Table of Contents

Fall 2007

Short Stories

Bus Stop

Deep Freeze

In the Ditch

Missed Connections

My Bedtime Buddy

On Silent Feet

Out of Service

Ric With No K

The Rorschach Affair

The Years of the Wicked

Under the Blanket of the Sun

Upon A New Road

Reviews

Ammunition

Bad Thoughts

Beating the Babushka

Bloodthirsty

Hidden Depths

Pay Here

Play Dead

Poison Pen

Silence

Who Is Conrad Hirst

Profiles/Features

Bronx Noir

In For Questioning

Together We Write

Profile: Derek Nikitas

Pelecanos Country

Interviews

George Pelecanos

Robert Fate

Rick Mofina

Kevin Wignall

Short Story:

DEEP FREEZE

by Jordan McPeek

"Thank you, Mrs. Grimaldi," said Frank. "You always seem to have a teapot ready." He smiled again.

The older lady pouring tea returned the smile. "I was about to have a bit myself. Just lucky you came along at the right time."

He leaned forward to pick up a china teacup. A mangled handcuff escaped from under his sleeve. He coughed, shoved it back under the sleeve, and reached with his other hand.

Did she see it? he wondered. Nah. Too busy spooning sugar into her cup, the stupid old bat. He smiled to himself.

Teacup and digestive cookie in hand, he settled into a firm wingback chair. He couldn't imagine ever watching TV in a chair like this. Doesn't matter. He couldn't remember the last time he enjoyed himself so much. If only the afternoon could go on forever.

"You know, I think I'd rather you didn't call me Mrs. Grimaldi. Why don't you just call me...Helen?"

"Oh, I couldn't, Mrs. Grimaldi. It's just too disrespectful. Too familiar."

"Please."

Frank started to shake his head, but caught her pleading look. "Well, if you insist, I'll try. But I'm not promising."

"Do your best."

He nodded, sipped his tea and looked around. "You know, I just love coming here. All this stuff you’ve got crammed in here is so fascinating. I bet you got a story about each one."

"I think you've heard them all before."

"Don't be silly, Helen." He gestured at a vase. "Where'd that one come from?"

"Oh, my Stan brought that back from Japan the first time he went over with the Trade Minister. Or was it the second? No, it was the first. I remember because that was the year we all went to Banff and Stan had to leave early so he could..."

Frank let her drone on. The vase was nearly two feet tall. Looked like it had a good heft to it. He sighed and decided he couldn't waste any more time.

He moved to put his teacup down and let it fall off the coffee table, spilling tea on the Persian rug. "I'm such a klutz!" he moaned.

"Don't worry about it. Won't take a minute to clean up." Helen bustled into the kitchen.

Frank crept over to the vase. "I feel just horrible, Mrs. Grimaldi. I hope it doesn't stain." He picked up the vase and was surprised at its light weight. He placed it back on its stand and frowned for the first time that afternoon. His bottom lip started to protrude.

Helen managed to control the shaking until she reached the kitchen. She clutched the counter, head hanging low. A quiet sob tumbled out when Frank called from the other room. She closed her eyes. The shaking stopped. She picked up the phone but hung up before dialing a complete number. She pulled a rag and spray bottle from under the sink, paused to wipe her eyes on the back of her hand, and returned to the living room.

She saw his lip. "Hey, don't feel bad. I don't care about this old rug. Another little spill isn't going to make any difference at all. Don't give it another thought. I mean it."

He stared at the spill, silent. She knelt down, leaning heavily on the coffee table, and started dabbing with the rag. Finally, he said, "Thank you. You're very sweet." His gaze shifted to the wall above the upright piano. "Tell me, is that a real sword?" He stood and stepped around Helen to take a closer look.

"Absolutely. Stan picked that up in Europe. It belonged to a German officer who died at the Somme in World War One."

"Think he killed any Canadians with it?"

"That's a horrible thought."

"I meant the German."

"I know you did. It's still horrible."

"Oh, come on. What do you think they carried swords for?"

"I don't know and I don't want to think about it."

