A Question of War and Peace, Chapter 4

CHAPTER 4

    Jake stepped past Paul and began to walk toward where Dee Dee and I stood.  The look on his face was unlike anything that I have ever seen before or since.  It was without expression; stolid, impassive eyes that did not flicker to the right or the left.  There was no redness of an agitated face, no pursing of angry lips, no flaring of the nostrils.
    Jake did not stalk as he walked past Paul.  His steps were even, as if he was taking a stroll along a path by the Russian River.  There was no exaggerated rise and fall of the chest; no evidence of anticipated aggression of any kind.  Yet in those eyes I saw the hawk.  I have not adequately described it.  There was a hunger to be seen there; an intention to clutch, to tear, to feed. 
    My blood ran cold as he walked toward us.  I took an involuntary step backwards, as if pushed by a force that emanated from my transformed roommate.  It seemed like I was the only one who perceived the change however.  Paul growled something into Jake’s ear as he passed by; something that I couldn’t hear.  Jake made no response whatsoever.  Then, as he walked by one of Paul’s friends, that unfortunate person launched a fist in an attempt to land a sucker punch.  
    Jake moved like a cobra.  He brought his left arm up to block the blow, then grabbed the forearm and did a twist that brought his back towards us.  He seemed to be holding his assailant’s wrist and arm with his two hands, but I couldn’t tell for sure since his body was blocking our view.  He gave a powerful jerk with his shoulders and I heard at least one ‘POP’ just before Paul’s friend fell to his knees, shrieking in agony.
    Paul took a step forward, but Jake had let go of his victim and assumed some sort of karate-looking pose.  Paul stopped in his tracks and studied the situation.  It was still 3 against 1, but the still, cold, baleful stare of Jake’s eyes seemed to unsettle him.
    “Come on guys,” he said to his friends.  “Help Cary up.  Let’s get him looked at.”  His friends picked up the injured Cary, who could only hold his seemingly lifeless right arm.  Paul stared at Jake and finally said “This ain’t over.  You owe me, and I intend to get paid.”  His friends walked past him, and with one last glare Paul turned and followed them.
    Jake watched them leave, then turned and walked past us without saying a word.  Dee Dee started to say something as he walked by but she caught herself.  He walked through the gate and onto our patio, and then disappeared into our apartment.
    Dee Dee looked at me with amazement still on her face.  “What did we just see?” she asked.
    “I don’t know for sure,”  I answered.  “Jake has been in the war.  He told me that he has been in Vietnam and he hinted that he’s been in other places too.  He didn’t say much about it, but it didn’t sound like it was fun.”
    “What was he?  Some kind of Green Beret?”
    “I don’t know.  He really hasn’t described it much at all.  He just said that he was there.  Have you ever seen anyone do what he just did?”
    “Joe, I don’t even know what it was that he just did.  I think that my visit is over though.  I’m going to get my purse and go back to Berkeley.  Do you think that you’re safe being in there with him?”
    “Oh, yeah.  I think so.  He’s never been mad at me before, and I don’t intend to make him mad at me now.”
    “If you say so.  I want you to be careful though.”
    We walked back into the apartment to retrieve Dee Dee’s purse.  When we entered we saw Jake in the kitchen.  He was facing away from us and had peeled off his wet shirt.  He was drinking a large glass of the white wine, and when he heard us enter he turned to face us.  Dee Dee and I both noticed the discolored scar of rumpled skin which lay in a large patch on his left lower side.  “I’m sorry about the show…,” he began, but then he followed our gaze to his scar.  “Oh, yeah.  That.  Shit!  I’m losing it.  I’m losing it all.”  He then grabbed his shirt and walked into his room, closing the door with exaggerated care and silence.
    Dee Dee looked at me again, and this time she said, “This guy is dangerous.  Joe, this guy is a loose cannon.  I don’t think it’s safe to be around him.  I think that you should move out.”
    It took a moment for me to respond.  My wits were nearly as rattled as those of my sister.  At last I said, “I’m right in the middle of a rough semester, Sis.  I can’t move out now.  I simply don’t have the liberty to do that.”
    “Well then, you be careful.  You stay away from him.  That guy’s not safe.  He’s not normal.”
    I went to the kitchen counter and retrieved her purse.  I moved slowly, giving myself time to think about all that had just happened.  Paul was a bully.  The cat was a helpless victim.  Lisa had tried to help the cat and got pushed down in a sexually humiliating manner for her effort.  Dee Dee had stood the bully down and Jake had rescued the cat.
     So far, it was mostly a win for the good guys.  It was only Jake’s transformation into a cold machine of violence that altered the picture.  I could guess that Jake had seen some hard things, and that he was inclined to…, to what?  A hyper-defensive philosophy?  Sort of like a good defense…. No, not a good defense; a crushing offense is the best defense?  I remembered him saying that he was tired of being the hawk but not inclined to ever be the mouse.  Boy, did he mean it!
    “Don’t worry,” I said to Dee Dee.  “He’s not dangerous.  He’s not dangerous to me anyway.”
    “The hell he isn’t.”
