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I FUMED ACROSS half of Kansas’s boring terrain, fields upon fields of low, nondescript greenery. The upside? I had lots of time to think. That I needed, because I’d picked a bold and possibly dangerous solution to a problem that begged a solution. I’m on my way to Susank to take my sister away from her abusive husband.

Twelve hundred eighty seven miles from my home in Hershey; twelve hundred eighty seven angry miles. My wife said I shouldn’t make the trip. She tried to make me be reasonable.

“Too much for your heart, Jake. I know how much you love your sister, but…”

“I’m going, Maeve. Don’t stop me,” I told her. “The bastard didn’t believe me. I’m going to make a pretzel out of him.”

“Don’t talk like that. He’s bigger than you.”

“Yeah, well, I’m madder than him. Special Ops training should do the trick.”

“C’mon, Jake, that was ‘Desert Storm!’”

“You don’t forget,” I said, convincing myself in the process.

She tried a few low blows. I’m not twenty-seven any more. What if he hurts me badly? What if he kills me? What about Amy? Our daughter needs a father. What about your management job at the Hershey plant? And the lowest blow of all. What about her? She loved me, but at the moment I’d blocked everything she said with white-hot anger and no room for reason.

“My sister, Maeve, my sister!” I tried to brush her arguments aside. “I’m not going to do anything stupid.”

She got quiet about then. She didn’t believe me, except that I’d be going and she knew it.

I don’t tell her I had an equalizer and I meant to use it if my “visit” didn’t work to my satisfaction. I took my S&W 32 out of the lockbox yesterday, loaded and locked, relocked the empty box and slid the gun into my Pathfinder’s glovebox.

Angry is a kind of craziness.

I kept tight control over my features. She’d know she’d lost the argument to pigheadedness. I’d had it with the phone calls and Judy’s tears and the secret confirmation I got from my call to boyhood friend Geoff Wilucz, who still lived in that little town of thirty-four souls.

He told me Dave lost his job several months ago. He’d descended into drink to compensate and he wasn’t fun to be around. Geoff said he’d stopped being neighborly. I couldn’t tell Maeve that.

Then I wondered why Judy hadn’t shared with me. I answered my own thought. Probably knew I’d act like I’m acting. Then the disaster of my phone call to Dave. I lost it. I ended up calling him all sorts of names and I threatened him. He laughed at me and hung up. Nobody did that to me!

I gave it the test of time, twelve hundred miles of it. I left Hershey with an edge of angst, but that I directed to my wife for lying to her. It didn’t set well. We had no secrets. I grimaced at that pronouncement. If she had a secret, I wouldn’t know, right? And now I had one and she didn’t know, except we’d been married almost thirty years and if anybody knew me, she did.

My first day driving I went all out; sixteen hours seething inside kept my body at a long distance edge so I stayed plenty alert. I did most of it on the I-70 Interstate, cruise set on seventy. I found a Comfort Inn off the highway for the night in Topeka. My anger fell away and I slept the sleep of the righteous. Before climbing under the covers I thought about what Maeve might do. It gave me pause. Did she give up a little too quick?

If I were her, what would I do? I would call ahead to the Kansas State Police and have a welcoming committee waiting for me, but would she do that? I didn’t think so, but she might. She knew how upset I could get and she knew what I could do…used to do.

Hell with it! I’d cast the dice and what would be, would be. I patted the pocket with the lockbox key. She wouldn’t know about the gun and the idea wouldn’t occur to her; that I believed.

My triple bypass now two years in the past and with the blessings of the best recovery my surgeon had seen in years beating inside, I thought about my plan for maybe the thirtieth time. I’d arrive unannounced. Dave might be home, but likely he’d be over at Moe’s Bar in Beaver.

I gave some thought to the price his mortgage paid toward his drinking. The anxiety in Judy’s voice in our final conversation convinced me it would get worse for her before it got better. That’s when I made my decision to go for the showdown.

I left Topeka around ten, figuring I’d get to my sister’s place about one-thirty, give or take. I’d be ready for anything, but truly expected the confrontation in the late evening.

