The cleaned up conclusion of The Recluse…partially scrubbed…

Wilma woke to Jocko standing at the foot of her bed staring at her. He munched on a carrot. She brushed the hair out of her face and tried to smile. Her black toothed smile did little to improve her ragged looks. At one time, she was a beautiful woman. Back when everything was right with her world.

Now, the drugs had taken a toll on her looks. Her eyes testified to her unyielding desire for more drugs-regardless of what it cost or what her desires demanded as payment. Even if it meant pimping out her daughter to her boyfriend, Wilma ‘needed’ her next high.

“Morning,” she said.

Wilma reached for Jocko, but he ignored her. He finished his carrot and continued to stare at her. Wilma felt fear knot up in her stomach, and she knew her time as Jocko’s girl had ended. 

“Get out of bed and get in the shower. We’re getting married today. I’m wrecking Belle tonight, and you are going to watch.”

Wilma whimpered, and a single tear ran down her cheek. “He doesn’t love you, idiot. You’ve served up your daughter to an animal, to feed a habit that you should have shaken years ago.”

“No, I won’t marry you,” Wilma said in a shaky voice. 

She never should have shacked up with Jocko. He had made his intentions clear from day one. From the time Belle had turned nine, Jocko had threatened to turn her inside out when she got older. The drugs had lied to Wilma about how much time she had to get her daughter out of here.

Jocko looked at Wilma and laughed. He raised his eyebrows and took a menacing step toward her. Jocko cupped a hand to his ear and pretended to not hear what she’d said.

“What’s that? I didn’t hear you?”

Wilma crawled out of bed and stood to her feet. If she was going to be beaten down or worse, by God, she would go out on her feet. She wobbled and then steadied herself and emphasized each word by stabbing a finger towards Jocko.

“I-am not-marrying-you. I will not serve up my daughter to an animal like yo-“

Jocko’s right hand crashed into her jaw. Rapid blows landed one after another. Wilma giggled. Her laughter drove Jocko’s blood to rage higher. He soccer kicked her across the room and went to work on her ribs. 

“You’re a mangy dog, Wilma. You show your teeth, you get dealt with.” 

He kicked Wilma until she passed out. He stood over her panting, his breathes came in ragged gasps. Jocko loomed large over Wilma’s unconscious body, and spittle dripped from his lips, like a rabid dog. He wiped at it with the back of his hand. 

“You are a stupid broad, Wilma. I don’t need you to get what I want. I’ll take it by force if necessary.”

Jocko loaded Wilma into his van and drove her to the Urgent Care unit on the outskirts of Fredericksburg. He pulled into the parking lot and rolled her unconscious body out into the parking lot and drove off. 

It was several moments before someone noticed the body of Wilma in the lot. Some of the staff rushed out and lifted her body into a wheelchair and rushed her in. 

“Dr. Savage, please report to Room Three, Doctor Savage to Room Three.”

Dr. Bernadette Savage rushed through the halls to Room Three. She snapped out orders and started inspecting the body. The woman was in rough shape, but this wasn’t some new thing to Bernadette. 

“Dear God in Heaven,” she said. 

“What is it?” 

“We need to get this woman stabilized. Who brought her in?”

“No one. One of the ambulance crews found her unconscious in the parking lot.”

Bernadette pointed at Wilma’s face. The bruising was a sickly yellow and a deep shade of purple. Wilma’s thin lips, cracked and bloody, puffed up like she’d reached the limits of Botox. 

“You see that? Someone beat this poor woman senseless. We are going to need multiple MRIs to get a detailed picture of what we’re dealing with. Start the usual process, I will do a thorough examination of her. We’ll go from there.”

“Who did this to you?”

It didn’t matter what the woman had done, no one deserved to be treated the way Wilma had been. Bernadette began her examination of Wilma, but this hit a bit too close to home for her. She had escaped from an abusive relationship herself and had found herself in a situation much like Wilma. Someone, an angel, according to Bernadette, had helped her out of her situation. Just like she had helped other women like Wilma. 

Jocko made his way to Belle’s school. He drove erratically through traffic; he honked the horn and whipped around those who blocked him from his goal. The blood rage from earlier still rushed through his veins. Finally, he arrived at Fredericksburg Middle School.  Jocko leapt from the vehicle and rushed inside.

An elderly woman sat in the office, which sat at the corner of the hallway. Mrs. Tina Elks, who had taught students for nigh thirty years, watched as Jocko rushed in and looked around.

“Oh boy,” she thought, “here comes trouble.”

Jocko rushed in; his face contorted with rage as he clenched and unclenched his fists. Mrs. Elks waited for him to speak. He walked up to the desk and glared at Tina. 

“Hey old lady, I need to pick up Belle Franks.”

“And you are?”

