A COWARD'S REDEMPTION - MIKE WILKERSON
He was a coward by his own account. Things had changed for him, only he wasn’t willing to accept it. He thought, no, he knew that if he played his cards right, he could change the outcome.
He enjoyed lying to himself.
He took himself back a few months earlier.
She was the sweetest thing a small town could produce. But jobs in those small towns spelled out the future: POVERTY. Friends had made the move down already. They spelled paradise with a capital “F”- as in Florida.
They talked it over.
“There’s no future here,” he had said.
“I know. But everything we know is.”
They had looked at each other honestly. Sitting there, on a bed in the middle of fucking nowhere, he pleaded his case.
“I don’t want to wake up at fifty and say that we didn’t at least try.”
She had looked at him with eyes that made him want to die and said, “Okay.”
The cops had given him the rundown - nobody goes into the Lemon Grove apartment complex alone. Even cops only enter in two-man teams. A young, attractive Social Worker had no business being in there. They laid it out in so many words - sorry, but she made a big, fucking mistake.
South St. Pete, Florida, in the areas between Tenth and Twentieth Avenue South. The gist: crack houses, prostitution, homeless wanderers. The consequence: crack babies, domestic violence, pedophile victims. The need: Social Workers - Big Time. She had applied, got the job and attacked it with idealistic gusto. She was going to make a difference. These were people with real problems, not inbreeding shit kickers hiding a meth lab in the basement. She believed that one person really could change people’s lives. What she didn’t realize; not everyone wanted help.
He had no such ambition or luck. His job consisted of selling ceiling fans for a Jewish hard-ass. The sunshine did nothing to cure the post-traumatic stress and depression he carried around since he was a kid.
After a month, he thought he’d made a big mistake, moving to this place. After two months, he knew he’d made a big mistake. After three months, he was getting ready to slit his wrists in a warm tub of water on his day off.
That was the coincidence; it was the same day he heard a knock at his door.
The cop was older, solemn and had done this one too many fucking times. He could tell just by looking into his eyes. He ended the brief conversation with, “I’m so sorry.”
When the cop had gone, he found himself on his knees, with a feeling he knew he couldn’t contain; a real reason to finally end it. He crawled to the cabinet, pulled out the bourbon and took the longest drink he could manage. Struggling, he made it to the tub, sank deep inside and ran the blade both parallel and across his wrists. The blood crosses a hope for redemption in his next life.
But the cop had come back.
Later, that same cop would tell him that he was due to retire in two weeks. That might have been the last time he’d ever have to say “I’m sorry” to a spouse or loved one. Something in his face had pulled him back, to let him know that he understood. When he had walked back to the door, he saw that it was open.
He had knocked, then said hello to no answer. He said hello again, this time a little louder and took a deeper look inside the door. He saw the whiskey bottle tipped over on the floor, the contents now empty. Instincts kicked in, he did a quick search and found him.
The cop wrapped his wrists in towels. He then made a quick call and the ambulance was there in less than ten minutes. The man was still very much alive, whether he wanted to be or not. They kept him in the hospital for a couple of days and sent him to the psychiatric ward for two months. The cop visited him every day of his stay. They talked about everything: love, hate, which evolved into rape, murder. Rape and murder - those two words. Three weeks into treatment, he finally asked the question.
“Is that what happened to…her?”
“Yes,” the cop replied.
“A few weeks ago.”
The man broke down and they had to sedate him.
The cop made it out to his car and kicked the dash out of it. He’d seen it all, one too many goddamn times.
On the day they released him, the now-retired cop came to drive him home. They said little to each other, until they were sitting in the man’s driveway.
“Now what?” the cop asked.
“I don’t know,” the man said.
“You got my number, if you need anything.”
“Yeah, I know, just call. Fuck.”
The man started sobbing. “Did they catch who did this?”
The cop let out a pissed-off sigh. “They dragged in twenty subjects, all with alibis. Fact is, with what happened because of the riots, shit, it’s a low priority. I’m sorry.”
The man was sobered by the news. Something that happened almost a year ago was dictating the search for his wife’s killer.
“I won’t make it, not knowing.”
The cop looked at him, rubbed his hands over his eyes. “Fuck. Listen, I might be able to…do something.”
“Like what? What do you mean?”
“I was on the force for twenty-five years in this town. I know people. Maybe they’re the wrong people, but they’re the right people, too.”
The man looked out the window. He was wondering why he hadn’t put a gun to his head, instead of the slower, wrist-cutting alternative.
“Okay, tell me.”
The cop broke it down. He knows another guy, used to be a cop. Now, he was a leg breaker, intimidator, hired muscle, big white boy with Southside ties. He knew the worst of the right people. Maybe, he could find out something and take care of it.
The man didn’t hesitate. “Call him.”
For two weeks, he abstained from drinking and took his meds. For two weeks, he didn’t hear a word from the cop. He started to get worried. His initial enthusiasm towards finding the killer was waning. His wife started visiting him in bloody, sexual dreams.
“Why aren’t you trying to help me?” she asked him.
“I’m trying!” he would scream.
“I loved it,” she then said, bucking her hips at her assailant.
He lost it. He tore his house down; mirrors smashed, furniture broken to kindling. Then he hit the bottle and passed out for twelve hours straight. He awoke to a phone ringing.
“We’ve got them.”
It was the cop.
“There were, are, two of them.”
He took in a breath then let it out.
