The binoculars weren’t much use in the dark. With or without them, the man was an indistinct figure sauntering along
the sidewalk. He wore no hat, she could see that much. Bare headed in the midnight air, he vanished into the black
shelter of the porch across the street at 7150 Wilmont Way. She sat back in her wooden chair. He was the night’s
third visitor to that house.
The visitors arrived after dark, always on foot, alone or in pairs, ever since the new owner moved in a month ago. She
watched them park their cars one or two blocks away, on Wilmont or on 72nd, and walk to 7150. Sometimes she saw
one emerge and walk back to the quiet car and drive away. She couldn’t count them all because the ones that came
out did not always match the ones she saw go in. Despite the distant and inadequate lamplight, she could tell tall
from short, fat from slim, hats from bareheaded. She remembered an alley behind 7150 from walking the
neighborhood years ago. They were using that alley and the house’s back door as well as the front door. In and out,
It had to be drugs. 7150 was a drug house.
What ought she to do about it? What was her responsibility? Drugs were the scourge of modern society—the paper
and television were full of it and clamored for every citizen to resist. Her father had built this house before she was
born; she had lived here over seventy years. Had she an obligation to home and city? To the neighborhood?
Maybe, maybe not. She considered the matter over several days. She’d had little to do with the neighbors for years.
What encounters she did have were intrusive, such as boys ringing the doorbell with Christmas wreaths for the Boy
Scouts or pepperoni sticks for Little League.
If she did decide to report the drug trafficking, she wasn’t at all clear how to do it. She’d called 911 two years ago,
when from the second floor she’d observed a pale wisp of smoke drifting out of a chimney on a July morning, then
another wisp out a window. She had reported the possible house fire, given the location, and hung up. Her phone
had rung immediately. She didn’t know why she’d picked it up, but she had. The emergency dispatcher had called her
by name and insisted she stay on the line. She’d hung up again and not answered the next call. It had taken hours
for her to research and understand the nature of the security breach. Caller ID. The phone number was unlisted and
blocked, but she had learned that the police and fire department could identify her calls regardless. That made calling
them about the drug house highly unsafe. The crime shows were full of criminals who took bloody vengeance on
those who turned them in.
She concluded that the drug house was not trespassing on her life, certainly not enough to justify the risk of
intervening. If the neighbors noticed the trafficking, they could deal with it. With relief came a tingle of glee, a tiny
back-splash of lawlessness. She was free to observe the wickedness without further anxiety.
Her house on the corner of 72nd and Wilmont Way was tall for the neighborhood and well positioned for monitoring in
all directions. It stood two stories high where most of the neighborhood consisted of modest single-level bungalows.
7150 Wilmont Way was the only other two story house nearby. Her best views were of course from the second floor,
where she had long ago positioned a wooden chair at a window on each of the four sides—the two bedrooms, the
bathroom, and the landing by the stairs. She debated purchasing a pair of binoculars designed for night viewing, and,
despite the considerable expense, finally yielded to the delights of Internet ordering and the delicious days-long wait
for the thunk of a package thrust through the oversized brass flap at the front door.
It was simply marvelous what could be delivered—groceries, clothing, household items of all types, anything that
struck her fancy, really, and wasn’t too large. Of necessity, large packages waited on the porch until nightfall, when
she could scoot them over the threshold and inside without being observed. But that was rare. The brass flap
accommodated a package two feet by three feet, and most slid through easily. Goods landed in a steel box that she
accessed from inside with a key after checking a peep hole. Any intruder who might have climbed in through the
delivery slot would be obvious. She’d thought of that possibility.
While she waited for the new binoculars, she monitored the activity at the drug house at night and of the birds in the
morning, moving from window to window. It was April and nesting season. An oak held an untidy mass of sticks and
moss where squirrels nested, a tall fir was visited by silent and secretive crows (so different from their behavior in
fall), and song sparrows slipped in and out of Mr. Jensen’s hedge behind her house. She slept in the afternoons and
watched TV in the evening. Nothing much happened at 7150 until midnight.
One cloudy morning, she tracked a red-tailed hawk across the dull sky as it floated in fixed-wing swoops in and out of
her field of vision. She was standing at the window on the north side. Her gaze glanced across 7150. And met the
glint of another pair of binoculars. She leaped back, collided with the chair, and nearly fell. After a moment, she raised
the binoculars again, and again met that glassy double-round stare. The drug house was watching her. She vacated
the room immediately.