“I’m going to be her dad. Someone attacked her mother, and she is at the Urgent Care.”

“I see. It’s truly a sad world we live in now. Unfortunately, I can’t release Belle to you. However, I will make a note and give it to her teacher.”

“You don’t understand, old woman, I need Belle.”

Mrs. Elks watched Jocko. He was all over the place scratching, wiping at his face, his eyes bugged out of his head. He kept licking his lips. All these symptoms were distracting, but what caught Mrs. Elk’s attention was his emphasis on the word need.

“Yeah, he’s strung out on drugs. Addicts always use the word need. I’m not handing Belle over to this train wreck.”

Jocko approached the desk and slammed his hand down on the top. He leaned forward and snarled, “Get my kid here now.” Mrs. Elks smiled at him. The door opened and the security guard walked in.

“Is there a problem here, Mrs. Elks?”

“I don’t know, officer. Is there a problem here, young man?”

Jocko threw his hands up and shrugged. The officer stood behind him and watched him. Jocko scratched at his arm and laughed.

“Nope, ain’t no problem. I’ll tell her mom that you guys wouldn’t do your jobs. No problem at all. Y’all deal with her when she gets better.”

He turned and pushed his way past the security guard. Both the guard and Mrs. Elks watched him go. Jocko burst through the front doors and rushed across the parking lot. This was only a temporary setback. He’d sign out Wilma from the Urgent Care and make her give him his prize. Yeah, he liked that idea even better.

Nothing was going to keep him from his prize. Not this old woman, not the security guard, and not Wilma. He would have Belle, and he would take his rage out on her innocent body. By God, he would take immense pleasure in ruining her life.

Belle was his for the taking.

Mrs. Elks explained the situation to the security guard once they were certain that Jocko had left the grounds. The guard sat down across from her and pulled out a notepad.

“Okay, Mrs. Elks. Start from the beginning, please.”

“He came in here like a tornado, rip snorting about how someone had attacked Belle’s mother. It wouldn’t surprise me if he was the one that attacked her,” Mrs. Elks said. The security guard shook his head in disgust and wrote her statement verbatim.

“Horrible. Do we know if there is any truth to it?”

“I don’t know. Do you think we should find out?”

“Yeah, let me make some calls and see what I can learn.”

The security guard, his name was Glen Wadsworth Fry, called the Urgent Care. After a moment, the receptionist transferred his call to Dr. Bernadette Savage. She answered on the third ring in a snappy but clear voice. 

“This is Doctor Savage.”

“Hi, my name is Glen Fry. I’m a security guard at Fredericksburg Middle School. I’m calling on behalf of a student here.”

“Okay. I’m busy…”

“Yes, but I am looking for a woman named Wilma Franks. Her daughter Belle is a student here at Fredericksburg Middle School.”

Doctor Savage got quiet, and Glen heard her take a deep breath. Glen could hear her breath tremble on the other end of the line. 

“She’s here.”

“Did someone assault her, Doctor?”

“And then some.”

“What do you mean?”

“She is still unconscious. We had to put her into a coma to save her. Look, someone beat her severely to the point of death. I’m looking at a mess of broken bones. There’s swelling in her brain. This poor woman may not make it.”

“Okay, thank you Doctor Savage.”

Glen Fry hung up the phone. Mrs. Elks waited for him to say something. He said nothing and sat down in an empty chair. Everyone at the school knew Glen as a sensitive soul, and this was no exception. Tears wet his eyes as he wrote a notation on his pad. 

“Well, Wadsworth? Did you find her or not?”

“Yeah. She’s at the Urgent Care.”

“Is she coming to get her daughter?”

“No ma’am, she’s not.”

“Why not?”

“Because she is in a coma. They beat her to the point of death. The doctor said she might not pull out of the coma.”

“Oh, my word.”

“Who’s her next of kin?”

Mrs. Elks tapped a few keys and shook her head. The emergency contact information was blank. This was nothing new. People always left the emergency contact information empty. Mrs. Elks hypothesized the reason for this was because people didn’t like the uncertainty of life. As if putting a name in that slot sealed their demise.

“No one. The contact information is blank.”

“We need to speak to Belle, then. She has to have someone to stay with.” 

Mrs. Elks nodded her head and whispered, “The poor girl.” 

Glen left the office and walked down the hallway to Belle’s class. He knocked on the door and waited. As a sensitive sort, he detested being the bearer of bad news, and this was as bad as it comes. 

Mrs. Simmons walked to the door. Glen whispered a few words, and Mrs. Simmons nodded. She motioned to Belle and led her to the door. Glen told her to follow him, and together they walked to the office. He motioned to an empty chair in front of Mrs. Elk’s desk.

“Sit down, Belle. We need to talk to you.”

