Alfred liked eating cherry pie more than any other food. Or candy. He had eaten a generous slice of cherry pie on special days ever since Madalyn Murray O’Hair and two family members were killed and dismembered in 1995.
Alfred never liked cherry pie before O’Hair was murdered. He couldn’t remember why. But the day after the killers’ ringleader was apprehended he ate a slice and found it to be especially rewarding. The crimson color was rich, like fresh blood, amplified by an intriguing juxtaposition of tart and sweet merging to catalyze the cherries’ unique taste, and a finish warm, smooooth, and lingering. The best cherry pie presentations were at eateries specializing in homemade fare, i.e. there were more cherries than filling, rich crust made with butter and lard, not white vegetable oil slabs, and no fake sugar sweeteners.Alfred considered cherry pie the perfect reward for a successful special day excursion.
Special days were infrequent in the early years after O’Hair’s murder because Alfred had a job. A person with a hobby such as himself had to be particular because there would be no more special days unless the last one was perfectly planned and executed. Glossing over a single detail could result in hesitation and resultant failure. Retirement five years ago helped his hobby bloom and cherry pie rewards jumped from one or two a year to eight or nine.
Alfred had a best buddy, a green Yellow-Naped Amazon parrot named Bronson after the Death Wish actor. Over the last twenty years Bronson had learned many of his namesake’s most memorable movie quotes. Bronson was a good conversationalist.
At home, Alfred especially liked not being disturbed by anybody or anything except when he bantered with Bronson.
After an arduous morning of research, which was most days, Alfred liked to relax at noon by sitting with Bronson at the kitchen picture window. Outside were five 100 foot tall Eastern white pines marking a forgotten boundary line and providing comfortable homes for families of cardinals. It was a forgotten boundary because now Alfred owned the land on both sides meaning nobody could stand there and stare at him.Other wild songbirds were afraid to screw with cardinals. They sang together and mated for life and Alfred liked to think their attitude reflected his own personality, although he had never married. And male cardinals were red, like cherry pie.
While watching the cardinals, Alfred would enjoy homemade soup, a chai tea (with a tad of honey) and 13 kettle-fried Snyder’s of Berlin potato chips. Bronson dined on two almonds, two cashews and six blueberries.
One clang from the wall clock stirred Alfred from his daydreaming at the kitchen table. He carried the utensils to the sink. It was time to get ready.
“Special day!” he said to Bronson.
“Sometimes the law doesn’t work,” Bronson replied.
Alfred washed the service, dried and returned each item to where it belonged in the cabinets. He sat at the table and put on a pair of nitrile gloves. Next to the gloves was an Osprey suppressor and an H&K VP9T pistol. He wiped both with a microfiber cloth before careful placement in a biometric lockbox. Two clips filled with Ruger ARX rounds, all wiped clean, nestled alongside the H&K. Alfred loved his H&K. It had little recoil, which was important to him at his age, and was easy to clean after a special day outing. He snapped shut the lockbox and looked at Bronson. “Ready.”
“Guns have their uses,” said Bronson.
The parrot followed Alfred into the office to help him review research and logistics one last time. When satisfied with every detail, Alfred tilted back in his padded leather chair to admire the eight-foot wallpaper mural directly in front of him. It illustrated the Alpine meadow scene used in the Sound of Music movie poster. The upper portion of the wall, the area containing majestic Alps towering as a background, contained six rows of carpet-taped 4×6 photos with black X’s drawn through them. Beneath the Alps was Julie Andrews and below her were posted recent cut-out photos and news articles. Alfred’s years of special days hadn’t left much exposed of the Sound of Music wallpaper other than Julie’s faultless face topped with her faux Nonnberg Convent-styled blond hair.
Alfred looked at Bronson, who said, “No appeals. No deals,” and bobbed his head for a slice of an orange mini-bell pepper.
Perhaps displaying the pictures was a risky downside of Alfred’s hobby, but there was never a worry about people seeing the walls of his office because no one ever visited. Only one was ever invited, Anna Mae, his favorite waitress at the Corner Kitchen, and he had made sure the office was locked for her visits.
Traveling was part of his retirement too. People who murdered innocents or abused the trust given them by the public required punishment. It seemed like such degenerates were everywhere. Like the woman in Virginia who embezzled $300,000 from the volunteer fire department, or the man in Michigan who had starved to death eight wild mustangs he had ‘rescued’ from the park service. That man’s punishment was especially righteous because the day after Alfred had visited, the police found remains of six missing people buried in the sociopath’s backyard garden. The pervasive evil in some people as well as its diversity could never be underestimated.