She took the usual precautions—checking that all the downstairs windows were properly latched and all their curtains
drawn tight, the front, back, and basement doors bolted. She did not sleep well that afternoon, not well at all. That
evening she moved her observation chair back from the window. Four men came and went.
Groceries were delivered three days after the unsettling binocular collision, and she was caught woefully off guard. As
usual, she watched from upstairs as the boy stepped out of the gaily painted van with her two bags and disappeared
under the overhang of her porch. But instead of the metallic clash of the brass flap, the doorbell rang. After a long
moment, she walked downstairs. “What is it?”
“I jammed the flap, and I’m late with deliveries. I have to leave your order on the porch.”
Through the peephole of the delivery cage, she could see a bit of pale plastic bag at one corner of the flap, what must
be impeding it. She heard footsteps hastening down the steps.
She hadn’t opened that door for, what, a year? Had it been that long? Since she’d stopped walking at night. No, since
the computer came in a black and white box patterned like a cow and big enough to hold one. She didn’t like going
outside during the day, did not like it at all, but strawberries and frozen dinners were warming and that could lead to
food poisoning. Reluctantly, she unbolted the door and was a little surprised at how easily it swung in. She tugged
one bag inside and stepped back for another.
A quiet “Good morning, ma’m” nearly stopped her heart. Too close, too close by far. The man had stepped onto the
lowest of her front steps. He was young and fit. If he chose to attack, she would never make it inside and latch the
door in time. Best to bluff.
“What do you want?” she snapped.
“I’m new to the neighborhood. Jason Blackstone, from around the corner. 7150 Wilmont.”
“Very well.” She bent over for the second bag.
“I wanted to introduce myself and make sure my friends aren’t disturbing you at night.”
She straightened up. He was about six feet tall and dark haired, wearing a polo shirt in pale green open at the collar;
tan pants and white sport shoes. Blue eyes under dark brows, a narrow patrician’s nose, a strong jaw. Belatedly she
realized he was handsome. He leaned on her guardrail in the morning sun, a cigarette in one hand. His smile was only
“Late at night,” she repeated.
“I’m making a film with my friends. It’s about a local architect who’s been forgotten.” His voice was soft and deep.
“We get together to work on the project, editing and adding the sound track. My friends work in restaurants, so we
meet late. I’ve asked them to park a block or two away so we don’t interfere with the neighbors’ parking. I hope it
doesn’t bother you.”
“Of course not. I hadn’t noticed.”
“I’m pleased to hear that. Would you like my card? It has my phone number so you can call me any time if there’s
noise.” He reached in his shirt pocket and held out a little gray card.
“No, thank you. I’m sure that won’t be necessary.”
He made no move to close the gap between them. “I understand you’ve lived here for years, and I’d like to learn
about the neighborhood. You have a beautiful house.” He nodded to her, the easy smile still there, and flicked his
cigarette into the azaleas. “It’s been a pleasure to meet you…Miss Woodruff, is it?”
She yanked the bag inside, bolted the door, and sank to the floor with her back against the door, heart pounding. A
voice in her head screamed, “He knows my name. He knows my name! And he knows I’m watching.” She never
doubted he was behind those binoculars that had looked back at her from 7150.
She spent the day working it out. The delivery flap wasn’t jammed—she reached in and easily pulled out the scrap of
plastic. He had bribed the boy to leave the groceries on the porch so that he could speak with her. To see if she was
a threat. To charm her with his fine looks and enticing words, crafted to appeal. And to dish out that unlikely story
about making a movie. The way he flicked the cigarette butt into the azaleas, a stinking ember into her pink
blossoms—unmistakably a threat.
What had he learned? That she was old, that she could be tricked. Nothing more, perhaps, and, she resolved, as her
nerves steadied, perhaps that was the last time his trickery would succeed.
She continued her night watch, using the new night-vision binoculars, but the next surprise came during the day. A
hummingbird visited Mr. Jensen’s trumpet vine, but only in the briefest darts. An Anna’s or a rufus? She couldn’t tell, it
didn’t hold still and the light was wrong to catch the colors. She was close to the window when she lowered the
binoculars to rest her arms. She snatched them back up to her eyes again, stepping back, careful of the chair, and
caught for an instant the broad, grim face of a woman looking at her from the second floor of 7150. The woman
turned away, a hint of thick black hair, and vanished.
