A rewritten and partially scrubbed copy of The Recluse…A Short Story…

Off the road, nestled behind tall, flushed with green pine and oak trees, sat a small cedar cabin. A green steel cattle gate blocked the entrance to the drive. Around the property, an ancient brick fence in various states of disarray secured the property. People passed by often and slowed down to look. They weren’t looking at the house; they searched for the owner, Davy Ford.

“Maybe he’s out today,” they muttered as they drove by his home. No one dared encroach upon his property, asa warning Davy hung a metal sign from his gate that read: I will shoot trespassers, I will shoot survivors again.

As is so often the case, stories circulated about the mean hermit that lived in the cabin at the end of town. Old men would sit in front of the drugstore, an old checkerboard in between them, resting on old whiskey barrels, and tell the youngsters stories about Davy. 

“He once ate the flesh of a kid. When the cops showed up, he had blood pouring from his mouth, and his eyes had the look of madness. The police asked him why he’d done it, and he said, “Me like tender meat.” Other tales circulated about the loner. Some tales were more fantastic than others, but they all centralized on the fact that Davy Ford was a monster.

Most of the children listened to the tales with a mixture of shock and horror, well all of them except for this one girl named Annabelle.

Annabelle Franks, Belle to her friends, stood by the gate with her friend Billy. Sweat soaked her straw -colored hair. She scratched her cheek and wiped at her forehead with sweat, and she muttered, “It’s sure enough a hot one today.” Her best friend Billy Thurston, 13, stood beside her and swallowed hard. Whereas Belle had more courage than sense, Billy had a healthy respect for the stories he heard about the hermit.

“Let’s go down there and have a look, Billy.”

Billy jerked his head back and forth with such force Belle thought his head might come off, and he crossed his arms. His mouth tightened into a straight line, and his frown deepened. It deepened so much his freckles seemed to grow in proportion with the stress he felt within his chest. 

“Are you nuts, Belle? You’ve heard the stories about this recluse. He ate children to survive the war. The old folk say he returned from the war with a thirst for blood.”

Belle scrunched up her nose, and spat on the ground, and a frown crossed her lips. Her blue eyes darkened, and she nudged Billy with her elbow. He shrugged off her nudge and took a couple of steps away from her. His cowardice irritated Belle, and she snapped, “You know there ain’t no truth to that crap! Them old folks are just winding you up. They’re yanking your chain. Don’t nobody check on the poor fellow. What if something happened to him?”

“I don’t care, Belle,” Billy said, as he shrugged. “It ain’t my job to check on him.” Billy crossed his arms and shook his head again. His red hair swooped down in his eyes, and he shoved it to the side. Belle looked at him but said nothing. I’ll just stare at him until he does what I want.

“I ain’t going. It’s modern times. Pretty sure he’s got a phone. If he’s in trouble, he can call 911 like everyone else.”

Belle watched Billy get puffed up. She liked to get him riled up. She spat on the ground and feigned indifference.

“Fine. Stay here, sissy. I’m going down there to check it out. I don’t need no bodyguard, I’m an emancipated woman, and I can fend for myself.”

Belle’s attempt to stir Billy from his lethargy fell on deaf ears. Billy shrugged again and retorted, “Okay, I’ll be here when you get back, cause I ain’t going with you. Don’t get eaten.”

Annabelle jumped the fence and started down the drive. The driveway was brick, like they had back in the olden times, Belle assumed, back before potholes grew in such astronomical size as to swallow minivans. Shoots of grass came up through the brick. Moss covered some of it and it made walking tricky. The yard was multi-level. Rows of flowers, long overtaken by weeds, ran along the fence. Now and then, Belle would catch sight of a concrete statue or a garden gnome sticking out from between the weeds. Poison Ivy hung from some of the brick. 

Belle skipped along, humming to herself, oblivious to the world about her. From behind her, a noise sounded, and she let out a yelp and spun around to face the source of the racket. It was Billy. 

“What are you doing, Billy? I thought you were frightened.”

Billy rubbed his arms like he had wandered through Antarctica naked. His fear caused him to shiver, and Belle waited for him to respond. He glanced around at the overgrown garden and statues, all while rubbing his arms as to generate enough heat for the blood to circulate again.

“You called me a sissy, I’m not. I’m a thinker, and I don’t think this is a good idea.” 

Belle giggled and punched Billy on the shoulder. Sweat drenched Billy’s red hair. She was jealous of his thick mane. Belle’s straw-colored hair was thin. Her hair would never stay in place for long, therefore, she wore it in a ponytail, or as the older boys at school called it, ‘a pull handle.’ 

“Too late.”

Together, the pair made their way toward the cabin. Curtains hung in the window; and someone pulled them closed in true recluse fashion. Spider webs were visible on the porch. Angels stood in the flower beds that ran in front of a porch that had seen better years, and the angels were in no better shape. Some had broken wings; others had cracked faces. 

“I hope that ain’t a sign,” Billy whispered. 

Belle hushed him and made her way onto the porch. Just as she went to knock on the door, it opened. Belle gasped and backed up. Her eyes were the size of half dollars. Billy yelped and backed until he almost fell over the side of the porch.

“Can you not read?” 

Belle shook her head yes but had not found the words to answer. A short, muscular, bald man walked out on the porch. His hazel eyes seemed to pierce the very souls of Belle and Billy, and he crossed his arms and waited for a response. Billy gripped Belle’s hand and prepared to run. 

Belle freed her hand from Billy’s grasp and extended her hand. The man looked at her offered hand and then back at her, and raised his eyebrows. 

“Howdy, neighbor. I’m Annabelle, and you are-“

“Not interested. Beat it, kid. Don’t come back.”

Belle stood her ground and locked eyes with the hermit. The hermit did not back down either. Billy intervened. In a squeaky voice he responded, “Sir, we didn’t mean to disturb you. We should be going.”

“Uh-huh. That’s a great idea.”

Billy took Belle by the hand and pulled her toward the gate. She swatted his hand, but he refused to let go. He raced toward the safety of the green metal gate, and didn’t let go until he arrived there. Only then did he relinquish his grip around Belle’s hand. 

“Why,” she shouted, “did you drag me off the freaking porch, Billy?”

She slapped at his hands and arms. Billy didn’t flinch. He ignored her punches and doubled over to catch his breath. Belle continued her assault, and after catching his breath, Billy stood upright and yelled, “Because you’re a brainless idiot!”

“I am not!”

Belle crossed her arms and turned from Billy. She had made it to the porch and found the guy, but she did not get to talk to him. Her failure to get his name or have a conversation with the hermit incensed her further. 

“Everyone around here knows the man is a psycho, except for you. Belle, what would you have done if he decided you would make a great meal?”

