8) A Lack of Goodwill to All, as Seen by Peter Levin

Peter Levin watched from his slightly ajar doorway as BJ Hunnicutt finished the last of his decorations in the hallway; it looked if as a gift to the HOA manager, he would stay as generic and non-denominational and American and Texan as possible. In other words, Hunnicutt missed the meaning of Christmas completely and purposely. Red, white and blue streamers hung from the ceiling and walls of the hallway. A box labeled 'Goodies for the Troops' stood in one corner, next to a fake cactus covered in little knickknacks and ornaments found in the wacky stores on the street. White lights twinkled from strands hanging on the walls, along with paper snowflakes created by either by schoolchildren or Pierce and Hunnicutt with few drinks in them. It was as close to snow as they would ever have in Austin, and for that Peter was grateful. The whole hallway was gaudy, bright and thankfully up for only about three weeks, shorter if he had his way. Footsteps echoed down the hallway. Peter saw Hunnicutt turn and found Mrs. Rodriguez from 316 standing next to him. She gave him a quick smile and a "Perfect" before she exited to the stairwell. Fools. It looks like they had bewitched another resident into putting up with their flights of whimsy.

Where was the other partner-in-crime? As if on cue, Hawkeye Pierce entered the hallway, drinks in hand. "Eggnog?" He held out a glass to his roommate. Of course they were drinking in the middle of the afternoon. What alcoholics. Peter had no idea why everyone in the building found the two of them so charming.

"Is it spiked?" Hunnicutt asked, taking the tumbler from him.

"Is there any other kind?" Pierce retorted with a grin.

"Kind to my mind, maybe not to my liver," Hunnicutt responded.

"Speaking of, the hallway is one of a kind, Beej," Pierce held up his glass and they silently toasted and clinked.

"Mrs. Rodriguez was kind enough to give approval, for starters. Do we have any gifts to put in the box?" Hunnicutt asked.

"Besides the kind gift of our sparkling personalities?" Pierce cracked. "Not yet, but we can buy a few things this weekend. I have the list from the VA."

"How kind of you, good man," Hunnicutt attempted a horrid British accent, then laughed.

Time to break up the revelry. All Peter wanted was a calm, orderly hallway to match his calm, orderly apartment and his intentionally calm, orderly life. He knew he looked at life as a lemon, mainly because he did not like lemonade. He was perfectly content being the neighborhood grouch. Someone had to do it, and it wasn't the two mischief makers from next door. He opened his door and slammed it behind him.

"Uh oh, Churchill, trouble at 3 o'clock," Pierce warned, as the two of them swung around to meet him in the hallway.

"What have you done to the hallway, Hunnicutt?" Peter shouted at them. Granted, Hunnicutt was still a bit taller than he was, but yelling at others usually worked when he wanted to have his way. "This mess will take ages to clean up. People with good taste would be ashamed of this."

"I think my definition of good is different from yours, Levin," Hunnicutt said with a joking tone in his voice.

"Is this your war on decency, your war on Christmas? You persecute my beliefs." Peter shook his finger at the two of them. He was so tired of watching them hijack every meaningful thing in the world and make it a joke. "You're not funny."

"Funny?" Pierce's personality flipped from docile to near-deranged in a second flat. "Persecute your beliefs? A war on Christmas? Are you insane? We've got troops in Iraq and Afghanistan in a real war with real blood and real dying, and you call our attempt to brighten the time after the clocks switch a war?" Pierce, incensed, backed him into a corner. The older man grew taller in his rage. "I'm almost twice your age and half blind, but I know a fink when I see one. And you, you despicable little man, are a fink!"

"Ebenezer here does not like my decorations?" Hunnicutt said with an obviously fake pout. Peter swung his gaze over. Hunnicutt was often the cooler head of the two. His fuse burned slowly, but Peter had the feeling he didn't want to be around when the anger bomb went off. "And I even checked in with Martha Stewart!" He joined Pierce in the corner, making himself as towering as possible. Peter, deciding that confronting the two of them without witnesses was not the best idea, stayed mum. "Santa will put coal in your stocking, Levin, if you don't lose the bah humbug. C'mon, Hawk, let's go. The ghosts of Christmas past will start their visit soon." Hunnicutt placed his hand on Pierce's arm, and they shared a look. The two men turned around abruptly and left him quivering in their wake. He didn't think doctors were scary, but obviously these two had been 'special' doctors.

"Brilliant!" Pierce shouted as they walked toward their condo. "Ghosts of Christmas past indeed. Great idea, Beej! Let's give Levin a visit from the ghost of Christmas past!"

"I don't know, Hawk," Hunnicutt said cautiously. "I'm not dearly departed yet."

"We can dress our skeleton up in chains, play some reggae music and roll him out when Levin starts to torture us!" Peter was slightly hurt by their antics. They were plotting against him and had already forgot that he was still in the hallway, thirty feet away.

"Reggae, Hawk?" The taller man turned to his partner in crime.

Hawkeye waved his hand in the air. "I'll explain inside. Dani doesn't come over for holiday decorating and the Trail of Lights for another couple of hours. Let's get to work!"

