Grief's Melancholy Shade - Chapter 9
By: Susan McNeill and Rhonda Hallstrom
The waves were slowing. David was sleeping more and the agonizing
pain was less. Around the clock, Kermit stood by him.
Days bled into nights. Time went by and they both began to
Sitting calmly and comfortably on the couch with his brother was a new
experience. As long as Kermit remembered, David had been the personification
of childlike energy. But here he was, munching on popcorn, sitting still and
watching the TV movie of the week. DIRTY HARRY. Kermit had
snorted at the choice but it was better than nothing.
Come to think of it, the Griffins were an intensely emotional lot,
Kermit reflected. They just had different ways of expressing it. David
would typically bounce off the walls. Kermit would hold all the
rampaging emotions inside where they would erupt once in a while.
Marilyn was the heart and soul, sharing her emotions with tender, loving
care. Now, Kermit was trying to keep David calm.
"Yeah?" Kermit didn't want to play any more guilt trips. He just wanted
this over. Thank God David was staying more sane with each wave of the
withdrawal. Every time, there was a much longer period that David was
lucid. Kermit only hoped that there would be something left of him after
the week was over.
"What's it like to kill people?"
Kermit threw a glance at his brother. That question had come out of left
field and it surprised him. Clearly, David was after something. Maybe to
befriend the enemy? Kermit gave a mental shrug. <Why not? >The kid
wasn't getting out no matter how many buttons he pushed. He wouldn't get
anything from it - except maybe some insight. "'What's it like?' Are you
asking me if I like to kill people? Think I hose down McDonald's with a
"I think you're too subtle for that last one."
Kermit snickered. "You're right." He sighed, trying to put his jumbled
thoughts in order. "When I kill, there's a purpose. I don't like it and
I don't go out of my way to do it. I just do what has to be done."
Seeing David's look, he attempted to clarify. "It's like being in a war.
You have an enemy. You try to accomplish your objective and, if they get
in your face or your life is threatened, you kill them." Kermit frowned;
he didn't like his choice of words. He only hoped that David wouldn't
"You kill for self-defense?" The boy was openly curious now.
"Most of the time." Not exactly a lie.
"But your life wouldn't be in danger in the first place if you hadn't
put yourself there," David said, probing further.
"Yes." Kermit really didn't like the way this was going.
"So you go into a 'mission', deliberately put yourself in danger,
knowing others will try to stop you, and you kill them. But you set it
up in the first place!" David was pleased to see that his slippery logic
was beginning to make the other squirm. Not physically - he knew
Kermit's demeanor wouldn't be ruffled by an exploding bomb. But there
was something that showed...
"By that logic, you seem to think I set it up just to kill them," Kermit
told him. "That's not true. If all I wanted to do was kill, I would go
to that McDonald's with that submachine gun." More skilled at the game of
logic than the boy, he employed another analogy. "What about cops,
David? They put themselves in situations where they have to kill. The
option to be there or not doesn't really apply, does it?" A slight
understanding began to dawn in his brother's eyes. Slight but there. "A
lot of times, I don't have to kill. Just break into an installation, get
the information and get out again. If I'm good enough, I avoid people
and thus avoid killing." He reached out to the kid but David drew back,
so he let his hand drop back onto the couch. "I didn't choose this life,
David. It chose me."
"You didn't have a choice?" David was smirking now. "Talk about double
standards! All this time, you've been telling me I have a choice with
the drugs, my monster, my rages! To give it up or to live with it and
living with it would kill me, so you say I should give it up. But what
about you??? You've chosen your monster so what's wrong with
mine?! At least mine doesn't hurt anybody else but me!"
Kermit's heart sank. How could he explain? "That's wrong, David. Your
addiction will eventually kill you. It does hurt others. The family that
loves you. The people you steal from to get more smack."
"Your life hurts the people who--" David stopped the word before it came
"I don't have a choice about the rages, David. I've become more of the
master but sometimes it happens whether I want it to or not. I wish I
could give it up. I'd give anything to get out of it. But David, you
tell me my options. What would you have me do? I've found a way to do
something good with what's left of me." Turning his body toward David,
willing him to understand, Kermit clarified his purpose. "There have to be
people willing to do what I do so that innocent people can stay that
way. I choose who I work for and what missions I'll accept."
"Yes. For money."
"So that's how you decide? The highest bidder gets your services, big
brother? That sounds like another profession I know." David leaned back,
satisfied look on his face.
