Judith cleared the last of the dinner dishes from the table, then spoke.
“Tom, I've got to make a decision tonight about my job.”
Tom took a sip from his coffee cup and put it down on the saucer. “What's that, honey? Something wrong at your office?”
“No. Just the opposite. Mr. Abernathy, our office manager, told me today I could have a promotion. The firm would pay for me to take a word processing course. If I did well, they'd transfer me to the word processing section. I told him I'd let him know tomorrow if I'll do it.”
“Do you want the job?”
“Yes. I'd like it. It'd pay better than being a mail clerk, and the job'd be more interesting.”
He moved his chair back and turned to face her.
“It sounds like something you could always use, too. What's the problem?”
“I'd have to take the course at the community college downtown. Three nights a week for three weeks. I took a course there once, several years ago. American literature. I liked the course, but the college is in a pretty run-down neighborhood. There's not enough parking space on campus. Lots of times I had to park on the street off campus.” She paused for a moment. “And Tom, I'm afraid. I don't want to be walking around there at night, thinking Harry Grubbs may be lurking in the next alley, or that he's broken into my car and is waiting for me.”
He paused in thought for a moment. “If you turn down this chance for a promotion, they probably won't ever give you another one.”
“That’s what I thought, too.”
“Okay, so we've got to find a way to get you to and from the college safely. Then you can take the course, get the promotion, and be back on your normal schedule.”
“But how can we do it?”
“What time is the class?” He asked.
“Seven-thirty to nine-thirty.”
“Then I guess I'd have to take you to and from the class. Even if I have to work overtime, I'm hardly ever that late.”
“What will you do while I’m in class?”
“I'll drop you off at the door to your class building, find someplace to park, and then pick you up at the door after your class. It's only for three weeks. I can manage that.”
“But will you be safe yourself while you're waiting in the car? What if you have to park off campus?”
“I'll have my gun with me.”
“But that's against the law! You don't have a permit to carry a gun, and without a permit you're not allowed to have a loaded gun in your car.”
“No one will ever know I have a gun unless I have to use it. And then, Mr. Baron had it right. I'd rather be tried by twelve than carried by six. I'd rather take my chances explaining to a jury why I carried a gun without a permit than have you call the undertaker.”
Tom waited at the exit from the campus, looking for an opening in traffic. All this traffic must be because it's class change time, he thought. As he waited, he looked around. The area did look run-down. Broken bottles on the sidewalk. A few trash cans, all overflowing. Scraps of paper blowing around. A couple of houses with the windows boarded up. It looks bad enough in twilight. I sure wouldn't want Judy walking around here after dark.
Finally there was a break in traffic. He pulled out, headed down the street, and found a place to park.
He pushed the seat back, picked up the evening paper he'd grabbed before he left the house, and started reading. The headlines were about the latest Mideast crisis. He read the first paragraph of the story, decided it didn't affect him, and turned the page. The City section had the news that was a lot closer to home. The headlines were all too familiar.
“STORE OWNER BEATEN AND ROBBED”
“CLERK SHOT IN HOLDUP”
“TEENAGER SLAIN IN GANG TURF BATTLE”
“DRUG BUST NETS THREE SUSPECTS”
Wait, here's one that's different.
“STORE CLERK SHOOTS ROBBER”
He decided to read that one.
Nicholas Stavropoulos, owner of NICK'S QUICK SHOP, shot and wounded a robber late last night. Stavropoulos was getting ready to close his convenience store when a man came in, held a knife to Stavropoulos's throat, and demanded the contents of the cash register. Stavropoulos opened the cash drawer, but came up with a .38 revolver instead of money. He fired twice, wounding the robber. The suspect, William Flowers, no fixed address, was treated at Mercy Hospital for gunshot wounds. He has been charged with attempted robbery. According to police records, Flowers has been charged with robbery several crimes, usually pleading guilty to a lesser charge. He has served a total of three years in the state penitentiary.
Stavropoulos, who came to the United States in 1960, said, “I fought both the Nazis and the Communists in Greece. I wasn't going to let this guy get away with threatening me.”
Police Chief Harold Cates stated that Stavropoulos's gun has been seized as evidence. Prosecutor Thomas Benning stated that no decision has yet been made about whether to file charges against Stavropoulos. Benning noted that even if no criminal charges are filed, Flowers still has the right to file a civil suit against Stavropoulos, charging use of excessive force.
Well, score one for the good guys. Too bad he didn't kill that sonuvabitch. Then the crook couldn’t sue him. And what's he gonna do now that the cops have his gun? It'll take him a week to get a new one. Until then he's cold meat for any other crooks who come to his store. Hope he has another gun stashed away somewhere.
Tom suddenly became aware of a car standing beside him. Startled, he almost reached for the gun he’d placed under the seat when he spotted the shield on the side that identified it as a police cruiser. He rolled down his window.
“What is it, officer?”
“Is there something wrong, sir? Are you having car trouble?”
“No. My wife's in class at the college. I'm just waiting to go pick her up.”
“Very well, sir. We're just checking.”
“Thanks for checking. This looks like a pretty tough neighborhood.”
“It is. We get several calls here every night. It’s not really a good place for the students.”
He rolled the window up as the police cruiser drove off.
It's a good thing the cops are patrolling around here. That might cut down attacks on the students.
Then he had another thought. Wait a minute. That cop never asked for my ID. I could be Harry Grubbs, sitting here in Judy's car waiting for her, and they'd never know anything was wrong until they found her body.
Then another thought came to him. But do I really want the cops asking everybody for ID, and stopping everybody they meet on the street? That's no way to live either.
He shook his head. Even running the country like a jail wouldn't stop crime. In jails they still have beatings and killings and rapes. They even have drugs in jails. The cops can't do the whole job, not even by clamping on all kinds of restrictions. The only way we can be free to move around is if we can defend ourselves against the crooks.
He glanced at the clock on the dashboard. Time to go pick up Judy. It's gettin' too dark to read anyway.
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