Home Improvements by CJ Edwards

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Dean Vandersteen killed his grandmother first. She was sleeping, oxygen mask blasting life down her cancer clogged throat, when he slid it off and spread a garbage bag over her face. He held it there till her feather light hand stopped clutching at his arm. Mickey Dowdy, Dean’s girlfriend, sat on the couch in the living room gnawing on fingernails already chewed to the bone, waiting. When he was finished, Dean drifted out to where Mickey pulled bloody finger stubs from her mouth long enough to ask if the old cunt was dead.

Dean slapped her.

“Watch your fucking mouth.”

“Why’d you hit me? Son of a bitch.” Mickey probed her bulging lip were it hovered over the gap where her two front teeth had been knocked out in a scrap with some skank a couple months back.

“Just shut up and let me think, alright. Pop will be back any minute.”

Pop, was Dean’s grandfather, Robert Vandersteen. Robert had been a heavyweight boxing champ in the Army during the Korean War. Two years back he’d busted past seventy, but he was still as strong as an ox. Last Christmas Pop had been pumping gas when a tweeker came gunning for his wallet. Pop laid him out cold, and then finished filling up his pickup while he waited for the cops to show. Dean wasn’t taking any chances. Pulling an old Louisville Slugger from the closet, he clenched it in his left hand while the right hoisted a pack of menthols to his lips. Mickey lit the cigarette for him, and he sucked it right down to the filter. Halfway through another he heard Pop’s Ford growl into the drive. Dean pointed the bat at Mickey’s greasy head.

“Get in the back. I don’t want him to see you.”

“I ain’t scared of em.” Mickey drew back a hank of hair and pasted it behind her ear.

“You ain’t, hun? Well how bout you come do it then.” Dean held out the bat, and when Mickey looked down at her crippled sneakers, said, “Yeah that’s what I thought. Now get in the bathroom or something.”

Mickey retreated down the hallway, and Dean scuttled to the side of the brick entryway. Seconds later keys clattered against the knob, and the door swung inward. Pop raised a hand to his neck as he paused just inside. Dean felt his heart trip. He didn’t know if Pop had seen Mickey as he walked up to the house or if the old man could still sniff out an ambush, but Dean could tell Pop felt the wrongness in the room.

Nothing was ever easy with Pop. Ever since his grandparents took him in after his mom shot herself when he was a kid, nothing Dean did was good enough for his grandfather. Pop tried to deal with his only child faxing her brains from inside her head to the bedroom wall of her government subsidized apartment, but his dealing with it turned into preaching at his grandson. Dean never knew his father, and that was another factoid Pop would hammer into him while keeping him on what he saw as the straight and narrow.

“It isn’t your fault now,” he’d say, “but no daddy and an addict mother who killed herself are two awful big strikes to get past. If you work hard though, and apply yourself, nothing says you won’t do just fine.”

Dean must have heard that speech a thousand times since he had moved from the stacks of apartments near Forty-second and Post Road to his grandparent’s home huddled amongst the other anonymous houses in vinyl-siding-ville that made up the far southeast corner of Indianapolis. It didn’t take long for him to realize it was all bullshit. He’d never be anything more to his grandfather than just another one of his mother’s mistakes.

Dean had met Mickey at a flop house somewhere off East Tenth and Washington Streets. She had turned him onto H soon after, even though all the experts said that heroin was dead, and three days later Pop caught them juicing up in his tool shed. Right then, without blinking an eye, Pop kicked Dean out on the street. Now he and Mickey bounced from place to place crashing in spare rooms and garages.

With all the shit Dean had put up with over the last ten years, the least the old bastard could do was die quietly.

Pop swung his head to look behind him. Dean felt his knees turn to water and he almost chickened out, but then the vision of Grandma lying dead in the bedroom danced across his eyes. He swung the bat.

_____

It surprised Dean how hard it was to beat his grandfather to death. It wasn’t like in the movies. That first blow to the head almost missed, most of the force crashing into Pop’s left shoulder. Even stunned the old man’s instincts were still humming on all cylinders. He raised his arms to protect his head and face, and Dean had to give a good dozen swings until arm bones shattered, peeled back, and exposed Pop’s head. It still took three good hits before Pop stopped moving and one final overhand swing to crack his skull like and egg. When it was done, Dean sagged to the floor next to the body and sucked air like his grandmother did whenever she tried to go without her oxygen.

