~ The Harder They Fall ~



Cole Parker


Part 1

Rigby Bowen was wearing a rented tux and, standing before his full-length mirror, studying himself critically. He was not admiring what he saw but instead noticing all the imperfections that were way too obvious. Like his hair.

His hair was an uninteresting brown and was neither too short nor too long. Either would have been better, he thought. His normal length hair spoke nothing of who he was or wanted to be. At least it wasn’t combed with a part, as his mother always insisted it should be. But she was old school, born last century even, and knew nothing of current fashions for 17-year-old boys.

Then there was his face. God awful, in his opinion. Too long, ears too high and prominent, nose too short, and such uninteresting eyes! At least his teeth were straight and white, and the few pimples he’d had to survive two years ago were now just a very bad memory.

He glanced down and saw how thin his form was. The fact he was an inch over six-feet tall made him look skeletal. Well, at least he thought so. Why couldn‘t he gain weight? He certainly ate enough. And was active, too, which surely meant he should be putting on muscle. But he couldn’t see anything like definition when he looked in the mirror after a shower.

He was reasonably strong, he figured. He ran on the track team at school, and most of the boys on the team with him were built much like he was, long and stringy. Their coach did have them doing some light work with weights, but it didn’t help him bulk up at all. Still, as he could lift as well as his teammates, he reckoned he was average in the strength department for his age. It just wasn’t apparent to anyone looking at him, which was what he’d have liked.

His tux jacket was still lying on the bed, and so he could see how his white dress shirt with small pleats fit him, and also that his shirt pocket was empty. He’d forgotten what he might need later on. He remedied that and then slipped into his black tux jacket, leaving his wallet and phone behind so the line of his outfit would be sleek and uninterrupted. He sighed. Sleek was fine, and he had some control there with how he dressed, but there wasn’t much he could do to fix the rest of him. He was what he was. His mom said he was very handsome, but she was his mom.

It was time to go. He straightened his bright blue bowtie, which exactly matched his cummerbund, then turned and headed down the stairs. His dad was waiting for him, keys in hand, and glancing at his watch.

“You looking to make a dramatic late entrance, Rig?”

Rigby shook his head. “We’ll probably be early. Everyone wants to be fashionably late to prom.”

“And you’re sure you don’t want me to pick up your date on our way?”

“No, we decided not to, as I’ve told you three times now. No, no change of plans. We’ll meet there. Easier that way.”


Rigby was right; there were only a few couples already there, and the hired band was playing while the couples danced on the mostly empty gym floor. Most of the crowd would come later. Rigby’s date hadn’t arrived yet, but that was as expected, too.

It took most of an hour before the gym was rocking, but by then the floor was full of dancers, Rigby included. He wasn’t dancing with his date, however. That would be later. Now, he was dancing alone, but in the vast crowd of bodies and with the modern way of youthful dancing which involved jerking and jiving and very little touching of one’s partner, no one noticed.

An hour later, many of the tux jackets had been discarded. It was hot in the gym, and once a few of the boys had been brave enough to lose their jackets, most of the other boys, including Rigby, had shed theirs as well.

Rigby was finally dancing with his date, who’d arrived late. He’d had two dances already, and this was the third. He had his jacket off and was sweating up a storm as was his date, Dennis. They weren’t the only gay couple on the floor. This being almost a quarter of the way through the twenty-first century, gay couples in high school were common and roundly accepted. Except by some of the practitioner’s parents, of course. Old attitudes had a way of persisting and fathers often reflected the views of their fathers and grandfathers and going on back for generations.

When the music stopped, Rigby and Dennis walked off the floor together, hand in hand. They were met at the edge of the gym floor by Dennis’s father. He was the shop teacher at the school and one of the chaperones.

Mr. Queen stopped the two boys, and Dennis moved only slightly but noticeably so he was positioned partially behind Rigby. He knew his father well and knew the look on his face.

“You come with me,” he said addressing Rigby, anger ringing in his voice.

He grabbed Rigby’s thin arm, tightened his grip enough that Rigby winced, and walked him off the floor and into the darkened and empty school itself. He was striding quickly, and Rigby was pressed to keep up. Rigby was tall, but three inches shorter than Dennis’s father, who also outweighed him by close to one hundred pounds.

Mr. Queen slammed into a boys’ restroom. It was deserted, as expected. Mr. Queen had had to unlock the door into the school proper for them to enter.

“I’ve put up with this gay nonsense for long enough. He’s not gay. He just needs to get this out of his system. But you. Yeah, you’re gay, but this is the end of it with Dennis. No more.”

He rushed on. “What, you thought you were going to have sex with him tonight? Prom night, and you were planning on fucking my son? Are you out of your mind? This is over. No more you and Dennis. No sex with him. Nothing to do with him any longer. Not now, not ever.”

Mr. Queen then made his position clear. He raised his right arm and slapped Rigby hard on his cheek. So hard that Rigby stumbled backward. Mr. Queen wasn’t through. His left hand immediately followed, slapping Rigby just as hard on his other cheek.

Rigby’s ears had been ringing from the first slap. Now he was totally disoriented and his stumbling ended with his falling backward and then down to the floor, his head hitting the edge of the counter holding the sinks, and finally the floor. Mr. Queen stood over him, still angry, still shouting, but the words made no sense to Rigby.


Rigby was lying on the floor alone. Time had passed. He wasn’t sure if he’d lost consciousness or been in some sort of fog, but he knew he’d been on the floor for some time. He moved to stand up and felt his head start to pound.

On his feet, he staggered a few steps, feeling very woozy. He pushed through the door into the empty, dark school hallway. It took a moment for him to orient himself, but recognized where he was and turned to head back toward the gym. His cheeks still burned, and somehow the vision in his left eye seemed blurry.

He reached the door into the gym, pressed the push bar to open it, and was surprised to find the room dark and empty. He thought to look at his watch, realizing as he did so how slowly his mind seemed to be working.

12:19. Way later than he thought it should be. But the empty gym verified how much time he’d lost.

The best way out of the school was the door across the gym from where he was standing. He walked toward it, still unsteady on his feet and just before reaching it, he saw his tux jacket on a nearby chair. He slipped it on, then pushed open the door and walked outside.

The night was very dark, the moon just an overhead sliver, and lights from the street had no effect on the space behind the school gym. He was a long way from home, but what choice did he have but to walk? His cellphone was on his bed at home.

Walking, being upright, seemed to make his head feel worse. He felt a little nauseous, but kept going. He’d only gone a block when he felt he wasn’t alone. He stopped and twisted his head around, and then wished he hadn’t as he almost fell over when he did.

