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Tad drew the front curtains aside so he could watch what was happening across the street.
He’d never seen movers do what they were doing. They constructed an awning from the front door to the back of a 24-foot moving van. It was prefabricated with side panels that attached to the awning, making it impossible to see what was being taken out of the van.
Tad’s usual curiosity shifted into overdrive as he considered reasons for doing something like that.
“Why hide your stuff?” he mused out loud.
“What’s the matter honey?” his wife Agatha asked, as she looked up from the quilt she was working on.
“New neighbors...” he mumbled.
“So?” she wondered.
“Never seen anything like it. Look at that tunnel between the van and their front door. You ever seen anything like it?” he asked.
“No, I haven’t Tad. Maybe they’re concerned about getting their possessions wet. Didn’t you say it might rain today?”
“Yeah…” he grudgingly agreed. “Still, I never seen anything like it.”
Tad Higgins was a retired accountant who was only comfortable when everything around him was in a certain order. There was a place in life for everything, he often told his long-suffering wife of 60 years. Even a toothpick has its proper place.
Anything out of his orderly existence immediately made him suspicious, and very curious. Secretly, he wished that he was a famous adventurer admired by everyone. Realistically, he knew he was anything but athletic or daring.
He looked back out the front window wondering what his neighbors looked like. So far, no sign of anyone except for the van’s driver, and the two workers who set up the tunnel.
Tad tamped the ashes out of his Meerschaum pipe into a glass ashtray and glanced over at his wife. She was busy doing her thing. Their black pug, Molly, was snuggled up against her side, snoring as she slept.
He rocked back and forth in his rocking chair while slowly packing another bowl of cherry blend. He lit it with an old Zippo lighter he bought when he was a teenager. It was getting dark when the two movers took the tunnel down.
He watched them get in the van. The headlights came on and it pulled out of the long driveway. He didn’t see any lights on in the house, and wondered if the new neighbors moved in yet?
Agatha set her quilt down and got up, waking Molly who stretched out on the couch.
“I’m going to get ready for bed honey,” she said. Molly followed closely behind.
“All right, dear. I’m going to take a short walk.”
“If it starts raining you get right back in the house,” she made him promise.
Tad put his heavy raincoat on, his walking shoes, and a derby to warm his bald head. At 83-years-old, he was in good shape for a man his age. He made a habit of walking at least five miles a day when he was in his 40s, and it was now second nature to him.
He’d already gone for his daily walk, but needed something to tell his wife why he wanted to go outside. It wasn’t unusual for him to go on short nightly walks that helped him sleep better.
He tapped his pocket to make sure he had the keys and locked the front door behind him. He stood under the porch light for a moment and looked at the house across the street.
Then he went down to the sidewalk and strolled along his side of the street.
After going down a couple of blocks he turned around and headed back on the opposite sidewalk. The cherry trees that lined the neighborhood swayed gently with a gathering wind. The moon was only a sliver hiding in dark clouds.
As he neared his new neighbor’s house he slowed down when the garage door opened. He quickly got next to a tree and squatted down. A black Dodge Ram pickup with an extended cab and black-tinted windows backed out slowly.
Before the door closed, and when the truck turned on its headlights, he got a brief glance inside the garage and saw what he assumed was a man standing there. He had to be seven-feet tall, Tad guessed.
It started raining outside as he crossed the street, and went back inside his house.
The next day.
Dr. Reinhart Elderidge screwed the skin-colored plastic plate back onto the android’s skull. The android came to life immediately, and asked the doctor what his orders were? Reinhart peeked through the blinds and looked across the street, before answering, “I want you to be in charge of security, Jonah.”
“As you wish doctor. What are my standing orders?”
“Rule number one, don’t ever let anyone in this house beside me, unless I tell you otherwise. Rule two, it’s okay to answer the door if someone comes by. Just remember rule number one.
“You’re to say the owner of the house is not in, and you’ll take a message from the caller.”
“As you command doctor.”
“As for the other droids, make sure each one only does their assigned tasks. None of them are to ever leave this house. You can go about your duties now.”
Jonah was the most complete android he’d ever created. And the tallest, on a whim. He was his first really human-looking android, exceeding his own expectations. His other creations weren’t as perfect-looking, or as mental acute as he was.
