Long a proponent of seeing beyond the evil of a man's heart to the good that resides within; love of either determines his outcome in life.
Kevin stared at an old mark on the wall made during a scuffle with his brother many years before. He rocked back and forth on his bed with slow rhythmic anger. He held his arms close and tight to keep from striking out in anger. Mark's accusations reverberated within his mind, twisting with other dark thoughts from his troubled past. His rage increased to the point that he needed to cry out, but he knew that this would be a sign of weakness and would frighten the girls as well.
The twins spent the rest of the night in the lower part of the house. The guest room next to Paul’s was as far away from Kevin as the old farmhouse would allow. Paul had not been able to sleep at all during the night. There came a point when he could no longer lie down, and he began to pace about his room. He did that until the break of dawn when he began his daily routine, starting with breakfast.
Paul tried his best to be quiet. He hoped that he would be able to speak with Kevin before the twins awakened. The girls soon wandered into the kitchen and sat down at the table. The look of uncertainty mixed with worry in their eyes tore at his heart. He paused long enough from breakfast to pull them into one of his generous hugs and kissed them each on the top of their heads.
Kevin appeared in the doorway and it quickly became apparent to his father that he was struggling with deep emotional troubles. To his credit, he tried to be cheerful for the girls. Despite Mark’s demands, the girls did not appear to be frightened of Kevin. They smiled at him even after witnessing the burst of rage when Mark departed. He did sense the subtle trepidation behind their smiles. They wanted to trust him.
Kevin winked at Dianne and hugged Tina. “What are you two doing up so early?” He did not have to force a smile for either of them.
“Grampa says we don’t get to eat worms if we stay in bed ‘til the sun is up.” Tina giggled.
Kevin forced a smile for the girls. “Worms are quite tasty this early in the morning.”
Dianna, always the more serious of the twins, scrutinized her uncle intently. “Why are you sad, Uncle Kevin?”
“I’m not sad,” Kevin glanced at Paul. “I just have a lot of things on my mind right now.”
Tina picked up on her sister’s concern and turned an inquisitive face to Kevin. “Is it because Daddy got mad at you last night?”
“You two little monkeys don’t need to worry about what happened last night.” Paul tried to be dismissive. “Now just eat a good breakfast so you can help Uncle Kevin with his work in the garden this morning.”
“I’m not working in the garden today,” Kevin countered with a flat voice.
Tina’s eyes turned down in dismay as she whined, “We wanted to help you.” Her lower lip started to quiver.
Kevin could not bear to look at either of the girls as he spoke a little more harshly. “Not today.”
“Please, Uncle Kevin?” Dianna implored and tried to hold onto his forearm.
Kevin withdrew his arm sharply and snapped, “No! Now leave me alone!”
Kevin immediately regretted what he had done. Both girls retreated to Paul, unsure of what was going on with their uncle. Their grandfather hugged them defensively to his side.
“They’re just little girls, Kevin.” Spoken soft, Paul did not scold Kevin for the reaction. “They have no idea what is going on between you and your brother.”
Kevin gazed up at Paul, his face twisting between hurt and anger at himself over his harsh reaction. He reached out to each girl and put his loving hands on their heads. That conveyed the words of sorrow he could not speak, and he turned to leave the dining room.
“Kevin?” Paul sensed something different in his son’s attitude and called after him. “Where are you going? Kevin!”
Kevin exited through the back door in a hurry. Tina, Dianna, and Paul crowded the back door to watch him leave. The young man had no real idea where he was going to go. His mind was a twisted heap of dark memories pouring through Mark’s accusations and the sheriff’s insinuations. If they only knew the truth about his time in prison, they would know that harming any child, even with words, would never cross his mind.
“Uncle Kevin!” Dianna pleaded, “Please come back.”
Tina turned her teary eyes to Paul. “I’m so sorry, Grampa. I didn’t want him to go.”
“You didn’t do anything wrong, sweetheart.” Paul hugged both girls close. “Uncle Kevin needs to do this.” He lowered his voice to a whisper meant for himself and God. “I just hope he comes back.”
