My Own Executioner by Michael Saad

Jebediah-Todd Fallard attends an ordinary Sunday church sermon, and unexpectedly comes face-to-face with a horrific moment from his past; by Michael Saad.

Church is supposed to be a place to infuse one's life with spirituality, a place to reconnect with God, the teachings of Christ, and the larger Christian community where "good things take place." It wasn't supposed to be the place where you suffered a blindside ambush, an encounter so horrifying that the insides of your stomach melted as though you had just swallowed a bottle of drain cleaner. Yet that is what JT felt, watching the guest speaker for today's sermon standing at the podium, speaking on the topic of cleaning up one's life, and welcoming Jesus Christ into his world.

Oh my God, what the hell? JT thought, squirming in his seat. He had no idea this man was going to be here today. JT had come to church thinking it would be another routine Sunday sermon, hearing Pastor Terry talk about fellowship, sin, looking to the Bible for answers. Instead, the Pastor spoke for only two minutes, then introduced the guest speaker. JT hadn't thought much of the introduction - he had never heard the special guest's name before, but his interest spiked upon hearing that the man had been involved in an urban gang, and served time in jail. It only took looking up into those dark, beady eyes, then a mere five seconds of hearing the man's voice, and JT found himself face-to-face with the Devil - the man who had tormented his dreams, and lured him into the darkest of his fantasies - for the past twenty-five years.

You, JT thought, looking up at the speaker with eyes narrowed into slits. He didn't know if what he felt was shock, anger, or fear - probably a combination of all three. The man was older, heavier, with short, thinning black hair slicked to the side in a comb-over - a contrast to the bulky, long-haired fiend that he was when JT first encountered him, but there was no mistaking who he was.

"My name is Rynet 'Bullethole' Cormier," the man said to the congregation in a bold voice, not noticing JT sitting amongst the larger audience, "and I am a monster of the highest order. Now I also want to say that I am a Christian and a reformed criminal, but I still call myself a monster because I have done many heinous things in my life that have caused so much hurt to so many."

You have no idea, you son-of-a-bitch, JT thought, uncertain as to whether he should stand up and yell at the man, or bolt out of the church in terror.

"What's wrong with you?" his wife asked. Jasmine kept her voice down but it was terse enough to indicate annoyance rather than sympathy. He looked down at his legs and saw that he was shaking them wildly.

"It's him," JT whispered, glaring at her.

"Who?" she asked, looking back at the man, then went wide-eyed. "Him? Oh God, are you sure?"

"Damn right." JT looked back at the stage. He couldn't say anything more to her. Rynet Cormier - that was his name - after twenty-five years of haunting his life, JT finally had a name. Cormier resumed speaking.

"Now I'm not here today to ask for forgiveness, none of you can grant me that. Nor am I here for absolution or penance. I am here to tell you a story about a young man gone down a black, twisted path, one filled with shallow promises and a false sense of prominence. A young man who only through the healing power of Jesus Christ pulled himself out of a rut of dope, booze, gangs, and power, and into a mission of renewal, personal exorcism, and living the Gospel.

"Go to hell, you self-gratifying bastard," JT muttered, loud enough for only his wife to hear. She squeezed his hand. The look on her face told him what she was thinking.

Don't you dare stand up and say anything right now, her eyes pleaded with him.

JT shifted in his seat, and forced himself to look up at Cormier, who continued to talk to the crowd as if they were his friends, all people who should revere him for who he is. He began telling his story, and JT forced himself to listen, but hearing the man's cocksure demeanor up on stage transported JT back to that fateful day twenty-five years ago, when he first met the man he wished that he could butcher ever since...

"Stay here, Jeb," his father told him, as JT rolled out of his bed and went to his nightstand. He could hear the pounding on their back door. Someone was kicking it, hard.

"No, Dad, we can use these!" Jeb said, grabbing his brass knuckles from the nightstand drawer.

"Jebediah-Todd, Goddamn it, where did you get those?" his father hollered. "You've got to hide and do not leave this room for anything, do you understand me?"

"No Dad, can't you see? We can protect ourselves!" JT swore he wouldn't show fear if this moment came. That was why he bought the knuckles with his own money from a martial arts mail-order catalogue. "Put them on! If you don't want to, I can. They don't hurt your fingers when you hit someone."

"Jesus Christ, hide those things." His father grabbed him by the arm and dragged him across his bed towards the closet. "If they catch you with those, they'll beat you stupid!"

"No, Dad, we gotta use them!" JT said, trying to break away from his father's grip by grabbing the corner of his mattress, pulling it onto the floor.

