BLOOD on the BALUSTRADE


By Christian Belz



Denver Nickel didn't like Walter Greun. Walter's ultra modern house, with its flat roof and floor-to-ceiling windows, was a boil on the breathtaking face of the neighborhood. For years Denver had longed to retire to Gaylord's serene wooded sites and rustic half-timber homes. The charming, tranquil setting provided a place he could enjoy life. That house disrupted his peace; it was an abomination.

The final straw came when Walter announced plans to build CasinosNorth, a project that would bring an onslaught of gambling and show activity to town.

"What gives this outsider the right to meddle in our affairs?" Denver ranted to his son.

"Dad, it's ridiculous. We've lived here — what — twelve years. He moves to town and in nothing flat builds that atrocious house and starts this infernal project."

"Exactly. Do you know how much traffic will be generated? I came up here for peace and quiet, not the hullabaloo that will swiftly follow."

"You're right Dad, it's a mess."

"I will do something about this, Son," Denver muttered. "Mark my words."

* * *

Walter Greun had retired to Gaylord after a lifetime of developing shopping centers with respectable neighborhood stores, solidly constructed with straightforward classic design. Finally with time to devote to himself, he built his dream home, with clean lines and a flat roof. He admired an architect that could cut out the bull-crap fakery and allow the home's elements to speak for themselves. Let the glass express the window; face the openings toward the best view; welcome the exterior landscape to the interior; and show off the structure inside, embracing it as part of the whole.

Not long after settling into his new home, however, he realized that the quiet life, the rest he had looked forward to, was too sedate. His mind, accustomed to working hard and laboring over details, could not slow down.

"Hilde, why do you suppose they don't have casinos up here?" he asked his wife.

"Walt, let it go. We came here to rest."

"Seems like this would be a prime location. I-75 provides easy access, there's available land, and plenty of ancillary enterprises."

"Shut up. We're not doing another project."

Hilde was a pain. We were not doing a project! She always included herself. Didn't she understand his needs? He had worked to exhaustion every day of their married life. Why did she fight him on everything? Where was her respect?

Hilde looked up. "Walter, let's get away for the weekend."

"But we're already away." Walter grimaced. "That's why we moved up here."

"Look at this," Hilde shoved a newspaper in his face. "A wine weekend! There's wine tasting, a talk about varieties of cheeses, not to mention fifty varieties of chocolate! You know how I love chocolate."

"Let me see that."

The Bed and Breakfast advertised a weekend in Traverse City, one of Walter's favorite towns. It would be a nice change of scenery. He appreciated good wine, and the three days at the resort would be a pleasant diversion.

* * *

Hilde Greun was sick and tired of her husband. Before, when he was working and kept out of the house, she could deal with him. But bearing his disposition day-in and day-out provided relentless grief. How would she stand it for the next up-teen years? Hopefully, the wine-tasting weekend would ease her stress, at least momentarily. Otherwise, she might fall into trouble. She liked that nice man in town; Denver was his name. Such a pleasant sort. He was a retired contractor, giving them things to talk about. He was a widower, poor soul, and he spoke of his departed wife with endless affection.

Not to mention, the way his blue eyes twinkled made her smile inside.

* * *

The manner in which Hilde's face lit up was beyond description. "I looked at the virtual tour of the bedrooms on-line. With the antique white pillow shams, ruffled bedspreads, and the Victorian furniture it's so charming I can't stand it! Each room even has a candelabra."

Denver stroked his groomed beard, "I haven't heard you sound so thrilled about anything before, not even the fruit-nut bread you raved about last month."

Hilde smiled coyly. "Oh, yes, that bread was something else entirely."

Receiving word of Walter and Hilde's trip, Denver knew it was time to strike. Though he relished Hilde's company and looked forward to their "accidental" coffee meetings, his obsession to banish Walter took precedence. Forty years in construction provided the background knowledge to enable him to put forth his nefarious plan.

Three weeks before, he had secretly climbed on the roof of Walter's house to explore the roof drains. The flat roof sloped about a foot from one side to the other, with three main roof drains in the plane of the roof, and three slightly elevated overflow drains. The parapet, an extension of the side wall of the house, projected up above the roof about two feet, creating a perfect "bathtub." The house was cut into the side of the hill, two story glass facing the lake, the roof of the structure nestled into the wooded shrubbery on the back. At that end, he could easily climb onto the roof from the hill. He inspected the cast-iron drains, taking note of the make and model number.

