On the spur of the moment, Eddie Caruthers decided to help a damsel in distress, and thus began his long slide into darkness. Of course, that was not apparent from where he stood. Clarity about the genesis of one’s own misery comes mainly in the cold light of hindsight, too late to be of use.
The damsel was a doe-eyed young woman with a melodious voice, a sweet smile, and an astonishingly corpulent build. Rosalyn Pitts and three other women had exited the big stone church that occupied half a block on Union Avenue in downtown Framingham, Massachusetts. Hobbling with the help of a cane in each hand, Rosalyn jaywalked in the spill of the streetlights, talking cheerily and breathlessly over her shoulder to her three friends, who lingered on the sidewalk behind her as they finished their goodbyes.
Her distress arrived in a black suv, as the driver started spewing invective at her from his open window. She was in his way, forcing him to stop and wait while she made her laborious crossing. He loudly bemoaned the size, color, and unsatisfactory forward speed of the lady’s posterior, adding, “Does Old MacDonald know he’s missing a cow?
E-I-E-I-oh my God!” Rosalyn hung her head and tried to move faster.
Eddie saw and heard all this from the courtyard of Solid Rock Church, where landscaping spotlights highlighted shrubs and ornamental trees just beginning to shed their red and yellow autumn garb. Eddie was strolling under those trees in rapt conversation with his—friend, girlfriend, wife to be? He was still trying to work all that out. But whatever the lithe and lovely Shawna Bell was to him, he enjoyed her company immensely and found that her nearness made the whole wearisome world fade away.
He and Shawna had been last to leave the building after choir practice, hanging back for the few seconds it took him to set the alarm and lock the door. Eddie wasn’t in the choir, but Shawna was, and he considered that reason enough to volunteer to handle building security and lockup on Thursday nights. He’d been doing that for six weeks, just for the pleasure of accompanying Shawna to her car—as slowly as possible—and listening to her small talk.
He didn’t appreciate having this moment spoiled by the sudden stream of insults and profanities he was now hearing. He looked over and noted the make and model of the vehicle, an occupational habit that was now a reflex. Then he focused his attention on the driver who was intruding on his happiness. It was especially aggravating that the target of this onslaught was poor Rosalyn Pitts. Roz, who was unfailingly pleasant despite suffering perpetual discomfort from the strain on her joints; Roz, who never showed embarrassment at having to sit on a bench in the rear of Solid Rock’s sanctuary, a bench placed there because she was too big to fit on the cushioned chairs used by the rest of the congregation; Roz, who doubtless had a too-short life expectancy and would probably never, ever be asked out on a date. If anybody deserved a break, it was Roz.
Eddie found himself yelling, “Hey, loudmouth, if you had any class, you’d shut up and leave the woman alone!” He fully expected an answering salvo of bluff and obscenities. People always acted tough from inside a car. Being wrapped in a four-thousand-pound steel and glass cocoon had a way of making people lose whatever inhibitions they might normally have had. Well, if listening to some thug curse at him would spare Roz further humiliation, so be it.
But the driver didn’t say another word. Instead, he slammed his vehicle into reverse and whipped it into a curbside parking space. Eddie was briefly impressed with the maneuver. Not many people could fling a Range Rover around so precisely while driving backwards, and fewer still would try it while sporting those oversized two-piece chrome wheels. What kind of nutcase would risk curbing rims that pricey? That fleeting question evaporated when the driver got out, slammed the door, and strode toward the courtyard.
Eddie’s pulse quickened. His senses honed in on the approaching man. Still, his next words were to Shawna: “Stand clear.” He glanced in her direction and made a shooing gesture with his right hand.
“Eddie!” Shawna’s normally silky voice nearly squeaked, and when she spoke his name a second time she drew it out to great length. “Eddiiieeee! Don’t get into it with him! Let’s just go!”
But Eddie had already turned his attention back to the lout who had been Roz’s problem and was about to become his. This man was compact, some three inches shorter than Eddie’s six-foot height. “Loudmouth” had an olive complexion and dark hair slicked back. He looked to be in his late thirties, a good ten years older than Eddie. Powerfully built, his broad shoulders and muscular physique marked him a dangerous opponent. The angry stare and clenched jaw suggested he wasn’t coming over to chat. He approached with, head up, chest out, fingers curled but not quite clenched into fists.
Eddie figured him for a sucker puncher. The man would probably try to get up in his face, and then attempt a knockout by throwing a sneaky roundhouse punch from out of nowhere. It was an old trick, demonstrated in a thousand YouTube videos. Not a chance he gets that close, Eddie thought. He could see that his own reach was greater, and the guy was leading with his chin. Then, on the edge of his awareness, he saw and heard the passenger door of the stranger’s Rover open and shut as a second man, much larger than the first, exited the vehicle and started toward the courtyard. Two of them. Not good
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