The squeak


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The squeak
By Bobby Neal Winters

Jacob Plennik left his apartment and shut the door behind him. It closed with the only sound being a little puff of air. He liked it that way and wouldn’t tolerate anything else.

During the two years he’d spent in prison, he’d heard enough metal clanking on metal, enough squeaky hinges to last a lifetime. When he was released, he’d vowed he’d never put up that noisy doors again, and in the six months he’d been out, he’d kept his vow.

Jacob looked down the stairway for any shadows that might be lurking just out of sight. Satisfied there were none, he looked over his shoulder and then down the stairs again. He had a toolbox in his left hand and held a flathead screwdriver in the other. He wished he had a gun, but that would have been a violation of his parole. The flathead screwdriver would have to do in case he ever missed any shadows.

And this was a rational worry.

His commuted stay in the pen had been due to the fact he’d overheard something in the joint that wasn’t meant for his ears and he’d managed to turn the information into an early release. That part of it was great. The down side was that word had gotten to the wrong ears and there were folks who wanted to do him harm in a serious way. He was on the outside now, but he was still a prisoner.

Once out on the street, he took a piece of paper from his pocket and checked the address which was for only a few blocks away. It belonged to a little old lady who needed to have some repairs done. She’d taken his phone number from the paper he’d posted on the bulletin board of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church and had given him a call. He’d told her that he could come the next day, and she was thrilled, saying she’d never had anyone come so quickly before.

He wondered how thrilled she would’ve been if she’d known he’d been in prison for almost killing a man.

Jacob was an honest man. Whenever anyone asked him why such a skilled worker as himself was just doing odd jobs, he told them he’d been in prison. Whenever they asked why, he said because he’d accidently almost killed a man. The word “accidently” was there to modify the word “almost.” He had truly been trying to kill the man he’d found in bed with his wife and it was an accident that he hadn’t.

It had been a crime of passion, but it was a crime just the same, and only his being a rat had gotten him out early.

He came to the address which was to a house that had seen better days. He walked up the steps and knocked on the door as a cat on the front porch curled around his ankles.

The front door squeaked as it opened. He cringed a bit as it did. He hated squeaky doors.

The fossil of a woman who opened the door didn’t notice his discomfort and smile a pleasant smile as she saw his face.

“Hello,” she said.

“Hello, Ma’am,” he said through the screen. “I’m the man you called to fix your cabinets.”

An ancient hand unlocked the screen door and she pulled it open to allow him inside. He entered along with the cat that had been nuzzling his feet.
She closed the door and it squeaked again, but this time Jacob was prepared and didn’t cringe. She motioned him to follow her and he did, past the small table with the cross and the opened Bible at its base, into the ancient kitchen. It was all clean as it could be, but the linoleum on the floor was yellowed and curled up at the edges. The stove was shiny except for the places the enamel had actually been rubbed off.

“There,” she said pointing to a cabinet door that was hanging askew by a single hinge. “There’s my problem. Can you fix it?”

“Yes I can,” he said.

“How much will you charge?” she asked. She seemed concerned.

He looked around at kitchen and then he looked her in the eye.
“Ten bucks.”

“Surely it must be more?” she asked.

“Ten bucks,” he repeated. He was going to go broke working for money like this, but he just couldn’t make himself charge her more.

He went to work and it took him about half an hour to do the job after which he walked back into the front room where she sat in front of her TV.

“I’m done now,” he said.

“Let me bring you your money,” she said as she stood from her chair and went into the kitchen.

Jacob looked around the room, saw the door which he entered through, and remembered the squeak. He extracted a can of oil from his toolbox, oiled the pins on the door, and still had the oilcan in his hand when the lady came back.

“What are you doing?” she asked. “Are you fixing my squeak?” She seemed concerned.

“Yes, Ma’am,” he replied. “I hope you don’t mind.”

“No, I don’t mind,” she said, handing a ten-dollar bill in his direction.

He sat the oil can down on the table and took the bill that was still cold from the freezer.

“But that squeak saved my late husband’s life once upon a time?” she continued.

“Saved your husband’s life?” Jacob was intrigued. “How did that happen?”
Her eyes fixed on the door and took on a glaze that made her look as if she were seeing another time.

“Years ago,” she said, “my husband was a bootlegger and had some dealings with some pretty unsavory characters. One of them took a notion that my husband had cheated him, and maybe he had for all I know.

“But one evening as my husband was standing in the kitchen door talking to me as I made supper, we heard that door squeak. My husband turned around and it was this fellow coming in with a gun. My husband grabbed his gun of the kitchen table and killed the man where he stood. So that squeak saved his life.

“I’d been after him to fix it before that, but he never got around to it, and he sure didn’t afterward. Then, when he died, I never had the heart to, but I’m glad you did, son, it’s time somebody took away my squeak.”
Jacob bade her farewell, picked up his toolbox, and left.

He had several other calls that day and was grateful that all of them were for more than ten dollars. It was after dark when he walked back to his building, and he entered it as carefully as he left it.

Coming to his front door, he put his key into the lock, turned the knob, and opened it.

“Squeak,” it said.

His teeth went on edge.

“Good, grief,” he muttered to himself. “I fix an old lady’s squeak and then I get one of my one. It’s like I brought it home with me.”

He closed the door and it squeaked again.

“Oh, man,” he said to the air, “there is no way I am going to put up with this.”

He put his tool box on the floor, opened it, and retrieve his flathead screwdriver from it so he could pry the pins out of the door. Then he began to look for the oil can, only to remember he’d left it at the old lady’s house.

“Maybe I’ve got some more in the kitchen,” he said and went there to look for some.

He’d opened a door and was in the process of moving some things around when he heard it.


The hair on his neck stood up straight.
Someone was in the apartment with him. As silently as he could, he slipped around behind the kitchen door.

He stood with his back to the wall and his flathead screwdriver held to the ready. The kitchen door silently opened and he saw the nose of an automatic pistol emerge from behind it.

Jacob didn’t even have to think. He slammed the door into the intruder as hard has he could, making the gun come loose and fall to the ground. In the struggle that followed, Jacob rammed the flathead screwdriver into the intruder’s throat where it found his carotid artery. Jacob called 911 but the intruder bled out before the ambulance could arrive.

The cops came shortly thereafter and got Jacob’s story.

“It looks like a clear cut case of self defense,” one of them said. “Don’t leave town, though.”

The other opened the door.

“Squeak,” it said.

“You ought to get that fixed,” the cop said.

“I don’t think so,” said Jacob.