MUSED Literary Magazine.
Fiction

Charlotte and Beau

James Moore

I’m enjoying a good night’s sleep when a harsh ringing wakes me at 3:35 am. The phone is on Beau’s side of the bed so the caller is greeted with his groggy baritone. “Who’s this?” after a few seconds, he says, “She’s right here.” He sits up in the bed and nudges me with the receiver. “It’s for you.”

I sit up and take the phone. “Hello?”

The voice on the other end is young, shaky and strained. “Is this Charlotte?”

“Yes?”

“Carmen Paulson gave me your number. She said you could help me. I got my kids out but I don’t know what to do. He’ll wake up any minute and find out we’re gone--”

“Whoa, slow down. Take a deep breath and tell me where you are.”

She takes a breath and continues at a slower pace. “It’s a gas station down the road from the house.”

“Do you have a car?”

“Yeah, yeah I took the car but Ty has his pick-up.”

“Okay, you’re doing great. Just listen carefully and I’ll give you directions to the safe house.” It takes a few minutes for me to explain how to get to the shelter and have her repeat it back to me. Satisfied that she understands, I give her some final instruction. “Okay, darlin’ head to the house right now. Don’t stop for anyone or anything. Got it?”

“I got it.”

“What’s your name, darlin’?”

“Crystal.”

“I’m gonna meet you there Crystal and everything’s gonna be alright.”

“Thank you Miss Charlotte.” She hangs up.

Beau was listening to every bit of my end of the conversation. The lamp on his side of the room comes to life as I swing my feet over the side of the bed and walk toward the closet. “I should be back in a couple of hours.”

“The hell you say. We’ll be back in a couple of hours.”

“Beau, I’ve done this before.”

“Not in the middle of the night you haven’t.”

“It’s a women’s shelter Beau. No men allowed.”

“I won’t be going in the shelter, but I will be driving you and waiting in the car. That’s all.”

Beau’s “That’s all” means whatever conversation we’re having is over. He hardly ever says it, but when he does, he means it. We both scramble for clothes and in five minutes we’re on the road heading to the shelter. I study Beau’s face as he’s driving and I notice that clinch in his jaw that means he’s turning something over in his mind. He’s been working that jaw a lot lately and I’ve been meaning to start a conversation about it. Since we’ve got a twenty-minute car ride ahead of us, there’s no time like the present.

“What’re you thinking about?”

“Not now.”

“Yes, now. You’ve had this underlying pissyness about you for months and I think I know what it is.”

He spares me a glance and then looks back at the road. “Really? Okay then, why don’t you tell me and then we’ll both know.”

“It’s got something to do with my new career.”

“Wrong. It’s got everything to do with your new career.”

“Beau, I thought we were past this. When I decided to get my PI license you said you would support me.”

“And I’m still supporting you. That doesn’t mean I have to like it. In fact since I’ve had a chance to think about it, I realize exactly how much I don’t like it.”

“What’s not to like? I’ll spend most of my time on surveillance, going through people’s trash and looking up public records. Ninety percent of the job is boring, but it’s a job worth doing and I think I’ll be good at it. Where’s the problem?”

Beau gives me a couple of pointed looks while driving. “Here’s the problem: sooner or later during that ten percent left over, you’re going to be forced to use the gun currently holstered under your jacket. Sooner or later either you’ll shoot somebody or somebody’s going to shoot you. I don’t think you can handle the first scenario and I know I can’t handle the second.”

His statement stops me cold. I don’t know what to say right away. It takes another mile of driving in silence for me to address this fear that touches us both. “You’re right, Beau. You’re right about everything you just said. I can’t make any promises about my safety. I don’t know the future, but just about anything worth doing is dangerous. Why is it that you insist on coming with me to the shelter?”

“That’s different.”

“Not really. You know I’ve got a gun strapped to my shoulder. We’re just one crazy abusive husband away from me having to take a shot at somebody.”

Beau furrows his brow. “I don’t know. It just seems different that’s all. At least at the shelter you’ve got Sam there all the time looking after the girls. Plus, with the shelter you’re not going out and looking for trouble like in the PI business.”

“If I do my job right, I won’t be looking for trouble, I’ll be looking for answers.”

“I don’t have a PI license Charlotte, but I know that in your line of work looking for answers and looking for trouble are the same thing.”

It’s time to see where this conversation is going. “What do you want? Do you want me to quit and just run the shelter?”

He hesitates longer than I would like and then shrugs. “I don’t know. The things I want are in conflict. I want you to be happy and I want you to be safe. Lately it looks like you’re not happy unless you’re in danger.”

“That’s not fair.”

“Maybe, but I said it anyway.”

Uncomfortable silence rules the rest of the trip.

It’s that dark time before dawn when we arrive at the shelter. Beau drops me off a good distance from the front door and then drives around to the far side of the house. Before we left I alerted the house mother, Samantha Hardcastle, of our impending arrival. She watches over the ladies in the shelter when needed. Sam is a six-foot red-headed former Marine. Everyone calls her either “Sam” or “Ma’am”. She meets me at the front door and not long after that, an old Ford station wagon pulls into the dirt driveway.

