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"Two for Dinner" by Edward Ahern

I watched a fly join several others on an adhesive strip. I wondered how long it would take him to die. A day or two at least. I also wondered how Oscar Blaisdale could tolerate having so many vermin in his house, but then smiled. I was the human vermin Oscar had brought inside.


We met at an AA meeting. I was on my fourth attempt that year to get clean. Oscar said he had twenty years in the program. Maybe. The other drunks and druggies had only vague recollections of seeing him around.


Oscar took me aside after the third meeting we’d been at together. “I’ve been listening to your story, Rolf. I was homeless myself some years ago.”


I wondered, given the apparent sympathy, if I could hit him up for a twenty. “Yeah it’s been hard. Everybody uses at the shelter I’m at, it’s a joke.”


Oscar nodded. “I might have a temporary option for you. But I have to ask you to keep this just between you and me.”


I half closed my eyes. I’d been scammed before by pros. “I’m out on probation, I don’t do anything illegal.”


“No, no, nothing bent about it. I’ve got to go on a week’s business trip and I need someone to live in my house until I get back.”


My street smarts were twinging like first day withdrawal. “What would I need to do?”


“House cleaning. Basic security. I’m in and out a lot, and I’ve been broken into. I’d need to have you there twenty-four-seven. That’s important, you wouldn’t be able to leave the house at all for the whole week. If you leave early there’s no payoff. And if you come, I’m going to pat you down for drugs and booze. Absolutely no getting high. If that’s a deal breaker just say so.”


 “What’s it pay?”


“A hundred twenty a day cash, food and drinks provided. There’s streaming and internet, I’m not a savage.”


I looked more closely at him. Old, really old, but still dressed expensive. Skinny, no, stringy, like he had strength left. I needed the money bad, but still wanted to turn Oscar down. Then I remembered the rip offs and abuse at the halfway house. I almost said no again when I realized I’d have no contacts for my dry goods of choice. But $1700 would give me walking around money. And there were other guys from the meeting who would shove me aside to take the job. 


“When would it be?”


“Sunday afternoon around 4pm. I can pick you up. No problem if you don’t want to.” Oscar’s smile was agreeable.


“Can I get some upfront money?”


“Sorry, no, payment on completion.”


“I have to call my P.O.”


“You can call whoever you like.”


“Why really couldn’t I leave the house?”


“One junky to another, I need you clean so you can keep a proper watch.”


“What about meetings?”


“There’s plenty of AA Zoom meetings you can join. You can use my laptop.”


I was out of questions, but the low-grade fear still nagged. “You gonna lock me in so I don’t steal stuff?”


Oscar frowned. “Nope. Just call me if you decide to walk away before the end of the week. No money payable though.”


If I changed my mind, I could always tell Oscar to go screw. “Okay, you got a deal.”


I didn’t back out. Oscar arrived in his Prius the next day, patted me down and went through my rucksack. Then he drove me for a half hour out of town and up to an isolated house. There were exterior security cameras. 


Oscar gave me a hustle along tour of his surprisingly large home. Four bedrooms upstairs, finished attic further up, dining, living, study, kitchen, TV room ground floor. All requiring dusting and cleaning. The door to the basement had two key locks.


“That where the valuable stuff is?” I asked. 


Oscar laughed. “Not salable, but important to me. I keep my history down there. The house has security alarms and ground floor motion detectors, programmed from upstairs and to my phone. I set the alarm every night at 10pm, release it every morning at 6:30. You need to be upstairs all night. If you set off the alarm the cops will charge me $150 to come, which I’ll take out of your pay.” 


The house was furnished in down market motel; other than the laptop and the flat screen there wasn’t anything I could have made money off of. “No offense, but why bother with a house sitter?”


Oscar quit smiling. “I value my privacy more than you can imagine, and I punish violators.” He gave a sideways glance at me- I was still 6’2”, but the 230 pounds had wasted away to 170. Figured I still had enough beef to throw him around if I needed to, but he didn’t look worried.


“Oh,” I said.


“I precooked our dinner, let me just thaw it out and warm it up. I hope you like Goulash.”


“That’s beef stew, right? Should be fine.”


“Kind of.”