"Come on, you stupid ass, they'll hear you!" his father said. "Hide in your closet, behind your clothes. They won't see you there -"

"I'm not leaving you, Dad," JT said. Just then the vibration from the back kitchen door crashing onto their landing stairwell rattled the entire house, silencing the boy. JT looked up at his father, feeling the terror protrude from his own eyes.

"Get in the closet," his father hissed. "I'll get rid of them." He had said it with such conviction that JT believed him. JT crawled onto the closet floor, cowering behind his corduroy pants, which hung from the bar above him. He put the knuckles into his pocket, not wanting to forget them in case his dad needed help. JT heard his father shout, then another man's raspy voice respond. JT couldn't make out what they were saying, so he just closed his eyes, praying that his dad meant everything he had said.

He didn't. The next memory JT could muster was his father screaming in agony. It was the worst sound he had heard in his life. Twenty-five years later, it still was.

"Dad!" JT bolted out of the closet. He didn't remember leaving the closet or his room. He entered the kitchen, only to see his father on his knees, gasping for air, blood dripping from his nose in blotches on the brown, checkered linoleum floor. And the evil, twisted bastard standing over him, setting a black, hard-plastic tool kit on the kitchen island, and opening it.

"Jeb," his father spoke, startled. He scrambled to cover his face with this hand, and yelled at his son through it - his words muffled and pained. "Get outta here! Now!"

"Dad, what'd he do to you?"

"Oh?" the man said. If there was any surprise in him, he didn't show it. "I see you have company, Ticky."

Cormier stepped to the edge of the stage, four rows away from where JT was sitting, jarring him back to the present.

You're fatter. JT thought as he scanned Cormier's appearance. JT wasn't listening to what he was saying on stage. Instead, he scoured the man, from head to toe, comparing Cormier to his younger self. Your hair is shorter. You're not as muscular - not as tough - as you used to be. You're old. Wrinkly.

You don't have those bloodshot eyes anymore.

JT remembered those eyes. Especially the first time the man looked at him, when Cormier opened his toolkit while JT's dad slithered onto the floor...

"Jebediah, go!" his father said, slurring his words through blood-soaked teeth.

God, that man punched my dad in the mouth! Dread curled up in JT's chest.

"This must be your boy," Cormier had said. He removed a pair of cutters and a mallet from his toolkit. It was at that moment that JT noticed the eyes - they were pink, like sun-burned flesh. The man was a drug user.

"Get outta here, son! Move!" his father hollered, then broke into a heavy, hacking cough.

"Ticky, Ticky, Ticky," Cormier said, shaking his head. Cormier used the name 'Ticky' - that was his dad's code-name for the gangs that he worked for. I do odd jobs for them, JT remembered his father telling him, fix things for them. Run errands, that sort of thing. It's good money for your Pop.

"Why are you hurting my Dad?" JT asked. He was angry, but his voice wavered.

"Now, look at the awkward spot you put me in, Ticky," Cormier said. "Your boy is here, for crying out loud. Now I gotta answer his very difficult question."

JT jolted as a pair of arms gripped him from behind.

"Hey!" he screamed, flailing. There was a second attacker in the house! "No! Let go!"

"JT!" his father shouted, scrambling towards his son.

"Oh no ya don't," Cormier stomped his foot down on Ticky's right hand, which was holding up the rest of his frame. JT remembered the sickening crunch of his father's knuckles being crushed beneath Cormier's boot, and the agonizing sound of his father's wail immediately afterward.

"Stop it!" JT yelled. He hadn't even looked at the man who had grabbed him. All he could do was watch helplessly as his father rolled on the kitchen floor, clutching his injured hand.

"Leave him alone you big, stupid bully!"

"Now look at your boy here," Cormier stood over Ticky, speaking to him as if he was a misbehaved puppy, "he's got guts. He stands up to authority, unlike his old man, who snitches to the opposition when things don't go his way. Where the hell does your boy get guts like that from? His mother?"

"Go to hell," Ticky said, spitting blood on Cormier's boot. He glanced back at JT with a look JT would never forget. His father said nothing, but JT knew exactly what he was communicating.

I'm sorry, son.

"Dad?" JT said. He stopped squirming.

"Arghhhh!" His father jolted up to his knees, and with his left hand clawed Cormier on the mouth. The blow hurt his father more than it did Cormier, who staggered back only a half-step, his bottom lip cut with a smidgeon of blood.

"You FUCKER!" Cormier's eyes went wide. For the briefest of moments, he looked like he was stunned, but his surprise transformed into rage. JT could see in Cormier's face, the patronizing demeanor the man played up suddenly turned off like a light switch, replaced by a look of sheer barbarity.

Cormier reacted by striking JT's father on the side of the head with the mallet. Ticky's head snapped to the side like he had been shot - the dull pop sounded like a softball being struck by wooden bat. Ticky stumbled two paces, then dropped to one knee on the ground, his face expressionless, as if his mind had been completely knocked out of his head.