"No, David. I decide by what my guts and research tell me. By what's
worth dying for." He wasn't sure who the explanation was for -- David or
himself. "I've been wrong before but not often. So, to answer your
question, I'm not some armed version of a hooker. I'm trying to do
something good with this 'thing' inside of me. Violence exists. I can't
change that, but I can use it against the bad guys. Can you understand
Maybe he was worn down by the constant barrage of pain and words. Maybe
he saw a glimmer of the hero he'd known as a boy. <"Nobody hurts my
The gratification David expected to feel as the discomfort and shame
played through his older brother's eyes never materialized.
"I don't claim to be a saint, David. I don't ask for anyone's pity or
understanding. But I have to live with myself. That's what a man has to
do, David. Face what he is and make something out of it. Take
responsibility for it and keep going." He'd reached his own end of the
wave. Taking the empty popcorn bowl, Kermit escaped to the kitchen.
After he reached the kitchen, his hearing picked up the pulse of
dialing. First instinct was to pick up the other extension but something
softer of heart told him to hold back. Focusing on the sounds, he
strained to hear.
"Marilyn...it's me." David's voice was trembling. "I'm gettin' better.
I think. Yeah, it's hard but...uh...I just wanted to tell you something."
Voice breaking, the boy tried to take on some of the responsibility.
"I just wanted to tell you I'm sorry. REALLY sorry, not like before. I
hurt you and you didn't deserve it."
Listening intently, Kermit looked around the corner to see a small
tear run down David's gaunt face.
"I love you, too, and I'm gonna try. Uh...no...I don't think you
should come here, wherever here is." David huffed a tiny laugh. "I
got some stuff to work on. Okay...oh, and tell Rob I'm sorry, too. Bye."
Disconnecting, David let out a pent-up breath. Some little piece of the
beaten remnants of his soul won a victory, a small one. Turning around,
he came face to face with another pair of dark eyes that matched his
own. He had taken off the green shades and Kermit's smile wasn't
the sarcastic grin he usually wore, but one full of warmth and kindness.
For a moment, he enjoyed the approval.
But David Griffin wasn't ready for approval.
"What?!" He snapped. "It's one phone call not some holy communion!"
Softening his defenses, David walked toward the bedroom. "I did mean it,
As David disappeared under the covers of his bed, Kermit felt a spark of
hope. He knew that firewall. He used it daily. He also knew what that
phone call was -- an admission, one first step.
"I know you did, Squirt." Suddenly, the days to come didn't seem quite
as foreboding. There was a light at the end of the tunnel for all of
The week was finally winding down. They hadn't fought a spasm in
fourteen hours and counting. There were minor stomach cramps, of
course, but nothing to compare with what he had lived through.
David wandered around the cabin aimlessly. Kermit had taken him at his
word that he would not try to escape. Now, that was a tough call. He
could escape. The doors and locks were impenetrable but the windows
weren't. There were plenty of things here that would make a very large
hole in any one of the windows he chose.
<So, what's stopping me?>
Maybe because he had promised Kermit and, for once, his word would mean
something. Maybe because he wanted Kermit to see that he could do it.
Maybe it was simply because he didn't know where the hell he was. He
would starve to death before even reaching the next city to start over.
David kicked at the sofa in frustration before plopping into it,
spreading out lengthwise, and looking at the ceiling. He couldn't help
himself. All the voices he had heard were echoing in his head, burning
him far worse than the smack, making themselves heard over and over.
<"I'm here with you. Ride it out.">
<"You're safe with me">.
<"She forgives you and loves you. She's here with us trying to help.">
<"You got lost but we're finding you, Davey.">
<"You don't really want to die, anyway.">
<"Kid, I'm not going anywhere.">
<"You have it all wrong, kid. He didn't want to leave you.">
Whatever the past, whatever Kermit was, it was obvious that Kermit was
more than David had thought, more than he knew. The Vietcong didn't
mean much to him but hearing the story of Kermit's recovery from Paul
Blaisdell had opened his eyes a little. Kermit couldn't even bear
daylight?? He was forced to wear the sunglasses to protect himself
rather than just adopting a character quirk. The beatings, the
starvation....David tried to imagine it. He didn't have to imagine very
hard. He had been on the receiving end of those same things. But there
was a difference. David had his freedom. He could run and hide to escape
it, if only for a little while. Kermit hadn't had that luxury. He
imagined the torture of those six weeks and found himself shuddering.
Maybe they had something in common after all.
Maybe he could even give the guy a break...listen to him. Now that his
mind was clearing, he could remember things. Things that made him blush
to remember. Like toddling after a gangly teenager who gladly played
with him anytime he wanted.
<"Love you, Kermit.">
<"Love you, Davey.">
His reverie was broken by the jumbling of the door lock. David sauntered
over, trying to look casual, as the door opened with a crash. Kermit,
his arms overloaded, struggled in, leaving the keys in the lock.
