tagNon-EroticReturning Home Ch. 03

Returning Home Ch. 03


I hurt myself today, To see if I still feel, I focus on the pain, The only thing that's real

Hurt, Trent Reznor - Johnny Cash rendition

* * * * *

Hector immediately started thinking about how he could get Jim out of the compound when this was over. He didn't need to pay attention to the two of them. There weren't going to be any surprises here. Liam was an outlaw and a killer. Hector knew of at least three men that Liam had put in the grave. He was lean, but strong and there wasn't an ounce of mercy in him.

But Jim was a professional. Hector gave Liam less than five minutes to live.

Liam clambered to his knees on the cold dirt, spun and looked up at Hector at the top of the stairs, blocking the porch and the entrance to the building. There was no way past the big man. Liam scanned the tree line and looked at Bill who was clutching his bleeding leg and lying on the porch.

He was maybe eight feet from Jim. It would be two quick strides, striking on the third. "Look, Hec, you can't just—" He whirled back towards Jim and launched himself. One step, two...

Jim moved forward and to his left, grabbed Liam by his shoulder and the back of the head and rammed him into the truck. Jim slammed Liam against the hood again and again, always making sure that the right side of Liam's face made contact. Jim stepped back and watched him slump to the ground.

"How's that eye, Liam?"

Liam scraped up some dirt and hurled it towards Jim's face as he scrambled to his feet.

Lupine smile back in place, Jim allowed a small laugh to escape. "This isn't the movies, Liam. That shit's not gonna work. And if it did, don't throw the dirt at someone's bad eye, you idiot."

Wiping the blood from the side of his face, Liam panted as he stared at Jim. Spitting some blood on the cold dirt, Liam's eyes grew sharp, pupils narrowing. Voice low and emotionless. Here was the real Liam. Stripped of humanity, the sociopath without the facade of civilization. "'M gonna kill you."

"Let's finish this up, Liam."

He was fast. Hector had to give him that. Liam punched Jim twice, thudding into the ribs on his left side. Jim stepped closer and swung his elbow parallel to the ground, again targeting Liam's right eye. The blood flowed in volume from Liams face as he pushed closer to Jim, grabbing the larger man in what seemed to be a bear hug.

Jim screamed as Liam bit into his neck where it met his shoulder. He picked Liam up in his own hug, spun and forced himself to the ground, using Liam as the buffer. Blood streaming from his shoulder, Jim stood quickly and kicked Liam in the right knee. Kicking that leg again and again as Liam scrambled backwards. Jim... stopped.

Backing up and moving again towards the truck, Jim looked down at Liam. "How's that leg? Doing okay? One leg and one eye each. Now it's getting fair. Did you make it fair for Ann?" Jim stood tall and stretched his arms out at his sides, looking up at the gray sky. He took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. Jim slowly looked around, as if taking everything in. "Get up Liam. We're not done."

Hector looked on, wondering why Jim didn't kick Liam in the head and end it. Jim had a look that worried him. As if things weren't just coming to a head, but to an end.

Liam looked back at Hector and his friends. None moved to help him. He took three deep breaths, wiped the blood from his face and stood carefully, favoring his left leg. He spat some more blood. "Dead. 'M gonna kill you!"

"Yeah, I heard you the first time. Whenever you're ready."

Liam cautiously moved forward, shoulders slumped, hands held low. Feinting at a take down attempt, he moved in to Jim's left and punched him just to the side of his bad eye. As Jim recoiled, Liam slammed his forehead into Jim's nose. Grunting, Jim took a step back and moved forward again immediately.

Bending over slightly and crouching at the knees, Jim moved forward and thudded a fist into Liam's ribs. As Liam leaned down and to his right in pain, Jim stepped past him, slipped an arm around his neck and locked it in place with his other arm fastened behind Liam's head.

"That was better. Hit me where I'm blind. Much better. Is that what you did to Ann? Attack her in the dark? When she couldn't see? This is the end. You're not raping anyone again."

Liam's flailing gradually slowed. His pulling on Jim's arms grew progressively weaker. His body slumped down, no longer carrying his weight. Liam would be be dead soon. And Jim... stopped. He released the choke-hold, threw him to the ground and kicked him in the scrotum. Liam groaned and rolled over.

Jim went back and sat on the bumper of the truck. He lifted his shirt to wipe the blood from his ruined nose and bent over to pick up some pebbles.