Belle turned her nose up and refused to answer her friend. Billy shook his head in disgust and walked away from Belle. How stupid could one person be? Why was Belle the only one who cared about this psycho?

“I’d imagine Billy, if that had happened, I would no longer be here to give a crap.”

“But…”

“But nothing. No one in this town has ever gone to see this poor man. Ain’t nobody gave a rip. ‘Oh, he’s this or that.’ Don’t nobody know nothin’. Was there blood coming out of his mouth, Billy? Was he munching on a human leg and sucking the marrow out?”

“Don’t be dumb, Belle.”

Annabelle punched him dead in the chest. She reared back to hit him again, but Billy sidestepped the second blow, and put his hands up to protect himself from further blows.

“You don’t be dumb, Billy. Out here believin’ everything people tell you.”

Billy kicked dirt and crossed his arms. He went down there with her after he said he wasn’t going to. Heck, he had even saved her life from being cannibalized. Was she grateful? Heck, no. Billy’s dad, in moments of sheer frustration, often told him ‘there’s no pleasing a woman.’ Billy was at the point of agreeing with his father’s assessment today.

“I should have left you on the porch,” he snapped. Belle picked up a rock and threw it at Billy. He ducked it, and Belle picked up another to chuck at him.

“You dang right you should have. I’m a grown woman, Billy. I don’t need no man bossing me around.”

“You’re 13, Belle. I’m sorry, okay?”

“Age don’t mean nothin’, Billy. Womanhood differs from manhood. You’d know that if you weren’t so dumb.”

Billy went and sat down by the post. He leaned back against it and waited. Belle was furious. There wasn’t nothing to do but let her cool off. He pulled the brim of his hat down and closed his eyes. 

He could hear her muttering and kicking dirt. Billy dozed in the lazy sunshine. After a while it got silent, and he felt her drop to the ground beside him.

“We were so close, Billy.”

“Yeah, I know. Sorry, I dragged you off the porch.”

“Yeah,” Belle sighed. “Sorry, I called you dumb.”

“It’s alright. I am dumb. I’m friends with you.”

Belle scrunched up her nose and giggled. Billy gave her a crooked grin. He stood to his feet and offered his hand to Belle. The sun had set and twilight caused the street lamps to kick on with a hum. 

“Ready to head home?”

Belle took his hand and got to her feet. She detested parting from her friend and hated the idea of going home. There might have been worse things in the world than going home to a drug addict mother, but if there were, you couldn’t prove it by Belle.

“Yeah, but I wished I didn’t have to.”

“I know, but it won’t always be that way, Belle.”

“I know, Billy. Besides, I get to go to church tomorrow. You wanna come with me?”

Billy shook his head no. “I’ll pass, Belle. You go on and go. I’ll see you after church, okay?”

“Okay, I’ll get off the bus about 130.”

Billy nodded and gave Belle a wave goodbye, and then he started off in the opposite direction. As he walked home, he considered what he had overheard a couple of teachers say, ‘Opposites attract.’

Billy did not know what it meant, but it sure seemed to apply to him and Belle.

Davy Ford watched the children from afar. He walked through his house and pulled his drapes shut. He shut off the lights and locked his doors. Satisfied that his home was secure, he went down to the sub-basement and worked on his latest project. 

Stupid kids, Davy thought as he sat in front of his laptop. Since his return from the war, Davy had opted for an isolated existence, not for mental health reasons or from a deep-rooted hatred for his neighbors, but because he felt trapped in a world where no one understood him. Words were his only friends, and he found a sense of peace in writing his emotions out. Davy opened his word processor and stared at the blank screen. His cursor flashed but never moved, and for several minutes he tried to clear his mind and think of a title. 

All this time back, and not once was I invaded. Leave it to two kids to breach it.

Davy typed the title, Just Another Day in Hell, into his website. For a moment, he considered adding ‘based on true events,’ but he didn’t. Davy had enough problems without adding more to his plate. 

His phone buzzed and distracted him from the screen. He stared at the phone. It was a notice from the local church that his group would meet on Tuesday at 1500. Davy stared at it and went to put it back down without responding, but he knew his doctor would want an update, so he responded with, “Okay, I’ll see you then.”

Davy hated going to the meetings. However, his doctor thought it would do him some good to get out and meet new people. She’s wrong, Davy thought, but he had to go. She checked on his attendance and they spoke about it at his appointments.

Dr. R. Wayfarer, local head shrinker for the veteran community, had recommended Davy attend these group meetings at Mountain Top Faith Center. Davy did not oppose going. It felt good to congregate with veterans from all wars, but to dig into raw, naked emotion, he struggled to find peace in the ripping open of old wounds. 

The pastor of the church would sometimes sit in and tell her story. She had been a helicopter pilot in the National Guard. She had never walked the blood-soaked sands of the desert. Her closest encounter with danger had been on a search and rescue mission in the mountains during a wildfire. 

It was a good story, but it wasn’t war. 

Davy placed the phone down and focused on his screen. This story would not write itself, and Davy set his fingertips on the keyboard. Life in the sand sucked, he typed. Soon Davy found the words he needed to express the darkness in his heart. 

While Davy unburdened his heart, Belle had walked home. Her momma, Wilma, had a nasty reputation, not that she cared on whit what others thought of her. Wilma’s boyfriend Jocko had a nasty rep too. When people saw them together, everyone knew trouble wasn’t far behind them. Wilma watched Belle enter the yard. She smiled at the wavering image of her blonde-haired daughter as she depressed the plunger of the syringe loaded with heroin.

“Hiya, darling,” she muttered, as the heroin rushed through her veins. Wilma slumped against the rotted post and gulped the air greedily. Belle looked at her mom and shook her head. The needle was still stuck in Wilma’s vein. Belle pulled the syringe out and set it to the side. Wilma snored. 

Jocko walked out onto the porch bare chested and smacked his lips. ‘A few more years and that fruit will be worth picking. Just got to tough it out with her junkie momma until then.’

“You want a hit?”

Belle shook her head no and went to move around him. Jocko smacked her on the rump. “One day, you will want some, and then I’ll give you all you can handle.” He smiled at Belle, his yellow teeth flashing menacingly. Belle suppressed the urge to vomit and continued inside. 

“No thanks,” she said as she went to her room. Cockroaches scattered when she flipped on the light. The hot night air was suffocating. Belle opened the window and turned on a lamp. She checked her bed for bugs and roaches. There were none on the bed. 

She opened up her favorite story, The Sword and The Stone, by T. H. White, and leaned against the corner bedpost. Belle read until her eyes grew heavy. 

