From The Book of Cain, by Jeff Lowe

Chapter 2

Sarge was built like the proverbial fireplug, about five-foot-seven and stout with what my father called “old man’s muscle.”  By the gray in his crew cut and the chapped leather of his face I’d guess he was about sixty, and when he shook my hand he said “Ma’am” with a dry, military courtesy, but I could tell he could easily crush my hand if he wanted to.  Unlike Elton Ricks, whose eyes didn’t stop flitting about during our conversation, Sarge looked directly at me, almost as if he were challenging me.

     “So they call you Sarge,” I said.  “What branch of the service were you in?”

     “Marines, ma’am,” he said.

     I nodded and held his gaze.  “My father was a Marine,” I said. 

     “Oh?  Well, that’s good.  I hope he taught you well.”

     “He tried, in the time he had.  He was killed in action in Vietnam near the end of the war.  I was seven.”

     Sarge’s demeanor suddenly changed, as I knew it would.  He stood and saluted me.  I stood, went around the desk and hugged him.  “From my dad to you, semper fi,” I whispered.  “Thank you for your service.”

     “Yes, ma’am, thank you, ma’am.  God bless you and your dad.”

     “Sarge,” I said as I sat back down, “I’ve been sent here to evaluate Richard Tyler…”

     “Look, Doc, he’s a good boy, he really is.  These people here, they just don’t know how to handle a kid like that.”

     “A kid like what, Sarge?  How would you describe him?”

     “He’s tough, Doc.  He’s tough and he’s disciplined.  All these other kids here, they’re a bunch of weaklings, I mean, in terms of moral fiber, physical strength, you name it.  They’d spend all day playing video games if you let them.  But Cain… I mean Richard, he works out every day, every damn day rain or shine.  Hell, you could put him in any of the hardest programs in the Marines, or in the Army Rangers, Navy SEALs, you name it, he’d make it.  Today.  He’s that tough.  Plus he can swing a wrench like nobody’s business.  You name it, he can fix it, boat engine, commode, washing machine, whatever.  And he keeps his room neat as a damned pin.  And no one forces him to, he’s done it since day one.  You can’t do that stuff without discipline.”

     “The therapists here say he won’t talk to them.”

     “I don’t blame him.  I wouldn’t either.  Buncha pussies.  Pardon my French.”

     “You do understand that he needs their approval to go free when he gets out of here, don’t you Sarge?  Otherwise he’ll go to prison.”

     Sarge shook his head disgustedly.  “What’s wrong with people nowadays?  When I was young I got into some serious trouble, just like he did.  And you know what the judge said?  He said, Mr. Gallantine, you got a choice: jail or the military, which is it going to be?  So I went into the Marines, and I turned   out fine.  That’s the way they did things back then.”

     “I know, Sarge, but that’s simply not an option here.  Times have changed.  Richard committed a very serious act of violence to get here.  And according to his record he beat up some kids here, is that right?”

     He pointed his stubby finger at me to make his point.  “That boy may have saved my life that day, Doctor.  There was this kid, Ernesto Reyes, I think his name was.  He thought he was a tough guy, a gang-banger on the outside.  Tried to start that gang crap in here.  He had one of his followers start some trouble in class, so the teacher calls me in.  And just as I’m putting that kid in a hold, this Reyes creep smacks me in the back of the head with an iron pipe.  Just about knocked me out.  Suddenly I’ve got four of these tough-guy kids all whaling on me.  You know who steps in then?  Cain.  He was in that class.  It took him all of about thirty seconds to lay these dudes out one after another.  Saved my bacon.  And what do these administrators do?  Punish him.  Why?  Zero tolerance for fighting!  I mean, what the hell?”

     “Sarge, is it true you were demoted for your relationship with Richard?”

     He nodded.  “You heard about that, huh?  Look, when I first saw Cain I could tell he was a tough guy and I told him in no uncertain terms, boy, if you’re looking for trouble, you come to the right place.  I will put you down like the punk you are.  Well, once he fought by my side, and I didn’t ask him to, he just did it, that was it.  We were brothers.  I wanted to do something for him.  So I brought in a heavy bag and a speed bag so he could work out.  That’s all.  They said I was encouraging him to be violent or some such crap.  So they demoted me from chief of the rapid response unit, where I had served with distinction for fifteen years.”

