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Authors: Jude Hardin,Lee Goldberg,William Rabkin

Fire and Ice

BOOK: Fire and Ice
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FIRE AND ICE

Some say the world will end in fire,

Some say in ice.

From what I’ve tasted of desire

I hold with those who favor fire.

But if it had to perish twice,

I think I know enough of hate

To say that for destruction ice

Is also great

And would suffice.

Robert Frost,
Fire & Ice

FIRE AND ICE
 
Jude Hardin
 

Copyright © 2012 by Adventures in Television

 

This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination, or, if real, used fictitiously. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the express written permission of the author or publisher, except where permitted by law.

 

All Rights Reserved.

 

Published by 47 North
P.O. Box 400818
Las Vegas, NV 89140

 

ISBN: 978-1-61218-790-7

 
 
6:05 a.m.
 

Pete McCray was in Nitko’s security office dumping sugar into a cup of coffee when Kevin Radowski marched in and shot him five times in the chest. McCray dropped to the tile floor facedown, knocking his ceramic coffee mug and the glass sugar dispenser off the table in the process. The blood oozing from his body mingled with the hot coffee and the sugar granules, creating a ghastly stew that, remarkably, smelled like grape jelly. Kevin finished him off with a shot to the back of the head.

“Have a nice day,” Kevin said, tipping his Nitko cap to the fallen officer.

Kevin had grown up in one of the shitty little company houses on the dirt road behind the plant. He’d had a happy childhood, mostly, but on a shelf somewhere in the deepest, darkest recesses of his subconscious cellar stood a row of Mason jars marked
Bathtime with Mama
. All of these jars were filled with splish-splash warmth and joy, with Mr. Bubble and toy boats and a rubber dinosaur named Roscoe.

All of them, that is, except one.

In this one particularly cloudy sample, two-year-old Kevin did something horrible, something vile and disgusting and practically unforgivable.

But he was only two, after all. He thought massaging Mama’s back with poo-poo was a good thing. He did it while she rinsed her hair, and she told him it felt
oh so good
. But when she looked in the mirror and discovered what Kevin had actually done to her, she cursed and shouted and violently beat his tender little ass raw with the palm of her hand.

It was the last time he ever took a bath with Mama, and the painful memory was repressed almost immediately.

Despite the nightmares and frequent bouts of constipation related to his grave mistake as a toddler, Kevin Radowski did well in school and managed to project an appearance of normalcy. In tenth grade he even tried out and made the baseball team. Some of the guys started calling him K-Rad that year, using the great major league infielder Alex Rodriguez—A-Rod—as inspiration.

The nickname stuck.

K-Rad graduated from high school with a B average, but he lacked focus and discipline and flunked out of college after two semesters. That’s when he started working for Nitko. That was twelve years ago.

K-Rad had never been arrested, had never been in any trouble with the law, and had obtained a Florida concealed-weapons permit with no problem. He owned a pair of Berettas, the M9 model used by the U.S. military and scores of police agencies, and he owned two twenty-round magazines and a silencer and a LaserMax for each pistol. He went to the firing range every chance he got. It was his hobby. It excited him in ways that a woman couldn’t.

He grabbed Officer McCray’s pistol and cell phone and shoved the items into his backpack. He knew the silenced gunshots from his Berettas would attract very little attention. Nitko was a noisy place, even in the offices. Booms and clanks and whistles and horns, electric motors blending product and pneumatic pumps sucking it through the presses and into packaging machines, forklifts whining and ventilation fans humming and every other kind of noise pollution imaginable filtered in from the production area all day every day. And on top of all that, many of the front-office employees listened to music through earbuds while they worked at their computers. An army tank could blast through the front door and they wouldn’t know it.

K-Rad closed the security office door, poured himself a cup of coffee, and waited. In a little over an hour, the real fun would begin.

6:10 a.m.
 

Matthew Cahill rose with the sun, grabbed his ax from his backpack, and walked outside. Behind the double-wide mobile home there were pieces of oak branches and sections of trunk cut into eighteen-inch lengths with a chainsaw. The wood appeared to have been thrown haphazardly from the back of a truck, and someone with a log splitter could have come over and turned it all into stackable firewood in a few hours. The job would take Matt a lot longer, but if he came out early for a while every morning, he should be able to finish in a week. That was the plan.

He positioned the largest piece of trunk roughly in the center of the mess and used it for a chopping block. He hefted a log onto the block, came down hard with his grandfather’s razor-sharp axhead, and split the formidable chunk of hardwood into two pieces with a single swing. He split those two pieces in half, grabbed another log, and repeated the process.

It was a hazy, humid, late-summer dawn, and Matt soon worked up a thick lather of sweat. He peeled his shirt off, wiped his face with it, and kept chopping. How Janey had loved to watch him swing that ax. She would stand on the deck with a cup of coffee and watch the splinters and sweat droplets fly, and when he finished she would often attack him in the bedroom before he had a chance to shower. She would drop to her knees and lick the salty skin on his inner thighs. She drove him crazy when she did that, and what she did next could only be described as magic. Matt would never love another woman the way he loved Janey. He knew in his heart that he would not.

He looked over and saw her standing there with a white ceramic coffee mug, and for an instant he was back in Deerpark, Washington, and his beloved was still alive. He shook his head, squinted, and focused. It was Shelly Potts, of course, standing there in her pink bathrobe, and this was Copperhead Springs, Florida.

Copperhead Springs had a Wal-Mart and a community college and a single-screen movie theater built in the twenties. The U.S. Army had housed troops there during World War II, and some of the barracks along the river had since been torn down and others converted to condos. There was a tattoo parlor and a barbershop and a two-story motor lodge painted flamingo pink.