During the night, she woke several times. Jocko and Wilma would laugh raucously about something they saw on television, or they would argue, and Jocko would slap Wilma around. Belle covered her head with her pillow and tried to ignore the anguished sobs of her mother.

As dawn approached, Belle rose from her bed and prepared for the day. She showered and dressed in a yellow sundress with flowers on the material, brushed her hair and let it hang loose about her narrow shoulders, and wore her best black shoes. Then she topped off her outfit with a big, floppy hat that drooped on all sides. Belle smiled in the mirror and whispered, “I am beautiful. I am not my mother.”

At 0900, she slipped from the house and stood on the corner until the van from Mountain Top Faith Center arrived. She boarded the bus and stared from the window. Children’s laughter carried through the bus, and for once, Belle felt at home and at peace.

Davy stood in front of his window and peeked from behind the curtain. No one was near his gate, no one had crossed his perimeter. He sipped coffee from his steel mug and kept watch. People drove by and always slowed down to look at the cabin. These ‘on-lookers’, busybodies Davy called them, were an annoyance, but part and parcel of living in a small town. It was the price of being the local freak and monster.

“Keep moving,” he chided them in his mind. “Nothing to see here.” His home front secured, Davy sat in his recliner and flicked on the local news in hopes there was something good going on somewhere in the world. 

It was all bad news. 

War had broken out in Europe, and once again threatened all the neighboring countries and nation-states surrounding the hot zone. People never learned from history, they insisted upon making the same mistakes over and over. Drugs were rampant within the city, prostitution and various other facets of perversion were being normalized. Davy shut off the television, but not before the sins of his past ate at his mind.

“It wasn’t worth it,” he thought, not for the first time. “All the blood and the guts, all the destruction. It was all for naught.”

Davy sat in the dark alone, with only his dark thoughts and demons for company. 

At 130, Billy waited at the bus stop for Belle. He wiped the sweat out of his eyes and saw the van coming down the road. Belle saw him from her seat on the bus and waved. Billy waved back. The bus stopped, and the driver opened the door. Belle leaped out and almost tackled Billy. 

“Hey, Billy. We had an awesome church service!”

“Well, that’s good. You seem wound up; did you get converted?”

“No, I just feel light. You know, like a feather.”

Billy laughed. “Light, huh? Bet you can’t beat me in a race to Old Man Washington’s place.”

“You’re on, Billy.”

They lined up side by side. Belle looked at Billy and told him to count to three. Billy grinned at his friend. The scrawny redneck girl had disappeared, and a beautiful young woman had emerged from her cocoon. He had a hard time keeping his eyes off his friend.

“One…two…two and a half…three!” 

Both took off like racehorses at the track. Billy and Belle were neck to neck. Belle reached out and pushed Billy, and he stumbled and slowed down to regain his balance. Belle finished first and bent at the waist to catch her breath. Billy came up and punched her in the shoulder.

“You cheated,” he said.

She shook her head no. Both of them panted hard and stayed bent over at the waist until they regained their breath. 

“No, I did not. I took advantage of you being too focused. That’s not cheating, that is being smart.”

“Whatever,” Billy snapped.

“Suck it up, Billy. You lost to a girl.”

Billy and Belle walked to the shade of an old oak tree. They leaned against it and caught their breath. Belle grinned slyly and wiped at the sweat on her forehead. She could see her remark stung, and Billy swallowed hard and tried to restrain himself from saying something mean. 

“What do you want to do now?”

Billy shrugged and muttered, “I don’t care.” Belle winked at him and grinned, but Billy didn’t return her grin. She gave him a light shove and said, “Let’s go to the waterway. I have some money; we can get a Coke to share.”

“Sounds good.”

Together, the two friends walked off toward the store to grab a soda and maybe a Little Debbie snack cake. Belle bought a glass bottle of Barq’s Root Beer and a fig bar, and the pair walked to a picnic bench under a tall pecan tree and watched a barge drift lazily down the waterway.

“How did it go last night?”

Belle shrugged and nibbled at her portion of the fig bar. “Jocko smacked Wilma around again. She cried and begged him to stop, and I guess he did when he tired of beating her. They cuddled up on the couch when I left this morning, Billy.”

Billy didn’t know what to say to that, so he ate the rest of his cake and stayed silent. “Wanna climb that tree?” Belle grinned and nodded. “Ladies first,” she retorted as she ran toward the oak. She leapt to the lowest branch and pulled herself up, and Billy grinned. This is perfect. Why can’t every day be like this?

Billy and Belle spent the rest of the day at the waterway. They skipped stones and played in the water. Billy and Belle made their way home with the setting sun. Billy walked his friend to the front gate of her ramshackle home. The lights were off, and her mom’s car was gone from the driveway. Belle smiled at Billy as she unlocked the gate. 

“I better get inside,” she said. 

“Yeah, I have to get home myself.”

Belle leaned close and gave Billy a peck on the cheek. Billy’s heart raced; his face blushed a bright red. Belle giggled at his obvious discomfort and scrunched up her nose playfully. 

“Maybe tomorrow we could go back to see the hermit.”

“I don’t know about that, Belle. He acted like he wanted to be left alone.”

“We’ll talk about it tomorrow, okay?”

Billy nodded his head, but he was not in a hurry to revisit the cabin in the woods. He watched Belle walk into the house and waited until her room lamp clicked on. Then he walked back to his house. 

Davy watched the sun go down from his sub-basement window. He had spent the day pecking on the keyboard. For every word he chose, another five got deleted. Writing had become a source of frustration for him this afternoon.

He dug out a box filled with books of movies he collected throughout his multiple deployments. It mattered not where he deployed. Someone was selling movies. Davy had thousands of movies that he bought from various markets. He flicked on his television and slid a movie into the disc tray. 

The disc whirred and spun. It finally came on. He leaned back in his recliner and watched the film. The quality of the movie was shoddy, and Davy quickly lost interest in it. 

He went back to his computer and stared at the blank screen. ‘Come on, think of something to write…’

Davy pecked out a sentence and looked at what he had written. “The brown sand of the desert soaked up the blood like a sponge. Life had no value here. It was just another day in hell.”

It wasn’t much, but it was a start.

Mondays’ suck. Everybody said so. Everyone hated when the weekend disappeared, especially young folks, but the five days of trials between weekends made people appreciate the brief respite from the work week. Belle waited for the bus and saw Billy walking up. She smiled, and he smiled back. 

“Hey,” Billy said. 

“Hey, Billy.”

“I hate Mondays.”

“Me too.”

They waited for the bus in silence. Neither Belle nor Billy were morning people. They needed at least another four hours of sleep, a hearty breakfast, and a power nap before they could start their day. Standing at a bus stop and waiting was cruel and unusual punishment to their minds. 