     “Apparently the therapists are afraid of him.  And they say the kids are afraid of him too.”

     “These kids?” he scoffed.  “These kids worship Cain, let me tell you.  Hell, that’s why the therapists don’t like him.  He’s taught a lot of these kids how to fight.  He’s given some of these kids more real self-esteem by doing that than all these therapists have with all their cockamamie talk sessions.  And they can’t stand it.  That’s what’s going on here, in my opinion.”

     “Sarge, does Richard ever talk to you?  Has he ever opened up about his past?”

     He shrugged.  “No, not in so many words.”

     “How do you mean?”

     “Well, I mean he’s obviously learned a good bit, like how to fight, how to fix things, do chores and whatnot, and he can read and write, unlike some of the kids here, so that tells me he’s had some kind of education from people who know what they’re doing.”

     “But he hasn’t told you specifically who these people were, or what his life was like before the incident that brought him here?”

     “Well, yeah, I suppose that’s right.  He’s not a yapper, for sure.”

     “Has he even used or responded to his actual name, Richard Tyler?  Or has it all been just Cain?”

     He scratched his head.  “Well, Cain, I guess.”

     “Sarge, you’ve read his file, haven’t you?”

     “Yes, ma’am.”

     “You know about how badly he beat that other boy back in Pico County?  In an unprovoked attack?”

     “He made a mistake,” Sarge said.  “One mistake, for crying out loud.  Besides, that kid was probably a real jerk.  His father was a big shot abortionist.  Disgusting way to make a living if you ask me.  I doubt the apple fell far from the tree.”

     “Sarge, that kind of talk is not helping your case or Richard’s, do you understand?”

     “Aw, I was just yapping.  Never mind me.  Cain never said anything about that.”

     “Does Richard ever talk about his mother?”

     “No, why?”

     “The police apparently have a theory that he killed his mother before he attacked the Kernell boy.”

     “Killed his… Ah, that’s bunk.  He wouldn’t do that.  He’s a good kid.”

     “When he was apprehended he had a fresh burn mark on his chest.  Did he ever tell you how he got that?”

     “No.”

     “According to the police, it’s some kind of cult symbol.”

     “That’s ridiculous.  Cain’s not in any cult.  He’s too freaking independent.  But give him a chance and he’ll be a good Marine.  Just like your old man and me.  Just give him a chance, Doc.”

     “Sarge, he’s not Cain, he’s Richard.  The fact that he won’t even answer to his real name tells me there’s a serious problem.”

     “Aw, come on, Doctor.  It’s a nickname, that’s all.  A lot of kids go by their nickname.  Hell, I do.”

     “Sarge,” I said, “I see the tattoo on your forearm.  It’s a crucifix, isn’t it?”

     “Yes, ma’am.  I am a Christian.  Born again.  Bible-believing.”

     “Then you know who the biblical Cain was.”

     “I do.”

     “And you’ve read Richard’s file.  You know of the incident from when he was a little boy.  How he lost his brother.  I would think his insistence on being called Cain, this many years later, might concern you.”

     Sarge lowered his eyes, thinking.  He shook his head as if at an impasse.  Then he looked at me again.  “OK, what do you want me to do?”

     “I want you to tell me what it would take to convince Richard to open up and talk to me.”

     He thought about it for a minute, then shook his head.  “The grace of God,” he said.  “A miracle.”

     “All right,” I said.  “Thank you, Sarge.  Will you please bring him here now?”

     “Sure,” he said.  He took the door handle then turned back to me.  “You know that old movie about Spartacus?”

     “Yes.  Kirk Douglas.”

     “You know how when that Roman asked the group who was Spartacus, and all those other guys stood up and said ‘I am Spartacus’ to cover for him?  I guarantee you, these kids would do that for Cain.  That’s what these people are afraid of.”

     “Yes, well, if I remember my history correctly, Sarge, the Romans killed Spartacus and crucified all his men.  I really don’t think that’s a productive way to think about Richard.”

     “Roger that,” he said.  “OK, I’ll get him.”

(End of Chapter 2.  Go to Chapter 3.)