Even heroes stumble over the seduction of their addictions.
Tank was grateful to work Christmas Eve, Christmas day, and the day after. It helped him not to think about the fact that his family was celebrating without him. As he took his dinner break on Christmas Eve, he called his son. A man’s voice he didn’t recognize answered the phone.
Gritting his teeth against the jealousy of a man he didn’t know, Tank forced himself to speak pleasantly, “Hello, is T.J. there? This is Tank.”
“Who?” The man sounded confused.
“His father,” Tank was starting to shake with his anger.
“Oh, the deadbeat dad. Hold on,” The man said accusingly.
Tank snarled in defense of himself. “If by deadbeat dad, you mean the guy who puts three thousand dollars a month in his ex-wife’s accounts so she can fu*ck a loser like you then yeah, that’s me.”
“Who the hell do you...”
“Hello?” Irene’s voice came on the line next, it sounded like she had taken the phone from whomever answered. Tank also heard her brother’s voice.
“So now I’m a deadbeat dad? What’s the matter, Irene? Isn’t the three thousand a month I give you enough to whore around on? It’s every cent of my monthly settlement above the debt on the short sale of your house and the half of my salary goes to T.J.'s college.” His rage was boiling in his veins. “You know what, forget it. I’ll call my son tomorrow. I’m going back to work. Happy ex-anniversary.” He hung the phone before she could even speak.
She immediately called back and he sent it to voicemail. He was glad he was sitting in the patrol SUV he shared with another deputy on the empty frontage road parallel to the highway, and no one could see him as released a profanity laden tirade. He loved her but stuff like this made him hate her more than he hated himself. He slammed the SUV into gear and started his patrol route early.
He was just about to turn around and head back down to the valley when a car flew past him too fast for the road conditions. He watched the car begin to swerve one way and then another as the driver over-corrected. As if in slow motion the car spun, went up onto the rail and partly over. Only the rear tires keeping it from going over. He grabbed the radio and called for the assistance. He pulled the SUV up and set the brake before he bolted out. He grabbed the hook on the winch on the front and dragged the cable over the the back of the car. The front door opened and the car shifted.
“Don’t move! Stay in the car.” Tank roared at the woman as she flailed to get out. He was glad she still had her seatbelt on. He hooked the hook of the inch thick cable around her car’s axle. Then made his way carefully beside the car. There was a child crying in the back.
The woman’s nose was bleeding and she looked dazed. The airbag was laying in her lap. “Ma’am, I need you to unfasten your seatbelt. I’m going to lift you out.” When he removed her from the car it settled slightly and he froze for a moment. Stepping back over the damaged guardrail, he carried her over to his vehicle and laid her in the back seat.
“My son, my baby boy,” she slurred in shock as he covered her with a blanket.
“Don’t worry ma’am, I’ll get him.” He ran back to the car as he carefully opened the door the car shifted forward so he shoved the car in the opposite direction, muscling the light compact car into a slightly less precarious position. Reaching to the back of his belt he pulled out his utility lockblade and cut the seatbelt. The baby looked at him with terror as he talked softly to him while trying to untangle the carseat. He chucked the diaper bag out onto the gravel shoulder.
“It’s okay little guy, Mommy’s fine.”
After a few desperate moments, he gave up trying to get the whole carseat out and just unhooked the toddler, pulled him out and held him against his shoulder the way he used to hold T.J.. The car shifted again and Tank backed quickly away from it. He unhooked the winch cable and dropped it on the ground so that if the car went the rest off the way over it didn’t take his patrol vehicle with it, gravity and icy roads negated the fact that his vehicle probably weighed thrice what the small coupe did. The little boy was sucking his thumb as Tank carried him back to his patrol SUV.
“You’re doing fine, little man, you’re very brave.”
The woman inside was crying on his cellphone to someone, “He saved my son... he saved us...”
“Here’s your boy ma’am, just sit still. The ambulance is on the way.” He traded her the phone for her son.
“Deputy Tanner here,” He said gruffly over the sound of grating metal, he turned back to watch the woman’s car go over the edge with part of the railing.
“You saved them...” It was Irene’s voice. She sounded strangely surprised.
Closing the door, he breathed out in frustration then spoke harshly, “It’s my job now. What do you want, Irene? I told you I’m working.”
“I... I’m sorry for what Isaac’s friend said. He... they... You’re not a deadbeat dad, Thomas.” She sounded sincerely sorry.
“Look Irene, I know you hate me, but I can’t do this right now. The car that just rolled off the mountain isn’t the only thing in my life that is upside down right now. ” He spat as he wound the cable of the winch back up. “If you want more money, you’re just going to have to wait until the short sale on the house is paid off.”
“Thomas, I... I don’t want any money and I don’t hate you. It’s just your amends letters upset my family and I may have said somethings that were taken the wrong way,” she sounded like she was about to cry, but he was hurting as badly as she sounded, and at this moment, he didn’t care if she cried.
“I am trying, I am doing the AA twelve steps. Part of it is to make amends. I sent letters of apology to everyone in your decent, churchy family and got nothing but hate back from everyone except your mother. I don’t know why you can’t tell them a single good thing about our marriage. I loved you, I still love you but... but just like when we were married, nothing is ever good enough for you.”
“That’s not true...” She tried to deny the words repeated back to him by her own flesh and blood.
Flashing light approaching saved him from his hemorrhaging soul and he turned off the pain to do his job. “The ambulance is here. I’ll call T.J. tomorrow. Goodbye, Irene.” He hung up on her for the second time in fifteen minutes and sunk down on his bumper for a moment to steady his nerves, then he turned off his phone. He really couldn’t deal with the things she made him feel tonight.
