danielshortell: a case from the PETAfiles

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a case from the PETAfiles

He tied his shoes, grabbed his bag and turned the engine on his Corolla just as his mom pulled back the curtain to see him off. His second day. College kid now, heading off to fill his brain with math, Shakespeare, economics and such. Only day two and he already felt his enthusiasm pulling back like the resistance of engine compression in a low gear, besting a car's forward momentum. The enrollment process spawned nice thoughts: new friends, new knowledge enabling him to one-up his pops, and more respect from the guys at the restaurant. College student, a person on track for upward social mobility, set apart from those who sweat their asses off cooking burgers or hammering nails. But these feelings weren't new to Josh. That adrenaline-infused ambition, at least historically, tended to peter out once reality kicked-in and required sustained effort to achieve anything like success.

Josh graduated from Lippany High School in June, since then, he worked various odd jobs. His parents told him they no longer felt comfortable giving him an allowance, so he had to earn his own cash for movie tickets, gas, and, of course, that occasional bag of weed. Josh had lenient parents, some might call them pushovers. At twenty, Josh was a little behind finishing up high school. His parents always said he possessed the capability to excel, but that he was just taking longer than most to come of age. Not the end of the world. His counselor (and certainly his teachers) had a less conciliatory point of view. Not that they qualified Josh as learning disabled, but, in their view, Josh showed little interest in education, and furthermore, didn't have the habits of a good (or even decent) student. Bottom line, it was in Josh's best interests to forgo college and focus on a trade more in-line with his Myers-Briggs.

Josh certainly agreed with his teachers' sentiments, but going to college meant he could stay at home, reducing the strain on his limited means. His parents were softies, but Josh knew if he pushed too hard tough love might kick in. He didn't want to end up in some crap, rent-controlled apartment on the edge of town, roomed up with some other loser, reflecting his own lack of ambition. So, shoving off to college was his meal ticket to milk the good life in his parent's basement.

Home was an upper middle-class suburb in the bustle of northern Virginia's technology corridor. Dad, Jim (or Jimmy as the neighbors called him), was an engineer at Boeing working on control systems - those little backup systems which ensure the landing gear drops even if the primary hydraulics fail. Mom, Jill, was an Elementary School teacher working with developmentally disabled children. Two dogs Sam and Biscuit (go figure, he likes biscuits) had run of the highly manicured lawn, while Darcy, the housecat, kept the back of the couch a toasty 84 degrees. Josh, Jim and Jill's only son, liked the easy-going life in the suburbs. He had a well-kept, big bedroom filled with videogames and sports memorabilia, Jill's fantastic cooking, and Jim's companionship. They were more like pals than father and son. They'd play catch in the street, go to Nationals games together, even share the illicit, underage beer on occasion when Jim came home on Friday after a long work week. The fridge was always stocked with a plentiful supply of Heineken; green bottles waiting patiently for the weekend routine.

But times changed, college had entered the picture. Well, community college anyhow. Josh didn't manage to pull down the marks required to get into a four-year, so he told his parents he would use NOVA Community College as his stepping stone to university. During his first Trig class at NOVA, he was surprised to see so many chicks beyond their prime, and he couldn't decide if it was a good or bad thing. Failures trying to catch up in life, or audacious souls striving for late career advancement? Either way, he was sitting in a Trig class, so who cares who's attending. It was a battle just for him to stay awake, and a roomful of hotties would make paying attention that much more difficult.

Three weeks earlier, Josh picked out his courses using his special quarter. It's the one he found when the Nationals beat the Yankees two Springs ago. He found it in beneath his seat at the game, stuck to the concrete with a cola adhesive. He and his dad (a devout Yankees fan since birth) set a friendly wager on the game: Josh's new, soon-to-be-lucky quarter against Dad's 'five big ones'. Dad pulled the short straw, and the $500 jackpot sealed the quarter's significance. It had been used to decided life events ever since.

Trig or Statistics? Heads. It's gonna be Trig.          

Anthropology or English Lit? Tails. English Lit.

Two more flips and he had a full schedule of classes, of which, he already consigned himself to fail. Not that he wanted to fail, but he knew he wasn't a student and didn't stand a chance. Ok, maybe he could pull off the first year, but after that, no way. He would be forced into the real world in twelve to twenty-four months time he figured. He knew he needed to make the most of this time because life in general would become more difficult after the big move out.

Driving to the Fairfax campus, he thought about his mom, looking out the window that morning at him. Full of hope. Unwavering confidence in her son who had done little to prove himself in anything in life. Why? Where does her sense of optimism come from? Josh wrote it off as a simple equation of numbers. I am the one. Not Sam, Biscuit or Darcy were capable of playing the role of only son. She has one hand to play, it's either double-down or fold. Fortunately for Josh, he didn't feel a bit of pressure from either parent. Not even their longing to have a son who accomplished something weighed. "This is my life, I need to do what makes me happy, Mr. and Mrs. Sellers will come along." Not malaise or apathy, something more numbing, more lethargic, like a self-induced coma, smooth muscle the only respondent.

