Jen Meets Her Match, Chapter 4

(Looking for Chapter 1? It’s here:  Chapter 1, Double-Dog Dare.)

Chapter 4. Double Anchovies

I knew Frank had gone insane when the very next thing he did was pick up the kitchen phone and order five pizzas. I just stared at him. If anything, it was more surreal than the zombie. Frank still held the shotgun, but his wand had vanished.

He made another brief phone call, then unplugged the phone and took it out to the patio, where he plugged it into a weatherproof extension jack. He dragged over a deck chair for me and I flopped down into it, glad to be away from the zombie’s stench. I still didn’t feel entirely well, and the thought of pizza wasn’t helping. Frank dragged over a chair for himself. The phone rang.

Frank picked it up. “This is Frank. Yeah, that’s right. It’s all over, or Round One is, anyway. The mess is out front. We’re around back. Oh, and call the cops for me, will you? They know you.”

Soon a couple of vans pulled up in the alley. We could just see them over the back fence. Men piled out and Frank shouted, “Come on in!” Six armed and uniformed private security guards trooped in. Four carried shotguns.

Frank greeted a middle-aged man who was clearly in charge. “Hey, Bill. Don’t let anyone mess up the crime scene out front. D.R. should be here any minute. Oh, and this is my girlfriend.” He turned to me. “Jen, meet Bill the Vampire Slayer.”

We shook hands. I’d heard of Bill, actually. He was a local celebrity.

Frank treated Bill with respect but not deference, as if they were peers. Bill named the rest of his crew and departed for the front of the house with two of his men.

A few minutes later we heard a couple of vehicles pull up in front, and we soon saw a man in a rumpled suit who turned out to be a police detective, accompanied by a uniformed cop. Frank stood and introduced himself to both men, shaking hands. He introduced me with cheerful possessiveness as his girlfriend. I belonged to him and he made sure everyone knew it. I kind of liked it.

Detective Cartwright asked us questions while Sergeant Dickens took shorthand notes.

Frank didn’t tone down his jokey obnoxiousness much, but he answered serious questions with precision.

Before we’d gotten much further than names, ages, and home addresses, four men in rubber boots, rubber aprons, and rubber gloves showed up.

Detective Cartwright looked irritated and said, “Hands off the crime scene until my photographer and the coroner are done with it.” He told the sergeant to light a fire under the coroner, then decided to point out the boundary of the crime scene to the newcomers himself, and they all left.

“Who were they?” I asked.

“Disaster recovery,” said Frank. “They’ll clean up the mess and hang a new door. Tonight, if I’m lucky. You okay, baby doll?”

“I guess,” I said. “What happens next, lambkin?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Probably everyone stands around until the coroner says, ‘Yep, that’s a dead zombie, all right.’ He’ll call an ambulance to cart away the pieces and then D.R. cleans up. Bill and the boys will stick around until I have a front door again. With any luck, someone will remember to follow the back trail. Maybe they’ll find out what happened.”

I thought about this. “I should probably call my grandma.”

He gestured to the phone and said, “Feel free.”

Grandma was happy to hear from me. A news flash about a zombie attack had come over the radio, but without details. Grandma said she didn’t want me walking home. I didn’t blame her. I told her I’d call again when I was ready to leave.

Suburban zombie attacks were rare at the time (except near graveyards), but they happened. They were often random, or random-ish: the worse the deterioration of the zombie, the more confused they were about the unfinished business that reanimated them in the first place. Eventually they settled for random violence and human flesh. Especially brains, of course. But I had a hunch that Frank’s house hadn’t been chosen at random.

I hung up the phone and noticed that Frank looked like he’d lost his last friend. It scared me. “Why so sad, bubby?”

He took my hand. “Oh, you know. I finally get you alone and zombies and cops barge in. I wouldn’t blame you if you bailed on me.”

Finally? You only met me at lunch!”

“Don’t be prosaic. We’ve been destined to be together since always.”

“Oh, we have, have we?”

He made a vague gesture with his free hand, indicating the swarm of strangers. “Ask anybody.”

“But that means you were two-timing me when you were with … I’m so sorry!”

For some reason, my reference to his lost love didn’t strike home this time. He waved away my concern. “Yep, that’s me. I’m the worst kind of cad. When I look back on all the terrible things I did, all I can say is, ‘Wow, was I cool or what?’”

“What.”

“But I’m sure I can be redeemed by the love of a good woman.” He paused for dramatic effect. “I don’t suppose you know one?”

“You have to settle for me, big boy. I have two dollars invested in you. I own you.”

“Fair enough.” He smiled at me with dancing eyes, his sadness gone.

The coroner and the pizzas arrived at the same time. The coroner, an elderly man with a cherubic smile, was ecstatic that one of the pizzas had—I kid you not—double anchovies. It takes all kinds.

Frank’s five pizzas were none too many. There were at least fifteen people present, not counting me and Frank. The only one he’d met before was Bill, so he was playing host to a mob of strangers. Frank dragged out a couple of six-packs of beer and one of soda from somewhere, along with a bag of ice from the freezer, and work ceased for a time. Business was brisk and none of the beers stayed on ice for more than thirty seconds.

I was surprised at all the people who were happily drinking on duty, but Frank told me that “on duty” and “one beer” were never mutually exclusive as far as he could tell.

I took a soda. It helped. I couldn’t touch the pizza, though. Not even the ones without anchovies. Nor could Frank. It was one of those little things that reminded me that he was a kid like me. He wasn’t like the hardened professionals who were eating his pizza and drinking his beer. The zombie had put him off his feed, too.

The cops resumed their interview over pizza. Frank revealed with pride that I was the heroic zombie slayer, not him. Both I and the shotgun were admired and praised by everyone present. It felt good! I mean, really good. I’d impressed the cynical veterans. It felt a lot better than winning another spelling bee.

I was afraid Frank would get into trouble. I’d heard that sawed-off shotguns were illegal. Apparently it was half an inch longer than the legal minimum.

Soon everyone was back at work. The zombie was gathered into two body bags and taken away in an ambulance. The coroner and the cops departed and the disaster recovery folks got to work. They were keen on chlorine bleach and hydrogen peroxide and strongly perfumed detergents.

The good news was that the door frame was fine and they could get an equivalent door installed tonight. This would be followed by a stronger one in a few days, along with another upgraded door for the back, and a third for the doorway between the garage and the house. They quoted a price that made my eyes bug out, but Frank didn’t turn a hair.

The bad news was that the white shag carpet had cleaned up beautifully and no longer had any stains or smells. We’d hoped it was ruined.

Soon it was time for me to think about heading home. It was a beautiful afternoon and it was silly not to walk, though Frank offered to call me a cab. I called Grandma and she arrived at a typical family compromise. She told my twin younger brothers to run over and escort me back. They either missed the implication about their own expendability or were too excited about the crime scene to care. In a few minutes they trotted into the front yard, which was already presentable again.

“Frank,” I said, “these are my loathsome brothers, Stuart and Roy. They’re both eleven.”

Frank shook hands. He hadn’t shaken hands with me when he introduced himself. Just everyone else on the planet. What was his deal? He said, “You guys look too much alike. One of you should grow a mustache.”

“I’ll do it,” said Stuart.

“No, me!” said Roy.

“Have a race,” said Frank. “First one to pass as Groucho Marx wins.”

“That’s just shoe polish,” said Roy scornfully.

“Karl Marx, then.”

“Are you really Jen’s boyfriend?” asked Stuart.

“Sure. I’ll prove it to you. Call her a name and I’ll punch you out.”

They both blinked at this offer. Frank added, “Boyfriends aren’t just romantic. They’re possessive and protective and violent. Though today I let Jen do all the killing.”

That distracted them. Frank took them to admire the splintered, buckshot-chewed door. They turned and looked at me with wide eyes. They were disappointed that the zombie had been removed. Not even a whiff of it remained. The disaster recovery people were good.

Then it was time to go. “You’re not really going to kiss her, are you?” asked Stuart.

Which of course meant that Frank not only kissed me, he did it with unnecessary theatricality that made me giggle, more or less ruining it. The jerk.

And then I walked home with my brothers, who were all agog and danced around me asking stupid questions, most of which I couldn’t answer.

And that was my first day as Frank’s girlfriend.

Continued in Chapter 5, “Blind Keyhole.”

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