George leaned on the marble counter top of his chocolate shop. The light of the setting sun outlined the massive sweating chocolate swan figure examined by Denise, an event coordinator of some big corporation of which George couldn’t remember the name. His chocolate shop was on the second floor of San Antonio’s North Star Mall in between Neiman Marcus and Kay Jewelers. His chocolate shop was the oldest shop in the mall. He’d seen stores come and go while his shop continued to thrive. George could tell it was aging by the fading brown paint on the walls and the yellowing tile. The cash register was a model fit for the forties, but it wasn’t getting replaced by the new-age technology. George appreciated vintage technology and knew how it worked. George ran the shop by himself and relied on the company of Mitzi, his golden retriever. It was nearing Christmas and orders for his chocolate statues were growing by the week, however not growing as fast as they once did. He depended on this time of year to keep his shop open. The fourth quarter of sales was always the most laborious, but financially rewarding. A lot of people, including Denise, wanted a replica of the chocolate swan statue he kept in his temperature controlled window display. However, by the look of disgust on Denise’s face at the completed masterpiece, George grew furious.
“George, this chocolate swan just won’t do,” Denise said as she poked at the chocolate figurine.
“This swan figurine took me sixteen hours to complete!” he said. “It’s perfect.”
“No. It’s not perfect. I don’t like it. I’m not paying for it,” she said stubbornly.
Anger boiled inside him. He tried to remember his anger management tools. The first step was to count backwards from 100.
“You ordered it. I have your signature on this form,” he said shoving the order form in her face. “Someone’s paying me for this swan!”
“I don’t have to pay for it if I don’t pick it up!” she said, her tone matching his.
He lost count past seventy and met her gaze. In all of his years owning his chocolate shop, he never had a discontented customer. Yet here was this woman criticizing his work. He didn’t want to lose this sale. If she walked out the door, he would take a setback of $750. That’s a month’s rent alone.
“What do you want me to fix?” he asked trying to utilize his anger management tools by inhaling for six counts and exhaling for eight and focusing on the Van Gogh prints hanging in between merchandise shelves. “I won’t have time to completely recreate another swan.”
“Nothing,” she said. “I’ve got back-ups.”
“I see,” he said too calmly.
Rage welled up inside of him. He couldn’t take the risk of just letting her walk out the store. Too much time and effort went into this swan. She was going to pay.
Fear flashed across her face as she inched away from the counter, but it was too late. He grabbed his chocolate chipper and jammed the six spikes into her left temple. He let the chipper go as she fell to the ground, watching the life spill out of her into the blood pooling on the floor. He noticed her unlocked black leather brief case on the counter. Finding the American Express credit card, he ran it for the amount of the swan plus a $100 dollar tip.
Blood stained the handle and spread along the dark green marble tile toward the door. Horror coursed through him as he realized the mall was still open. It was ten minutes to 8 pm, the mall closed at 9 pm. However, being on the second floor on the opposite side of the movie theater, he was sure no one saw. He hurried around his display counters, nearly slipped on the blood, and made it out of his shop just as Mel, the security guard, was patrolling past Famous Footwear on the other side of Kay Jeweler’s.
“Evening, George,” Mel said with a smile. “Business good today?”
George nodded in his direction.
He picked up the sign with the holiday specials and moved it into the shop. He’d always like Mel, but now was not the ideal time for chit chat.
“Say, what’s that on your shoe?” he said.
George’s shoe was coated in blood. He also noticed the bloody footprints leading to the door. Panic stricken, George tried to remain calm. He hoped the sign covered the trail of footprints from Mel’s angle.
“Oh, uh, Mitzi knocked over a vat of red-colored white chocolate. I was trying something out for Valentine’s day,” he said. “In this light, I’m not so sure I like it. What do you think?”
“Looks like blood,” he said leaning to the right to peek into his shop. “Are you closin’ up early?”
“Yeah, uh, I’m remodeling,” he said shifting his weight slightly to the left to prevent Mel from seeing inside. “You gettin’ any time off for Christmas?”
“Nah, the family’s all comin’ to me this year,” he said. “So I figured I’ll stick around here a few extra days, build up some overtime. You and Mitzi ever gonna take a vacation?”
Of course he is going to stick around, George thought. He’s the only security guard who took his job seriously.
“With business boomin’ as it has been, maybe after the holidays,” he said. “Well, you have a good night, Mel, and a merry Christmas.”
“You, too, George,” he said. “Take it easy.”
Relief coursed through him once inside his shop. Mitzi wandered over to George sniffing everywhere. Bloody paw prints trailed all over his store.
“Mitzi! To the back,” he said, pointing.
George followed her back there to find bleach, a mop and trash bags.
An hour into cleaning, he realized Mel would be patrolling one last time to make sure everyone was out of the mall. He turned off the lights and placed the specials sign in front of the door. He held his breath as Mel peeked into his shop. George let out a sigh of relief.
It took him until midnight to clean up. Thankful his shop was closed on Sundays, he had plenty of time to get everything back to normal. Her body lay in the middle of the floor as he bleached around it. He had no idea what to do with her. Throw her in the dumpster. Burn her with the bloody rags and her clothes. Or dump her body in the Comal River in the little German town just up I-35. He dragged her body to his industrial freezer, hoping that freezing her would delay the smell.
He sat down on a stool facing his golden retriever who was sleeping next to his chocolate vat. George was proud of his vat. Sure, it was smaller than most, but it could fit a small human.
“That’s it!” he said. He got up and examined the dimensions of his vat and then went to his freezer to measure Denise.
Mitzi awoke from the sudden burst of energy from George and whined for attention.