A woman. Older than Jason Blackstone. His mother? She’d never seen a woman there before.
And she’d been caught observing again, even though it was only bird watching.
She could not sleep that afternoon and cut short her evening watch due to drowsiness. An hour before dawn, she
went to bed with an uneasy heart, in the downstairs bedroom that had once been her parents. She awoke in a panic
and sat clutching the sheets until she recognized what had awakened her. The basement alarm. Padding barefoot
into the den, she shut it off and stood in the shocked silence, chill creeping in through her flannel nightgown. She
heard no running feet, no slamming gate. The basement monitors on her computer screen showed nothing awry.
Whoever it was had fled, unheard over the alarm. She only hoped no one had called the police, which would lead to a
great deal of disturbance. After an uneventful half an hour, she climbed back into bed, smiling a little as she pictured
the would-be intruder. The alarm system was unobtrusive—no point in warning thieves what they were up against.
He had expected an easy break-in and found an alarm system and armored windows. That would teach them she
was no pushover. Inside this house, she was untouchable.
After sleep failed again, she arose and donned her usual sweatshirt and pants, checked the monitors again, unlocked
the basement door, and stepped carefully down with her hand firmly on the rail. A small shatter star marred one
window, but it didn’t look sufficiently damaged to need replacement. She’d paid for top quality unbreakable vinyl and
was pleased to see it had performed as advertised.
Over breakfast, she savored her security. Her father had built well, and she had supplemented his work. The house
was faced with yellow-brown brick, the porch was cement. Setting it afire from the outside was a difficult proposition.
The delivery chute, her own addition, was a weak point, perhaps, but even explosives were unlikely to cause serious
damage given the steel box they would land in. Windows on the first floor, like the basement, were virtually
It was only when she resumed her vigilance upstairs that doubts slipped in. A skilled marksman with a rifle in the top
floor of 7150 could easily shoot her dead. She had not thought it necessary to have the glass in the top windows
replaced. Of course the forensic experts would determine where the bullet came from, no matter how deteriorated
her corpse. Mr. Blackstone would realize that. But perhaps television exaggerated scientific crime investigation.
Perhaps he was willing to take the risk. She stayed on the first floor that day.
He might send her a package or alter one she had ordered so that it was lethal—poison or explosives or gas. She’d
already changed grocery delivery companies; she would use a different one every week. She would eject any
unordered deliveries unopened. Wet them down to disarm any explosives and throw them back out. After waiting 48
hours in case there was a timing device.
It was hard to know what to do.
She paced the circle of the first floor: hallway, living room, dining room, kitchen, back to the hallway. Her house was
not invulnerable after all, not to a prolonged, persistent campaign by resourceful people with the means to implement
their diabolical plans. She was safe from the odd burglar, but not from Mr. Jason Blackstone of 7150 Wilmont Way and
his sinister companion. He had already succeeded in exiling her from a third of her domain, from her aerie, for fear of
being shot. She had been willing to leave those people to their criminal activities, but it was no longer safe to do so.
What was she to do? It was a difficult problem, a great challenge. She considered several methods of attracting the
authorities’ attention to 7150 without being identified. The postal carrier would remember anything she mailed
because she sent so few letters. Phone and email were both traceable and thus out of the question. She had no one
she could turn to for assistance to repost a letter or make a call for her.
She could not devise a plan that guaranteed both success and privacy and also allowed her to remain safely in her
house. The choice was this: do nothing and take her chances with whatever retaliation Jason Blackstone chose or
take the battle to him.
She paced and debated, balancing fear against fear, danger against danger, until Blackstone forced her hand. It was
purely accidental that she saw him, given that it was mid-afternoon and she was normally asleep. Regular sleep was
something else he’d taken. She’d gone into the kitchen for a glass of water, and there he was, through the kitchen
window, next door talking with her neighbor, Mr. Jensen. She froze, juice glass in hand, and watched them, two
relaxed men, one young and one old, one on the sidewalk holding a cigarette, the other in his front yard with a hose
in hand, both with their chins tilted in an attitude of polite interest, nodding agreement. Blackstone gestured with his
smoke toward her house. Mr. Jensen, a thin, weedy man, glanced her way and back to his visitor. There was no
mistaking the contempt in their faces. Neither could see her, she was sure of it, in the depth of her dim kitchen. She
held very still. After a bit more conversation, Blackstone crossed the street back to his own house, and Mr. Jensen
turned the hose on his pansies. She was free to move again.
