This is Part 2 of my "Kickoff September" story (I have no idea why I put that in quotes). If you haven't done so, I suggest reading Part 1 before starting Part 2. Y'know, for continuity purposes. As with Part 1, no context will be provided other than what's in the story. Otherwise, no setup.
And now, I present:
For Daphne and Helen - Part 2
It’s not raining as hard anymore. Little more than a drizzle at this point. There are still the occasional lightning streaks to light up the midnight New York sky. I count the Mississippi’s for the thunder that follows. The lightning’s miles away. Soon it will be just another night in the city. The calm after the storm. I guess here is as good a place as any to start this story. “Here” being after the fact.
I should probably back up a bit. Give a little context to the story. There’s this bridge in New York. The 145th. Spans across the Harlem River. Same bridge I’m standing on now while I tell this story. Same bridge I was driving on two years ago with my wife and daughter, Daphne and Helen. Some days prior to that drive Daphne kept telling me the tires were worn and the brakes had been giving. Told her I would take care of it tomorrow. Then another tomorrow. Then tomorrow again. Then came the night we were driving in the rain. A hydroplane, a freak jump. A car plunges into the Harlem River. I make it out. I tried to free them. Underwater. Cold water. Dark water. For as long as my breath held, I tried. I broke my leg in that tragedy. But I broke something else, too. Something mental. Something in my psychological make-up. The leg healed. The mental, it never did. Whatever broke up there in my head stayed broken. I left something down there in the deep with my wife and child. I can’t really put a finger on what it was. Thing is, whatever it was, it got replaced by a healthy dose of guilt. Of infinite sadness. Survivor’s remorse is a bitch.
Crap. I did it again. Made a promise to my daughter Helen. Helen would be almost six years old now. I promised her I wouldn’t curse anymore.
So, a while back I became convinced it’d be better to join them down there below the water than live and breathe above it. And yes, I know the bodies are no longer there. I know they’re at Eternal Peace Memorial Cemetery. But it’s about the symbolism, you know? Tonight would have been the night for the jump. The forecast was for heavy rain. I arrived at the bridge and took out my wallet to look at their picture one last time. Well, right at that moment, the wallet was taken out of my hand. A snatch and run. Took a moment to catch up to him.
The wallet snatcher turned out to be Lester Grimes. Escaped convicted felon. I caught up to Lester in an alley not too far from here. Well, then Lester pulls out a gun and – hold up. I’m missing something in the backstory. The part where I mention I’m a former cop and now a private detective. I even have that private detective look. London Fog trench coat, dark denim jeans, a white button-down shirt, and a bulletproof vest underneath. The only thing I don’t have is a gun. Not a fan of guns. Even when I was a cop. I carry around a walking stick, though. Doesn’t exactly fit the private eye motif, I know, but it works for me. Nice stick, too. Dark brown, hardwood with a smooth finish. Round ball padded handle on top and rubber grip at the bottom. So anyway, here’s where I’ll make a long story short. Lester Grimes shoots, thinks I’m dead. I’m not on account of my vest. We fight, he dies. End of story. Well, end of that story. The backstory.
I feel like I’m missing something in that backstory, though. No worries, if it’s important, it’ll come to me.
So, I’m here I am. Back at the 145th bridge. Thirty minutes later. So why am I doing this soliloquy instead of jumping to join Daphne and Helen? Wait. Soliloquy? Monologue? Narration? My little brother’s tutor would have had a field day with my poor choice of words. Ms. June Brooks. Let me tell you, I was so enamored of her. Now here’s the thing, my brother is eight years under me, and Ms. June Brooks and I were near bout the same age. She had a voice that could hypnotize, curves like Aphrodite, and a butt that swung like a pendulum when she walked.
My bad, I kinda digressed a bit. Let’s just say I was "hot for teacher". I never made any moves on her though. You know, on account of my brother. But maybe that was part of the reason why I was so drawn to Daphne when we met. She was a teacher. Taught middle school English classes. Probably why I won her over after taking her to karaoke our third date in and did Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher”.
Wait, am I digressing again, or is this a segue way? I dunno. And I still feel like there’s something I forgot to mention in that backstory. So anyway, I made it back to the 145th bridge with my walking stick and with about three minutes to spare. The rain had started to come down nice and good. Lightning in the distance drew closer. I was trying to gauge how much ground speed I’d need to jump for maximum distance. I was crunching numbers, doing a calculation of distance and weight and momentum. Never was the best at math but I needed to get it to track. I was only gonna get one shot at this.
Then I heard it. A feminine voice. Firm. Loud. Distressed.
“Just take my car and go! I don’t care! Just leave me alone.”