The bus pulled up and stopped. The brakes hissed, and they boarded the bus and rode silently to the school.

Mondays dragged by, and Belle couldn’t figure out why. It might have something to do with the dread people felt as they faced the day. Maybe it had to do with it being the first workday of the week. Either way, the day passed slowly. 

At the first break of the day, Billy and Belle sat outside on the steps and talked. Other kids hung out with their phones and friends. They all conversed in low tones, like they were discussing national secrets or the location of buried treasure. 

The school bully, Gavin Benson, plopped down between Belle and Billy. He scrunched up his nose and sniffed Belle. Gavin’s friends all laughed and crowded around Belle and Billy, and their presence emboldened Gavin.

“Smell that boys? Smells like whore up in here,” he shouted.

His pals laughed and pointed at Belle, and Billy felt anger rising inside of him, but he did nothing. Belle’s face turned crimson, but she said nothing. What could she say? Her mother had a reputation, and Belle was guilty by association. 

“Oh, that’s right, Belle. Your mom is a whore. Is she still shacked up with that drug dealer? Yeah, like mother, like daughter. What do you charge for your services?”

Billy stood up and balled up his fists. Gavin grinned, and his friends closed in. Billy backed down, and the boys snickered. 

“That’s enough, Gavin. Leave us alone.”

Gavin laughed and shrugged. “Sure. No problem, Billy.” Billy nodded, and Gavin punched him in the solar plexus. Billy doubled over, and Gavin grabbed him by the hair and yanked his head back. 

“It’s over when I say it’s over. Now, there are two whores out here.” 

The bullies hooted and started up the steps. Belle knelt down by her friend. Her tears trickled down her face and she angrily wiped them away. 

“You shouldn’t have said anything, Billy. My mom is….”

Billy coughed and shook his head and put his hand on Belle’s shoulder. “You’re not your mother, Belle.”

Monday afternoon, Belle and Billy disembarked from the bus. Billy sat on the bench and waited for Belle to say something. She had sat in silence the rest of the day since their encounter with Gavin and his cohorts.

Belle felt dirty, not because of anything she had done, but she felt as if her mother’s sins passed onto her. As if her mother’s drug addiction would soon be her addiction as well. Hot tears stung her eyes when she gave into these dark thoughts. She blinked her tears away and wiped them with the back of her hand. Belle did not want Billy to see her cry. She didn’t want him to think of her as weak.

“I’m going to go home, Billy. We can try again tomorrow.”

“Yeah, I am going with you. We will do it tomorrow.”

They said goodbye. Belle turned to leave. Billy watched her go. He waited until she had vanished from his view, and he turned and walked toward the recluse’s cabin.

Davy stood by the window and peeked out the curtain. His paranoia was strong and not misplaced. He’d served with several organizations that did the work no one else wanted to be associated with. Wet work was the name given to it. He sipped his hot coffee and watched as a shadow leaped over the gate. Davy waited to see who dared trespass on his property. 

Apparently, all the readers had vanished from his hometown. Now, people ignored the sign and did what they wanted. He needed to change that.

The figure drew closer. It was the boy from the other day. He was alone. “And, I thought the kid had good sense…” Davy stepped back from the curtain and shoved a sidearm into his right jean pocket. “Apparently, I need to instill the fear of God in this young’un.”

Billy stood in the driveway and looked at the broken angels in the flowerbeds, and wondered if he would join the concrete statues if he disturbed the man inside the cabin. His thoughts ran wild as he thought of every reason not to knock on the door. Billy stared at the cabin and sought to build up some courage. He needn’t waste any more time. The door opened, and the recluse stepped out onto the porch.

Billy’s breath caught in his throat when he saw the gun jutting out of the man’s pocket, and he knew his life was over. He put his hands up and swallowed hard.

“Please don’t shoot me, mister.” 

“Why are you here, boy?”

“I need to learn to fight,” Billy stammered. The words rushed out of his mouth. The man said nothing. “My friend was called a whore today. I need to stop the bullies from picking on my friend.”

Davy said nothing for a long moment. The kid seemed sincere in his approach, but you could never be certain when dealing with people. He crossed his arms and asked, “Is your friend a whore?”

“No, sir. She’s 13.”

A smile tugged at the corner of the man’s mouth briefly and then vanished. His eyes were cold, reptilian even. Billy considered fleeing, but he thought of Belle-and her tears-and Billy stuck it out for his friend.

“Where’s your dad, boy? Didn’t he teach you anything?”

“My dad died fighting in the war,” said Billy. “He was a hero. If he were here, he’d beat the brakes of those boys.”

“I know nothing about fighting, boy. I’m a man of peace.”

“A man of peace? Yeah, right? All the old folks claim you’re a maniac, a killer of children. They say you eat the flesh of your victims and suck the marrow from children’s bones.”

“Is that right? And what about you, boy? What do you believe?”

“I don’t believe you’re a man of peace,” Billy said. “Soldiers learn to fight, and you’re a soldier. If you don’t want to help me, just say so.”

The man watched his every movement, his eyes never blinking as he stared at the boy. Billy stepped toward the porch. “All the old folks think you’re a monster. Is that why you don’t leave your home?”

The man stepped off the porch and walked to where Billy stood. He leaned over until he stared deeply into Billy’s eyes. Billy squirmed and looked away. Fear flooded his system, but Belle needed protection. Billy needed to protect her. Davy sighed and motioned for the boy to follow him to the barn.

“Come on, boy. I will show you a couple of things, then you leave and forget your way back here.”

“Deal,” said Billy.

He hurried after the man, and they walked out to the barn. Inside the barn, a heavy bag hung from a rafter, and Davy showed Billy how to throw a punch. He had Billy throw straights, jabs, and hooks, until he thought his arms would fall off. Then, he showed him how to throw an uppercut. As he had Billy mimic his movements, he instructed him on the mindset of fighting.

“Do not lose your cool. Remember this: the elbows are hard and sharp. The foot is fragile, so are his eggs. Punch, kick, elbow, you do whatever it takes to win. There is no such thing as a fair fight. You fight to win, and you do whatever it takes to hurt the other guy. If you’re grabbed from behind, bring your foot down on top of his. If you bust his nose, grab it and yank downward.”

“Yes, sir.”

Billy punched the bag. Davy stopped him. “Don’t forget to move. Never move back in a straight line. Hit and move. Make him work. Okay?”

“Okay.”

In the heat of the barn, Davy would bark out a combination of punches, and Billy reacted. They kept at it until the sun set. Billy was panting hard, but he felt confident he could stand up for his friend. Davy stood at the door of the barn and looked at the waning light.

“It’s time for you to go home.”