He was making inquires about her, seeking out her vulnerabilities, and that wretched Mr. Jensen would not protect
She settled on a desperate stratagem, practiced the technique, and refined her plans in a fog of anxiety. It wasn’t
that she was phobic about stepping out of her house (although she would be quick to say so if the police should ask),
it was just that there hadn’t been any need for so long and she was out of practice. That was all. That, and the very
real dangers to an older, slightly-built woman with no means to protect herself on the street. Homeless people,
muggers, twisted psychopaths—all of them were apt to wander about at night, as well as the drug customers. It was
a matter of choosing the lesser risk; there was no avoiding danger entirely, not since 7150 had become a hive of
criminals. It was natural to be filled with trepidation about leaving her home, her citadel. It wasn’t a phobia, just
sensible awareness of life’s hazards.
She waited a few days, while the moon dwindled to a frail tilted C and then to nothing. She waited for the still-dark
hour near dawn, when visitors to 7150 generally ceased. She waited at the front door, the door not visible from 7150,
for her will to activate her body. Was she mad to attempt this? She’d thought so hard about the problem, but
still…perhaps it was lunacy. Her hand balked at the bolt and shivered on the door knob. Her feet declined to step
aside to let the door swing open. Yet night air cooled her hot cheek and rubber soles scraped softly on the front
steps. She carried darkness with her, black sweatpants, a black sweatshirt with a hood, a dark cloth bag with the
materials. She walked, ears ringing with terror, to the gray-black bulk of 7150, across its scrap of lawn into the
memorized gap between the rhododendron and the lilac. Opened the bag. Arranged the noisy crumpled newspaper
against the wooden siding. Splashed the gasoline. Knelt to strike the blinding match. Fled like a bat’s ghost.
Safe inside, exhausted, she hid the clothing and gas can and watched from the second story, desperately anxious
that her plan would fail and she would be driven to devise another, or, worse, to survive Mr. Blackstone’s counter
attack. The night glasses showed fitful smoke filtering through leaves, then at last, thankfully, dark red flames with
yellow tips flaring up.
The flames had conquered the side of the house before she heard sirens, then she observed a great flurry of red
trucks, ladders, helmeted firefighters, neighbors gawking. The fire truck blocked her view and she could not identify
Jason Blackstone or the older woman in the crowd.
By dawn, the neighbors were gone. Studs and insulation gaped on the damaged side of 7150. She waited impatiently
for the morning newspaper, deposited through the delivery flap thanks to the huge extra fee she paid. It was a
disappointment. Nothing on the fire. It must have happened too late to make the morning edition. She waited in the
living room in her father’s Windsor chair for the early television news, changing channels until finally it began. The fire
was the first local item featured, with the word “arson” used often. She watched and listened eagerly.
And sat back in consternation. She had been wrong. 7150 Wilmont Way, “severely damaged in last night’s fire”, had
not been a drug house, not a marketplace for cocaine or methamphetamine or marijuana. Her careful observations
and long thought had not led her to the truth of the matter. She’d been mistaken.
The firefighters had found and rescued eight young women locked in the basement. They were from Romania,
China, Russia, and Mexico—illegal immigrant girls tricked and beaten into sex slavery. The basement and first story of
the house were set up for elaborate sexual activities the reporter was not free to discuss in detail. 7150 was a
She had not guessed, had not understood why all the shadowy visitors were men.
The fire was believed to have been set by a disgruntled customer, “someone with a callous disregard for human life.”
The house’s owner, Jason Blackstone and his associate, Marybeth Perez, had fled, but neighbor Ralph Jensen sensed
something was wrong and took down their license number. The pair had been captured and were in custody. The
television displayed a quick shot of Jason Blackstone between two policemen with his hands behind his back.
One of the freed women spoke to the reporter in halting English. None of them had known sunlight or fresh air since
they were moved to 7150. Their lives consisted only of abuse and the inside of that house. They had feared they
would never be able to leave and would die there. The reporter added, “They believed they would never again know
what it was to shop at a store or walk in a park or visit a friend.”
She studied the cowering faces of those ignorant, luckless girls, and felt a remote pity. They had escaped from
Blackstone and would have a second chance, though she doubted it would do them much good. As for herself, she
had triumphed over her enemy. The aerie was hers again, although she must see to replacing those second story
By Ann Littlewood