There is a great movie out there with legendary actors called Heat. It has Robert Deniro and Al Pacino and about two dozen other brilliant people in it. When I think about this moment in my life, a quote from that movie always rushes to me.
Bobby Deniro and Al Pacino are sitting at a diner. Bobby, an elite thief who takes down huge scores. Al, a detective who heads a squad that breaks guys like this. They are talking about Al’s failing marriage when Bobby looks across the table at him and says that he was talking to this big time thief long ago who said to him, “Do not have anything in your life that you cannot walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you smell the heat coming around the corner.” He adds, “that is the discipline.” He looks at Al and says, “So, if I live like that and you chase guys like me, then how are you supposed to do your job and have a wife?”
The same thing applies here. When Guardian is looking across the table at Mumble, and Mumble is telling him that Grasp is molesting Guardian’s little sisters, he drops everything.
The heat is walking around the corner. Guardian walks away from it all.
Bekah is gone now. No proposal. No life with her. He wants nothing from her unless it’s a back to set his against.
School is nothing now. He has to keep up grades so he can keep financial aid coming in, so he can support himself, so he can keep this fight going. All hopes of graduation are gone. He walked away from all of that.
Friends, gone. He has no friends until he sees who he can count on, and who he can’t. If any of them, even for a scant second, give even the slightest hesitation, he can’t use them. Friends, he has none. All he has now are allies and enemies.
Hope. He walked away from it. There is no surviving this. The fight, no matter where it is going to take him, will kill him. No way a suicidal abuse survivor walks away from a fight like this. This is what will kill him. We have no hope except to keep these kids safe. After that, it is over.
With all love, friends, hope, and school shrugged off, he can think. Everything becomes clear, everything lights up. He has formed a plan before he breaks eye contact with Mumble.
He can’t do it in front of Mumble.
He gets up and Mumble starts to stand. Guardian points at him. “You stay here.” He does not stop to see if Mumble listens. He either obeys, or is made to obey.
Guardian steps into the living room where little girls are playing with Bekah. He looks at her then points upstairs. “Take them upstairs. I need the living room.”
Bekah smiles at the girls, “Everyone upstairs or tickles!” she screams. All three girls run and Bekah turns to me. “Everything okay?”
“The world is burning down,” Guardian says.
“What are we going to do?” she asks. She looks scared. Guardian can’t use that. He has to get that away from him.
“I’m getting a can of gas.” Guardian motions to the stairs. “Go, don’t come down, no matter what you hear.”
Bekah looks at him for a second and she knows. She knows that whatever this is, it is going to destroy her life. This is beyond bad. This is war. She can read the man she loves and she sees blood in his eyes. She sees death in his clenched jaw. This is her point. This is her chance. Her jumping out moment. This is the first one. But there will be many of these and she lets them all go by. For Guardian has fought many battles, some real, some imagined. He has fought for his life, and he has fought for the life of others. He has had allies and fighting partners, but Guardian has never seen anything like Bekah Lynch. He has never seen a warrior like her. She will never walk away. She will never flinch. When she looks in his eyes and sees the face of rage, she embraces it immediately. She can breathe the lightning and she can drink the rain.
Guardian grabbed the phone. Dialed 411. Now, back in the day, if you didn’t have a number you picked up your phone and dialed 411. They asked who you were looking for, and when you told them, they gave you their phone number.
I asked for Lakeland Hospital. I was looking for an ally. I was looking for a warrior. Guardian saw kids in trouble and the first name that came to mind was House.
House was a friend from Pizza Hut. Big guy. Kind. New Yorker. Anyway, now he was a caregiver at Lakeland, a hospital for disturbed or displaced children, and Guardian calls, hoping he is there. When I get him Guardian says, “House, I have a big problem.”
“If I can help, I will.”
“I was just told that my little brother is molesting my little sisters.”
“How old is he?”
“Oh, well, I am in a bit of a tight spot here, Jesse. I have to balance being a friend that wants to help with your brother, and a professional who is a mandatory reporter.”
“House, listen to me. I don’t need a friend right now,” Guardian said. “I need a phone number. Give me the number for a child abuse hotline and get out of my way.”
