Gary Sandwell had been relieved that the day had finally ended. It had been busy at the computer store where he’d worked. Shoppers had flocked in droves that day to get the newest equipment and latest improvements. The entire Yorkshire Mall in fact, had been extremely busy. As a result, the store had achieved very high sales figures. Being the Assistant Manager had meant that he’d been entitled to a share of the profits if they reached their monthly quota and thanks to that day’s activities, they’d been well on their way.
John Martin—one of the full-time employees—had drawn the doors closed after the last of the customers had walked out with their purchase. The rest of the staff had exchanged looks of gratitude. They’d been happy because it had been a Friday night and they had planned a night of drinking, dancing, and womanizing. The plans had been made a week in advance and thanks to that day’s sales, they had something else to celebrate.
He’d been in the middle of closing the cash register and calculating the day’s totals when the doors had reopened and a young attractive Asian lady had walked in. He remembered it as though it had happened yesterday; her long dark hair, button nose; the playful twinkle in her brown eyes. Gary had looked up from his computer terminal and been taken aback by the sight of her.
Akiko had looked stunning, dressed in a white button-down blouse, black leather overcoat with matching gloves and formfitting skirt. Her ebony knee-high boots and matching purse had added a striking elegance. She’d smiled at him as their eyes met, then sauntered to counter, leaned in and kissed him lovingly on the lips. He’d returned the affection but had been a little surprised because she had not been factored into his plans for the evening. His plans had often not included her, though he was ashamed say why.
She must have recognized the look on his face because she’d taken a step back and with that same playful smile had asked, “Did you forget what today is?”
“What’s today?” he remembered asking hesitantly.
“It’s our six month anniversary,” she’d informed him.
“Six month anniversary?”
“Yes, we started dating six months ago so I thought we would do something special tonight.”
“Six month anniversary,” he’d repeated. “People don’t celebrate six month anniversaries. People celebrate anniversaries in years, not months.”
Noticing that she’d been about to speak, he’d continued quickly. “Plus, I was going out with the guys tonight.”
A single tear had started down her cheek and she’d quickly wiped it away with one gloved hand before turning aside to hide the river that had started to flow. He remember that it had tugged at his heart, but foolishly he’d thought that they would have other nights together.
“Akiko,” he remembered pleading.
She’d not reply and as he’d tried again she’d started towards the door. He’d ran from behind the counter and upon reaching her, had attempted to turn her around. She’d resisted at first but when she’d finally relented he’d seen the tears freely flowing down her face. He remembered thinking at that moment that she was being silly and overreacting.
With her head hung low she’d said quietly. “I just thought…”
She’d not finish the sentence because fresh runnels had added to the ones that had already been there.
“Look, I’m sorry,” he’d said. “I’ve already made plans.”
“It’s okay,” she’d murmured through her sobs, and had reached up to kiss him quickly on the lips. Then she’d turned and walked away.
Gary had watched her leave before turning to the members of his staff. He’d smiled and rolled his eyes. This had drawn snickers from his team and had given him the satisfaction of showing them that she loved him; that he could do what he wanted when he wanted; a selfish bravado and callous nonchalance.
He’d not known it at the time, but the events of that night would lead to a pivotal moment in his life. Now years later, as he sat behind his desk at the precinct and reflected on it once more, he wished that he had spent the evening with her. Wish that he’d not been so selfish and afraid; wish that he’d told her how he’d felt instead of acting like he hadn’t cared, simply for the benefit of his employees.
With a sigh, he picked up the manila envelope once more. The red stenciled lettering indicating that it was a Cold Case brought an ache to his heart and he longed to hear her voice again. As he opened it, he prayed as he had so often in the past that this time something inside would lead him to the person who’d taken her life that night.
The afternoon was warm but slightly overcast. On the horizon, dark clouds could be seen approaching; bringing a storm with them. School had just ended and most of us were engaged in the usual activities of young boys; playing tag, dodge ball or scampering around. I had just finished chasing my best friend Neal and we were laughing in our comradely way when from behind I heard someone say, “Get him!”
My first thought was of another game of chase until I felt the fingers close around my throat. Again I thought nothing of it until they started to apply pressure. I struggled to get free but they maintained their vice-like grip. The tips began to dig in and crush my windpipe. I gasped and sank to my knees as spots danced before my eyes.
I heard Neal say, “Leave him alone, Randolph!”
It was then that I knew who the culprit was; Randolph Archer. He was a year older than I and came from a bad family. It had been whispered that his dad was abusive and would beat him and his mother mercilessly. Around school, he was known as a bully and on more than one occasion, had been sent to the Headmaster’s office to be strapped.
