Retired Lieutenant Colonel, Eloy Templeton Franklin, sat at his kitchen table wondering if the sharp blade of his saber would hurt much as it slit across his wrist. Or maybe his throat. He raised a trembling hand and placed his fingertips to the pulse under his jaw and soon became hypnotized by the vibrant rhythm. He sighed, remembering how long he imagined he would continue in the same limbo he’d come to expect. His father had lived to be one hundred, grandfather two years more. “Twenty years,” he muttered, shaking his head. “Two decades more until I’m free?”
He recalled the scream from his neighbor a couple of weeks ago and even going into “commander” mode hadn’t brought him out of his funk. Eloy had a soft spot for Melanie Gray, she too alone now that her husband had died, and he knew Morris Sinclair to be a suspicious character at best.
The argument, or whatever it had been, died down quick and Eloy hadn’t been able to make out the gist of the heated discussion. He knew Melanie had seen him, knew he missed nothing, but she hadn’t beckoned to Eloy in a panic, so he had sat back down in his rocker and kept extra vigilant watch.
Several days later, he had witnessed Morris glaring at Melanie as she walked up Delano Road toward the desert. Eloy had left his porch and crossed his overgrown property line to warn Morris to leave the young widow alone, making it a point to take the saber a Korean officer had relinquished to him upon surrender. The blade sharp enough to slice through bone.
Eloy didn’t regret his words or actions. He was done with cruel, thoughtless people who didn’t care about anyone but themselves. The cruelty began with him—falsely accused of the crimes his son had perpetrated against children, vilified by law enforcers, the press, neighbors in communities he had endured for as long as he could stand. Victims tugged at Eloy’s heart—most recently young Dylan and now Melanie. The military officer ingrained in him knew that no one should be treated with disrespect on the battlefield. Especially the battlefield of life.
Nothing but the ticking clock on the wall across the room to indicate the actual passing of time, he knew he should be feeling better about his situation. The Boy had disappeared from his life again after Eloy had destroyed the disgusting kiddie porn pictures in a cleansing pyre of fire. The sheriff’s department had solved the case of little Riley’s murder—sending, it seemed, half the neighborhood either to prison or to their graves—and new neighbors had moved in all around him. Others for him to watch over.
But his only friend in Rubicon Ranch was gone. Most likely forever. Eloy had tried to visit Dylan at his new home in juvenile detention, but the boy refused to see him. Eloy had looked forward to visiting with the young man during his short stint in juvenile detention, even if it mean gazing across a scuffed table in a room full of sullen youngsters and families who continued to try not to give up.
But Dylan never appeared, instead a stern guard notified Eloy the prisoner would not meet with him. Even refused the gift of a tin of cookies a different guard had pawed through the contents so roughly not a single sugary disk had remained unbroken.
Eloy never felt so alone. In a way he resented allowing Dylan into his life, one of privacy, secrecy and hidden truths. Dylan liked Eloy. Trusted him. Eloy admonished himself, not for the first time, for not attempting to clear his good name with his neighbors when the sheriff and his officers had assembled everyone to flush out the killer of little Riley’s birth father. Eloy truly thought that due to the Riley Peterson case and accompanying investigation it would be revealed that he wasn’t the creepy old guy the cops and press had made him out to be. That in fact the predator was The Boy. Eloy’s boy. The one he never named or laid claim to. But Eloy had kept his mouth shut, the consummate soldier, never one to reveal information or volunteer anything—even if it would make his life easier.
His neighbors no longer shunned him. Instead they ignored him even more than before. He thought perhaps going through such a monumental occurrence such as the murder of a child, the subsequent other deaths, and then prison terms for those involved in the tornado of suspicion would make those remaining at Rubicon Ranch a stronger unit, as Eloy had witnessed during wartime. But no. Not a single one had reached out, attempted a conversation, even lifted a hand in greeting as they passed his house.
Pedestrians still crossed the street, yanked their kids’ arms to hurry along, people in cars always raced past his house. Even kids selling cookies or school fundraising novelties avoided his brown two-story in the middle of the block. This morning the new woman of Rubicon Ranch picked up her dog’s pace until they were well clear of eyeshot, leaving him to wonder what the total stranger knew of him.
All Eloy could do was remain on his porch, continue to wave, smile, offer a chipper “Hello.” Hope that one day someone would care enough to mount his steps and exchange a few kind words.
His wife and two favored sons had passed away. All that defined Eloy lay hidden away in an ancient footlocker: old uniforms, ribbons, medals and wartime memories. Burdens on his psyche long past, yet not easily forgotten.
And now a new regret.
He ran his finger the length of the gleaming blade and considered again taking up the filigree engraved handle, test its heft, place it against the thin skin of his wrist.
His former commander’s words rang in his mind: “Get over it! Move on! A soldier never gives up.” The words spoken in the heat of many battles had brought him courage when he needed them, mired in mud, shells exploding all around him, men’s limbs being ripped from their bodies, screams that after more than fifty years still haunted his dreams.
He let out a deep breath and forced himself to veer his morbid reverie in a different direction. He thought of his new neighbor, attractive, dark hair, doing her best to keep pace with her proud Mastiff. An idea came to him, so sudden the saber fell from his hand and clattered on the table. A dog, he thought. I need a dog. A companion to keep me company.
He pondered what breed he would attempt. Maybe a Mastiff—the perfect icebreaker to create a possible friendship with the woman and her dog. Or, maybe a sweet little thing to cuddle on his lap would be better. He chuckled, knowing the man’s man in him would never consider such absurdity. Eloy knew he needed a “real” dog—strong, powerful, loyal—one to help him keep watch over Rubicon Ranch.
Eloy’s heart thudded in his chest as the first fresh possibility in years began to bloom. He slid the saber in its leather sheath, then crossed to the cabinet and withdrew the local business directory. Surprised to see three humane shelters in the surrounding area he closed his eyes, swept his hand round and round then placed his fingertip on the thin paper. The last entry on the page—good fortune, he hoped, figuring they would probably have plenty of dogs to select from.
Possibilities nearly overwhelmed him. He would need to choose wisely. The Boy would be back. This, Eloy knew in his bones. He might very well need the help of long, sharp teeth to keep his only remaining son at bay this time.
Hand no longer trembling, he reached for the phone.