This free fiction is part of The Infinite Bard project. A new story will be linked to the IB site every other week, so be sure to check back often!
Jimmie and Trey trudged across the ice crusted snow toward the beach house on Lake Ontario’s eastern shore. Both men’s cheeks and noses were red with cold despite being bundled in down jackets several seasons out of date, ratty looking knitted scarves, and thick woolen mittens that could stand to be washed. Every few steps, one of their booted feet would break through the thick crust of ice, allowing the snow beneath to swallow the foot or even the calf. Consequently, the legs of their well-worn jeans were getting soggier by the minute, and it was cold enough in the wind off the lake without adding damp denim to the mix.
“We’d better find a good haul,” Trey muttered after pulling his left foot free of yet another snow hole. “This weather is a bitch.”
Jimmie stuck his mittened hands in his armpits while he waited for his partner to extricate himself. “Yeah, well, it’s also why we have a chance at this beach house. Nobody in their right mind’s gonna to be out in this weather.”
“You got that right,” Trey answered, brushing snow from his pants leg. “I shoulda known better than to let you talk me into this.”
“Hey! You were anxious enough to come when I told you about it. Besides, we’re already wet and cold. Might as well finish what we started.”
Jimmie glanced across the white landscape. Everything kind of blended together—the gray of the lake, the dirty white of the snow and ice covered beach, even the sky was overcast and colorless—but he’d done his homework. He knew where the house was, knew that the late February storm that had blown in off the lake had covered the isolated beach house in freezing water, that the west side of the house was encased in thick white ice, along with everything else on the property.
It was a nasty day; nobody was around for miles.
He shaded his eyes, and then pointed to a featureless mass a little further along the beach. “Grab your stuff,” he said, pointing. “There it is.”
Trey mumbled a few words Jimmie didn’t catch and picked up the expandable black duffle he’d dropped while extricating his boot. Both men wore empty backpacks as well, hoping to fill them with valuable loot from the isolated house.
“I sure hope you’re right about the ice being thin on the street side,” Trey said as they approached the single story dwelling. “I’d hate to’ve come out on this miserable day for nothin’.”
“Just shut up and grab your pick,” Jimmie answered. “The street side doesn’t face the lake. The ice is bound to be thinner.” He stood back and surveyed their target. The house was completely encased in white. No way to tell what color it was when it wasn’t marooned in a sea of gray-white sky, water, and beach. Icicles the size of small stalactites hung off the roof, and windows and doors were visible only as indentations in the ice. Every detail of the house was sculpted in white, like it had been dipped in thick frosting and left to harden.
Jimmie grabbed a crowbar from the duffle and went to work chipping ice from what he hoped was the front door. By the time he and Trey had uncovered the frame all the way around, they’d worked up a sweat. Mittens were stuffed in pockets, and unwound scarves hung limply from their necks.
Trey dropped his pick, wiped his face on the sleeve of his jacket, and stared at the door.
“No sense trying to pick the lock,” he said after a moment’s study. “The mechanism will be frozen solid. Let’s just break it down.”
Jimmie nodded. “Yep. You want the crowbar, or should I do it?”
“Go for it,” Trey said, stepping back a couple of paces.
Jimmie hefted the black steel crowbar and wedged the curved, flattened end into the seam between the door and frame right above the deadbolt. Applying pressure to the handle, he worked the blade back and forth until the frame splintered. The frozen hinges creaked as he levered the door open. The sound was ominous in the frozen silence of the cold, bleak day.
“All right,” said Trey, slapping Jimmie on the back. “Let’s get looting!”
Jimmie followed Trey into the entry and immediately felt a shiver run down his spine. The place was creepy quiet and the light filtering through the white-iced windows made him feel like he was walking into a tomb. He shook his head, trying to rid himself of the heebie-jeebies and studied the layout. The faster they looted, the faster they could leave this bizarre place.
He had three choices: walk straight down a hallway lined with family photos, enter what looked like a formal dining room on his left, or turn right into a living room.
“Bet that dining room has some good stuff,” Trey said, breaking the eerie silence. “I’ll check it out. You see if there’s anything in the living room, then we can both head down the hall and see what else we can find.”
Jimmie nodded, not willing to trust his voice. He was spooked enough that it might come out in a squeak, and if it did, Trey would never let him live it down. Instead, he took a deep breath and stepped into the living room.
