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Excerpt from

The Property Line
Robert N. Jennings

“We’re gonna get us some pussy tonight,” Brandon said. He cracked open another one of Jerry’s beers and took an enthusiastic gulp. “You can take that to the bank.”

Somehow Jerry doubted it. He took a sip of his own beer, only his second of the afternoon, and said, “Maybe so.” No sense busting the boy’s bubble.

“Fuckin’ A, man. But I can’t spend all my money like last time. I gotta have my down payment. Girls notice a nice car. Know what? If I were you, I’d get rid of that old P.O.S. truck and get me a Mustang GT. Hell, it’s not like you got to worry about rent or a house payment.” Gulp. “If I didn’t have to pay rent to my mom? Shit, man. Mustang GT. That’s all I got to say.”

Jerry wiped away the bead of sweat that threatened to break through his brow and sting his eyes. It was hot, hotter than it needed to be this time of year, the humid air turning his whole body into one stinky foot in a work boot. He sat with the two front legs of his chair cocked in the air, his feet on the front deck railing, his work shirt open and trousers unbuttoned to give his expanding gut a little freedom. A man could do that out here in the country if he wanted. The sun was up but the clouds were heavy; Jerry smelled a storm. They could have gone back in the house, but then Brandon would start bitching about how Jerry needed to cut on the air conditioning, and Jerry didn’t run his air conditioning but three months a year: June, July, and August. This being September, it didn’t make the cut.

AC cost money, money Jerry didn’t need to spend with both him and Brandon sitting on the deck drinking beer at three o’clock on a Friday afternoon instead of working. Herb had shut down the line early and sent everybody home at two. They about broke down the doors trying to get out before he changed his mind, all those dumbasses, hooting and hollering in the parking lot like going home early gave them something to be happy about. Jerry himself wasn’t doing any celebrating. He’d been laid off a time or two before. He knew that smell.

“You need to save your money and get you some land,” Jerry said quietly. His eyes squinted against the sun. The grass was getting long; he’d need to mow tomorrow. “Something you can afford. Buy it, pay it off, don’t never borrow on it. That’s what you need. You get you a place, you own it free and clear, that’s like money in the bank. Best thing in the world.”

Brandon snorted. A fine mist of beer and saliva splattered on Jerry’s arm, making him scowl and wipe at it. “Whatever, man. You know why a Mustang GT’s better than land?”

“Why’s that?”

“You find out there’s a pack of niggers in the parking space next to yours, you can move your Mustang. You? You’re fucked.”

“And you’re a fuckin’ idiot. There’s no black people out here.”

“What do you call that over yonder?”

Jerry followed Brandon’s pointing finger across the side yard to the property line he shared with the Spruills and stopped when he got to the black man setting up what looked like a camera on a tripod. He squinted at the truck parked in their driveway and read the print on the doors: North State Surveying. He rolled his eyes. “I call that a surveyor, Brandon. Mr. Asshole and Mrs. Bitch over there are white as a sheet.”

“Oh. What do they got a surveyor for?”

“I don’t know! They don’t exactly have me over for dinner and tell me what’s going on in their lives.” Actually, they didn’t speak to him period, and if they had something to say they said it in a letter sent certified mail, return receipt requested. He took another drink, a longer one this time, and resumed staring into his yard. He preferred not to look at the Spruills’ place. “Maybe they’re putting in a pool so they can make me sick with Fat Lady Spruill in a bikini.”

“They gonna put it in your yard?”

“Better not.”

“Then you need to get on and tell Bo Jackson over there to get his black ass off your property. Looks to me like he’s over the line.”

Jerry’s head whipped around like a radar-guided gun turret. The surveyor was tall, powerfully built, and even from this distance Jerry could tell he’d spent some time in a gym. Not the kind of guy you told to get his black anything anywhere, not unless you had a mind to take one hell of an ass whipping. But Brandon was right about one thing; big or not, the man was over the line. By a good six feet, from the looks of things.

“Hell yeah, Jerry.” Gulp. “He’s moving in. Gonna plant him some crops. Grow chicken wings and shit.”