"No!" JT screamed. He surprised the thug who was holding him, kicking him in the shin. The man loosened his grip enough for JT to wrangle free. He shot to his father, grabbing his arm, trying to keep him from falling -

"GET OUT!" Cormier screamed, shoved JT in the chest. JT flew backwards into their kitchen table, which then slid into the wall, causing the whole house to rattle.

He didn't know if it hurt or not. Couldn't remember to this day whether he felt any pain. All he remembered was Cormier smacking his father over the head with the mallet a second time, dropping him face-first onto the kitchen floor. That image, along with Cormier's next words, had been seared into JT's permanent memory.

"Goddamn son of a bitch, wanna mess with me, huh? I'm your Goddamn executioner!"

With his father lying unconscious on the floor, JT watched helplessly as Cormier lunged for the shears, then grabbed Ticky's right ear. He sawed it off with two rough strokes as it were a tree branch. Ticky shuddered, but didn't move - his eyes were still narrowed into dazed slits. A gush of blood - beet red - spurted from the torn flesh and rolled down his right cheek. Cormier grabbed the severed ear and threw it at JT's feet.

JT screamed. Wailed.

"There!" Cormier shouted into the gaping, bloody hole where Ticky's ear was supposed to be. "That's what crossing us gets ya! That's the lesson your boy just learned, you fucking narc!"

"Get away from him, you fat jerk!" JT grabbed the severed ear and crawled to his father. He tried putting the ear back onto his father's head, pressing the ear onto the torn flesh, trying to stop the blood. His hands were sopping red.

"Please don't die, Dad," JT said. His eyes were flooded with tears. He couldn't breathe - his sobbing made him gasp, but he kept his hands over his father's head. He kept them there, bracing himself to be pulled into the living room, away from his father. He expected Cormier to threaten him, even beat him. But nothing. He couldn't remember it at the time, but in subsequent years, JT recalled the other man saying to Cormier, "Come on, we gotta scram!" The next memory he had was his aunt standing with him in the bathroom. She was panicking as she washed him with hot, soapy water, trying to remove Ticky's blood, pleading with him to tell anything about what happened, about who did this to his father. JT went to the hospital after that, where two police officers, decked out in full uniform with guns, batons, and mace in their holsters, asked specifically about his dad's attackers. JT didn't - couldn't - tell them anything. He just blabbered and sobbed about the bad men. All he could say about Cormier was that he was tall, had dark hair. JT could see his face but couldn't describe him. At some point the doctor asked the officers to let the boy rest. JT remembered staying in the hospital overnight, his aunt sat at his bedside - it was the only way he would remain in his room.

As he took off his bloodied pants that morning to put on a pair of pajama bottoms, JT found the brass knuckles in his pocket. They were shiny, unstained by any blood.

Oh shit, he thought. He could feel his stomach turn. He was so scared, so traumatized, that he had forgotten they were there.

Damnit! He cursed. I could have used these! He pictured himself leaping up and striking the gang leader right before he was about to hit his father with the mallet. I could have stopped that monster. I could have helped Ticky!

"Where's my dad? Is he dead?" JT kept asking his aunt that day, hoping and praying that he wasn't. At some point, he passed out into an uneasy, uncomfortable sleep. The anguish of having forgotten about the knuckles kept waking him up. The image of his father's severed ear then returned to his mind and dominated his thoughts.

And it's the same thing I see when I wake up today, you son of a bitch, JT looked up with disdain as Cormier continued his 'sermon' to the church audience. He had talked for about 20 minutes, talking about his abusive childhood. His father was an alcoholic - he was beaten as a boy with a ping pong paddler, which his father used to wet so that it would sting more. He talked about being recruited by gang members who wanted to be his friend, being forced into drugs at 15, and then used as a pawn in his first trailer heist later that year, a job that initially paid him $5000 although he was ultimately coerced to give $3000 of it back to his ringleaders.

Cry me a friggin' river, asshole was all JT could think, shaking his head as he had to listen to this arrogant prick on the stage. He wanted to get up and leave. Jasmine gripped his hand tighter.

"I left that gang and became my own 'smooth criminal'," Cormier told the audience, "I wound up being the front man of a $30 million drug operation operating out of six provinces and three countries. I had money, women, weed, and all of the power any man could want. All I had to do was bully people, and I did that very, very well."

He explained he ultimately wound up in prison on drug charges, having lost his empire. The gang - all his connections - abandoned him, protecting their own interests, and threatening him if he turned them in. Cormier maintained that tough guy, "I-don't-care" attitude in prison - strip searches, hoses, drug withdrawal, ill-treatment from the prison guards - none of it could pierce his armor.