There were four guys there. Street punks by their looks. Ratty clothes, unshaven, two with cigarettes glowing, and even though two of them didn’t appear to be much older than Rigby, there was menace in their posture.

“What’s this?” one of them, the youngest-looking with pronounced buck teeth, asked. He chuckled, though it wasn‘t a pleasant sound.

“You know what this is, Rabbit? Your initiation.” The oldest one, the apparent leader of the group, gave Rabbit a shove in Rigby’s direction.

Rabbit smiled.

Rigby’s mind still wasn’t working right, but he recognized he was in trouble. Normally, being on the track team as he was, he’d have been able to run and it was doubtful they’d be able to catch him. But there was no way he could run. He could barely walk.

Rabbit came up to him. Rigby turned to face him and put both hands up, palms out, surrendering.

Rabbit smiled, then hauled off and punched him in the stomach. Rigby’s head came down, and Rabbit followed with a punch to his face.

When Rigby hit the ground, his head hit the sidewalk. Everything went black.

He was obviously unconscious. The group looked at him, and the leader, a 22-year-old named Carlos, said, “Check his pockets. Get any cash, and his watch and wallet. Anything we can turn into cash.”

“What about that suit he’s wearing,” asked one of the gang. “Looks like that might be worth something. And those shoes. I’ve never seen such shiny shoes.”

“Yeah, why not?” Carlos said. “Strip him.”

They set to work and had him stripped to his socks and briefs in a matter of minutes. Carlos watched, and after a moment took a switchblade from his pocket and clicked it open. “Sometimes they hide money in their underwear,” he said. Using his blade, he slid it under the front of Rigby’s briefs, nicking Rigby’s groin while doing so, and cut upwards, slicing through the thin fabric and the tougher elastic band at the top. He then yanked the cut briefs off. Rigby wasn’t hiding any money. But lying naked except for his socks, he looked more defenseless and abandoned than before, and much more pitiable.

Rabbit was looking at him and starting to feel queasy. “Hey, Carlos, I’m not sure he’s, but, uh, is he dead? Did I kill him?”

“I dunno. Check him. I don’t think so. I got a little blood on my knife when I was cutting his Jockey’s. He shouldn’t bleed if he’s dead. Put your ear to his chest.”

“I don’t wanna touch no stiff!”

“Rabbit.” Carlos didn’t like his people not hopping to it when told to do something. His voice told Rabbit how unhappy he was.

Rabbit didn’t hesitate then. He got down on his knees and leaned over Rigby’s body and put his ear to his chest.

“I don’t hear nuthin.”

“We’re outta here,” Carlos said. “Carry him into that alley. Rabbit, take his feet, Deon, his shoulders. Get him out of sight.”

“We should grab all his shit, huh?” the guy called Wick asked. “We still might get a couple a bucks for it.”

“No, throw it all in the dumpster behind Hardy’s. We don’t want anyone thinking we had anything to do with the body. Even the watch. It’s a piece of shit anyway. Wipe any prints off the shoes and watch. Now! We gotta go.”


When the phone rang, Mr. Queen shook his head at Dennis and answered it himself.


“Mr. Queen? This is Charles Bowen. Rigby never made it home. Is Dennis there? I’d feel better if I knew they were together.”

“Dennis is here, but Rigby isn’t. Dennis won’t be seeing Rigby again. I made that clear to both of them.”

“Oh. Uh, could you ask Dennis if he has any idea where Rigby might have gone. I’m worried. His phone is here, and I can’t get hold of him.”

“No. Dennis didn’t leave with Rigby.”

“Uh, could I speak to Dennis, please?”

“No, you can’t. He’s having nothing more to do with Rigby, and he doesn’t need to talk to you. I’m hanging up now.”

“Wait! A second ago, you said you’d made it clear to Rigby that he wouldn’t be seeing Dennis again. What did you say to him? And when was this?”

“Goodbye, Mr. Bowen.” Mr. Queen hung up the phone.

“What was that all about?” Dennis asked.

“Just Rigby’s dad asking where he was. How the hell should I know?”

Dennis was staring at his dad, looking in his eyes, something he rarely was able to do. “I never saw him again after you took him into the school. What did you do to him?”

“Told him to stay away from you. He won’t be bothering you again.”

Dennis shook his head. “I told you. I was going to get us an Uber after the dance. He didn’t have any money or a phone. He didn’t have a way to get home. I assumed he’d catch a ride with another friend, but . . . if he’s not home, maybe he didn’t. It’s a long way home from the school. I have to go look for him.”

“You‘re not leaving this house. If he got himself in trouble, that’s his problem, not yours. Time for bed. Get upstairs.”

Dennis kept staring at his father, not moving at all.


Mr. Bowen and his wife were out in their car, driving the most likely route Rigby would have used to walk home from the school. They were both keeping the fact that they doubted they’d see him because even walking, he should have been either home or almost home by then. It was close to one in the morning now and the streets were deserted.

They were getting close to the school when Mrs. Bowen saw something. “Stop,” she said. “I thought I saw something in that alley we just passed.”

Mr. Bowen stopped and backed up, easy enough to do in the empty streets. He could see something pale in the alley, too.

He pulled to the side of the road and both he and his wife hurried into the alley. One quick look and Mr. Bowen had his phone out, punching in 911.


The Bowens were sitting in the hospital waiting room. They’d thought Rigby was dead when they’d made the call, but the EMTs arrived quickly and told them that he was still alive, but had a very weak heartbeat; they could follow them to the ER.

They’d been waiting for forty-five minutes when two things happened at once. The doctor walked into the waiting room, looking for them, and the outer door opened and Dennis and his father walked in.

Dennis, being younger than the doctor and much less exhausted, reached the Bowens first. “Is he okay?” he asked, his voice panicky.

“We’ll know as soon as we talk to the doctor,” Mrs. Bowen answered, nodding her head at the man approaching them.

“Mr. and Mrs. Bowen?” he asked.

“Yes,” they both answered at once.

“I’m Dr. Maxwell. Your boy is under my care. He has a serious concussion, and the bruising on his face suggests he was hit more than once. He has a small cut on the inside of his left thigh, but it’s minor. His most serious problem might be his very low blood sugar.”

“He’s diabetic,” Mr. Bowen said. “He usually carries some candy with him so if he feels his hypoglycemia coming on, he can stop it.”

“As he came to us naked, we don’t know if he had anything with him, but his sugar was low and we’re in the process of raising it to normal levels. Knowing he’s diabetic is helpful information. Thanks for that.”

