Officer Alex’s memories of his father help him through a hard task of mercy.
Traffic was backed up for a mile in both directions on the narrow road upon which I was perched, pistol in hand, sweat running down my forehead as if the individual beads were in some type of competition. I had to think. I had to doubt. And no matter the outcome of either thought, I knew I had to pull the trigger.
I was concentrating on the task at hand, but I kept running a childhood memory though my mind’s backdrop that I could neither explain nor shake. I couldn’t put a finger on its relevance, but when Dad was alive, he’d told me the story of why he always had a pocket knife with him, and specifically why it always had a razor-sharp edge (as only old-school dads could do).
He’d come upon a neighbor atop a hill near the place his crew played baseball all summer long on a baseball diamond his father had built for them several seasons before, and the neighbor was hanging from his neck from a sprawling Minnesota oak tree.
He described his face as swollen and purple, his tongue sticking out like a sausage, and his legs ever so slightly twitching as he rocked in the wind. Dad said he did the only thing he could think of and grabbed him by the knees and tried to lift him up to take the weight off his neck, but it was to no avail; he couldn’t hold him up long enough and worse yet, he couldn’t end the process because he had nothing to cut the rope with.
The neighbor didn’t survive his terrible choice, but dad found a pocket knife in his father’s dresser drawer that next day and asked him how to use a whetstone, and his new habit was born.
Flash forward 10 years later: A young sailor (my father) happened upon a young petty officer 3rd class hanging by the neck from a steam pipe in the bowels of a darkened engine room aboard a guided missile destroyer named the USS Semmes.
Dad once again reached around the kid’s knees to lift him up, but this time? He had a gentleman’s folding knife in his pocket and cut the man down.
My client today wasn’t a felon (or an asphyxiated sailor), but a red-bone hound with a snapped spine acquired from the front wheel of a once-pristine Harley Sportster, its pilot nursing an injured knee in the back of an ambulance long since departed from the scene where K9 and cycle collided.
I’m not sure what brought the story of my ol’ man’s pocket knife to mind while I trained my pistol sights on this suffering animal’s basilar skull, but the thought persisted like the heat of the summer day around me and the stinging sweat in my eyes.
Preparedness? Obligation? Duty? I had no idea, but all traffic had stopped flowing and it was now time to punch this time clock. I applied slow and steady pressure to the trigger (made easier by the mewling sounds of the mortally wounded dog) and the gun did just what it was supposed to do with a sharp crack and a flash of light, and then it was just me and what used to be a hound dog on the side of the road at the edge of a field.
I signaled to my partners to let traffic flow again, but in the seconds I had until the first car appeared, I thought a few seconds more about the wind passing through the field filled with abandoned rail cars and chunks of concrete from a once-great munitions plant…and of course, about my Dad’s knife.
I holstered my pistol with my right hand and checked my pocket with my left as I headed back to my car, and felt the oblong lump there of his old Uncle Henry…still razor sharp.
I was disgusted by what I’d just had to do...but I was prepared.