"I was the most dangerous man in the prison system," he boasted to the audience. "Nothing you could do would faze me. I had seen it all - done it all. I didn't care about you. I didn't care about anyone. Especially prisoner 61B in Langdon Pen - he wanted to take me out, didn't like the way I treated the other prisoners. Threatened to shut my mouth for good; he never got to - I beat him to near death with a metal table leg at dinner one night. Clocked him over the temple with it, put him in a coma for two weeks. Claimed self-defense." Cormier held his hands up. "Got away with it too."

Did you cut his ear off, too? JT wanted to shout but didn't.

"But there was one thing in prison that I couldn't get over," Cormier continued, "that ultimately pierced my armor. It was the small handful of prisoners that were happy to be there! I couldn't figure out why. I wasn't happy. I wanted to get out of there so bad, but I couldn't. Neither could these guys - they were in for murder, drugs, assault, you name it. Most of them were lifers, and yet they smiled those same, annoying smiles every day. Drove me crazy!"

Cormier drew laughter from the crowd which felt like a slash across JT's chest.

What the hell is wrong with you people? He wanted to lash out at the congregation. There is nothing funny about this man! Believe me, I know!

"What these men had," Cormier shouted for emphasis, "was something I never did. They had peace, contentment, family - they had each other. That was why I hated them so much. And one day I said to one of them, an old guy, who used to wash dishes with me in the kitchen - I said quit smiling at me or I'm going to wipe that grin off your face.' Here I was, the most dangerous prisoner in the country, threatening to punch this man and you know what he said to me? He put down his plate and said... go ahead and hit me, son. Beat me if you have to, but it's not going to fill that hole in your heart."

Cormier then proceeded to tell how the man told him he was a Christian, and how Cormier couldn't bring himself to strike the man. How the man brought him into his group, and told Cormier about a new gang leader, one who lived and died for his people. How that gang leader was Jesus Christ, and ultimately how the happy men of the prison took him in, accepted him for who he was. They gave Cormier a Bible, and taught him to accept Jesus as his personal savior. Cormier then proceeded to tell some bullshit story about he became transformed by their message of forgiveness and service, turned his life around in the New Life Christian Ministry and eventually earned his parole, having received a full pardon one year ago for the ministry work he had completed in the past five years, working as a drug and rehab counselor within the prison system. All that sweet, rosy stuff.

'I accepted Jesus Christ in my life," Cormier said, hammering home the point of his speech, "Christ died for my - our - salvation. And that is my challenge to you," he pointed to the audience, "to accept Jesus' death on the cross, and understand that his torture, his horrible death, was for us. For us, to fill that emptiness in our hearts - not with drugs, gossip, or vice, but with meaningful service in God's ministry. Accept Him as your personal savior and you begin anew, so all that weight - all that baggage of your past - can begin to be amended. Accept Him, ladies and gentlemen, today! Thank you very much!"

Cormier saluted the audience, who gave him a standing ovation. JT rose but refused to applaud. Instead, he recoiled at the tears in the eyes of several people in the crowd, who had bought this pile of horseshit from the vilest man on the planet. Pastor Terry raised his hand and silenced the crowd as he stood next to Cormier, and thanked him for sharing his story. He announced that Mr. Cormier would be available in the church lobby to sign copies of his book "Unchained" and answer any questions. As he did so, JT's eyes honed in on Cormier's face like laser beams, watching his smug satisfaction at having pulled the wool over the eyes of everyone in the room and, apparently, the justice system as well.

Well, you're not forgiven, you bastard! JT screamed in his head. You don't fool me. And mark my words, Mr. Cormier, I will be in that lobby after church, and I will take you down.

"No, God, please, no!" Cormier pleaded, trying to wrestle free from the tight wire that bound his wrists and ankles to the weighted metal chair that he was trapped in.

JT smiled coyly, as he removed his brass knuckles from his pocket and slipped them onto his right hand. Cormier was about to speak, to plead, but before he could say anything JT turned in a fit of rage and punched Cormier on the side of the head.

"Arghhhhh!" Cormier wailed as his head snapped violently to the side. He was dazed, tried to shake the pain from his head, then looked up with pleading eyes to JT, as if to say 'I'm sorry.'

Instead he watched silently as JT removed the brass knuckles and placed them back in his pocket.

"You picked the wrong family to mess with," JT said to the man, calmly, deliberately, as he then pulled out a black utility knife from his vest. Cormier's eyes went wide. He tried to speak but could only sob. He started squirming in the chair, rocking it back and forth trying to free his wrists, trying anything to get out of the dark, concrete room JT had imprisoned him in. Cormier couldn't go anywhere though because JT had bolted the chair to the floor.

