Southern Man -- Excerpt
Late Wednesday afternoon there was a rally at Verona State in support of Shearwater-Ingram's "anonymous sexual harassment victim." Sponsored by the Women's Assistance Group and held on The Commons, it was a small gathering, no more than twenty people, but nevertheless a vocal, loud and angry event.
It had been hastily organized at noon, and the Stevensons didn't find out until someone at church told them. They saw the probable fallout from it as soon as they got home.
Troy had steered the station wagon into the garage and the family had emerged just as several cars rolled down Live Oak Street, slowing dramatically as they reached the red brick rambler. Slurs shouted in both male and female voices echoed through the night-Patty easily made out "Sick bastard!" and "Sex predator!"-and she looked at her husband in alarm.
"Take them and get in the house," he ordered, walking toward the driveway.
"Where're you going?" she said shrilly.
In the faint orange glow of the street lamp, he turned a face like thunder toward her and barked, "I'm gonna shut the g'rage door, now do what I tell ye, git'n the house!"
Patty herded the children indoors. Two steps into the kitchen, she heard the rumble of the garage door closing followed by several loud, sharp pops that cracked the night and tore into her soul. Terror such as she'd never known ripped through her and she screamed, "TROEEEE!"
She streaked back into the now darkened garage. By the light of the kitchen slanting into the shadows, she saw him walking to her.
"Oh!" She ran to him and slammed herself against him, flinging her arms around him, burying her face against him and crying hysterically in great, gulping sobs. "I thought ... you'd been ... shot!"
His arms went around her and held her as tightly as she held him. He was trembling violently, whether from fright or rage, Patty couldn't tell. Perhaps both.
"Hey, now, I'm all right. Calm down. Bastards threw firecrackers in the driveway." He shushed her and kissed her forehead. "Let's get inside."
The terrified children were huddled together in the kitchen when their parents stepped through the back door. They ran to their father wailing, "Daddy!" and he knelt down to hold them a moment, murmuring words of comfort. "I'm okay. Don't worry."
He stood, nodded toward the family room and told Patty grimly, "Take them in there and stay with them."
He went through the house turning off lights except the night lights in the kitchen and hallway, then disappeared into the shadows of the hall and emerged moments later carrying a box. He sat on the coffee table, put the box beside him and looked at his children through the dimness.
"You know what's in here?" He tapped the box.
Their heads bobbed and Randy said, "A gun."
"That's right." He gazed at them with such intensity his eyes seemed to burn. "I can't lock it back up. I've got to get to it quick if I need to, so I've got to leave it out. Now listen to me. I've never hit either one of you." He focused on Randy and a flash of pain and regret crossed his face. "Not on purpose. But if I ever see you even touch this gun, I will wear you out. Do you understand me? I will wear ... you ... out."
Round-eyed and open-mouthed, they whispered, "Yes, sir."
"I bought your mama a gun, taught her to shoot for self-defense and I'll teach you when the time comes. But right now this is dangerous for you. It could kill you. And if that happened, your mama and I might as well die, too."
In the silence that followed Troy's admonition, the faint sound of a car engine revving up and yelling voices came to them, though they couldn't make out the words.
"Should we call the police?" Inspired by the calm and courage that had settled over Troy after his initial fright, Patty tried hard to control her alarm, but she was still caught in the trauma of terror and it came through in her trembling voice.
"If it don't stop soon, or if any cars pull up in the driveway or people we don't know come up in the yard, we'll call."
He left them, walked through the darkness to the foyer and flipped light switches beside the intercom. The front porch light came on, along with rarely used corner floodlights that bathed the driveway and front lawn with light. He opened the front door and stood quietly in the shadows of the darkened foyer, scanning the yard and street.
After ten minutes passed with no further disturbances, he closed the door, set the alarm and secured the house for the night. Returning to the family room, he snapped on a table lamp.
"Guess they got it out of their system. You young'uns go on and get ready for bed."
* * *