He stroked Bronson’s back feathers, snapped his fingers and said, “When murder and rape invade our homes, and the cops can’t stop it . . .”
“. . . this man will. His way! ” said Bronson, finishing the sentence.
Alfred smiled and gave the parrot a hazelnut. On the ‘horse play’ mission, Alfred learned that Michigan takes its cherries seriously. It hosts the nation’s cherry festival each year in Traverse City and local restaurants and diners go all out to make a premier cherry pie. After dispatching the wild horse killer, he visited the Cherry Hut in Beulah and enjoyed the best slice of cherry pie ever. He gave the waitress a $50 tip to split with the baker. He liked rewarding people for good honest work.
And there was Crane’s Pie Pantry Restaurant in Fennville, Michigan two years later. Its slice of cherry pie, a perfect reward for eliminating the man who had locked up his Down’s syndrome daughter in a hall closet for seventeen years. The police found the girl after a neighbor complained of foul odors. Turned out, it wasn’t from the girl, but her mother, whom the man had beaten to death and left to rot in the attic. It was July and the sun putrefied her corpse in short order, and yet somehow, the man was able to make bond. That presented a brief operational window for Alfred but he was up to the task and savored Crane’s slice of cherry pie reward.
He pointed at the immoral creature’s X’d out picture.
Bronson said, “The vigilante is back, the vigilante is back.”
Another hazelnut for Bronson and Alfred stroked his wings as he ate.
From the study Alfred walked to the adjacent bathroom and stripped for a final check in the full length bathroom mirror. Head, face, body were smooth-shaven; steel gray eyes, broad shoulders, sinewy muscles unmistakable through his pearly skin. Anna Mae was right. He was in surprisingly good shape for a man of 70, or as she liked to say, “You have the ‘hooby-do’ of an eighteen year old!”
He smiled as he remembered the first time she invited him for a visit. It was two years after her husband died. Alfred had finished his usual Corner Kitchen breakfast of biscuits and sausage gravy with a sunny-side egg on top. Anna Mae sat down beside him and slid the bill under his hand with her hand lingering on his fingers. Her skin was a beautiful milk chocolate with warm reddish undertones. She asked if he would like some afternoon tea later at her house and heat flowed into his hand.
But Anna Mae had wanted him there THAT afternoon, which he had already reserved for a special day. He asked what else was on the menu and still remembered how she caressed his hand and said that she would help him relax. He was pretty sure the activity would be quite different from his usual day, so he went out of his way to help Anna Mae understand that he had many responsibilities, but yes, spending an afternoon with her every so often would be quite possible in the future, just not THAT day.
Two afternoons later he visited Anna Mae. They needed little time to get acquainted with each other and now he always looked forward to afternoon tea. Her skin was soft, always warm and smelled like honey. Alfred even moved her phone number to the top of the eight contacts on his IPhone list.
Anna Mae was to retire from the café next week. She would be free of obligations. He had been seriously thinking that it should be his time as well. The hobby was becoming more hazardous each special day and despite having a youthful hooby-do, he wasn’t getting any younger.
But there was still today. He dressed in generic old man clothes and returned to the office. The newspaper headline below Julie’s smiling face again made him grimace. Pittsburgh Teacher Free. The accompanying photo caption read: Daniel Carlon walks after Judge Kolicki rules child molestation and pornography evidence seized without proper search warrant.
Bronson flew into the office and watched from a perch. Alfred said, “A bad man.”
“Bad man, bad man,” repeated Bronson. “Filth off the streets, filth off the streets!”
Alfred nodded, gave Bronson a hazelnut and picked up a Pennsylvania road map from his desk. He unfolded it and finger-traced US 22 west from Armagh to Blairsville, which he had circled in red because Dean’s Diner was at Blairsville.
US 22’s heavy police presence was troubling. He reviewed the timeline. Ninety-eight minutes, driving the speed limit of course, would get him to the molester’s favorite state park a half hour before the perv’s usual arrival. Most such people, Alfred had learned over the years since his retirement from a traditional job that did nothing to protect the public, were fastidious about schedules, particularly when they were meeting with another of the same persuasion. Alfred had learned from a Dark Web site that the molester would be exchanging child porn photos at the park.
