karen was just putting a pan of brownies into her oven when she heard the doorbell ring.
“who can that be ?’ she wondered.
her husband, rick, was in the living room reading a biography of ulysses s grant.
rick was a bit hard of hearing and had not heard the bell but when he saw karen heading for the door he looked up at her quizzically.
wiping her hands on her apron, karen peeked through the peephole. she saw a man who was a complete stranger to her. a tall thin man with bushy dark hair starting to turn gray.
karen thought he looked mean.
“there is a strange man at the door, “ she announced to rick. he put his book down and got up from his easy chair but before he could reach the door karen had opened it.
“hello,” the stranger greeted karen with an easy smile creasing his mean face. “does richard maxwell live here?”
karen stood aside, letting the stranger see rick, who was staring at him dumbfounded, with his pipe slipping from his hand.
“darker!” rick caught his smoking pipe just before it fell on the floor.
“aren’t you going to invite me in?’”
“of course, of course! i just - i just figured -“
“i was dead?”
rick had recovered his composure. “yes, i thought you might be. but come in, come in. this is my wife, karen. honey, this is my old - friend, joe darker.”
karen had closed the door behind darker. he turned to face her and she stared at him - she was almost as tall as he was - but she kept her hands in her apron and did not take the hand he offered her.
“oh, yes, mr darker. i have heard so much about you.”
“nothing good, i suppose.” he laughed easily, but karen thought he had eyes like a snake.
“no, not much.” she forced herself to smile. “but i’m being rude, please come in and have a seat.”
“i’m afraid we have already eaten, “ karen continued. “but i have just been baking brownies, if you would like some of those when they are ready.”
“everybody likes brownies,” darker answered, as he followed rick into the living room. he saw the biography of ulysses s grant on the arm of one chair, so he sat down in one of the others.
“i suppose you fellows want to talk about old times,” said karen. “i’ll go and see to my brownies.”
“the old times are over,” darker said as he made himself comfortable. “i’m not really too much interested in them.”
rick laughed uncertainly. instead of sitting down himself he followed karen into the kitchen.
he closed the kitchen door between them.
“what do you think he wants?” karen asked.
“i don’t know,” rick replied in a low voice, “but just be polite to him, all right?”
“he probably wants you to go back to being a bank robber with him.”
“oh no, honey, he couldn’t want that. as you well know, with the complete reorganization of society and the financial system, such a course of action is entirely impossible.” rick looked over at the door and lowered his voice even more. “i just wonder what he has been doing with himself.”
“he probably wants you to be something even worse with him, a kidnaper or a hired assassin .”
“but those things are impossible under the new system as well. but look here, honey, just be nice to him. as i may have told you, he is quite capable of killing both of us in one shake of a cat’s tail.”
“well, isn’t that nice.”
rick patted karen on the arm. “but i don’t think he will. let’s just keep calm and use some common sense..”
and with that rick went back into the living room, where he found darker staring into space in a way that brought back memories of the old days and also sent a chill down his spine.
“those brownies will be ready in a jiffy. you’ll love them. can i get you something to drink?”
darker awakened from his reverie and looked at rick with mild surprise. “water.”
rick slapped his forehead. “water, of course. how could i forget?”