It was a nice enough room, hardwood floors, walls painted the color of sand, a comfortable couch and two wing-backed chairs done up with soft blue upholstery, but it was clearly used for visitors or reading. There were small side tables with knick-knacks and one wall held an overflowing bookshelf, but nothing of value to Jimmie. No electronics. No silver. Just breakables and books. What a waste of space.
He moved back into the entry and watched Trey ransacking the dining room. “Anything?” he asked as Trey yanked a bunch of linens from behind a door in the lower half of a fancy built-in cabinet.
“Naw,” Trey answered. “Just dishes and napkins and crap. If they have silver, it’s not in here.” He stood up and glanced at Jimmie. “You have any luck?”
Jimmie shook his head. “Not in there. Let’s check out the rest of the house. They’ve got to at least have a TV and stereo somewhere.”
“I sure as hell hope so. Everybody’s got electronics, right?”
Jimmie led the way down the hall, past framed photos on the walls, some new, some in black and white with the people dressed in old-timey get-ups. “Right. There’ll be a family room back here. That’s where the good stuff’ll be.”
Just as he’d expected, the hall emptied into a comfortable family room. Off to the left was a kitchen, kind of behind the dining room. Straight ahead was a little eating area, his mom would probably call it a breakfast nook. The main space held a wrap-around couch, a couple of slouchy bean-bag chairs and a big stone fireplace with a digital TV suspended above the mantle. There were glass-fronted cabinets on both sides of the fireplace, and Jimmie could see game sets and video players and other electronics peeking out through the glass. Jackpot!
There was also another hallway at the back of the room, probably leading to bedrooms. If there was any jewelry to be had, it would be back there.
Trey made a beeline for the electronics. “This is more like it!”
But Jimmie heard something, and the sound rooted him to the spot.
“Did you hear that?”
“What?” Trey was busily unhooking cords from a high-end game set. He didn’t even glance in Jimmie’s direction.
“I heard something … like a snuffle.”
“Maybe they left a dog closed up in a bathroom.”
“Naw. Didn’t sound like an animal. Besides, who’d leave a dog in a closed up beach house in winter?”
“Who cares?” Trey asked as he packed stuff into the duffle.
Jimmie stood for another moment, listening intently. He should be helping Trey, but he just couldn’t quite…
There! He heard it again.
Without really thinking about what he was doing, he followed the sound down the back hall. Sure enough, he found one bedroom, and then another. The noise stopped, but when he stepped into the furthest room, he discovered he wasn’t alone.
A baby sat in the middle of the floor. Probably a little girl seeing as how she was all bundled up in a pink snowsuit that made her look like a puffy Easter Bunny. Her wide blue eyes were red from crying and her little button nose dripped snot. Even so, she was cute sitting there in her pink snowsuit on the pale blue plush carpeting at the foot of a four-poster bed.
What in hell was a baby doing alone in a deserted house?
She wasn’t. Alone, that is. That was the only answer. Only, where was her mother, or whoever?
The baby girl hiccoughed and quieted, watching him as he stepped carefully past her into the attached bath. He found his answer. A young woman lay sprawled on the bathroom floor, her head beside the tub. A smear of bright red blood stained the edge and down the outside wall of the tub, ending in a pool that dyed her blonde hair pink.
She’d been pretty. Now she was dead.
Jimmie froze. He and Trey were thieves, sure, but they didn’t go in for violent crime. He’d never seen a body before. He didn’t know what to do, except…
He filled his lungs and bellowed, “Trey! Get in here, man.”
He listened as Trey stomped down the hall. Heard him say, “What the fuck?” when he saw the baby. Felt his familiar presence as he stopped dead behind Jimmie.
They stared at the body, as frozen as the ice encasing the house. Then Trey broke the spell. He backed out of the bathroom, past the staring baby, and ran, yelling over his shoulder, “Grab whatever you found. We gotta get outta here!”
Jimmie glanced once more at the body, turned to follow Trey, but stopped when he saw the little girl.
“Come on, bro,” Trey yelled. “We gotta split. Now!”
Jimmie strode to the bedroom door, his head swiveling between Trey and the baby. He wanted to follow Trey. He really did. But what about the baby? It was damn cold in this house.
“We can’t just leave that baby alone,” he said, taking a step toward his friend.
“What are you talking about? We don’t know nuthin’ about kids. What are we gonna do with it?”
The baby snuffled and started to wail, and Jimmie turned back to the bedroom. He saw the little girl in her pink snowsuit, and knew for sure he couldn’t leave her. She was probably only nine or ten months old. His sister had one that size. What if it was Jenny? What if his sister was the one dead on the bathroom floor? Wouldn’t she want someone to rescue Jason?