Frank lifted his chin. "I've got one of these swords, too. I got mine on D-Day. Took it off a guy right after I shot him."

Helen bit her lip. She folded her rag several times. "Frank," she said. "You're 27 years old."

"So?"

"D-Day was more than 50 years ago. And I don't think they carried swords in World War Two."

Frank laughed. "I got shot three times that day. You think I'm making it up?"

Helen shook her head. "No, no, no. It's me. I get confused about dates. The mind starts to go at my age."

"That's okay. You're still one of the nicest people I know." He reached down and patted her back.

She struggled to her feet and went to a small stereo on a shelf of dusty books. "Would you like to listen to some music?" Piano sounds with lots of strings filled the air. She turned up the volume. "So I can hear it in the kitchen. I'll be back in a minute."

Frank tested the sword blade with his thumb. Sharp enough to shave a half day's whiskers. He grabbed the handle with both hands and pulled it from the wall with a gentle tug. One of the hooks clattered down the front of the piano. Frank grabbed for it, missed, and thudded his hand into the wall. A framed plate hanging on the wall crashed to the floor and burst into pieces.

Frank swore under his breath. He dropped to the floor and felt around for the fallen hook. "I'm so sorry, Helen." He gave his left hand a violent shake when plate splinters embedded themselves in the palm. "I don't know what's wrong with me today." He found the hook, and then cracked his head on the piano while jumping to his feet. He flailed around, silent curses pouring out of his mouth. Glancing wide-eyed at the kitchen doorway, he re-mounted the sword.

Helen had set the rag and the spray bottle on the kitchen counter on her way to the phone. Her finger was steady as she dialed. She whispered, "It's Helen Sommers, Constable. Frank's here....I’m at home. He's in the living room right now. How did he get out?...Oh, dear. Was anyone hurt?...Did Frank do that or was there someone else?...Oh, dear....How did he get a gun?....I don’t think so. Maybe he left it outside....He doesn't even know who I am....No, he's very calm. That's what scares me." The thud and crash from the living room jolted her into hanging up.

She stumbled to the back door without taking her eyes from the kitchen doorway. At the sound of his voice, she paused, her hand on the doorknob. Another thud. Eyes closed, deep breaths entered her lungs. She rushed into the living room with a worried look on her face. "Oh, dear. Are you okay?"

Frank was rubbing his head. "Yeah, I'm okay. I didn’t -- it was a mosquito. I smacked him too hard and knocked the plate down."

"This just isn't a good day for china, is it?" She offered a weak smile.

"I'm so embarrassed. You have to let me get you a new plate."

"Don't be silly. I've got lots of plates to put up there. It's not worth anything."

"No, I'm serious. I'd feel really bad if you don't."

"It's not necessary. That plate wasn't -- what happened to your hand?"

Frank's hand was smeared with blood. "I started to pick up the pieces. I must've cut myself."

"We'd better clean that up. You need a bandage."

He followed her down the hall to the bathroom. Why'd I go and make up stories for this old bat, he thought. Should've just gone for it when the plate dropped. The frown returned to his face.

Helen ran water in the sink. "Here, rinse your hand. I'll get the tweezers." She opened a cupboard.

Frank did as he was told. "So that sword, is that the kind you shove through people, or the kind you chop them with?"

Helen plucked out a splinter. "I told you I don't want to think about things like that."

"Okay, okay. Just wondering." He pictured himself with the sword, boarding a ship, like a pirate, his clothes and hair rippling in the wind. The fools kept coming at him. He slashed and chopped his way across the deck, bodies and limbs falling all around him. Success filled his chest like the wind filled the sails of the ship. Chopping it is, he decided. Lacks finesse, but much more satisfying.

"You know, it's not sharp anymore. I told Stan I wouldn't have it in my house if the blade was still good."

He brought himself back from the high seas. "Just pure decoration now, eh?"

"That's right. I watched him file off the edge myself."

Frank wrinkled his eyebrows. He opened his mouth, then closed it without speaking.

Helen applied some iodine and wrapped his hand. "There. That should do it. Unless you still need kisses for your boo-boos." Her eyes twinkled.