“The concussion?” Mrs. Bowen asked.

“We’ll monitor him. He regained consciousness for a short time, which is a very good sign. We’ll need to keep him here for monitoring.”

“We don’t know why he was naked,” Mr. Bowen said. “Was there any indication of, uh, interference?”

“No, none at all. And it’s not a cold night, so there was no hypothermia, either. We think he’ll recover completely. We have called the police, however. Whenever a youth comes in suffering from what appears to be an attack, we’re directed to call the police.”

“You said he was conscious.” Dennis was speaking, unable to wait. “Did he say what happened?”

Dr. Maxwell turned to him. “Who are you?”

“I’m his boyfriend. We were at the prom together when my father took him away. I never saw him after that.”

“And is that your father?” he asked, pointing at Mr. Queen who had remained near the door.

“Yes. Do you want to talk to him?”

“No, but the police will. He was the last one we know of who was with him.”

Just then a policeman came in, and Dr. Maxwell excused himself. He spoke to the policeman, who then went to talk to Mr. Queen.


Six days later, there was a meeting in Rigby’s home. Present were Mr. and Mrs. Bowen, Rigby, Mr. and Mrs. Queen, and Dennis. Rigby had just been cleared from the hospital’s concussion protocol and come home. His dad had asked him if he was up for this meeting, and he’d assured him he was.

The two men didn’t shake hands.

When they were all seated, Mr. Bowen took the lead. “Just to make the point so everyone understands where we are. I’m so mad at you, Mr. Queen, that it’s difficult for me to be civil. You’re in my house, so I must hold my temper. But I have to say, if you so much as ever touch my son again, I’ll hurt you. I’ll hurt you very badly.”

Mr. Queen was two inches taller and many pounds heavier than Mr. Bowen. They were about the same age. Mr. Queen had made his way through life intimidating those he came into contact with by his size and aggressive personality. No one spoke to him like Mr. Bowen just had. His way was to react physically in any sort of confrontation, and he never had allowed himself to be demeaned this way. Still, there was something in Mr. Bowen’s voice, in his eyes and posture, that caused Mr. Queen to hesitate.

His wife, sitting next to him, put her hand on his leg. He remained seated and silent.

Mr. Bowen noted the silence and continued. “Rigby has told me what happened. What you did, and then left him there, lying on the floor unattended, is not only criminal, it’s hardly human, and certainly not the act of a father with a child Rigby’s age. I don’t know how you can live with yourself. It’s very lucky for you that Rigby survived what you did to him, and what happened to him after you’d hurt him. You’d be in jail for murder if he’d died. I assume when the police spoke to you, you didn’t mention your physical attack. We’ll come back to that in a moment.”

He stopped. His face was red, a vein stood out in his neck, and his teeth were clenched. No one spoke for a full minute, a very tense minute.

Then Mr. Bowen resumed. “I want to know why you hit Rigby. Tell me.”

Mr. Queen cleared his throat. He spoke loudly, as he always did. “He’s made Dennis think he’s queer. Then at the prom, I saw Rigby had condoms in his pocket. He was planning to fu—.” He stopped, glanced at Mrs. Bowen, then said, “He was going to have sex with Dennis, and I was letting him know that wasn’t going to happen, then or ever.”

“So you knocked him down and left him lying there.” A statement, not a question.

“He needed to know to stay away from Dennis.”

Mr. Bowen stared at him for a moment, then turned to Rigby. “Rig,” he said, his voice much softer, “would you like to respond to that?”

Rigby still had a headache, but it was minor now, and he’d learned to ignore it. He’d been told when being released from the hospital to refrain from any physical activities till the headaches were gone, and even then be less active than usual for a time. He felt much better now than he had for the past week, however, and had wanted to do this.

“I wasn’t going to have sex with Dennis, Mr. Queen. Dennis and I haven’t even kissed yet. We are boyfriends; Dennis asked me if I’d be his boyfriend when he asked me to go to prom with him. I’m out, he isn’t, but he’s just as gay as I am. He’s also afraid of you and so has to keep that part of him secret. It’s sad when a son is afraid of his father.”

Rigby was keeping his eyes on Mr. Queen’s. The man was meeting them with a look of disdain. Now he said, “Bullshit. Excuse me, ladies, but I saw what I saw. I saw the outline of condoms in your shirt pocket. You were going to seduce Dennis that night. Prom night. I know what happens on prom night. Boys screw their dates. I did. You were going to do the same thing. Otherwise, why the condoms? Huh? Huh?”

Dennis was fidgeting in his chair, but stayed silent. That was his normal behavior when in the same room with his father. He’d learned he was safer that way.

Rigby stood up. He was dressed in jeans and an untucked

cotton tee shirt with a breast pocket. Standing, he pulled his shirt tight to his body. “You mean you saw condoms like this?” he asked.

“Yes!” Mr. Queen began to rise and Mr. Bowen was up before the man could get halfway to his feet. Stepping forward quickly, he was in Mr. Queen’s space before the man could rise.

“Stay seated,” Mr. Bowen said, his anger apparent. Mr. Queen sank back into his chair.

Rigby used the man’s silence to say, “But I don’t have condoms. I don’t now; I didn’t then. I had no intention of having sex with Dennis. I don’t know if he’d have wanted to or not, but I know I didn’t. I was hoping for a kiss, not sex. Dennis had told me he’d get an Uber to take us home, and said we’d both sit in the back seat. I took that to mean we’d kiss; it would be our first time.”

“But—” Mr. Queen began, and then watched as Rigby reached in his shirt pocket and pulled out a small flat lollipop that had the stick broken off.

“I’m diabetic, Mr. Queen. Sometimes teens have a problem keeping their blood sugar in the right range. If I become hypoglycemic, it can be very dangerous. I carry candy with me to have available when I feel the effects of low sugar coming on. That’s what you saw in my pocket. That’s what almost got me killed.”

Mr. Bowen moved back to his chair and was the one to break the silence. “We haven’t told the police what happened in the school bathroom. Obviously, you didn’t, either. I wanted to. I wanted you in jail. But Rigby asked me to leave it alone. He wants to be with Dennis, and figured you might be willing to trade our silence for your acceptance of the two being together. It’s not too late for us to go to the police. I’d just tell them that Rigby hadn’t told us what happened when in the hospital, that he hadn’t had a clear enough head till he came home. But they’ll accept that, and they’ll come after you. At the very least, you’ll lose your job at the school. Hopefully, you’ll spend some time locked up, too, which is what I hope will happen.”

