THE JUDGE


By Rory Steves



Three blasts from the lead thug's pistol, and my wife and daughters stopped screaming. Various chain-wrapped fists continued using me for a punching bag a few moments longer. A fourth blast from the pistol brought more pain, then darkness.

* * *

"Frank! Frank!" I heard Jeff yelling, "Frank, are you still alive?"

I felt fingers pressing into my throat.

"He's got a pulse! Tell 911 to send an ambulance!" Jeff yelled to someone.

Sirens, then darkness took me again.

Someone pried open my eye, then shined a flashlight into it, they repeated this with my other eye.

"Pupils are equal and reactive," a voice said.

"CT is standing by," a female voice said.

"Get him down there, stat," the first voice said. " We'll keep morphine to a minimum until we know the extent of his injuries. I don't want to risk pulmonary edema."

"Yes, doctor," the second voice said.

"Any chance I can ask him a couple questions?" a male voice asked.

"Not now, maybe in a few days."

"His wife and daughters."

"I know," the doctor's voice said.

"Is he going to make it?" Jeff's voice.

"Maybe."

Darkness.

* * *

"Nurse, nurse, his eyelids are moving!" Jeff's excited voice sounded far away, fading.

Darkness.

* * *

"Moving your eyes again, huh Frank?" Jeff's voice. "I'm not calling the nurse until you open your eyes, buster. You embarrassed me last time. Now, c'mon old man, open your eyes."

"Your insubordination," I rasped, "will be reported to the Union grievance committee."

"Please don't badger my patient, sir."

"He's all yours, Doc," Jeff said.

"Decided to wake up finally," the Doctor said. "Glad to see it. You've had quite a nap."

"Nap?" I asked.

Before she answered, she shined a flashlight into each eye. Why do they always do that?

"Pupils equal and reactive," she told someone. "I need his vitals, please."

"BP is 135 over 78, pulse is 68 and rising."

A thermometer was placed in my mouth.

"Temp is 98.8, I think we've beat his fever," said the nurse.

The doc ran a set of keys up the soles of my feet. I twitched, and groaned as my legs ached.

"Sorry, but I'm concerned about any neurological damage."

"Legs hurt, arms too, and my gut. Thirsty," I said.

I was given a few sips of water.

"I was hoping for beer," I mumbled.

"Increase morphine drip ten percent," the doc said.

Her face swam into view. She held a pen in her hand.

"Please follow this with your eyes, don't try to move your head."

It was exhausting.

"My wife, my girls?" Panic walked down my spine.

"I'm sorry, they didn't make it. There wasn't anything we could do."

The doc held my hand; Jeff took the other as grief ravaged my soul. They waited out the storm. Bless them.

"Who, why?" I asked.

"Police need to talk to you, when you're strong enough," she said.

"Send them in, with beer," I said. "Am I paralyzed? I can't seem to move."

"No beer, maybe a soda. And no, you're not paralyzed. Both arms and both legs are in traction. We kept your head braced while you were out." She removed two small pillows, and I could turn my head a little.

Weird, seeing my limbs encased in casts, hanging up in the air.

"I don't even want to ask how I go to the bathroom," I muttered, causing Jeff to laugh.

"You said I was 'out,' how long?"

"You have been in a medically induced coma for twelve weeks while we did some repair work, and your body healed."

"Wasn't I was shot in the chest?"

"Bullet glanced off of your breastbone, and got stuck in your shoulder. That part was simple. It's the orthopedic team that had the most work to do."

I looked at my plaster encased limbs, "I would never have guessed."

"Is your brother always a smartass?"

"Since birth," he replied.

"Brother?" I asked.

"They would only let family members in to see you," he said. "Besides, we're union brothers, right?"

The doc favored him with a look. "You're both union members, at the plant?"

"I am," Jeff said. "He retired while he was here."

"You don't look old enough to retire," she said.

"Thanks. I joined after graduating from high school. I had one week left when this happened."

"The brotherhood kept you listed as active, so you got your forty years, and full pension, and medical."

I looked over at the doc. "How long do I get to be trussed up like this?"

She checked my chart. "At least another month. Then physical therapy for eight to ten weeks."

She checked her watch. "Sorry, but I'm getting behind on my rounds. I'll let you guys visit."

As she left, my nurse came in with my soda.

"Next visit," I told Jeff, "sneak me a beer."

"No worries," Jeff said, and dumped my soda out in the bathroom sink. He refilled it with a beer he had stashed in his coat pocket.