Throwing them one by one at the recumbent body, Jim started calling to him. "Liam. Liam. C'mon Liam. We're not done. Get up."

Hector hocked up some phlegm and spat. "Jim, it's over. This isn't you, man."

"Today it is." He could have killed Liam at least three times by now. Hector didn't recognize this man wearing the face of his friend, blood staining everything below the nose, like Pitctish war paint.

Jim threw another pebble. "Get up, Liam."

Hector had to give it to him. Liam was tougher than he thought. He watched as the rapist struggled to get to his feet.

"'Kay. Okay, hero. Let's finish this." He staggered towards Jim, shifting so had Jim between himself and the treeline that the rifle was fired from. Falling to his left, he grasped the hood of the truck to stay upright. As Jim stepped forward, Hector saw Liam reach behind his back and pull the knife from the sheath at his waist. If Hector had seen it, he knew that Jim had to.

Jim lifted his arm, as if to throw another elbow, and... stopped. Again. Liam plunged the knife into his side. With a grimace, Jim clutched his side with his right hand. He dropped his left, crouched, and punched Liam in the crotch hard enough to lift him to his toes as the knife again plunged into Jim's side. Jerking upright, Jim grabbed Liam's head and rammed it into the hood. Once. Twice. Three times. Liam refused to let go of the knife and managed to stab him again.

Jim stepped to Liam's right, lifted his left foot and thrust it into the side of Liam's knee. The cracking sound was audible where Hector stood. Liam immediately fell to the ground. Grabbing his side, Jim stepped forward and kicked Liam in the crotch again, balanced himself, stood directly over him and stomped his heel into Liam's groin.

Jim took a small step forward, still clutching his side and stood, boot ready, staring at Liam's head. He leaned forward and... stopped. He lurched backwards until he could lean on the truck again.

"I didn't kill him. I didn't..." Jim took his blood soaked hand from his side, looked at it, and slowly fell to his knees.

* * * * *

Hector's hands were stained with Jim's blood from when he picked him up and put him in the truck. They clenched tightly around the steering wheel. Jerking with every bump, the old truck wasn't intended to drive at these speeds. He had called 911 with one hand while steering with the other. The phone was on speaker.

Idle, disparate thoughts flew through his mind. He'd need a new shirt, his was soaked with Jim's blood. Would the hospital loan him one? Would they have it in his size? Should he try to call Ann? Where are the cops? He regrouped and concentrated on the phone.

Hector barked at the person on the other end of phone. "Just have them ready! We'll be there in five minutes. Maybe less."

"Sir, we've alerted the hospital. I'm patching in someone now. Please stay on the line."

A new voice joined the call. Female, business like. "Hello, can you hear me?"

"Yeah. I can hear you. We'll be there in a couple of minutes."

She continued in the same measured, professional tone. "What can you tell me about the injuries?"

"I don't know, he was stabbed and now he's panting and babbling. Breathing shallow."

"That's not unusual. His body is compensating for the fall in blood pressure with an increase in heart rate and vasoconstriction. What else?"

"He took some kicks and punches, but not much. His leg's been sort of fucked up and he got hit a couple of times in the face, near his bad eye."

"Are those preexisting? What can you tell me about them?"

"Call the fucking V.A.! His name is Jim Mason. I don't know what the fuck is wrong with him. He's got a bad eye and a fucked up leg."

She kept asking simple questions, often going over what he had already said. None of this was being passed along to someone else. She was talking to keep him calm.

He stopped paying attention to the phone and started talking to Jim. "Listen to me, if you can make it back here after what happened to you, you can fucking make it to the hospital. Hang on. Just hang on."

Jim's words tumbled over each other in their unnatural haste, broken only by his hurried, shallow breaths. "Tell her. Tell her. Tell Ann. I didn't, I, he's alive. I didn't kill him. Tell her. Tell Ann."

Tears were streaming down Hector's face. Everyone under him would kill and likely die for him. They were his brothers. He had allies. He could call on people if needed and they would show up and stand by him. He had people that owed him. If he reached out, they would do their best to repay what they owed.

But he only had one friend, the man who was dying next to him.

"You'll tell her yourself. Hold on, Jim."

Jim's panting grew rapid, louder and more shallow, speech following suit as it developed a low, gurgling undertone. "Tell her. Tell her. I didn't do it. Tell Ann."