He stared at Mr. Queen for a moment, then said, “This is the only chance you’ll get. I think Rigby is being too lenient. With you in jail, he can see Dennis all he wants, and you deserve no mercy. So my hope is you turn down my offer. But, it’s your decision, and you have to make it right now.”


Rigby and Dennis were in the burger joint frequented by many of the high-school kids who were starving by the end of the school day. They needed sustenance, and Bill’s was there to provide it. Bill’s Burgers ‘n Such. Almost all Bill’s business was burgers and fries. None of the kids seemed interested in the ‘Such’.

The boys had taken a table for two so they could talk without interruption. Both had a ton of friends and time to talk privately was rare for them when there were other kids around.

Dennis said, “I was sure he’d say no to the deal, that he’d say that no son of his would be gay and get up and march out. He never lets anyone tell him what to do.”

Rigby grinned. “He’d have given up his job and maybe his freedom if he’d turned it down. We weren’t leaving him much wiggle room.” Rigby reached out and laid his hand over Dennis’s. They still hadn’t kissed, but Rigby was hoping to correct that when they left the burger shop.

“Yeah, but he’s sneaky,” Dennis continued. “I could see him thinking he’d say okay to the deal, then a week or so later, tell me I couldn’t see you any more. By then, it would be too late to tell the police or the school what had happened at the prom. I couldn’t believe that your dad had already thought of that.”

“I love my dad. He’s really smart. And how about the way he stood up to your father, even challenged him at first.”

“I’m surprised my father took that sitting down.”

Rigby nodded. “It was a good thing he did. You’ve told me your dad was a brawler and in lots of fights growing up. What I didn’t tell you—my dad doesn’t want it generally known—is that my dad had Ranger training in the army. Lots of hand-to-hand combat training. He would have cleaned your father’s clock. With prejudice.”

“Wow! So not only smart, but physical, too. I’m still impressed, though, that he realized what my father was thinking. About letting a little time pass, then lowering the boom on us.”

“When I told him what your father did to me in the boys’ room,” Rigby said, “knocking me down, I said I wanted to use that as a bargaining chip. We discussed it, and right away he said if we didn’t tell what had happened to the police pretty quickly, we’d lose what hold we had over your father. Still, I wanted a chance to be with you and thought that bargain the best way to get it.

“I told my dad that, and he came up with his plan to protect us. He wrote out that confession of what your father had done to me in the boys’ room, and got him to sign it under the threat of immediately calling the cops. The rest of us then signed as witnesses. It was pretty smart of my dad to come up with that, and it insures your father won’t change his agreement. He says a word, and at the very least he’ll lose his job and pension.”

Dennis turned his hand over so their palms met, and they both curled their fingers around the conjoined hands. Their eyes met.

“You about done?” Rigby asked, nodding at Dennis’s half-eaten burger. His voice sounded strained with adrenalin.

Dennis pushed away from the table and stood up. Rigby grinned and got up, too.

Part 2

The two boys were again having a snack at Bill’s Burgers ‘n Such a week later. “You still having headaches?” Dennis asked while stealing one of Rigby’s fries.

“A little bit. They come and go. The doctor said that’s usual, and I’ll get fewer and fewer as time passes. He said the brain’s a funny organ that kinda does its own thing, and I just had to live with its machinations, whatever that means. But he said I was doing fine.”

“Good.” Dennis met Rigby’s eyes, then laughed as he used Rigby’s loss of concentration on his food to steal another fry. “Your dad was really angry with mine when we were all together. Is he normally like that?”

Rigby shook his head. “Not angry, no, but he can be intense. He saw some stuff when in the army. He won’t tell me much about it, but he says that experience changed him. He says when he was our age he was very easygoing. Like us, really. But those years in the army, much of it in Asia and the Middle East, he saw things that, to use his words, soured him and stole his naïveté. He says that there’s always a need to protect the innocent, especially kids. He hates violence, but says there are times it’s needed.”

“Wow! Your voice changed, saying that, Rig.”

“He gets really serious if I ask him about any of his experiences. I think what he saw, what he was involved in, is still part of him. And it’s part of his job, too. You know what he does.”

“No, you only said he was in security for a large company. I don’t know more than that.”

“Oh.” Rigby took a moment for another bite of his burger, then slapped at Dennis’s pilfering hand and moved his sleeve of fries closer to his plate. After chewing, he said, “He’s head of security of Baines, Johnson, an accounting and financial services firm that also provides personal security for clients requesting it. Dad, among other things, trains the firm’s security people.”

“So I guess that explains how he was with my dad,” Dennis said. “He’d take what happened to you personally.”

“Yeah. He always wanted to teach me how to fight, to ‘protect myself’ is what he calls it. I’ve never wanted anything to do with that. Maybe I should have, but I don’t see how it would have helped against your dad. What he did was so unexpected, the slapping, that there was no way I could have defended myself, and after that, with those guys on the street, I was too out of it to stop them.”

“My stepdad,” Dennis corrected rather automatically. “Does your dad still talk about what happened to you? I mean, is he still upset about it?”

Rigby nodded. “As I said, he’s intense, and I can see him thinking about it. He called it ‘unfinished business’ a couple of days ago when I asked him about it. I told him it was over, I was getting better, and to forget about it. That’s when he said those words. I don’t like it. But what I say or feel doesn’t have much effect on him.”


Charles Bowen, as Baines, Johnson’s Head of Security, had contacts in the city’s police department. He was good friends with the chief and the heads of the various divisions.

He’d gotten as much information about the street punks who’d messed with his son as Rigby could remember, which had been scant. The one thing he could recall, and that recollection was somewhat fuzzy, was that he thought the kid who’d punched him might have been called Rabbit. But he wasn’t sure.

It wasn’t much, but at least it was something. Mr. Bowen had lunch with the head of Gang Crimes Enforcement a week after his meeting with Dennis’s family where he’d obtained the signed confession from Mr. Queen. The two men met in a downtown restaurant where neither was known. Mr. Bowen liked anonymity.

They sat at a table in the back near the kitchen with no other customers nearby.

“I’m buying, Frank. Anything you want.” Mr. Bowen smiled at Frank Benzer, and Frank nodded, understanding. Quite obviously Mr. Bowen wanted something and the price of a lunch wasn’t beyond what he was willing to pay to get it. Frank had no problem with that. He knew Charles Bowen, liked him, and figured he was on the side of the good guys. Working on quelling gang activity was a job where you dealt with more bad guys than good. He was thankful there was a man like Charles Bowen in town and happy he was friends with him.

