“I’m going to have to put Hector on ice.”
Hattie had long thought there was something dubious about her friend’s father. It wasn’t quite that she’d gone out of her way to maintain the friendship with Eneida, but in terms of parents who might be interesting for the wrong reasons – well, she forgave her friend the fixation with My Little Pony that had continued for longer than for anyone else they knew.
Her parents thought her intelligent, interesting, unconventional – unique, of course. Hattie’s parents had encouraged her to read all the stories that they had loved as children. She read widely. As happens, she mentioned how much she enjoyed certain books and suddenly everyone was getting her other volumes, or similar things that she might enjoy. Consequently, she fancied herself as Harriet the Spy, Anne and George, Hazel and Daisy, Nancy Drew, Lady Molly, and half a dozen others all rolled into one (good points only, of course).
The sleepover had been in the planning for a little over six weeks. When it became obvious that they weren’t going to be able to meet up during half-term, Hattie and Eneida talked of a fun start to the summer. The plans grew and grew until there were to be half a dozen meeting at Enieda’s straight after school on the last day of the summer term. They didn’t quite plan things down to the number of kernels of corn to be popped for the snacks which they watched films and boxsets, but in other respects almost all the time was accounted for, including some spare activities in the (unlikely) event that the board-games under-ran. Ice cream flavours were discussed: the three that made the final cut were “All the Chocolate”, “Salted Caramel Surprise”, and “Raspberry Pavlova”. (Jessica’s dairy intolerance was catered for with mango sorbet).
It had been during the board games, early on the first evening, that she’d head the incriminating conversation. She’d popped out of the Den (a second living room, given over to Eneida and her brothers, and placed firmly out of bounds to the latter for the weekend), to go to the loo. The kitchen door was half open. She was not sure who Eneida’s father was talking to, nor did she have any clue who Hector might be. Eneida’s father spoke English with the lack of an accent that spoke of an expensive, or at least heavily invested in, second language: the casual way that he spoke of putting Hector “on ice” was almost as chilling as the statement itself.
Putting Hector on ice sounded like something that she should try and prevent.
She went back to the Den, mind whirling: who could she talk to about this? No one. What could she do? No idea.
She tried to pay attention, tried to have fun. She’d tried to join in the excitement as Eneida talked about her family’s plans for the summer. They were going to be going away for nearly a month. There was a lot to do, much to prepare: they’d done a house swap with friends of friends who lived in Australia. She’d spent the whole afternoon trying to think about how to save Hector and had taken in nothing of what was going on around her. Which film had they even watched? She couldn’t even remember the schedule that they’d spent so long perfecting.
Eneida’s father called them into the kitchen-diner for tea: originally, they’d planned to have takeaway pizza, but Eneida’s mother had insisted that they have home-made. Hattie preferred thin crust, but Eneida’s father was a sour dough king and had made the dough for them. He helped them to roll it out, and once they had assembled the pizzas from the selection of toppings that had been laid out, he skilfully slid the peel under them and then flicked them into the pizza oven that he’d set up on the patio.
Hattie’s was one of the last to be baked, not counting the ones that Eneida’s parents made for themselves. Whilst she was waiting, Eneida’s mother came up and put her hand on her husband’s arm.
“Did you get rid of Hector?” she asked in a low voice. Hattie’s ears pricked up and her tired mind was suddenly alert.
“As we discussed, my love. I saved a bit in the freezer.”
Was Eneida’s mother in on this killing too?
Hattie looked at her phone. 2.37 am. From all around her, there was gentle snoring and the soft breathing of five people tucked up in sleeping bags. Gently she unzipped her own bag, found her torch and her dressing gown and stole out of the room on tiptoe. There was enough light coming through the big picture window that formed one side of the landing for her to be able to see that the way to the stairs was clear. She shrugged on the dark red terry-cloth dressing grown and crept down the stairs, avoiding the third tread from the top, which she knew creaked. As she descended to the ground floor, the light faded away until she reached the bottom, where it was pitch black. She turned the tip of the torch (a miniature Maglite) until the bulb just flickered into life, and then cupped the light to reduce the light still further, to the barest minimum. With this, she made her way to the kitchen.
Hattie opened the freezer draw. She hadn’t been able to save Hector, but perhaps she could secure the evidence that would bring his killers to justice. She couldn’t understand how Eneida’s father could be so brazen: not only had he kept a souvenir, but here it was in his own home freezer, carefully labelled with Hector’s name and the date. Wasn’t he worried that Eneida might find it?
She opened the box to see what had been saved. She was expecting a finger (for opening a biometric lock, perhaps). Or perhaps an ear: ears were a classic souvenir. What she was not expecting was a block of porridge-coloured – what? What on Earth was it? It had clearly been some kind of liquid, with a certain amount of water, given that the block had conformed perfectly to the shape of the Tupperware, and there were little ice-crystals on the surface.
There was a click and the kitchen was bathed in lights: she froze as solid as whatever was in the Tupperware. Eneida’s father stood in the doorway.
“What are you doing with Hector?” he asked, sleepily shocked.
He shuffled over. Gently he took the Tupperware, closed it, and put it back in the freezer, closed the drawer, closed the door.
“If you wanted some sour dough starter, you only had to ask.”
© David Jesson, 2018