Grief's Melancholy Shade - Chapter 2
By: Susan McNeill and Rhonda Hallstrom
Kermit Griffin crunched the Autumn leaves under his feet as he trudged
across the college campus. The place was crawling with students,
babbling and hustling between buildings. It was hard for him to remember
ever being that young. When he was that age, he'd been digging around in
the jungle, trying to stay alive while an entire country tried to blow
his head off.
Pulling a slip of paper from his pocket, he checked the address. "This
must be the place," he confirmed to himself. Campus housing. It all
looked the same... square and nondescript. Even so, you could see touches
of personality on the balconies of the tiny apartments. Even if he
hadn't known the apartment number, Kermit could have found the place in
an instant. Bright floral wreath hung on the door. Frilly curtains in
the window. Marilyn's touch.
Straightening his coat, he rapped on the door. Marilyn pulled it open
and froze at the sight of him.
"You really should ask who it is before you open the door, Marilyn."
The greeting he expected didn't materialize.
"WHERE IN THE HELL HAVE YOU BEEN!!!!" she shouted into his
face, tears forming from her anger.
He couldn't tell her where he'd been. It didn't really matter anyway.
"I'm here now. If you'll stop ranting like a five-year-old, I'll come in
and you can tell me what the problem is."
It didn't matter that she was a grown, married woman. When Kermit used
'that' tone and she immediately acknowledged his authority -- not willingly,
but out of habit. She stepped back and he walked inside.
The apartment felt homey and warm. Kermit surveyed the surroundings and
was pleased. They were broke, sure. All students, especially the married
students were broke, but Marilyn had made her first home her own using
an odd combination of thrift shop finds and antiques saved from her
They sat down, side by side, on the sofa.
"Where's Rob?" Kermit's brother-in-law was a struggling law student. A
bright, outgoing guy who got on Kermit's nerves the first time they met.
He was just TOO outgoing, but he was a good, decent young man and he
was crazy about Marilyn. That was good enough for Kermit.
"In class, then he goes to work at the library tonight."
"You gonna spill it? I got your message that you needed me. Said it was
urgent." Kermit watched her twisting the edge of her sweater. Whatever
it was, she seemed truly upset.
"I left that message at that damn number a month ago."
"I was out of the country."
"It's David. He's run away and we can't find him." Her panic was
evident. David, their younger brother, was fifteen. The streets were no
place for a kid that age.
"Shit! What has Aunt Helen done about it? Called the police? What?" Now,
Kermit was kicked automatically into big brother mode.
Hearing the growing panic in her brother's voice, Marilyn softened
her anger at his absence. She knew about his troubles, the ghosts he lived
with and tried to hide from her and David. This would only add to the
list. "Kermit...Aunt Helen doesn't care anymore about David than she did me.
We were the 'poor orphaned relatives' that she was doing this great favor
for by taking us in." She immediately regretted inspiring the cloud
those words painted over Kermit's expression.
Anger started creeping into his thoughts. Kermit knew that his sister was
right. They'd had no choice. Marilyn and David had been underage when they
had lost their mother. Their father had been dead for years. Kermit had been
unable to provide the home they needed. His mother's sister had been the
only option. Aunt Helen had never physically hurt her niece and nephew but
she had made it clear that she was inconvenienced. She never made them feel
like anything but impositions on her hospitality. Not loved. Not wanted.
Kermit had tried to ease things with money. He had sent every dime he could
get his hands on to make up for his absence with material things. The money
would go to Marilyn and she'd dole it out between her and David. Once
Marilyn had turned eighteen, she had stopped accepting his money. "Send it
all to David," she had told him in no uncertain terms. She had wanted to
make it on her own. She wouldn't even let him help with college. If she had
known the secret deal he'd worked with the registrar's office to
mysteriously cut her tuition bills, she'd be furious.
Kermit snapped from his regret as Marilyn pulled away and walked
over to her desk. Coming back to her brother, she stood before him
and opened her hand. "He was...he'd been so unhappy, Kermit. But
then...he was always unhappy...."
Marilyn sniffed as she saw Kermit's jaw harden. She hadn't wanted to
tell him that. She knew he blamed himself for 'abandoning' them. But he
had to know David's state of mind in order to help with the problem. He
had a right to know. "He ran away and Aunt Helen found these in his room."