"I'll tell her, Jim. You didn't kill him. Jim, listen to me. Can you hear me? Listen! Jim, I'll finish things. I'll take care of it.

"Tell Ann. Tell her. Tell..."

Tears continued unabated "I'll tell her, Jim. I'll tell her."

* * * * *

Jim could sense the bright light through his eyelids. He just wanted to lie there a few more minutes.

The soft voice called to him. "Jim."

He waited another moment before opening his eyes. The sun was bright and the air was warm, but comfortable. He saw the branches of the tree overhead and the picnic basket to his left.

She called again. "Jim"

He turned towards her and got up from the grass.

She was more beautiful than he remembered. His heart at peace, he walked to join her at the banks of their river.

* * * * *

Everyone gave her space. It was just the three of them at the front of the room. Ann, the body and his friend. She stood there, looking down at him, fist clenched, slowly beating her thigh. "I've had a lot of time to think. I never got it, did I Jim? You didn't have to taunt them. You didn't have to wave the red flag in front of their face. But you did. You knew as soon as you got here."

She was speaking quietly and without emotion. Her shoulders were slumped and she leaned forward.

"This was an elegy for your own life. Your blaze of glory. A goodbye tour of violence, right Jim? With your shield or on it and you chose on it. You're such a fucking coward. I can't believe how blind I was."

Her voice started to quaver. "How could you do this to me? How could you leave me again?" She stared down at the coffin and started to shake. Falling to her knees, Ann started sobbing. Jeremy knelt at her side and held her as her father quickly, walked to her side, helped her stand and guided her to a chair.

* * * * *

The guests had left and Ann sat on the couch, staring at nothing. Jeremy finished wrapping up the platters, casseroles and dishes, putting some in the freezer and some in the refrigerator.

Trying to fill the silence, Jeremy turned to Ann. "That was nice of them. You've got enough food here for a month."

Her bitterness shone through. "Yeah. They're really caring people once you're dead."

Jeremy stood there watching her, unsure how to proceed. It was clear that there were many people at the wake that liked Jim. A number loved him. His friend would have had a warmer welcome if he wasn't so closed off.

He saw that there were no plates in front of Ann. "Did you notice that I haven't eaten since last night?"

She looked up, focusing for a minute. "I'm sorry, Jeremy. Did you want me to fix something up?"

"I would, but I'm not eating until you do."

"I... I'm not hungry."

"Okay, I'll wait."

"Don't be silly. There's plenty here. I'll make a plate."

"Ann, I'm not eating unless you're eating with me."

She hesitated for a minute. "All right. Two plates."

The television droned on in the background and they ate without conversation. A few hours later Jeremy was looking through the window as two cars approached. He stood at the door and watched as a man drove Ann's car into the driveway and her father got out the passenger side. Another car waited in the street. The man that drove her car walked out to the second car, got in and they drove off. Andy walked unsteadily to the porch and saw Jeremy standing at the door.

Jeremy stepped back, giving him room to enter. "Sir."

Andy didn't look up from where he was going to next place a foot, walking as deliberately as possible. "More fucking soldiers."

Ann didn't say anything as her father made his way to the room he had shared with Liz for so many years. Within minutes they could hear his snoring.

"Ann, I'm going to head out. I don't think Jim had the phone hooked up at the house, but I'll have my cell. Call me if you need anything. I'll be back to pick you up for the mass at eight."

"Please... We have room. The couch is comfortable. You... Please stay. I'll get some blankets and a pillow."

"Let me grab my bag."

Ann set up the couch while Jeremy grabbed an overnight bag from his truck. He found her waiting on the second couch when he came back from brushing his teeth.

Ann smiled without it reaching her eyes. "What time do you want me to wake you?"

"I'll be up by six. That should be fine."

She touched his shoulder in a sign of thanks as she made her way to her room.

* * * * *

Ann insisted on Jeremy sitting with her and Andy during the mass. There were a few times when he looked behind him. Jim would have been shocked to see how full the Church was. Andy was sweating profusely and held the hymnal in shaking hands. He had joined Jeremy, Cort and Archie as a pallbearer and the cost was obvious. He clearly hadn't gone without alcohol for this long in years.

Jose Cortez kept smoothing down his suit jacket as he stood and walked to the lectern. He coughed before starting and pulled a sheet of paper from his pocket. He stared at the paper as he started to speak.