Billy stuck out his hand. The man ignored it, but together they walked out of the barn. Davy walked onto the porch and turned to Billy. “You did good, kid. Don’t forget, the only fair fight is the fight you lose. There are no rules other than to win. Do what you have to do.”

“What do I call you, sir?”

“You don’t. Remember our deal.”

“Yes, sir.”

Billy started down the drive, and he felt elated that he got to spend time with the man, even though he kept ignoring his attempt to befriend him. When he got to the gate, he turned around to wave goodbye, but the man had disappeared back into his house.

Davy watched Billy go down his driveway from the safety of his window. The boy’s statement about him being a monster had hit home. “The kid has guts,” he thought to himself. “He doesn’t have a lick of sense, but he has guts.”

Davy walked down to the sub-basement and sat down at his laptop and flipped the screen up. A small clock sat on his desk. It read 1800. Something about the boy had touched some part of him. He opened his word processor and typed:

“I didn’t join the military because I hated our enemies. I joined because I loved my country. After the attacks, we had to respond. Some folks joined because we endured our day in hell. Others sought revenge. Some went in for what they could get out of it. There were an assortment of reasons, but none of it really mattered. The attacks on our city were the inciting incident, and the politicians leapt at the chance to send young men and women to the slaughter.

“When you experienced your first roadside bomb, your first kill, your first innocent bystander murdered because they were different, reasoning had nothing to do with any of it. War was a time of chaos, a time of madness. Reality and war would never mix. It was just another day in hell.

Davy shut down his laptop and walked upstairs. He dropped onto the couch and turned on his television. The Looney Tunes were on. He chuckled at the antics of Bugs Bunny and the Road Runner, and he watched cartoons until his eyes grew heavy. 

Tomorrow, he would go to his meeting and listen to the stories of other veterans. He would drink coffee and eat a snack, then he would pretend to listen intently to their troubles, all while he avoided talking about his own. He would smile to show that he was present in the room.

But in reality, it would be just another day in hell.

At 1445 the following day, Davy ambled into Mountain Top Faith Center. A gaggle of veterans sat in the plastic chairs, each chair painted a different color, and held quiet conversations amongst themselves. Some blew on their hot coffee; others talked about their favorite baseball teams, or who were the worst politicians. Everyone had a favorite, or worst, and no two were the same. 

A few veterans noticed him when he walked in. They nodded at him; Davy nodded back. He poured a cup of coffee and scooped up a dry donut, then made his way to the back row. Davy nibbled on the dry pastry and sipped his coffee, while listening to a few different conversations at the same time. 

The ringleader of the meeting was a young woman named Betty. She was a psychologist in town, and ‘had a burden for those who returned from war still struggling with the baggage.’ It was nice to hear that. As a member of the church, Betty had got permission from the pastor to start a meeting for the local veteran community. 

It had been in place for over a year. Many of the veterans that came to it were the original group. They came because it was their safe space. Davy came because his doctor checked up on him. 

Betty came in and gave everyone her mega-watt smile. She was a looker. Betty had jet black hair, grey eyes, and more curves than a dirt track. People smiled back at her. Some even flirted with her after they covered up their wedding bands. Davy sat in the back and concentrated on making minimum movement and effort. 

“Good evening, everyone. How are you all today?”

A chorus of answers came from the crowd, and she glanced around the room and gave everyone another smile. Davy watched. Betty pulled out her folder and cleared her throat. Silence fell over the rowdy gaggle of veterans as she called off names from her list. Those present responded with ‘here.’

“Davy?”

“Here,” he said quietly. 

She looked up and found him in the back row. She gave him a small smile. One of the original members snorted and said, ‘You need to sound off like you’ve got a pair, boy.’ Some of the older men chuckled at the bully’s remarks. Davy said nothing. 

Betty cleared her throat and forced a smile at the bully. He grimaced, aware he had crossed a line, and he had displeased the pretty woman he was trying to impress. Betty’s eyes darkened, but she kept an even tone when she responded with, “I heard him fine, Buster. Do I need to remind you we are in a church?”

“No ma’am. I apologize for my vulgarity.”

Betty smiled, pleased with the apology and the progress the bully had made. Buster smiled at her.

“Perhaps you should apologize to Davy. That way, we can start anew.”

“Um,” Buster began. 

Davy stood to his feet and waved his hand to silence the man. Betty stared at Davy and tilted her head at him in a quizzical manner, as if she couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t want an apology for the insult he’d endured.

“I don’t need his apology, ma’am. It’s all good.”

“I think it would be best, Davy.”

“Just let me apologize,” Buster started.

Davy cut his eyes to the loudmouth, and Buster went silent. Betty watched the confrontation and said nothing. Things had gotten awkward, and Davy hated awkward situations. Davy walked out of the class. As he neared the door, he heard Betty excuse herself from the group. 

Davy kept walking. Betty ran up and touched his shoulder, and he turned to face her. She put both hands up. Betty was a beautiful woman. Her black hair fell to her waist. Her eyes were a clear grey, and Davy thought she must have been the model God had chosen to represent womanhood. It was her intellect that Davy found appealing. She was smart, well-spoken, humorous, and quickwitted. 

“What more could a guy want,” he thought to himself. 

“Davy, let me explain.”

“I don’t need an explanation, Betty. I will come back to the next meeting, but I’m not staying for this one.”

“Buster needs to apologize in front of the whole group…”

“I don’t need it. The group doesn’t need it. Buster is an idiot. He’s an idiot now, and he’ll be one when I return next week.”

Betty shook her head in frustration. She could not understand why fighting men would battle to the death for their brothers and sisters in combat, but they were like a jackal on fresh blood when they weren’t fighting a war. 

“Okay, Davy. You win. I’ll mark you present, but I expect you here next week.”

“Yes ma’am.”

Davy walked out of the church and got in his truck. He’d suspected that these group meetings would evolve into social gatherings and cliques, and from what he’d witnessed, he wasn’t wrong.

Billy and Belle were getting off the bus when Davy arrived home. Belle wanted to visit him again, but Billy wasn’t having it, and he said as much. Still, Belle insisted upon going.

“Let’s go see him, Billy. I know he has to be lonely.”

“No, Belle. I can’t go back there.”

“You are such a chicken.”

Billy shook his head no, but refused to budge from his position. Belle danced around him, clucking like a hen, flapping her arms like chicken wings, and bobbing her head toward him like she intended to peck him to death. 

“Stop it, Belle. I can’t go back. It’s not because I don’t want to go with you.”

Belle stopped the chicken dance and looked at Billy. She leaned close and asked, “What do you mean?” Billy cast his gaze down to the ground and said nothing, for he had already said too much. 