James liked little boys, always had. Not in the innocent, playing-wiffleball-in-the-street-with-the-neighborhood-kids-is-fun sort of way, but in the lascivious, card-carrying NAMBLA sense. He had served eighteen months of a two-years sentence in the Fairfax County prison for exposing himself on the local playground to a group of elementary school boys. A registered sex criminal at age twenty-one, James began his adult years in rough shape: little money, a mere two years of college under his belt, and a rap sheet of child exploitation. His parents, Jack and Lucy Charleston, felt a sense of failure, hence, a level of responsibility for their son's actions. What had they done wrong? Fran, James's older sister, was doing so well. Married and living with her new husband in Silver Springs, she was an attorney with a large firm specializing in the tedium of patent law. Meanwhile, James, fresh out of prison, was forced to move back into his parent's home in Pine Crest, just three houses down from the Sellers. Mr. and Mrs. Charleston certainly didn't like the arrangement, but they couldn't bear the thought of their son living in a half-way house among recovering addicts and burglars.

Long before James's run-in with the law, he had been outcaste by the neighborhood, the Dalit among Brahmins. At seventeen, he was caught showing porn flicks to little Ricky (eight years old at the time) and Matthew (also eight), however, this incident didn't involve the cops. Ricky and Matthew's parents thought that since James was a minor at the time, no real penalty would be levied, so they chose instead to discuss the matter with Mr. and Mrs. Charleston (and, warn the other neighbors). Embarrassed and shamed, Jack and Lucy had a heart-to-heart with James to root out any possible issues. In their discussions, James tearfully apologized, saying he didn't mean any harm, he just wondered how the kids would react, a stupid prank, an experiment in growing up. His profusion of apologies and sincere efforts to right things with the neighbors healed wounds for the most part, however, some were skeptical considering the seriousness of the infraction.

After graduation and the infamous 'Pine Crest Porn Debacle', James began his full scholarship at George Mason University to study physics. Straight As in AP-level classes earned him a full-ride at three state schools, however, he chose George Mason since it was close to his parent's house, hence, free rent. He didn't want to live at home with the 'rents, but, even more important, he wanted to graduate college debt free. A financial compromise was made.

Unsurprisingly, James soared at George Mason. Four-point-zero GPA after a year and a half. His only hiccup came when he was drinking with a few buddies on campus one Friday night, when, on a drunken challenge, he streaked the Quad. Bad move. James was caught by the campus police and nearly ended up with an indecent exposure charge. Fortunately for James, the Academics in the Science Department got involved, and, wanting to protect their star student, convinced campus police to drop the charges and serve James with a warning.

Unfortunately, word of his drunken exposé made it back to Pine Crest, and, vindicated, the neighborhood skeptics again raised the red flag, most neighbors shunned James once more. Considering his incident at age seventeen, all believed that James should've known better. Jack and Lucy Charleston were blacklisted from neighborhood events, and the children of Pine Crest Circle were told not to go near James. Six months later, James exposed himself on a nearby playground, formalizing his criminality.

Living in Pine Crest after prison was tough for James. The hateful looks, the cold shoulders, "James Terrance Charleston, white male, 5'11", blond hair, green eyes, 175 lbs, 2114 Pine Crest Circle, Fairfax, VA 22031" listed on the sex registry website for Fairfax County. James was determined to get back on top, to re-enroll at George Mason (even if he had to take out loans due to scholarship expiration), finish his physics degree and make something of himself. He believed he could control his desires, avoiding all boys under eighteen. A total recalibration of his life, earn the respect and trust of everyone once again.

Josh, well into his second semester of community college, was starting to feel the pinch of imminent failure. His first semester at NOVA wasn't exactly a success. A one-point-eight GPA resulted in academic probation, and semester two was looking about the same. At this rate, Josh's academic career would be over in less than four weeks. Alternating feelings of 'it's go time' and 'failure's here!' swarmed his mind. All of it was shruggable really, but losing his status quo lifestyle did resonate slightly.

He did manage to pick up a steady girlfriend during his tussle with the books. Name was Terry, a twenty-nine year-old Rainforest Cafe waitress from Tyson's Corner, bent on getting her life back on track. A good bit overweight and a single mom with an eight year-old son, Terry had made some bad decisions in the past, but she had reached a point where her mental state was ready to push for big life changes. Her son was happy, healthy and doing well in school. Her ex (abusive both verbally and physically) left the country to work the oil rigs in South East Asia and, surprisingly, was sending home ample support for his son. Her studies at NOVA were going very well, and she planned to transfer to George Mason University to finish her nursing degree, swapping dinner plates for intravenous lines. Energy, focus, and maturity had all come to Terry, just in the past year. Unfortunately, Josh had also entered the picture, though, unbeknownst to him, his exit was forthcoming. Josh was dead weight. He had no ambition and did not fit into her picture of the improved future. Excellent in bed, maybe, but there was more to life than sex for Terry.