Matt had struck up a conversation with Shelly a few nights ago in a bar and grill called the Retro. Matt said he needed work, Shelly said she knew of a temporary opening, and one thing led to another. Shelly seemed to enjoy his company, in and out of bed, knowing he would eventually be moving on. The temporary job she helped him get was at her own place of employment, a hundred-degree metal oven disguised as a chemical plant called Nitko. Today would be his third and final day.

Shelly had a towel wrapped around her head, and her face looked freshly scrubbed.

“Hey, sexy. Come on in and I’ll fix you some breakfast.”

“Sounds good,” Matt said. “I’ll just grab a quick shower first.”

Shelly laughed. “I was going to suggest that.”

Matt bathed and put on a fresh pair of Wranglers and a clean white T-shirt. He walked to the kitchen. A glass of orange juice, six strips of bacon, and a stack of pancakes waited for him at the table.

“Looks great,” Matt said. He sat down and slathered the pancakes with butter and squeezed some syrup on them from a plastic bottle. Shelly brought him a hot cup of coffee.

Matt had ridden into Florida on a Greyhound and had seen a billboard advertising Nitko Chemicals just south of Palm Coast on Interstate 95. The smiling man on the sign had ulcers the size of quarters all over his face, shiny rotten boils oozing with green pus. Matt could see it. Others could not.

Not so long ago, a ski slope avalanche had buried Matt alive, and he spent three months in an icy grave. When he started thawing in the morgue, the doctor performing the autopsy discovered he had a pulse. Everyone called it a miracle. He made a full recovery, but soon after the accident a mysterious entity named Mr. Dark started frequenting his nightmares and waking moments alike. Everything this ghastly doctor of doom touched turned to rancid decay, and Matt had somehow acquired the ability to see it. Mr. Dark had obviously set up shop in Copperhead Springs—at Nitko, specifically—and Matt wanted to know why.

So far, he didn’t have a clue.

“Eat up,” Shelly said. “We need to get going in a few minutes.”

Matt took a bite from the pancake stack and washed it down with some coffee. There was something very satisfying about being here with Shelly, yet something disturbing as well. She projected a genuine warmth Matt hadn’t experienced in a long time, but occasionally she would stare into the distance as though entranced by some faraway vision. Matt wanted to know what it was she saw, but every time he brought it up she changed the subject.

She brewed another pot of coffee and filled a thermos with it. She wore jeans and steel-toed boots and a chambray work shirt. Her dark brown ponytail dangled from the back of a red Nitko ball cap. She sat at the table across from Matt.

“I can’t believe it’s Wednesday already,” she said. “So what are your plans, Mr. Matthew Cahill? You just going to wander around aimlessly forever?”

Matt had been traveling around the country for a while now. For the last few weeks, he’d been sleeping under the stars, bathing at filling-station restrooms, and dining on beans and Spam and bologna sandwiches.

“What makes you think my wandering is aimless?” he said.

“Ah. Let me guess. You’re searching for your soul. You’re trying to find the true meaning of life.”

“Or the true meaning of death,” Matt said. He took a bite of bacon.

“Ever think about settling down?”

“Sometimes.”

“You might be able to get on permanent at the plant. I know for a fact there’s an opening in Waterbase. One of the guys there got fired last week. It’s hard work, but the pay sucks.”

Matt grinned at Shelly’s joke, but the thought of signing on full-time at Nitko made his stomach tighten. Shelly had driven him there Monday morning and had led him up a set of concrete stairs and in through one of the loading-dock doors. Sweat beaded on his forehead almost immediately. Huge electric ventilation fans hummed high on the corrugated steel walls, but they didn’t move enough air to cool the building much and they didn’t adequately lift the blanket of chemical fumes. Shelly guided him through a labyrinth of industrial shelving stacked twenty feet high with cardboard boxes, five-gallon jugs, and fifty-five-gallon drums. Some of the containers were marked with labels that said, “Fire,” others with labels that said, “Ice.” Fire and Ice were Nitko’s flagship fountain solutions, Shelly had told him. They were top-of-the-line cleaning products for the printing industry, considered to be the gold standard worldwide since the mid-sixties. Fire was acidic and the color and clarity of orange soda, while Ice was alkaline and a shade or two darker than Windex.

In the distance electric motors whirred and pneumatic pumps pulsed and human beings shouted instructions at one another. Forklifts darted to and fro like confused squirrels, picking up pallets of product here and dropping them off there.

Matt and Shelly made it through the maze to the north side of the building, where there was an employee break room and men’s and women’s locker rooms and a Kronos electronic time clock. Shelly swiped her badge, and from there she took Matt to Human Resources and then to the main production area to talk to the foreman. The air was even hotter there, the fumes thicker and the din exponentially louder. The workers’ grim expressions spoke volumes. Stories of missed opportunities and unfulfilled dreams, of being stuck in a long and arduous never-ending journey to nowhere.

The conditions were horrible, the pay obscene. Matt felt sorry for Shelly and everyone else who depended on Nitko for a paycheck. Anyone unlucky enough to be born in Copperhead Springs stood a good chance of ending up in that hellhole, and it just wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair at all. No, Matt had no intention of working there permanently, but he did want to extend his job as a temp. He needed to find the reason behind that rotting face on the billboard.

He sipped his juice. “I like you a lot,” he said, “but I have to be honest with you. I’m just not ready to settle down yet.”

Matt saw Shelly’s hand tighten around her coffee cup. The muscles flared in her wrist and then relaxed, some battle surrendered without a fight.

“Typical man,” Shelly said. “Unable to commit. Come on. Let’s go to work.”

BOOK: Fire and Ice
2.08Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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