A Little Bit Toasty By Ben Gamblin

“Reload the story,” Harry said.

“Harry, I just—”

“Please?”

Kenneth sighed and clicked the arrow icon. Their network connection was slow in the mornings and the page reconfigured slowly. First came the bold, enlarged headline, followed by the ads. The smaller print loaded last. Kenneth and Harry skimmed the entire article again but it read the same as before, no updates or revisions of any kind. The suspect is in a blue Volkswagen Passat heading southbound on I-5. Police are urging other motorists to avoid—

“See,” Kenneth said. “It hasn’t changed.”

“You were right.”

Harry walked to the kitchen faucet and refilled his water glass. He took two sips, then splashed the rest in the sink. Kenneth remained at the table, hunched over the laptop. The window behind him normally showcased their cedar-plank deck and much of the backyard, but sunlight flooded the dining room on that cloudless morning and he’d drawn the curtain to block the glare. The monitor glowed in the semi-darkness.

“Maybe I should call Taylor,” Harry said, studying his empty glass.

“That’ll just gum up the lines.”

“His phone has call waiting, Ken.”

“I don’t want to risk it, not in an emergency. Besides…Taylor’s driving. He shouldn’t be using his phone.”

Kenneth glanced at the stovetop. The clock read ten minutes to ten. Three minutes since the news story broke, eight since Taylor had called. How long ago everything seemed already.

Kenneth had answered the phone expecting Taylor to ask for money again. It was the first week of the month, and these sorts of calls had become routine since Taylor left school.

“Hi Taylor,” he said.

“Dad…I need to come over.”

“Everything all right?”

“I shot Evan.”

“You what?”

“It was an accident. I’m coming now.”

“Wait, just—”

The line clicked dead but Kenneth kept the phone pressed against his ear for some time afterward.

Evan was Taylor’s roommate. The two boys were college friends who had shared an apartment for the past year. Kenneth thought about the last time Evan came to the house for dinner. He’d brought bean salad and a bottle of wine. Everyone had a pleasant evening. An accident?

Kenneth knew the right thing to do would be to call the police and report the shooting. They’d send paramedics to check on Evan and get him to a hospital. There could still be time to save him. Maybe Taylor too. Kenneth resolved to call 9-1-1 in another minute or two. He didn’t want to gum up the lines in case his son tried to call again.

He walked into the dining room still clutching the phone and glanced out the window overlooking the backyard. Harry knelt over the flowerbed next to the fence, wearing a pair of leather work gloves, digging in the soil with that green-handled spade he’d bought at the plant fair. He had planned to work on the flowerbed all day, and told Kenneth he was on his own for lunch.

Kenneth was tempted to let Harry be. There was no need for him to know about Taylor right away, no need for both of them to panic. Why not give his husband a few more minutes of peace while he figured out what to do? But as soon as the thought crossed his mind, Kenneth decided against it. Better to rip the thorn out quickly, as much as it would sting.

“Harry,” he called through the window screen. “Can you come inside?”

Now Kenneth wished he’d gone with his first instinct. Harry tried to hold himself together when he first heard the news. Then the story broke online and both of them learned Taylor was, in fact, fleeing the police. Last reported on the interstate between Federal Way and Fife. Based on the article’s time-stamp, Taylor would reach the house within twenty minutes or so. At that point, Kenneth set down his phone. There was no need to report the shooting now.

Harry set his empty water glass in the sink and shuffled into the living room.

“I’ll see if the TV is reporting it yet,” he said numbly.

Kenneth kept his eyes on the phone, wondering why Taylor hadn’t called back. He must have known his fathers were sick with worry. The boy had never hesitated to call when he needed money or a ride somewhere. What about calling when they needed something for a change?

“Ken, it’s on!”

He glanced up at the television. Aerial footage showed Taylor’s dark-blue sedan zipping down the interstate with a V-formation of state patrol cruisers tailing his rear. They must have been pushing ninety miles an hour. Kenneth winced. The Passat had once been his car and he knew its limits well. Taylor would probably burn through the transmission if he went any faster. Two in-studio reporters chattered away in the background, giving their excited play-by-play descriptions.