On a Tuesday night after a three-hour English class, Terry finally approached Josh. She told him that it wasn't him, that she had too much on her plate, and she needed to take a step away from the relationship because it was eating up too much of her limited time. Josh, not much of a fighter, nodded his way through Terry's explanation (wanting to feel sad, but not connecting succinctly with the emotion), knowing all along that it was his poor performance in bed which had driven a wedge between the two of them. This wasn't the first time this sort of break-up came to Josh. At least two other relationships ended in a similar manner, "oh, it's not you, it's me Josh, please understand". Talked into submission, Josh collected his rejected self, hit the bars, and drank his way through an organization of the events to follow in the next month.

"Ok, so I'm terrible in bed, and I can't perform academically," Josh lamented over a Budweiser at Chilis, taking advantage of the merging of his 21st birthday and $.25 wings. "I should get on track, I should search for my niche. Something I'm good at, something from which I derive pleasure, enjoyment," Josh said to himself with the subtle vagueness of an oncoming beer buzz. Thrashing through a lifetime of failures and half-steps, Josh abandoned all interest in everything he attempted unsuccessfully in the past. His commitment to self-evaluation was surprisingly honest, and, at the end of his exploration, he identified something for which his capacity to execute would not diminish. Something he could get satisfaction from, a little taste of pride so rarely felt. Later that night, Josh pulled several sheets of blank paper from his printer and plotted out his plan of action in detail. He was surprised with his ability to focus on the tiniest of details with respect to his plan, motivated to hash out all the little nuances which make a well thought-out plan successful. Those little details, subtleties of action, important decisions with cascading effects. He tidied up his notes, identified conflicts and fail points in his plan and drafted a 'To-Do" list for the first two weeks. It was concise. It was comprehensive. It was flawless and it would be a surefire way to finally excel at something... finally. Terry didn't need him? Fine. He didn't need her. College wasn't working out? No problem. His new plan didn't require fishing through the library stacks for convoluted quotes dangling limp from the lips of dead sophists. He could make himself, leveraging his innate capabilities to carve out his own little slice of happiness.

Sam was the smart dog of the house. Not an overly loyal dumb-ass of a beast like Biscuit. Biscuit would sell her love for a couple titillating scratches of the rump, but not Sam. He had his eyes open. Wide open. Darcy's skepticism over the years had leached into Sam, and, while happy to give his affection, he wanted to ensure a reasonable reward was forthcoming. Trivial displays of love (a head pat here, a 'goodboy' there) were not strong enough currency. He once asked Biscuit why she would whore her affection out so cheaply. Biscuit, in turn, replied that she, through her easily achieved affection, was winning the hearts and minds of her two legged overlords, and this would pay higher dividends in the long term. Biscuit wasn't in for short-term gains, she was looking at the big picture, plotting to reap not only the thousands of love reciprocations, but, more importantly, the big rewards (ie: sleeping in the Sellers' beds, steak scraps, etc). The big rewards were tricky though as they required work and a lot patience. However, once the mold was cast between man and dog, the big benefits would start flowing, and with an ever-diminishing amount of effort on the part of Biscuit over time. So, who was the smartest dog? Only time would tell.

Darcy just wanted to be left out of the drama. Sure, Sam and Biscuit had different points of view when it came to relationship building with the uprights, but who gives a shit? She believed it made more sense to play aloof. Any attention she got, well good, thank you very much for that. Any attention that she missed out on, well, that's just fine too. The cost of attention lost would be more than offset by the fact that she didn't have to maintain a happy-face, tip-top, bullshit facade 24 hours a day. These things take too much energy to upkeep, and her innate sense of independence didn't require her to yearn for the constant approval of her masters. In other words, she was not a dumb bitch like Biscuit.

When the first one turned up in the Dicksons trashcan, he didn't think much of it. Some over-the-top prank, perhaps a drunken idiot, who knows. Everyone basically took it in stride, didn't try to attach any great meaning to it. Of course, the cops were called and James immediately feared that he would somehow be implicated. An investigation ensued, no solid leads turned up, and the case was eventually closed. James was very happy. Mr. and Mrs. Harris were extremely saddened to lose a member of the family, but time heals all wounds and life must go on. Plus, nobody really liked the Harrises, so there wasn't a big stir and talking amongst neighbors died down quickly. The Harrises were a weird couple. Reclusive, no kids, too many goddamn dachshunds anyway. Mr. and Mrs. Harris rarely bothered to lift a hand to wave 'hello' or 'goodbye' to anyone who happened to be driving by. They were not in touch with the rhythm of the neighborhood.