Belle climbed into the seat and waited. She knew Glen and Mrs. Elks. Both of them looked at her, and Mrs. Elks wrung her hands. She kept muttering, “the poor child,” and Glen’s damp eyes shined with something she’d never seen before, something like pity Belle guessed. 

“Baby,” Mrs. Elks said as she took Belle’s hands in hers, “we’ve got some bad news.”

“Jocko killed my mom, didn’t he?”

Mrs. Elks and Glen looked at each other. They looked back at Belle. Mrs. Elks shook her head no. Glen leaned forward, his eyes narrowed and his mouth drew into a tight line.

“Sweetheart, where did that come from?”

“Jocko has been after me for some time now. He asked momma to marry him. I overheard him talking to her last night. He only did it to get at me.”

“Belle, someone attacked your mother. They beat her savagely. She is at the Urgent Care. There is no one on your emergency contact information. Do you have somewhere to go?”

“Yes sir. I can go to Davy’s.”

“Who is Davy?”

“He is my friend. I’ll be safe with him.”

“Sweetie,” Mrs. Elks began, “we can’t let you stay with just anybody. We’ll put you in Child Services…”

“No, thank you.”

“It’s only temporary, Belle. “

“I’ll go to Davy’s. Or I can stay with Billy and his folks.”


“How’s my momma?”

“They had to put her in a coma to protect her. She’s going to be fine…”

“I think I’m going to be sick…”

Belle covered her mouth and lurched to her feet. Glen took her by the arm and rushed to the bathroom. He waited outside for her to finish.Belle walked in and went to the last stall. A small window let out into the ball court. She pushed the window out and slipped from the building. 

“Ain’t no way I’m going to Child Services.”

Davy sat on his porch and considered his revelation that a good man is not a harmless man. In his pondering, he noticed a multi-colored van across from his gate. “Now, who could that be?” A good man always does the right thing. He stands tall when the world falls apart around him. Time and life had beaten Davy down, but at rock bottom, he found his purpose.

Motion at his gate caught his eye. Belle climbed over the gate and stood there, waving at him. He waved back. She sprinted down the drive until she reached the safety of the porch.

“Davy,” she panted, “I need a place to stay.”

“Do what now? Why do you need to stay here?”

“Jocko beat my mother. She’s at the Urgent Care.”

“Okay, calm down. Start at the beginning and tell me what happened.”

“Yesterday, I went home from school. Momma and Jocko were waiting for me. They told me they were getting married. I ran upstairs and locked my door. My window is always open. I heard Jocko tell momma that he was going to wreck me, and he was going to make her watch.”

“Sweet Jesus. Where is Jocko now?”

“He’s across the street in the van. He’s going to hurt me, Davy. He’s got evil plans for me, and my momma’s gonna die.”

“He will not hurt you, Belle. You can stay here as long as you want. Go inside and start your homework. I’ll see what he has to say.”

Davy waited until she went inside. He heard the click of the lock being engaged. “Smart girl.” He walked to his truck and pulled out his Springfield Hellcat and shoved it into his pocket. Then he started up the drive.

Jocko watched as Davy drew near. He rolled down the window and lifted his chin in Davy’s direction. His greasy hair and unbrushed teeth did nothing to improve his presence.

“Can I help you, boy?” 

Davy smiled a cold smile at Jocko. It was always the same thing. An overconfident man thought he could intimidate his way through any situation. Davy used the direct approach. 

“What do you want?”

“I want that little girl that ran down your driveway. You go get her and bring her to me, and I won’t kill you.”

“Mmhmm. You think you’re a wolf. You’re not.”

“Yeah, I’m a wolf.”

“No. You can be a wolf, or you can be a sheep. You can’t be both. You’re going to have to pick a struggle.”

Jocko cradled the shotgun between his legs. The feel of the wooden stock gave him a sense of courage.

“Go get Belle, boy. Don’t make me tell you twice.”

Davy grinned and shook his head. Mark Twain had once commented on the folly of arguing with a fool. He had no time for this. Belle’s assessment of Jocko was spot on. He was a threat to her.

“Belle will not be leaving with you. Take this busted piece of junk, along with your habit, and don’t come back.”

Jocko screamed as he pulled the shotgun up to shoot Davy. By the time he got the shotgun out the window, Davy had stepped close. He grabbed the barrel of the shotgun and yanked Jocko half out the window. Davy pulled his sidearm and pressed it against Jocko’s temple. He squeezed the trigger, and the pistol roared. Jocko slumped to the ground, never to harm another woman or child again.

Davy’s neighbor, Jamie Windsor, had called the police when the shotgun appeared. Sirens filled the air. Davy nodded to his neighbor and waited for the cops. He smiled when he realized he had taken a stand for good. He had protected the weak and the defenseless. While he wasn’t ready to be called a good man, he was on his way to becoming a better one.


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