The Dillinger Party
Roxanne slipped her feet out of regulation black leather clogs, into a pair of fatigue-green wellies, and shrugged into a orange-blaze fleece pullover. She zipped up the collar as the storm-door banged shut behind her.
She followed the dogs’ tracks through the snow down to the lake. It wasn’t really a lake, it was a pond, dug seventy years before by the men of the village. Mr. Frost’s new bride wanted a lake; by god she would have one. Roxanne’s Granddad had been among the men who moved the Frosts’ earth, desperate for work in those lean years.
Deep snow walled both sides of the track. A thousand stars silently watched from a clear, cold sky. She liked to think they were taking her measure.
Granddad’s heart had broken when she’d taken the job as a house maid up at the Frost’s place. With no money for University, it was a shop, a call-center, or this. On nights like this one, she didn’t mind so much. Mrs. Dillinger–Mrs. Frost’s daughter–paid well, often tipping them under the table for serving at parties.
At the water’s edge she pulled a Snickers out of her pocket. It was halfway unwrapped when a deep voice broke the quiet.
“And here I’d been hoping someone would appear with a cigarette.”
She stumbled backwards and dropped the chocolate bar into the snow. A man materialized out from under the willows weeping nakedly over the water.
The man crunched through the snow to her aid. “I feel like an ass.”
“You should.” Roxanne dusted snow off her rear. “Jesus. Who does that?”
“So you’re not going to lend me a cigarette?”
Roxanne giggled. His expression was precisely that of a naughty dog who hopes perhaps you’ll forgive him and still give him a treat.
“I don’t smoke.” She tugged the sleeves of the fleece down around her fingers. “And now that I don’t have a snack, I should be getting back.”
“You s’pose the old lady’ll let me bum a smoke?” He grinned up at the house.
“I doubt Mrs. Frost smokes anything anymore.” Roxanne thought of the elderly woman, now consigned to a wheelchair and an oxygen tank.
“True.” He chafed his hands together and kicked at the snow like a mischievous little boy. “But I bet Angelica Dillinger is the type who keeps a stash of Parliament Lights in her desk drawer.”
Roxanne thought of the silver cigarette case on the window seat in Mrs. Dillinger’s dressing room and laughed. “I really need to get back to work.”
“If I gave you my card, would you call me? So I can bring you another candy bar?” He pulled a card out of his coat pocket and handed it to her.
“You do owe me a Snickers.” Her fingers lingered over his as she took it. “I’m done here at eleven.”
As she trudged back up to the kitchen door, she turned the card to face the light from the outdoor flood-lights.
J. Frost Dillinger.
Christie’s Sandwich Shop
“Roxie, hon, you need some real food.”
Charla closed the register without taking Roxanne’s money. Roxanne leaned over the counter and cracked open the unpaid-for Diet Cherry Coke. Charla sliced a thick loaf of fresh oat bread.
“Charl, if I eat that, I’ll have to go running.”
Charla ran her knife through the firm skin of a blaze and russet tomato, fresh from the greenhouse her mother kept going all year.
“Roxie, you live on chocolate and diet soda; you don’t need to go running because of one little sandwich.”
Roxanne swigged the soda while Charla smeared homemade garlic aioli on the bread and tossed a few small slabs of bacon in the toaster oven.
“There’s nothing little about that.” Roxanne reached into the pocket of her ski jacket; the business card was warm—papery-smooth against her fingers. “Charl?”
“Yeah, hon?” Charla laid red-leaf lettuce—again from Mrs. Christie’s greenhouse—over the aioli and stacked on the tomatoes. Roxanne’s stomach clenched a little; she hoped Charla didn’t hear it rumble.
“What do you know about Angelica Dillinger’s sons?”
“This is why you should read more People Magazine,” Charla replied, taking the bacon out of the toaster and plating the finished sandwich. “Why?”
“This looks amazing. Thanks.” Roxanne took a bite of the sandwich. The hit of garlic in the aioli was the secret. Salty, sweet and earthy, a little bit of yeasty chewiness in the bread. “Mmm.”
“No worries.” Charla started cleaning up the counter. “So what do you want to know about Oscar and Frost Dillinger?”
“Oscar?” Roxanne giggled. “Like the grouch?”
Charla grabbed her coffee cup and came around the counter. Roxanne followed her with the sandwich through the empty shop. They picked a booth in the front, settling on the sun-warmed naugahyde. Charla sipped her coffee.
“By all accounts, yeah, Oscar Dillinger is kind of a grouch. Classic first son syndrome, heir to the business, Alpha-male type. Married to some California wine heiress with a Stanford Law degree.”
Roxanne chewed thoughtfully. Charla was watching her carefully; they’d known each other since grade school. The jig was already up.
“You’re not asking about Oscar, though. Are you?” Charla asked. “I heard the playboy prodigal was home for a rare visit. You met Frost the other night, didn’t you?”
Roxanne pulled out the card and laid it on the table.
Roxanne pulled her slouchy knit cap over her hair as she stepped out of Christie’s; the door closed with a cheery jingle. The sky was blinding, the air so cold it hurt. Charla’s excellent sandwich was only a delicious memory.
She stuffed the Diet Cherry Coke in her bag and started up the block to her Mum’s crooked cottage on Elm St.