A syringe and a bag of powdery residue rested in her palm. "David's an
addict, Kermit." The tears ran down her face as she looked at the
tools that David had chosen to destroy his life. She closed her eyes as
Kermit stood up then pulled her close, wrapping his arms tightly around her
As he comforted her, he tried briefly to deny the evidence in front of him.
David was a good, bright kid. But that didn't seem to be much protection
from this particular demon. He'd seen it chew up lots of bright promising
kids in Vietnam.
"Rob and I wanted to have him move here with us but they only allow
parents and their children to live here. We'd get kicked out
of family housing if he came to live with us because he's not our son,
just my brother. I'm sorry...I just didn't know how to help him. He
was already out of control before I realized that something like this
was going on. Aunt Helen doesn't care. She filed a police report and
forgot about it." The guilt spread all over her face. "You left
me in charge and.....and....I blew it!"
Pulling her back, he took control. "Look, this isn't your fault. Do you
have ANY idea where he might be?"
"There's a part of town where a lot of runaways hide out. Rob
and I have been down there but haven't had any luck. He didn't have much
money and if he's blowing it all on...well, he couldn't have gone far.
It's really rough down there, Kermit. Anything could happen to him."
Now, he had a mission, a goal to work toward. "Try not to worry and you
ARE NOT to go looking for him again. If he's there, I'll get him." He
got up and went to find his brother.
An hour later, Kermit was surveying the wreck that dared to call itself
a neighborhood. It didn't matter what part of the world he found himself
in, these places were all the same. Dingy buildings, neon, graffiti...
concrete playgrounds where throwaway children huddled together against
the world. It could have been Saigon or Berlin or Miami. All the same.
Kermit Griffin drove carefully amid the stop-and-go traffic, scanning
the street people for his younger brother. There were endless streams of
gaunt faces to be considered. Some were painfully younger than David's
tender fifteen. The children blended in with the hardened older
inhabitants milling up and down the street.
Rolling down the window of the dark blue Cutlass Supreme he had rented,
Kermit pulled up to a curb. Immediately, he was set upon by three
glitteringly-adorned ladies of the night.
"Hey, Daddy," oozed one long-legged blonde as she leaned over her
prospective customer, "that's an awfully nice car. Bet it's nice and
warm in there. How 'bout some company?" Pulling back the short fake fur
jacket she wore, the young woman displayed an outfit brief enough to
court a chest cold in the chilled night air.
"Oh no, Mister Big!" giggled another as she butted her competition out
of the way. "Why settle for beginners when you can have an arteeeeeest!
You lookin' for a date to fog up the green glasses?" Her short, chain
mail halter top swayed back and forth, showing off far too much of her
figure. Smacking gum and grinning, she waited for him to make an offer.
For a moment, Kermit took in the jaded faces leaning in the window.
Beneath the makeup and vulgar clothing, they were children. Probably not
much older than David. Somebody's daughters and little sisters willing
to climb into a stranger's car and sacrifice themselves for a few
dollars. When he drove away, there would be some sick bastard who
would take them up on their offer.
But he wasn't here to save them.
Flashing the most recent picture of David that he could find, Kermit
snapped out his request. "I'm looking for this boy. Have you seen him?"
"Oh, Daddy," the blonde licked her lips, "you'd like me much better than
him. Why don't we just drive around the corner-"
"Have you seen him?" Kermit asked again, ignoring the implications.
The girls immediately shifted gears; young in years but aged in the
warning signs of authority. "Call information, man!" Both backed away
and headed to the other side of the street.
Kermit began cursing himself and parked the car on a side street.
Unfolding from the front seat, he tightened the loose ends of his coat
against the first chill of the Fall.
<"Zip that jacket, Squirt! If you come home with a cold, Mom won't let
you come back and watch practice!">
For a moment, Kermit allowed himself a memory. One from long ago. David
at six, tagging along behind him to watch football practice. <"Get 'im,
Kermit!!" > Looking over just long enough to smile at his little brother
had been just long enough to get creamed by a linebacker the size of a dump
truck. He remembered looking up into the cold afternoon sky, seeing the
linebacker who'd knocked the wind out of him offering a helping hand up --
and, seeing David attached to the boy's back in a furious attempt at
<"Don't you hit my brother!!!!" > David's little fists had mercilessly
the perceived bully.