An hour later, the tow company had managed to pull the car back up on the road and drag it onto a flatbed tow truck. The driver laughed when Tank told him that he couldn’t get the car seat out. The young man showed him that is was an installed carseat and removed it with a socket wrench. The young mother and child were at the Medical Center. She had told Sheriff McConnell that she hadn’t been paying attention to her speed because she was tired. That she thought it was a miracle, that the deputy was there and how Tank had shifted the car, and held it until he had gotten her son out.
Tank got her purse and the luggage out of the back and put them into two large cardboard boxes. Driving it to town he dropped them by the hospital, and the elderly uncle had almost shaken Tank’s arm off with his enthusiastic gratitude. Her grandmother had hugged him as she wept with relief. Tank loaded the boxes and carseat from his SUV into the old man’s truck, absently wondering how the whole family would make it home in the single cab truck. They were lucky to still be a family for Christmas. He envied them.
Tank finished the accident report as he watched the snow plows making one last sweep just before midnight, they wouldn’t start running again until 6AM. The snow was tapering off and it was becoming terribly cold as the sky cleared. Tank made his route one more time and went back to the station. He filed the report, and told Dave, the night dispatcher, that he decided to sleep downstairs in one of the unused cells in case a call came in. Laying on the bunk, he turned his phone back on to set the alarm. He had three new messages. The first two were short and angry and from Irene, the one he sent to voicemail and another while he was rescuing the young mother. The third surprised him. It was from Irene’s brother, Isaac.
“Thomas, look... I... I am really sorry. I didn’t know you were helping my sister financially. I mean, I hated you, especially after I got the letter you wrote. I couldn’t believe you would cheat on her, but then she explained that your buddy had gotten you really drunk and set you up to get divorced because he didn’t like interracial marriages. Why didn’t you say that in your letter? We talked for a few hours last night, just Irene and I, and I realized I had never asked your side. I’m a minister, and I know better than to judge another based on one side of the story. Forgive me, I misjudged you. Good job saving that lady and her baby today. If you want to talk, call me. I’d... I’d like to... Just call me.”
Tank listened to the message a second time, then laid back in bed with his arm over his eyes. He needed a drink, needed one badly, but he was either on-duty or on-call for the next few days.
Tank was ready for a drink after 72 hours of work and no sleep. The only bright spot was Christmas day was when T.J. had shouted happily about the hat and half-sized saddle Tank had ordered in his size and the pre-paid riding lessons his great-grandfather had suggested. Irene had tried to talk to him but he had cut her off brusquely and hung up. He couldn’t focus on his job and deal with the pain just hearing her voice on Christmas day brought.
It was 6AM on the twenty-seventh when he finally got off-duty and headed home. He sat in the kitchen and started to empty the whiskey bottle that only had three large shots out of it before this morning. Looking at the pictures of the three of them in the wedding album was physically painful. The pictures were taken on that happy Christmas Eve only four years ago when he and Irene had renewed their vows. The vanilla and coconut candles filled his house with Irene’s smell. He choked on his tears and the burning amber as he remembered how quickly it had all fallen apart. He was asleep on the couch when his phone began to ring, he answered it without looking at the caller ID.
“Hey, Thomas, it’s Isaac.”
“Yeah, what do ya want?” Tank slurred slightly.
“Are you drunk?” Isaac demanded hotly.
Tank realized how he must sound and what quickly responded as carefully as he could. “I was asleep, Isaac. I just got off of a seventy-two hour holiday-duty shift.”
“Oh... Oh I didn’t think about that, I’m... sorry. Really sorry. Just give me a call sometime.” Isaac responded hesitantly. “You know, so we can talk about things... like, I don’t know... How have you been doing since your injury?”
Suddenly Tank’s temper flared as he remembered how alone he was at that time. “I’m not dead yet, much to the disappointment of many of your kin. I know your family hates me and why, but I’m not your dad. I’m sorry I got drunk and hurt your sister. It won’t happen again, and the next time, I get my neck broken, or get shot in the back, I’ll try to have the decency to die. I’m going back to sleep. Goodbye, Preacher Isaac.” He snarled sarcastically, then hung up.
The phone began to ring a few moments later and he ignored it. Getting up, he went to the sink for water. He put the bottle in the trash under a TV dinner box and takeout styrofoam container. He pulled a can of chili out and heated it, ignoring his house phone ringing. After pouring the food into a bowl, it started ringing again and he just snapped. He pulled the phone out of the wall when he saw Irene’s number. He was sitting at the table, eating and looking at the wedding album again when his pappy knocked and came in without waiting.
Tank wiped the tears off his face, hating that his grandfather was witness to his weakness and glad the strongly scented candles hid the smell of his whiskey. “What’s wrong, Pappy?”
His grandfather looked at the still-sealed whiskey bottle in the center of the table and the wedding album his grandson was looking at and asked, “Do you need to go to a meeting today or are you going to drink that?”
“Irene called this morning, she’s worried about you, and so am I.” His grandfather looked concerned.
“No reason to be. The phone woke me, it was her brother, but I’m too tired to talk to hypocrites who want me dead so I hung up and ignored it. I was hungry, I ate, and now I’m going back to sleep. Oh, cows are fed and the ice is broke on the stock tanks, I did it when I got in. Good night, Pappy.” Tank got up and went back to his bedroom. After he heard his grandfather leave, he got a pint-bottle out of the false hamper in his closet and drank most of it. He was just done with this holiday.