“Jimmie,” Trey called from the other room. “Come on, man! We gotta get outta here before someone comes to check on that woman.”
But Jimmie knew he couldn’t do it. He was stuck. He couldn’t leave this little girl alone in a freezing house. He grabbed a tissue from a bedside table and knelt before the baby. “How ya doin’ there, kid?” he asked softly, wiping her snotty nose with the tissue. “I know you’re scared, I would be too, but everything’s gonna be okay. I promise.”
Picking her up, he walked to the family room to join his partner in crime.
Trey’s eyes widened. “What’re you doin’, bro? We can’t take her with us.”
“I know,” Jimmie said calmly. “But I can’t just walk away. Here’s what we’re gonna do.”
* ~* ~*
Jimmie sat on the pretty floral couch in the living room with the baby asleep in his arms. Muted red and blue lights played across the white coated windows and sirens blared outside. The police had arrived.
Two uniformed officers stomped onto the porch and swung through the ruined door, guns swinging in an arc until they aimed at Jimmie.
“It’s okay,” Jimmie said quietly. “I’m unarmed … and she just fell asleep.”
The first officer, a dark haired woman, holstered her weapon and moved to kneel beside Jimmie and the baby. Two more officers joined her partner, who said, “Take his statement, Officer Lewis. We’ll check the rest of the house.”
She nodded, her gaze never leaving Jimmie. “Are you the one who called 9-1-1?”
She pulled out a notebook, opened it to a blank page, and asked for his name and contact information. Once that was taken care of, she glanced up and said, “Tell me what happened.”
“I was out for a walk on the beach,” he said, and noticed how her eyebrow quirked in question. He smiled. “I like wild weather,” he explained. “Besides, I heard about how beach houses can get coated with ice; I wanted to see one.”
She nodded and a made a note. “Go on.”
“Anyway, I was out for a walk when I saw a guy runnin’ away from this house. I walked over, saw the door was busted and figured I’d call the police.”
He paused, adjusted the baby’s weight in his arms, and continued, “I’d just pulled out my cell phone when I heard something.” He glanced at the little girl. “She was crying. So I came in. I found her. Found her mother too. Figured the best thing was to call for help and try to keep her warm until you got here.”
Officer Lewis jotted down a few more notes. “Did you put her in the snowsuit?”
“No. She was all bundled up sitting on the floor in the bedroom when I found her.” He shrugged. “Guess her mom was getting ready to leave when it happened.”
“Did you know the mother?”
He shook his head. “Never seen her before.”
“Any idea what happened? How she got dead?”
“Nope. I just know that once I saw this baby, I couldn’t leave her alone in an ice house. I had to wait with her. Make sure she was safe until you showed up.”
Officer Lewis nodded. “Can you give me a description of the man you saw running away?”
Jimmie frowned, as if thinking. “Naw. I was too far away. I just know he was runnin’ … oh, and he had a backpack and a duffle bag.”
The second policeman came back into the room. “Everything’s just like the 9-1-1 call said.” He glanced at Jimmie. “Anything else I should know?”
Officer Lewis shook her head. She rose and the two of them moved back to the front door. “Looks like a good Samaritan,” Jimmie heard her say. “We’ll check out his story back at the station, but so far it rings true.”
She stepped back to Jimmie. “We’ll call for the coroner … and for social services.” She glanced at the baby. “Little one seems content with you, if you wouldn’t mind sticking until the social worker arrives, it’ll make my job easier.”
Jimmie nodded. “I don’t mind. I’ve got no place in particular to be.”
An hour or so later Jimmie handed the baby girl over to a young woman with a freckled complexion and red curls sticking out from under a navy blue knit cap. His arms felt a little empty once the baby’s weight was gone, but his heart was light. He’d done a good thing, and it didn’t look like anyone suspected him of breaking into the ice house.
He shook hands with Officer Lewis, turned down her offer of a ride back to his apartment, and said he’d be happy to answer any further questions, but he couldn’t imagine what else he could say.
And then he walked back toward the beach, retracing his earlier steps. The snow was just as crunchy as earlier and he still broke through the icy crust every few steps, but it didn’t bother him nearly as much this time. He smiled and, putting his unmittened hand in his jacket pocket, stroked the edges of the diamond earrings he’d found in the safe in the master bedroom.
A nice reward for a job well done … and for saving a baby girl’s life.