<"Hey, Griff! Tell him it's okay!" > The older boy gently tried to pull
<"Nobody hits my brother!!!">
Shaking the stars from his head, Kermit had gotten up and peeled the
first-grade avenger from his friend's back. Laughing, he sat David down
on the ground. <"Thanks for the hand, Squirt, but it's just a game. He's
supposed to knock me down.">
David had reluctantly walked back to the bench, but not before leaving a
threat to the mammoth linebacker. <"You watch it, man! Nobody hurts my
The vision of the protective scowl -- picture-perfect, identical to his
own -- made him grin until the welcoming image of his
little brother faded. His current situation reasserted itself in his
mind as he faced a real six-year-old with his hand out. Dirty face and
Without a word, Kermit dug into his pocket for money. The boy took it and
ran. Kermit was left wondering if he'd done the right thing by shoving
money into the child's hand and allowing him to disappear. <Too late now.>
He glanced down at the photo to replace the picture in his mind with the
David that is, rather than the David of long ago.
He hadn't seen David since Marilyn's wedding a year ago. Even then, the
boy wouldn't speak to him. The scorn had been solid as brick. Between
David's wall of anger and Aunt Helen's sarcastic glare and whispers,
Kermit had left early as not to spoil his sister's big day. He'd walked
her down the aisle and backed away into his own life that had nothing to
do with white lace and promises. Marilyn did her best to keep them
connected. The pictures came from her.
The image of the sour boy with shaggy dark hair and big dark eyes in
hand, the young man began his quest among the alcoves and cubbyholes
that hid the throngs of lost youth littering the downtown doorways.
Looking up at the never-ending rows of buildings, he wondered how he
would ever traverse a path to find one lone needle in this haystack. He
had no theories but he did know one thing. He would find David. He
wouldn't stop until he succeeded. David's life depended on it.
He passed the 'ladies' he had met before. He was no less foreboding than
he was inside the vehicle - the ladies hastily stepped a cautious step
away from him, toward the wall, giving him room. He rounded the corner
and steeled himself immediately as a glint of light caught his
<Don't kill. > Kermit thought quickly, hoping the mantra would control the
monster in him born in Vietnam. <Don't kill....>
The owner of the blade stepped up into his face. Stinking breath, scalp
with more oil than hair follicles, a greasy mustache and loud, obnoxious
clothes blocked the sidewalk. Kermit soaked in his amusement to try to
staunch the killer inside him. <They could see him in Cleveland!>
"Ya gotta problem wid my goils," he blustered in Kermit's face, saliva
spattering. "Ya talk ta me; I set 'em awright. Ain'cha pickin' one uf
<And I thought Vietnamese was hard.> Kermit spared him a warning glance,
which did little good, since his gaze was unseen, thanks to the dark
The greasy fat man poked him in the shoulder.
A voice called to the killer inside Kermit Griffin. He tried not to listen.
"'Ey, man, I'se talkin' ta ya....Ya eiter pick one o' my goils or git
outta my space. I mean what I'se tellin'...." The man unknowingly
courted death as he waved his meticulously sharpened blade
Kermit looked at the blade. As before, it only took seconds. One hand around
the man's throat, cutting off air. The another hand gripped the man's wrist,
slammed it against his own kneecap, and smashed the blade to the ground.
Pounding the fat body against the wall, Kermit enjoyed the sound of the
man's greasy head cracking against the bricked building. A knee to the
A kick to the knee. Over and over, he vented his pent up fury on
the pimp's body.
Something caught the killer's eye, a picture that had fallen to the ground.
The images reared up inside his brain and made way for the man that was.
That man slowly blinked to regain his lost senses, eased up on his
death-grip of the now-sobbing behemoth and retrieved the picture. Sticking
the picture in the man's face, while trying to avoid the man's spittle and
tears, the mercenary asked, "Have you seen this boy?"
Staring at the picture through swollen eyes, the quivering victim
stammered, "N-n-no...man...I didn't....Pleazzzze don't kill me...."
Kermit shook himself free in disgust, unable to believe that he'd gotten
this man's filth on himself. He couldn't afford to lose himself again. What
if David was nearby, watching the whole thing?? It would probably be
the added straw that David needed to completely destroy the rest of his
Kermit backed away into the growing darkness of evening, heading
north to the inner-city of 'trashtown' where he knew David could be
But he'd had no more luck with the fifth hour than he had during the first.
