Ellen was just sitting down on the sofa to watch the 7 o’clock news when the doorbell rang. “Dang, I wanted to see what the weather was going to be like,” she muttered and looked at the other side of the coffee table, where Larry sat in his lounger. Or sprawled would be a better way of putting it. He was already out like a light.

Jeez. I guess I’ll have to get it myself. Ellen pulled her walker near and got herself in position to stand up, then slowly made her way to the front door, where she peered through the glass. A thin, meek-looking man with wire-rimmed glasses and a receding hairline was studying a sheet of paper. He looked innocuous and appeared to be about 30. It’s got be him, she thought.

He must have felt her presence because he looked up, made eye contact, and smiled like Ellen was a long-lost friend.

She held up one finger. “Just a moment,” she said and set the walker aside. Then, getting into her role, she opened the door and greeted him politely, “Hello. How may I help you?”

“Hi,” he said with an engaging smile. He had bright white teeth was dressed casually in black jeans, a powder-blue polo shirt, and a dark blue windbreaker. On one shoulder was a medium-sized backpack. “My name’s Calvin Jessup.” He indicated the paper he was holding. “Did the church get a hold of you?”

“Church?” Ellen frowned, “No, I don’t believe so. Why?”

Suddenly agitated, the man said, “Oh, I am so sorry.” He blinked rapidly. “They should have called.”


By now, they were standing in the living room. Ellen could hear the meteorologist in the background talking about there being a good chance of thunderstorms overnight. She glanced over her shoulder. Larry was still sacked out.

“Yes,” he said, apologetically, “I was told I’d have a room to live in until I could find my own apartment. I start my new job next Monday and the pastor said it was all arranged for me to stay here until I got my own place.” When Ellen just stared at him, he added, “I answered an ad online.”

Okay, I’ve played the forgetful old lady long enough. Ellen reacted with a flustered, embarrassed laugh, “Oh, I remember now. Yes, that’s correct. That’s the new arrangement we agreed to with our church, I mean Pastor Evans. We have an extra room and the pastor talked to us about renting it out and my husband and I thought about it and…I’m sorry. I’m babbling. What I’m trying say is if Pastor Evans said it was okay, then that’s just fine with me.” She pointed over her shoulder toward Larry and added, “I mean, us.”

She shut the door behind them and said, “I’m Ellen Carlson.” She shook his hand. “Just call me Ellen. My husband over there is Larry.” At that moment, he coughed out a snore. “He sleeps a lot.” She smiled, being friendly.

“Yes, Pastor Evans told me all about you and how good-natured and kind you both are,” he said, taking Ellen’s hand in both of his. “Pleased to make your acquaintance. You can call me Cal.”

He let go of her hand and made it a point of looking around the tiny living room, eyes wide, taking in a lifetime of knick-knacks and collectables. He tried not to dwell too long on the silver chalice and tray in the china cabinet, mentally calculating how much he could get for them. “My, what a nice home you have,” he exclaimed. “You must be very proud.”

“Thank you so much,” she said, putting on a bright smile. “We’ve lived here our entire married life, nearly 50 years.” Cal nodded and continued to look around.

Finally, he said, “So where will I be sleeping?”

Ellen was enjoying playing the role of a slightly-addled old lady. “Oh, silly me. Your room. Yes, of course. We have a nice room upstairs for you that’s quite comfortable.” She pointed to his backpack. “Is that all you brought?”

“Yes, unfortunately, I lost most of my possessions in an apartment building fire where I used to live.”

“Oh my, that’s horrible.”

He shrugged, “It’s okay. At least I’ve got my health.”

What a charming man, Ellen thought to herself. It’s too bad… “Well, enough talk. Come on,” she said, “let’s get you settled.” She pointed to the stairs and he turned, shifting his backpack to the other shoulder.

Ellen watched until he was halfway up the steps, enjoying the anticipation of what was to come. When she couldn’t wait any longer, she said, “Oh, my goodness, where are my manners,” she smacked her forehead with her hand. “It’s after suppertime. I’ll bet you’re starving.”

Cal turned and smiled his most engaging smile. “Actually, I kind of am, if it’s not too much trouble.”

“It’s no trouble at all. Here,” she motioned to him, “let’s go to the kitchen.”

She smiled to herself as she led the way. Showtime!

Ellen fixed a plate of cold chicken and potato salad for him along with a thick slice of chocolate cake and a big glass of ice-cold milk. While he ate, she kept him company by spinning out the story she’d refined over the years: the made up story about her son who lived overseas and worked for an oil company in Saudi Arabia. “That’s his room you’ll be staying in. We hardly ever see him,” she said, sadly shaking her head. And about her job as a school teacher (which really was true) and about Larry and how he’d been a chemist for a large pharmaceutical company (also true) and how now his hobby was bird watching and, as Ellen jokingly put it, “sleeping.”

Finally, she’d had enough of talking to him and wanted to get on with things. “Okay, let’s get you settled,” she stood and led him upstairs to his room.

“Sleep tight,” she told him.

“Thank you. I’m sure I will.”

Oh, you can count on that, Ellen grinned, closing his door and making her way back downstairs.

When he was alone, Cal took a pint of Jack Daniels from his backpack and savored a long drink. Then he texted his girlfriend Clare.


“Hi, yourself. How’s it going?”

“This is going to be easy.”

“So no troubles?”

“None. These people are so trusting they didn’t even call that Pastor Evens who sent me.”