They chatted about people in town they knew till their lunches were served. Then, with the waiter gone and Frank digging in, Charles—he’d been nicknamed Chip in the army and still liked the name, but no one here knew of it—put his own fork down and said, “I’m looking to even the score with the guys who knocked around my son and left him naked and unconscious in an alley. Thought maybe you could help.”

Frank swallowed and said, “Sure, Charles. Uh, you know, no vigilante shit. But that’s for the record. I have to say that. Personally, I think some of these gang guys, whatever happens to them, they deserve it. They have no mercy, and so those dealing with them don’t need to show them any, either.”

Charles nodded. “I don’t know much, but maybe enough. I know where Rigby got hit, near the intersection of Franklin and Towne. Rigby only remembers one name. He can’t describe any of them and isn’t even sure how many were involved. But he does think one of them, the one who knocked him down, was called Rabbit. You know any groups who hang in that area? Anyone who goes by Rabbit?”

Frank said, “Give me a moment,” and took another bite of his scaloppini. He chewed, swallowed, then laid his fork down. “I can probably find out. Ask the night patrol in that area. They’d know for sure. I overheard two of those guys in the locker room when they were dressing after their shift and I was coming in, and I heard the word Rabbit. I don’t know who it is, but they might. Want me to ask them?”

Charles shook his head. “No. Something might happen to Rabbit—guys do sometimes get hurt in that line of work—and it’s best if you weren’t just asking about him. Mostly I was verifying that Rigby’s memory was right. He wasn’t sure ‘Rabbit’ was the name he’d heard. And I wasn’t sure where we found him was where he’d been attacked. But if your patrolmen work that area, and they mentioned the name, that’s all I need.

“You forget I asked about this?”

“It was never mentioned, Charles.”

“Thanks, Frank. I owe you one.”

“Nope. The veal is more than enough. And who knows, a glass of Chianti might further cloud my memory.” He grinned, and Charles signaled for the waiter.


Rigby knew his parents as any teenager does, and he knew something was up. His dad was usually fairly relaxed at dinner, and a glass of wine with his wife was normal. Tonight, there was no wine, and the man was tense. Rigby knew that mood when he saw it. His dad had many, and Rigby could identify all of them. Tonight, he was seeing tense.

The meal was unusually quiet. His mom tried to start a couple of conversations, but his dad didn’t seem interested in talking, and the meal ended in silence. When they were done, his dad excused himself and went into his den, shutting the door after him.

He didn’t come out by the time Rigby went up for bed. He wondered what was going on, but this wasn’t the first time an evening at home had played out like this. He got into bed, picked up his book, and read till his eyes were having trouble focusing. He turned off the light and was asleep in just moments.


It was a dark night. Charles had waited till he knew the moon would be at ebb. This was that night. He was dressed in black pants, black soft-cushioned shoes, a black long-sleeved shirt, and nothing else. It was a warm night, and anyone out late would probably be jacketless. And so would he. No place to conceal a weapon, but he rarely carried one.

There was a bar on Franklin near Towne. It was a decrepit sort of place, but then, it fit in with the surroundings in this part of town. Charles arrived at 11:30. There were only seven other customers, five at the bar on stools and two in a booth with a pitcher of beer, mostly empty, on the table.

Charles sat at the bar and ordered a shot and a beer. He leaned over the shot glass as though tired or partially soused. When the bartender was wiping glasses at the other end of the bar and looking the other way, Charles picked up the shot of whiskey and made to drink it. Instead, he poured it down his shirt. Then he took a mouthful of beer, switched it around, and stood up, reeled, and spat it out, mostly on himself.

“Hey,” the bartender shouted.

“Sorry,” Charles mumbled almost incoherently and staggered to the door.

He made his way down the street to where Towne crossed Franklin, apparently drunk, then looked down Towne, then back down Franklin, appearing uncertain where he was and in which direction he needed to go.

He spent some time deciding, then turned and walked unsteadily down Towne. He walked in the direction Rigby had walked a few weeks earlier. He hadn’t gone far, had just passed an alley, sometimes stumbling a bit, sometimes muttering drunkenly to himself, when he felt the presence of people behind him.

He kept walking.

“Hey!” It was a youthful voice not too far behind him. Charles kept walking, apparently not hearing or just not thinking the voice was directed towards him.

Then he heard light steps coming up from behind and a rough hand fell on his shoulder, spinning him around.

“Watch it,” Charles sputtered, though it sounded more like ‘atchit’ and was accompanied by an alcohol-tainted exhale and a stumble into the guy who’d accosted him.

“Whew,” the guy he’d fallen into said, speaking to someone else. “He stinks of booze. Smells like he’s been in a bar all night.” He pushed Charles back so he could get him off him, and Charles stumbled back but remained on his feet, facing what he now saw was four guys, two looking younger than 20, the other two only slightly older.

One of the older ones, the one who held himself in a way that said he was in charge, spoke. “Give us your money and you can go.”

Charles straightened up just a bit. Regained his balance. When he spoke, there was far less slurring of his words. “Do I know you guys?” He sounded very confused.

“Shut the fuck up. Your money. Now, or you’re going down. As they say on TV, with prejudice. Give your wallet to Rabbit, and empty your pockets, too.” He turned his head to the smallest kid who was with him. “Rabbit, go get the money.”

The word ‘Rabbit’ had an effect on Charles. He straightened up. His voice changed from sloppy drunk to hard precision. He suddenly wasn’t a drunk; he was now sober and somehow more formidable. “I’d advise against it, Rabbit. Whoever comes over here won’t be walking away.”

The biggest guy, the one asking for the money, stepped forward. Right behind him was the other older guy. That one slipped his hand in his pocket and came out with brass knuckles already fitted on his fingers. The one in front pulled out a knife and clicked it open.

“You want to do this the hard way, you got it.”

Charles didn’t speak, just stood, waiting, his eyes vacant of fear or worry.

The one with the knife took a half step back. The brass knuckles guy, the one they called Wick, stepped forward. Charles was standing loose, hands at his sides, just watching.

Wick took his last step forward, feinted a left-hand punch and swept a roundhouse, knuckle-fortified right hand blow at Charles’s jaw. Charles would have needed extensive dental work had the punch landed.

It didn’t. He pulled his head back just in time for the brass knuckles to sweep by his face. As it did, he grabbed Wick’s wrist, yanked down on it, bringing the off-balance Wick to his knees, then twisted hard and jerked up.