As a matter of fact, most of them looked incomplete because they were. They looked more like monstrosities than anything else. Some didn’t have heads. Or arms. Or legs. They moved around awkwardly.
Reinhart didn’t care that they were unsightly. They were his babies. A lifetime of work was reflected in their twisted humanoid inspired bodies.
If not for inheriting the family fortune, Reinhart could have never achieved all of this alone without any kind of financing from an outside interest. Like the government. He never took an assistant, preferring to toil away alone.
He peeked out the blinds again and saw his neighbor staring out the window towards his direction. Earlier he was outside by his mail box, staring at the house. Reinhart was uncomfortable with his curiosity, but also understood it was normal.
He’d gone through this before. It was his habit to move every seven years and to change his identity. He didn’t trust anyone. He never made friends. Reinhart was content to lead a solitary existence.
His success with Jonah gave him an unexpected confidante. It was such a new experience that he was still adjusting to it.
After a week of burning curiosity Tad could stand it no longer. He talked Agatha into making some chocolate chip cookies and taking them across the street with him.
“It’s only right that we say hello to our new neighbors after they’ve had time to settle in,” he reasoned.
When Jonah opened the door they both automatically looked up.
“Hi there! I’m Tad, and this is Agatha my wife. We’re your neighbors across the street. Are you the new owner?”
Jonah blinked his dark brown eyes and said, “No. I’m not the new owner. He is out right now. Can I take a message?” he asked, in what Tad thought was a mechanical response.
“Well…here’s some cookies and welcome to the neighborhood,” Tad said.
Jonah stiffly reached down and took the plate of cookies. “I will relay your message sir.”
“Hey! You can call me Tad. We’re neighbors.”
The door shut.
“How do you like that?” he groused as they walked back to the house. “That guy looked like that butler in the Addams Family. Remember Lurch?”
“I do honey. He was played by Ted Cassidy, I believe.”
The conversation followed them into the house.
An odd friendship developed over the next year between Jonah and Tad. Jonah would be watering the lawn or getting the mail and Tad would see him and wave. They seldom talked.
Tad gave up trying to meet the house’s owner. He was obviously a recluse and he had to respect that.
Jonah meanwhile was puzzled. He liked waving, and, or, saying hello to Tad. He didn’t mind listening to him talk away while he was doing his outdoor chores. Was this part of his program?
He mentioned the daily contacts he had with Tad, to Reinhart one day. In one way he was glad to see Jonah was good enough to fool someone into thinking he was human, but on the other he was moving into a new realm…emotions. It was uncharted territory.
Jonah did not sleep at night. It wasn’t necessary. He walked around the house checking on things and reading books. He also got into a protective habit of looking out the front window at Tad and Agatha’s house, off-and-on throughout the night.
Almost two years had passed when one night while Jonah was looking out the front window he saw two masked men with guns, slinking around Tad’s front porch. He knew what that meant.
Tad and Agatha were in danger. The doctor wasn’t home to ask what he should do. He thought about rule one and two. There were no other rules. No rule that said he couldn’t help his neighbors.
As he opened the front door Tad stepped outside with a baseball bat. He’d heard the intruders. “Get out of here you punks!” he shouted, and took a step towards the two men.
“Drop the bat you old bastard, or we’ll shoot you!”
Instead, Tad moved forward, swinging the bat as he did. One of them fired his gun point-blank at Tad, hitting him in the shoulder! The bat struck the other man in the arm knocking his gun down.
Then Jonah was there! He grabbed the man still holding the gun and broke his arm like a twig! The intruder’s howl of pain filled the night. Jonah hit him squarely on the jaw knocking him out!
He turned on the other man and threw several precise punches, sending him to the ground alongside his unconscious cohort. Tad staggered over and picked up his bat in case either tried to get up.
Jonah came up to him, and put his big hand on the wound.
“Will you be all right Tad?” he asked with a touch of emotion that surprised him.
“Yes. You saved my life Jonah! How can I ever repay you?”
“Don’t tell the doctor what happened here. Tell the police you beat them up. They’ll deny it and say I did it, but you tell them they’re crazy cowards! I don’t want people to know I was here.”
“Anything you say Jonah! Thank you again.”
Agatha came running out of the house crying. She saw Tad’s wound and pulled out her cell phone and called 911.
Soon the sound of sirens filled the night.
As It Stands, androids are always a fun subject to write about.