* * *

"I saw two of their faces real good," I told the police detective who dropped by later that afternoon. "A couple others wore those ski mask things."

"Do you think you could work with a police artist?"

"Sure."

"We'll need to review the stolen property report. Your buddies did a walk through with us, you just need to verify."

"Robbery didn't seem to be their main concern," I said.

"Never is with this," he said. "I'll have the artist stop in tomorrow."

"My name's Dan," he said, handing me his card. "You think of anything you call me."

"Drop by again in a couple days," I said. "I might be able to remember more."

"Thanks, maybe I'll sneak you a beer like your friend here," he said, grinning at Jeff as he left.

"I am so busted," Jeff said.

On TV police sketch artists are sleek sexy women. Reality was Gertrude, all three hundred pounds of her. But she had a sharp eye, and a steady hand.

"Those look like photographs of the two men I saw," I said, looking at her sketches.

"Lets work on the other guys," she said. "If you like, I can do a portrait of your wife and daughters, if I could see their pictures."

"I would be grateful."

"Let's work on the guy with the eyebrows," she said, setting a fresh page in place.

She was amazing.

Later, I learned she had been a commercial artist, an expensive one. Her parent's had been killed during a robbery. Ever since she had devoted herself to working with the police.

* * *

Heaven above, I stank. You try getting by on sponge bathes for nearly four months and see how you smell.

They had finished removing my casts, and my redolence made me yearn for unconsciousness.

I insisted on a shower before physical therapy.

Slowly I regained my strength, and learned to walk again.

* * *

One day Jeff walked in looking smug.

In his hand was a leash. The other end was connected to a dog.

"His name is Buddy," Jeff said, handing me the leash. "He's yours."

"Hey, Buddy," I said, scratching his ears, "I'm Frank."

"His mom was a pit bull, his dad was a beagle," Jeff told me.

"Must have been the bravest beagle in canine history," I said.

A great whoop of laughter told us my doctor had overheard us while walking our way.

"You are just beautiful," she told Buddy, while ruffling up his fur.

"You said he needed to walk every day," Jeff explained. "I thought he'd like some company."

"You thought right," I said. Daffy, our yellow lab, had passed away last year. I missed having a dog around. Volunteering at the animal shelter helped, but there's nothing like your own dog.

"Dogs are excellent medicine," my doc told us. "Why don't you take him for a walk outside?"

It was the first time in five months I'd been outside.

I asked Jeff to get my RV parked at the RV park by the river. We, damn, I, had a membership there.

"Ask the guys to sort through my house," I said. "I can't go back there. I'll get a real estate agent to sell it. I'll be more comfortable in the RV."

The RV was plenty large enough for Buddy and me. And it wouldn't have the memories that haunted the house.

"They've got a new guy coming in to work on the robotics at the plant," Jeff said. "I hear he's looking for a place."

"Have him call me."

Buddy proved to be a very well behaved dog, eager to please.

A week later, and Buddy and I got to go home.

* * *

The next week the new robotics tech and I signed papers, and the old house was his. He seemed surprised when my price was twenty grand below his first offer.

He was a family man, with kids that would look to him for college tuition in a few years.

Besides, all I wanted was enough cash to pay off my RV.

* * *

Buddy seemed to like our new digs, and rapidly won the hearts of our neighbors. He accompanied me daily on my morning walk to the animal shelter.

He watched patiently while I worked at training the dogs. They get adopted faster when they heel, sit, stay, and fetch from day one.

Evenings we'd walk, weather permitting, to the homeless shelter. While I helped out in the kitchen, Buddy played with the kids.

* * *

But unknown to anyone, except maybe Buddy, was the knot of burning rage in my gut. The men who had gang-raped and murdered my family still walked free.

* * *

While grocery shopping, I saw a display of those portable memory gizmos they have for computers. I stared at it while gears turned in my mind.

Then I bought the one with the most memory, 8 Megs.

Once home and the groceries put away, I stashed my jacket in the hall closet.

Gertrude's portrait of my wife and girls hung on the wall nearby.

Looking at the pile of retirement gifts in the closet, I sighed, might as well open them.

Most were goofy gifts. Jeff's was a book; Retirement for Dummies. The last one in the pile was a gift from my wife.

I sat looking at it for a long time, until Buddy nudged me.

"You're right," I told him, and opened it.

* * *

Last year I was reading a gun magazine while we were waiting in line for the cashier at the grocery store.

"That thing looks like a monster," my wife said, looking at it. "What is it?"

