I suppose I should tell you about the Hobermans. Not ’cause I really want to, you know, but ’cause I figure it’s what you’re expecting of me. And, truthfully, it’s the only story I really have to tell. Lots of folks, they have stories coming out their asses, pardon my French, but I’ve led a fairly uneventful life. Which, come to think of it, factors into the story you want me to tell.
Nobody on Woodlawn Lane has had an eventful life. Not really. Herb Laymon was in the war—’Nam, not that “pussy-footing Middle East pile of dog shit” as Herb would call it—but he only talks tough; we all know he was no war hero, no more so than all the other boys over there. And I think Nancy Clemens is on her fourth or fifth marriage, but these days that doesn’t mean much. Clara and I have been married for twenty years, and we were each other’s first—first spouse, that is; I don’t hold any pretensions about myself, or her, either.
That’s why the Hobermans belonged with us. There are many rumors about who they were or how they got here, but the one thing we can all agree on is that they came here so they wouldn’t stand out. You don’t live on Woodlawn Lane so you get noticed. You live on Woodlawn Lane so you can live life the way you want to.
Maybe that’s what the Hobermans wanted. I’d like to think so, but I know I can’t really say anything for sure, unlike some folks who think they know everything about things they know nothing about. I don’t mean to rant, you know, but it pisses me off how some folks are quick to judge the Hobermans. ‘Course, you could say I’m just as quick to let them off the hook, but at least I admit that I could be wrong.
I guess it might be helpful if I told you a little about them; excuse my inconsistency, I’m not much of a storyteller. The husband was Rich, a good man. “Affable” is the word I’d use for him. He was big, tall and broad-shouldered; “rough,” Clara called him, and I reckon it’s an accurate description. His wife was Marie, also a big woman, not quite as tall as her husband but just as broad. She was nice, too, though you could tell looking at her that she could turn on you quick, like a mother goose with her chicks.
The “chicks” in this case would be Davey and Cory. They were eleven and eight, respectively, and they were typical kids I reckon. Wouldn’t know myself, ’cause Clara and I can’t have kids and I won’t say any more about that. Davey was already starting to get a little pouch around the middle, like his folks, and you could tell Cory would be too somewhere down the way, but they were both outdoorsy and active like children that age are. They had a dog—Rex, its name was, and I only remember ’cause it was such a dumb name for a Yorkie—and they played with it quite a bit out in the front yard. Little thing barked all the time, that yip-yip kind of bark that drives a man insane, but I never mentioned anything to the Hobermans about it. I reckon I might have, if they’d stayed around longer, just ’cause I couldn’t imagine putting up with all that racket for too long.
Anyways, that’s the Hobermans. Aside from the dog, I really got nothing ill to say of them. Rich was always good for a joke; he and I had a couple beers one night, on his back porch. Marie kept out of the way, really, but she was polite enough, and I just got the sense she was a bit socially awkward. I think she was starting to get used to me, near the end. Kind of a shame, that.
Nothing out of the ordinary about them. Rich even told me he was from Anchorage, came down here with his job. I thought it odd, a man from Anchorage ending up in Iowa, but stranger things have happened, and it seemed that Rich might be a bit more interesting than everyone else. Turns out he was, though he kept protesting there was nothing interesting about his life. Worked in auto parts; I forget what exactly. Clara had no job; she’d had one in Anchorage, had worked in a Sears or something, but she didn’t work down here yet. Didn’t have time to get a job. Plus, they came in June, so the kids needed someone to look after them during the day.
I remember I was outside when the moving truck pulled in. Just one truck; everything they had, or needed at any rate, fit in one truck. I asked if the house came pre-furnished, and Rich said yes, but he didn’t elaborate what. I reckon that’s what you call using your hindsight—seeing something’s wrong after the fact. At the time it seemed perfectly reasonable. Still does. Could be.
