by Gary Duehr


"I'm worried about Papa," says Delia to her older brother Lester on her cell. "He thinks someone is trying to kill him."

     "What? That's ridiculous, even for him."

     "I know, but he's got it stuck in his knobby old head. He doesn't have anything else to do but pore through newspapers like he's still playing the market, tearing out clippings in a fluffy pile. I can barely get in his bedroom door to clean because of the stacks of old papers."

      "Why does he think someone's got it in for him?"

     "The money. It's always about the money. He makes me call him Kingsley like the old days when you and I were on the Board, before he was forced out. I always thought you would be the natural CEO, not me. You didn't care."

     "That's true, sis. But I didn't want it. Too much work."

     "Hah!" she laughs. "You got that right. But I feel like I owe it to the family. He's a full-time job all by himself. 'Get me more blankets! I'm freezing!' he'll holler from his room upstairs. 'Ok, Kingsley, on the double!' I call back."

     "Is he there now?"

      Delia reflexively glances around the kitchen. A bright bar of sunlight stripes a Hockney print of a swimming pool on the far wall. With one hand, she flips some peppers in a skillet. "No, he's gone down the street to Ali's for his morning coffee. I've started to follow him, a half block back, to make sure he gets there and back ok. He's too proud for a cane, but I can see him grab onto a fence or post along the way."

     "How is he otherwise?"

     "Definitely downhill, I'd say, since you flew up from West Palm for Christmas. He's lost a lot of short-term memory. I have to remind him when to eat and when to take his pills. Last week I found him fully dressed, sitting in the foyer at 2 a.m., upset that he was late for work."

      "Jesus. I didn't know."

     "I don't mind being his caretaker, since the girls are in college, but sometimes it's not easy. I gotta go."


Delia peeks in the front window of Ali's Cafe. She sees Kingsley at his usual table in back by the creamers and Splenda. He has his latte perched on a ledge, newspapers splayed out in front of him. He looks homeless, she thinks, in a knit cap pulled down over a spray of white hairs, a smear of stubble on his chin, wearing a shapeless wool coat draped over his shoulders like a bathrobe. His hand trembles as his finger traces an article. She aches to see him like this, but when she tries to straighten him out he slaps her hands away.

     Kingsley stands up, a little wobbly at six-foot-two. "Excuse me, sir?"

     Delia can hear him through the propped-open door.

    "You need a refill, Mr. Kingsley?" asks Ali behind the counter. He's got a wispy moustache and intense black eyes framed by wire rims. "Sit down, I'll get it for you." He vanishes into the kitchen as Kingsley collapses back down into his chair.

     The next in line, a young professional in heels and stockings for work, reaches for a menu.

     Ali darts out with the refill. "Hey," he says to her, "I'll be right with you." He pours Kingsley's cup then comes back behind the counter. "Now what would you like?"

     "Medium coffee and avocado toast, to go."

     "What kind, we got seven varieties." He pivots the menu around.

     While she's ordering, Kingsley sweeps up his papers, rises, and downs the rest of the cup. Delia ducks out of sight into the alley. As Kingsley shuffles out the front door, Ali announces grandly to the line of customers: "You would never know it, but that's the richest man in America. He hasn't worked a day in his life."


Delia trails him the three blocks down Main, past a string of boutique shops, to where he turns onto Pleasant, their street. Kingsley goes slow, as if the sidewalk is tilting, pausing to rest against a mailbox. It's April, a bit chilly, and dogwood blossoms flutter down like snowflakes. She notices a black SUV with tinted windows following a few car-lengths behind him. Its license is half-covered in mud. When Kingsley turns the corner, so does the SUV. The driver's window rolls down a crack, and the tip of something shiny sticks out.

     Delia panics. She pulls out her cell to call 911, but just then a cop car idles past, and the SUV roars off.


After lunch, Delia listens at the bottom of the stairs. She hears Kingsley's bedroom door rattle open, his loafers tapping on the parquet as he heads for the bathroom. She counts to 30 then tiptoes up the carpeted steps. She knows he always makes his calls while he's on the toilet.

     She puts her ear to the wooden door. She can hear his muffled voice on the phone; it's louder since he's lost some of his hearing.

     "What the hell happened this morning?" Kingsley barks. "I hired you to do a job. So do it, goddamit!"

     A pause. His breathing is heavy.

     "Fine, tonight, last chance or I want a refund. I'm tired of dealing with your incompetence. I'll make up some excuse to go out, 7 p.m., the same corner."

     Another pause. Delia's hand clenches the doorknob.

     "Don't worry your thick head. The other ten thousand will be wired automatically to your account once it's done. My New York accountant will see to it."

     The toilet flushes. Delia gets ready to back away.

      "Listen, I want it simple, quick, one clean shot. Nothing messy for my daughter to clean up. Allstate won't suspect our backroom deal, and Delia thinks I'm a paranoid old fool. But I've had enough. I'm ready to cash out."


Delia waits until Kingsley has gone down for his nap, then rings up Lester. She's striding on her Peleton treadmill in the laundry room; on the screen in front of her Bloomberg News is on mute. Her voice is shaky, breathless. She tells him to grab an afternoon flight, right now, don't ask questions; rent a black SUV at Logan, and meet her in the parking lot behind the Ace Hardware on Main.

     "Just trust me," she says, "I can explain in person. I'm afraid Papa may have tapped my phone. I'll have everything we need." She turns up the speed and starts jogging. She can feel dampness seep under her arms.

     He lets out a laugh. "My god, you're so dramatic! You make it sound like life and death."

     "It is."


Light from the shops on Main are spilling out onto the sidewalk. The sky has gone metallic blue. Delia waits in the black SUV beside Lester at the wheel. Its lights off, the car sits at a meter beside Tick Tock Chocolates. The street is deserted, a block away some teens are rattling their skateboards down the alley.

     She sees Kingsley approach from Pleasant on the other side of the street. He told her he needed some cough syrup. She nudges Lester's shoulder, and he turns the ignition. The engine purrs on. He nervously touches the purple-and-orange plastic weapon lying on the dash. He's pale. He turns to his kid sister with a questioning look.

     Kingsley stops to rest on a bench. Delia cries, "Go, go!"

     Lester steps on the gas, and the SUV swerves straight for the bench and brakes. He flips on the headlights, blinding Kingsley.

     Delia leaps out and rushes toward her father, just as Lester rolls down the window and fires, a red splatter blooming across Kingsley's chest where the paintball has exploded. His eyes widen in surprise, and he crumples to the ground, but Delia kneels down to catch him. She cradles him in her lap, Pieta-like, in the headlights' shimmering aura. Lester sees the other black SUV squeal a U-turn and take off.

     "What happened? Where am I?" asks Kingsley, blinking, his face drained of color, looking up at her. He's never seemed so old to her.

     "You're alive, I saved you, Papa," Delia singsongs with a warm smile. "Hold on tight."


a line


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