After his exploration, he had purchased a drain of the same type, six hundred feet of garden hose, eight hundred feet of high-strength poly-rope, and two large pulleys. In his work-shop, he cast a rubber plug to fit into the drain, complete with steel pull-ring. He verified that the test plug was water-tight in the drain, then molded five more.

Denver's house sat behind Walter's, on the up-side of the hill away from the lake, his address on an entirely different street.

Walter and Hilde pulled out of their driveway, heading out for the weekend on Friday. Early the next morning, Denver broke into their home. Its exposed structure provided easy access to the roof trusses. All he needed was a tall ladder. The trusses were constructed of glued-laminated wood members bolted together through metal gusset plates at the joints. He used a wrench to remove half of the bolts, taking care to extract them from scattered, strategic locations. The water would do the rest.

The houses in the neighborhood were spread out, and the natural wooded areas in-between assured he wouldn't be seen. He climbed onto the roof carrying his cast-rubber drain plugs, removed the bee hive drain covers, and one-by-one inserted the six plugs. To each pull-ring he tied a section of rope, extending the rope across a pulley which was suspended from a tree that over-hung the roof. The ropes continued over the second pulley to the base of the tree, where he tied them securely. As the roof fell in, the drain plugs would pull free, dangling from the rope. He would reclaim them later, using the pulley system.

He leaped off the roof, and reached into the bed of leaves at the tree line, grabbing the garden hose which he had snaked through the woods from his house earlier in the week. He pulled it onto the roof, laying enough of it until he was certain it would not back off. All he needed to do now was return to his house and turn on the water.

He figured that about twenty inches of water would add a weight of more than a hundred pounds per square foot, or roughly a hundred tons in all, much more than the snow load the roof had been designed for. With the truss bolts removed, the roof should collapse long before water filled to top of the parapet.

* * *

Walter and Hilde enjoyed their first night at the Bed and Breakfast. They had met the others at dinner on Friday, and they had initiated the casual friendships which would develop over the weekend.

On Saturday, they had a relaxing time watching a tennis match on the grounds, then took part in a local winery tour. Bus service and finger food was included. Unexpectedly, Walter received a phone call just before dinner, as he and Hilde lounged in the sitting room, enjoying a glass of wine.

"No, I'm out of town. I can't meet you tonight. Uh-huh...Uh-huh...Well, that doesn't mean I have to drop...Oh...Well, I'm out here with my wife...Yes, very well." Walter shoved the cell phone back in his pocket.

Hilde glowered.

"Peter is coming up, I have to sign some papers for the Brighton deal." He raised his glass, downing the last of the burgundy liquid.

"Now? But Walter — "

"Yes, Dear, it has to be done now. Don't give me that look. Save your worries, I'll be back before you know it."

"Can't he come here?"

"No. There are some files upstairs that I need to check." To cushion his abrupt departure, Walter leaned over and bestowed a peck on his wife's cheek. "I'll be back before bedtime."

* * *

Hilde diverted herself by accepting an offer to join one of the guests, a distinguished older gentleman, to dinner.

"I'm so glad for your company, Duncan," she cooed. "Honestly, I'm thankful for the break from Walter's incessant yammering. This change of scenery is not doing as much for my mood as I had hoped."

"You are a lovely woman," Duncan noted with a smile. "If you don't mind my saying so, Walter doesn't seem to understand what he has underneath his own roof."

Hilde didn't mind at all.

* * *

Though Walter was officially retired, he was occasionally consulted on business matters, particularly since he retained ownership interest in several of the properties. It jerked his chain, however, when others dallied until the last minute, and suddenly an emergency was laid at his feet.

Walter dropped the car in the driveway. A quick meeting and he would return to his wine weekend. He dashed upstairs, retrieved the needed paperwork, backtracked to the lower level and entered the kitchen.

Peter was a half hour late. Walter hated waiting! He was punctual, why couldn't others extend the same courtesy?

"It's about time," Walter nearly yelled as Peter arrived.