“In case you’re just tuning in…”

“The suspect has been identified as…”

“…domestic shooting that occurred this morning…”

“…of North Tacoma, though we still don’t…”

“Turn the sound off,” Kenneth said.

“But they’re—”

“I don’t want to listen to them talking about Taylor like that.”

Harry nodded thoughtfully and hit the mute button, and they both watched the broadcast in silence. The rest of the roadway was mostly clear, with vehicles forming long lines on both shoulders, but a few remained in their lanes. Each time Taylor weaved past a car or truck, Harry threw up his hands and clenched his fists. He turned away from the television after a near-collision with an eighteen-wheeler.

“I can’t watch anymore. What time is it?”

Kenneth glanced at the stovetop. “Five ‘til.”

“Good. He’ll be here soon.”

Harry crossed the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. Kenneth watched him remove a jar of mayonnaise, a container of honey-baked ham and half a loaf of bread. Harry set everything on the counter and took a butter knife from the top drawer.

“You’re hungry?” Kenneth asked.

“It isn’t for me.” Harry removed two slices of bread and turned the oven dial to ‘BROIL.’ Then he paused. “On second thought, he might want two.”

“Harry, stop.”

“Who knows when he’ll have the chance to eat again, Ken?”

Harry opened the oven, placed four slices on the top rack and closed the door.

“Why don’t you use the toaster?” Kenneth asked.

“Taylor likes his sandwiches toasted in the oven. Has ever since he was a boy.”

I never made him sandwiches like that.”

“A little bit toasty, no black stuff. You remember how he used to say that, don’t you?”

Kenneth nodded, even though he didn’t. It must have been one of those things between Taylor and Harry that had never involved him. Harry opened the oven door a moment later and took out all four slices. The first three were golden at the crust and dark-brown in the center, but the fourth was charred in a few places. Harry had set it on the left-hand side of the oven rack, where the element was faulty. He took this slice to the sink and scraped the knife over the burned patches. Black flakes sprinkled into the basin.

“I’ll cover this one with extra mayo,” he said. “He won’t notice.”

“Harry, wait.”

“Would you please just let me—”

“There’s an update.”

Harry dropped the bread on the counter and scurried over to the laptop. A new paragraph at the bottom of the story was time-stamped from two minutes earlier. Police now say the suspect has left I-5 and is heading west on Highway 705.

They both turned toward the muted television to confirm. The Passat had indeed the exited the freeway and was no zipping toward the waterfront.

“He’s almost here,” Harry murmured.

He ran back to the counter and slathered mayonnaise onto each slice in thick strokes. It oozed from the sides as he slapped on the ham and pressed the slices together. He opened the second drawer and began rifling through an assortment of cardboard boxes.

“Where are the sandwich bags?”

“I’m not sure.”

“I bought some on Saturday.”

“I haven’t touched them.”

“I’m not asking if…here they are.”

Harry’s hands trembled as he removed two bags from the boxes and stuffed a sandwich into each. Mayonnaise smudged against the plastic. He sealed the bags and stacked the sandwiches on the counter. Then he refilled his water glass and brought it to the table.

“We’ll talk to the police with him,” Harry said.

“Taylor?”

He nodded. “When he gets here.”

“Harry, we…Taylor can’t come inside the house.”

“What? Ken, this is his home.”

“Listen to me.”

“We always told him he could come home when he needed to. We can’t just lock him—”

“Harry, he has a gun.”

Harry’s eyes flickered and his head cocked slightly to one side. “You don’t…Ken, you don’t think he would hurt us.”

“He’s not himself right now.”

“We are his parents. He’s our son, he would never—”

“I have to protect you too.”

Kenneth avoided eye contact as Harry searched his face, fixing his attention on the television screen. Taylor’s car was swiftly approaching the exit for their house. Harry mumbled something Kenneth couldn’t make out.

“What did you say?” Kenneth asked.

“I said, what about the sandwiches?”

Kenneth nodded. “I’ll take care of them.”