A distinct pop could be heard, followed immediately by a scream. Charles let go of the wrist and looked up to see the guy who’d spoken coming forward with the knife in front of him, held in a way that showed he’d done this before. Reaching Charles, he slashed the knife forward at Charles’s neck just as he was rising from Wick.

Charles blocked it with his forearm, the knife cutting across it. That left the knife wielder’s right side vulnerable, and Charles swiveled on one foot and brought the other up in a vicious kick to his attacker’s unguarded ribs. The kick landed and turned the guy around. Charles followed this with a heavy punch to the guy’s kidneys and, moaning, the guy fell to the ground.

Charles picked up the knife, then looked down at the guy who’d dropped it. “You used this knife on my son. Just nicked him, but still. That isn’t allowed. Against the rules, attacking a defenseless kid. So, what do you think I should do? Cut you up a bit? Only seems fair.”

The two younger boys were still standing where they’d been, looking stunned. The skirmish had lasted less than a minute and both older boys seemed down for the count. Neither was trying to get up.

“Which of you two is Rabbit?” Charles asked. The menace in his voice was scary.

Both boys turned to run, but Charles was quicker. He’d decided Rabbit was the smaller one whose buck teeth showed even when his lips were closed; Charles grabbed him by the shirt at the back of his neck and yanked him off his feet.

“You punched my son. At least twice. I’ve killed guys for less. Several. What should I do to you? Cripple you? Want to spend the rest of your life in a wheelchair? Huh? Answer me, you piece of shit.”

Rabbit remembered the boy he’d punched. There hadn’t been another since then. “I had to,” Rabbit squeaked. “Carlos would have hurt me far worse than I did your son.”

“So that makes it okay?”

“No. I’m sorry. Please don’t hurt me.”

He was crying now, still hanging inches off the ground. Charles glared at him, then walked closer to the building they were next to and threw Rabbit against it. He wasn’t gentle but wasn’t violent, either. Rabbit hit the building and slid to the ground, more frightened than hurt.

“I’ll tell you what, Rabbit. I know the cops in this town. What I want from you is your word you’ll stay away from these two.” He nodded towards the two on the ground. Carlos was starting to move, groaning, looking like he was trying to gather himself. Charles watched. Then, saying, “Stay!” to Rabbit, stepped over to Carlos and kicked him in the same kidney he’d punched and watched as Carlos screamed, then puked.

Charles came back to Rabbit. “Here’s the deal. You go straight. You look like you should still be in school. You go back. Maybe it’s continuation school, whatever, but you go back, and you graduate. I’ll be keeping track. The cops will, too, and they’ll keep me advised. You drop out, you don’t finish, you hook up with a gang again, any of those things, and I’ll find you. And you’ll need that wheelchair. Permanently. You got that?”

Rabbit was terrified. He’d just seen the two toughest guys he knew dropped like they were eight-year-olds. He stared at Charles, saw his eyes, and nodded.

“No nods. Tell me you’ll do it. And your name. Not Rabbit. And if you say yes, I’ll take that as you’re giving me your word. That’s not nothing to me. That’s a man making me a promise he’ll keep.”

Rabbit said he’d do what Charles was demanding, and gave him his name.

“Your friend that ran off,” Charles told him. “Some friend. You stay away from him, too. I’m giving you a break. I almost never give breaks. I give people what they deserve. You’ll be wise to take advantage of what I’m giving you, which you don’t deserve. You can go now. But remember what I said. You gave me your word, and I told you what would happen if you break it. I don’t make empty promises. Now, I have to decide how much cutting I need to do on your blade man here. You don’t want to watch.”


Charles got a phone call from Frank Benzer the next day. “Charles, thought you’d like to know, we picked up two guys from the hospital last night. One had a dislocated shoulder, the other a knife wound on his face. Both have records. The one with the wound is puzzling. He had the knife that probably was used to cut him; it was still with him, still open. It was superglued to his dick! The cuts to his face aren’t deep or serious, but they were done in a way that’ll leave scarring. He won’t be a pretty boy any longer. Seems to have a badly bruised kidney, too. Peeing blood.

“They had to use acetone to get the knife off. The way I understand it, it took every nurse on the floor that night to work on it to get it off. I understand there was some laughing going on, but I wasn’t there to see it.

“There was a nine-one-one call for EMTs to pick them up. They were handcuffed together, the wrist of the dislocated shoulder arm attached to the ankle of the cut guy. I’m sure every time the cut guy tried to move, it had to pull on the dislocated shoulder and that guy would have been screaming. Someone sure did a number on those two. I’d feel sorry for them but Carlos Camros, the knife guy, has a rep as a really nasty guy. I don’t think anyone will feel sorry for him. Both guys were out on parole, and having a knife is a parole violation, as is running with a known felon. They’ll both be inside for quite some time.”

“And you’re telling me this why?” Charles asked, then laughed so that Frank could hear it.

“I was thinking another lunch was in order. This time I’ll buy. You just made my life easier.”

“Moi?” Charles asked, laughing again, then hung up. He gathered the things he’d had with him the night before that he was keeping: the bottle of superglue, the second pair of handcuffs he hadn’t needed, and the Kevlar sleeve he’d worn to protect his arm from the knife slash. He put them in a locked drawer in his den. That drawer had several items in it he didn’t want anyone to see.

Part 3

Braxton Queen was brooding. He’d been humiliated by Mr. Bowen. That was what he felt. He never backed down from anyone, never ever, but he had during that meeting, the one that had ended up with his signing a confession. What a weak-assed shit move that had been. It was humiliating, that’s what it was. And why? Why hadn’t he done what he always did? His game was intimidation. Just his size scared people, and he was considerably larger than Mr. Bowen. Why hadn’t he stood up and clocked the son of a bitch?

He didn’t just need size, either. He was a brawler. He loved to fight, but rarely had the opportunity as people were too afraid to fight him just because of his appearance. Maybe he could have fought the guy, there in Mr. Bowen’s living room. Why had he been so, so what? Had he himself been intimidated? No way! Never!

Yet he remembered facing Mr. Bowen, starting to rise, but then basically shutting down. Surrendering, in fact. Part of that had been the look of supreme confidence on Mr. Bowen’s part. There’d been his anger, too, but so what if the guy was angry? And so what if the guy was confident? No, Braxton really didn’t understand why he’d backed down. But doing so had crushed something in him. He needed to get that back. He needed to show his dominance again. Without that, he was nothing.

And so he brooded. He got to speaking less at home. He was used to dominating there, and now barely spoke to his stepson or wife. Well, fuck ‘em. He didn’t like either of them. His goddamn stepson was a fairy, and his wife, well, he’d only married her for her money. He’d deal with her at some point; that had always been his plan. Some sort of accident. As her husband, the state said he’d get all the money. But he still had to find a foolproof way to do take her out. But, no hurry.