I didn’t look, despite how close the voice sounded. I tried to ignore it. Even told myself I couldn’t hear anything over the thunder. After all, I had two minutes to get the timing right. I laid the walking stick on the curb and got ready for my running start.
Then I heard another voice. Deeper, masculine, and even louder. “C’mon Becca! Get in the car. Get out the rain. I didn’t mean it.”
Domestic squabble. Let them work it out. I had a family to get to.
“But you never mean it, do you, Leroy?”
At that moment I turned my head to see a car that at first was moving to a slow crawl came to a stop. A woman walking as brisk as her rainboots would allow. Her dark blue overcoat had a swaying flow that would have been better served had it been buttoned up. A light-toned man in a black wife beater with jeans and suspenders got out the driver's side. He ran up to her and grabbed her by the elbow. His muscles flexed, making the tattooed female image on his bicep shift.
“I said get in the car! Now you made me get all wet.”
He had her in height and weight. Had me as well, if I’m being honest.
“Look, my students at the school need me and I have to have my head right for them. Please, Leroy just let me go.”
A teacher. Crap. Daphne would kill me all over again if I went to join her and Helen without doing something about this. Every bit of me wanted to cuss like a Marine who stubbed a barefoot toe.
“Daphne, Helen, give me a moment,” I said. I picked up my walking stick and headed towards the fray. This was most definitely not how I wanted the night to go.
“So, a bunch of snot-nosed brats more important than me now? What about my needs, huh?”
That’s when I saw something that made my blood boil. This Leroy person just up and back slapped this woman so hard she stumbled and fell. So now this became a thing. When I was on the police force, calls for domestic disturbances were always the tough ones. You got the ones who didn’t want to press charges. The ones who blamed themselves for being on the receiving end. And men, like this Leroy, who think he’s God’s gift and talking like he’s got a chip on his shoulder. Saddest part? When they end up going back to the men the next day.
“See what you made me do?” He stood over her like some lord and master. Fist clenched, as if he dared her to get up. “This wouldn’t have happened if you would’ve just gotten in the damn car.”
Well, there was nothing I could do for tomorrow. But tonight, yeah.
“Hey, Leroy! That you, man?” I’d hoped to distract him from going for another strike. Both he and the woman looked up and towards my approach.
“Who the hell are you?” Leroy hadn’t expected interference.
“Oh, it’s just me.”
The Becca woman saw this as a chance to scramble backward to give her some distance. Leroy pointed at her but kept his eyes on me.
“I don’t know a ‘me’,” he said, looking at me intently.
“No worries, you will.”
Becca helped herself back to her feet. Her cheek was clearly bruised. A clear contrast to the soft features of the rest of her. Her makeup ran a bit. Was it due to crying or the downpour? Guess that’s the thing about the rain. No one can tell the tears.
“This ain’t your business, Pops,” he scowled.
“Pops? Wow. Is it the gray patch in my hair?” I looked at this man standing not even twenty feet from me. He was the lean and solid type. That pretty boy looks with just enough facial hair to say he has some. Early thirties, maybe? No wonder he called me Pops. Kids these days. He stood his ground, chest swelling in and out with each breath.
“Thing is, you’re right,” I said. “It’s not my business. It wasn’t, until I saw what I saw. You pimp slapped this woman. Couldn’t unsee that.”
“She ain’t YOUR woman, though, man. Still, ain’t your business.”
“Ain’t? C'mon. Grammar, son. Okay yeah, but see, my mother told me, a so-called man who puts his hands on a woman, well, that isn’t a man. So, what you say bout it, Leroy? You’se a big boy, though. You think hitting a woman makes you a man?”
He made a look that was a cross between a sneer and a smirk as he reached behind his back.
“Pops, I’d say me knowing how to use this, makes me a man.”
He shows me his offering. A twelve-inch fixed blade tactical knife with brass knuckles at the grip.
Seeing him brandish that potsticker of his made me remember the part of the back story I almost forgot. My walking stick, it’s not just for support. The balled handle disconnects to form a hilt to a thirty-inch sword blade, a Japanese import. Forged and folded Damascus steel. Cost a pretty penny but worth every cent. As I pulled the hilt from the scabbard, I was tempted to say something corny and high schoolish like, “you call that a knife”, or some such. But the sight of the gleaming steel spoke for itself. I lowered the blade and looked at the woman to reassure her.
“Take the car Miss Teacher. Get out this thunderstorm. You got minds to mold in the morning. I got this tonight.”
She nodded in silence and made her way to the vehicle.
“Becca, you stay right here! Rebecca!”
But she ignored him. Guess she’d heard that tune too often before.
I used my body as a buffer between the two. Moved to match Leroy’s direction.
The driver's side door opened and closed. Leroy took a step towards the car but blunted his step when he saw my sword follow his move to intercept.
