39. Artie’s Last Delivery

Here’s my morning.

Roll out of bed as quietly as possible so as not to disturb Doris’s slumber. (Of course when you remove several hundred pounds from a mattress there’s creaking and groaning, tectonic plate shifting, which causes Doris to grumble lightly until she rolls over, pulls the covers to her chin and begins to snore again.)

Slip on my robe. Stick my feet in my fleece-lined slippers. Pad down the steps.

Next stop: the front porch, where the newspaper awaits me, neatly set with Germanic precision by Artie Schmachel.

In my Frogtown shack I played hide and seek with the paper every morning. Maybe it was in the bushes. Maybe it wound up in the yard. Maybe it didn’t arrive at all. Might be dry, might be soaked. Complain? I might as well have lodged a protest with the Politburo. “What you expect us to do?” the paper’s laughably titled customer service representative asked. “You think I can get my paper delivered?”

But you live on Summit Avenue, you deliver a hundred bucks worth of Yuletide tippage to your Mercedes-driving ex-Nazi delivery guy, you better believe you’re reading the paper every morning.

Which explains my confusion when I opened the front door, glanced downward and, instead of my daily dose of lying, cheating and death — in short, the newspaper — saw exactly nothing.

Then I remembered. Duke. His buddies. Their assertion that Artie, as of this morning, was done for.

I looked toward the avenue. The sun had not yet cleared the bare trees. A dusting of snow had fallen during the night. The lights from Artie’s idling Mercedes pooled on the pavement. A plume of exhaust rose in the bracing cold.

Footprints led from the car to a bundle of rags halfway up the walkway.

I knew. I pretended I didn’t. I hurried as quickly as I was able. Artie was face down on the cement, my newspaper clutched in one hand, the arm extended toward my porch as though, even in his last moments, Artie strove to make a final delivery.

I rolled him onto his back. I stuck a finger to his neck to feel for a pulse. I put my cheek up against his face to check for breath. Artie’s eyes were wide open but nothing was behind them.

I took the newspaper from his hand and used it to make a little tent over his face. It seemed like the decent thing to do. Then I left him there while I went inside to find my phone and call the cops.

Tomorrow: Why so prickly?

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