As for Dennis, well, that was another matter. Dennis had seen him back down. Seen him diminished by another man. Dennis needed to be shown that was a fluke. Then when the boy was scared of him again, good and rightfully scared, he’d settle his hash. Settle his hash! Hah! Good one.

Braxton felt good for a moment, thinking about that, but then his mood darkened again. That fucking Mr. Bowen. That fucking confession he’d signed. He needed to do something about both. He just needed to think. There had to be a way. There was, of course. The thing to think about was, how was he going to get away with it?


Rigby and Dennis were at Bill’s Burgers ‘n Such again. Rigby had moved his fries as far from Dennis as he could, giving Dennis a look when doing so, but even with them almost safe, he still had to be watchful. Dennis had long arms and no conscience.

Dennis was grinning as he managed to snatch another fry. “You can’t protect them. My hands are quicker than lightning bolts. It’s a gift.”

Rigby laughed. “I really don’t care, you know. You eat your fries and mine, you’ll get fat, and then I’ll dump you for someone thinner and more attractive.”

“You won’t dump me. I’ve got something you like, something no one else has.”

“Oh, yeah? What’s that?”

Dennis smirked playfully. “Salty lips! From all the fries I eat. You get to lick it off.”

“Lick your lips? Ugh! Used, secondhand salt! Gross!” Rigby managed to look disgusted.

“That wasn’t what you said last time we left here. You were all over my lips.”

“Dennis! You lie! I was not! Besides, as I remember it, you were forcing kisses on me. I was trying to fend you off!”

“Like hell! You were all over me. Only reason I could breathe was something kept poking me, and you couldn’t get close enough to smother me because of it.”

“That was you, not me.” Rigby was trying to sound outraged and failing miserably. “I was the one staying calm and collected. Now, if you’re interested in getting me as aroused as you were, I was thinking about a sleepover Friday night. At my house. Your house? With your dad there? No way, José!”

“Stepdad. But I’ll check with my mom. And by the way, you were the one with the boner, not me!”

Rigby smiled. “Well, maybe I did have one, but you did, too. If we couldn’t get close because of me, it was because mine was much longer than yours.”

“Fat chance. But we’ll see Friday night.” Dennis’s eyes were shining. He obviously liked the idea of the sleepover and what would happen then.

Rigby thought about that, too. He got a dreamy look in his eyes. Then he allowed them to focus on Dennis’s and said, “Uh, you don’t need to bring pajamas.”

Dennis laughed. “Wasn’t planning to.”


Braxton Queen had taken to leaving the house every night and consoling himself at Snyder’s, a low-end bar some distance from his house. He sat at the bar, drank beer till late and was consumed with his brooding before eventually driving home, keeping under the speed limit. A drunk driving arrest would cost him his job for sure, and he needed to keep it awhile longer yet.

He never spoke to any of the others sitting at the bar but had taken to chatting with the barkeep on occasion. He learned the bar had a room in the back with a pool table, and he began working off some of his frustrations shooting alone. It was while he was doing that when the plan he was looking for began to form. It was pretty simple, but he liked that. It was violent, but he liked that even more. It would settle the scores he felt he was justified in settling, and he knew he was capable of pulling it off. Sure, it was bold, but he was Braxton Queen, for God’s sake! He could do anything he set his mind to.

He laid down the cue stick, checked that the backdoor out of the pool room was unlocked and led into a back alley, then went back to the bar for another beer and more thinking. How long would it take, doing what he was going to do? Forty, fifty minutes tops? Maybe. Could he be in the poolroom that long? Would the barkeep support his alibi that he’d been there, at the bar and back in the pool room shooting pool, if he was ever questioned?

He didn’t think there’d be any questioning. There was nothing to tie him into what would go down. Still, if he was questioned, it would be good to have the alibi.

He’d need a gun, of course. And a silencer to be on the safe side. He hadn’t owned a gun or shot one since he’d left the army, years before, but he’d had training back then with handguns, and the idea of using one didn’t bother him at all. Getting one, though, and doing so without anyone knowing—that might be harder. Where did one get a pistol and a silencer with no record of the transaction? He’d have to find out.


Dennis didn’t speak to his stepfather at all these days. He’d rarely spoken to him before, only responding when the man spoke to him, but since that wasn’t happening now, Dennis had no reason to speak to him. He did speak to his mom, thought.

“Rigby invited me for a sleepover,” he told her the next morning at breakfast when his stepfather wasn’t around. “This coming Friday. That’s okay, isn’t it?”

“Sure thing, hun. I like Rigby. He’s very polite and seems nice. Cute, too.”

Dennis ignored the cute remark. “Great. I told him I didn’t think it would be a problem. Maybe best not to mention it to Dad, though.” He always called Braxton ‘dad’ when speaking to his mother as she’d asked him to call the man that. He never had understood why she’d married him after his real father had died. She didn’t answer when he asked.


Friday night! Dennis was having a sleepover at the Bowen house on Friday night! Braxton had overheard the two whispering in his shop class. This was perfect. Dennis and Rigby together. Was that a piece of luck or what?

Doing it Friday was pretty quick, but he had already got the gun with a silencer, had already cased the Bowen house back and front from the outside, so why not Friday?

He’d seen an ad for a swap meet in the next town over and, as expected, there were several stands where guns were being sold. He’d picked the shiftiest looking dealer and got what he wanted without the hassle of paperwork. Yeah, it had cost more that way, but the guy hadn’t demanded ID so didn’t know who he was. Anonymous. Perfect.

And the plan? Well, the sooner the better. The bar would be busier on Friday night than it was other nights, so whether or not he was actually there the whole time he’d claim he’d been shouldn’t be an issue. When the place was crowded, no one would notice if he was gone awhile or was there continually.

The bar stayed open till 3 AM. He’d leave at 1:30-ish, should be back by 2:15. The guys still there drinking at that time should be sloshed enough that remembering anything would be almost impossible. And most of them didn’t like cops, anyway.

He gathered what he’d need, which wasn’t much, and left it in his car when he drove to the bar that night. He felt good. A bit nervous, but just enough to give him an adrenaline edge.


A little after 1:30 in the morning, driving away from the bar, he found his was one of very few cars on the streets. He’d pulled on a black windbreaker in the parking lot. He already was wearing black pants and sneakers. He’d put on some black greasepaint when he arrived. He didn’t want to be stopped on the way there and have to explain the greasepaint to a cop.

