Eddie took a hard look through one of the Swiss-cheese holes in the living room drapes Marge had sewn way back. A woman—gray hair, one of those masks—was crunching up the gravel path to the front door. If she thought she was going to put one over on a defenseless senior, she’d come to the wrong house.
Even in his seventies, Eddie thought of himself as a man to approach with caution, even if his body had turned on him. Nothing wrong with his mind. Here it was three days after the election and the winner up in the air? He knew better.
During the campaign, the other party had tried to hoodwink patriots like him, but he’d stood firm when he slipped his ballot into the flaking red, white, and blue mailbox at the end of his deserted driveway. He wasn’t happy about mailing his ballot, but the year before, he sold his truck after the VA doctor notified the state he shouldn’t be driving.
He could have voted at the elementary school, but that would have been a bother to the neighbors down the road, who already took him grocery shopping each week. Besides, he’d end up in a long line, struggling to stay on his feet unless he brought a folding chair. No way in hell. Go right to the front? He’d never asked for any kind of special privilege in his life.
Maybe age had gotten to him. Eddie always took pride in toughing things out. In Nam, he had skipped the usual bitching that came with slogging through rice paddies, searching booby-trapped villages, shooting it out in asshole-clenched firefights. He brought that attitude back to the World.
The doorbell rang.
Eddie held his ground.
The woman held her own ground. Rang again.
She probably figured he was in the bathroom. Maybe still in bed. Some days, he stayed in bed till noon. This woman, she was patient, he’d give her that. But how the hell was she trying to sucker him?
The bell chimed again.
Eddie suspected she spotted him.
“Mr. Cook?” the woman called.
She knew his name. Most likely, she wouldn’t leave without making more racket. He went to the door, opened it six inches, and blocked any further advance with his foot.
Eddie stared. Might have glared. Nodded. Maybe grunted.
She held up a plastic-coated card.
He adjusted his glasses. USA VOTE, it said at the top. Displayed her photo. Despite the mask, he could tell it was her. The eyes. He had a mask in the kitchen. Wear it? Out here?
She took a step back but kept looking at him. “Mr. Cook, I’m Elaine—”
“Yes, and are you aware that the county rejected your mail-in ballot?”
“Your signature on the envelope doesn’t match the voter registration records.”
He rested his hand against the doorjamb. His hands built this house and a bunch of others.
The woman’s eyes shifted to his bent fingers, swollen knuckles.
The years got you. He’d come back from Nam without a scratch, but sooner or later, your luck ran out. Arthritis and dimming vision were kicks in the balls almost as painful as Marge passing ten years earlier. “Rejected?”
“There’s a website explains it, tells you like I said that your signatures don’t match. Happens to lots of people.”
Eddie glanced at her hands. Not in much better shape than his.
“Anyway, Mr. Cook, I can show you on my phone. I just need your date of birth—”
Date of birth? Was she trying to cheat him out of what little he had in the bank? The title to the house?
“How far gone you think I am?” Eddie asked. He slammed the door, went back to the window, and waited for her to haul ass off his property.
The doorbell rang.
He clenched his jaw.
The bell rang again.
This was a scam—about the election. The candidate he was dead-set against sent this woman to trick him, get him to change his vote. He was old, hurting, alone. Would never suspect a thing. Except he did.
The woman might have been a damn statue.
Some people just didn’t get the message unless you made yourself clear in a way even they could understand. He shuffled to his bedroom, the bed unmade, slid open his nightstand drawer and took out his old Glock 26. All these years, he’d kept himself together, married, raised kids, served as a deacon in the church, but everyone knew. You pushed Eddie Cook, tried to steal his vote, he pushed back.
The bell rang.
Eddie hobbled to the door and opened it, the gun behind his back. This woman didn’t have to know he’d left the clip in the drawer, the chamber empty.
“Mr. Cook, tonight’s the deadline. You just sign an affidavit, I take a picture of it with your ID and send it to the county. Your vote gets counted.”
He snorted. “For which candidate?”
“Yours. The one you checked off on your ballot.”
Eddie noticed the woman’s smile, concealed by the mask but obvious in her eyes. Something like Marge’s eyes, a kindness there. A kindness he hadn’t always returned. Marge left him more than once but never gave up on him.
“Honestly, Mr. Cook, I’ve talked to a few people around here in the same boat, and they made sure their ballot would count for their candidate.”
He fingered the gun. He’d never meant to be a hard man. He had his regrets. He’d made Marge pay a price. He opened the door wider. “Just let me get a mask. A glass of water if you like.”
“That would be wonderful,” she said. “Long drive out here, but worth it. You have a right.”
Crossing the living room, he tucked the gun under his shirt and brushed his free hand across his eyes. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d cried.