"It's a Taurus Judge," I explained. "It's a .45 caliber revolver that can also shoot .410 shotgun shells."

"I'll get you one for Christmas," she teased.

"Yeah, right."

I'd never given it another thought.

* * *

Her gift was a Taurus Judge, with several boxes of ammunition.

I picked it up, and spun the cylinder.

"Judgment day," I said.

* * *

The next morning, we caught the bus downtown and paid Dan a visit.

"Frank!" Dan said, shaking my hand. "How are you? You're looking better."

"Looking good yourself, Dan." I noticed a photo on his desk of a pair of freckle-faced girls.

"Yours?"

"Yeah," he said. "In a few years they'll discover boys, and I'll be out of the picture."

Buddy nudged Dan's knee.

"Hi Buddy," Dan said, scratching his ears. "What can I do for you Frank?"

"Just hoping for an update."

"I wish I had some new information," Dan said. "But their trail has gone cold."

I winced, and grabbed my right arm. "Nuts, forgot to take my pills. Can I bother you for a soda?"

"No problem," he said. "Be right back."

Thirty seconds after he left his office, I had the memory gizmo plugged into his computer.

Mark, a member of our bowling team, had a son that was a computer whiz. The gizmo already had a program to tell the police computer to download the file.

Download complete, I dropped it back in my pocket and had a couple vitamin C's in my hand when Dan returned.

"Pepsi okay?"

"Perfect," I said, and downed the pills.

* * *

Back home I downloaded the file, printed a copy, and sat down to read.

I had faith in our police department, and Dan was top-notch. But they had limits. Search warrants, Miranda rights, and such.

I had my union brothers, and the Judge.

Taking the file, Buddy and I walked to Kinko's and ran off a bunch of copies on their Xerox.

* * *

My bowling team huddled together behind Lane 3.

"These are the guys," I said, giving each man copies. "I need to know who, and where. Jeff, is your wife cool with this?"

"She's cool," he said.

"Tell her thanks."

My arm wasn't ready for bowling yet, so I returned home, and studied.

I spent the next day at the union hall, handing out copies of the file.

While the police could only put a few detectives on any given case, I had hundreds of the union brotherhood looking around.

The Judge and I spent some quality time at the shooting range.

* * *

Three weeks later my phone rang.

The caller did not identify himself. Instead he gave me six names and addresses, and hung up.

Jeff dropped by that Friday night with a dozen of the biggest guys from the plant.

"Building 113-b is empty, security won't bother us," Jeff said.

"Nice night for a hunt," I replied.

The last house went as easily as had the first. We knocked politely, then grabbed the thug we wanted, and held him down for the ether mask. Jeff's wife hadn't asked why we needed the ether.

Picking up all six men took most of the night. We sat their naked bodies down onto a row of metal chairs in building 113-b. Duct tape secured them in place, and worked well as gags.

We jammed their feet into empty metal buckets that had electrical wires welded to them, as did the chairs.

In front of them were two tables borrowed from the cafeteria.

We padlocked the door, and left them alone in the empty building.

* * *

While Buddy and I worked at the animal shelter, Jeff and a couple of our guys visited our guests.

They dumped ice and salt into each bucket, and filled the buckets with water.

Our guests' eyes were filled with terror. They knew salt water conducted electricity.

That evening, two of our group dropped by and used a hose to pour water over each of them.

They left a few bottles of bleach next to the tables.

By ten p.m. we figured our guests would be in the proper mood for polite conversation.

* * *

Each of us carried a duffle bag as we walked in. One of our guys carried six large canvas sacks, big enough for a human body.

Jeff carefully opened the duffle bags, and arraigned our equipment on the tables.

Our guests' eyes bulged as he laid out soldering irons, wood chisels, ice picks, melon-ballers, and a variety of hunting and fishing knives.

When he set up the reloading equipment, two of our guests voided their bowels, and got hosed again.

Off to one side, Mark set up his camcorder.

"Big money for this kind of thing on the internet," he told them.

I sat facing them. I tore off the duct tape covering their mouths.

"You raped and murdered my wife," I told them. "You raped and murdered my daughters. Can you even comprehend how annoyed I am with you?"

"Please," one of them blubbered, "please, don't do this to us."

Jeff passed me the melon-baller. I held it next to the blubbering man's eye, checking to see which end matched up best.

Jeff passed me a piece of Emory cloth to clean the large end of the melon-baller.

"In medieval times, the art of torture was not only respected, but passed down from father to son."

I shook my head, and handed it back to Jeff. He studied the tools, and handed me a nice ice pick.