I said my hellos, and when Clara came home from the office she said hers. They were still unloading the truck; not a whole lot in it, but they did it by themselves, with the help of a couple truck drivers who looked me over like I was about to steal their stuff. Lot of rumors who those two were, too, but we never saw ’em again, and I reckon they ain’t the ones who were there that night a month later. Just doesn’t make much sense to me, for them to be there at the beginning and the end. ‘Course, you could say none of it makes sense, and you’d be right, but you gotta know when to draw the line between doubt and paranoia.
The Hobermans invited us over for dinner four nights later. Clara and I went happily, and we brought a bottle of wine. We killed it that night, the four of us, and some have tried to use that as an excuse to say that Rich was an alcoholic, but I’m here to tell you I matched him drink for drink, and neither of us ever brought up the possibility of drinking further. We had a few beers on one occasion, as I’ve mentioned, but I got drunker than him that night. Was still sore about losing my job, if you want to know the truth of it. Forced retirement at forty-five just wasn’t in the plans for me. I guess they could’ve axed me, just cut me loose; a lot of guys got let go in the merger, no benefits, no nothing. But I’d been with them for fifteen years and you earn a little something for that. Not everybody gets it; I was lucky.
Anyways, I’m rambling about myself, and you want to hear what happened that night. The final night, I mean. The last night the Hobermans lived in the house on Woodlawn Lane.
It was a nice house; you may not want to hear this part but you’re gonna, ’cause I think it’s relevant. I’ve lived next to that house for twenty years; it’s relevant. Two-story job, slightly Victorian but not quite—not enough to look pretentious, at any rate. All the homes on Woodlawn Lane are designed to be unique, which of course means they all end up looking pretty much the same. But the Hoberman House—I’ll call it that for sake of the story, although many families lived in it before they arrived, and there’s a new family in there now—was nice; nicer than mine, nicer even than Nancy Clemens’s house, she of the multiple marriages. Had a good wrap-around porch, the kind you usually find on country homes. Lots of windows; the few times I’ve been inside that house over the years, I’ve always noticed how light it is, how airy and spacious. It was even more spacious when the Hobermans moved in, ’cause they didn’t bring a whole lot of stuff with them. Never really set up home in it; you got the impression they were only there temporarily, which of course fuels the rumors going around now. I wasn’t the only neighbor they invited over, though I do know they only invited one household at a time. I wasn’t even the first, if you’ll believe that. First to say hello, but the Jeffersons across the street were the first to dinner. Not that I’m bitter; it’s just another little fact that’s gotten turned into a bullet—if you’ll pardon the pun, and I feel bad for that one—aimed at the Hobermans’ reputation. As you may expect, it’s a rumor Tim and Caitlyn Jefferson aren’t too fond of.
I bet you saw the picture in the paper—the picture made the New York Times, how about that?—so you know about the big picture window in the front of the house. Looked in on the dining room, it did. It’s a chilling thought, when you start to think about it: how many nights Rich must have sat in there, shotgun in his hands, staring outside. He seemed like a nice guy to me, and I’d bet money it wasn’t an act, at least not completely, but to think I had beers with a man who would do something like that every night…
‘Course, might not have been every night. Maybe he got a phone call; I guess the police would know, I figure they checked phone records, but they never told us. Or maybe it was just instinct, the kind a man gets when he knows his family’s in danger. I’ve had that a couple times, about Clara; won’t go into specifics ’cause I’ve already digressed enough as it is, but I know the feeling and wouldn’t put it past a man of Rich’s obvious experience to feel it.
“Obvious experience.” The man had a shotgun and he knew how to use it, too. Wasn’t what you’d call a sharpshooter; the fact he used a shotgun is proof enough of that. But he could handle it well, apparently, and that takes experience. Of course, maybe that’s something they just know up in Anchorage, if that’s really where he was from. Sounds reasonable enough, don’t it?
On that last night, he must’ve been sitting in that window for a while, just watching. I know, when I heard the first gunshots, that I got up out of bed quicker than ever before, and ran to the window in the study, the one that overlooks the Hoberman House. By the time I got there the shots were coming faster, and I could tell there were three or four people shooting. I could see lights being turned on upstairs, I guess as Marie or the kids made their way downstairs. Or maybe Marie told the kids to stay where they were; either way, they were found in the stairwell, the papers said that much.
