Bad Rinse by Ken Miller

The dishwasher was dead for several days. It begged for help awhile, made a couple of futile threats and finally stopped in the middle of a rinse.

Podlowski kept saying he’d fix it but just pulled the door. The door sat in the kitchen until Yvonne moved it to the back porch, losing half the screws en route. A new dishwasher was out of the question. Podlowski hadn’t worked for months and there was no way he would watch the kids if she found something. He considered himself on call. Yvonne figured he was as likely to be called to be Pope as for anything local that paid better than minimum wage.

She was up to her elbows in dish water when he hollered for a can of beer. Yvonne wiped her hands on her jeans and reached in the back of the ‘frig. Pulling out the beer she tipped over the ketchup bottle somebody put away upside down and only loosely closed. Ketchup poured onto the shelf. She swiped at it with her fingers and put the bottle right.

Between the dish water and the ketchup she had a lousy hold on the can of PBR; it slipped out of her hand, bounced on the floor and rolled in a corner. Yvonne wiped ketchup off the can and took it to Podlowski in the living room. He was watching something about duck hunting and didn’t look at her or the beer.

“Here,” she said.

Podlowski stuck out his hand and she inserted the can. When he pulled the tab, beer sprayed in his face and over his shirt.

“Stupid bitch!” he yelled.

She was already headed to the kitchen and turned around. Beer foamed out of the can and Yvonne started laughing.

“Sorry,” she said. “I dropped it.”

“It’s funny to you? You ever had beer in your eye, you dumb shit?”

Podlowski stood, and straddling the foot rest hurled the can at her, a spiral trailing foam. The can banged off Yvonne’s forehead and she dropped to her knees, beer and blood dripping into her left eye. Podlowski stared at her.

“Vonnie, babe, I’m sorry,” he said. “Lemme look at it.”

He started walking toward her but Yvonne held up both hands.

“I’m fine,” she said. “Leave me alone. I’m good.”

Podlowski studied her forehead from the edge of the living room and took another step.

“I said stay away!” she screamed.

“Yeah, fine. Look, I’m sorry.”

“Leave me alone, okay?”

Podlowski sat down in the recliner and jumped up moments later when he heard a thud in the kitchen. He found Yvonne face down in a puddle of dish water, her legs out, sobbing.

“You need help,” he told her. “Look, I know you’re pissed. But lemme help you.”

She didn’t look at him. “Leave me alone,” she whispered.


The first call reported yelling.

“They fight all the time,” the neighbor said.

Dispatch checked the address and made a note.

The second call reported a gunshot. Dispatch called for the nearest patrol car and Civitek grinned at his partner.

“Gonna see a little action, Ray-bo,” he said.

“What, you think this domestic’s action?” Ray Heinz asked. “Man, you oughta join the Marines or some shit, you need action so bad. Or find a bar fight. I’m all about peace and love, pardner.”

“You never know, bud. Might find action anywhere.”

He rubbed his hands together and waggled his eyebrows at Ray.

They were a half mile out when dispatch reported two children entered the house. The cops exchanged looks.

“And you doubted,” Civitek said. “Game face, buddy. It’s save the children time.”

Ray looked grim.

They drove through the quiet streets with lights flashing, fast but quiet, blowing through unmarked intersections and only  hitting the siren when cars lingered in front of them.

“What a hole,” Civitek said as they pulled up.

The older clapboard house needed paint and a new window upstairs; the yard was overgrown and the rickety picket fence was missing a gate. A couple of plastic riding toys sat by the front steps.

Ray gestured at the riding toys.

“Kids are little,” he said. “We know anything else?”

“Names. Podlowski, Adam and Yvonne, early thirties. Utility payment is late. Concealed carry permit for Adam. Couple of bar fights, also Adam. One vehicle, Ford truck.”

Civitek looked around and saw the truck at the curb. A rear quarter panel had a lot of Bondo; the passenger window was down.

He checked with dispatch.

“Nothing new from the neighbors since the children entered,” dispatch said. “Do you want back-up?”

Civitek looked at Ray, who shrugged.

“Negative, dispatch,” Civitek said. “We’ll handle it.”

They walked to the trunk of the patrol car and pulled on vests. Civitek unlocked the shotgun and checked the load. When he looked up Ray was studying him.

“You sure about that?” Ray asked.

“Better safe, bro. I’ll go left.”

They split up at the front door and duck-walked around the two sides of the house, slowly standing to peer in windows. When Civitek saw Yvonne holding the pistol he dropped back into his crouch and spoke to Ray on the intercom.

“Gun,” he said. “Woman, thirty-ish, living room. She has a gun.”

Ray responded a moment later.

“I’m right across from you. I see her. Guy’s in a chair. Looks like his hands are tied behind him. I don’t see the kids.”

“Okay,” Civitek said. “You go in the front nice and easy, lotta conversation. I’ll go to the back.”

“We don’t know it’s a hostage,” Ray said. “Let’s start slow.”

“Dude, it’s a hostage. She has the husband tied up and two little kids in there.”

Ray didn’t respond.

“Let’s go,” Civitek said.

“On my way,” Ray answered.

He knocked on the front door, heard nothing and knocked again.

“Springfield police, Mrs. Podlowski,” he said. “Open the door please.”

More silence. Ray tried the door but it was locked. He spoke quietly to Civitek.

“I’m kicking it in. We got imminent danger, right?”

“Exactly, bro,” Civitek said. “Imminent as hell. Kick away.”

Ray held his gun in two hands pointed up. His boot was in the air to kick the door knob when a little boy opened the door and stared at the gun. Ray blew out a breath and dropped the gun to his side.

“Hi,” he said to the boy, smiling.

Leaning into his shoulder mic, he reported to Civitek.

“Boy opened the door. I’m going in.”

Ray stepped through the doorway and pushed the boy outside.

“Go next door, okay?” he whispered to the boy, crouching down.

The boy stared and Ray put a couple of fingers on his shoulder.


The boy nodded.

“Who else is in there?” Ray asked.

“My sister,” the boy said, “And mommy and daddy. Mommy is hurt on her head. She has daddy’s gun. We’re not supposed to play with it.”

“Oh,” Ray said. “Where’s your sister?”

“With mommy. Playing with Jane.”

“I don’t know about Jane.”

“Jane’s her doll,” the boy said.

“Ah. You the big brother or the little brother?”

The boy grinned.


Ray nodded approvingly.

“Okay, big guy. Go next door. Say the police told you to stay inside. If nobody’s home, you go to the next house. Okay?”


The boy hurried out of the yard. When he was gone Ray stepped further into the house, sliding along the wall, gun at his side.

“Police, Mrs. Podlowski. I’d like to talk with you.”

“In here,” a man called. “Help us, please.”

“Shut up!”

This was a woman’s voice, loud and hoarse.

People are loud when theyre scared, Ray told himself. Nice and easy.

“Vonnie, c’mon,” the man said.

Ray heard a shot and a child screamed. A split second later he heard a crashing noise he figured was Civitek coming through the back door.  Ray rushed to the living room and glimpsed Podlowski clutching his thigh, blood spurting through his fingers. Yvonne was already spun around to the back.

Civitek’s vest stopped the shot but the shot stopped Civitek. He staggered to the doorway between the kitchen and the living room. His shotgun blasted the ceiling and for the next fews seconds everything was muffled. As Ray fired at Yvonne she snapped another round at Civitek, this one through his face, and then a third shot as she fell.

Her last bullet shattered the back window, though with the distractions of the little girl’s screaming and the blood gushing from Podlowski’s thigh, his roars of pain and Yvonne crawling to her husband, still holding the Glock, Ray didn’t know the window broke until later.