While Oscar rattled and bustled in the kitchen, I turned on a football game I didn’t give a damn about, and wondered if I’d mis-figured things. Then, bored, I set the table in the kitchen and poured iced tea and water. As Oscar was chopping, a little onion rolled off the counter and under the refrigerator. Without hesitation or apparent exertion, he stooped down, put one hand under the appliance and tilted it six inches up, grabbing the onion with his free hand. I could have maybe done it two handed straining and cursing. He was strong, real strong.


He noticed my gawk. “It’s just leverage.”


Oscar had prepared noodles and French bread to go with the stew, but he didn’t eat either of them, just a big mound of meat.


It was heavily spiced, not mouth burning, but very herbed. The meat tasted funny, like it was a little off. Not beef. “What kind of meat is it?”


His smile came back, but twisted a bit. “It’s aged pork. I like to hang my meat a bit before I eat it.”


“Oh.” I ate it, it was better than the slop we usually got at the halfway house. Bits of the skin were occasionally attached to the meat chunks, but I cut around them. Oscar shoveled down the meat so indiscriminately I thought of a dog at its bowl. Which surprised me, he’d struck me as an elegant type. 


After I’d done the dinner dishes, he showed me how to get on the laptop and get the streaming channels on the TV, then left me to go down to the basement, relocking the door behind him. About a quarter to ten he came upstairs with a five-gallon jar that he stuck in the refrigerator. “It’s 10 pm,” he said, “time to go upstairs. Take the laptop with you if you like.”


Once upstairs he set the house alarm and waved me to my room. It was so bare it qualified for a monk. I’d been trying to mask my twitchies all evening, but was pretty sure that as a fellow alum Oscar had noticed them. Alone in the room I let myself short circuit.  The hit I’d taken just before he’d picked me up was long over, and I was cold sweating. Sleep wasn’t going to come easy, so I waited until Oscar was most probably asleep, took out a little mag light from my duffel, and walked over to the alarm key pad. Five keys with repeated smudges. If I could watch the way his hands moved in the morning, I might be able to suss out the combination. 


That next morning Oscar tossed a small suitcase in the Prius and left me alone with the flies. The front door really was unlocked. I was pretty sure I was a long way from the nearest dealer, and I needed the money, so I stayed put, nerves screaming. I almost gave in and pulled the tape from the taint between my balls and my asshole, but didn’t. Save those hits for the worst, I thought. 


I gave the house closer inspection. The cellar door locks were Yales, okay but not top end.  The refrigerator held bacon, eggs, frozen veggies, juice, milk and the jar of meat. The kitchen shelves were pretty bare, but held unopened packages of bread, cereal, cookies and crackers. There were no sweets of any kind, not any sugar, and I needed a major sugar high to try and keep sane. I called Oscar. He understood without asking questions. “I’ll order Amazon to deliver you some. What kind do you like?”


I checked out the drawers in his office and bedroom, but there was no money or checkbook. I pulled up a couple porn sites on the laptop, but even that required more focus than I had. I did some spastic calisthenics, but that just turned my cold sweat hot. This was going to be a tough gig.


I’d stuck a couple lockpicking tools inside my toothpaste tube. Once extracted and cleaned they went to work on the Yale locks. I got nowhere with either one for the first half hour, then old habits kicked in and I got the feel of them. With luck I’d get them both open quick when I needed to. So far so good.


Dinner that night was more of the same meat, but I fried it. It still tasted a little gamey. I sweated jam into my sheets again that night, but the next morning, felt good enough to run through all my chores and get back to Yale. Both locks opened. 


Rough wooden stairs lead down to an unfinished basement as big the footprint of the house. It smelled of mouse piss, and was partly full of furniture that was even worse than the upstairs stuff. There was a work sink and a stand-up freezer, almost empty, that held another jug of meat. The flies and the rank smell were thicker.  One corner of the basement had a boxed in storage room, its metal-door closed with a high end Best lock. My man Oscar looked to have some secrets, and the urge to run away came back. I stood looking at the locked door, trying to think things through. Another day or two, I thought. Run away when I had something to take with me.


I decided to hold off trying to pick the Best, went back upstairs and relocked the Yales. Good thing I did, Oscar Facetimed me.


He studied my image. “Your coloring is already a little healthier. Another few days and you’ll have flushed most of the poison out of your system. Still feel like shit maybe, but more wholesome.”


We spent a few minutes comparing addictions. He’d been an opioid addict, never did fentanyl, or crack or meth. Just an old-fashioned guy with a hypo. Almost Victorian. And disappointed when I said I wasn’t eating all that much. “You need to rebuild some tissue.”