"Enjoy your shopping trip?" David queried sarcastically, amused at the
sight as Kermit dumped the boxes on the floor.
"Funny kid," Kermit retorted. "You going to stand there catching flies?
Get that big one out on the porch, will you?"
It was an obvious ploy at offering trust. David walked forward to see a
tall, rectangular case leaning against the doorjamb just outside the door.
Taking the handle, he hoisted it carefully, somehow realizing that whatever
was inside was fragile and...special.
He pulled the door shut after him. "So what was so important that you
had to go out into the world?"
"You, as usual, kid." Kermit lifted the boxes again, being none too
gentle about opening them and spilling out the contents. Jeans, shirts,
socks and underwear covered the small couch. "Hope they fit." Taking out
another bag, he unwrapped a large, military-issue bag, presumably to
hold it all. "You've actually managed to gain a little weight." Pulling
out a leather bomber jacket, exactly like the one he had sent months
ago, Kermit pulled it up over his brother's shoulders. "Looks great on
you, kid. Take a look."
Following Kermit's inclined thumb, David turned to the hallway mirror
and perused himself. Frankly, he'd seen better complexions in horror
movies - on the zombies - but if Kermit said he looked better, then he
looked better. Feeling a touch of shame at what had become of his last
jacket, he wondered if Kermit knew. A stray lock tumbled over his
forehead into his eyes and he irritably shoved it aside. Catching his
big brother's look, he grimaced. "I suppose next you're gonna want me to
cut my hair."
Kermit raised an eyebrow as he arranged the clothing into neater piles.
"It's your hair. Wear it however the hell you want. I'd never wear mine
that long but why should I care how long your hair is?"
"Helen would have held me down with the chain saw to cut it."
"I'm not Helen. I would suggest that you wash it, though."
Pointing toward the large package, Kermit said, "You open that
David looked at the large cardboard box just like it was a poisonous
snake. Kermit refused to change expression as the boy cautiously opened
it and was stunned speechless. Pulling out a long black case, David
gasped in anticipation.
It was a black Gibson Les Paul electric.
Kermit couldn't suppress the grin spreading across his face. "Now, if
anyone takes this guitar away from you, tell me."
His eyes shining, David mumbled, "What would you do? Kill them?"
"Over a guitar?" Kermit snorted. "I'd just buy you another one, and get
you a case with a lock and key. The Marshall stack is outside."
If possible, the boy's jaw became even more slack. Then, all of a
sudden, a hint of his former energy was apparent. "Igottaseeit!!!" In a
flash, he was out the door and back minutes later, struggling to carry
the huge amplifier into the cabin. "Can I try it now, Kermit??" The
begging would have melted solid stone.
"That's what it's there for."
Kermit sprawled over the chair as he watched the young man operate the
musical instrument as sure and as expertly as he had wielded a hypodermic.
Soon, the sounds reverberated throughout the rustic cabin. There was
pure joy on the boy's face as "Layla" was delicately coaxed from the
"Derek and the Dominos! Great, kid!" Kermit's musical tastes had
changed over the years but he still enjoyed Clapton.
David, so enraptured by the joy of creation, never answered.
Just continued to wail away on his new gift.
Kermit had seen this expression of ecstasy before on David's face. He
much preferred it here and now as he closed his eyes and
listened....listened as David played his heart and soul.
David hoisted the ax above his head and sent it into the log
with a resounding thunk that echoed throughout the trees.
Sweat was pouring down his forehead -- he'd been at this for over
two hours -- and his muscles hurt but it was a good hurt. He couldn't
suppress a smirk of satisfaction as he chopped at the log again.
"You only have to chop the log, kiddo," Kermit called from the porch,
"not liquefy it!"
David grinned as a response, nodding his head in Kermit's direction before
turning to attack the log once more. Kermit was full of surprises. It
had been the mercenary's idea to chop wood for the Blaisdells in
partial repayment for the use of their cabin and the resulting damage
<He doesn't mind killing people but he insists on this. > David
was trying to figure out his big brother. The talk they had about Kermit's
'career' didn't seem to do any good to change Kermit's mind about his
vocation. David figured he would give it another shot while they were on the
road. They would have plenty of time.
He finished with the one piece of wood and was about to start on another
when he heard a shrill whistle. Looking up, he saw Kermit waving at him.
"Come on up, Kid," Kermit called. "We gotta go."
David quickly put the ax back where it belonged, stacked the wood that
he had chopped and wearily trudged up the stairs, accepting the brotherly
shoulder-clasp Kermit gave him as he reached the top of the stairs.
