My eyeballs were floating, and I needed to find a bathroom. I pulled onto I-32.
My name is P. T. Marsh, and Mason Falls, Georgia, is my town. It's not a huge place, but it's grown a decent size in the last decade. Lately we top out around 130,000 souls. A lot of that growth has come from two airlines setting up shop here as a place where they refurbish commercial airplanes. The bulk of those planes get repainted and sold to overseas airlines you've never heard of. But some of them end up right back in the friendly skies above. It's kind of like plastic surgery in the better neighborhoods of Buckhead. Slap on a fresh coat of paint and some new carpet, and no one notices how worn-out the bodies are underneath.
I made it through the cute areas of town. The parts where, during the day, tourists window-shop for Civil War-era vases. Where college kids eat chicken-fried steak and get drunk on buckets of Terrapin Rye.
The numbered streets came then, and along with them, the parts of town where folks lived who worked on those airplanes. The scrubbers, recarpeters, and painters.
I passed 15th Street, 20th, 25th. It had rained while I was asleep at the Landing Patch, and small lakes formed in poorly paved side streets.
I parked my truck behind an abandoned Big Lots off 30th and got out, cutting through the dark neighborhood on foot.
After a few minutes, I found the address on the paper, a worn-down bungalow home. The letter 'B' and an arrow had been spray-painted on the driveway, pointing at a detached back unit.
Small white Christmas lights were on in one window, the only sign of the coming holiday. I walked closer. The bedroom had an entrance that led in from the driveway. Through the screen door, I could see Crimson, faceup on the bed.
The redhead lay there in cutoff jeans and a V-neck with no bra. Her cheeks showed fresh bruises, and her T-shirt bore the face of a Georgia bulldog in pink. I had told her that I'd come by official, with a squad car, a day earlier.
Don't make promises you can't keep, P.T.
It was Purvis's voice that I heard. Of course, he's a brown and white bulldog with a bad underbite, and I'd left him back in the truck by the Big Lots. So maybe it was my voice and his face. The subconscious works in strange ways. Or is that God?
I made my way inside, hurrying to see if Crimson was alive. I leaned over and checked her pulse. She'd been knocked to hell and back, but her breathing was fine.
I shook her awake, and it took a moment for her to recognize me. "Your boyfriend here?" I asked.
In the dim light, she pointed to the living room. "He's sleeping." "You got a friend you can stay with for a couple hours? Let me talk some sense into him?"
Crimson nodded, grabbing her sweatshirt and purse.
I moved to the living room, and my eyes adjusted to the dark.
Crimson's boyfriend was passed out in a sitting pose on the couch in a dirty tank top and jeans.
A brick of weed sat on a wooden table by the couch, and one of the boyfriend's hands was wrapped in gauze. A strip of dried blood was smeared across the fabric.
So here's the thing.
You spend the first thirty-six years of your life learning a value system. What's right. What's wrong. And when to say "To hell with it" and toss the rules aside.
But you accumulate things too. A house. A mortgage. A wife and kid. And somewhere along the way, those responsibilities matter more than right and wrong. Because there's consequences. Doing absolute right can create problems for you and your family. For your career.
For me, that was the road I'd been on. A beautiful wife. Young son. And I'd been as happy as a pig in shit going down that path.
But someone came along and took my responsibilities away. Took away my family. And all they left me with was absolute justice.