Kevin did not even look at his mother’s garden. He exited through the gate and marched away from his home in a blinding rage. Mark's accusations returned to his mind. He tried to clear his mind, knowing that the rage would eventually make him oblivious to everything. The dark memories clawed their way out of the place where he had kept them safely locked away. He was unable to push them away. At least the sheriff was correct on one thing. Serving time did partially warp his sense of true justice.
Only two years passed in what seemed an eternity to Kevin, who had entered the adult prison as a boy. The emotional scars and the betrayals forced the boy to become a man too early. Trust of any person disappeared within a week, with the trust of the judicial system fast upon those heels. He learned the first day not to be caught crying in front of others. The vultures circled him immediately and pounced upon the desecration of his childhood. He desperately tried to hang on to his moral values the first month and learned to bury them within his heart. There was no place for honesty and upright living among those trying to survive the days in prison. He had lived a protected life in small-town America and never saw the hidden evils of desperate men.
Kevin only fought with others when it was necessary for his survival, which was often and at random. Within two months, he knew where to stand, sit, and congregate. He knew who to avoid and who to associate with, but never could he allow himself to trust anyone else. Pablo Sanchez had taken care of that early on. Even some of the guards had hidden agendas, exploiting the last vestiges of hope a young man might exhibit.
There were the gangs, and there was the Brotherhood, offering companionship and protection at a great moral cost. Friendships were broken apart in prison, sometimes played against each other by the gangs. Kevin learned that the only person to be truly dependable was one’s self and that his faith would see him through the darkest of nights.
Kevin still hoped that God watched over him and wanted nothing to do with the gangs. He visited the chapel often when he felt he could no longer stand on his own. There were times when he could not see that he had to use the benches to guide him down the aisle to the altar to kneel in prayer. Then there the times when he could not kneel, but he knew God could see his heart and would not require that of him at that moment. That was where Kevin found his most unlikely ally.
For whatever reason he could not fathom, Kevin found a connection with the most hardened criminal in Huntsville. He might have died within months of his incarceration if it had not been for the intervention of Marvin Bowers, the closest person to a mentor that the boy had in prison. The man was old for prison, doing life without parole for voluntary manslaughter. He kept to himself most of the time and few people were crazed enough to confront him.
Their meeting was not by chance. Marvin had been watching the boy for some time since the day he had entered the prison. He had watched many boys come into the prison, watched the initiations, ignored the cries for help, and stepped aside when they were dragged into the dark corners. Pity was a dangerous mistake. Showing pity was deadly. No one bothered him because he kept it that way.
On the outside, Marvin Bowers was a killer, having plotted the murder of his former wife and the brother who had bedded her. His heart died with their betrayal and a switch in his mind flipped to homicidal tendencies repressed since childhood. The murder was inhumane and well-publicized. His brutality preceded his inception into prison and initiation rites were avoided. No one wanted to face the risk of their backs broken in half or their necks crushed beyond recognition. Indeed, Marvin Bowers was a monster of a man both in stature and in status.
No one understood or questioned why Marvin Bowers would go to the chapel. Some guessed that he might have had a penitent heart, but others figured it was more of an escape from the drudgery of prison life. Whatever the case, no one ever bothered him when he went there. The day he found the boy kneeling at the altar, he changed. No one would ever see the change but God, which was fine with him. He went in quietly and observed the latest bruising from a recent attack on the young man.
The boy cringed noticeably at the slight scuff of the sole of Marvin’s shoe against the cold cement floor, but he did not stop his prayer. If they were coming to hurt him in the last place, he could find sanctuary, he would give up his life to protect the sanctuary where he felt closest to God. He held fast to his prayer and tried again to close his mind to the coming assault. The man, heavy in his footstep, was taking a seat on one of the rear benches. The footstep was unfamiliar, Kevin turning it over and over in his mind. Finally, done with his prayer, he stood up and dared a chance to look back.
No words exchanged between the two of them at that moment, yet a deep understanding of each’s character formed. Mutual respect for the values they stood for surfaced quickly and cemented a friendship between them.
When the boy was about to leave, Marvin addressed him vocally. “You look like hell, kid.”
“I’m kind of living there right now.” The inclination to give up was evident in Kevin’s broken reply.