It was just too damn BIG. Block after block of the same thing, the same
addiction and desolation. Kermit quashed the realization that he too might
belong here as he continued the search.
He kept at it until he could no longer stand for more than a minute at a
time. When the image of David that he carried in his head began to project
itself on the faces of strangers, he knew it was time to stop.
He climbed painfully into his car and drove mindlessly to his sister's
house. Thank God for the memory lessons Blaisdell had drilled into him.
Somehow, his brain switched to automatic pilot to make the drive to his
Upon arrival, he was greeted by the faint sounds of life. Through the
slightly open front door, he could see that the lights were still on and he
could hear "Rumours" playing on the stereo he'd sent Marilyn for her
birthday. Time was a relative concept for college students and it was no
surprise to find his brother-in-law buried in case studies for his massive
law school workload.
Kermit tapped lightly on the door to get the boy's attention.
"Hey, man," Rob flipped his book closed with one hand and waved his wife's
brother in with the other, "come on in." Rising to his full height of 6"2',
the young man stretched and gulped another sip from his coffee cup. Taking
in the sober and haggard appearance of his guest, Rob looked down at his
watch. "Damn! It's three a.m.! You've been out there looking all this time?
Kermit accepted the invitation and sank down onto the thrift-chic sofa,
silently watching Rob fumble for another cup suitable for company. It had
been a year since he'd laid eyes on him but Rob reacted as if he'd only been
away for a few hours. His easy manner made him a good match for the highly
emotional Marilyn, an anchor Kermit knew she needed.
Rob tactfully turned up the heat and handed him a cup. Folding down
onto the coffee table, Rob kept his voice low. "Mare's asleep. I take it
you didn't find him."
"No." He thought it would be easy. The skills he had enabled him to search
and destroy, to track far more formidable prey than one fifteen-year-old
boy. Once again, his arrogance had given birth to another failure. "I
covered every inch and no one would admit to seeing him."
Rob understood the defeat. "He is there, you know." Rob ran a hand
through his hair in frustration. His own searches had been equally
futile. "You can tell by the looks on the other kids' faces when they tell
you to fuck off and die."
Kermit had heard the same mantra far too often that evening. "Yes, I know."
He wanted to shake each one and make them tell, but the commotion from the
huddled crowds of runaways might have frightened David away if he was
"I thought I saw him once last week," Rob explained in an apologetic
tone. "Chased this kid through fifty alleyways." The young man rubbed
the back of his head at the memory. "Would have caught him if one of his
buddies hadn't hit me over the head and cleaned out my pockets."
Peering over the top of his shades, Kermit gave him a concerned once-over.
"You were lucky, kid. Don't go back down there."
"I had to do it for Marilyn. She's been makin' herself sick and I was afraid
she'd go down there again herself." Lowering his voice considerably, Rob
whispered, "I didn't tell her about gettin' mugged. They only got ten bucks
but she'd be even more upset."
The tender way Rob took care of Marilyn was a comfort. She was in good
hands, clean hands. He couldn't think about the hands that might be
controlling his brother; the hands of some pusher; the hands of some sick
vermin praying on confused children. <Stop! This isn't helping! > He shook
the dread away.
"I have another idea I'll try tomorrow." Kermit drained the fairly decent
coffee and got up to return to his hotel. "Tell Marilyn I'll see her in the
Having more to say, Rob followed the four steps it took to cross the
tiny apartment. <Kermit needs to know about the other injured party. >
"That bitch Helen really unloaded on Marilyn. She told her that she'd
known you were all defective from the start. She told Marilyn that SHE
had coddled David and excused his bad attitude and if anyone should
feel guilty, it's Marilyn. Broke her heart, Kermit, because she believes
it." Rob stepped back as his words took a physical hold on his
Back stiffened with fury at the indiscriminate cruelty he'd left his younger
siblings to languish under, Kermit turned back to face the young man.
"That's crazy! We all know whose fault it is. The one who left both of them
to live with 'that bitch.'" Turning briskly, wrapped in the warmth of his
culpability, the mercenary disappeared into the chilled night air, leaving
a saddened Rob Manse to watch him go.
"That's not what I meant, man," Rob whispered after him and quietly closed