Another history test. A 'D'. A freaking 69 for Josh. "Bullshit" he thought, and he could smell inevitability. No bother, the machinery of a bigger plan was in motion. Stay focused on what matters, and success and happiness will follow. Josh was rational and could see his way beyond academic failure without becoming overly anxious or depressed. "This just isn't my thing, but I will find my thing if I keep looking," he would tell himself with the sort of cold, hard logic few testosterone-laden young men can summon.

Financial aid locked. It looked like James would be back at George Mason in less than two months. His parents were happy he was getting his life back on track. The neighbors still hated his guts though. "A perverted little bastard," Mrs. Sparks said, referring to James during her weekly bridge game with several of the neighborhood ladies. "Yeah, why is he legally permitted to live in a cul-de-sac full of kids anyway?" Mrs. Jennings responded.

One late afternoon, James saw Josh Sellers pulling up in his Corolla as he was heading out. This was the first time James had seen Josh since returning from prison. Little butterflies. Josh was a pretty good looking guy, in a boyish kind-of-way: sparse stubble, smooth skin, he even moved about in jerky little motions like a sugar-charged ten year-old celebrating his recent devouring of a Snickers bar. Josh was a year younger than James, but, because he was held back in the ninth grade, Josh and James were in the same graduating class at Lippany. Never friends, and especially so after Porngate 2007. Josh, like everyone else on the block, pushed James aside, discounted him as a human. So, even though they lived just a few houses apart, Josh and James only communicated through brief eye-contact over the years. On this particular occasion as James was absorbing an eyeful of Josh, Josh noticed and promptly delivered the bird. James looked away, pretending not to see the finger. Butterflies to remain in their cage.

Jim and Jill Sellers began to grow weary of Josh's continued poor performance at college. They requested to see his marks from last semester, and learned that he was on academic probation. They were nervous about coming down on Josh, but they knew if they continued to endorse his failures that ultimately they were culpable. Casting him out to become the man they believed he could be would be a tough decision. One of their primary concerns was the destruction of their relationship with their only child. Unknown grandkids, an estranged daughter-in-law? Destruction of a family, over what, not becoming a successful engineer like Jim? Regardless, the Sellers knew they had to push Josh, regardless of the cost. "But Josh said he's working on some great plan. Shouldn't we help incubate his dreams?" Jill asked Jim one evening.

"I don't know, he isn't exactly open about his plans. Has he shared any details with you?"

"No, but he has always played things close to the chest, and he's a good kid. Maybe this next attempt is his break?"

"We still owe it to him to force him to grow up and become a man. The man we know he can be if not for us enabling him."


Mr. Chuckles liked to gossip. His frequent visits to the Kilgores and the Charlestons allowed him ample opportunity to discuss the state of the cul-de-sac with Trixie and 'Ol Bess, who, situated on the opposite side of Pine Crest Circle, had a different perspective on things. During a recent trip to the Kilgores, Mr. Chuckles told Trixie about the strange sounds and odd smells coming from the Dicksons on the night of the infamous "Flip Incident". A loud bang, the scent of flowers not native to the Dicksons' flowerbed, a slamming door. Trixie was the sleuthhound of the neighborhood, but, even she was puzzled, didn't really have a grasp on what the scant evidence might be saying. During that same trip to the other side of the cul-de-sac, Mr. Chuckles managed to pull Mrs. Clarke by the leash over to the Charlestons' mailbox to sniff the post. The markings on the post were clearly 'Ol Bess. She may be beyond her prime, but she's careful to set her perimeter diligently and Mr. Chuckles didn't detect and anomalies in the fragrances emanating from the post. No new clues, nothing out of the ordinary.

Pine Crest is an upper middle-class suburb. A meticulously planned community. An oasis of college-bred professionals free of the blight seen even in nice urban areas, and free of the plastic bird ornamentation common to lower-class prefabs. Prim, proper, very well maintained, automatic sprinklers set to garage-mounted timers. Property sizes are a tidy half-acre each, and, due to the relative affluence, McMansions sit proud on each lot. Big white boxes with SUV holders, bright green lawns and little driveways of interlocking pavers trimmed with knee-high, square hedgerows. The community board dictates mailbox type, roof type, paint colors, driveway material and ground covering. No free-standing sheds or above-ground pools permitted. Black families, while not explicitly restricted from owning property in Pine Crest, are heavily discouraged by indignant looks cast liberally during open-houses. Average family income (base): $165,000/year. Average number of kids: 2.1. Average number of pets: 1.4. Preferred car: BMW 3 Series. Preferred SUV: Toyota Highlander.

