A Little Something for Halloween: Jerry’s Story
Back in the days when I was two-finger banging stories out on an Casio typewriter I wrote some short stories and poems I titled Excerpts from Life. The works were inspired by my own experiences, the experiences of people I knew, or just things I observed. For all, I applied my “What if?” and let the tale run wherever my imagination led. This tale, Jerry’s Story, was part of a larger tale. I pulled it out because I think it’s just creepy enough for a Halloween read.
This story is a work of fiction inspired by a bit of truth. The names have been changed to protect…something.
I don’t know what it was—something just made me go over to Jerry’s crib in base housing instead of to the gym to shoot some hoops that late summer afternoon. I don’t believe in all that supernatural bullshit, but Jerry and I were as tight as two brothers could be without being real brothers. So maybe that’s why I had this vibe—this sudden urge—to go by his crib to check him out. Maybe something inside me sensed the cry of a friend in need.
The speed limit in base housing is 20 miles per hour because of all the kids who live there. I had to fight to keep myself from gunning the accelerator as I cruised through the rows of identical brick and shingle duplexes. I didn’t want to get a speeding ticket, but that voice inside me was screaming for me to hurry the hell up.
As it turned out, it wouldn’t have mattered if I’d been ripping through housing at 80 miles an hour with a can of brew in each hand, because there wasn’t a cop anywhere to be found along the route to Jerry’s house. But when I got to the last intersection before Jerry’s block there were two Security Police sedans stretched across the street, blocking the way. The light bars on the vehicles were rolling and flashing red and blue, indicating that some bad shit was going on up ahead.
As I neared the roadblock, a freckled-face Air Force cop who looked like he was about 15 years old started waving his arm frantically, indicating that I should turn right or left, because there was no way in hell was I getting through straight ahead. I kept moving forward anyway, just slower, in case this kid had some Clint Eastwood thing going. There’s nothing worse than an idiot carrying a badge and a gun.
The cop strode up to my window, unsnapping the strap on his holster as he approached, as if that was supposed to impress me. Fucking idiot. I rolled down the window of my Dodge. Before the kid cop could open his mouth I whipped out my ID card to show him that I was a Staff Sergeant and said, “Airman, I live on this block and I need to get home.”
My rank and authoritative tone knocked him down a few pegs. He might be a cop, but he was still just an airman. I was a Non-Commissioned Officer. That shit carries weight no matter what your job is.
The cop hesitated for a moment, and then stammered,“Well…um, sir, you can’t drive down there right now. You’ll need to park and walk to your residence.”
“Fine,” I said, pretending to be pissed off at this inconvenience. I parked and hurried up the sidewalk past the barricade before he could think to ask which residence I lived in.
When I got near Jerry’s unit it looked like every Security Police vehicle assigned to the base was parked in front of his house. There was an ambulance and a fire department emergency van in the street as well. All of his neighbors were out in front of their homes, staring and whispering questions among themselves. I saw Colonel Stanton, the base commander, standing at the edge of Jerry’s lawn talking to another officer, a major. When I passed them I heard him say to the major, “When the media gets wind of this, make damned sure they only talk to me or to Public Affairs. Everyone else keeps their mouths shut.”
Security Police were filing in and out of Jerry’s front door like bees around a hive. I was looking toward Jerry’s house, wondering what the hell had happened. I wasn’t paying attention to the cop cruiser parked along the curb until I heard a voice call out my name from inside it. I turned around and saw Jerry sitting in the back of the vehicle. From the way he was leaning forward and by the elevation of his shoulders I could tell that his hands were cuffed behind him.
Jerry was being arrested? What the hell was going on?
Stunned, I walked to the side of the cruiser. I was more shocked than I was when I discovered that straight-laced, square-looking Jerry could pull more ladies than anybody but Hugh Hefner.
I guess my surprise and the question swirling around in my mind must have shown on my face, because from the back seat of the police cruiser Jerry said, “Will, I couldn’t handle it anymore.” He said it in that same calm tone he used when he was talking about how jazz music was timeless or how if only half of the eligible black Americans decided to vote we could have a black man in the White House in the next election. This time I had no idea what he was talking about.
“Man, what happened?” I asked.