I moved my chair to sit in front of another man desperately trying to look brave.

"The Maquis de Sade, for whom sadism is named, preferred a thin needle to elicit cooperation from his victims."

He peed himself.

Jeff passed me a pipe wrench and a pair of pliers as I moved in front of another man.

"Torqmada preferred to twist, or torque his victim's joints, one by one..."

"Please," he cried.

"I'm going to send you to hell," I screamed at the next guy, and grabbed the chainsaw. "I'm going to send you to hell as a woman!"

I lunged toward him, aiming the chainsaw at his groin.

"We did it, you know we did, but it was John that shot them," he screamed, then sobbed.

"Yeah, we took turns with your women," the one called John bragged. "And, yeah, I shot them and you. Why ain't you dead?"

"Ricocheted," I answered.

"Yeah, so?"

I showed him the Judge.

"Besides firing bullets, it also fires bird and buck shot."

"Do tell," he said, arrogant.

I looked thoughtfully at my gun.

"I had thought to just kill you. But I realized that you didn't deserve a clean death."

"This show about over?" he asked.

"I gravitated towards the bird shot, for the pain," I continued, ignoring his interruption.

He watched me, cool as a cucumber.

I wanted to kill him so bad I could taste it.

"I thought about blowing out your eye with the bird shot, but a few pellets might get inside your skull and kill you too soon."

Still no expression, but small beads of sweat began to appear on his forehead.

"Then I had an idea," I pointed at the reloading equipment. "If I left out the bird shot, and just used the powder, I could burn your eye out instead."

Larger beads of sweat now formed. The arrogance had left his expression.

"It took a lot of experimentation to get the amount of powder just right. I practiced using egg yolks, until the powder only fried them, but didn't destroy them."

I turned, and Jeff handed me the cartridge, which I loaded, and rotated the cylinder to put it into firing position.

"Personally, I'm a little curious about how long the pain will last," I said, as I pulled back the hammer.

Jumping to my feet, I held his left eye open, and held the Judge's barrel an inch from his eye, my finger on the trigger.

"No!" he screamed. "No! Please, dear God, no. Yes, we did it, we did it, please no."

Tears ran down his face.

"Got it all," Mark said.

"Heard enough?" I asked.

"Sure did," Dan said, walking out from behind a partition. He was followed by two cops, a prosecutor, a public defender, and a judge.

"We have unimpeachable witnesses to your confessions," Dan told them. "You have no chance in court. I'd recommend trying for a plea bargain, or it will be the chair."

He read them their rights, cuffed them, and led them to the police van outside.

"Hell of a chance you took," the prosecutor said. "I was afraid you'd pull the trigger. I would have."

"Wouldn't have made any difference," I told him, and tossed him the cartridge.

He looked at it, not understanding.

"No primer cap, no powder," I told him. "It's just an empty casing."

He laughed all the way to his car.

We cleaned up the mess, and went home.

Buddy greeted me at the door. Somehow he knew I hadn't crossed that line, we were still friends.

* * *

Couple days later, Dan met up with us at the animal shelter.

"How'd it go?" I asked.

"They accepted the plea bargain. Murder one, life, no parole."

I nodded.

"Use some help?"

"Always," I said.

I handed him a leash, and watched how he handled the walk. I liked what I saw.

We were nearly done exercising the dogs when I opened the second to the last kennel.

"Her name is Daisy," I told him.

"Here Daisy, come here, girl," he called.

The golden retriever bounded over, and nearly knocked Dan over. He laughed, and hooked the leash to her collar. I got the last dog out, Brubaker; Buddy's best friend.

We walked a bit, and I watched as Daisy and Dan became quite taken with each other.

Inside, I asked for Brubaker's adoption papers. I thought Buddy would like having his friend around.

"You're adopting him," Dan said, not surprised.

"Dogs are like people," I told him. "Sometimes we all need a second chance."

He smiled, and asked for Daisy's paperwork.

"My daughters are going to spoil you rotten," he told her.

Daisy wagged her tail in complete agreement.


Rory Steves drives a truck to pay the bills, and writes for his love of the written word. Motorists may think he's talking to himself, but he's really just running story ideas past his windshield.

His beloved wife, Roslyn, has put up with him for 18 years. Their dog, Bogey, thinks the only reason he comes home is to take him for a walk!

Steves writes science fiction and mystery. He has two novels in development, one sci-fi, and the other is a sci-fi mystery thriller.


Copyright 2011 Rory Steves. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!


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