The burden of pain weighing down on the boy caused Marvin to flinch. “Then I hope you don’t mind me offering up a prayer for you.”
Marvin gave the boy no chance to object and lowered his head in prayer. Kevin did not know what to think at first. Was the man just playing on his emotions, thinking that a show of compassion might make for an easier advance with less resistance? Maybe he was there to mock Kevin’s efforts to maintain contact with God. Someone always had a sinister agenda. The young man took a seat on another bench and lowered his head to listen, half-expecting a mockery of prayer directed at him, not for him.
“Dear God,” Marvin began slow and thoughtful, stressing the importance of his request. “I come to you this day in humble prayer for the boy standing before me…I ask an intercession into the violence that has beleaguered him. Hold him in Your protective embrace this night, that the agents of Satan do not break his spirit this day. Give this boy the respite he needs to build up his faith in You again. Help him learn to avoid the traps they lay in wait for him and the strength to withstand when he cannot escape. In the blessed name of your Son, Jesus Christ, Amen.”
Kevin could not describe the relief and surprise that filled his heart and sparked the hope that had been all but extinguished. “Thank you, sir.”
“I don’t deserve your respect, young man.” Marvin stared Kevin in the eyes. “I’ve done terrible things in my life. I cannot be your friend and I cannot protect you…however, I can teach you how to become invisible and avoid the vermin most of the time. Would that be okay with you?”
“Yes, sir,” Kevin replied and backed out of the chapel with respect.
Marvin called after the boy as he was leaving. “Meet me here at this time tomorrow.”
Forward in the past
Not long after his eighteenth birthday, Kevin learned about the worst dregs that prison society brought forth. The prisoners were playing basketball or otherwise engaging themselves in various outdoor activities in the courtyard. Kevin noticed Lassiter standing off by himself and seemed quite nervous. Kevin tilted his head toward Marvin as they stood together, leaning against a brick wall.
Kevin nodded toward Lassiter. “Who’s the new guy?” He vehemently refused to use any of the derogatory slang used by most of the men of the prison.
“That piece of sh…dirt is a dead man,” Marvin answered with disgust and spit on the ground.
“Death row?” Kevin asked with confusion. “I thought that they were not allowed in the general population.”
“He’s gonna wish that he had gone to death row,” Marvin added.
The underlying hatred Kevin detected in Marvin’s voice confused him. “I don’t get it.”
Marvin glance crosswise at Kevin. “He’s a fu…freaking pervert, man! Word is he molested his little girl and forced her to perform oral sex on him.”
Kevin’s stomach churned in revulsion. “Oh, man! That is sick!”
“She was his step-daughter...about six or seven.” Marvin mirrored Kevin’s disdain. “The gangs will beat him to a pulp and then do it again after they all have their turn at him. Prison has no place for that kind of scum.”
Kevin could not fathom how any man could gratify himself with a child. “Why not just kill the punk?”
“That punk is the scum of the earth.” Marvin sneered at Lassiter. “Death would be too good a form of punishment for what he did to that little girl. There is a different kind of justice here that we deal with these scumbags. You’ll see for yourself.” He stood up to walk away. “Do not pity him.”
Kevin stared at Lassiter and could feel nothing but hatred for him after Marvin moved away. The new prisoner paced at a nervous clip and glanced constantly over his shoulder at those who shouted vulgar insults at him. A whistle blew and the prisoners began to gather to leave the courtyard. Kevin watched as a gang encircled Lassiter so that he could not escape. He gave a panicked cry for help that was quickly silenced. Then he was on the ground in the next instant, with each inmate taking a turn at kicking him as they filed into the prison.
Kevin knew that Lassiter was at an extremely vulnerable point. Part of him wanted to reach out and help the man. He was torn between action and ignoring the whole thing. Lassiter’s cries of agony as each foot found a new place on his body tore at Kevin’s soul. Human nature dictated that if he was not going to participate in the brutal attack, then he needed to turn and look the other way.
However, Kevin Fletcher was not an ordinary man, and the character of his soul won out over human nature. He decided to help, but as he was about to intervene, the guards slowly approached the fallen man and began to push apart the circle that had trapped him. The inmates were scolded for their participation and then asked to move on. Kevin watched with concern as Lassiter was lifted from the ground and drug in a semi-conscious state in the direction of the infirmary.