The throaty hum of an engine decelerating turned her head.
A Maserati GranTurismo. Her brother would shit himself.
The red convertible pulled over, the window slid down. Grimy rock and heat blasted out.
“Wanna grab that Snickers, beautiful?”
I’ve Got Wheels and You Wanna Go For A Ride
No sooner had she clicked the seatbelt than Frost hit the gas and the car leaped to life. Roxanne felt the gravity of speed press her into the leather seat.
Frost reached across her lap to open the glove box. He waved a Snickers, eyes sparking like a clever child with the correct answer. “I like to give a woman what she wants.”
Roxanne gave him a sidelong glance, blushing furiously, heat sliding honey-thick over her skin as she took the candy bar from his hand. She pulled the hat from her head and shook out her unruly ponytail. “This car is amazing.”
“It’s Oscar’s.” Frost’s voice was a touch too casual. “He has no idea what it’s really capable of.”
“Oscar is your brother?”
Frost’s hands tightened on the wheel. “Older, smarter, more successful.”
Roxanne flicked the ends of the Snickers’ wrapper. “So, where are we going?”
“I have no idea.” Frost looked away from the road. His expression clouded. “Even when I lived here, this town was never home.”
The Black Crowes gave way to the Magnetic Fields’ quirky The Luckiest Guy On the Lower East Side.
“You like them?” Roxanne asked, casting for a neutral topic.
Frost slowed in anticipation of a sharp curve ahead, then accelerated into it. Roxanne leaned into the turn, her shoulder brushing his arm.
“I’m more than a pretty face,” he teased, but there was an edge to his words.
“What brings you back, then, if you don’t like it here?” she asked.
“Oscar feels I should manage the family’s affairs in Burnt Stream, prove my worth or something stupid like that.” He gunned the engine as the road widened.
“So you’re staying in town a while?”
“Until they decide I’m enough of a grown up to fly the nest.”
Roxanne pushed the candy bar into her bag. “I don’t understand.”
“They’re dangling my inheritance as a carrot. Oscar’s the executor of Father’s estate, and the guy holding my ambitions hostage.”
Frost swung the car suddenly off the road, skidding to a halt in the hard dirt. He jerked the transmission into Park and opened the door. The car filled with frigid air.
“Quaker Hollow?” Roxanne asked, recognizing the footpath which dipped down into the shadowy fir groves that surrounded Burnt Stream.
“I used to come here to think,” Frost replied. “When I was home for school breaks. You grew up here. You know the stories, right?”
“Enough that I never come out here after dark.”
“I’ll hold your hand.” He winked and walked around to open her door.
Warmth and uncertainty tangled in her gut when he offered her his hand. The sun was still an hour from setting. When she took it, he led her down the path, away from the road. The canopy of trees begged her to whisper as they walked. “You’re going to protect me from the Firebrand, but what can I do for you?”
“You can help me get my brother out of my life.”
The dappled sunlight on the cart road was deep gold, the shadows cool and deep in the late afternoon light. Frost’s hand was warm around hers as they jogged awkwardly down the hill that lead to the Quaker Hollow burial ground.
The last week’s snows had melted, but the following hard frost left the track welted and uneven.
The gates welcomed her, just as they had since she was old enough to ride her bike out from town. There was a touch more rust on the arch, the frostbitten grass longer than she remembered at the base of the stone pillars, but her grandfather was too old now to tend to the upkeep, and he was the last living member of the old Friends Meeting.
She felt some guilt that the old stories had kept her away.
Her eye coasted over the patch of inexplicably scorched earth in front of the gates and inside to the neat rows of mossy graves. Frost pushed through the screeching wrought iron—she winced when his pricey European boots touched down on the Firebrand’s path. She turned her face to the left and hopped over the dead ground and followed him up to the mound where the Meetinghouse once stood.
He sat, patting the cold grass. His shadow was long and blue, stretching towards the woods. It occurred to Roxanne that even the trees had gone quiet and a shiver rolled down her back.
“Roxanne,” Frost said. It was the first time he’d said her name. “I’m sorry about losing my temper back there—”
And the gravestone behind him shattered. Shrapnel blew out against their backs. Roxanne shrieked as a shard of ancient slate sliced her cheek. Frost knocked her to the ground as another round buried itself in the grass to their left.
She pressed her fingers to the cut; they came away bloody. She smeared her fingers on the ground as a third round tore through the bark of a nearby tree. The blood sizzled slightly in the soil. A shrieking cry rose up as the waning sunlight was extinguished by fingers of mist creeping out of the woods. The smell of hot metal drifted on the fog.
“Jesus,” Frost whispered.
Roxanne barely drew breath as footsteps crashed away through the brush. They stayed down as the air cleared. Frost sat up first.
“Roxanne.” His voice was urgent. She pushed her self up. A melted heap of metal steamed in the center of the cart road outside the gates. The grass around it was charred and smoking.
“The Firebrand.” She stood and left him. Pushing back through the iron gates, she turned her bloodied cheek to the left and hopped over the bare earth. Stopping in front of the wrecked weapon, she dug into her pocket and pulled out a penny.
With a kiss, she dropped the penny onto the road.
“Frost,” she called. “We should go back to town.”