"How you feeling, Squirt?" Kermit asked, concerned.
"Fine. Well, okay, I guess," David clarified. He wanted a hit. That was
the bottom line of the whole thing but he didn't want to tell Kermit.
Kermit seemed to know, but he wouldn't say it. "Go take a shower
and then we'll take off."
David smiled; it seemed that Kermit just couldn't help but give orders.
He wondered idly if the military had done that to him or if that was
just a part of Kermit's personality. David couldn't be sure, since his
memories of Kermit were all before he'd reached the age of ten. Peeling
off his clothes, he padded to the bathroom and showered as Kermit finished
cleaning up. David noticed a stack of clean clothes in the bathroom,
waiting for him.
<Assassin or not, he always thinks ahead.> David felt a sense of pride
in his brother, even for something as small as that.
Once cleaned, dried and dressed, David stepped out into the den of the
cabin, looking around, saying a silent good-bye to his hell. <This is
where I gotta leave it behind.> He vowed that he would leave it all
here. His hatred, his habit.... <After all, if Kermit is
going to leave it behind, so can I.>
In his fifteen years, he felt forty years old. He was now responsible
for himself -- himself and Kermit -- just as Kermit had claimed
responsibility for him. He would walk out that door a man and leave the
teenage junkie behind. It didn't matter how much his mouth watered for
a hit. He and Kermit would watch out for each other now. He didn't need the
smack anymore. He had his older brother back. The older brother he had
screamed his guts out for years ago. He was going to make Kermit proud of
him. He was going to be a man.
Kermit came in after loading the car full of their supplies and gave the
rooms a last cursory look around. Finally, he turned to David. "Ready,
Kermit's innocent question caused the teenager to snort in laughter.
<Guess I'll always be a squirt to him.>
"What?" Kermit asked, smirking. It was ironic that either of them could
laugh now after what they'd been through.
"Nothing," David waved it off, smiling. "I'm ready. Where are we going
first? You think we can visit Aunt Helen before we take off into the wild
blue yonder to pelt tomatoes on her perfect picture window?"
Kermit lost his smile.
"Oh, come on, lighten up! I'm joking!" David insisted, slapping Kermit
on the arm. "But I didn't think that you would be against the idea that
much. What? Kermit? What's the matter?" David was beginning to get an
uneasy feeling. Kermit was wearing the same expression that he wore
when he confessed to him and Marilyn that he had been in
a fight and 'The Plan' had changed. <No...he wouldn't....Not after all
we've just been through....>
"David...Squirt....," Kermit began uncomfortably, "I know we never talked
about this and I don't know what you were expecting but you...you can't
stay with me. You can't live with me. I've found a place--"
"You bastard." It was said as a whisper but, to the mercenary's ears, it
was as loud as cannons. "You brought me here, got me clean, put us
through all this...for SHIT!!!??? How could you do this???!!! AGAIN!!!!"
"I TRUSTED YOU!!! AGAIN!!! I-"
This time, the mercenary wouldn't take it. Crossing the room in three
long strides, he plastered his brother to the wall. "Just SHUT UP!" he
yelled back. He wasn't going to take it anymore. He couldn't live
with the guilt he had and he didn't need the new dish David
was offering up for him. In a calmer voice, he continued. "You think I'm
happy about it, you're nuts! But you're still a minor, David! You're
still a kid! You're clean now - you have a chance. But you're not going
to get that chance hanging around with me! Don't you get it? I'm NOT
clean! I never will be! I'm not into drugs, I'm into death. I wouldn't
invite my worst enemy to the hellholes I end up working. I'm not
about to drag a fifteen-year-old into it, no way, no how! Your ass is
sitting in the shelter home I found for you until you're old enough to
make your own way. But it's NOT going to be with me!"
Shelter home. Away from Marilyn and away from Kermit. Away from Jamie
and everything he'd ever known. Away from everything that was familiar
and that made him feel safe, even if he wasn't. David looked into the
green glasses with hatred. He thought he had learned to know Kermit but
he was wrong. His brother had died years ago. It was time to mourn him
and forget about him. Permanently.
It wasn't necessary for David to express his feelings. Hatred boiled out
of every pore as Kermit slowly released him. <And here I thought things
would be different.. > Kermit took the boy's arm to firmly lead
him out of the cabin. David jerked his arm away and swaggered out
ahead of Kermit, not looking back. <Guess that's what I get for
David strode out after his brother and angrily threw himself into car.
Kermit felt the weight of his failure squeeze once again. Without words of
comfort of explanation, he drove away to abandon his brother once again.
To Be Continued...