“No, no,” I said. “This is a school night.”
“You think you bad, Old Man? You think that stick makes you something?”
He glared at me. His eyes had their own sense of lightning about them. He was like a bull ready to charge a matador. Fingers caressed the brass knuckles around the handle of that knife.
“First Pops, now Old Man? Wow. I mean, yeah, my bones do crack a bit. But c’mon, Old Man?”
His growing rage told me he didn’t care for my nonchalant approach. We started circling each other, like boys about to throw down in a schoolyard fight.
“You come between me and my woman and you talking like this is a game, pops? What the hell? You think this is a game, Pops?”
I paused as if to give it some thought, but also to let the rolling thunder pass by.
“No, but I’ll tell you what I think, though. See? I had something planned tonight. What you and…who – Becca? Rebecca? I was gonna leave you be. Wasn’t my business. But then you had to haul off and hit her. See, I can’t let that slide. So here we are.”
He stopped with the circling and stood his ground. I could tell he was trying to decide his next move.
“So, what you gon’ do, Old Man. Make all Zorro like? Try it, Pops. I’m the best blade in Harlem.” He put a spin on the knife around his middle finger and caught it with the remaining three fingers into the knuckle holes.
“Impressive,” I said.
Old Man. Pops. Maybe I needed to teach Leroy a lesson. You know, school of hard knocks. Yeah, yeah, I know it's cliche. forgive me, I'm in a mood. I ran the sword through a figure eight in the air. It’s all in the wrist. I did a quick rotation that went into a parry and thrust and pointed the tip, rigid and unmoving. I then guided it back into the scabbard. An unassuming walking stick once more.
“See, kid. All that’s slick in the flicks.” I placed the walking stick on the pavement beside me. “But where I come from, you’re either good enough to walk on water – or bad enough to wrestle the alligator in the swamp.”
Leroy smiles all teeth now.
“Okay, Pops. We’ll play your game,” he said as his knife clanged to the ground. He dropped low and got into a stance well known in the gym and on pay-per-view.
“A boxer, huh?” I said.
“Yeah, so what? C’mon!”
In retrospect, I don’t know what made me do it. But I stood toe to toe with Leroy and we started exchanging blows. Strangely enough, each punch I took, it was as if my tension was being released. Sure, I blocked my face well enough, but Leroy was experienced enough to get body shots in. His puzzled look didn’t know he was punching my vest instead of my guts. Still, the frustration of not being able to save my Daphne and Helen, it was slowly seeping away. Maybe this was what I needed. A catharsis. Not just this fight, but the giving action to my anger. To shout with my fists instead of my death wish. To rage against the feeling of uselessness. The more he punched and kicked, the more I wanted more. The more I answered them in return. In that one moment, the night was summed up in a cacophony of lightning streaks, strikes, punches, and thunder. I harnessed my guilt. Channeled it into targets on Leroy’s person. I welcomed each hit he gave. Took it and returned to sender. In the end, it was experience over youth. Lester Grimes had lasted longer, but I let Leroy live. My last punch to the throat sent him to the pavement, gasping for air. I hovered over the once towering figure. Now bloodied, bruised, and broken.
“Okay, man, okay!” he gasped with a strained voice.
Hearing Leroy’s voice again brought me out of myself. I looked around. Surprisingly, no one was within eyesight. Thankfully, that meant the fight and my face wouldn’t be plastered all over social media. I fixed my soaking wet clothes to look respectable again. Nothing I could do about the blood on my hands but let the rain wash them away. But even the rain was starting to wane. The thunder, many Mississippi’s away.
“You know, Leroy, for reasons you will never understand, I actually needed this.” I looked down at the knife and thought about what could have been. “Maybe Rebecca will leave you. Maybe tonight’s the night. Or maybe she’ll go back to you tomorrow. I don’t know. The struggle between mind and heart and whatnot. But the detective in me? I’m going to be checking up on her. Yeah, I’ll be around.”
I used the tail end of my trench to pick up the knife. I still had some pals on the force. Might want to run prints, DNA, cop stuff. Might be a case that can be closed. Or maybe not. It was a pretty hard rain tonight. But still.
“You can go,” I say to a still on his butt Leroy. “The knife stays.”
Leroy rose and tried to say something, but it looked like the blow to the throat was still stinging. Instead, he glared and gave me the finger and walked away.
A few minutes later and I’m back where I began. Staring over the water. Thinking about Helen and Daphne. But now I’m also thinking about this teacher. This Rebecca. I made a difference tonight. Who knows, maybe I can make a difference again. I am a detective, after all.
Daphne, Helen, with your indulgence, maybe I don’t quit my day job just yet.