“You still there?” the cop asked.
“Yeah. Jesus, I’ve been waiting, wondering when you’d call. Now, I don’t know...”
“Let’s not talk about that.”
“Son, don’t worry about it. I need to know what you want him to do with them.”
“I don’t want them to die. I do not fucking want them to die.”
“I want them to go through every day, knowing what they did. I want them to be made to remember. I want to watch while they’re being made to…”
For the first time, the cop raised his voice. “Goddamnit. Listen, I don’t know if that’s such a good idea.”
“I have to have this. If I don’t have this, I’ll never fucking make it to the end of the week and you can’t watch me for the rest of your life.”
He heard the cop breathing on the other end. “Tonight, midnight. There’s a warehouse at the corner of fifth and fifth, south. There’s a side door. Knock on the door three times, pause and then two more times. He calls himself Jimmy. I know what you’re thinking, but he’s solid, sympathetic. Now, you’re sure?”
The cop hung up. The man spent the rest of the day praying to God; for his wife, the cop, a man named Jimmy and forgiveness for what would happen that night.
He knocked on the door three times, paused and then two more times. Almost thirty seconds went by before the door opened. The man standing before him was a mountain: 6’3”, two-hundred-thirty pounds and dead-serious-looking.
“Jimmy?” he asked.
Jimmy nodded his head, ushered the man inside.
Two men were zip-tied to chairs. Both had a little blood on their lips and noses, but nothing drastic. He saw them and it all became too real.
“I know how you feel.”
The man looked over to Jimmy, awakened by his words. “I’m sorry?”
“You’re looking at these guys and thinking to yourself: ‘Maybe we should just turn them over to the cops.’ And you know what? That would be the prudent thing to do, the honest thing to do. But I’d say you were wrong as hell to think that. I’d say that you were thinking that I’m no better than these fucks and maybe you’re right.”
Jimmy paused, lit a cigarette and blew out the smoke before speaking again.
“I’m not here to tell you what’s right and what’s wrong. We both already know that. I’m just here to tell you that the nightmares will never go away. But at least these two bastards will never cause them again.”
The man looked upwards, closed his eyes.
“They never go away, the nightmares?”
“God,” he said, looking upwards again. He remembered the dreams. His wife moaning in pleasure, right before they killed her.
“How long will it take to…?”
“It can be as short or as long as you wish.”
He closed his eyes; saw her face, her lips moving. “Why aren’t you trying to help me? I loved it. Why aren’t you trying to help me? I loved it.”
“He told you - I don’t want them dead, I just want them…”
“I know. If it’s any consolation, it’s the same way I’d want it.” Jimmy then pointed to a chair, fifty feet away. “You can sit back there if you like.”
The man went to the chair and sat.
Jimmy went to work. For thirty minutes, he was steady and meticulous. For all the screams of the men, he never let out a single grunt in acknowledgment that what he was doing was difficult. He showed no joy. He showed no remorse. He broke ribs and noses. Smashed kidneys and kneecaps. Knocked jaws off hinges, eyeballs from their sockets. When he was done, all that resembled the men were bloody, mashed pulps of flesh.
He checked their pulses, placed a call. “Yeah, about thirty minutes. Yeah, no more than an hour, though. Okay? Thanks.”
The man was sobbing with his head in his hands. He felt a hand on his shoulder. “It’s over. Do you want to look?”
He kept his face down. “No. Yes.” Looking up, he vomited, put his face back into his hands and started to sob again. “Jesus.”
“Friend, I think we need to get you out of here.”
“Yes, they’ll live, but they’ll never do another fucking bad thing again. I juiced them beforehand also, so we don’t have to worry about them identifying us. Listen, in about twenty minutes, an ambulance is going to be showing up. We need to get you out of here, okay?”
He walked with Jimmy outside. They walked the two blocks to his car and Jimmy made sure that he was in the driver’s seat with the engine running. For a second, he looked straight ahead and then, he turned to Jimmy.
“This dirty, goddamn city.”
“It ain’t for everyone,” replied Jimmy.
“She was beautiful, you know. Brown hair, brown eyes. She was everything I ever wanted in a woman. She was everything that was right with the world.”
“I saw her picture. I’m sorry.”
“It…I’ll never be the same. You were right about that. But, I guess I knew that the day that cop came to my door.”
Jimmy surveyed the area. “He’s a good man. His parents, brother and sister were murdered when he was a kid. His third year as a cop, his wife was raped then she committed suicide. She was pregnant. He probably never told you that.”
“Now, I’m going to give you some advice: leave this town. You’re not built for it.”
“And forget my name, forget my face, forget this night. I can find you anywhere you think you might hide. Got it?”
“Okay then. You’ve got about five minutes before this place is swarming. Obey the speed limit and keep moving - you’ll be fine.”
The man nodded and Jimmy started walking.
Thirty seconds elapsed before he pulled out the snub-nosed .38. Putting the barrel in his mouth, he closed his eyes, seeing what he needed to see; her smiling, saying, “Thank you.” He pulled the trigger then, leaving his pain; leaving it in that dirty, goddamned city.
BIO: Mike has been writing for about a year and a half. During this time, he's written a couple of short stories and is currently working on a novel. Besides reading, writing and being married to a beautiful woman, he spends most of his time brooding about the past. His day job consists of waiting for the phone to ring.
The Irish Times’ Crime Fiction ‘Best Of’ 2018
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