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starts out drinking vodka but finishes on beer to maintain a high and insure a little less Pepto-Bismol consumption. On a good weekend he’ll empty two fifths and a case of Budweiser.

      Staymen, beyond being an alcoholic, is a pathetic human being. He was abused as a child and witnessed two older sisters sexually molested by his father. A family tradition he carries on beating Jim and the sexual abuse of Brenda since she was six. His mild-mannered response to Jim’s refusal for church has its roots firmly planted in the fact he’s planning on leaving the family after collecting the $25,000 insurance policy his deceased wife carried at her job in a small credit union. That check is coming in the mail in two weeks, but Staymen will never cash it.

      The sixteen-gauge shotgun is pulled from the corner of his closet and loaded with five shells. Jim’s mind is swirling with activity pacing back and forth in his bedroom. The thoughts are not questioning the intent to kill Odis, but what is the best plan to execute it.

      He decides to watch Odis pull in the driveway through the living room window, then hide in a small bathroom next to the kitchen only a few steps from the front door. When Odis walks into the front door, he’ll come out to do the world and his sister a favor.

      A long forty minutes later the plan is put into action. Brenda opens the front door and starts up the stairwell to her bedroom on the second floor. Jim watches posed on a small crack in the bathroom door, but for some reason Odis isn’t right behind her. Odis is talking to a neighbor about a strange dog running around in the neighborhood and depositing unwanted things on their lawns. The next door neighbor is a drunk too, and likes the way Odis thinks. Far more will be deposited on the front yard than dog feces for the neighborhood to talk about shortly.

      Jim opens the door slightly as his sister closes her bedroom door at the top of the steps. He eases out into the kitchen, the shotgun pressed against his shaking shoulder firmly like his Grandfather taught him. Odis disengages the next door drunk and heads up the three steps to the front door intent on visiting Brenda in her room.

      When he opens the front door Jim is no more than ten feet in front of him, the shotgun pointed at his chest. Odis stops. He is shocked at first taking in the threat, but it quickly wears off replaced by anger.

      “What the hell are you doing pointing that shotgun at me, boy?” The man wearing the clean Target shirt demands.

      Jim didn’t contemplate conversation; in fact, he intended to blow him away the moment he came into the room but now the devil’s tongue is wagging at him.

      “Staymen, you ain’t ever going to hurt Brenda or me again.” A determined voice predicts the immediate future.

      Brenda hears the exchange and comes out on the small landing on the second floor.

      Odis Staymen did what he always did when angry at Jim; he unbuckles his Texas Longhorn belt, pulls the belt from the loops in his jeans and starts toward the barrel of the sixteen- gauge he foolishly believes will never be used.

      Brenda screams watching Staymen advance and Jim turns his head at her voice. Odis grabs the barrel of the gun in the distraction and tries to yank it away from Jim’s grip. The first blast knocks Odis back to the open front door. Before he gets through the doorway, Jim fires a reflex second shot ripping the once-new Target golf shirt leaving no doubt just how dead Odis Staymen has suddenly become.

      Jim doesn’t remember much about the events following the shooting. He and Brenda sit on the couch holding onto one another when the cops came through the front door and kicks the shotgun away from the coffee table in front of them.

      Jim is cuffed and put in the backseat of a squad car. The last time he sees Brenda alive, Mrs. Dennis’ arm is around Brenda’s shoulder. Both are crying as the police car pulls away from the dog shit still lying on the ground covered up by a blanket.

      The criminal process in Texas is hard on anybody that jumps across the bold line of the law. Jim has a number of things in his favor when going to court, not-the-least he’s only thirteen-years old and killed a child molester. But murder is taken seriously even in the so-called “gun capitol of the free and brave” and there’s a price to pay.

      He spends the next eight years in a boy’s reform school run by a number of tough Catholic priests wielding a strong hand when it came to discipline. Jim left one child beater bleeding on the ground only to be introduced to a dozen others carrying the same leather Bibles and belts. Jim finds his repentance in many strip clubs but no churches when released shortly after his twenty-first birthday and moves to Southern California.

      Nothing is left in Dallas to keep Jim Cirmah. Sadly, Brenda committed suicide three days after her seventeenth birthday when her boyfriend tried to touch her breast and she panicked in the process. Odis Staymen’s last gift to the Cirmah family is an everlasting one.

      CHAPTER THREE

      Not Private /

      JIM CIRMAH STUDIES the length of the pool table eyeing the eight-ball setting temptingly close to the right rear pocket. All he has to do is drop the nine-ball lying half-a-foot from the side pocket; aiding the task, he gets to set the white ball at the correct angle due to his opponent’s scratch. The Q-ball kisses off the nine dropping in the side pocket and continues down the green surface stopping a convenient ten inches from the eight-ball. Jim stretches his six-three frame over the end of the table and knocks the eight-ball home.

      A smile erupts on Wayne Davis’ face, Jim’s best friend since Jim moved to L.A. nine years ago. They connected by a chance meeting at the pool table being played on now. Wayne walks to the other side of the table and collects twenty dollars from two new bar faces not having a clue Jim Cirmah is a pool hustler, honing his game over many beers and bets.

      Jim and Wayne are polar opposites physically and mentally. Jim towers over Wayne’s five-eight height and is two-hundred and fifteen pounds of muscle he works on daily. Wayne might be the north side of one sixty after a few beers, but hasn’t exercised since wearing black socks in a middle school gym class. Jim has a mean streak honed by a love for boxing he gravitated to serving his time in the juvi-home. The priests encouraged it, so Jim trained and boxed many sanctioned Gold Glove events and even more fights outside the ring. He seldom lost at either. Jim didn’t live in a depressed world many would fall into considering his family history, but if someone enters Jim’s circle and crosses the thinnest of lines they better be prepared to defend themselves.

      Wayne likes the fact that Jim is tough. Wayne manages a couple dozen young computer junkies that repair commercial and residential computers with the Geek Squad by day and hack their way through all kinds of mischief by night. His only touch into rugged comes through his card and pool playing around Jim and a relief from the boring ‘other life’ making him a living. Jim’s reason for liking Wayne may be no more complicated than opposites attract. Jim has always been a protector of the oppressed; and when Wayne is in the tough bar scene Jim likes to frequent, he definitely falls into that category.

      Jim made his living by photo chasing wayward husbands and wives at night, and bringing back not-so-nice guys that jump bail to avoid facing whatever justice the law attaches to their resumes. It made him enough money to get through next month’s bills, but more importantly places him on the edge between insanity and mayhem. It also gave him a legitimate reason to carry a .40 caliber pistol, supporting the addiction to weapons developed on his Grandfather’s farm years ago.

      Because of his youth, Jim’s shooting of Odis was sealed by the court in Texas and he slid under the radar when the State of California ran their background check to get a weapons permit for his private investigator line-of-work. The job connected him to the law and lawless. Many of the people he knows are cops that came to him because he ran the streets and has a feel for which way the wind is blowing when standard police procedure didn’t work. Several on the force hang out with Jim, all cut from the same cloth constantly on the prowl seeking energy coming from trouble. Jim rarely disappoints.

      Wayne walks around the table and hands Jim a twenty earned as eight-ball partners. Two bikers, displaying more ink than the U.S. Constitution, lay eight quarters on the table to pay for the next game and challenge Jim/Wayne to a round of eight-ball. Wayne drops the coins in the slot, pushes the lever in with

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