“Mitzi. It’s perfect. I’ll make her into a sculpture! It’ll be my best one yet,” he said. She laid her head down and watched him.
George could not even think about sleep, he was too invested in his idea.
“I’ll do the Nike of Samothrace. The drapery is so pristine and powerful… Then again, maybe no one will appreciate it. Or, even better, the Venus de Milo,” he said with a devious grin.
He constructed a big enough mold for her bottom half to make the drapery and found a saw to cut off her arms just above the elbow.
He set her body in the corner where the freezer met the back wall. He looked at her blue-tinted limbs and smiled. No one would know it was her. She had the perfect straight nose and cheek bones.
It took six hours for her bottom half to set in the square mold in the freezer. He bundled up in a sweatshirt and heavy duty gardening gloves and started sawing her left arm. He was usually grateful for escaping into the freezer for a few moments from the infamous humidity, but not today. He was in that freezer until both arms came off.
“Damn it, Mitzi. This blade is dull,” he said. She was reclining on her bed in her favorite spot watching him attempt to saw Denise’s arms off.
“Of course it’s dull,” he said.
Out of anger, he sawed her semi-frozen left shoulder even harder. The bone cracked and he abandoned the saw to rotate the arm. He almost lost his balance as it came off, and threw it toward the vat nearly hitting Mitzi.
“Sorry, Mitzi, don’t look at me like that,” he said. “It’s just an arm. Not even a good one.”
Her right arm came off easier than the left. He worked at a Hell-bent pace, pouring chocolate in a mold onto the top half of her body. He let it set for another six hours and started chipping away the drapery on the bottom half. Thankful for the long curtains hiding the light of his workspace, he was able to work in peace all of Sunday. George worked without any breaks and only coffee as fuel to keep him going. It took him until the rising sun of Monday to gently chip and carve every last detail into the Venus de Milo sculpture. He wheeled her into the display case. Holding his breath as he set her up in the middle, George was pleased at how well she turned out.
With thirty minutes to 8 a.m., when his store opened, he brewed coffee, set out chocolates and turned the display lights on. He made sure the window display was set at the correct temperature and firmly pressed on the door to make sure it was shut. He glanced out to see expert shoppers racing each other to the shops. One man even tripped an elderly woman to get to the Nike shoe display just outside of Famous Footwear. A couple swiftly stepped in front of another couple to look at engagement rings in Kay Jewelers. George shook his head as he did one last sweep of his shop and then unlocked the door, ready to face the mad rush of the holidays.
Toward midday, a family came into his shop. George was busy checking his Venus as well as adding a few candy coated flowers to accessorize her. He realized that the small pedestal had cracked beneath her weight and she was leaning ever so slightly toward the door of the display. This made George extremely nervous, but he had to attend to the family.
“What can I do for you?” he said walking toward them, unintentionally leaving the door unlatched to the display case.
“We’re just lookin’,” the young man said. “Your statue is fantastic!”
The very pregnant woman was holding hands with their little girl, who couldn’t have been over the age of four.
“Do you do commissions?” she said massaging her bulging belly. “We’re renewing our vows and thought it would be fun to have a chocolate statue at the reception.”
The little girl broke free of her mother’s hand and wandered toward the display.
“Of course, I’ve got my portfolio here,” George said watching the little girl as he reached under the counter.
The little girl was trying to open the door to the display case.
“Hey, what’s your kid doin’ over there?” he said handing the book to the young man.
“Bailey, get over here. Don’t touch that,” the woman said as they leafed through the book.
“She’s still over there,” George said.
“Bailey, mommy said to get over here,” she said turning to Bailey, who was trying to get inside his display case.
The man was leaning on the part of the counter that lifted up, releasing George to save his Venus from the tainted hands of the toddler.
“Sir, could you please go get your daughter. She’s ruining my statue,” he said as Bailey started hitting the statue, making her wobble dangerously.
“Bailey! Get over here,” the man said and turned to face his daughter, threatening to count to three. Bailey ignored him and continued hitting Venus.
George barely lifted the counter and watched in horror as his Venus went crashing to the floor. A chunk of chocolate chipped off her nose.
“Nose? Nose? Nose?” said Bailey pointing to the tip of her nose and the tip of Denise’s nose.
“Bailey!” said her mother. “Are you alright? Steve, you were supposed to be watching her!”
“I counted!” he said defensively. “She never listens to me, thanks to you.”
“Nose! Nose! Nose!” said Bailey pointing at the exposed nose of Denise.
George was stunned. This couldn’t be real.
“Oh my God, you are so stupid, Steve. She’s four years old, of course she won’t listen to you,” she said. “Bailey! We need to go. I’m so sorry, sir.”
“Get out of my shop,” George said, panic rising.
Grabbing Bailey, the young couple left the shop in a rush.
In the midst of fixing her nose, Mel casually walked up.
“Hiya, George,” he said. “I saw what happened on the security feed.”
“Damn kids,” he said. “This is why I never had kids. They always wreck everything.”
“Need any help?” he said squatting to George’s level.
He was uncomfortably close to the exposed tip of the nose. George’s shoulders tensed.
“Say, what did you use as a mold?” he asked bending over her face.
“Sponges,” he said. “I soaked ‘em, then threw them in the freezer and carved them.”
Together they hauled the Venus back into the display.
“That chip doesn’t look bad, George,” he said. “You could probably just stick a Hershey kiss on the end and smooth it out.”
“Not a bad idea, Mel,” he said, relaxing his shoulders. “Not a bad idea. Thanks for your help.”
With that, Mel casually walked away. George shut the door to the display case and studied his Venus.
“You know what, Mitzi,” he said as she walked up to him, her tail wagging enthusiastically. “I’m thinking Paris for our vacation. What do you think?”