Disposing of the bodies wasn’t something Dean had considered. He just knew he needed money to get him and Mickey to Vegas. Now staring at the blood pooling under Pop’s head, he started thinking about how much of the money the old man had in the bank, saved up from retirement, he could get his hands on. Dean was pretty sure none of it was coming to him when Pop turned up dead. He and Grandma probably left it all to his cousin Charlotte with her fucking snot nosed little brats and husband who worked at the Allison plant just like Pop had. Dean would have to delay anyone finding his grandparents till he could figure a way to get all of the money out.

Mickey came back to sit on the couch, and Dean got up off the floor to sit beside her.

“Damn, Dean. That’s some hardcore shit.” She surveyed Pop’s crushed body. From her purse she pulled out a couple bars of Xanax. “Wanna chill?”

“Yeah, I need to mellow out and think.”

After the Z-bars muffled the shotgun blasts of his heart against his rib cage, Dean pulled Mickey’s head down into his lap. When her lips went to work he sank his head back into the paisley cushions and rode the waves of inspiration.

_____

“We’ll bury them in the basement.” Dean’s brain moved from neutral to full throttle, and he hopped up off the couch.

Mickey looked up at him, her eyes scrunched together.

“How? The basement is cement.”

“We’ll get a fucking jackhammer.”

“Won’t that shit be kinda loud?”

Dean held up a hand.

“Listen, do you hear that?”

“Hear what?”

“All them Mexicans next door putting on the neighbor’s roof and you ain’t even hearing till I point it out. Ain’t no one gonna pay attention to shit. People do work on their houses all the time. As long as we don’t do it at midnight or something it’s all good.”

“So, where you gonna get a jackhammer?”

Dean’s eyes flashed and he glared down at her.

“I’ll rent one. Don’t ask stupid questions. You can rent all kinds of construction equipment.”

Mickey shook her head but kept her mouth shut.

Dean went back to his grandmother’s bedroom and riffled through her night stand. Under a bible was a bank envelope that held six one hundred dollar bills and a short stack of twenties. Sometimes when he came around when Pop wasn’t home, Grandma slipped him a twenty to help him out. After a while though, even she had cut him off.

Returning to the living room, Dean pulled Pop’s wallet from the back pocket of his overalls. The leather was almost as wrinkled as the old man’s face. From the wallet Dean took another fifty dollars and Pop’s Visa bank card. Dean had memorized the pin number years ago when he used to tag along with Pop on errands. He knew that he could withdraw up to three hundred a day from an ATM without having to go inside the Farmer’s Credit Union were his grandparents kept all their money. Dean picked up the keys from where they had fallen.

“Let’s go.” He started for the door.

“Where we going?”

Dean’s eyes tightened.

“Don’t you ever listen? To get a fucking jackhammer.”

_____

Breaking up the floor of the basement turned out to be a very slow process. It took Dean about ten minutes to bust through every three or four inches of concrete, and then the floor was six inches thick to boot. After an hour, there was a hole barely big enough to step into and only half of that went all the way through to the dirt below.

Dean was covered in cement dust, and his arms already ached. This wasn’t going to work. He trudged back upstairs where Mickey was frying slices of ham in his grandmother’s skillet. She hid a smirk as Dean passed her. He looked like a zombie with his white powdered face streaked in sweat. She piled some of the cooked ham on a plate and set it in front of him. Eating in silence, Dean tried to come up with another plan. By the time the last of the oil slicked meat slid down his throat he knew what he was going to do.

“I’ll be back,” he said.

“Uh huh.” Mickey was already lighting a fire under a wad of tinfoil, part of the new stash they’d acquired at the Rural Inn from a fat biker before renting the jackhammer.

Dean got back in Pop’s truck and drove to Lowe’s hardware store way up on South Emerson Ave. Inside the store he grabbed a cart and started picking out what he needed. At the checkout he paid for the Craftsman circular saw, large tarp, box of plastic yard bags, four large buckets, and then ordered eight two by six planks, and twenty bags of cement.

When he got back to the house he backed the truck up to the side door that led into the kitchen and went in to find Mickey still at the kitchen table eyes fluttering like spring butterflies.

“Get out here and help me carry this shit in.”

“What shit?” Mickey looked at him with eyes gone several flavors of red.

“Just get your ass out here.”

After they had carried in all the supplies and stacked them in the basement, Mickey lit a cigarette and sat on a lopsided mountain of cement mix.

