It was supposed to just your standard customer service call, drop off the mid-December supply of oxygen bottles to old Mr. Bentley on Oakdale. Been there a million times. Always a nice visit, except for the fact the old guy still insisted on smoking while hooked up to his Oh-Two.
That’s one of the reasons I always took care when approaching his front porch, because he liked smoking out there. He said his late wife frowned upon his smoking in the house, but obviously he puffed his share to get the take-home version of the COPD Game. And in winter, I would climb the porch and gently rap on the door, not to wake the old gentleman up too abruptly, have him drop his cigar and *POOF* no more Mr. Bentley and maybe some piece of Dan, the AngelAir delivery guy, missing.
It was one of those winter days, the snow out front of Bentley’s was unshoveled, which wasn’t too surprising since Mr. Bentley got winded making himself a ham sandwich. But usually a neighborhood kid or a Home Aid would at least dig out some kind of path past the house and up the walk to the porch. But not today.
I high-kneed it over the snowbank and into the walkway and climbed the four snow-covered steps to the porch. No footprints out there, so I figured Mr. Bentley must still be inside and made a silly prayer that he’d given up the cigars for Advent.
But when I got to the door and knocked, no one came. Mr. Bentley still had the ears of a bat and eyes like a hawk. He just couldn’t breathe well enough to do much more than watch TV, read and write his World War Two memoir.
So, somewhat against my better judgment and feelings of self-preservation, I rang the doorbell and stood away from the half-glass top portion of the front door. I rang and rag, with no result. This worried me a great deal. Mr. Bentley was sharp as any 40-year-old could be in an 94-year-old body.
I tried the knob and found the door unlocked, which was another surprise because Mr. Bentley was an ex-cop and very security conscious. I cracked it open a bit and half-shouted inside, “Mr. Bentley? It’s me, Dan from AngelAir.” Nothing.
Opening the door and walking into the front hall of this old place, I had a straight line of sight to the kitchen and didn’t see Mr. Bentley in his usual coffee-and-newspaper spot at the table near the back bathroom.
“Shit,” I whispered. “Please don’t let me find you down, Mr. Bentley, or worse.”
I moved left into the living room and found the TV on but no Mr. Bentley. But over by the doorway to the dining room, I saw his potted Norfolk Island Pine knocked over, scattering dirt, vermiculite and pine needles onto the expensive Persian rug his in-laws gave him and the Mrs. for a wedding present.
I had my phone in my hand, waiting to punch in 9-1-1 if the unfortunate became a necessity. I turned through the dining room doorway back into the kitchen, having completed a circuit of the first floor. As I looked back toward the entryway, I noticed something I’d missed in my tippy-toeing in——Mr. Bentley’s stair-climbing track seat was still on the ground floor.
That meant, he’d come down from the bedroom sometime this morning, or, much worse, for some reason never made it up there to go to bed.
I looked out the kitchen window and noticed footprints in the snow covering the yard. They’d come from over the back fence and led directly to Mr. Bentley’s back door. I decided the time was right to dial 9-1-1 when I heard the sound of a muffled voice coming from behind the basement door.
“Mr. Bentley? Is that you? It’s me, Dan from Angel…”
“Get me outta here man, this old bastard’s crazy. He’s gonna kill us all,” I heard from some frantic voice that most definitely was not Mr. Bentley’s old rasp.
“Who’s down there? Mr. Bentley, are you okay?”
“Danny? that you?” I heard coming soft from the bottom of the stairs.
“Yeah, Mr. Bentley. Hold on, I’m coming down.”
“Don’t distract him, man. He’ll blow us all the fuck up!” That first voice again.
I took two steps down the stairs and let my eyes grow accustomed to the dark. No one had turned on the basement lights. I turned and found the light switch on the wall to my right and flipped it to ON. What I saw displayed at the bottom of the stairs looked like something from some old John Wayne or Clint Eastwood movie.
Against the far wall, partially hidden behind the furnace was a young guy in a hoodie and jeans sagging half-way down his ass. In his hand he held a silver revolver and he had it pointed at Mr. Bentley, who was propped up against a shelving unit next to the open stairs. In his fist, the old man held something dark, like an oversized egg.
“He’s got a fucking live hand grenade, man. Call the cops or somethin’,” the young guy I took to be an intruder said.
“Drop that gun, dirtbag, or I promise, I’ll blow this place to Kingdom Come. I’m 94-frigging years old and I don’t have a whole lot of quality time left, so I don’t give two shits how I go. This would actually be a hell of a lot better than what’s probably facing me, though,” Mr. Bentley wheezed.
“Call the cops, man. I’m not kidding.”
“If you’re hoping to make it home for Christmas, maybe in about ten years after serving your armed robbery stretch, I’d suggest you slide that peashooter over here and maybe we can work something out, with my brother cops.”
“You’re a cop, too? Fuck me!”
“Uh, Mr. Bentley? I’m calling 9-1-1 now,” I said, and deeply considered going back outside to my van, which would be quite the fireworks display if pierced by hot shrapnel.
“Thanks, Danny. This shouldn’t take long.”
After my call, and keeping the 9-1-1 operator in the line, the next thing I heard were sirens getting louder and louder. And the sound of something metal scraping across Mr. Bentley’s concrete basement floor.
“That’s better, son. Danny? Are the boys in blue outside yet?” Mr. Bentley said. I peered up the hallway and could see the red and blue flashing lights outside, but no police were coming through the door.
“Danny, would you help me up please? I been in this position for about two hours and I’m sore as hell,” Mr. Bentley called.
“I gotta go,” I told the 9-1-1 operator and hung up.
I slowly walked downstairs and found Mr. Bentley holding the silver revolver, which he called “a piece of shit more dangerous to the holder than this hand grenade,” and I got my arms under his and lifted him to a seated position on the second step.
I heard someone open the front door and pad down the hallway.
“Down in the basement,” I yelled up the stairs. Shortly a man in a padded navy blue space suit-looking get-up stood at the top of the stairs.
“No one move down there,” I heard him say through his oversized helmet and face mask.
“Danny, could you do me one more favor today before you deliver my Oh-Two?” Mr. Bentley said.
“Sure, Mr. Bentley, anything,” I said. I mean, what the hell, I was blocked by basement walls below and the bomb squad above anyway.
Could you fish around under the stairs for the pin on this old Mark 2 of mine I kept when I got discharged in ‘46? I dropped the little thing when I fell. Or you could take the grenade out of my hand, but mind you keep the safety down. Either’d be fine. I’ve been holding it a long time and my hand’s getting a little tired.”
“Shhh…sure, Mr. B. I’ll find that little pin thingy for you,” I said and started scrambling under the stairs on my hands and knees.
“Thanks, Danny. Hey, Robo-Cop,” Mr. Bentley called up to the armored bomb squad member, “Think you can shag your Pillsbury Doughboy ass down here soon? Danny’s got deliveries to make and I’ve already pissed myself. But, boy, this is the most fun I’ve had since I retired.”
For Day 11 of my Story-a-Day challenge, I was supposed to work with this scenario:
Your company sends you to meet a costumer at their house. It’s a standard, nice neighborhood.
You ring and ring but nobody answers. The door is ajar, and you enter, calling aloud.
All is in order in the living room apart from an overturned potted plant on the expensive-looking rug…
I had some fun with this first draft. I hope you did too.