“Well, if you want to go with me, why not say yes?”

“Because I told him I wouldn’t go back to his cabin.”

Belle backed up and stared at Billy, her eyebrows furrowed, and her eyes narrowed. She went to say something and then closed her mouth. Billy knew she knew something was off, and he chided himself in his mind. “Belle’s gonna hit the roof. I knew she’d want to be there, and she wasn’t. It’s like I stole her thunder, and she won’t forgive me for it.”

“Wait, a sec. You told him you wouldn’t come back? When did you see him?”

Billy dropped on the bench; Belle scrunched up close to him. Billy nodded his head and muttered, “I saw him yesterday.” Belle smiled and punched Billy on the shoulder.

“What’s he like? Why did you go? Why didn’t you take me?”

“You wanted to go home. After Gavin called you a, well, you know, I figured I needed to learn to fight. I went to see him. To see if he would teach me to fight.”

“Did he teach you?”

“Some. He scared me to death. He had a gun in his pocket.”

Belle’s eyes were the size of half dollars, but she smiled at Billy. His heart raced, and a small smile crept across his face. 

“I know how to fight, Billy. You didn’t have to…”

“I like you, Belle. I don’t want nothing to happen to you.”

Belle punched him on the shoulder. Billy punched her back. She giggled, and Billy joined in with her. She smiled and said, “That’s sweet of you, Billy. You’re still going with me. I will explain it to him. You’re my bodyguard.”

“No. No, no, no. Belle, me and him made a deal. If he helped me, I would stay away from his cabin. He will kill me if I go back.”

Belle giggled. “He ain’t going to kill you, Billy. Murder is against the law.”

Billy sighed and hung his head. Belle knew she had won him over to her side. After all, what man could say no to the woman he loved? She winked at Billy and placed a hand on his cheek.

“Belle, when has the illegality of murder ever kept anyone from murdering someone? He told me to remember our deal.”

“Hush, Billy. It’s settled already. I’m going and you’re going with me. If he gets mad, he’ll get over it.”

The sun set behind the bus stop, and Billy waved goodbye to the girl of his dreams. Both made their way home. 

Jocko and Wilma sat on the end of the porch that was broken. Their eyes appeared dead, but they followed her every moment. It freaked Belle out how two people stoned out of their minds missed nothing. Especially Jocko. 

He was a predator, and Belle knew it. She tried to limit her interaction with him, but he seemed keen to remind her of his lustful desire for her. 

As Belle walked up the sidewalk, Jocko licked his lips. Belle ignored him.

“Hey, momma.”

“Hey sugar bear,” Wilma slurred.

Belle hugged her mom and went inside. Her mother’s addiction was nothing new, nor was her god awful taste in men. ‘If it wasn’t Jocko, she’d shack up with another loser.’

Belle didn’t hate her mother; she just did not understand what in her life made her so miserable. At 13, Belle was aware she didn’t have all the answers, but what could have possibly happened in her mother’s past to make her shoot up every day? What did she have to bury under all the layers of drug abuse?

Jocko followed Belle upstairs, all while panting like a dog in heat, or making rude gestures behind her and muttering ‘mmm-mm-mmm-mm-mmm’. She shut the door in his face. Outside her door, she could hear him panting. He knocked on the door and continued to beat on it until she yelled, “What, Jocko?”

“You know you looking fine, dontcha? You wanna get stoned, baby?”

“No, I don’t. I want you to go away.”

Jocko snickered. “Go away. Yeah, okay. One day you will beg me for it, and on that day I’m gonna make you mine.”

Belle waited for his footsteps to fade away. She crawled on her bed and hugged her bear, Mr. George. Belle pulled the bear to her face and cried, and her tears wet the ragged fur of her Goodwill friend.

Belle recalled what the Sunday School teacher had said during class. “Regardless of where you are, you’re not so far away that God can’t reach you.” She clutched Mr. George to her chest and whispered, “Mr. God, if you’re out there, I don’t want to be like my momma. Please, don’t let me end up like her.”

At 0500, Belle slipped out of the house and went to the bus stop. Between the cockroaches and Jocko’s panting, Belle couldn’t sleep. Nothing was stirring. Nighttime in Mississippi is mostly still, except for the soft breeze that occasionally stirs the limbs. Stars twinkled and filled the night sky, and humans were on the move to work or to other destinations.

Sunrise was still an hour away, but a figure stepped from the shadows. As it drew near, Belle doubted the wisdom of leaving her house. ‘Maybe Jocko ain’t so bad,’ she thought, but then she remembered how he’d followed her upstairs, while making vulgar suggestions on how they could spend some quality time together.

As the figure stepped into the amber glow of the street lamp, she recognized the figure as the man from the cabin. She waved at him, and he nodded in response.

“Morning,” Belle said cheerfully.

Davy scowled at her, her youthful enthusiasm to be more exact, and he considered pushing on past her without a word spoken. Somehow, he figured his rudeness wouldn’t deter her. She was bent to meet him, and he might as well get it over with.

“Morning,” said Davy. “Just my luck I’d run into this chatterbox. At least it’s not Buster.”

“What brings you out so early? Are you going to work?”

Davy stood by the street lamp and rested. He had gotten out of shape, and today was the first day of him making an attempt at working his back into fighting condition. It also seemed to be the day when he would begin socializing with the people of this town who considered him a monster.

“No.”

“I’m Belle, and you are…”

Davy stared at Belle. She wasn’t tall, but she wasn’t short either. Her eyes were pale blue, and her teeth weren’t perfect, but she had a beautiful smile. Plus, she was nice. Davy could do much worse for a companion. In fact, he had done so frequently.

“Look, kid, why do you want to know who I am?”

“Because you look like you could use a friend.”

Davy scowled at her. Belle smiled back; as she patted the bench next to her. Davy sat down on the end and leaned back. Here it was in the wee hours of the morning, and he’d already broken a sweat.

“I’m Davy,” he said without making eye contact. Belle beamed a smile at him, and he guffawed. 

“You look like a Davy. Did you fight in the war?”

Davy sighed and nodded his head. It was always the same questions. Did you fight in the war? Did you kill anybody? What is it like to kill them? Do they fall funny? Belle waited for him to respond. Davy stood. 

“Look kid,…” he started. Belle stopped him.

“It’s not kid, it’s Belle,” she interjected.

“Why are you out here?”

Belle shrugged and crossed her arms. If Davy wanted to get cross with her, she would show him how it was done. Besides, he had ignored all her attempts to be friendly, and his grouchiness irritated her. 

“Because my mom is a drug addict, and I don’t feel safe at home.” 

Davy shook his head and sat back down next to her. Belle fought off her smile and sat with her arms crossed. They sat in silence for several moments before Davy spoke again.