“What the fuck you gonna do with all this? Her question dripped from her mouth like cold honey.

Dean was spreading open the tarp in the middle of the floor.

“Fixing things. Now help me bring them down.”

“Them?”

“Yeah, Grandman and Pop. What you think this is all for?”

Mickey bit her lip, her fingers moved to scratch the inside of her elbow, but she turned and climbed up the stairs with Dean right behind her.

When both bodies were laid out on the tarp, Dean and Mickey pumped some crystal fire into their lungs. Dean needed energy, and the meth they’d gotten from the same biker hit the spot. Afterward, Dean unzipped and looked over at Mickey. She was staring at his grandparents, on hand getting chewed, the other scratching. One of her feet was tapping out smoke signals on the cement floor.

“Hey, this dick ain’t gonna suck itself.”

Mickey looked over at him. Eyes sliding back to the dead bodies, she shook her head. “I don’t…”

Dean snatched her off the cement bags and drove his fist into Mickey’s gut. Her lungs hissed like an air compressor, and the knees of her faded jeans bounced on the floor. When she tried to push Dean’s crotch away from her face, he punched her again, this time in the face. Snot and blood slapped the wall.

“What did I fucking say?” Dean was leaning over her now. Saliva hung from his mouth in bouncing strands as he screamed at her. “I said this dick ain’t gonna suck itself! Now open your damn mouth.”

She did, and Dean ignored her choking till he finished what he needed done. Then it was time to work.

Dean had worked in construction for a short time before getting fired for showing up high. That was more bad blood between Pop and him. Pop had gotten him the job through a friend of his and told Dean he’d made him look like a damn fool. One of the few things Dean had learned was how to build cement porches. He wasn’t going to build a porch in the basement, but the concept was the same, and he set about hammering the two-by-sixes into a rough frame. Mickey watched the process from her seat on the stairs. Her right foot tapping with a constant tic tic tic while she smoked her way through the rest of their cigarettes.

With the frame finished, Dean moved to plug in the circular saw.

Mickey had downed some more Z-bars but she was still sniveling. From her perch on the bottom steps she said, “What are you doing with that?”

He looked up at her.

“What does it look like?” he said kneeling over his grandmother’s body.

“I ain’t helping you out with this shit.”

“Fuck off, then.”

An hour later, Dean began mixing the cement in the buckets and then poured it into the frame batch by batch. As the gray ooze slid in, he watched it gather around the twelve lumps wrapped tight in the lawn bags resting atop the red slopped tarp. He was glad this part was over. Only once at the beginning had he almost puked, and a couple more hits of the pipe fixed that. After two more hours, the frame was full and the black bags were invisible. There would be a twelve by twelve square in the middle of the floor, but hell, people did crazy home improvements all the time. A smile snarled at Dean’s lips as he thought how he would double his money in Vegas.

Climbing the stairs, he found Mickey at the kitchen table biting her nails again. She wouldn’t look at him and her foot was still sending out those warning signals.

“I’m gonna take a shower.”

Mickey nodded, staring at the floor.

“Don’t worry babe, in two days we’ll be in Vegas.”

Her lips hitched themselves upward and she nodded again.

Dean showered and then rummaged around the house. He found some of his grandmother’s jewelry and stuffed it into a duffel bag from his old closet along with Pop’s old .45 from the Army. Then with a shrug he pulled the gun back out, tucking it into the waistband of his jeans.

By the time the grumbling pickup reached the outskirts of Indy, Mickey still wouldn’t look him in the eye. Dean squinted at her and saw that her foot was still jumping like a grasshopper on speed. Looking back at the road he let the coolness of the steel pressing into his lower back and the knowledge of all those lonely miles through empty desert reassure him. Dean flipped on the radio and smiled. They had enough meth to keep him awake the whole trip, and enough H and Z-bars to mellow him out once he hit the strip. Once they reached the desert, he’d fix that nervous twitch she had, and then he had a date with a blackjack table.

___

C. J. Edwards has been a police officer in Indianapolis, Indiana since 2000 and is currently assigned to criminal investigations. His work has been published in American Blue: Real Stories by Real Cops by Varro Press, Issue #1 of Pulp Modern, Needle: A Magazine of Noir, the anthology Indiana Crime, and online at Plots with Guns, Beat To A Pulp, and The Flash Fiction Offensive. His novella “Suck” is available in a collection entitled Uncle B’s Drive-In Fiction. His blog can be found at www.fulldarkcity.com.

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