A month later and still alive, Lassiter lived highly alert to every sound that he heard, frightened by each call tossed in his direction. He limped toward the shower room with a hastened gait. His face was swollen, with the right eye completely closed and black around the socket. He noticed Kevin leaning against the wall, drying his hair and tried to suppress the welling of hope filling his eyes. He cautiously approached the young man, who glanced around to see if anyone else would notice their encounter.
“Please help me.” Lassiter could not hide the desperate man he was.
His eyes darting into every corner where someone could be waiting, Kevin dared offer only a few words. “I’m not your friend.”
“I’m not what you think.” Lassiter turned his head with a snap when he heard some voices coming in the hall. “I didn’t do those things to Stephanie.”
“Everyone is innocent in this place,” Kevin mocked.
“It was her father that blamed me, not Stephanie.” Lassiter was almost whining, which grated at Kevin’s nerves. “He was mad because Sue won custody in their divorce.”
Kevin tried to push Lassiter aside. “You need to go.”
“They are going to kill me!” Lassiter cried with desperation.
Kevin investigated the showers for someone who might be waiting on either of them. “don’t bring me into your troubles.”
“I can sense that you really are a good person,” Lassiter pleaded.
Kevin found himself starting to give in. “I have my own problems to deal with.”
Lassiter vied for an angle. “We can help each other.”
“I don’t need your help.” Kevin wondered why he was conceding. “Look, I can try to warn you…but what you did to that little girl...”
Lassiter looked into Kevin’s eyes with an apologetic smile. “I loved Stephanie. I did not do anything to hurt her.”
“I will do what I can,” Kevin allowed. “When I cough, get out through the back door immediately. That is all I can do.”
“You are a good man.” Lassiter clapped Kevin’s shoulder with gratitude. “I know it.”
Kevin waived Lassiter on and stood guard over the entrance to the showers. He leaned back against the wall in deep, troubled thought. He finished drying his hair and then draped the towel over his shoulders. He knocked his head back against the wall in a repetitive motion as he waited for Lassiter’s sake.
Kevin stood against the tree trunk, not realizing that he was knocking his head against the rough bark. He came out of his memories and to his senses when a truck turned up the road heading toward him. An old farmer driving the truck pulled to a stop where Kevin was standing and leaned out of his window.
“Hey, young man. You need a ride?” The farmer appeared to be a bit rough around the edges, but his voice conveyed a kind and courteous soul beneath the sun-weathered skin.
Kevin did not appear to care either way about the old farmer’s character. “Sure.”
The farmer seemed unfazed by Kevin's lack of emotion. “Where are you headed?”
Kevin certainly did not want to talk to anyone at that moment, so his answers were short. “Anywhere but back to town.”
The farmer pushed open the passenger door with a positive grin. “Well get in and I will take you as for as the Welch Road Cut-off.”
Kevin showed no emotion or acknowledgment as he went around to get into the cab of the truck. There was an old Bible with a torn cover sitting on top of a well-worn seat which the farmer pulled closer to his side. The only pieces of newer technology were an emergency scanner mounted under the dash and an emergency strobe on the dashboard. He could not comprehend the truck being fast enough to respond to a house fire. The man seemed vaguely familiar, yet Kevin could not quite place him. As soon as the young man situated himself and closed the door, the old farmer started to drive away.
The truck was an old Chevrolet or GMC from some time in the early sixties. Kevin stared out over the hood and marveled that rust had not eaten through the dull green paint. The old farmer wore a pair of gray pinstriped overalls and a pipe hung from his mouth. A Prince Albert can of pipe tobacco poked out of the ashtray. The cab of the truck seemed to be permeated with black cherry tobacco smoke from the pipe.
The farmer stared over at the young man as they drove down the road. “How far are you planning to go young man?” He tried to be amiable in his approach, but he could tell that Kevin was troubled and wanted to get something tangible out of him.
Kevin was reluctant to talk but knew that he needed to say something to the old man out of respect. “As far away from Pine Springs as I can get.”
The farmer studied Kevin for a moment. “Can it be that bad?”
