The Oven Master
By Geoffrey C. Porter
Lately I have felt a certain guilt. It is not so much what I have done, but what is allowed to continue by what I do. My nephew, Benjamin Grabble, introduced me to this business which I loathe. Late one Saturday night he called me on the telephone in tears. "Uncle!" he said, "Uncle, you've got to help me!"
I should have known better, but at the time I was worried for his safety. At least that is my line of reasoning in recollection. In truth, I think I hoped for it to be a single instance and not an ongoing thing.
Three months later, the slick black Cadillac backed into the loading dock of my mortuary with a nimble hand at the wheel. I had already brought the cart out. The trunk opened on the Cadillac and two men in dark suits and white shirts stepped out of the car and had the nerve to smile at me. The one on my right, who called himself Squid, reached in his coat and withdrew a manila envelope. He tossed it at me, and I caught it.
I set it unopened on the counter. I would put it with the others after the night was through. The other man, who called himself Butch, approached the back of the car and started tossing plastic bags on the cart. I helped. I figure I better help if I valued the life of my nephew, his family and myself.
Once the cart was full of what looked like a whole person, Squid closed the trunk, and Butch nodded. I pushed the cart towards the ovens. When we made it to the oven I pulled the grate open and started loading the bags on to the grate. As I set the last bag on the grate, I said a silent prayer to God for the forsaken soul I was about to dispose of. I assumed them to be criminals no better than Squid or Butch, or frankly, no better than myself at this point. Butch and Squid waited for the oven to finish. They asked me if I had any booze. I simply shook my head no.
The oven finished and I walked them to their car. Every step of the way I told myself to call the authorities. My nephew made it clear to me they had enough murdering friends that there's no way the police could put them all away. I never knew when they'd call and want to drop something off. One time they stopped in, gave me an envelope, and didn't even open the trunk. They kept me guessing. If I did call the authorities and Squid and Butch brought an empty car, I'd be stuck, and they knew it.
I wanted to confide in someone, but I knew of no one whom I could trust with this vital data. I began to reflect as if I were concaving in on myself. I didn't believe in judgment day. I didn't believe in the bible. I didn't believe in souls. I believe we're just dumb animals no more likely to have a heaven than a frog or a snake has a heaven. But I had to ask myself, would I cause harm to a frog or a snake? The answer was no. Still, all I was doing was running the oven; I would allow it for the safety of my nephew and his wife.
A month passed. Tuesday night. Telephone call at 10:30. Butch needs my services once again. I get dressed and meet them in the loading dock with the cart. Butch unloaded a single suitcase, a big one, onto the cart. Then they left without watching me burn the thing. I paused. Blood was soaked through the suitcase in one corner. I decided I only had one safe choice: burn it.
I pushed the cart back to the oven and put the suitcase on the grate. I slid the grate into the oven and closed the door. I spun the dial and lit the igniters. Within a few moments, I hear screams.
I shut the oven off and opened the door. A woman lay dieing on the grate. Pieces of the suitcase had melted into her flesh, and in other places, her flesh was charred black. She writhed in agony, twitched a few times, and lay still. I pulled the grate out as the flames died down completely, and she smoked. I felt for a pulse. She was dead. I considered the fact that there was an eight gauge shotgun upstairs owned by my grandfather originally and passed down through the generations, and I could ever so easily take my own life.
Something sparked in my mind, and I declined that option. I slid the grate with the burned woman back in the oven. I turned the gas on and lit the igniters. I waited until all that was left was ash.
I went up to the attic to where the shotgun hid. I withdrew it from its leather case. I noticed the initials carved into the barrels. I grabbed an old tin box of shells. I went downstairs to the basement workshop. I put the gun in the vice grip. I pulled the hack saw off the wall.
I started to saw methodologically backwards and forwards slowly, but quick enough that I knew I cut metal with each precious stroke. I sawed and sawed for what seemed like hours until beads of sweat ran down my forehead and into my eyes. I cut through to the end and heard the satisfying clink of the steel barrel hitting the concrete floor.
I undid the vice and loaded the weapon. I pointed it at the cinderblock wall. I squeezed the trigger, and it jumped in my hand like a wicked hammer. I squeezed the trigger a second time and shot pelted the wall. I had a plan. I took the gun and reloaded it. Then I took it to the kitchen and hid it in the oven.
A week passed. Then another week. I thought maybe it was done. Maybe it was over. Then I got the call from Butch.
Their Cadillac arrived as usual. Squid stepped out of the car and tossed me an envelope. Butch joined him, and we unloaded garbage bags from the trunk onto the cart. I wheeled the cart to the oven and loaded the grate with the bags. Once the furnace was lit, I turned to Butch and Squid. I said, "I've got a bottle of Scotch."
Butch smiled, "Well, pour us a drink, old man."
I went into the kitchen put two glasses on a tray. I filled them with ice and Scotch that in fact, I had in my possession for a few years. I opened the oven door and grabbed the shotgun with my right. I picked up the tray with my left and set it on top of the shotgun. I walked back towards the oven.
My heart sank. I didn't want to do this. My nephew and his wife will be killed. Then I remembered the dead woman's screams. I aimed for both of them: they were so conveniently close together. I squeezed the trigger, and then I squeezed the trigger a second time. The blast cut them to ribbons. The tray of booze went everywhere. They fell to the ground writhing much like the dead woman writhed. I waited for them to die. The blood on the floors was in giant pools.
I walked back into the kitchen and poured myself a glass of the Scotch. I sat quietly and sipped it. I reached for the phone. I dialed 911. When they answered, I said simply, "I killed two men."
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