Jack Alden delivered meals to the homebound. His charity service was a cover. He volunteered because Reggie Hatch’s elderly parent’s received Meals On Wheels each weekday.
Reggie’s parents lived in a run-down ranch house at the end of a dirt road outside the city limits. Any approaching car could be seen long before it arrived at the house.
Mom and Dad Hatch had done a poor job of raising their only son, Reginald. Reggie drank too much, hustled women and sold cars.
Reggie also gambled. He won and lost thousands. He had long action with the bookies, several allowed him to bet thousands on the cuff.
Reggie was good at peddling cars and worked his ass off to pay his gambling debts. But Reggie had lost that job six months ago. He quit paying his gambling debts. Rumors had him hiding out at his parent’s house.
Jack Alden had been hired to bring Reggie’s right index fingertip to Nate Williams. Williams was a sore bookie who possessed a copy of Reggie’s driver’s license with the fingerprint. Nate also had a stack of Reggie’s bad paper. He wanted the fingertip to certify a point to other potential no-pays; Do not a trifle with Nate Williams.
Jack carried a pair of pruning clippers in his back pocket to remove Reggie’s right index finger. Jack had been delivering meals on this same route for three weeks hoping to catch a glimpse of Reggie at his parent’s house
Reggie’s father, Ezra Hatch was always standing out on the covered porch when Jack Alden drove up the long road with the free lunches. Jack figured the old man wasn’t waiting for a meal. Ezra suffered from dementia. He didn’t know what he was waiting for. Mom Hatch was usually in the house. 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 clipped to a rope knotted to a porch pillar.
Old Ezra Hatch watched Jack get out of the car. He always asked the same question, “Does that car have air-conditioning?”
Jack always answered, “Yes.”
Ezra always had the same cat jumping up on him.
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.
Jack climbed the steps carrying the food. He didn’t knock on the door, instead he walked around the corner of the porch and peeked in through a side window. Viola! Reggie was sitting at the dinner table. His back was to the front door and he was playing what appeared to be solitaire.
Jack went back to the front door. He slowly turned the knob.
Reggie shouted, “Pa, shut the goddamn door!” while 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 Reggie’s skull.
Reggie’s brains splattered onto the cards.
Jack pulled the pruning clippers from his pocket and with one hard squeeze, the specified index finger dropped off Reggie’s hand. Jack dropped it into a baggie.
Mom Hatch 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. Ezra was standing at the open door. His mouth was wide open and eyes blinking hard as he backed away.
Jack walked out onto the porch. There was no need to shoot the old man. Ezra’s attention had turned back to petting the cat.
Jack placed the meals in the back seat. As he backed out, the old man shouted, “Does that car have air-conditioning?”
Jack smiled, “Yes. And it gets cold as hell in here.”