"An eye for an eye?" JT waved the knife in front of Cormier's face. "Isn't that in the Bible somewhere, Mr. Reformed Christian? How about an ear for an ear? What do you say, Bullethole?"

"No, please!" Cormier shouted, terror spilling out of him like water from a faucet.

"Goddamn son of a bitch, wanna mess with me, huh?" JT shouted back, grabbed Cormier's left ear and held up the knife. Cormier screamed, tried to bite JT's hand, but JT used his left forearm to keep Cormier's face at bay while his right sliced off Cormier's ear in one quick stroke.

"RAAAAAHHHH!" Cormier screamed in agony. A small piece of earlobe hung over the bloody mess that spurted from his head and ran down his neck.

"There!" JT hollered in his face with a smug, gratifying tone, holding up the bloodied cartilage in his hand. "That's what crossing us gets ya! And guess what? That's the lesson you taught me, so many years ago, you fucking murderer!"

He dropped the severed ear in to Cormier's lap, letting the swell of satisfaction - of pure vengeance - course through his body. Cormier hyperventilated in the chair.

"Jeb, Sweetie?" Jasmine's voice brought him back to the moment, to reality. Her voice wavered as she spoke. "What are you doing with those?"

JT was sitting by himself on the leather couch in the church lobby, fidgeting with his brass knuckles. He hadn't realized he had taken them out. He carried them inside his coat every day since that horrible day.

"Nothing, don't worry," he said, sighing. He sensed her disapproval. He had promised her a while back he wouldn't carry them around, a promise he couldn't hold himself to. The knuckles had become a security to him. "I'm not going to do anything stupid, if that's what you're thinking." He gave a small chuckle to ease her worry, then put them back in his pocket. He could see it did little to ease her apprehension.

"The crowd is starting to die down," she said. "You can speak to him now."

"Thank you," JT said. He was sitting on the couch watching the flock of church attendees crowd around Cormier's table, buy his book, get him to autograph it, and shake his hand.

Makes me want to puke, JT thought, but he tried not to let it eat at him. The people didn't know Cormier the way he did. His was just a nice, feel-good redemption story to them, none of them had to experience the living horror of it that JT remembered. He was glad he had taken a moment to sit and compose himself. He was going to face Cormier, but the second he had left the audience to wait in the lobby he found himself reveling in the fantasy again. The dark fantasy - the one he had first imagined as a little boy, weeks after Cormier's attack, in which JT struck back. "I am your executioner," JT often told Cormier in his head, right after he cut his ear off.

The fantasy had been altered this time around, but the basic scenario was the same. JT had found Cormier, had knocked him out, bound him in an escape proof chair, and cut off his ear. But this time around Cormier was older - the very man JT saw in the church this morning. The 'reformed Christian' he claimed himself to be.

"I bought a copy of the book," Jasmine said, showing him the copy in her hand. "He seems sincere."

"Yeah." JT got up and walked across the lobby. He felt his hand over the coat pocket where he kept his brass knuckles, just to make sure they were there. His legs tingled as he approached the table, but he kept them moving forward. Pastor Terry sat with Cormier, as Cormier signed the last few books, shared a laugh with the people who bought them. The tingling moved to JT's gut.

"God bless you, sir," the older lady in front of JT thanked Cormier, "I wish my son would hear your message."

"You have my contact information," Cormier handed her a prison ministries card, "you have him call me anytime." As the lady left, JT grabbed one of Cormier's books, which were laid out at the front of the table. He leaned over the table, and looked Cormier in the eye. The man flashed a welcoming smile at him.

"I've spent the last twenty-five years," JT spoke quickly, trying to control his voice, "dreaming about torturing you. Cutting off your ear and dropping it at your feet, or rubbing it in your face. One time, I even fantasized about making you eat it."

A look of confusion, uncertainty, appeared on Cormier's face. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat. The pastor's eyes, meanwhile, looked like they were going to pop out of his head.

"Now, I'm wondering Mr. Cormier," JT continued, "if you have any idea why I would do something like that?"

Cormier leaned back in his chair. He pursed his lip as he looked up at JT, then swallowed.

"I'm sorry." Cormier shook his head. "I don't know who you are."

JT chuckled dryly. "No, you probably don't Mr. Cormier. But believe me, sir - for every day of those twenty-five years, I've never forgotten you."

"Er, do we need to take this into my office?" Pastor Terry asked, shifting nervous glances from JT, then back to Cormier.

"Not at all," JT said, keeping his eyes on Cormier. "I'm not here to make a scene. I'm just here to question Mr. Cormier's sincerity, because in my eyes, sir, you're every bit the monster you were twenty-five years ago."

Cormier rubbed his hands over his face. JT could tell the man was trying to register who he was.