He turned off his car’s headlights while still four houses from the Bowen’s, then coasted down the street going four houses past their house before pulling to the curb. There was no light showing in any of the houses on this block. Same with the Bowen house.

Braxton put on the greasepaint—not as a disguise but so his white face wouldn’t stand out in the dark—then got out of the car and took a crowbar out from the backseat. The dome light in the car had been turned off; he was as near invisible in the dark as it was possible to be.

His gun, silencer attached, was in his belt. Carrying his crowbar against his leg, he walked swiftly to the Bowen house, then down the side of it to the back of the garage.

The house was a single-story ranch house built in an inverted U-shape. The main rooms of the house—the living room, dining room, kitchen, and den—were in the central area, farthest back from the street. The bedrooms with baths were in the up-legs of the U. The garage was behind the house at right angles to it with a driveway that ran along the side of the house and then turned and ran along the back to the main garage door. There was a small personal backdoor from the garage leading into the backyard. That was where Braxton was headed.

Using his crowbar, Braxton pried the backdoor open, being as quiet as he could. The doorframe gave and the door swung open with hardly a sound. Braxton slipped inside.

The garage was pitch black. Braxton had a penlight with him and used it to find the door into the house. He put the crowbar in the crack between the frame and the door, then stopped. He tried the knob, and found the door was unlocked. He opened it and stepped through into a room which he had to use his penlight again to identify. It was a mudroom with a door leading further into the house.

Moving carefully, silently, Braxton left the mudroom, walked through the kitchen, then through a short hallway past the dining room and into the living room. He’d been in this room before and knew where Rigby’s bedroom was as he’d seen him come from the hallway that led to the bedrooms in that wing when he had joined them at their meeting. Rigby had been tucking in his shirt. It made no sense for that area of the house to be anything but where his bedroom was located. And, as the house was U-shaped, it also then made sense the master bedroom would be on the other side of the house in the other up-leg.

So, the boys first.

Braxton silently moved to the hall and down it, planning each move he’d be making in advance. Sneak into the boys’ bedroom. Kill Dennis, hitting him hard in the temple with the butt of his gun. Grab Rigby. Haul him out into the living room. Slap him around. When that commotion brought Mr. Bowen, put the pistol barrel to Rigby’s head. Use that threat to get the signed confession back. Then finish off the boy, the man and his wife. Make sure Dennis was dead. Easy-peasy. He should be back in the bar just when he thought he’d be. If there was any blood splatter on the windbreaker, dispose of that along with the gun.

He crept down the hall. There were closed doors on each side. He tried one and found that room empty. He tried the next and saw a bed in it. He used the penlight, quickly on and off, and saw the two boys. The room was warm, and he’d seen the boys, naked on the bed, asleep, with Dennis’s arm and one leg lying over Rigby.

Braxton nodded, smiled and stepped into the room. Moved to the bed. Looked down on Dennis and raised his gun high above his head.

“Freeze! Even begin to move that arm down and you’re a dead man!”

Braxton almost jumped, so startled hearing a voice, Mr. Bowen’s voice, when thinking he was completely alone. He had been about to kill his stepson, and now, now . . .

Braxton was being beaten again and by the same man! He simply couldn’t let that happen. He wouldn’t.

He had the gun in his hand, not moving at all. He figured what he had to do: turn quickly and shoot Mr. Bowen. The man wouldn’t expect it. He wouldn’t be able to shoot back quickly enough. Still, to give himself a split second advantage, he needed to break the man’s concentration.

“Okay, okay, don’t shoot. I’m good. I’m good. I’ll lay the gun—”

That was as far as he got. As he said the word ‘gun’, in one fast motion he turned and dropped and fired. He shot at where the voice had been, blindly firing in the black room.

He got off one shot before he was hit himself. That shot was into his head, and he was dead before his body tumbled to the ground.


Charles had to spend quite a long time speaking to the police. They wanted to know in detail what had happened, and he told them.

“When the rear door in the garage is breached, my security system is programmed so a light in the master bedroom’s closet blinks three times and a light buzz sounds in my bedside table. I’m a very light sleeper, and in my army training I learned how to wake up alert and ready to move. That’s what I did tonight.

“I grabbed my laptop. My security program showed what door had been opened, and then I saw that the door leading into the mudroom had been opened as well.

“I got my 9mm Beretta M9 from the drawer, the one I’d had in the army and have a license for, punched in the magazine and looked again at my laptop. It didn’t show anything, but I knew there was someone in the house. I walked silently to the bedroom door, opened it, and moved into the hallway that led to the front of the house.

“I peeked around the corner into the living room just in time to see a dark shape move into the hallway at the other end of the room and disappear from sight.

“My feet were bare—actually, I was entirely naked. I sleep that way—and I didn’t make a sound as I raced across the living room and into the hallway that leads to the other two bedrooms in our house. I was just in time to see the shape disappear into Rigby’s bedroom. I ran after it.

“By then, my eyes were fully dilated, and I could just make out what was in front of me. The shape, a man’s shape, was by the bed, raising something up high. From what I could see, the man was about to club downward on one of the sleeping boys.

“No way was I going to let that happen. I shouted for him to freeze, then moved out of the doorway so if I had to shoot, my angle of fire wouldn’t be toward the boys. The man tried to draw my attention away and shoot me. He did get a shot off, but he thought I was still in the doorway and his shot didn’t come close to me. I think you’ll find a bullet lodged in the wood around the door or at least in that general area.”


There was no real question of it not being a proper, defensive killing. They had a dead man dressed in black with black greasepaint on his face, a gun in his hand, and a man known to police as a good guy, a solid citizen who had been protecting his family. Crime scene techs followed the cops to the house and did what they did, but Charles wasn’t taken to the station, simply told to come in the next day to give them a formal statement. The body was removed. Dennis went home to alleviate his mother’s worries.

Several days later, Rigby and Dennis were still getting over the trauma they’d experienced. They’d been shocked out of sleep by the noise of Charles’s weapon—no silencer there—into a black room, the smell of gunpowder in the air, and then the light coming on and a dead body on the floor, Dennis’s stepfather. He lay next to the bed with a gun in his hand.

They had been naked and so was Charles, but that hadn’t seemed to register on them. Not until Rigby’s mom showed up, and then both boys had jumped back into the bed and pulled up the covers.

It would take some time for the boys to get over what had happened. They understood Charles had saved them.

Neither much cared that Mr. Queen was dead. But Dennis asked if, from then on, they could have their sleepovers at Dennis’s house.

The End

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