The Night in Question
Toby Ryan looked longingly
in the direction of the attractive young woman walking toward him across
his huge living room. She was carrying a half full bottle of wine.
Returning his smile, assuming the look was meant for her, she said, “This
is a good Merlot. 1970 is the year I was born.” As she put her arms
around his neck Ryan caught the wine bottle securely with his right hand
to avoid it spilling. He was not concerned about his expensive Persian rug
being stained. His whole attention was focused on saving the precious
The wine was moderately priced
and from California. What made it precious was the fact it contained
alcohol. Not a lot of alcohol; but enough to help him survive another
night. If he was embarrassed his affection was for the wine, not the
young woman, he didn’t allow his poker face to give his embarrassment
Much of Ryan’s considerable
success in life was built upon his poker face and his ability to convince
people black is sometimes white. The fact he was considered by some, who
rank these things, to be one of the best criminal defense lawyers in the
country was a source of some pride to him. He was often asked to appear
on television with the likes of F. Lee Bailey, Roy Black and Johnnie
Cochran. Fame and professional respect were important to him but not as
important, lately, as his need for alcohol.
He’d met the young woman
earlier in the evening while appearing on a cable talk show. The show was
hosted by a washed up actor with the worst hairpiece in television. His
fellow guest had been a woman prosecutor whose fame was based on recently
losing one of the monthly “Trials of the Century”. Ryan was not sure why
he made these television appearances. He’d recently read an expanded
version of the old saying, “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.”
The update added, “And those who can’t do either commentate on cable
The lawyer had long ago
convinced himself it was harmless to discuss complicated legal issues with
people who refused to have their opinions changed by either the facts or
the Constitution. But Ryan knew he could convince himself, and many other
people, of just about anything if he put his mind to it.
These appearances brought
clients into the bottomless money pit his law practice had become. And it
was a good way to meet attractive young women.
Attractive young women were the
best people he’d found to drink with. They didn’t make pigs of themselves
with the wine. He usually got more than his half of the bottle. And
mainly they kept him from breaking his last remaining intact rule about
drinking. If he was drinking with them he was not drinking alone. He had
convinced himself he was successfully dealing with his drinking problem as
long as he didn’t drink alone.
A federal prosecutor he’d once
defeated in a white collar fraud case was widely quoted as saying, “Toby
Ryan can pee on a juror’s foot and convince him it’s raining.” On some
level Ryan knew he was peeing on his own foot when he drank. He’d stood
up at many meetings and announced he was an alcoholic. But lately he had
been having inordinate success in convincing himself that he could drink a
little wine. It was a negotiated settlement of his problem in his mind,
an internal, personal plea bargain.
Ryan set the precious bottle
down gently as he guided the young woman toward the bedroom. He felt some
small shame over his deception but he could live with it. She believed he
was motivated by lust for her. He knew he wanted merely to separate her
from the several inches of wine remaining in the bottle. In a “waste not,
want not” spirit even his mother would approve of in any other context, he
planned on drinking the remaining wine first thing in the morning. He
would, of course, offer her some of the wine. But odds were she’d turn it
down. The offer and its refusal would satisfy his not drinking alone
Would the young woman be
flattered if she knew she had distracted him enough he could leave the
wine until morning? It was more of an accomplishment than she would have
But Ryan was not totally
without conscience. As he moved down the hall lined with photos of his
past, including some with his buddies in Vietnam two years before his
lovely young companion’s birth, Ryan sincerely wished his higher power
would make him a better person. But it could wait until morning.
He could usually rationalize
his bad behavior. He could convince himself he was just “goal
oriented.” This was generally accepted as a good thing if he didn’t look
too closely at the goal. But the old photos reminded him of a time when
there were more important things in his life than his next drink.
Much later when the ringing
phone jarred him awake he could see the dawn breaking over the city
through the bedroom curtains. Ryan looked at the young woman, whose name
he couldn’t remember, sleeping next to him in the rumpled bed while
waiting for the machine to answer.
First came his own recorded
voice from the tinny speaker, “You have the right to remain silent. If
you give up that right I’ll call you back.”
After the beep he heard a
familiar voice say, “Toby, it’s on CNN! Your army buddy Norman Kane is in
a world of trouble. Pick up the damn phone Toby!”
At about the time Ryan
had been leading his new friend into his Atlanta bedroom, some 600 miles
to the north events had started to unfold that would drastically change
Ryan’s life as well as the lives of several others in one of the old
photos hanging in his hallway.
Inside a modest wood
frame house one of the men shown in the front row of the largest of Ryan’s
army photos had come instantly alert. The sound which had awakened him
was unmistakably to his ears. He had heard it many times in Vietnam. It
was small arms fire in the night. And it was close.
Nothing else sounds exactly
like it. No one who has ever heard it can forget how it sounds. Startled
from a sound sleep, it took Norman Kane a few seconds to realize he was in
his own home, not in a rice paddy half a world away. In just those few
seconds icy sweat soaked his body. Fully awake, he heard more gunfire.
His wife was sitting up in the bed next to him. The blue numbers on the
bedside clock glowed "2:22."
"Call the sheriff," he said pulling
himself from the bed. Not wanting to turn on the light, he reached into
the darkness for his jeans from the chair, then for the pump shotgun
leaning against the wall.