I clawed at his hands, but his grip was solid; unyielding. My mind swam with fear and somewhere on the periphery I wondered if he knew what he was doing; if he knew of the harm and pain he was causing me, and I wondered why he was doing it. I had done nothing to him. My fingers continued to desperately scrap against his and unexpectedly he released me.
Though disoriented, I somehow picked myself from the ground and ran. I’d left my books behind but didn’t care. All that was present in my mind was putting as much distance between the two of us as possible. I heard Neal calling from far away; shouting for me to wait, but fear drove me. My lungs burned, my throat ached, but I ran. When I thought I could go no further, I found a reserve and continued running all the way home.
I didn’t say anything to my grandmother about the incident when I arrived out of breath. In fact I didn’t talk about it until my uncle came home. His arrivals always filled me with dread because he was frequently drunk and would often become violent. This evening was like many others. I smelled the alcohol as soon as he entered the house and once more I was gripped with angst. We all sat down to dinner—we knew better than to eat without him.
“How was school?” he asked.
The sour odor of rum accompanied his question.
“Good,” I croaked through my aching throat.
“What happened to your voice?”
“Randolph Archer choked me,” I timidly replied.
“What did you do to him?”
“What did you do after he choked you?”
“What!” his voice boomed; echoing off the walls. “You let someone choke you and you didn’t fight back?”
With each word he uttered the pungent aroma of liquor attacked me, increasing my terror. I shrank with trepidation.
“I’m coming to that school tomorrow and we’re going to see about that!” he bellowed as he turned from me with a look of disgust.
I quickly finished eating and went to my room. I knew that he would continue to drink and I did not want to be a source of aggravation for him. Lying in bed, I heard him pacing and muttering to himself. I prayed that he would not come in. The storm eventually arrived. The raindrops akin to a barrage of pebbles hurled against our tin roof. The sound drowned out my uncle and lulled me to sleep.
* * *
True to his drunken words, the following day my uncle arrived while we were in the yard for our mid-morning break. The other kids were enjoying themselves as usual, giving chase and playing other boyish games while avoiding the puddles left by the previous night’s rain. I on the other hand was filled with anxiety from both Randolph and the drunken madman. My uncle spotted me and summoned me to him; I knew better than to be defiant, so I meekly obeyed. Then he spied Randolph and called him as well—he somehow knew who he was.
Next he positioned us so that Randolph stood with his back to a large puddle and I stood in front of him. My uncle glared at me and I knew I had to act. I lunged forward and shoved Randolph with all my might. He stumbled, tripped and landed on his back in the muddy water; his face was a mixture fear and anger. My uncle glared at me again, then turned and walked away.
She looked up when I walked in. Bruises lined her face, her swollen eye; cracked lip. She’d been crying. I didn’t know how long but could only imagine. She huddled protectively over our son. I walked over to them both and reached out to stroke her once lovely blonde hair but she shrank from my touch. My heart ached at the sight.
My son looked up at me and I was transported back to when I was his age and I had looked at my father with the same innocence and fear. My father had been a violent drunk. We’d paid the price.
I tried again to touch her and this time she allowed the contact, though a shiver ran through her body. She turned and looked into my eyes and started to cry. Pulling her close, I stroked her tangled and matted hair. My throat was dry. My voice hoarse, and cracked, but I forced the words out.
“I’m sorry, honey,”
It was all that I could think of to say.
She sobbed and buried her face in my chest and side.
“Your father was here again,” she replied.
The words tore at me and I voiced silently that I would make him pay. I had no idea how. Worse yet, I knew it to be a lie. I didn’t and still don’t know why I allowed him do the things he did. I just knew that I was powerless to stop him. I had tried, but he had always won. He always came and did…this…to my wife…to my family.
The memories of my mother’s screams filling our house now echoed inside my brain. They mingled with my own wife’s pleas and cries. It was at that moment that I knew how to stop my father. It was at that moment, that I realized what I needed to do. Though I had vowed that I would never do this; never take this drastic measure because my life would be forever changed. Still, he had to be stopped.
I reached inside my pocket and withdrew my phone. I knew the number by heart. I had seen it many times, had studied it but had always been afraid of making the call; talking that step. Now I would. I would not allow my father to continue his alcoholic reign of terror.
Punching the digits, I waited. My wife looked on with a mixture of fear and hope. When the line picked up, I paused for just a moment, drew a deep breath and started to speak.
“Hello,” I said. “Alcoholic’s Anonymous? My name is James Harrison, and I have a drinking problem.”