“The guy who placed the ad for the room?”


“Never met him?”

“Never. Just talked to him once on the phone to get the name and address.”

“Crazy old people. What a couple of losers. What’s the next step?”

“Next step is to rob them blind.”

“Just like all the others?”

“Yeah, just like all the others. I can tell the old lady really likes me. Give me a week or two.”

“You’re the best, Rick.”

“Yeah, I know I am. But I’m Cal now.”

“Okay, Cal. Have fun taking them down.”

“I will. No sweat.”

Cal finished off the Jack and climbed into bed with a smile on his face. These losers would be his tenth mark in the last five years. He was a con man and he was good at his chosen profession. Ripping off old people was something he’d become skilled at when he’d been in college, moonlighting as a computer technician and troubleshooter. Once he gained their trust, old people were a cinch to take advantage of. This couple would be no problem at all.

He rolled to his side and turned off the light on the nightstand, feeling a momentary twinge in his stomach and a slight sense of nausea. He immediately attributed it to the whiskey. Maybe I should cut back, he thought to himself as he closed his eyes. It was his last thought he ever had in his life.

Downstairs, Ellen called Pastor Evans, or Ernie as he was known to her and Larry. He was their twin brother. They were triplets.

“He’s here.”

“Everything looking good?”

“Yeah. That ad you run offering a room to rent through the church works every time. Most guys are jerks and think they’re pulling something over on an old lady and her doddering old husband. I can play the part like Greta Garbo. This guy was a skinny little thing. Shouldn’t be any problem at all. That poison Larry makes is good stuff and once it’s been added to the cake, they never taste a thing. This guy’ll be no different.”

“Good old Larry. He’s still useful for a few things.” They both laughed and then he changed the subject. “Got a spot in the basement all ready for him?”

“Yeah. Larry dug it out last week when you placed the ad. We’ll bury him tomorrow morning and that’ll be that,” Ellen said. “I’ll get the room cleaned up, maybe paint the walls and replace the carpeting and we’ll be ready for the next one.” Then she turned quiet.

Ernie could sense something was amiss and became concerned. Ellen was usually very much together and nothing rattled her. “What is it, sis? Cold feet?”

“Not at all. I love doing this; you know that. I was getting bored out of my mind after I retired from teaching and this is just the ticket. It’s only that Larry says we’re running out of space in the basement. Too many burials. We might have to move to a new house with a bigger basement.”

By now, her brother had joined her, and she put the phone on speaker so they could all hear each other. The three of them joked about their proclivity for murder and sometimes referred themselves the Terrible Triplets.

“So you might move away from the old homestead?” Ernie asked, becoming distressed. The triplets had inherited the house from their parents years ago and Ellen and Larry had lived there ever since.

Ellen grinned. Ernie had fallen for her joke. She laughed, “Heck, brother. I was only leading you on. Move away and give up our dead bodies? Never.”

Larry added, with a theatrical flourish, “Not on your life!”

On the other end of the line, Ernie smiled. My God, how he loved them.

A few weeks later during the evening news, there was a knock at the door, and Ellen used her walker to cross the living room. She wasn’t expecting anyone, so she was surprised when she peered through the glass to see a mildly attractive young woman in her late twenties. She was dressed in a modest, pink sweater, blue jeans, and a white linen jacket. Her auburn hair was held in place with a white headband and she was carrying a small shoulder bag. She looked harmless.

Ellen opened the door. “Hi. How may I help you?”

Nervously, the young woman said, “Hi. I’m sorry to bother you, but I’m looking for my boyfriend. I was told he was living here.”

“Boyfriend?” Ellen feigned ignorance. “No. There’s no one here. Just me and my husband.” She pointed to the lounge chair where Larry sprawled, sleeping.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” she said, frowning and looking confused. She stepped back to study the address on the side of the house. “I must have the wrong house number.”

“Well, we did have a guest about a month ago. The church sent him. A thin man. Nice looking and polite. Might that be him?”

The woman smiled, excitedly. “Yes! Definitely. That sounds just like him.”

“He told us he was between jobs. I fixed him supper and he spent the night in our guest bedroom and went on his way the next day.”

“Really?” She looked perplexed. “I don’t understand what could have happened to him.”

Ellen quickly made a snap decision. “It does sound confusing, doesn’t it?” she said, opening the door wide. “Would you like to come in? We had a nice conversation at supper. If you’ve got some time, I could tell you all about it.”

Clare hesitated, then shrugged her shoulders. She hadn’t heard from Rick since that night he’d texted her. She was worried and wanted to get to the bottom of things, especially if he had run out on her, which in the back of her mind she always thought he might do. After all, he was a con man. She shrugged her shoulders. The old lady seemed harmless. Her husband zonked out in his chair? More than harmless. “Sure,” she said, agreeably. “Why not?”

“That’s good, dear,” Ellen said motioning for her to come in. Then she turned and called out, “Larry. Wake up. We’ve got a guest.”

She turned to the young woman. “You look hungry, dear. Would you like a piece of cake? We’ve got chocolate. Ice cold milk, too.”

In spite of herself, Clare was charmed by the old lady. She seemed so nice, just like Rick had said. Good-natured people. “A piece of cake?”

“Yes. Chocolate. It’s delicious.”

“Sure,” Clare smiled and followed the old lady in to the kitchen. “I’d love some.”

“That’s wonderful, dear. Just give me a minute to get it ready for you.”