“Absolutely, brother, you got a pen?”
“No, give it to me anyway.”
House rattled off the number. “Call me tomorrow,” House said.
“You’re doing the right thing.”
“This is a righteous act,” he said. Then he hung up and got out of Guardian’s way.
Guardian looked up to see Bekah walking down the stairs. He glared at her.
“Baby, I want you to leave this room,” Bekah said. “You gotta make that phone call somewhere else. We can hear everything you are saying down here.”
“Keep those girls busy, and tell them I love them and I will protect them with everything I have,” Guardian said.
“Are you okay?” Bekah said.
“I can’t think of anything that matters less than that right now,” Guardian said.
He went next door with the phone number he had memorized and knocked on the door. Uncle Ball lived there and Guardian could see he was awake.
Uncle Ball answered and Guardian shoved his way into the house.
“Ah, hello,” Uncle Ball said. “Can I help you?”
“Give me your phone. I have to make a call,” Guardian said.
Uncle Ball looked at him sarcastically and Guardian knew why. He knew he was being rude. He could not have cared less. Nothing at that point mattered less than Uncle Ball’s feelings. Not. One. Thing.
Uncle Ball gave him the phone and Guardian looked at him. Staring until he walked out of the room. Then, Guardian made the call.
The hotline asked a lot of details. Guardian answered them all. They had a lot of pedigree questions. Who’s stepson was whose and what girl belonged to what wife. Once the family tree was in place, they started to ask what they could and get the answers they needed. After a while the operator said, “Okay, I have to make a few calls and then someone else will call you back. Can you stay by the phone?”
“Can you give me the number?”
“Ball, number?” Guardian said.
Uncle Ball gave his number and Guardian repeated it. He hung up.
Guardian went into the living room to wait. “I’m here until that phone rings again,” Guardian said. “No one touches that phone.”
Uncle Ball looked to have been shot in the chest. He was white as a sheet and sweating. He looked at Guardian and shook his head. “I didn’t know,” he said. “How could I know?”
“Know what?” Guardian said. With dawning horror, he was coming to realize this was not the first time Uncle Ball had heard a story like this one about Grasp.
“When they call back, can you tell them to come talk to Little Man and Dewdrop, too?” he said. “The kids have been telling me these kinds of stories for years. I just told them to stop lying about their cousin.”
That was the moment Guardian seared away all his love for that man. From that moment to this one, Guardian sees that man as a dumpster.
Guardian walked out of the house and got halfway back to Mumble’s when Horrid met him in the street. “So, when you are done kicking this asshole’s ass I am going to get in a few good ones. Those are my babies, no one hurts my babies,” she said.
Mumble was walking to join us when Guardian spoke. “I called the authorities. The cops are on their way to pick up Grasp from work and you should expect officers to come by and talk to the girls later tonight.”
“What?” Horrid said. From her tone, from her face, Guardian already knew what she was thinking and at that moment he seared away every last bit of respect he held for her. He left her behind him, a flaming dumpster of a human being.
“I called the cops,” Guardian said.
Mumble ran his fingers across his bald head and walked away. “No, no, no.”
“I didn’t want this,” Horrid said. “This is not how I wanted to handle it. Kick his ass or something but—”
“He is going to prison. That is where he belongs,” Guardian said. “Do not talk to him about this or the girls. If you talk to them about what he did to them you will tamper with their statements. They have to be interviewed by professionals who will not ask leading questions.”
“This was a mistake,” Horrid said. She threw her arms in the air. “This has gone too far.”
“This has not gone far enough!” Guardian shouted. Horrid was not the kind of woman to be yelled at by anyone but she fell silent that night. “This goes to the end. The boy gets thrown to the hounds in prison, and those girls are never touched by him again. Get your head in this and stay the fuck out of my way!”
Guardian stomped for the house. He walked upstairs to find the girls sitting in a circle playing with their barbies. They jumped to their feet and rushed him. Guardian hugged them close. He kissed all three of them on the head and turned their faces to his.
“I love you and I will never let anyone hurt you. If you ever need me, call me. I will be there, and please never doubt this. I would rip out my own heart if it would keep you safe. No one hurts you and lives.” They kissed him. They hugged him, and they told him they loved him.