"Twenty-five years ago, huh?" he said. "I was on the West Coast. I was working for the Dynamite -"

"The Dynamite Dragons, yeah you were," JT cut him off. "You were one of their henchmen. I don't need your book to tell me that." JT held up the book's cover in front of him.

"I see," Cormier smiled awkwardly at the pastor, then back to JT "Can you at least tell me your name?"

"I'm Ticky's son. You remember Ticky, don't you?"

"Ticky." Cormier's voice dropped, along with his head. "Yes... I remember Ticky."

"Well, you should. You hit him over the head with a hammer, then cut his ear off right in front of me. I was nine years old Mr. Cormier. Nine."

"Okay, okay," Cormier said, holding up his hand. "I'm not going to do you the disservice of trying to apologize for that. Not that it's any excuse, but I was high that night - I was a different man -"

"Do you think that makes any difference to me?" JT slammed the book on the table. "Do you think that absolves you?"

"Son," Pastor Terry stood up, extending a hand out to JT, "maybe we can talk about this someplace else. I can mediate -"

"JT!" Jasmine came up behind him, her voice panicky.

"My father was never the same, Mr. Cormier!" JT continued, ignoring the pastor's hand and his wife's call. "He suffered brain damage from that hammer! He was put in a home. He would always tug at the nubbin that itched at the side of his head where his ear should have been. They had to put a muzzle on him, like a dog, to make him stop..." JT choked up, trying to maintain his composure. "He passed away eight years ago, Mr. Cormier, but he really died that night on our kitchen floor, the night you came to our house!"

Cormier closed his eyes and nodded. "I was ordered to punish your father that day. We didn't know you were going to be in the house."

"But I was in the house, and you still attacked him. I remember everything you said to us that day, sir. You told him you were his 'Goddamn executioner.' Well, guess what, Mr. Cormier, you were right on the money on that one."

"I've had to come to terms with so many ugly things I've done," Cormier said, holding his hands up. "Regret and remorse are the cross I bear every day."

"The cross you bear!" JT said with a hollow laugh. "That's rich, Mr. Cormier. What I want to know is whether you are truly sorry for what you did to my father? Hey, how about what you did to me as well? Unlike you, I remember every friggin' detail of that night, and had to relive every second of it watching you preach here today!"

"I'm absolutely 100% sorry," Cormier answered. "I just wish there was something I could do to take away your pain - make up for all that you lost. That I took away."

"You've already done that, Mr. Cormier," JT replied. "You see, you've never been charged with assaulting my father, never been questioned. For the past twenty-five years all I've wanted is justice... and you've just confessed to beating him, cutting off his ear in my presence. Right in front of our church minister, in fact."

Cormier looked up - a look of dread fell over his face. He laughed uneasily.

"Whoa, wait a minute, son," Pastor Terry said, holding his hands up, "let's just take a minute here to collect ourselves."

"There's nothing to collect, pastor," JT said. "You heard the man admit it. You're my number one witness now. Swearing on the Bible under oath shouldn't be a problem for you, right, sir?"

"JT!" Jasmine said. "What are you doing?"

"My wife, too!" JT gestured to his wife behind him. "That's three witnesses, counting myself, who you've confessed in front of, Mr. Cormier! You want to take my pain away, sir? Time to make amends. Turn yourself in. You were arrested for drug dealing, sir, and never for assault with a deadly weapon!"

Cormier took a heavy breath and swallowed, shook his head, then looked at JT with a smirk. That same smirk JT saw in his house twenty-five years ago.

"You got me, kid," Cormier said. "You're right. I confessed. I'll... turn myself in tonight."

"Rynet, wait a minute," the pastor said, turning to JT. "Let's just talk about this with cooler heads."

"Cooler heads, pastor?" JT said. "This man beat my father with a hammer, ruined his life and debilitated me with the scars of that memory for twenty-five years! You think he doesn't deserve to answer for that? Are you kidding me, sir?"

"It's all right, Terry," Cormier said, held up his hand. He had a hard time facing either man. "My past is every bit as dark as I said it was. I've come to accept that. This is just one of many, many things I need to atone for." He forced himself to look at JT, and nodded.

It was at that moment JT saw it. The moment he wanted ever since that horrible day twenty-five years ago.

Power. After all of the fantasizing about tying Rynet Cormier up to a chair, beating him, cutting off his ear - all to avenge Ticky - JT finally found what he was looking for.

I got him, Dad, JT thought. I frickin' got him!

"I will... uh, I just need to contact my family," Cormier said. He was flustered, and red in the face. "You can accompany me to the police station if you like. I will turn myself in."

"JT?" Jasmine grabbed his arm. He turned and held up his hand to his wife.

"Jasmine, please, I'll be fine," he told her, "go home."

