First it was Henry Stringfellow breaking and entering the Odoms’ basement. When Cheryl Odom returned home from her job at a medical office to find Henry with his shod feet on her grandmother’s ottoman, the TV blaring, he stood, apologized, and explained he liked their basement. (Henry’s was unfinished.) He’d been over “more than once,” he said, which Cheryl took to mean a dozen times in recent weeks. Henry was retired from his job at the candy factory. He had all day, while the Odoms—Cheryl and her husband, Pete—were at work. “I hope you don’t mind,” Henry said, but Cheryl did mind, more so when she determined how Henry got in, wedging a crowbar between the basement door and the jamb and dismantling the thing. “I’m no thief,” Henry told her, trying to defuse the situation, and, later, after Cheryl and Pete took inventory, she admitted that nothing was missing.
That weekend Cheryl and Pete broke into the Baileys’ basement. The Baileys were away, visiting their daughter in Georgia. We’d all been to the Baileys’. They loved to entertain. The basement had a full bar, its smooth surface fashioned by Mr. Bailey himself from a maple tree that had fallen years ago in a storm, and a sound system with speakers imported from Germany and installed in the drop ceiling. Pete and Cheryl broke a window in the back and stepped through, careful to pick up the glass shards from the floor. They spent the entire day, availed themselves of the Baileys’ spirits, record collection, and hi-fidelity audio setup, before exiting at dusk the way they’d entered.
After a while, we were all breaking into our neighbors’ basements. We smashed windows or jimmied doors with tire irons or broke them down with axes. Our houses weren’t as secure as we’d supposed. We didn’t expect to be violated, but once we were, it spread like a virus. We were bored, in need of new things to do. We’d had little excitement and no tragedies since Myra Lewis disappeared a dozen years ago and we all formed lines, along with Myra’s husband, Gordon, and scoured the woods that buffered our town from the interstate. Now we searched for empty basements, an unfamiliar place to spend the day.
Then Zane Williams, who worked in maintenance at the high school, decided he liked his basement best. In truth it was one of the nicest ones, with an 85-inch flatscreen and surround sound and eight theater seats, each with a built-in mini-fridge. He called in sick one day and refused to cede when others tapped at the window. They kept coming, though, jumping into the window well and peering through the glass he’d recently replaced. Finally, when Gordon Lewis jumped into the window well and peered through the glass, Zane had had enough. He called the police station, which dispatched Officer Penny, who didn’t answer the call, who at that moment was in Gordon’s basement, shining a flashlight into a dark corner where dusty boxes lay long dormant. Gordon had been a “person of interest” in Myra’s still-unsolved disappearance and an ever-hopeful Officer Penny would have bet half a week’s salary—and won that bet, too, we learned later—that one of those boxes would confirm his hunch and solve the town’s coldest case.
Dana Cann is the author of the novel Ghosts of Bergen County (Tin House). His short fiction has been published in The Sun, The Massachusetts Review, The Gettysburg Review, The Florida Review, Pithead Chapel, HAD, and Scoundrel Time, among others. He’s received grants and fellowships from the Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County, the Maryland State Arts Council, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation, and the Sewanee Writers Conference. He teaches writing workshops for New Directions in Writing and The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland.