When the police came the first time, the old man was on ice in the meat freezer out back, but I didn't tell them. No way, man. It's funny how something as crazy as a dead guy in your back yard could seem so normal after awhile. But of course it wasn't normal: "Geezer in the Freezer" — that was the headline in the Boca paper later, after it was all over.
My dad had taken care of the old man, his pop, for years, even feeding him like a baby after gramps completely lost his marbles. When he died, though, something snapped in my dad. He'd cried for two days while the old man sat stiffly in his easy chair, his splotchy, balding head nodding as in sleep. But I knew it was a sleep he wasn't ever waking up from, and finally something had to be done about him.
At this point, me and my dad weren't getting along real well. I was your typical 15-year-old pot-smoking Florida punk with a bad attitude, I guess. I talked back and didn't show him much respect, especially when he got on my case about homework and stuff. So a couple a times he smacked me around a bit. There was no use fighting back, really, I mean he was in construction and built like a brick shithouse, as they say. So, after I got tired of him kicking my ass I moved into the rusted-out Sunseeker RV that was permanently parked among the palms out behind the house. Actually, he'd told me to move out after one particularly bad argument.
"Get the hell outta here, boy, before I whip the shit out of you," he'd yelled, cracking his belt at me. The veins in his neck were popping and wriggling so I could tell he meant it and it was time to split. He had a mad scary temper when he got going.
"I don't want to hurt, you little son of a bitch, but you're asking for it. Now go before I kill you."
I believe he would have, too, so I got the fuck out of there. That was maybe six months before the whole mess with the freezer.
I loved that RV and it was the best home I ever had. My dad had taken it in lieu of cash from a client he'd done a job for. He did that a lot, traded his skill for crap, so we had three or four brokedown pickup trucks parked in the weeds and jungle vines, along with banged up motorcyles, a couple of Jet Skis and even a beached speedboat sitting on the ground so long a fifteen foot palm tree had sprouted right through its hull on its way to the sky.
I bring up the RV because that's where I was the night the old man disappeared. Like I said, I knew he was dead and the last time I saw him he was just sitting in that chair in the house like a dummy in a wax museum, but somehow peaceful, like everything was okay now. I'd come in from the RV to mike a frozen dinner, and I'd checked in his bedroom while walking around and eating my salisbury steak from the plastic tray that comes with the box. It cost me my appetite, but I had to peek in on him and make sure I'd really seen him dead and not hallucinated the whole thing. My dad was outside, walking around in the dark, talking to himself and crying. I could hear him swearing and sobbing at the same time and he was real agitated. I had to eat fast and get back to the RV before he came in, or there'd be yet another confrontation. Anyway, gramps was still there in his chair and it must have been about nine p.m. when I scooted out the screen door to the safety of the Sunseeker.
In the morning, though, after my dad was out of the house, I peered into gramps' room through an outside window and saw the easy chair was empty and the old man was gone.
So where'd he go? I mean it was possible my dad carted him off to the funeral home in one of the pickup trucks, or whatever, but I had a bad feeling that's not what happenend. My first thought was that he'd buried gramps in the back yard, under the palm trees. Gramps was a New Yorker, and when he came down to live with us, he was really taken with those palms. "Used to see these in the Philippines when I was in the merchant marines at the end of World War Two," he told me when I was a little guy, obviously before he turned into a vegetable. "I was an ensign, a radio officer," he said. "That was my start in electronics." Anyway, that's what he said: World War Two. That's how ancient and gnarly he was.
I went looking for him on a recon mission around the yard — we had nearly an acre of weed-choked property there off Mango Place — but didn't see any signs of a grave anywhere. No mounds of dirt or nothing. I even looked inside the trucks and the cabin of the boat, where I'd once seen a beautifully banded and deadly coral snake. But there was no gramps and no poisonous snake, neither. I went around the side of the house then, where all the junked machine parts, useless tools, empty paint cans, busted chainsaws and various other remnants of my dad's trade went to die. It occurred to me that he could have hidden the old man somewhere under the debris and nobody would be the wiser. Now, I love my dad despite all the bad shit between us, and it bothered me to watch him getting crazier and crazier since his mugging and the brain surgery that followed (more on that later). I mean, he was obsessively collecting hundreds of things, sometimes the same type of empty plastic oil container, for example. We had a stack nearly two feet high of Exxon empties and I kicked them around without finding anything. While I was digging under there, though, I happened to look up at the freezer under the sagging carport. The thing had ceased to work a year ago and since my dad didn't part with anything, it was stored up against the house, unplugged, dripping and rotting like everything else in the South Florida humidity. Except for the fingers of orange rust that ran down its sides, it looked for all the world like a white and frozen coffin. And there was something else that I'd never noticed before: heavy chains were wrapped around its middle and a brass lock the size of my fist held them together. Several brown lizards flitted away as I approached and pulled at the chains. There wasn't much movement, though. They were on there tight.
Later, after another crappy day at school, I came back to the house to find my dad was home, too. I stayed out in the RV until I got hungry and had to make a foray into the kitchen to hit the fridge. I saw him slumped on the sofa watching TV and drinking a beer. His business was in trouble and I'd heard him on the phone a couple of times arguing with bill collectors, but he always seemed to have money for decent brew. There wasn't much in the fridge; a couple of slices of baloney starting to curl around the edges and some yellow American cheese in those stupid plastic wrappers. Except the cheese wasn't really yellow, it was neon orange, the same color as a highway traffic cone. I always wondered what the heck chemicals they put in there. Anyway, I made a sandwich and I'd popped the tab on a Dr. Pepper when in comes my dad. He didn't look so good, like he hadn't slept, and his eyes were all red rimmed, probably from drinking and crying.
"What are you doing here?" he said in his usual drunken belligerant manner of late. He was a foot away and a gust of beer breath hit me full on, pissing me off.
I tried not respond with a wisecrack; I didn't want to set him off, which I thought was pretty mature thinking on my part.
"I was hungry. We need to get some more food in this house."
That was the wrong thing to say, and I instantly regretted it but he took it in stride as he reached into the refrigerator for another beer.
"There's plenty to eat. Look around. I'm not running a restaurant."
There was no point in pursuing that line of conversation, so I cut to the chase.
"Where's gramps?" I asked, trying to sound nonchalant.
"I took him to the hospital last night. He's going to be there awhile."
"Huh. I didn't hear you leave ." The F-150 truck he favored had a hole in its muffler and it wakes up the neighborhood every time he starts it.
"How can you hear anything back there in that RV? You were probably too stoned, anyway. "
That pissed me off, but I kept quiet.
"He's got pneumonia. They said he was dehydrated and should stay for at least a week or so."
That sounded reasonable, I guess. But I still hadn't heard the truck. Truth was, I had smoked a couple of joints the night before and it was strong, disorienting stuff. Sometimes I would get so high and sink so deep into my head, it was like whole chunks of reality just vanished down the drain. My life lately had been full of blank spaces like that.
So it was possible I'd blanked out and just hadn't noticed the F-150 popping off like a cheap handgun.