UNCLE LESTER HAD A HAMMER • by Nicholas Ozment

“I had a blow-up earlier. I may be going to jail.” The big, shirtless man who stood in the foyer grinned when he said it.

Tammy frowned. “Uncle Les, don’t say that. Why don’t you have a shirt on? Go get a shirt on.”

Lester, still a hulking brute though well into his fifties, shuffled out of the way as Tammy and her friend Bobby came into the house.

“Lester, this is Robert. He’s a friend from school. Can you say hi?”

“I had a blow-up earlier. May be going to jail.”

“Lester, you know what happens when you say that? Rose will take your TV privileges away.”

Bobby gave a half-hearted wave of his hand as he inched past the gray-haired bear of a man. His eyes were level with the man’s chest hairs, which looked like Brillo pads and had caught a glob of what Bobby guessed to be strawberry jam.

“Anne?” Tammy called out as she tossed her jacket onto the back of the sofa in the living room. “I wonder where she is.”

“Who’s Anne?” Bobby asked, finding it hard to keep from looking over his shoulder at Uncle Les, who still stood in the foyer bearing an imbecilic grin, his fat lips curling back from yellowed, uneven teeth.

“She watches after Les when Mom’s at work.”

“Think she ran to the store or something?”

“No, she wouldn’t leave him unattended. She did that once and Les wandered out the front door. It took the police two hours to find him.”

“I had a blow-up earlier. Going to jail.” Bobby jumped. The big man had quietly walked up behind him and said the words over his shoulder.

“Why does he say that?” Bobby tried to keep his cool, look nonchalant.

“He picked it up somewhere, from a cop show or something. He used to say it all the time, until my mom started unplugging the TV.”

Bobby took a step back from Uncle Lester, who didn’t seem to have a clear notion of personal space. “That’s hilarious. Les, what did you do earlier?”

“Had a blow-up earlier.”

Tammy rolled her eyes. “Don’t encourage him. We thought we’d gotten that out of his vocabulary. Where the hell is Anne? Anne!”

Tammy swept through the kitchen, the dining room, down the hall to the bedrooms and suddenly stopped, releasing a startled scream. Anne lay on her back just inside the master bedroom, a pool of blood congealed into the carpet around her head.

Bobby ran up behind her, and his eyes widened.

Tammy covered her mouth and choked back sobs, on the verge of hyperventilating.

Bobby put his hands on her shoulders, trying to calm her down. “We need to call the police. I’ll call them.”

Tammy’s choked words were barely intelligible: “Oh, God, Les, what have you done?”

Bobby looked back down at the dead housekeeper. “Did you keep a gun in the house?”

“Of — of course not! Mom wouldn’t, because Les could have found it and thought it was a toy.”

“Then your uncle didn’t do that. That’s a gunshot wound. Tammy, where’s the phone? My cell’s dead.”

“In — in the kitchen.”

Lester was standing at the other end of the hallway when Bobby turned to go find the phone. He was watching them. The look on his face could have been curiosity, concern, or perhaps just the bewilderment with which he normally regarded the world. Bobby took a deep breath and started walking toward the man.

“Excuse me, Les, I’ve got to make a phone call.”

Bobby squeezed by Lester, fighting a moment of panic as he brushed the man’s massive, fatty arm.

Glancing around the kitchen, he noticed that the basement door was ajar. The phone was mounted on the wall right next to it. A retro-phone, it was actually attached to the cradle by a coiled cord.

As he picked up the receiver, he reached over to close the basement door. But first he looked down.

“Hello? I’m calling to report a break-in…”

He did not close the basement door, but stared intently down into the shadows.

“Yes — sorry — I’m still here. Uh, there are two people dead. Yes, he’s still on the premises, but he’s dead.”

At the bottom of the basement stairs, a man in a bloodstained hoodie lay crumpled up like a rag doll. Buried into the back of his skull was the claw-end of a hammer.

Nicholas Ozment teaches English at WSU. This is his third story at Every Day Fiction.

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