Celeste tidied the studio and cleaned the bathroom while Ben was gone. She tried to avoid watching the clock.
“I was worried,” she said when he returned.
“It took me over two hours to get to City Chemical. I bought five gallons of hydrochloric acid and two containers of potassium chlorate. After I lashed them with bungy-cables onto the luggage cart, I hiked back. I thought I’d lose a wheel a few times. It’s like rush hour of the walking dead on the bridge. Some guys helped me lift the cart down the steps on the Brooklyn side.”
“It’s lucky they couldn’t see what you were carrying.”
“Lucky the cops didn’t see what I had. I might’ve been arrested for carrying bombmaking materials.”
“The situation with Tzvi is unsustainable. I’ve checked; he’s gone well over our estimates for materials already. I heard one of the warehouse guys mention someone is sleeping in the back of the third-floor warehouse. It might be Tzvi.”
“You think so? We can’t let him do that. He’ll start a fire or worse. I’ll call Harold.”
“Also, I had an idea that we could make a Plexiglas booth for the acid with an exhaust fan in the window. What do you think?” Celeste showed Ben a drawing she’d done.
“That would be a big help.”
“We can get everything at the hardware store, except for the Plexiglas. How long can the strike last anyway?” asked Celeste.
“It could be a while. I saw Koch on the bridge asking pedestrians, ‘how’m I doing?’ He was yelling like it was a pep rally saying he won’t give in to threats.”
Ben phoned Harold and Tzvi to report he’d bought more acid, but he made Tzvi promise to leave the mixture alone. Tzvi agreed. Harold promised too. The next few days passed peacefully with Tzvi trying to make up for lost time, working in the studio more than sixteen hours a day, apparently living on tea and cigarettes. On Friday afternoon, Ben and Celeste’s friends picked them up for a weekend on Long Island to help with an installation. Tzvi loudly complained about having to stop his work but left with them at five.
When they returned to their loft after the weekend, Ben and Celeste’s eyes burned, their throats stung, and the air sparkled.
Ben coughed. “Look at the chains on the lights, the cabinet handles, the etching press. Everything’s rusted.”
Celeste lunged for her respirator, gloves, and goggles. “I checked before we left.” She approached the long sink and removed the lids from the two acid trays. “The solution is completely clear. Tzvi spiked it again. He must’ve had a key made and worked over the weekend.”
“That bastard!” Ben pulled his tee shirt over his nose as he rushed to open the windows.
He joined her after donning his protective gear. “Dilute the acid but don’t let it overflow. I’ll help you siphon it into the waste containers.”
“We’ve got to get rid of him, Ben,” said Celeste. “He’s going to kill us. Acid this strong can explode or cause skin and cornea burns. I read it can cause permanent organ damage.”
“I’m done with him,” said Ben. “Let’s call a meeting with Tzvi and Harold.”
Celeste dialed the phone. “Tzvi, the shop will be closed tomorrow. Come with Harold on Tuesday about 10am. Good-bye.” Before he could reply, she hung up.
They left the windows open and spent the night at a neighbor’s place on the fourth floor.
“What should we say to them?” asked Celeste as they lay in their sleeping bags. “We need to cancel the contract and throw them out. Agreed?”
4 thoughts on “The Contract”
Congratulations on the inclusion in the Saturday Evening Post’s anthology. This story manages to make me tense upon a second reading! A sure sign of great American fiction.
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Somehow this story seems so familiar….Great job and Congratulations !
Just a little!!!!