This was one of his favorite types of special days: eliminating a child molester who was meeting with the corrupt judge that set him free. Four shots: two in each of the degenerate brains.
Alfred had devised a fake broken-arm sling with integrated brass catcher to wear over his gun hand that prevented spent casings from flying around and getting lost, one less concern permitting him a meandering ten minutes return to his car as he went about presenting the image of an old man that no one ever noticed. From the state park exit, it was thirty-nine minutes to Dean’s Diner.
“Cherry pie,” Alfred said to the parrot.
“Cherry pie, bad man die,” Bronson replied.
Carrying his lockbox and map in his left hand, Alfred walked to the garage entry door. Bronson flew past and sat on a perch beside a framed photo of Alfred’s cousin, David Gibbs. David had been bludgeoned to death in 1964 by David Roland Waters, killer of Madalyn O’Hair thirty-one years later. Alfred brushed his fingers over the glass covering David’s image. Until he met Anna Mae, special days were the only way to ease his pain. And he thought about Anna Mae more and more. He was pretty sure he loved her. NO, not pretty sure, but very sure.
“Send them a message, send them a message,” said Bronson.
Alfred never knew O’Hair or cared about her beliefs, but was certain that she and her family members would still be alive if Waters hadn’t been released on a technicality after murdering David. Someday Alfred would have to watch the Netflix movie, “The Most Hated Woman in America.” Someday when he bought a TV, but he would not watch it with Anna Mae because she liked romantic comedies and Alfred relished that new side of life, maybe more than cherry pie.
He looked at Bronson and said, “What do you think, Florence and the Machine’s Seven Devils or the Pogues’ Turkish Song of the Damned?”
Bronson thought a few seconds, and then bobbing his wings and head banging as if to the Pogue’s pounding rhythm, he began to sing,
“I come old friend from Hell tonight,
“Across the rotting sea,
“Nor the nails of the cross,
“Nor the blood of Christ,
“Can bring you help this eve.”
“Aaahhh!” said Alfred. “Celtic Rock. A good beat for righting a wrong.”
“Pogue Mahone!” said Bronson.
Alfred gave Bronson a slice of mini-bell pepper. “Now you be good while I’m gone. And what do you say when someone knocks?”
Alfred knocked on the door and Bronson let out with a few beagle howl alerts, “AAHHHHHOOOOOOOOHHH! AAHHHHHOOOOOOOOHHH!”
Alfred gave him the remaining bell pepper.
As Alfred went into the garage, thoughts of Anna Mae and afternoon tea were filling his head. He loved her smile and she had the greatest giggle. Yes, it was time for his retirement. After this mission he would buy a whole cherry pie at the Blairsville Diner, take it to Anna’s house and ask her to marry him.
He put on a pair of tight leather gloves and zipped open a gallon plastic freezer bag marked NYC 2018, took a crushed paper cup from it and placed it in a separate plastic bag. Police like to find DNA so Alfred always collected some from places he visited, dating the collection bags so that it was at least a year before he left a piece as ‘evidence’ at a special day scene. Sending the police on a wild goose chase was another layer of safety for him, which was becoming more difficult every mission because of the expanding usage of surveillance cameras. Just yesterday he read that the state parks were installing them, which is why he had to move up this operation.
He climbed into one of the generic cars he used on special days, this one an old pale green Ford Taurus. He took out the IPhone. To tighten security and prevent distractions, Alfred always shut down the location transponder and slid the power button off before traveling to a special day site. Yes, technological advances had made his hobby very dangerous.
As he touched the settings button, Proud Mary began to play. The screen turned to Anna Mae’s picture.
For the first time since he began practicing his hobby, Alfred hesitated as Tina sang.
From inside the house Bronson squawked, “Answer the phone!”
Alfred studied Anna Mae’s screen picture, thinking about her and his mission’s risks. He was 70 and Anna Mae loved him dearly as he did her. A feeling of warmth enveloped him. He pressed his finger on ‘Accept.’
Special days were over.
He smiled. He got out of the car as Anna Mae’s voice purred in his ear. It was the first since 1995 he had truly relaxed.
Ken Davis is a retired educator living in Oberlin, Ohio. Published short stories include: Fisherman’s Last Wish: Dark Lane Anthology, Vol 4; Chirping Merry Tavern: The Wolfian, Issue 7; Revelation: Winter Legends. Writing grew out of encouragement from his History professors at Penn State. His interest is exploring motivations for one’s actions.