Guardian nodded to Bekah and walked away. She followed close behind him.
Smear created an image as they walked out of that house, of the treads they left behind them blazing to pure white fire.
When Guardian got as far as the car Horrid yelled, “Where are you going?”
He backed out of the yard and yelled back. “To start another fire.”
He drove, this time headed to face Rose. “Are you with me?” he asked.
“’Til the end,” Bekah said.
When we got as far as Rose’s house she was not there, so we waited. She had been at church. When she and Honed came home, they found the two of us in their kitchen.
“The world is burning,” Guardian said.
She smiled and set her purse on the counter. “Give your mother a hug, nothing is on fire.” She headed toward him with open arms.
“Mumble told me tonight that the girls are saying Grasp was touching them and making them do things to him.”
“Oh, great, this again!” Rose said.
Fire. Rage. Hate. So much hate.
“What do you mean, ‘this again’?!” Guardian screamed.
“The girls are lying trash. Little Man and Dewdrop said this same thing about Grasp a few years ago. It was nothing.”
“What the fuck are you talking about?” Do you hear it? The anger, the cursing. Do you see the fire in the eyes? Do you hear the scream in the throat? We have seen a firestarter like this one before. We have seen the fist in the air. We have heard the howl of the rebel. Here it is again, rage unfettered. Hate for the world in his chest as he brays to the sky.
This should be Shadow, but it is not. This sort of disregard, this level of rage is housed only within the soul of our middle finger to the world. But this rebel is not Shadow. This unbridled hate does not belong to a teenager who stinks of gasoline. This hate, this rage is righteous. It is not born of a need to push back. This is the howl of the Guardian who has been lied to.
See, long ago a promise was made to Guardian. Rose had just come from court, trying to get Char thrown in prison for molesting Less, and she was furious to find his entire family sitting with him in court. His family backing his sin. She swore to us that day that if we ever molested a child, she would call the cops herself. She swore she would be our “worst enemy.”
Guardian had not come here to argue with Rose. He had not refused a hug out of anger. He refused a hug because he was filled with the same indignation he expected in her.
“This will go away. It always does,” Rose said.
“It’s not going away. I called the cops on him. They are bringing him in for questioning right now,” Guardian said.
“You did what?” Rose shouted.
“What you should have done years ago, it seems!” Guardian said.
“You had no right!” Rose stabbed a finger at him.
“How dare you!” Guardian said. “You promised!”
“Real smart, Jesse,” Honed said.
“Shut the fuck up, Honed!” That was Shadow, right? Surely our reserved knight, our warrior dedicated to honor and steadfastness would never have said those words.
“Don’t use that language in this house. You say sorry,” Rose said.
“I’ll apologize when you apologize to your nephew and niece.” Guardian turned to Honed and pointed a finger. “You are better than this. You know better.”
And Guardian saw it then. Honed did know. Honed knew this was wrong. Knew he wanted to be on Guardian’s side of this fight. He knew that he was going to have to back Rose in this, or divorce her. No way she would stay married to him if he damned her son. No way she would love him anymore unless he defended her baby. Honed looked Guardian in the eye, and the man broke.
Guardian turned to Rose. “They are coming for him, Rose. And I am helping. I am going to send him straight to a prison cellmate.” That had to have been Shadow, but it wasn’t. This was not the face of an angsty teenager. This was him. This was our honorable champion made rebellious and hateful. This was the death of Guardian and the rise of a new thing that would take his shape and howl for a year. A knight of fire filled with rage, attacking everything.
In that moment, that moment of pure betrayal Bekah lost Guardian. When Rose said these accusations had been said before, and it would go away, Guardian widened his hate.
He was fighting everyone now. He was fighting Grasp and Horrid. He was fighting Mumble and Ball. He had within his swing Rose and Bekah, Bekah’s family and the entirety of his life.
Guardian could only see those three sets of eyes and the faces of Dewdrop and Little Man. They were his focus now. They were all that mattered. He would burn the rest of the world to ash. If he could not trust Rose, he could not trust anyone.