Frank shook his head and went back to the living room. Helen put things back in the cupboard. She hesitated, then took a straight razor and slipped it into her apron pocket. Back in the living room she avoided his eyes. "Now I've got to find a box for that broken glass," she said. She went into the kitchen.

Frank munched on another cookie and hummed along with the radio. Maybe it wasn't so bad after all, not rushing things. Work out a plan and stick to it. That's the only way to really savour the moment. He surveyed the room, pausing briefly on a letter opener, a crystal candy dish, and the cord for Helen's heating pad, before his eyes returned to the sword and stayed there. Not sharp? he wondered. Why would she lie? The song ended, and in the brief silence he heard a faint siren. You old bat, he thought. Maybe not so stupid after all. He jumped to the window. The trees blocked his view. Maybe it was passing on the highway. Maybe it wasn't.

He grabbed the sword and kicked over the vase. It shattered just like he expected, pieces covering the floor. "Ooops," he called. White spots pulsed in his vision with each heartbeat. A rush of footsteps came from the kitchen. Frank took a deep breath and lifted the sword high over his right shoulder.

*****

"What the hell is that?" Constable Moltser cut Helen off in mid-sentence, pushed past her through the front door and charged into the living room. A sword jutted out of the ceiling at the end of a deep gouge. Helen followed him in. He turned to her, nearly spitting. “Well?”

Helen sighed and shook her head. "Oh, Frank was horsing around.”

Constable Moltser threw his hands up. "Jesus, Helen! Was he threatening you?"

Each word Helen spoke sounded like a sigh. "No, no, no. But it sure was strange the way he didn't recognize me, his own mother. I didn't know what he might do." She stared at the sword.

The officer relaxed his shoulders a bit. "He could've done anything, Helen. Good thing he didn't try. For your sake." He patted her back. "I'll drop by my next day off and fix up that ceiling for you."

Helen kept staring, and gave no clue she'd heard anything the officer said. "I got really mad at him. I shouldn't've done that. I think that's why he took off. Even as a boy, he couldn't take any discipline. He'd always get upset and run away whenever I said a stern word to him." She heaved a great sigh.

"That's all right, we'll find him." Constable Moltser looked at his watch. "Let's see, you called me about 45 minutes ago. How long you figure he was here after you called?" He held a pen poised over a notebook.

"Maybe ten, fifteen minutes."

"Did he take a vehicle?"

"No, my truck's still sitting there. I don't know how he got here though."

"Did you see the gun?"

"I told you he must’ve left it outside."

"Any guns in the house missing?"

"I don’t allow guns in my house."

“Any other weapons then, anything else with him?”

“Just his jacket.”

"Which way was he headed?"

"Last I saw him he was headed down the driveway."

"Then he must be in the woods somewhere cause I sure didn't see anyone on my way in." Constable Moltser put his notebook in a pocket. "We'll leave a car here in case he comes back." He paused on his way out the front door. "Helen, you did the right thing calling me. It must've been hard. I know you miss him."

Helen's face turned into stone. "He can hurt people. He can't be out running around loose."

The officer nodded, then left.

Helen shut the door and watched him through the window. The other officers stopped him for a few seconds before he got in his car and started talking on the radio. She let the shaking overtake her body again. When it subsided she left the window and wandered back into the living room. Her hand trailed over the sword. She drifted into the kitchen, humming. Carefully avoiding the pool of blood on the floor, she sat at the table. A smeared straight razor lay on a placemat across from her. She cast her eyes around, finally letting them settle on the body lying next to the fridge. "Frank, Frank, Frank. What am I going to do with you?" She looked at the deep freezer. “Maybe there’s room with Stan.”

 

About the Author:
Jordan McPeek fills his days as an accountant for the Canadian government. Hefills his nights with his wife and two kids. The link between Jordan’s twoworlds is the daily bus commute, which he fills by reading noir fiction andradical politics. Occasionally, the urge to write overtakes him -- Deep Freezeis only the second story he’s ever written. Blue Murder Magazine published hisfirst story online in 2000. He lives in Winnipeg and welcomes comments at Jordan_McPeek@yahoo.com