower off he heard shouting. As he turned to look in the direction of the noise, Mr. Stalnaker caught his eye. He was sitting on his front porch with binoculars pressed against his eyes as he peered at the windows of the party house.

“Subtle,” Carter muttered as he turned to look at the house with the shouting. He couldn’t make out what they were upset about, but it didn’t seem to be directed at him for which he was relieved.

Suddenly, a head popped out one of the second story window. It was the Brockett’s eldest son Robbie. He glared at them. “Mind your own business, old man!” he shouted, before slamming the window shut.

“Friendly,” Carter said, raising his eyebrows at Mr. Stalnaker.

“Very,” he gruffly responded.

Two seconds latter Robbie came stomping out the front door, slamming that behind him as well.

Mr. Stalnaker hopped up and ambled down the steps of his porch to get a better look. He still had one arm up holding the binoculars up to his face giving him an even odder gait since he couldn’t actually see what was right in front of him.. “Now where does he think he’s going.”

Carter shrugged. “Out?”

Robbie stalked down the street and hopped into a blue Honda parked just around the corner of the cul de sac almost out of view.

“That’s not his car.” Mr. Stalnaker pressed his binoculars up to his face.

Carter raised his eyebrows. “Maybe it’s a new car.”

“Then why is it parked down the street? Besides, his car is the silver Mercedes in the driveway. It’s 10 years newer and a lot more expensive. Why would he buy that rusted out beater?”

Carter shrugged. He didn’t really care.

“It’s fishy,” Mr. Stalnaker mused. “Definitely fishy.”

Carter pushed the mower back into the shed in Mr. Stalnaker’s backyard and grabbed the weed whacker.  The sooner he got everything done, the sooner he could go back to bed.

A Summer to Remember – Part 3

Carter’s dad finally turned around to face Carter after inspecting his work on the garage.

“Keep going like this and you might actually get that last week of summer at Mason’s cabin,” Carter’s dad said. Carter had been working on the garage all day and now it was after supper.

“Really?” Carter asked, trying not to get his hopes up

His dad picked up a painting of stream running through a forest in a textured gold frame from the “to sell” table. “I don’t remember owning this.”

The “to sell” table was piled high with books and gadgets while the bed of the pick-up truck was half-full already. A number of new boxes had been packed and labelled. However, just looking in the garage, it looked like he’d barely made a dent.

Suddenly, loud crashing noise came from next door. “What was that?” his dad asked as he stepped back to get a better look at Mr. Stalnaker’s house.

“Probably trying to come up with another way to annoy the neighbours.” He went on to tell his dad about his encounter with Mr. Stalnaker that morning. “Check out his lawn,” he said, laughing.

Mr. Stalnaker’s lawn looked like someone had tried to cut it with a weedwacker rather than a lawn mower. There were patches of long grass mixed with trails of short grass that crisscrossed across the yard.

As they walked closer they saw Mr. Stalnaker dragging a small wooden desk from the garage.

“Evening Wally,” his dad greeted Mr. Stalnaker. “What are you up to?”

Mr. Stalnaker grunted as he continued to drag the desk down the driveway. Finally, halfway down the drive, he dropped his end with a grunt. He gave them a grim smile. “Just getting ready for tomorrow morning.”

“Parties have been a bit much lately, huh?” Carter’s father said.

“Ha! Yeah, you could say that. A man needs his sleep.”

“I agree. What’s with the desk though?”

“I’m going to make it into firewood tomorrow. Just bought myself a brand new chain saw,” he grinned at them.

“Er, do you think that’s safe?” Carter’s dad asked.

“’Course it is. I know what I’m doing,” Mr. Stalnaker huffed.

Carter and his dad shared a look.

“How about instead, we join forces?” his dad suggested.

“What do you have in mind?”

“I’m giving Carter a bunch of jobs to do over the summer. How about he spends a couple of his mornings at your house mowing the lawn, weed-whacking, power-washing. Whatever loud things we can think of? But we put the saw away?”

Mr. Stalkner scratched his head and muttered to himself as he thought it over. “S’mightly nice of you to offer, but I’m going to stick with the chainsaw. Nice and loud.” He grinned.

Carter and his dad watched his limped gait as he lumbered back into the house. “Good job with the garage today,” he said, squeezing Carter’s shoulder. “I have to make a phone call. Tomorrow, I want you to head over to Mr. Stalkner’s house first thing and offer to help again.”

“Okay, but I don’t think he’ll agree . . ..” Carter trailed off when he realized his dad wasn’t listening. He was already walking into the house.

“Close up the garage before you come in,” he called back as the screen door slammed shut behind him.