Pine Crest Circle is a cul-de-sac situated on a slight hill in the northern-most reaches of the Pine Crest community. There are nine houses lining The Circle, each very similar in size and style with the exception of The Clarke's house. With each subsequent pay raise, Mr. Clarke purchased a new extension to his house which, as of late last year, nearly fills the limits of his property on the Dicksons side. The Dicksons thought the Clarkes were assholes (well not little Amy Dickson, she was still too young and innocent to know what an asshole was).  No couth with boundaries, those Clarkes: social, real estate or otherwise.

Situated in the center of the cul-de-sac, lies a patch of grass and shrubs jokingly referred to as 'The Dog Shitting Area' or DSA for short (and for kiddie ears). All residents of Pine Crest Circle relieve their dogs in the DSA albeit with varying degrees of cleanup effort. Trixie was widely known as the worst offender, in part, because of her size, but also because of the Kilgore's poor efforts at cleanup (also related to Trixie size, or rather, Trixie's excrement size because really, who wants to pick up a steaming turd the size of a rolling pin). Amy Dickson was the token Asian of the cul-de-sac. Her parents bought her from a little village on the outskirts of Dengfeng in 2001 through Fairfax Pentecostal's annual Adopt a Chinese drive. Mr. Sparks joked that Amy had special Oriental powers, roots deep in the Shaolin temple. Dirty Harry hated Amy. Trixie loved her. For reference, here is the layout of Pine Crest Circle:

It took a keen sense of observation, a trait which Josh had polished and refined over the years. His bedroom window had a certain vantage point over the cul-de-sac which provided him an excellent view of the goings on. It's not a stretch to say that one of his favorite pastimes was sitting in his window perch, Kool-Aid in hand, watching the particulars of the neighbors in motion. Trixie in the DSA to crap. Trixie out. Snip, Flip, Blip, Chip and Skip bouncing like rubber balls down the street, then, back inside the house. Some new construction at the Clarke's. Mr. Sparks, drunk, running through the sprinkler with Ricky and Jill. He liked watching the routines, the patterns, the ebb and flow of normal people going about normal business. Simple pleasure, he thought. Simple pleasures for a simple guy. Don't need much, just a little life rhythm. Two dabs of cologne on the neck, then, off to NOVA to play student alongside his imaginary MILFs.

Mr. Hatfield hated Trixie. Worse than that, actually. Mr. Hatfield despised Trixie, and, as he told Mr. Jennings one afternoon, "I wouldn't be a bit upset if that damn dog turned up dead one of these days". Harsh yes, but that's not to say that Mr. Jennings didn't understand Mr. Hatfield's sentiment, at least on some level. Sure Trixie was a friendly dog, always very giving with the crotch sniffs (more of a gentle nuzzle really, not an aggressive nose-plow), but her breed left a lot to be desired from Hatfield's perspective. Hatfield was a fan of toy dogs like his precious little Billingsford, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, and, quite possibly, the gayest dog on the block. Billingsford, Hatfield remarked, was not only a friendly little chap, but he never barked, nor did he leave behind human-sized shit-piles like the Mastiff, Trixie. Unreasonable as he may be, Hatfield always seemed to blame Trixie for her infractions rather than blaming the poor handling by the Kilgore clan. Poor Mrs. Hatfield. Apart from Trixie, she was second in line to receive the brunt of Mr. Hatfield's anger, and plenty of f-bombs were dropped in the Hatfield household on account of Trixie. "Fucking dog shat a turd the size of my boot in the DSA today...three inches from stepping in it". Mr. Kilgore knew Mr. Hatfield hated Trixie. In fact, he saw Hatfield smack her with a stick, hard, one day after Trixie got that sweet taste of freedom by leaping out a downstairs window. Kilgore approached Hatfield on the matter. Words were exchanged, veiled threats were made, and relationships soured.

When the second one turned up, people starting wondering if there was a connection to the first. It seemed odd for this to happen twice in as many weeks. Tossed haphazardly on the Sellers' front porch, Jim Sellers found it as he left for work in the morning. Josh was devastated, and, his parents saw an emotional side of him not seen before. He had a hard time coping, failed two tests that week, and hid away in his room. He and Biscuit went way back. They had a tight bond, Biscuit always laying his head on Josh's lap as Josh furiously pounded the buttons on his Xbox controller, dispatching street thug after street thug. Josh's parents did they best they could to console, but, Josh just pulled away, a certain sadness looming like an aura as he moped around the house in a dull trance.

The third came, and controversy kicked into gear. A quiet, reclusive Mr. Harris suddenly befriended Mr. Kilgore after a week of dealing with his loss in solitude. "I just don't get it," Kilgore told Harris, "we found it right on the edge of the Hatfields' yard, towards the back. It seems almost too obvious to blame Hatfield, but it was on his property and he does hate my Trixie."