“I’m sorry, kid, eh, Belle. That’s rotten luck.”

“I ain’t scared of my momma, Davy. She has a disease. It’s her rotten boyfriend that scares me.”

“So, report him to the police.”

Belle scowled at Davy and stared at him as if he had escaped from a lunatic asylum. She shrugged as to say ‘why would I do that?’

“They won’t do nothing. Everybody knows who Jocko is and what he does. Nobody stops him. Besides, most of the police are doing business with him.”

“Well, not everybody knows Jocko. This is the first I am hearing about him.”

Belle laughed, and she punched Davy on the shoulder. Davy stared at her until she quit laughing.

“So, did you fight in the war, Davy?”

“Yes, Belle. I fought in the stupid war.” Belle smiled and said, “I thought so.”

“Why don’t you work?”

Davy stared at her, and she scrunched up her nose at him. A small smile crept across his mouth, but he killed it quickly. He looked away from Belle until he regained his composure.

“I am retired, and disabled,” Davy said.

Belle stood and looked at Davy, then she leaned forward and looked deep into his eyes. Davy frowned, but Belle didn’t care.

“You don’t look disabled.”

“Oh, well thanks. I will tell my doctor of your prognosis.”

She giggled at Davy’s serious demeanor and plopped down right next to him. Davy sat on the bench with her until Billy appeared on the horizon. He got to his feet and nodded toward Billy. 

“Here comes your friend.” 

Belle jumped to her feet and waved at Billy. Billy waved back. She motioned wildly for Billy to run to where she stood with Davy, but Billy was still half-asleep. 

“Hurry,” Belle shouted.

She turned to where Davy had been sitting, but he had disappeared when she turned her back to him. She sat down on the bench and waited for Billy. He walked up and sat beside her.

“What’s the freaking rush, Belle? We’ve got twenty minutes before the bus shows up.”

She gestured at the empty bench where Davy had been sitting. Billy shook his head and shrugged, and said, “What, Belle? It’s a bench.”

“He was here, Billy.”

“Who was here?”

“The man from the cabin. His name’s Davy. He fought in the war.”

“He was here?”

“Yep. I talked to him.”

“Did he say he was going to kill me?”

“No, Billy. He didn’t say he was going to kill you.”

The bus topped the hill, and they stood to their feet. Mrs. Dennis hated waiting for children to get on the bus. “Get a move on,” she’d yell if you didn’t move fast enough. She was a mean ole woman, but the school board kept her around.

The day progressed nicely. Both Belle and Billy encountered no trouble throughout the first part of the day. Their classes passed by quickly. The teacher recognized Belle for her recent achievements. Her classmates applauded her.

At lunch, she and Billy sat in the room’s corner and whispered about Davy. 

“Did you tell him about Jocko?”

Belle nodded; her eyes shined with excitement. Billy leaned forward and waited for her to tell him. She was excited, happy even, and Billy liked Belle happy. 

“I did. He didn’t know who he was.”

“Doesn’t surprise me. I don’t think he gets out much,” Billy whispered back. “I think he hates people and tries to stay away from them.”

“Yeah,” said Belle. “He seems kind of sad.”

From across the cafeteria, Gavin and his pals watched as Billy and Belle conversed with one another. Both were so engrossed in their conversation they never saw Gavin. He approached both from the side and tossed his lunch on Belle. 

“Oops, my bad lovebirds. I didn’t see you there.”

Belle looked at her clothes. Chocolate gravy covered Belle’s white blouse. Billy stood to his feet and balled up his fists. Gavin’s friends gathered around and made a loose circle about the two boys. 

“Apologize, Gavin. Right now.”

“Or what, Billy? You gonna fight me?”

“Billy, it’s okay. I have another blouse in my locker,” Belle said.

“No,” Billy snarled. “This ends today. If you want to fight Gavin, I’ll tune you up.”

Taunts of ooh, and get ‘em, sounded from the crowd. Gavin rushed in and bear hugged Billy. “The foot is fragile,” the man had told Billy. He picked up his right foot and smashed it down on Gavin’s foot as hard as he could.

Gavin released him with a howl. Billy reared back and punched Gavin in the nose. Blood rushed out, and Gavin’s eyes grew large at the sight of his blood. Billy wasn’t done. 

As Gavin stared at the blood on his hand, Billy kicked him in the crotch, and Gavin fell to the ground. He groaned, and Billy remembered the man’s advice. “If you bust his nose, grab it and yank down.” Billy had another thought. He gripped Gavin’s nose and pulled his face close to him. Billy whispered, “Neither me nor Belle better have a problem with you from this day forward, Gavin. Otherwise, you might get hurt. Do you understand?”

Gavin sobbed, and Billy dropped his head to the ground. Billy stepped away, and people slapped him on the back. 

“Yeah,” Gavin cried. “Please, don’t hit me no more.”

“Get, boy. Before I forget myself.”

Belle looked at Billy as he sat down. She had left when the fight started and changed her blouse. She caught the end of the fight when Billy had stood over Gavin and given him his opportunity to leave.

“You didn’t have to fight, Billy. I could have changed.”

“It would never end if I didn’t stand up to him, Belle.”

She nodded and grinned at him, and Billy knew what it must have felt like to return home a conquering hero. “It was pretty sweet seeing you give him an out. Thanks for standing up for me.”

“It’s what friends are for, Belle.”

People came by and slapped Billy on the back. Some shook his hand. Others just nodded. For the first time in his life, Billy felt like he belonged. 

His victory was all the sweeter because he had stood up for Belle when she needed a friend the most. The rest of the day flew by, and Billy couldn’t wait to tell Davy about his heroism.

Davy walked down the bricked driveway to his cabin. His breaths came in gasps. He arrived home before too many people in town saw him struggling to keep an even pace. Davy showered and dressed in Wrangler jeans, an old Carhartt tee, and brown Sketcher slip-on shoes. He made a cup of coffee and went down to the sub-basement, where he powered on his laptop and opened his word processor. 

“War,” he typed, “is a cruel mistress. I gave my life to her. To right the wrongs and to defend the weak. It was my opportunity to be strong for someone else, but it didn’t turn out that way. In the end, I was weak. War broke me, and the darkness that lurked in my heart swallowed me up…”

There was too much truth in his statement. He shut down his computer and sipped his coffee. Tears welled up in his eyes, and for once, he did not hide them. 

Davy had gone to war with the noblest of intentions, but his intentions were useless. Innocent people on both sides got hurt. According to the news, the politicians had shut the war down. They had declared victory over the enemy, but it wasn’t true. Instead, the enemy had recovered much of the territory that cost American lives to capture it. 