    “No.  Trust me.  He’s different, but he’s not out of control.  I’ll be okay.  Here.  Here’s your purse.  I guess you’ll want to be going now.”
    Dee Dee looked at me skeptically.  I told her once again that I would be fine, and I walked with her to her car and gave her a hug.  After one more admonition to be careful she returned the hug, stepped into her car, and drove off toward Highway 101 and the road back to Berkeley.
    I returned to our apartment and found it silent.  Jake had gone into his room when Dee Dee and I were there, and I assumed that he was still behind that closed door.  Dave was gone and I was heartily grateful for that.  I grabbed the bottle of red wine and sat on the sofa.  In one long gulp I finished off what was in the bottle, set the empty on the coffee table, and then began to evaluate what I had just seen.
    Jake had done nothing, nor said anything, to provoke Paul.  Rescuing the cat was against Paul’s intentions, but it was not a direct challenge nor an insult meant to precipitate a fight.  Jake made no appearance of wanting to cause trouble.  In fact, he was slow to leave the patio in the first place and only entered the pool after Lisa had been thrown down and Dee Dee had stepped into harm’s way, defending herself with words about the state penal code that I didn’t even know were true or not.  Jake had clearly been a reluctant participant in this whole affair from the start.
    And yet, when he did become involved he showed no fear of Paul.  In fact, he looked at Paul as if he was a mouse in the field.  But it was his disarming - literally as well as figuratively - of the guy who they called Cary, that burned a hole in my mind.  Jake didn’t even appear to have been looking at him, yet when Cary made his move, Jake acted faster than a cat, and had one or more parts of Cary’s hand and arm dislocated or broken - or both - before anyone could blink an eye.
    “Maybe Dee Dee’s right,” I thought.  “Maybe Jake’s a loose cannon.  What do I really know about him?”  Almost nothing, was my obvious answer.  I knew that he was 25 years old, had been in the military, had no contact with his family, and had made no sort of attempt to engage on a personal basis with anybody that I knew of, with the marginal exception of myself.  I didn’t believe that Dee Dee was right in her concerns about Jake, but I wasn’t sure that she was wrong either.  I decided that it was time to find out.  I arose and went to knock on Jake’s door. 
    I tapped timidly on his door at first.  After a minute without a response I knocked again; this time more assertively.  “Jake,” I said.  “You in there?”  No answer.  I knocked once again and waited another minute.  Still, there was only silence behind the door.  “Jake, I know you want to be left alone, but I really think that we should talk.”  Just give me a couple of minutes, okay?  Then I’ll leave you alone.”  The silence continued, so I gave up and turned to walk away, and when I did I saw Jake standing a few feet away from me.
    I must have come off of the floor.  Jake actually allowed the beginning of a smile play at the corner of his lips.  “Sorry about that,” he said.  “You turned around before I could back up and make some sort of noise.”
    “Shit!” I said.  “You’re gonna give me a heart attack.”
    “I hope not, but I’ve seen stranger things.”
    “I didn’t know that you had left your room.  Damn, man.  You’re like a cat.  Look, could we talk about some things?  I know that you want to keep to yourself, and I feel awkward invading your space, but there’s some stuff that I think I should know, or at least should ask about.”
    Jake stood silently for a moment, and I expected for him to refuse my request.  At the end of that moment he gave a small sigh and said, “Okay.  Let’s go and sit on the other side of the wall.”
    I don’t know if it was his agreeing to my request for a frank conversation or his sigh that most surprised me.  I agreed quickly to go to the wall, and grabbed the bottle of white wine on the way out.  The wine was no longer cold, but I could have hardly cared less about that.
    We went around the end of the wall and sat where we had previously watched the hunting hawk drop out of the sky onto the unsuspecting mouse.  We were both quiet at first.  I listened to see if I could hear the road noise through the trees.  Many of the leaves had now fallen off of the branches and twigs, but the sound that was like the wind could still be heard from that direction.  Unseen channels was what Jake had called it, or something like that.  “Screw unseen channels,” I decided.  “I’m going to get to the point about all of this.”
    “Jake, I want you to know that I hate prying into your business.  I wouldn’t think of doing that, except that today has been really weird, and I have questions that I think deserve to be asked.  Whether or not you answer them is your business, but I gotta ask them anyway.”
    Jake picked up some pebbles and began to slowly toss them out into the field.  “Okay,” he said.  “Ask away.”
    I took a deep breath and exhaled, and then took a gulp of the wine.  “Oh, boy,” I said.  “Where do I start?  Well, I’ll start with this:  Where did you learn to…?  No, that’s not where I should start.  Why don’t you…?  Shit, that’s not right either.  Give me a minute.”

I took another drink of the wine and drew one more deep breath. At last I heaved that breath out in a great sigh and got right to the point. “Jake. Why are you so damned different?”

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