"Yeah, it is strange, very strange. Same thing with Flip, you know, no body."

"Did you poke around, ask anyone else for their thoughts?" asked Kilgore.

"No. You know my wife and I aren't the most well-like couple on the block. Well, actually, I did speak to the Sellers kid yesterday, briefly. He didn't have much to say, just very sad looking, defeated."

"I don't mean to pry, but have you ever had a run-in with Mr. Hatfield? Words exchanged, the like?" Mr. Kilgore said, quickly digging for information on Mr. Hatfield.

"Not once," Harris replied.

Word of the third incident spread like wildfire. Everyone was baffled, concerned, disgusted. In some circles, it was thought that maybe Mr. Hatfield had something to do with it. But, evidence was sparse and far from conclusive. In large part, everyone was reluctant to assign any blame until more information surfaced. Suspending judgment seemed a good policy in such a chatty neighborhood.

Mr. Chuckles, upon his next opportunity, bent 'Ol Bess's ear pretty hard. They pondered, walked through the events of all three nights, but, couldn't come to any conclusions. "Whose next?" they both asked. Aliens were considered. That shithead trash man that kicked Senor Salty was discussed. But nothing stuck. Dirty Harry had some crazy idea he told 'Ol Bess about. Something that had to do with his master's out-of-control lawnmower, but, like most of Dirty Harry's ideas, they didn't really make any sort of logical sense. How the hell is a lawnmower going to unlock itself from the garage, turn itself on, and go hunting?

Back at the Sellers, Sam started pulling back even more, sensing something about the twoleggers, nothing specific, but intangibly irksome nonetheless. Biscuit was gone, along with two others from the hood. He caught up with Mr. Chuckles on a weekend spin around the circle and relayed his concerns. "I think we might be looking at an inside job here. One of the local twoleggers. I don't have a lead on who, just a strange sort of intuition about things." This was no joke, Sam was known for his oracle-like abilities. He called out Trixie on the "Great Big Chicken Heist of 2009", and, had a premonition about Beast tearing up the Clarkes' backyard last summer in a late-night mole romp....called him out, he confessed. Sam wasn't taking any chances. His guard was up and he kept the stink eye fixed on everyone.

Nearly the end of his first semester back at George Mason, James was on fire. Nothing less than a 97 on all assignments, labs and tests. He was in first place in each of his classes. Every single one. He kept his focus razor sharp, but allowed for a minor amount of lust to be satiated, of course, from a safe, nonprosecutable distance. Josh was driving him nuts. The attraction was real, very real, but very one-sided as well. James perfected his art of spying on Josh, using little drive-by techniques, pictures from his bedroom window, tailing him at a detective-approved distance on the road, etc. He had his schedule down cold, and even took pains to track him on the NOVA campus. James was getting in pretty deep, but keeping his nose clean, at least technically. And, even better, he was not directing any of his energies towards males younger than eighteen. This was truly a mark of success for the budding young physicist.

Josh figured his parents would get their hands on his results in about two weeks. Perhaps there would be some leniency considering the turmoil of Biscuit? Probably not though. Even amid the torment of his loss, Josh's parents seemed committed to his 'reform'. He needed to put pressure on his plans and really start to get results in order to prove to himself that he had the ability to succeed beyond his collegiate failures. Time was dwindling. That crap apartment, macaroni and cheese five nights a week. Fallen pubic hairs clogging cracks in cheap linoleum way overdue for replacement. Some putz of a roommate drilling farts into the couch cushions making the room constantly reek of rancid burritos.

Mr. Hatfield had a new sense of tranquility in his life. With Trixie gone, the landmines ceased accumulating. Late one night, he even went out to the DSA to remove any remaining traces of Trixie. Life certainly had improved. He was happy, and his shoes were the cleanest they had been in years. Mrs. Hatfield was verbally accosted less frequently as well.

And then, it popped. Mr. Dickson's long simmering anger about the Clarkes' sprawling estate boiled over. On a sunny Saturday afternoon, when Mr. Dickson was out cutting the grass, Mr. Clarke was digging in his shed, the door propped open wide. As Mr. Dickson rounded the corner of his house with the lawnmower, he noticed for the first time that when the Clarkes' shed door was fully opened, it actually crossed the property boundary into his yard! Pissed, Mr. Dickson had it out with Mr. Clarke right then and there. A litany of complaints built up over the years were lodged. Balled fists barely remained holstered. Tepid relationships were further strained.

The very next day, Mr. Chuckles severed head was found in the Clarkes' mailbox, blood collecting in a little coagulating pool on the curb. Speedy's severed head was found later that same day in one of the Clarkes' trashcans. The Police were called, but an investigation turned up nothing. Later that night, Mr. Clark sprinkled roughly twenty pounds of Morton iodized onto Mr. Dickson's prize-winning Kentucky Blue.