The war was pointless, and the innocent always suffered…

Davy thought of Belle and her situation. How many times had he seen similar situations, both here at home and in the killing fields? The sad truth of the matter was this: It could always be worse, but worse than that was how society was okay with it, as long as it happened to someone else.

Wilma and Jocko watched as Belle walked home from school. Neither were riding a new high. Their eyes were clear, not a sign of haze was in either pair of eyes. Wilma’s eyes were sad, but Jocko looked dangerous. Like he had taken what he had been craving, like the eyes of a stalker about to spring a trap upon unsuspecting prey.

“Hey, momma.”

“Hey sugar bear. How was school?”

“It was okay. I’m swamped with homework.”

“Listen, I need to talk to you, okay?”

“Okay, momma.”

Wilma licked her lips and looked away. She took a deep breath and forced a smile at her daughter. Belle could see the anguish in her eyes, but didn’t know what to do or how to help her mother find peace.

Jocko sat by and watched as mother and daughter conversed in hushed tones. His eyes never left Belle, and she felt as if he might drag her upstairs and have his way with her. His unblinking eyes caused her to become uncomfortable. Wilma took her hand and whispered,  “Jocko has asked me to marry him.”

“You said no, right?”

“Um, no. I said yes. It would do you good to have a father figure in the house.”

“What does HE know about being a father figure? Or a role model? He’s a drug dealer, for God’s sake!”

“Shut your mouth, Belle,” Jocko growled at her. “Your mother has curbed her addiction. She’s an adult. No one forced her to make this decision.”

“An adult? My mother? Please, she is an addict. She goes where her need carries her.”

“That’s enough, Belle,” Wilma whispered quietly. 

Belle could see the hatred in Jocko’s eyes, but Belle couldn’t care less what he hated, or what happened next. Belle shook her head no and stormed toward the door. She spun around and yelled, “It’ll be a cold day in the lake of fire before I call Jocko my dad.”

Wilma and Jocko watched as Belle stormed off. Jocko picked up the pipe and handed it to Wilma. She fired it up and sucked in the crack; she breathed it out slowly. “Things are going to be better with Jocko here full time. Belle needs a firm hand.

“You remember our deal, Wilma.”

“I remember. You get Belle, and you keep me in stock with the good stuff.”

“That’s right. You get ‘the good stuff’ after I’ve wrecked your little girl. We made a deal, and you’re gonna hold up your end.”

“Go easy on her, Jocko.”

Jocko gripped Wilma by the face and pulled her close. She looked into his eyes; madness shined in the two burnt out orbs. She struggled to get loose, but Jocko leaned close to her face, and she couldn’t look away.

“Look at me, whore. I’m going to ruin your daughter, and you’re gonna watch me do it. Then you’re going to live with the knowledge you served her up to me. When it’s all said and done, you’re going to have to live with that fact, and when I’m done with her, I’m gonna pimp her out to my friends. She’ll be an old woman by the time she’s 16.”

Wilma sobbed and threw down the pipe, and Jocko laughed at her. Suddenly, the drugs weren’t so important, but Wilma had made her deal with the devil. It was too late to change the terms of the agreement, and Jocko wouldn’t negotiate.

Davy sat in his sub-basement and wiped away his tears. ‘Those that are gone have no need for them, and they do me little good. What’s done is done.’ War had changed him. He felt as if he was nothing more than a damaged husk. A soulless, empty skeleton who had no purpose. 

He went into the kitchen and made some more coffee. His need for the stimulant was bordering on addiction. 

A knock sounded at the door. He turned and walked to the door. Through the peephole, he saw the boy was back. Davy sighed. “Jesus, what do you have to do to get rid of this kid?”

“Um, Mr. Davy, are you home?”

Davy rubbed his head and opened the door. Billy grinned at him; Davy stood there silently, waiting for him to speak.

“Um, I wanted to let you know I stood up to the bully. I won,” Billy said. 

“That’s great, kid. We had a deal, remember?”

“Yes sir. I am leaving now. Goodbye.”

Davy watched as Billy walked down his driveway. He smiled. “Good on you, kid. Always stand for something, even if it’s not popular. Stand for the weak; stand for those who can’t find the courage to defend themselves.”

Davy closed the door and locked it. Tom and Jerry played on his television. He shut it off. His coffee was done, so he spooned in some sugar and sat in his recliner. 

“Scratch that, kid. Don’t do nothing. Standing for something would only lead you to heartache. Stay in the shadows. Be a nobody. Live a life of quiet dignity and peace.”

War had destroyed Davy’s peace. It had destroyed everything he had held dear. Then, when it was all said and done, it left him alone and bitter. Unloved. An empty, soulless husk of no good to no one.

Jocko was growing impatient. He conned Wilma into marrying him by offering the best of his stock. Hidden behind the vulgar tattoos that adorned his flesh, and the dead eyes, he possessed a brilliant mind concerning his criminal enterprise. 

His product came from somewhere in Latin America. He dealt with the head honcho of the cartel, and only the head honcho. To avert suspicion, his incoming shipments were small. That’s not to say that he didn’t receive many packages. 

Jocko’s drugs sailed across the ocean blue. Then, dockhands unloaded them onto the docks at a semi-busy port and loaded onto turnip trucks. Jocko’s employees then dropped off the product at the warehouse privately owned by a third party. Jocko rarely made an appearance. His name was often associated with drug deals, but almost no proof could link him to the sale of said drugs. As Belle had told Davy, no one dared cross Jocko. Even the police ignored Jocko’s involvement in any wrongdoings.

They would not help Belle should Jocko force himself upon her. She knew it, and Jocko knew it. The knowledge emboldened Jocko. He licked his lips when he thought of young Belle. “I can’t wait to ruin that tender flesh for every other man.”

Davy tossed and turned on the couch all night. He dreamt of sand and blood, guts and wounds. In his mind he heard the cries of those who suffered until Death removed them from this mortal coil. He woke to this thought: If you make yourselves sheep, the wolves will feast.

In the dark, he sat on the couch. Predators didn’t always prey on the strong. Sometimes, they feasted on the weak. It was a vicious cycle, one that God had put into motion to maintain balance. He thought of Belle. “The poor girl languishes between an addict and a scumbag.” Maybe she would come by today, and they would have the chance to speak at length concerning her situation. 

Davy owed no one anything, but he felt as if he somehow had let down Belle. She tried to befriend him, Davy refused. Billy tried to overcome the wall Davy had built up, but Davy had stopped him. These kids needed help, and Davy could no longer sit idly by while this predator preyed upon them.

“It’s time for me to quit feeling sorry for myself and be the man the military forged me into. The helpless need protecting.”

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