"I'm sorry sir, the exit on Old 27 was closed, and I had to — "

"Look, I don't care. There's coffee in the kitchen, it's probably burnt by now, but you're welcome to partake. Hand me those papers; I'll glance them over while you pour yourself a cup."

Peter sighed. What a testy old man. He fixed his coffee, and hesitated before returning to the living room.

"These documents are all wrong," Walter shouted. "Why do inept people surround me? Get back in here, young man, let me show you what needs fixing."

Walter spent an hour and a half, poring over the documents word by word, illustrating what changes he required.

The meeting lasted much longer than Walter anticipated, and didn't culminate in resolution, as the revisions would be couriered the next evening, requiring another review.

Walter was exhausted. As Peter departed, Walter phoned Hilde to convey his change in plans. He would return to Traverse City early in the morning. He lowered himself onto the bed, oblivious to the small drip squeezing through the roof boards in the corner of the room.

* * *

That evening, Denver checked on the progress of the water. He estimated it would require about ten hours for the water level to reach a foot. It was difficult to gage exactly, in the dark, but it appeared to be inching upward.

He glanced to the driveway and spotted Walter's car. "We can't have that," he muttered under his breath.

He sprinted to the front door, and slowly pulled it open. He poked his head in. The living room was shrouded in darkness, but a ray of light shone down the stairway from upstairs.

"Walter?" he called out. Nothing. "Walter!" he called louder, as he proceeded up the stairway. "Walter! You've got to get out of here Walter!" Denver implored, bounding up the remaining stairs.

"What?" a gruff voice returned. "Who's here?" Walter appeared at his bedroom doorway. "How did you get in here? Get out!"

"Really, Walter, you have got to leave." Denver strode across the hall toward the home's owner. "Your life is in danger." Denver grabbed Walter by the shirt, and turned on his heels, trying to shove Walter in the direction of the door.

Walter broke free and picked up a utility knife he had employed earlier for a book repair. He jabbed the blade toward Denver's face. "I'm not leaving my own house. I'm tired. Get out before I call the police."

"No you don't!" Denver shouted.

"We'll see," and Walter reached for the bedside phone.

Denver eyed a bowling trophy on the dresser. He grasped it like a baseball bat, approached Walter from behind."Drop the phone!"

Walter's fingers still curled around the phone, he whirled around, striking at Denver with the knife, inflicting a deep gash on his arm. Denver brought the statue down on Walter's bald head with savage anger. Walter crumpled in a heap.

Denver scrambled out of the bedroom, blood trailing down his arm. The wound burned. Starting down the stairs, he stopped to steady himself on the wood railing. A hollow creaking sound above caused him to jerk his head up. The water! He pushed the pain aside, leaped down the stairs, bolted out the door, and climbed up the hill to his house.

* * *

Kitty Greun silently entered her estranged father's house, and heard the arguing upstairs. Though it frightened her, she would be less than a minute. Denver's son had confided to her about his father's plan to collapse the house. The silly boy was worried. Kitty saw this as a perfect opportunity to grab her favorite Leroy Neiman. The theft, of course, would be obliterated by the crash. Lovingly, she took the silkscreen serigraph — Joe Namath handing off the football in Superbowl III — from the wall, and waltzed out the front door.

* * *

Denver Nickel had not intended to kill Walter Greun. But now, that ghastly house was gone; there would be no CasinosNorth; and Hilde was a free woman. Perhaps he would call her, and console her at her time of grief.

The garden hose was retracted. The plugs were retrieved by using the pulley system. His plan to demolish the house had worked nearly flawlessly.

Unfortunately for Denver Nickel, the struggle with Walter had left an ugly scar on his arm, and his DNA-laden blood dripping down Walter's balustrade.


Christian Belz has been a practicing architect in the Metro Detroit area for 26 years and is currently writing an Architectural Murder Mystery. His short story "Gate Trouble" was published in The Storyteller Magazine, in the Jan/Feb/Mar 2011 issue. The short story "Origins" won the Grand Prize in Writers' Journal Write-to-Win Contest, February 2008, and was published in the July/August 2008 issue. The short story "I Never Thought" won Honorable Mention in Writers' Journal Romance Contest, July 2008, and was published in the May/June 2010 issue.

He currently lives with his son in Berkley, Michigan.


Copyright 2011 Christian Belz. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!


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