"If he saw me now, Jim would be laughing his ass off. Butt. His butt off. Sorry, Father. I'm sorta nervous. He would have bet his last dollar that I'd never get up in front of people and talk." Cort looked up a the gathering and then up towards the rafters. "Well, here I am, Jim."

"That's who Jim was. He was the guy that made you do things you wouldn't otherwise do. He didn't say anything. He was just there, ya know? I'm not saying this right, but if Jim was around, you just wanted to do the right thing. If you left practice when the coach blew the whistle, you knew that Jim would still be there working with the guys who rode the bench, helping them pick up on something. He'd carry in some coolers. And you'd feel like sh—, bad, you'd feel bad if you just walked away."

"If you needed something and Jim could get it for you, he would. End of story. You didn't have to come up with some big deal or trade. He'd just give it to you. And that's the way he was to everybody. Not just friends. Jim never thought he had many friends. Me, Archie, Hec," Cort looked down at Ann after mentioning Hector, concern on his face. "a few others. That's not how people saw him. Everyone thought that they were Jim's friend. Everyone thought that Jim was their friend."

Cort wiped away a few tears and paused. "I hope he's someplace where he knows we loved him. I'm not like Archie. I'm not too good with words. Sorry."

Archie spoke next, peppering his eulogy with anecdotes of their youth, inspiring some quiet chuckling. He spoke comfortably and earnestly, leaving those who didn't know Jim well with a rounded picture of who he was growing up. Tissues were used, smiles were frequent and some of the tension lifted.

Jeremy heard Ann's father mumbling the words Andy wanted to say over and over, having memorized his eulogy by rote. When the priest asked if anyone else wanted to share their thoughts, he waited for Andy to stand. Jim's uncle never found the courage. Before the priest stepped back to the microphone, Jeremy stood and made his way to the front.

He spoke about their service in general terms, mentioning how Jim was thought of by the men he served with. It mirrored much of what Cort said. He also spoke about how Jim frequently talked about his family and friends back home. Jeremy was a poised and confident speaker, but didn't allow emotion to enter his voice. He finished with his recollections of how important honor and tradition were to Jim and the stories he heard about Jim's father and grandfather.

Jeremy rode in the town car to the cemetery with Ann and her father. She was emotionally vacant during the most of the burial, only focusing during the honor guard volley and the presentation of the flag. Andy pulled himself together enough to accept the condolences of people that attended. Ann sat, leaning forward, hands clenched together, staring at the grave.

She pulled herself together as the last person shuffled forward. Mr. Childress removed a small box from his jacket pocket, opened it, looked at it for a moment, closed it again and then lightly tossed it onto the thin layer of dirt that had been shoveled into the grave.

Jeremy stepped forward, next to the old man. "Was that a Purple Heart?"

"He saw it at my house once." Mr. Childress replied. "He was fascinated. The missus and I had BBQ's for the team and Jim saw it in the case I keep. You know, he stopped by this week? He brought her some flowers. She cried when she saw him and cried when he left. We never had kids. She couldn't take seeing his injuries. He was a good boy. A good man. He remembered an old man and his wife and... and now this."

"I'm sure he would have appreciated it and you being here. Is your wife here?"

"No, she couldn't get herself out of bed. She... She's pretty shook up."

"Maybe she could come over to Ann's? She's having a supper for some of Jim's friends."

Jeremy was startled to hear Ann's voice as she stepped up next to him. She hadn't spoken in hours. "Please come. We'd love to have both of you. You don't know how much it meant to have the two of you at his parent's funeral. He cared for you both. A lot."

She stepped forward and hugged him. Ann, her father and Mr. Childress headed back to the waiting Town Car. Jeremy looked about fifty yards in the other direction and saw Hector, leaning against a tree. He nodded at the big man. Hector nodded back.

* * * * *

Hector dwarfed the seat he was given at the police station. The room smelled of stale coffee and uncycled air.

"I don't know what to tell you. We've gone over this before. I invited him out to catch the games. We've got the NFL package, so we pretty much get them all. Jim came down, I met him outside. We joked around for a minute and were about to go in for the first game when Liam came out. He was definitely on something. He started screaming at Jim, telling him that he'd raped Ann, yelling about her father, the drunk. Liam wouldn't shut up. Jim had enough, apologized for not staying, and started to leave. Liam attacked him from behind."

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