He walked to the counter and fetched a brown-paper sack from beneath the sink. There was still some room with both sandwiches inside, so he opened the fridge and tossed in a bag of baby carrots and two hard-boiled eggs.

Kenneth rolled the bag closed and carried it down the hallway. He opened the door expecting to hear sirens but found only chirping birds and whirring lawnmowers. Zachariah, who owned the house next door, was in his front lawn with his two little girls. He waved hello, then tapped both girls on the shoulder and they did the same. Kenneth nodded and forced a flat smile as he set the bag down on the welcome mat. Then he slid back into the house, twisting the deadbolt behind him. He turned and found Harry waiting in the hallway.

“Do we need to lock the door?” Harry asked.

Kenneth nodded. “We should lock the porch door too.”

“All right.”

Kenneth walked into the living room but stopped when he saw the television screen. The sedan sat askew in the middle of the offramp, spun in a diagonal direction, facing the oncoming cruisers. The visible front tire appeared to be punctured. Two officers stood near the car, one on each side, with their weapons aimed at the driver’s seat, while the remaining cruisers came to a halt further down the offramp. The driver’s side window was down, or it had shattered. Kenneth couldn’t tell. The glare from the sun was too strong.

He picked up the remote and unmuted the television. The reporters chattered away.

“It appears the car has stopped…”

“Looks like a spike strip…”

“I’m not seeing any activity inside the…”

“What’s happening?” Harry asked. “Is Taylor all right?”

Kenneth raced to the laptop and clicked the reload button. When the page took too long, he clicked it again.

“Goddamn it,” he said.

“What does it say?” Harry asked.

“It isn’t loading.”

Three more officers gathered around the Passat’s hood. They all had their guns drawn now. Kenneth furiously clicked the reload button but each time the page stalled. He tried opening a new window but that only seemed to make the machine run slower. He pounded the keyboard in frustration.

“They aren’t saying anything,” Harry said. “Ken, did you hear me?”

Kenneth looked up at the television. One officer was so close to the driver’s side door that he could have reached his arm inside, but he held back, pointing the muzzle of his service revolver through the window. He glanced back at the computer. A notification appeared on the screen. Your connection has been lost. Please check the network cables, modem, and—

“Harry.”

Harry sniffled. “Why won’t they say what’s happening?”

“I don’t know.”

“Do you think he’s all right. “

Ken rose from the table and walked over to his husband. “Why don’t we go sit in the den for a bit?”

“The den? There’s no television in there. How will we—?”

“Just for a little while. Might do us some good.”

Kenneth walked over placed an arm around Harry’s waist, guiding him toward the hallway, away from the living room. Harry resisted at first but eventually fell in step with him. As they entered the den Kenneth thought about the sandwiches on the porch. He would need to remember to bring the bag in. Otherwise it might attract ants, or worse. But that could wait. A few minutes was all they would need.

 

Ben Gamblin

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

 

 

 

 

 

7 thoughts on “ A Little Bit Toasty By Ben Gamblin

  1. At first I thought maybe it was about a 200 degree weather forecast, the way it’s going. Then I understood that we get a look at the people who belong to someone who is in the negative media spot light. Like very much the cheering reaction one father displayed when Taylor eluded well. Like a parent supporting kid in a soccer match.

    Like

  2. Suspenseful story with well drawn characters. I like the dialogue that centres the story, and the part about the making of the ham sandwiches. I like the way the parents follow the action via computer, which keeps fading out, and the T. V. We are getting used to seeing these events as they happen, because of all this modern technology, so the ending is quite ironic, they put away these things and try to be in the moment without them. Currently in my area there are two fugitives on the lam suspected of murdering several people, one of their fathers is interviewed daily on T. V. Many parents support their kids no matter what. Others start to understand some grim realities. Interesting piece.

    Like

  3. Hi Ben,
    It didn’t matter what he did or didn’t do, the story was about the parents.
    I believe that you painted a very realistic picture about them trying to cope.
    This does make you think that sometimes it is simply easier to be told than to see.
    Well constructed and entertaining.
    Hugh

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.