Kevin turned to the window. “Yes.”
The farmer saw that Kevin would not reveal anything to him and gave up with a shrug. He returned to driving but would sometimes cast a glance in the youngster’s direction. When he determined that there was little else to be learned, he turned on his AM radio to listen to old country songs. Kevin frowned as he ignored the songs and let his mind drift back into more memories.
Kevin and Lassiter sat near each other, but not so close as to draw scrutiny. The other prisoners worked off their frustrations with worn basketballs and archaic weight machines. Kevin kept a wary eye upon the other prisoners even though no one seemed interested in what the two of them were doing. He took the lead and resumed a conversation they had been having over the last week.
“How long did you know your wife?”
Lassiter smiled at the fond memories coming into reverie. “We went to school together...long before she met Harry.”
That comment made Kevin think of his loved ones. The bittersweet memories affected his eyes dangerously. “I miss my family, too.”
Lassiter watched the sincerity play across his companion’s expressions and proceeded with thoughtfulness. “Did you drink before the night of the wreck?”
Sincerity dissolved into apprehension. Kevin was reluctant to reveal much about the night of the wreck. “I had a beer now and then, but I never drank to get drunk. It was mostly to prove that I was old enough to hang out with my brother and the other varsity players. I never drank more than half a can. To tell the truth, I hated the taste of beer.”
Lassiter was puzzled. “So why did you get drunk that night?”
“That is the strange part. I don’t remember getting drunk.” Kevin frowned as he tried once again to piece together the puzzle of that tragic night. “I don’t know how it started. My brother and I were arguing over a girl. I got so mad at him that I completely lost it. I remember that Robby tried to come between us…he was always trying to be the peacekeeper…” He had to stop for a moment to rebuild his composure. “The next thing I remember, I’m outside in the pouring rain, my car’s wrapped around a tree, and Robbie’s…Robbie’s…screaming in agony…”
Lassiter let the young man sit in silence for a few moments, realizing that there was much more to the story that was still being held back. Kevin picked up a dumbbell and began a set of curls. The intensity with which he exercised displayed the battle raging within him.
Kevin pressed forward with an uncomfortable question of his own. “Did you love your wife even while she was with him?”
Lassiter offered a slight laugh to ease their nervous conversation. “Women can be quite troublesome…since the day I first laid eyes on her, I never stopped loving her,” he answered painfully.
“If she finds out the truth about you and Stephanie, do you think she will take you back?” Kevin watched a group of men enter the gym.
Lassiter gazed up amazed. “So, you finally believe me?”
Kevin made eye contact with Marvin, who was amid the group. “Sort of. I will be disappointed if I ever found out you were responsible for hurting that little girl.”
Lassiter was more than appreciative. “Thank you for listening to me. It’s good to have a friend in this place.” He stood up and extended his hand.
Kevin paused for a moment before he and Lassiter shook hands. After the other man left, he noticed that Marvin was standing across the yard from the two of them, his eyes full of hate. He returned to the arm curls, wondering how he was going to convince the old man of Lassiter’s innocence.
The farmer had been studying Kevin for the last five minutes. The young man had been lost in a troubled memory. The farmer prided himself on the ability to judge the character of others accurately. He surmised that Kevin was an overall good person that had suffered a tragedy early in life. That tragedy now haunted his life. He decided to try to talk again with Kevin. It irked the old man when he could not be a Good Samaritan to someone in need.
The farmer offered genuine empathy. “You sure you don’t want to tell me what is wrong? You look like you have lost your best friend.”
Kevin sighed deeply. “That happened a long time ago.”
The farmer sensed Kevin's pain. “It cannot be that bad.”
Kevin was almost breaking down. “Any friend of mine ends up dead.”
“What do you mean?” The farmer did not understand.
Kevin shook his head and turned back to the window as they continued to drive.
Continue reading Chapter 16, Part 2
- Kevin's Homecoming - Chapter 16, Part 2
After Kevin is dropped at the site of the wreck, he is met by Robert Murchison, who wishes to reconnect with Kevin. Kevin is wary at first, but he is also in need of redemption and what better way than to start with Robbie's father, a man he looked u