Rare is the person nowadays wholly satisfied by a punch in the face and a fishing pole, but Grady Shelton was that kind of guy. He enjoyed simple things, like opening a stubborn pickle jar, landing on twenty dollars even at the gas pump, and bursting Reverend Jolley’s eardrum with one smack for missing a payment.
Grady Shelton spent years running numbers and collecting loans for Donald Perkowski. While he found the work messy, Grady reveled in earning quick cash from enforcing the rules. “A promise is a promise, and Mr. Perkowski’s business depends on trust,” he’d say after piercing the cheek of a delinquent with his tie clip.
But Grady still looked for good in people, even when they scowled or bawled from their knees. He appreciated signs of remorse and any interest in personal development. When unlocking handcuffs or removing the gag from a forgetful client, Grady might offer an encouraging slap on the back and ask, “Now, what did we learn today?”
Later, Grady would belly up at Lilly’s Grill for a brewski and their Stupid Good Bar-B-Que Plate to think through the day’s events and see where he, too, could improve. Over time, as he snapped jabs and broke limbs, Grady developed enough awareness to experience doubt. He saw the salami had two sides, no matter how thinly you sliced it.
Looking out the window from his seat at Lilly’s, Grady Shelton saw Reverend Jolley in the light of the streetlamp across the street. A white bandage circled the Reverend’s head, holding a stack of gauze pads over his ear. Grady watched Reverend Jolley help a drunk get up from the ground. The Reverend spoke a few words and put a twenty-dollar bill in the pocket of the man’s tattered overcoat.
Grady chewed his beef and considered the situation from Reverend Jolley’s point of view. Perhaps the Reverend prioritized the obligations of his calling over the demands of the material world. Who’s to say the Reverend’s Almighty Boss didn’t have an angle on Mr. Perkowski?
Grady sipped his beer and reflected. In high school, he came to understand that we punish and forgive by choice, not by edict. That’s how the Judge explained things after sentencing Grady for crushing the larynx of his sister’s abusive boyfriend. The Judge said, “The court appreciates your motivations. Please consider some restraint in the future.”
All in all, life had taught Grady the value of unhesitating action. Moments like these lanced inhibitions.
Grady Shelton put down the beer, laid a fifty on the table, and walked out of Lilly’s.
Reverend Jolley spotted Grady crossing the street. He sighed a prayer and moved to stand in front of the drunk.
Grady Shelton strode onto the sidewalk, pulled a wad of Benjamins from his pocket, and handed it to Reverend Jolley. “Don’t worry about Mr. Perkowski anymore.”
Before the Reverend could respond, Grady Shelton turned and walked in the other direction with momentum. Three blocks down, he pushed through the door at DJ’s Steakhouse, where Perkowski dined each evening at the twelve-seater in the corner.
“Ah, my wonderful Minister of Justice,” said Mr. Perkowski. “Take a load off and join us.”
Grady Shelton now recognized that, by jobbing for Donald Perkowski, he was not persecuting and holding the line in the name of truth and justice. He was simply persecuting.
Grady Shelton grabbed an empty chair from along the wall, lifted it with both hands and brought it down on the head of Donald Perkowski with such speed and violence that the coroner later removed seventeen ounces of embedded wood and screws from his skull.
As expected, Grady Shelton did not walk out of DJ’s that night. Perkowski’s crew, while awkwardly slow to protect their boss, readily exacted punishment with implements at hand and in holsters.
While bleeding out on the floor, Grady Shelton discovered many hard things and simple truths. Did Grady Shelton, a person you might be proud to know in this moment, feel sad? Angry? Vengeful? No. He was euphoric.