Peter quickly made his way back to his doorway and inside, mentally plotting the letter he would write to the HOA. He sat down at his word processor and started typing away. A few hours later, he heard the creak of the stairwell door. He scurried over to the peephole and saw Dani Pierce do a double take as she stepped in to the third floor hallway. He could see why. It was lit with lights, streamers and now added the sounds of Bob Marley and the Wailers. The metal door creaked again. He saw Andrew Roberts enter the hallway, keys and briefcase in hand, stop in shock and take in the view. The couple looked at each other in disbelief, then ventured over to the cactus.

"That's BJ's handwriting on the box, and I've grown up hearing about how he played Santa over in Korea with tie dyed scrubs and decorated trees with tongue depressors, so I'm guessing this is mainly his handiwork." Peter heard Dani say.

"What about the 'No Woman, No Cry?' Roberts asked.

"I have no clue." Dani shook her head in amazement. "We have to figure this out." Peter wondered about the two of them. The lack of imagination in kids these days!

"The skeleton is Jacob Marley, the ghost of Christmas Past, but your idiotic grandfathers missed the boat completely," he informed them, opening his door.

Dani and Andrew turned around, surprised at his appearance.

"Mr. Levin? Is that really you?" Dani asked.

"Who else would it be? Are you as slow as your relatives?" Peter crossly replied.

"Hey, Dani doesn't deserve your ire," Roberts pointed out. "She's the only person here who defends you, which makes sense, considering she doesn't have to live next to you."

"She can fight her own battles, Roberts," Peter snapped back. The two of them looked at each other, and Dani laid a hand on Roberts' arm to calm him. Peter rolled his eyes. These two had made googly eyes at each other for far too long for nothing to have happened yet. "Oh, for crying out loud, why don't the two of you start dating already? It makes me sick to look at you." He slammed the door shut for the second time that day. He did stay close enough to hear the conversation, as well as view it through the peephole. It was better than what was on the television these days.

"Hey, what's the commotion?" Hunnicutt called out from the next door over. He and Pierce walked into the hallway. "Do you like our Ghost of Reggae Past?"

"I do!" Dani said with a laugh. "Although Mr. Levin doesn't. What did he do this time?"

"Say, Dani, what's Levin talking about, you and Andrew dating?" Pierce asked, sidestepping the question about their baseless attack on him. Ha! Apparently Peter wasn't the only one listening behind closed doors.

"I don't know," Dani said with a blush, as Andrew examined the ceiling for any cracks. "We're not dating. We haven't talked about dating, or anything."

"Well, Dani, we always encourage people to have a good, trusting relationship with their doctor," Hunnicutt cracked with a smile. "And if that means we would see you more often, even dating Andrew is fine." With that, he patted Roberts on the shoulder.

"Please don't prank me," Roberts stage-whispered. Pierce and Hunnicutt laughed. Peter had learned to dread that particular laugh.

"We will only prank you when you deserve it, like our lovely neighbor," Pierce told him. He raised his voice, and Peter could clearly hear him. "Speaking of lovely neighbors..." Pierce moved out of Peter's sight. What was he up to? Peter threw open the door to inspect what that troublemaker was up to now.

"Aha!" Pierce jumped into Peter's path and he shrieked. Pierce, Hunnicutt and Roberts burst into laughter, and even Dani couldn't help but crack a smile. Peter shook his fist at them. Why did they always pick on him? He was just curious about what they did, and being picked on made him angry.

"Serves you right, Pierce and Hunnicutt," Peter sneered at them. "If your granddaughter decides to date this lay about, you'll be stuck with him and his lazy attitude!"

Pierce and Hunnicutt let out a roar of laughter. Roberts looked more amused than hurt.

"It's your call, Levin, we will pay as much attention to you as you pay to us, or, from here on out, Andrew as well," Pierce warned him.

"After all, we simply must have to do a better job of looking out for the best interests of Dani," Hunnicutt continued.

"And if her new potential boyfriend has to leave his condo because of complaints from his neighbor, that would make us mighty unhappy," Pierce followed.

"And you don't want us unhappy. Imagine what we would Saran wrap to make ourselves feel better. We already tackled your parking space," Hunnicutt pointed out in a helpful tone.

"You could be our Christmas turkey!" Pierce chimed in. "What can we do to turkeys? Let's see, you can stuff a turkey, baste it, broil it, fry it, and I'll even tie a bow on it. I'm getting lots of good ideas, BJ. I feel better already."

Peter was so tired of their banter. "Fine, fine. Christmas truce. I'll stay out of your business until New Year's, and you leave me out of your pranks."

"Sounds like a deal to us," Hunnicutt said and stuck his hand out. "Merry Christmas, Peter." The other three quickly followed suit.

"Merry Christmas. Can you take your skeleton home, please?" Peter asked as politely as possible. He was going to enjoy the lack of disturbance as long as possible.

Pierce grabbed the skeleton and paraphernalia. "Merry Christmas, Peter!" The skeleton waved at him and the reggae tunes disappeared. Peter closed his door and wiped his brow. Peace and quiet and Pierce and Hunnicutt were mutually exclusive entities. From what he knew of their history, they had been incorrigible and inseparable since the Korean War. They would never stop enjoying life. Sadly, it looked like he was along for the ride.