The guy across the room

I can’t recall one time I said more than “Hey, howyadoin?” to a guy named Joe. I never knew his real first and middle names were Antonio Joselita. I didn’t know he was Philipino. To be honest, I didn’t really know Joe. But I watched him smile a hundred times.

He was a deputy in my home county. Thirty-four years old. He’d just scored a pretty big promotion that led him from the relative quiet of courtroom security to an investigator with a white collar crime unit. I knew him from the courtroom where I have spent hundreds of hours watching the ugly, horrible stories unfold. He was the different face. Not just different because he eyes and skin tone were different. He was different becuase he tended to smile more than other deputies.

Last night, he’d just finished picking up some overtime by keeping an eye on a volatile County Council meeting (another embarassing debacle for another day). He pulled into his driveway, walked up the sidewalk, and came face to face with a gun. It was in the hand of his sister’s ex-boyfriend.

The boyfriend took the deputy’s service weapon, forced him into the house he shared with his parents, and closed the door. While the deputy’s mother and nephew hid in an upstair bedroom closet, the boyfriend called the sister. I don’t know his exact words, but they went something like this.

“I’ve got your brother and father.”

No one will understand what happens in a man’s mind when a girl dumps him. It’s too intangible to put into words. The boyfriend didn’t bother trying. He put all of it into a gun’s magazine.

The upper middle class neighborhood was evacuated. The SWAT team came in, sporting big guns, listening devices, and special phones. They started talking to the guy, and much to their surprise, he started talking back. He was calm. He made no demands. Everything, thankfully, was under control.

But deputies did not see Joe’s hand cuffed in front of him. The did not see what was behind the boyfriend’s eyes. They didn’t see, but they heard.

The popping was immistakable. Its destruction was as well.

The SWAT guys went in hard and fast. And everything was quiet. The boyfriend didn’t say much of anything, and he gave up without a fight at all.

Joe and his father were on the floor–probably already dead–their heads full of holes.

The boyfriend had again defined revenge. He was no different than the guys I watched in court with Joe.

My phone rang about 5:15am, about the time the secondary cops and medical professionals were learning that Joe and his dad were dead. If my wife hadn’t heard the phone, I would’ve been awake four hours later, listening to a cryptic phone message instructing me to put on my pants and get out the door.

For the last 14 hours, I’ve been working on about three hours sleep and mainline adrenaline. It’s only now as I sit down that the sheer stupidity of it all starts to sink in.

A couple of hours ago I was standing in the parking lot of the sheriff’s office. A deputy walked up and asked what was going on. I wasn’t thinking clearly, but I was working on the assumption the 450 or so deputies had already been notified. I said, “Surely you already know.” He didn’t.

I didn’t even think long enough to say something like, “I’d rather not be the one to tell you,” or, “Go ask you boss. It’ll be better coming from him.” I just said, “You know Joe? He died last night.”

The guy stiffened, like a monster hit with something big–but ot big enough–preparing to strike back. He didn’t say anything as he started to walk away. Three steps into his departure he said something, but I didn’t understand him. I wish I knew what he said.

I spend a lot of time writing here trying to make sense of senseless situations. Everything has its box, and I do my best to wrap everything up.

I wish I didn’t get this. I wish I didn’t understand. But I do.

The boyfriend realized that murdering the person who wronged you is not revenge. He realized the only real revenge is lasting revenge.

I knew the suspect’s name before I knew Joe was the victim. I went to the courthouse to look up the suspect’s criminal record. I didn’t understand when the regular court security guys didn’t greet me as they usually do.

I understand now. They recognize revenge when they see it.

Burning in everyone’s eyes today was that defeated understanding. They will get no revenge on the boyfriend. The law doesn’t allow for it. The law only allows them to kill the guy.

And frankly, that just won’t do.

Brad Willis

Brad Willis is a writer based in Greenville, South Carolina. Willis spent a decade as an award-winning broadcast journalist. He has worked as a freelance writer, columnist, and professional blogger since 2005. He has also served as a commentator and guest on a wide variety of television, radio, and internet shows.

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