Anyways, when I got to the study and looked outside, the big picture window in the front of the Hoberman House was already blown out. There were two cars in the yard, and it looked like three men, though as I told the cops they were only dark shadows; couldn’t even tell you what skin color they were. They were shooting into the window, and someone—Rich, it turned out—was shooting back. Didn’t know it was a shotgun at the time; I’d never heard one, save in the movies, and it’s different in real life. It’s a rich sound, gunfire, and yet somehow tinny. Like, it’s not as loud as you’d expect. Doesn’t sound as deadly; just sounds out of place.
But there was lots of gunfire, from both sides. I couldn’t hear any screaming, but I knew when the shooter in the window was hit, because he didn’t shoot anymore. I saw the three men in the yard leave the cover of their cars and approach the house. I saw a light flick on somewhere beyond the dining room—probably the living room at the back of the house—and then I heard Marie scream, so I then figured it was Rich who was dead in the dining room.
The men sped up when Marie screamed. One of them looked around; I don’t know if he saw me or not, ’cause I’d left the lights off. If he saw me, he didn’t care, ’cause he went on into the house, and I heard more gunfire, and then more gunfire. Then I heard that yip-yip barking of Rex, and then a final gunshot. I remember thinking, very distinctly: Good Christ, they even shot the dog.
Then the three men came out. They were in their cars and down the street before I even heard sirens. Not sure how long the shootout lasted; I reckon it all took place in five, maybe six minutes. The cops got there just a couple minutes after the men left; I learned later that Clara had called 911, as had every other household on the street. We may not be exotic on Woodlawn Lane, but we look after our own.
Well, the cops interviewed me, and Clara, and everyone else. They were particularly interested in me and Tim Jefferson, ’cause apparently we were the only ones to watch the scene go down. Turns out, I saw more of it than Tim did; he didn’t get there until after the men had gone into the house.
But neither of us could tell the cops anything useful: no descriptions, no license plate numbers, nothing. They found two cars a few days later, black, with their license plates covered in wet mud, but neither Tim nor I could be sure they were the cars; it was dark, and neither Tim nor myself is a car man, at least not a good enough one to identify a vehicle at night during a shootout. There was no blood or anything in the cars, no powder burns, no bullets; the papers said there was nothing at all, not even a single hair or fingerprint.
It’s been four, five months now, and not a damn thing has changed, except the Hoberman House was repaired, and the Archers moved in a few weeks ago. I guess the realtor told them what happened; they have to do that nowadays, don’t they? But I’ve met Evan Archer, and he’s a stubborn man; he’s not going to let the story of a shootout scare him. Whether his wife and kids know, I couldn’t say.
The rumors started the very next day; I told what I knew, but I only told it a couple times, ’cause like I said I’m not one for telling stories. Everyone just kind of came up with their own theories. Mobsters; witness protection program; drug dealers; spies. No one’s said anything about aliens, at least not publicly, but I’m sure someone must be thinking it, because despite what you obviously want to hear, none of us know a damn thing about what happened that night, except a man, a woman, their children, and their dog got shot to death in their house.
I’ve got my own theories, as you may have guessed; I don’t think the Hobermans were bad people. They had kids, for God’s sake. But I do know that even the worst criminals can marry and procreate, so I reckon I can’t be too sure of anything. I know what my gut tells me, but I’ll be the first to admit that my instincts can be wrong. I’m as human as all the rest.
Now we’ve got a whopper of a story to tell on Woodlawn Lane, but if you want to hear more—not that there’s really anything left to say, nothing that’s backed up by hard facts at any rate—then you’ll have to go elsewhere. The Jeffersons are still across the street; Tim doesn’t talk about it much, but Caitlyn will chew your ear off, even though she didn’t see a thing. As for me, I’ve told what I know, and I don’t reckon to ever be inclined to tell it again.
Daniel Davis was born and raised in Central Illinois. His work has apppeared in various online and print journals. You can find him at www.dumpsterchickenmusic.