In answer, Jerry’s eyes cut from my face toward the front of his house. I looked around in time to see two med techs from the base hospital wheeling a gurney out of the front door. Whoever was on that gurney was covered from head to toe by a white sheet. I was thinking that they should have used a dark blanket instead, because that sheet was soaked bright red. Even from the sidewalk I could see that the red was wet and shiny, telling me and all who observed that whoever was under that sheet had some very large and very nasty holes in them, and that those holes were still oozing.
From behind me Jerry said, “I couldn’t handle it any more. How could any man handle it?”
I turned back to the police cruiser and to my friend, who sat handcuffed inside. “What happened?” It was the only question I could think to ask.
Jerry looked up at me. “How could any man handle it?” he asked me again. “How could any man handle knowing that his wife belonged to any man but him?”
Even as the shock of Jerry’s question settled into my system, I felt a strong hand on my shoulder, yanking me back and away from the cruiser. It was a cop pulling on me, not the kid at the roadblock but an NCO, someone with enough experience not to go for any bullshit.
“This area is secured,” he said. “Either return to your residence or move back beyond the established perimeter.”
There was no point in telling him I knew the guy in the back of the cruiser. This dude wouldn’t give a damn. I backed off.
After about a dozen steps I looked back. I watched as the cruiser carrying my best friend sped away with its lights flashing. A minute later the ambulance followed with its lights going and siren wailing. I thought that entire racket was pointless. Whoever they’d loaded into that ambulance under that blood-soaked sheet wasn’t going to be in a hurry ever again.
I thought again (how often do I think this?) that we never know what really goes on in anyone else’s life. We don’t know what goes on when they close their doors and pull their shades for the night. That’s when the masks come off.
Some of the faces beneath those masks are far from pretty.
I’ve got some buddies in the Security Police squadron, so I got the basic scoop on what happened on that hot summer afternoon.
Jerry’s beautiful wife Carol was dead, viscously murdered with the nasty end of a claw hammer. Jerry was the one who called the Security Police to the house. When they arrived, he led them to the kitchen. They found her splayed out on the kitchen floor in her robe. There was blood everywhere—on the curtains, the cabinets, the table and chairs, on the tile floor, and of course, on her body. The cops who responded to the scene called for backup and medical assistance even though Carol was way past anything a doctor could do for her.
I felt a little ill thinking that someone I’d known had gone out so horribly, but what really chilled me was the way my cop partners described Jerry’s actions. They said he just stood in the kitchen entry with his hands in his pockets, watching them from behind his wire-rimmed glasses as calmly as you please while they gave futile emergency first-aid to his wife’s lifeless body. He was calm—completely serene. It made me think of the way he’d looked that day in his carport when I’d told him about the issues I was having with Angela. How the hell could a guy be calm while his wife lay bloody and dead on the kitchen floor?
One of the cops had turned back to Jerry and asked him what happened. In that calm, matter-of-fact tone he answered, “I’m afraid I’m responsible for this.”
One cop got up quickly and drew his weapon. He’d ordered Jerry to get his hands out of his pockets and get on the floor. Jerry put his hands up and said, “My clothes are already soiled,” indicating the blood splatters on his shirt and slacks. “But if it’s all the same to you, I’d rather not get down in this mess and make it worse. Why don’t we go into the living room?” The he’d turned and walked away as if he weren’t even worried about the .9mm semi-automatic pistols pointed at his back.
“I fucked up,” he said.
Yeah, no shit, Jerry.
“We’ve been married for eight years,” he said. I lucked out and found the perfect wife—more than I could ever have imagined in my best dream. Carol is more than most men could imagine, and I love her with all my heart. Still, I went and fucked up.”
I got the feeling he wasn’t talking about killing her. At least not yet.
“I was as happy as any man could be in my marriage,” Jerry continued. “I never had a desire to cheat, because I knew no woman could give me what my wife did. I’m not talking about her looks or in the bedroom. I mean the love. Will, she really loved me. Do you know what it’s like to have someone really love you? If you ever get that, brother, don’t blow it like I did.”
I had to say it. “You say you never had a temptation to cheat on her, but since I’ve known you, you’ve really been out there.” By out there I meant in the club every weekend. And more often than not when he left the club he didn’t leave alone.
Jerry held his hand up to stop me. “I know, I know. But that was after. And that’s what Carol wanted. And it’s what I had to do to keep my sanity.”
