TORMENTING THE TIGER
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When Biannie Burton’s abusive husband Charlie dies in a motorcycle accident, she looks forward to creating a new life for herself and her family, never dreaming Charlie will be more trouble dead than he ever was alive.
Charlie didn’t deserve an urn, so I put his ashes in a coffee can. It was either that or the rosy-cheeked Santa cookie tin from last Christmas. The coffee can didn’t take up as much space. Christa “Biannie” Burton’s Journal
Later, looking back on the events of that evening, Biannie realized she should have known something was up. Charlie never sent their sons on errands, and especially not to Tulsa. He was of the opinion that if you wanted something done right, you did it yourself.
So she should have been on her guard when Charlie came home, and said, “No need to set places for the boys. I sent them to pick up those parts for Caldera’s Lincoln. He wants it tomorrow.”
“You sent both of them?”
“It’ll be late when they finish,” he said. “I didn’t want either one of them on the highway alone at night.” He smiled his wolfish smile at her from beneath his Wyatt Earp mustache. “They think they’re hot stuff, but they got a few more dues to pay” His blond hair gleamed in the kitchen light. He stepped toward her, caught her arm in a bruising grip. “And you and I haven’t had any quality time together lately. Not since my boys and me had that little misunderstanding.”
That little misunderstanding over a year before involved Charlie, upset because of something he thought she’d done, beating her until she could scarcely stand. Eldon and Ken, her teenaged sons rushed in to stop him. Charlie had turned on them like a massive grizzly and laid their older son, Ken, out on the floor at Biannie’s feet with one blow. Eldon, younger but more street-wise, came in armed with a baseball bat. One blow to Charlie’s shoulder stopped him from pounding on Ken. A second blow to the side of his head left Charlie unconscious. Eldon insisted Biannie call 9-1-1 while he was still unconscious.
Charlie, in the custody of the policeman who responded to her 9-1-1 call, went away for stitches and some mandatory anger management therapy while Ken and Eldon kept the family’s garage, Everything Lincoln, going. A month later, when Charlie returned, it was like a new person had moved into the house. Things had been better then.
For a while.
Ken graduated from high school a couple of months later and Charlie attended the ceremony.
Eldon’s baseball team made it to the finals. Charlie was at the final game.
Biannie’s Vietnamese mother, Giang, forty years in the United States and still not assimilated, kept saying, “Leave him, Biannie. Tigers don’t change the stripes.”
Biannie should have listened to her mother. She should have disappeared while Charlie was learning to be a kinder, gentler maniac. But Biannie was, unfortunately, a stubborn optimist. Blame it on her Vietnamese heritage. Or blame it on her soldier father, but “Quit” wasn’t in her vocabulary. Maybe this was the break she’d been waiting for. Maybe Charlie truly was a changed man, and they’d finally have a real family, a loving family. Charlie fostered that fantasy. He smiled and cracked jokes. He and the boys developed a wary relationship. He even teased Biannie sometimes as well, making her doubt her memory of his earlier cruelties.
But then came the evening he sent the boys to Tulsa.
Lights were on all over their house when Ken and Eldon returned that evening. Up and down their street, brightly lit candy canes, kneeling wise men, and red nosed reindeer glistened in anticipation of the coming holiday. Ken parked his Camaro beside the motor home his dad had bought just a few days earlier and they climbed out into a mild December evening with a full moon lighting their street. The television in the family room must have been turned on full blast. The voices, laugh tracks and music, clearly audible in the driveway, were loud enough to annoy the neighbors. Ken looked at Eldon, then sprinted for the front door. It was unlocked.
Eldon peered through the small windows into the brightly lit garage. “Dad’s chopper’s gone,” he yelled as he hurried after Ken.
At first they thought Biannie was gone as well. When Ken turned off the television in the family room, the house was silent. Cautiously they moved through the hall, looked in the living room and the small room across the hall that served as an office. No sign of Biannie. The family room and the laundry room and pantry were empty as were their bedrooms. Finally, Eldon found her between her side of the bed and the wall in hers and Charlie’s bedroom. She was curled into a fetal position, unconscious. Bruises marred her pale arms as if they had taken some of the blows meant for her face or her stomach. Her face was a bloody mess.
“He’s a dead man,” Eldon said and his gentle tone was more frightening than a shout. “He’s a dead man.”
Ken silently went to the phone and dialed 9-1-1.
Several hours later when they brought Biannie home from emergency and helped her into the rented wheelchair, two policemen waited for them on their front porch.
Charlie Burton was indeed a dead man.
(Chapter 2 tomorrow)