The surveyor man looked through the thing on the tripod and made a note on a clipboard balanced on his meaty forearm. He peered through it again, adjusted something on the camera thingamajig and made another note. What in the hell is he doing? Jerry wondered. He swallowed the last warm mouthful of beer in the can and set it on the railing. “No big deal,” he said as he rose from the chair and descended the three steps. “I’m sure it’s just a mistake.”

Brandon reached unsteadily into the cooler for another beer. “You just holler at me if you need backup.”

Jerry ignored him. Squinting against the sun, he made his way across the side yard to where the camera thingie stood perched on its tripod. The black man stopped writing on his clipboard and stared at him. Jerry stopped a respectful distance away and raised his hand. “Afternoon.”

“Afternoon,” replied the surveyor. “Something I can help you with?”

“Maybe,” Jerry said. “Couldn’t help but notice, looks like you’re surveying my land.”

“Well…” the surveyor flipped through the sheaf of documents clipped to his board. They made a rustling sound in the hot afternoon air. “I don’t think so, Mr…”


“Mr. Billings, I don’t think I am surveying your land. Going by this here legal description, I’m right where I ought to be.”

At that moment, Jerry saw the stake. He’d missed it from the front deck, because the orange plastic flag hanging from the exposed end was small, no bigger than a Post-It Note, and his eyes weren’t too good at long distances anymore. But he saw it now. The surveyor had driven a narrow wooden stake into the soil. Drove it into Jerry’s soil, six feet inside his yard. Not Fat Bastard Spruill’s. His.

Jerry took a deep breath through his nose. He looked the surveyor in the face, but his eyes kept dragging him back to the stake. He put on his biggest fake smile and said, “Sure you didn’t make a mistake, sir?”

“Nope. I always triple-check.”

“You might want to quadruple-check.” Jerry pointed at the line where his healthy fescue butted up against whatever crap the Spruills used. “See that grass? I mowed that. You can tell because I got my cutting deck set higher, which means that my grass is gonna be in better shape than his. See? He got his so low he about shaves it bald every time. That right there is the property line. I been mowing this little strip you’ve marked off forever. This…” he took three steps until both feet were planted firmly in the wrongfully marked strip, “…is my land.”

“Legal description says it’s his.”

Jerry kept the polite smile glued to his face, but inside he could have about smacked the guy. “Mind if I take a look?”

“Not a bit.”

The surveyor flipped to a page on his clipboard and held it out for Jerry’s inspection while Brandon watched eagerly from the deck. Jerry looked at the paper and read. He got through “Beginning at an iron stake and running due east” before getting lost in a forest of numbers and bearings and degrees and giving up. Could have been a computer program for all he knew.

Be damned if he’d let anybody else know that, though. He shook his head and handed the clipboard back to the surveyor. “I see where you’re coming from,” he said. “But I think you might have measured wrong.”

“Well, I don’t think…”

Jerry held up both hands in a gesture that cut the man short. “Well, I do. Look, I’ve lived out here my whole life, okay? I know how the land is, I know who lives where, and I know who owns what. Know how I know so much about this property line? My old home place used to stand right back there where my house is. My granddaddy was born in a room that stood about where that stupid-looking kid’s sitting right now. And you see that right there?” Jerry pointed at a pile of rocks off in the distance. “Used to be a curing shed standing over there. Now, when my daddy had to sell off this part of the land, he made it real clear that he was only selling from the corner of the old shed back thataway. Man that had it before Spruill knew that shit. So I don’t see what the problem is.”

The surveyor rubbed his forehead and sighed. “Mister Billings, I ain’t out here to tangle with you, I’m just doing my job. I got to find the old iron stakes and mark them good, that’s what I’ve been paid to do and that’s it. Could be somebody messed up when they placed the iron stakes, I don’t know. But can I tell you something? One man to another?”

Jerry waited.

“If I were you, I’d get me a lawyer.”

Jerry was quiet. He stood and listened to the blood pounding in his forehead and the thrumming of his tensed muscles. His eyes kept drifting back to the orange flag at the end of the wooden stake. “Why’s that?”

“From what I hear, they’re putting up a fence. And this strip’s gonna be on their side of it.”

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