The next morning, Beast's severed head was propped on a stake in the DSA facing the front door of the Dicksons. Mrs. Dickson, while getting the mail in the morning saw it and passed out in the street. That night, Mr. Dickson approached Mr. Clark regarding Beast's death. Surprisingly, they had a very civil conversation. Mr. Clarke confessed about the yard salting and promised to pay for the damage. Both parties addressed the issue of the dead pets, and assured one another that, while they had their disagreements, neither of them were responsible for such heinous crimes. After much discussion, Mr. Clarke and Mr. Dickson began to feel uneasy about the reclusive Mr. Harris. Why didn't he approach us after Mr. Chuckles, Speedy and Beast were murdered, especially considering our overtures to him when his precious Flip turned up dead? Did he have a hand in this? He never waves, he never says hello, what the hell is his problem? Amy Dickson started playing with little Patsy Clarke. Often. The Clarkes and the Dicksons grew close in a matter of a week, shared anguish a healing tonic for relationships strained over many years. The shed door issue was even resolved.

Just like that, James was busted, and it was really sad because he was doing so well at university. While covertly taking some up-close pictures of Josh washing his Corolla, James was caught by Mr. Kilgore in his bushes, Mitchell, Sue and Anne playing in the sandbox around the side of the house. Mr. Kilgore threatened to call the cops. James apologized profusely, said he was just taking some photos of the neighborhood plant species for his biology class. Mr. Kilgore was irate. Word of the incident spread like wildfire, and everyone grew increasingly wary of James. The police didn't have strong enough evidence to haul James in, so he received a warning and a mailbox full of hate-mail signed anonymous. Mr. Kilgore started to suspect that perhaps James was responsible for Trixie. "We already know this guy's a pervert. Perhaps he has some sort of bloodlust as well". Mr. Kilgore dismissed Mr. Hatfield as a suspect in the murder, "Hell, Mike and Bobby are always playing with Mitch, and Mrs. Hatfield gets on really well with my wife. It doesn't make sense for Hatfield to attack Trixie." James became suspect.

With Mr. Chuckles gone, the dogs of Pine Crest Circle were gripped with fear. 'Ol Bess would fight Mrs. Charleston every time she tried to take him to the DSA. He would lay down on the threshold of the front door, and Mrs. Charleston would have to carry him to the DSA, where, in a matter of seconds, he relieved himself and tore off back to the house. Senor Salty began crapping on the kitchen floor in an attempt to head-off visits to the DSA. Salty told Dirty Harry during an abbreviated visit that he was having trouble sleeping, gripped in fear. Dirty Harry told Salty that his sides were hurting from being kicked by an inebriated Mr. Sparks for prematurely relieving himself in the front yard instead of waiting until they got to the DSA. "I'm not going to the DSA anymore, that freakin' place is haunted by Beast's bloody stump of a floating head," Dirty Harry told Salty.

Sam lived in fear, began to view all twoleggers as enemies. He pulled back from Josh. He pulled back from Jill and Jim too. Darcy began sleeping underneath the couch instead of on the backrest. "The uprights," Darcy figured, "were just not to be trusted."

Things were falling apart. Pine Crest Circle was in disarray. There was less smiling, less waving at people coming and going. Less sugar-borrowing and more curtain-closing. Kids were instructed to play closer to their respective houses.

James couldn't help himself. Even after being caught at the Kilgore's, he continued to stalk Josh to the best of his ability. It got a little weird, James soberly admitted to himself. He actually went out and bought a pair of night-vision goggles so that he could keep an eye on Josh under a blanket of darkness, fulfill his desires. "This is my cross to bear, although, I'm not committing a crime. People's perceptions will not prevent me from living my life." He was cautious though. No more tramping through neighbors' yards for a closer view. He would do his best to remain either at his house or in his car, both, he reasoned, offered pretty decent views.

Josh was getting extremely close to the day of reckoning. Big life change were in sight. His best grade was in American History, a C-.

It was a Tuesday, roughly 2 AM, when, after a long night studying, James decided to go for a walk around the neighborhood to refresh, unwind, before hitting the sack. Of course he packed his goggles, camera and billy club just in case, but, at 2 AM, he wasn't expecting to use any of his equipment.

Tails. Sorry Billingsford.