Crystal gets out and opens the rear driver’s side door. Two children step out as if they’ve landed on an alien world. The girl looks to be eight years old. The boy is eleven. They come closer to the light of the front porch. A shadow of fear is on all three faces but more so on the children. All of them are in their pajamas and look like they had just woken up from a nightmare. I step off the front porch and take steady careful steps toward Crystal. She´s so young! She can´t be much older than my oldest boy Justin. There’s an old bruise on her forehead and a new one under her left eye. Her face is wet with tears. I hold out my arms and she steps to me to receive my embrace. Crystal hangs on for an extra few seconds to stop her sobbing and gather all the strength she can. Then I hear Sam’s gruff voice behind me. “Who’s that?”

Looking up from the hug, I see another pair of headlights coming down the road. The way the light beams dance around, it’s clear the driver is having trouble holding a straight line. Crystal speaks in a soft panic. “It’s him. That’s Ty’s truck. He must have followed me!”

I grab her shoulders to make sure of eye contact. “Crystal, take your kids inside right now.” Without looking away, I yell, “Sam! Take care of them.”

As Crystal gathers her kids and heads to the house, I look back to the headlights confident that Sam is corralling everyone inside. The rusty pick-up stops just short of colliding with the station wagon and the driver manages to open his door on the second try. Ty is six feet and six inches of drunken red-neck with dark hair and broad shoulders. It’s clear he’s never missed a meal or a beer run. He’s screaming as he exits the car.

“Crystal! Crystal! You get your ass out here gal, RIGHT NOW!”

I take a couple of steps backwards toward the house keeping my eyes on Ty. “You can’t be here. This is private property.”

“Crystal!” Now Ty focuses on me. “Who the hell are you bitch?” He swings a meaty arm back at the station wagon. “That’s my car. You get Crystal out here!” Ty closes the distance between us and I back-pedal toward the house. My mind goes to the gun in my shoulder holster when I hear Beau’s voice to my right.

“Hey! Hold on. What’s the problem here?”

Ty shifts his focus to Beau, “Who the hell are you? Mind your own damn business."

Beau puts his hands up in surrender. “Hey, hey I understand. Just take it easy cowboy. You want your wife, right?”

“You’re damn right.”

“Ok, but there’s something you have to know first.”

“What? Kiss my ass."

“No, really you need to hear this.”

Beau is amazingly relaxed and calm. He was on the wrestling team in college and his body language now reminds me of how he would be just before a match. He steps between me and Ty. Ty stumbles forward and grabs Beau by the shoulders to push him aside. “Get outta my way!”

In one smooth motion Beau uses Ty’s momentum to swing him to the left and trip him so he crashes to the ground. Ty looks up at Beau with anger, I look at Beau with astonishment. At this point my husband has two words for the red-necked Hulk, “Try again”.

Ty scampers to his feet and bellows some curse word as he charges at Beau. Different tactics same result. This happens two more times before Beau takes the opportunity to pin one of Ty’s arms behind him and sit on his back. Beau speaks to Ty in a quiet tone. His words are soft but I can hear them clearly. "Here are your choices: You can go home or you can go to the hospital. Beau gives the arm a little twist to drive the point home. Ty’s a beaten man. He surrenders with one word.

“Home.”

“Smart choice.”

He releases Ty, helps him to his feet and tells him the plan. “Get to your car and wait for me.” Ty heads to his car like a scalded puppy while Beau walks over to talk to me.

He takes my hand. “You happy?”

“Shut up and get in the car.”

He smiles that reassuring smile. “Yes, dear.”

I spend the next forty-five minutes following Beau as he drives Ty home. When we get there, Beau and Ty go in. After about fifteen minutes, Beau comes out and returns to our car. Ten minutes into the drive back home, the sun rises behind us.

“What did you say to Ty during the drive?”

He knew it was coming. “Nothing special.”

“Okay, don’t tell me. Do we have to worry about Ty getting to Crystal?”

“I don’t think so. Not for a couple of days anyway. By then you can get her to another shelter, right?”

“I think so. We can make it a priority.”

Beau has a relaxed look about him as he drives us home. He’s relaxed most of the time. “You were thinking about going for you gun weren’t you.”

His question surprises me. I respond with a lie. “Not really.”

He already knows the truth. “C’mon.”

“How’d you figure that out?”

“You seem to forget I know you. Darlin’, since you’re resolved to use that thing please promise me that you’ll get more training on when to use it and when not to. Deal?”

I did start to freak out back at the shelter when Ty was advancing on me. Maybe Beau’s right. His request is reasonable enough. “Deal.”

There are no more words for the rest of the ride. In the meantime, we share the silence and the sunrise. Beau continues to look out upon the open road as he places his hand on my knee. I place my hand on his and smile. There are so many ways to say, “I love you” and most of them don’t involve words at all.