Read an Excerpt
A Cry for Justice
Tears glistened in Martha's eyes, and she lowered her head. "If
this keeps up, he's going to kill Amy. I just know it."
Her alarming words rattled around in Clyde's mind like coins in a
dryer, loud and unnerving. He wiped his nose on his shirtsleeve and sniffed
in an unexpected outbreak of feelings, then pushed his wife's wheelchair
into the kitchen and sat down beside her.
Clyde's rough fingers grazed his shaggy beard, and he shook his
head from side to side. "No way we can interfere with the two of `em," he
said. "Tried that. `Member when I called the sheriff? He about laughed at
me. Said he can't do nothin' if she won't complain."
A sigh escaped his lips, and he pressed his hand over hers. With a
gentle touch he brushed aside a few strands of silver hair that dipped low
on his wife's forehead and raised her chin. He saw the pain in her face, saw
her chest rising and falling as anxiety ate away at her body already ravaged
by arthritis. The sight of his loving wife in agony tore at his gut like a
raven after raw meat. He knew their daughter's live-in boyfriend was a
tyrant. The scum, who called himself Foley, had moved into town and taken
over Amy's life, had left their only child bruised and battered. But what
could a father do?
Clyde frowned as he scraped the hard surface of a callus on his
thumb. "She ain't never gonna leave him."
"I know," Martha said, taking in a ragged breath of air. "But
that's only `cause she's scared. If we hadn't bumped into her in town, we'd
never've known about her broken arm and that black eye." She pulled a tissue
from the pocket of her faded cotton dress and blotted her tear-stained
cheeks. Wadding the dampened sheet into a ball, she pulled at it until it
crumbled into pieces.
"Amy won't call us for help, neither," Martha said. "Got grandpa's
stubborn pride in her, deep as the old well out back. Won't admit she
screwed up." Martha's gaze fastened on the cracked linoleum at her feet.
When she finally looked up, Clyde noticed a sudden brightness in her eyes as
if they had been ignited by a flame.
"We've got to take care of her. Just like we always done," Martha
said, her voice now as firm as a defense lawyer arguing a case. "We ain't
gonna get no justice less we do it ourselves."
"Whatcha talkin' about?"
"You gotta get him out of her life."
Clyde's voice faltered. "But how?"
"With grandpa's gun. You've gotta shoot him. Maybe at the tavern
where he hangs out."
"You don't mean that."
Martha's eyes narrowed, her jaw tightened, and she cocked her head
to one side. "You bet I do."
<<...>> Her response sent chills through Clyde. He had never seen his wife
in such a state, like one akin to a cornered bull.
"I'd do it myself," Martha went on, "but for this wretched curse of
mine." She pounded her withered hands on the chair arms. The effort brought
quick tears to her eyes.
"You know I'd do anything for you and Amy, but..." His words died
away as did the conversation. Silence settled in. Clyde pinched the bridge
of his nose, then stared at the chipped paint on the wall above the stove,
his thoughts a mix of fear and hate. It wasn't as if he didn't know how to
handle a gun. He had done a lot of hunting on the farm when grandpa was
alive, but still. Can I take a life?
Martha's medicine eased her into a deep sleep that night. Clyde
wasn't as lucky. He couldn't keep his eyes closed. Every creak in the old
farmhouse jolted his nerves. Even the tick, tick, tick of the clock sounded
like a series of explosions. At sunrise, before the two managed to get out
of bed, Martha asked him again to help their daughter. "Can you do it for me
and Amy?" she pleaded.
Clyde offered a hesitant, "I'll try."
That evening he loaded grandpa's hunting rifle while Martha looked
on. "Now you stay out of sight," she said. "Don't you go gettin' caught. Far
as anybody knows you was takin' care of me, you hear?"
At bedtime, Clyde placed the rifle in the truck and drove to the
tavern, being careful to take the back road that skirted the orange groves.
Parking a good distance from the front entrance, under a row of low-hanging
live oaks, he slumped down in the seat and waited.
A little after eleven, he spotted Foley stagger out the door.
Clyde's right eye twitched. He brushed a sweaty forearm across his brow.
With a mind full of doubt he leaned forward, raised the rifle,
sighted down the barrel, and fired. The recoil jarred Clyde's shoulder with
such force he barely heard the cracking sound of the bullet leaving the
chamber. His breathing quickened. His heart raced. He watched Foley stumble,
then pitch head first down the porch steps. Fear gripped him, for in the
shadows he saw someone rush forward and bend down over the lifeless form. He
dropped the rifle into his lap and pressed his hands to his head to try and
stop the raucous vibrations he felt in his ears, sounds of a heartbeat out
Clyde was a coiled spring as he eased the truck down a side street
and sped home.
When he opened the kitchen door, he spotted his wife staring at
him, wide-eyed, expressionless, like a granite statue. "It's done," he said
in near panic. After giving Martha's cold hands a squeeze, he took a gulp of
whiskey from the bottle and fell into a chair.
Neither of them slept that night. Clyde paced the kitchen floor,
jumping at the slightest sound, gagging on the stale smell of his own sweat.
Martha sat in her wheelchair with a blank stare on her face.
Have I gotten away with it?
Sometime after one, the phone's grating ring broke the stillness.
Clyde knew it was over. Whoever it was with Foley had seen him. He was sure
Martha's hands flew to her mouth at the same time her husband
reached for the wall phone. Clyde let out a full breath when he heard the
words, "Sheriff Hanes here."
He pressed the receiver tight against his ear to ward off a fit of
palsy. It seemed as if the air had been siphoned from the room, for when
Clyde tried to inhale, it was like breathing through rain-soaked wool. All
he could manage was a quick gasp.
"I'm here at the hospital with your daughter, Clyde. Now don't you
go gettin' excited," Hanes said. "She's okay, though Foley's not. Seems he
fell down the steps at the tavern and cracked his skull on the concrete
walk. Damn fall killed him. From what I hear some guy saw the whole thing.
He said Foley musta lost his balance when a car backfired out on the main
road. Probably scared him." The sheriff's gravelly voice rose an octave.
"Anyhow, Amy's asking for you. Want to pick her up?"
A whoosh of air escaped Clyde's lungs, and his shoulders sagged.
"Be right there," he said, turning toward his wife. After hanging up the
phone, he stretched out his trembling hands and grabbed the back of a chair
to steady himself. For a few seconds he couldn't speak, couldn't get the
words to come out. Still rattled, he heaved another sigh. "Relax Martha," he
said with an anemic smile. "Wait till you hear this. And you said there
ain't no justice."