It was a nice evening out, cool and breezy with a massive full moon looming overhead creating enough light that the leaves twinkled silver in the night breeze. James headed left from his driveway walking in the street along Pine Crest Circle. Passing briskly in front of the Jennings house, James veered toward the DSA blending in with the shrubs to avoid being seen. He rounded the cul-de-sac, passing in front of the Clarkes, the Dicksons, and the Harrises. Ahead, he saw a shadowing figure cut between the Sellers' and the Hatfields' house. Taking cover in the DSA, James inched closer in the direction of the Hatfields to get a better look. Nestled between two bushes, James's heart skipped a beat as a Josh-shaped shadow was bent over examining something between his house and the Hatfields. James retrieved his goggles from his bag to get a sharper look at Josh. Josh moved over to the Hatfields' basement window and began prying at the window with a crowbar! He quickly gained entry and emerged moments later, black plastic bag in hand. Josh replaced the window and quickly made off to his house. James, excited to be watching Josh, and tickled to be the sole witness of some juicy criminal activity, was conflicted. "Am I complicit in this break-in because I know it is going on?" Never mind, a little deviant activity from his most favored eye-candy was too delicious to over-analyze.

Josh emerged from his house moments later, the same crowbar in hand, and what appeared to be another empty black bag. James, with his goggles fixed firmly to his face, maneuvered around the DSA, following Josh as he rounded The Circle pausing in front of the Sparks, then, quickly darting behind their house. A half-dozen vicious barks, then, silence. Josh came running from behind the Sparks, a massive lump hanging in the black bag draped over his shoulder. "Holy shit," thought James, "my lust is the dog butcher!"

After ducking back into his house, Josh emerged once again, two bags in hand, heading toward Josh and the DSA. Josh scrambled, maintained a low profile, and kept distance between him and Josh as Josh worked his way to the center and most concealed section of the DSA. From his bags, Josh extracted the lifeless bodies of Billingsford and Dirty Harry along with a small hatchet. Whack! ..........................Whack! Two heads in one bag, two bodies in the other. Leaves were pushed around for concealment and Josh quickly bolted to his house. James, struggling for composure, collected himself and dashed back to his house where he laid awake all night long, contemplating, weighing options, thinking about his future, about a happy life. Him and Josh together, finally. James healed from his pedophilic tendencies, Josh, not held to account for his murderous sins, no penalty, just male-on-male companionship. Just a happy, reformed couple, getting along the best they could in an odd, cruel little world. Decisions, tough decisions. Moral decisions.

The following day, the Hatfields and the Sparks both had identical packages on their porch, each signed "Jeffrey Harris". Inside sat the heads of Billingsford and Dirty Harry respectively. From his bedroom window, Josh sat, Kool-Aid in hand, taking it all in, jotting notes. A distraught Hatfield family huddled together around the box on the front lawn, consoled by Mr. and Mrs. Kilgore. An irate, screaming Mr. Sparks charged toward the Harrises with an axe. The final damage was Mr. Harris with two broken arms and axe marks adorning the front of his house.

Later that afternoon, after the police took Mr. Sparks away, and an ambulance carted off the Harrises, the combined lynch mob of Mr. Clarke, Mr. Dickson, Mr. Kilgore and Mr. Hatfield smashed up Mr. Harris's car, shattered all the windows on the front of his house and dog-napped Snip, Blip, Chip and Skip. Josh was ecstatic, his plan had worked out perfectly. A renewed sense of accomplishment washed over him, and his impending ejection from the nest paled in comparison. He knew that he possessed a talent which would enable him to realize a level of success previously unknown. Basking in the fruits of his labor, Josh went to work drafting the layout for his second plan, Operation Maple Crest.

After much deliberation, much soul-searching, clarity came to James. He wrote the following note, placing a copy in the mailbox of each (except the Sellers) family on Pine Crest Circle:

Baffled, horrified and lost for words, neighbors traded phone calls and arranged to meet at the Sparks' house. After a brief discussion with the police, charges were pressed.

In the end, Josh's plan worked out perfectly. He architected a beautiful destruction in the neighborhood, pitting neighbor against neighbor and turning what once was a happy little cul-de-sac into a circle of fear and misdirected retribution. When the police came to take him away, he thought to himself, "It all worked out well, and now I don't have to live with some loser on the edge of town. I can shack up with like-minded criminal visionaries, who, had the guts to see out their ambitions and accomplish their goals no matter what society thought about their efforts."

Josh Sellers, inmate #34574507, is currently residing at the Fairfax County Prison. He enjoys role playing his favorite moves in Mortal combat with Cyber Criminal Mitchell Owens (inmate #49347550 - convicted of running a spam ring targeting the elderly).

The residents of Pine Crest Circle sought and received and extension to the restraining order against James Charleston. The kids are not allowed out past dark without parental supervision.

James Charleston, sex registrant #17504, believes he's the hero of Pine Crest Circle. He's not bothered by the restraining order. "Some people never let go of the past," he tells himself.

Sam and Darcy are collaborating to devise a plan to strike a counter attack against the damn upright, twoleggers responsible for bringing a murderer into the world. Details are still emerging, but, it has something to do with hiding presents in hard to reach locations, according to 'Ol Bess.

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