“It happened about a year and a half ago, just before we got assigned here, when we were stationed back in Illinois. There was this hot sister on my job, a civilian. She’d been wanting to get together with me for a while, but I wasn’t playing. I mean, she looked good—real good—and she was nice and all that, but like I said, I wasn’t thinking about cheating. Well, she knew I was leaving, and as the time got closer, she really started pushing. She’d tell me how she wanted me so bad, and how since I was leaving it wouldn’t hurt for us to have one night of pleasure together. So I fell for it. I screwed up and took the bait.”
“And Carol found out?” I asked.
“Yeah, she found out. I made two mistakes. One, I shouldn’t have fucked around in the first place. Two, I never should have done it in my own house. We did it while Carol was at work and our daughter was in day care. The next day that bitch called Carol at work and told her what we did. To make sure Carol believed her, she described to a T the bedspread and sheets on our bed, the layout of the furniture, everything. There was no way I could deny it.
“Well, Carol lost her mind. She was so angry and hateful she actually scared me. I’d never seen her that way before. She told me all kinds of shit, about how she could have had any man she wanted, but she married me because I was a good man and she loved me. She told me about all the men who hit on her since we’d been together and how she’d always turned them down. Then she called me every kind of low-life bastard in the book. And she told me that I was going to pay for what I did. She told me that from then on, she was going to fuck everybody but me. She said that if I wanted a divorce she would take everything I had, plus have me busted for conduct unbecoming a non-commissioned officer. Did you know they can bust you for adultery under that clause in the UCMJ?”
I shook my head.
“Well, they can,” Jerry said. So once we got stationed here Carol started going out. She told me that I might as well go ahead and get mine too, because she damned sure was going to get hers. She said I could either stay at home while she was out and think about what she was doing with other men, or get out and get some myself, because I was never going to touch her again.
“I didn’t want to be with anyone else. I’d cheated one time in our marriage, and I regretted that. So I didn’t plan to be with anyone else. But when I was home alone I did think about her out there and what she was doing, and it was killing me. And when she came back home—sometimes after being out all night –she’d look at me…”
At this point Jerry had to stop. He raised one hand and pressed his fingertips to his temple, as if he were experiencing the onset of a migraine. For the first time I saw my friend look other than calm. His faced was wrinkled with emotion as he tried to hold back his tears. It took him a minute or so to get himself back together.
“Will that way she looked at me…knowing that I knew that she’d just had another man inside her…looking at me like she hated me and was laughing at me…laughing at my pain. Goddamn, that was too much. So I had to go out. At least when I was with another woman I wasn’t sitting home thinking about what Carol was doing. You could say I did it in self-defense. I did it to protect my head and my heart.”
I tried to imagine that. I tried to picture the woman I thought Carol was—quiet, intelligent, friendly and beautiful—going out to sleep with other men right in front of her husband’s face. I would never have imagined that the woman she appeared to be would do something like that. Well, it just goes to show how little we really know about people.
Jerry continued, “I thought eventually she’d come around. I thought she would get over hating me and then somehow she could forgive me and we could get back what we had. Yesterday I told her that that’s what I was hoping for. She was in the kitchen. She’d just had a bath and was in her robe, getting ready to…to go out. She looked so beautiful, Will. It made my heart ache just to look at her. I wanted to take her and hold her in my arms and never let her go. I asked her not to go out, to just stay home with me so we could talk, to try to start to work things out.
“She laughed at me, Will. It wasn’t some made up ‘fuck you’ kind of laugh. It was a real laugh, like what I’d said was the funniest thing she’d ever heard. When she was done laughing she called me a lovesick fool. She said that we’d never have a real marriage again; that she was going to punish me until the day I died. She said she hoped the pain I was feeling would help put me in my grave even sooner. Then she said that besides, some of the men she’d been with put me to shame. She said there was no way she could ever be satisfied with me after some of the lovers she’d had.”
I slumped back in my chair. I didn’t say anything. What could I say to something like that?
Jerry continued, “Thank God our daughter was out west with Carol’s parents. I don’t remember hitting Carol, but I did. I hit her hard, and left her laying stunned on the kitchen floor while I went to the carport shed to my toolbox. I knew what I was going to do. I could visualize that hammer, could see myself holding it, swinging it.
“I went back into the kitchen with the hammer in my hand. Carol was just getting up off the floor. She saw me. Then she saw the hammer. She tried to straighten up and run. I didn’t let her. I didn’t have any choice in the matter. You understand that, don’t you bro?”