A niggling thought tickled my mind. What if Maeve called Judy; put her on alert? I could picture it. Put it in the mix, I told my brain. What would Judy do? I considered it as I drove the last boring stretch of the 189 off I-70, a knife straight road girdled by flat green fields. When I ran out of that road, I made a left and a right onto Susank Road with rising anticipation. It had been years since I had a knockdown, drag out. I’d stayed in shape. I could do it.

There, a left onto unpaved Pope Street. The Pathfinder raised a cloud of dust behind me. I could see Judy’s place with its add-on’s and the miscellaneous mechanical crap Dave left to rot behind the shed. Little place – testament to Dave’s ineptness or to laziness? I believe he tried hard for some years, but never got anywhere and I sensed his resentment through my phone conversations with Judy. She made excuses for him right along.

I couldn’t understand it, but I’d read somewhere that a lot of women stuck by their husbands even after they started beating on them. We’d had conversations and Judy always took his side, until about a year ago when Dave threw the bills across the room and then slapped her when she tried to confront him about it. The abuse began and escalated over the coming months. Judy wouldn’t call the police and unless she made a complaint, they couldn’t act. The resident State trooper, a guy named Crowley told me that when I tried.

Three days ago my last conversation with Judy did it. I would do something. The law could do nothing, I’d been told. She would do nothing, she sobbed. She loved him.

I drove onto Judy and Dave’s property. I didn’t see his truck, so I figured he’d gone to Mo’s. I presumed I’d have time to talk to Judy, to convince her that my appearance could begin a new life for her, that she’d go to a shelter while she divorced the bastard, or failing that, that I would convince Dave to get some help.

How wrong I could be. I parked, got out, knocked on the front door and after a few moments the door opened a few inches.

“Surprise!” I cried and threw my arms up. Then I saw Judy as the early afternoon light settled on her features. Blood moved slowly down her cheeks and I saw welts on her once pretty face. My face got hot and my rage became a force of nature. I pushed into Judy’s house without thinking.

Jake, NO!” she yelled. Just then she was yanked violently out of sight. Dave hulked into the doorway. Damn it, Maeve did call her after all. I backed up fast.

“So, you little piss-ant,” Dave started, “you’re going to do what to me?” In his hand he held an eight-inch kitchen knife. “I think I’ll cut you up, asshole.”

With that he lunged, the knife aimed for my stomach. If my adrenaline hadn’t been working overtime from the moment I saw Judy—his mistake—he would have impaled me and game over. I jerked backwards and twisted to the side, grabbed his arm at the wrist with my left hand and pulled hard. Not expecting it, Dave’s considerable bulk came through the doorway and his foot caught on the threshold. He crashed face down on the dirt. He still had the knife.

With amazing forethought I’d worn heavy brogans for the confrontation. I stomped on his hand and he let go with a cry. I kicked the knife ten feet away. He started to rise. I had less than a couple of seconds to reach behind and pull my Smith and Wesson from my belt. I bent down, stuck it in his ear, hard, and shouted, “Move, you simpleton. All I want to do is to put a bullet in your brain!”

He deflated quickly. “You wouldn’t do that,” he said, but didn’t sound sure.

“Find out! Move, you bastard.” I called to Judy, who had appeared back in the doorway. “Are you through with this piece of trash now, Sis?” Rock.

“Yes I am. I’m calling the police, Jake.” In a few seconds Jake heard her talking to the resident Trooper. She hung up. Scissors.

“He’ll be here in five minutes, Jake.” Then she started to cry. Paper.

Epilogue

Aftermath is always anticlimax. I told the trooper I’d get Judy to the nearest medical facility and get her fixed up. Crowley led Dave away in cuffs. Judy agreed to testify against her husband.

I had to prove I had a carry permit in Pennsylvania. Trooper Crowley advised me that didn’t hold for Kansas, but considering the outcome, he wouldn’t give me grief about it.

“Lock it in your glovebox on the way home, okay?” I said okay.

After the police presence departed, and we were on the way to the Walk-in, Judy and I had a heart to heart. Judy wanted to stay in Susank. The trooper assured her Dave would not bother her again, that his next stop was the county jail and after that, someplace even more impressive.

Judy had decisions to make and plenty of time to make them. I’d better call home soon. I had a story to tell and a bit of forgiveness to ask for.

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