Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Midnight Grinder

The creak of a door tells me Darcy is awake. She’s trying to sneak up on me, but it’s no use. With my back to her, I know she’s wearing only one sock, because her bare foot squeaks against the polished wood floor. The shush of fabric in her wake says she’s opted for the blanket over the bear, probably so he won’t get into trouble, too.
Trouble. Like the kind that ends up with a puddle of red spreading over ancient linoleum. He was a bear of a man and terrorized half the neighborhood kids, but they needed that. Coming up there was hard. Someone had to guide them. Maybe this generation took offense, but that didn’t seem to fit.

“It’s late, kiddo. Go back to bed.” I get out an extra piece of bread, so she doesn’t ask for some of mine. She won’t mind that it’s rye.

“Marna read me a story, ‘cause you weren’t here at bedtime.” She clambers onto a stool and regards me with all the seriousness due a covenant-breaker.

“Was it a good story?” I put mustard on my bread. She hates all condiments, so it’s right to the cheese for her piece.

“She reads me nice fairy stories, not the ones from the big book.” She doesn’t say she prefers the grim stories, but she always asks for them.
He should have closed early, like he did most Tuesdays. No one begrudged him a little time off. Okay, so maybe we did, but not enough to say so. We get to have a life. He should have that right. Only not so much anymore.

“I’m sorry I had to work late, honey.” The words are out before I can stop them. I’d sworn I would never apologize to her for the way things have to be. She needs to understand, or she’ll grow up hating me for my job.

She shrugs. “I got to watch TV for a while. Marna fell asleep on the couch.”

I give her a sharp look. She ignores me, hops off the stool, goes to the fridge, and comes back with a bag of lettuce. “I like the big pieces better, but we’re out.” She climbs up again, then sighs. “Don’t be mad at Marna. She only snored a little. Then Muffin licked her toes and she screamed.”
They shut the sirens off, since it was already late.  No one was sleeping, though. A bunch of folks stood around processing the scene in their own ways. Others sat on stoops and remembered the big guy. No one saw anything. They never do.

Darcy scrunches up her nose when I offer to slather her sandwich with coleslaw, then again when I put it on my own. If I did it Dave Gio’s way, I’d pop it in the broiler and let the cheese melt a little, somewhere between sweat and full drip. That guy made the best damned sandwich in the world. I am never going to get it right.

I slide her sandwich over to her on a saucer, because she doesn’t think paper plates are proper. That’s her mom’s influence. No idea how she picked up on it, since neither of us has seen Rose in years. The lettuce is tucked between the meat and cheese, just the way she likes. Since it’s only half a sandwich, there’s no need to cut it. Chances are good she’ll take it apart, but she likes to start with a finished product and work her way back.

“Why did you miss story time?” she mumbles.

“Don’t talk with your mouth full.” I take the first bite of my not quite perfect sandwich while I think about how to answer her question. She holds onto the trappings of babyhood, but she stepped out of it when I wasn’t looking. Probably when I was at work.

“When you don’t answer fast, someone died.” She picks at the lettuce, then peels off a piece of cheese.
It was an execution, old school.  None of us had seen anything like it since we were kids. It stank of the mafia, but the big guy had never been seen dealing with them. He must have, since he ran a deli and sold liquor. No getting away from the mob in that business. Still, he wasn’t in debt, didn’t tolerate criminals in his shop, never gambled.

“You’d make a good detective, Darcy.” I hope she doesn’t follow my career path. There’s a whole world out there that doesn’t involve tough old men being gunned down at work. Well, not close up, anyway.

“I get it from watching TV,” she says slyly. The cheese is gone, along with half the bread.

I flick the end of her braid. “Smart aleck.  Finish your sandwich, then brush your teeth.”

“Already did that,” she protests.

“And then you had more food.” I finish the last bite of my dinner and ignore the taste of ash in the back of my throat.
The broiler was still going when we got there, a trickle of smoke and a pile of slag all that was left of the last sandwich Dave Gio would ever make.

I don’t know what it says about me that I suddenly craved his corned beef special like I’d never wanted anything in my life. I stopped at a well-lit grocery store, where no one lay dead on the tile, and picked up the ingredients. Sub-par, old man Gio would have called them, but they would have to do for a tribute.

“Come on, kiddo. We’ll brush our teeth together.” I leave the dishes on the counter, not bothering even to rinse them.

She looks at the sink, then over to me. “I think you need to read me a story.”

“Yeah, I think I do.”


This is in response to the Flash Fiction Challenge: Making a Sandwich over at Terrible Minds .


  1. Great scene. I can see it as part of a novel.

  2. Nicely done! I usually dislike present tense, but you made me forget it after awhile. Loved the way you skipped between the two scenes; created nice tension. Brava!

  3. Very good story. You have a good ear for crime thrillers. I'm envious.

  4. Thank you all so much for reading and commenting! The setting for the murder - and the sandwich in question - both came from my neighborhood deli when I was growing up, so this one ended up meaning a lot to me.

  5. I am really digging the dialogue. solid voice :-)

  6. Thank you! I remember that deli from my childhood, though the old man was named Sam, and he retired to Florida. I've never gotten that corned beef special right, either.