Man walking up to man standing on porch.

Illustration: Inkshark

fiction by Darin Z. Krogh

Jack Alden was not the kind of guy who delivered meals to the homebound. He hated old people. His charity service was a cover. He volunteered because Dag Jensen’s elderly parents received Meals On Wheels each weekday.

Dag’s parents lived in a run-down ranch house at the end of a dirt road out just outside the city limits. Any approaching car could be seen long before it arrived at the house.

Mom and Dad Jensen had done a poor job of raising their only son, Reginald. Dag drank too much, hustled women and sold cars, new and old, at the same San Bruno dealership for twenty years. That was rare stability in the car business. Sometimes Dag didn’t come to work for several days; people figured he had something dirty on Ralph Worthington, who owned the dealership.

Dag also gambled. He won and lost thousands. His reliability gave him long action with the bookies; several allowed him to bet thousands on the cuff.

Dag had always paid his gambling debts even if it meant mortgaging his home or selling his assets. Dag was up and down financially over the years. He floated along because he was good at peddling cars and worked his ass off to pay his gambling debts. But he had lost that job six months ago. Maybe he lost his blackmail hold on Ralph Worthington. Whatever, he quit paying his debts. Rumors had him hiding out at his parents’ house.

Jack Alden had been hired to bring Dag’s right index fingertip to Nate Williams. Williams was a sore bookie who possessed a copy of Dag’s driver’s license with the fingerprint. Nate also had a stack of Dag’s bad paper. He wanted the fingertip to certify a point to other potential no-pays; Do not trifle with Nate Williams. The penalty was up to and including death.

Jack carried a pair of pruning clippers in his back pocket to remove Dag’s right index finger when he finally located him. Jack had been delivering meals on this same route for three weeks hoping to catch a glimpse of Dag at his parents’ house. He had spent two weeks driving other meal districts waiting for Dag’s parents’ route to come open.

Dag’s father, Arvid Jensen, was always standing out on the covered porch when Jack Alden drove up the long road with the lunch. Jack figured the old man wasn’t waiting for the free meal. Arvid suffered from dementia. He didn’t know what he was waiting for. Mom Jensen was usually in the house. She was slow to answer the door and almost never came out on the porch. Jack had time to look in windows for any sign of the couple’s errant son.

The same ritual took place each time Jack arrived. The old man never left the porch. He had a leather collar around his ankle that was clipped to a rope knotted to a porch pillar.

Old Arvid Jensen watched Jack get out of the car. He always asked the same question, “Does that car have air conditioning?”

Jack always answered, “Yes.” Every time.

Arvid had the same cat jumping up on him. Every time.

Jack always asked, “Is that your cat?”

The old guy always answered, “No, she lives up the road a ways. But she comes down here and spends the day. Then goes home at night.”

“I had a wife like that,” Jack always commented.

The old man always chuckled like he’d never heard it before. He seemed to get it, over and over again, dementia or not.

Jack climbed the steps carrying the food containers past the old man. He didn’t knock on the door; instead he walked around the corner of the porch and peeked in through a side window. Voilà! There was Dag sitting at the dinner table. His back was to the front door and he was playing what appeared to be solitaire.

Jack sat the meals down and went back to the front door. He slowly turned the knob.

When the door was wide open, Dag shouted, “Pa, shut the goddamn door!” But he did not turn around to face the door; he kept his eyes on the cards laid out before him on the table.

Three steps later, Jack had a gun at the back of Dag’s skull and pulled the trigger.

Dag’s brains splattered onto the cards. His head dropped onto the middle of his solitaire game.

Jack pulled the pruning clippers from his pocket and with one hard squeeze, the specified index finger dropped off Dag’s hand. Jack picked the finger up and dropped it into a baggie.

Mrs. Jensen came running from the kitchen. When she saw her son’s head resting in a growing pool of blood, she screamed.

Jack had no choice but to shoot the old woman. He turned to see Arvid standing at the open door. His mouth was wide open and eyes blinking hard, several times in succession.

Jack pushed the old man aside and walked out onto the porch to retrieve the meal boxes. There was no need to shoot the old man. Arvid’s attention had turned back to petting the cat.

Jack placed the meals in the back seat and started up his car. As he backed out, the old man shouted, “Does that car have air conditioning?”

Jack smiled and shouted, “yeah. It gets cold as hell in here.”

Darin Z. Krogh is a lifetime Spokane resident, aged but not decrepit. He has stories published in various newspapers, anthologies, and magazines during the last 25 years. He lives high on the Sunset Hill overlooking the daily lives of Spokane citizens below. Darin took eight years to graduate from a four-year college. He is curious but innocent.

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 1, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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The Norwegian American

The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.