Pastor Terry took JT and Cormier to his office, where Cormier made the call to his wife. He told her everything, and that he needed to make amends. JT could hear her pleading with him on the other line, but Cormier simply told her, "I need to do this. I have to do this," then hung up on her.

They left the church in the pastor's car. JT sat in the back. The drive to the station was filled with a quiet, awkward tenseness. As they pulled into the police parking lot, Cormier turned to JT and said, "I know this doesn't mean much, but I am truly sorry. I will accept whatever punishment the courts dole out. I will accept whatever punishment God gives to me as well."

With that, Cormier got out of the car. Pastor Terry gave JT a stupefied look, no doubt trying to comprehend the events of the past twenty minutes.

The three men walked up the stone steps to the police station, and entered through sliding doors that led directly to the front desk. A young, female officer stood behind a counter to greet them.

"Good afternoon, how can I help you?"

"My name is Rynet Cormier," Cormier said, "I am an ex-convict, recently pardoned for my crimes." He sighed, then gesturing to JT. "But twenty-five years ago, I beat this young man's father with a mallet, and cut off his ear. His name was Theodore 'Ticky' Fallard, and I gave him permanent brain damage. I was never charged for this crime, and I am here to confess. This young man would like to press assault charges against me. Charges I wholeheartedly accept."

The young female officer looked at the three men with surprise, uncertainty, and bewilderment.

"Is... this true, sir?" she finally asked, settling on JT.

Here it is, Dad. All I have to say is yes.

A shiver shot up JT's neck. Cormier stood there, waiting for his response.

Damn straight it's true. JT wanted to yell out. Put this bastard behind bars, now! But he couldn't let the words out of his mouth. Instead, all he could see was the carefully-masked apprehension on Cormier's face. Or was it acquiescence?

He just told a police officer he brutalized my father. Press the damn charges!

"Damn you Mr. Cormier," JT said, wiping his brow. "How sincere are you about that prison ministry?"

"Very." Pastor Terry answered for him.

Cormier looked confused, but nodded. JT resumed speaking, the adrenaline driving his words.

"Your book. I want a copy of your book. I'm gonna read it. I want to know if you've truly changed. How you've changed."

"Pardon me?" Cormier looked as though a bus were heading straight for him.

"I also demand to spend the week with you, sir," JT continued, pointing his finger at Cormier's face. "I want to go to your home and to your prison ministry with you. I want to meet your family, and see everything that you're doing in your life."

"Er... okay," Cormier was taken aback. "Uh... when do you want to come?"

"As soon as possible," JT said, then repeated himself. "I would also like a copy of your book, please."

"I... we left them in my office, didn't we?" Terry looked at Cormier in disbelief.

"I... think your wife already bought one," Cormier said.

"Oh, right," JT said. "Thank you." He turned to the desk officer, who looked at all three of them like they were crazy.

"Mr. Cormier was right about everything he told you," JT said to her, "except for one thing. I don't want to press charges. Not now, I..." He glanced at Cormier. "I want to forgive him. I... just want to make sure I want to."

The men looked at each other. Cormier was the first to budge, giving JT a nod. JT nodded back, frowning as he did so.

"Alright then," the Pastor said, wiping sweat from his brow, "why don't we go back to church and get that book?"

"His wife already bought it," Cormier reminded him. "She brought it home."

"Right," Terry removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes. "Coffee then. Let's go to the church and get coffee."


JT stood at the gravesite as Pastor Paul spoke. Jasmine was at his side. She gripped his hand.

"We are gathered here today to celebrate the life of Rynet Cormier," the pastor said, "it was a life of redemption, service, and devotion to a cause. It is a life we can all learn from, and aspire to."

The pastor continued for the next five minutes. Standing next to JT was Pastor Terry. Together, JT , Jasmine, and Terry had made their way across two provinces to Cormier's home to attend the funeral service.

Damn you, Rynet, the thought entered JT's head. It had been two years since he had cursed Cormier this way. Why didn't you tell me?

He and Jasmine had gotten the phone call from Terry two days earlier. Cormier had died of stomach cancer - which he had been apparently been diagnosed with one month before his appearance at the church two years ago. It had never been brought up once by Cormier, not even when JT had spent a week at Cormier's home that summer, visiting the man at his own house, having coffee and cake with his wife, and visiting the prison ministry Bible Study he held two nights a week. The man had never mentioned a thing about being sick.

You didn't want my sympathy, did you Rynet?

They watched the casket lower into the ground. Cormier's widow, Lucienne, a lovely middle-aged French-Canadienne lady he married late in life, stood weeping, embraced by Lawrence, Cormier's teenage stepson, and Liroux, their five year old son.

The funeral was modest and not well attended. It was obvious Cormier had made enough estrangements in his early days that there weren't many friends or meaningful acquaintances later in his life. Most of his 'acquaintances' in the last ten years were either church staff or prison convicts directly involved in his ministry.