“I know, but right now food is hard to swallow.”


“Eat the candy bars at least.”


That night after curfew I sat on my bed and tried to think. I figured Oscar to be playing me, but why? I had no money, no special access to drugs, just a little expertise in burglary that he didn’t know anything about. He could do better on the street corners of Bridgeport. As I lay there, I thought I could hear the house rumbling a warning, but wrote it off to Jonesing from lack of dope.


My phone was quiet the next day, which figured since it was a new burner. Once back in the basement I spent almost an hour cracking the Best lock before I got into the little room. The stink was worse inside it. There was a rack on one wall with butcher’s tools, a table bone saw, and a hose. Oscar also had a small work desk and stand-up filing cabinet, thankfully unlocked. He kept meticulous records in a flowery script I’d seen only in old movies, of some kind of trade he had going with a guy named George. Didn’t say what they traded, but it was measured in pounds, even Steven, back and forth. They usually traded every month, but there was a six week pause since the last entry.


The cellar suddenly felt really cold. I walked back over to the work table, pulled a six-inch boning knife off the rack and slid it between belt and pants in the small of my back.  I needed a gun, but it was all I had.


Meat. They traded meat, and I’d be the next processed pig. Time to get the hell out. I loped back up the stairs, leaving everything unlocked. Too late. Oscar was waiting behind the door at the head of the stairs and slammed it shut after me as I ran out.


He took a step toward me. “Pity you didn’t notice the concealed door alarm. Also a pity you couldn’t wait another day before violating my lair. You would have tasted much better with additional drug cleansing.” He sighed. “Guess I’ll just have to put up with doper stew.”


As he started to take the step that would put him up against me, I swung a looping left fist toward his face. It never made it. His snake-fast right hand grasped my left fist and squeezed, cracking bones. 


As I screamed, he put his left hand on my shoulder and started to pull me in for a terminal bear hug. I yanked out the boning knife and thrust it upward into the dwindling space between us. I got lucky. The knife jabbed in under his chin and into his brain. He let go, but didn’t drop, standing like a man who’d forgotten something. He should’ve been on the floor dead. 


I pulled out the knife and slammed it into where I thought his heart was. He still stood, making random movements like he was trying to wake up. I screamed again, this time at him, and slit his throat. What little blood came out of him was thinned down like red wine in crushed ice.


His twitching became more pronounced and I bent over and sliced through an Achilles tendon. Oscar teetered and dropped, still sucking air in through the slit in his throat. I moved behind his head where I’d be tougher to grab and stabbed once more, into and past his right eye. He finally went still.


My breathing was as ragged as his had been. I needed to think but was completely buzzed out on endorphins and pain from my hand. I sat in a kitchen chair for five minutes staring at Oscar not moving, half expecting him to do so. Then I got up and pulled out his wallet.


There was a little over two grand in fifties and hundreds that I confiscated, along with the car keys. According to the driver’s license his name wasn’t Oscar. I thought some more.


I cleaned up his eye with my good hand, took out his cell phone, and used facial recognition to unlock it. George was listed, and I called him. 


“Hello George. I’m an acquaintance of Oscar. I’m the one you were going to eat. Don’t hang up, I’ve got to tell you what you’re going to do. Oscar is maybe dead, and you need to cut him up and dispose of him. Pretty sure you know how to do that….


“Your working arrangement was clever- you process Oscar’s finds and he does yours. You don’t foul your own nest. If the cops asked you could just say that your visitor left to go cop before the week was done…


“That’s bullshit and you know it. I’m taking Oscar’s log book and phone. You come after me, the cops come after you. You don’t want the town cops to find the body and you do want to continue to chase down your hobby. You need to stop by today and take care of things…”


“That’s better. We leave each other alone we’re both happier.”


Once the phone was off, I did more thinking. The car I’d drive away in would go to a chop shop I knew of. The wallet would hang out with the ledger and phone in a stash I had. George was apt to become my ATM. I thought about the jug of meat in the refrigerator, but left it there. It was okay, but not as a steady diet.


________


Ed Ahern resumed writing after forty odd years in foreign intelligence and international sales. He’s had over 450 stories and poems published so far, and ten books. Ed works the other side of writing at Bewildering Stories where he manages a posse of eight review editors, and as lead editor at Scribes Microfiction.





 

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