I wasn’t thinking about what choices Jerry had. I was thinking about all the months we’d spent hanging out. I was thinking about how he’d always seemed so calm and in control, and how because of that I’d valued his opinions and advice. And I was thinking that during all that time, Jerry might very well have been as crazy as hell.
I got up and pushed away from the table. “Hey bro, I’ve gotta run. But I’ll talk to you soon, okay?”
Jerry looked at me with that old calm expression. At least I thought it was calm. But now I wasn’t so sure. Maybe that calmness was just a cover, a mask of serenity to hide the raving madness that lay beneath the surface. I felt a chill claw its way up my spine.
“No, you won’t be back,” he said. “You think I’m insane. You can’t wait to get the hell out of here—to get away from me.”
He held his hand up. “No, no Will, I understand. If our situations were reversed, I’d feel the same way. So you don’t need to come back. I understand completely.”
He smiled at me. It was the phoniest smile I’d every seen. That chill along my spine was turning icy. I headed for the door.
I was halfway there and thinking I was home free when he said, “Let me ask you something, Will…”
I stopped and turned around. “Yeah, sure Jerry.”
He still wore his fake smile. “Did you want to fuck my wife?”
“You heard me, brother. Did you want to fuck my wife?” He was watching me with hard, examining eyes.
As I’ve written, I always thought Carol was fine. But I never thought about messing with her. I respected my friend and I respected his wife. Still, as I stood there under Jerry’s cool stare, I started to feel guilty for even thinking about her at all. Jerry was still watching me closely. “No man, that’s crazy,” I said. My words felt like a lie.
His smile faded. “Yeah…okay,” he said. He didn’t look like he was feeling okay.
I was ready to turn around and try to escape again, but he wasn’t done.
“You know Will, at one time I thought about following Carol whenever she went out. I wanted to find out who the men were she was sleeping with. I wanted to kill each one of them. I wanted to remove them from the face of the earth for committing the sin of touching my wife. Maybe that’s what I should have done instead. Maybe I killed the wrong person.”
I decided to get the hell out of there. I turned around and headed for the door that looked a mile away.
Jerry spoke to my back. His words stopped me again. He said, “I think you’re lying, Will.”
My hand was frozen on the doorknob, but I didn’t turn around.
“I think you wanted to fuck my wife. I know she wanted to fuck you, because she told me so. She wanted to kill me with her adulterous ways, and she thought it would be a real kick to fuck my buddy. That would really hurt me.”
I tried to open the door. My sweaty fingers slid on the knob. Damn it!
“Would you fuck her, Will? Would you fuck my wife if she spread her legs for you?”
“No,” I said to the door. You couldn’t pay me to turn around and look at his face. Or maybe I didn’t want him to see my face. I wiped my hand on my thigh and turned the knob. Thank God.
Behind me Jerry said, “I think you’re lying. I think you wanted to fuck my wife. I think you would have done it if she gave you the opportunity.”
I did look around then, even before I knew I was doing it. Jerry was smiling at me. It was not a friendly smile. His right hand was closed as if he was gripping a hammer, and he was making striking motions in the air. His smile snapped off.
“See you around…bro,” he said.
The last I heard Jerry was still in a federal penitentiary. It’s hard to keep track of the friends you make in the military, even one who might be in a cage. But I try to keep track. I have to keep track so I can sleep at night. I need to know that Jerry is still locked up, just for my own peace of mind.
But the truth be told, I don’t have much peace these days. I don’t have much peace because I know that if Jerry ever gets out of prison, he’s coming after me. I saw that on his face on the day I visited him. He truly believes that I wanted his wife. He believes that because he saw the guilt on my face. And for that, he wants to kill me.
Sometimes when I lay awake at night listening for ominous sounds and squinting at shadows, I wonder if I’d been lying to myself where Jerry’s wife was concerned. Yeah, I knew she was fine, and she’d seemed to be a good woman and a perfect wife. That’s the kind of woman any man would want.
So maybe I was wearing a mask too. Maybe I was wearing a mask that disguised myself even from myself. But Jerry was always good at analyzing people. Maybe he saw something in me that I couldn’t see in myself.
I’m going to end this now. I think I heard something downstairs, and I need to go check it out.
Just in case.