When the burial ceremony was finished, JT, Jasmine, and Terry offered condolences to Lucienne and her children. As JT gave Lucienne a hug, she gripped him, then touched the side of his face.

"Thank you Jebediah," she said, "thank you for coming into Rynet's life. He talked about you often... He admired you, so much."

"He... he was a good man," JT said. It felt surreal saying those words.

They went to the small reception after the funeral for tuna sandwiches, cake, and coffee. JT didn't know anybody there, but Jasmine offered to help in the kitchen while Terry talked to the officiating pastor. JT took a moment to slip outside, to the flower garden outside the church hall.

He talked about you often... He admired you, so much. Lucienne's words had nearly knocked him off his feet.

JT didn't know what to feel. He and Cormier had had a long, heart-to-heart conversation about that night of nearly three decades ago. Cormier disclosed that he was sent to "punish" JT's father - that his father was selling drugs to rival gangs, and telling them about the Dragons' activities to get even more cash. Ticky's information led to two Dragons getting accosted in a bar, both of whom got into fights and were arrested. The men blamed Ticky for starting the whole mess, and Cormier was sent to "make his life miserable." Cormier revealed that every time he was sent to hurt someone, he was so scared he purposefully got high. He took whatever he needed to - pot, speed, hashish - in order to numb his nerves, and turn himself into an incalculable monster. The executioner, as he liked to call himself.

"I didn't want to feel," Cormier had told JT that night as the two men sat on Cormier's patio furniture, well into the moonlit hours around 2:30 AM. "I was a coward - big, tough 'Bullethole,' the most dangerous man in the country, scared shitless about his own feelings, about hurting others, that I just put up this brick wall, and the bricks I used were drugs."

What had impressed JT the most was the man's struggle to break his addictions. Cormier spent months at a time in rehab, having done everything cold turkey, but having massive bouts of withdrawal sickness alongside excruciatingly painful cravings. He persevered, with the Bible at his side, and the support of the other members of the prison ministry, who visited him every day, took him for walks, and read scripture with him. Only through service was Cormier finally able to find meaning outside of the "poison jungle" as he called it, and truly began the new chapter of his life.

It was that night on the patio that JT finally finished his revenge on the man. It was the vindication, the release of utter contempt, he had so badly sought against the man he had despised for twenty-five years. It came in an awkward, bumbling sentence he said to Cormier, the significance of which he hadn't fully gotten until now, one hour after burying the man who had hurt his father.

"Well, Rynet," JT had told him in the cold, black air, sitting underneath a bug screen and a fluorescent white patio light on Cormier's deck. "I guess I have to say, now that I understand your situation better, both then and now... that I forgive you for everything you've done to me, and my father."

He remembered the look on Cormier's face. It was a meek, humbling expression. The man had tears welling in his eyes. JT quickly dismissed it at the time, not wanting the moment to be any more uncomfortable than it was. But what JT had come to understand was that he had Rynet Cormier in the very position he had fantasized about, as vulnerable and distraught as he was in the iron chair JT had dreamed of strapping him into.

And I forgave him. JT thought. Cormier even gave him a hug that morning when JT finally left to go back to his motel room. It was the most complete, most honorable, most penetrating form of revenge he could experience - JT had Cormier at his mercy, and he granted him grace.

I became better than you, Mr. Cormier, JT understood, nodding to himself. I gave you the humanity that you denied me so many years ago.

I can't speak for you, Dad. JT thought of his father and all those years of watching him wither away with brain damage, reminded of it every day whenever he had an itch, or whenever he looked at himself in the mirror - he would see his father tugging at the tuft of lobe where his ear used to be. I hope you understand why I forgave him, Dad - the rest is between you and Cormier now.

Looking at the blooming flowers in the garden, JT took out the brass knuckles from his pocket and put them on. The brass was starting to discolor, but they still felt formidable in his hand. Funny, JT thought, I never did use these, even when I went to Cormier's house, and spent a week with the man. There were so many times I could have bashed his head in, or knocked his teeth out. JT smirked at the thought, shaking his head as he did so.

There was a small trash can next to a sitting bench in the garden. JT walked up to it, looking at the knuckles one last time.

Goodbye Rynet, JT said. His soul felt light.

He dropped the knuckles into the garbage, and walked back into the hall to assist with the clean-up.

1 comment:

  1. What's unusual - possibly unique about this tale is the difference between the transformations in the two men. Coumier's change from gangland executioner into evangelical, seems to be have been gradual, whilst JT's turning from revenge-seeker into envoy for his own conflict resolution is an epiphany. I liked that.
    It's a moving story.

    Brooke Fieldhouse