"The phone's dead," she told
him. She replaced the useless receiver and picked up a small, whimpering
baby lamb wrapped in a towel from the box next to the bed, cuddling the
shivering creature to her breast.
"I'll call from the van," he
said. They both knew the van was on the other side of the shooting.
Neither mentioned it.
Kane was moving now.
Doing what he did best; taking charge under fire. Doing what needed to be
done to engage the enemy, to protect his home and family. He was a
trained, professional soldier. Once he had soldiered for his country.
Now it was for a smaller group. But the dynamic was the same.
"Take Sam and the princess and
get on the floor in the bathroom. Freddy will guard the door. I'll call
the sheriff when I can."
In the front room he
heard the dead bolt click open. He turned toward the sound, swinging the
shotgun barrel toward the ceiling. A small figure carrying a baby was
handed through the doorway. His wife took charge of the new arrivals
guiding them toward the interior bathroom. Neither the baby nor the lamb
made a sound. More gun fire shattered the usually peaceful country night.
As Kane moved through the
open door he called quietly, "Freddy?"
"Yo," came the response from
"My phone is dead."
"Here's the plan. Give me a
minute to get into position and then turn on the outside lights. Hold
your fire. But if they get through me and threaten the family, kill
"Roger that, LT."
Kane moved silently around the
corner of the house, toward a forward position of cover and concealment.
He did not need to be quiet. More shots echoed through the darkness.
Two men, bikers from the local
outlaw motorcycle club, were in the pasture in front of him. Both were
armed with high-powered rifles. They were whom he had expected. But he
had assumed there would be more of them. One of the men was drinking from
a bottle of Jack Daniels. The other was taking aim at an ostrich in the
pasture. As he watched the biker begin to squeeze his trigger again Kane
wanted to shoot now to save the bird. But there was a plan and he would
stick to it.
Besides he could not kill a man
to save a bird, no matter valuable. He looked at the other ostriches
scattered throughout the field. Many were in dead heaps. The rest of the
totally defenseless creatures were running in panic for their very lives.
His breath came quicker as his
hatred for the bikers grew. He fought for control of his breathing.
There would be time to hate them after he got command of the situation. He
might need to hate them then.
His mission was to
protect his family and, only incidentally, to stop them from slaughtering
his expensive birds. He watched the men carefully while getting better
control of himself. The biker with the bottle set it down and raised his
rifle toward another bird as it shrieked across the field. Kane could
hear loud laughter as the shooter lead his target.
As Kane’s eyes adjusted
he became aware of at least two more figures in the darkness. They
appeared to be women. They were also laughing drunkenly but did not
appear to be armed. They were only a secondary threat. The man again
focused his attention on his more dangerous enemies, the ones with
Kane braced his elbows
against the wood pile and waited for the lights. The position was awkward
and the shotgun was heavy. It seemed an eternity had passed but he knew
the lights would come on exactly sixty seconds from the time he had given
his order to Freddy. His mind was clear now. He took quiet comfort from
the fact, even if they got through him; they could still not get to the
house. Freddy would kill a battalion of bikers if necessary to protect
If Kane had a platoon, or
even a squad, he would have flanked his enemy in the darkness. "Flank
them, flank them, and flank them again," Stonewall Jackson had said.
Jackson had died defending his home not far from this farm. But Kane had
only Freddy. He felt confident he had deployed his modest force in the
most efficient manner available to him. He was a trained soldier to whom
tactics, the weighing of options, came automatically.
Suddenly he heard the
barking dog charging from Freddy's house. Angel was loose and was going
to chase off the invaders. The dog didn't understand about guns. He just
instinctively protected his home and the people he loved. But Angel
changed the situation dramatically in Kane's mind. He could sacrifice the
ostriches, but not the dog. Sam could not lose Angel without changing her
life drastically for the worse.
One of the armed enemies
was trying to improve his aim at a running bird. The other tried to locate
the barking dog in the darkness. Bright lights suddenly flooded the
"Freeze! Drop your . . .
" Both of the armed men were turning toward him with their rifles. And,
he suddenly realized, toward the house and family behind him. In that
instant he knew he should have taken another position away from the house,
even if it afforded him no cover. But it was too late now. He could not
risk either of them getting off a single round. Kane fired the shotgun
again and again as fast as he could pump the five shells through it. The
first shot, a deer slug, tore into the chest of the closest biker, killing
him instantly. He swung his fire toward the remaining threat. After the
second shot, a buckshot load, the surviving intruder was still standing.
Another deer slug tore into his thigh. The man screamed but would not
drop his rifle nor go down. The remaining two rounds stopped his
screaming. It was suddenly deathly quiet in the field.
Norman Kane lay on the
ground. He wondered how he could have been so careless as to draw fire
toward his family. It had been a long time between battles and Kane’s
soldier skills were not as sharp as they had once been. He also wondered
how he could have forgotten to lock the wheels on his chair so the recoil
of the shotgun couldn't knock it out from under him.
He was aware of Freddy
standing over him, reporting. "Both men are dead, LT. Their women are
running, screaming, down the road. I'll call the sheriff from the van."
Kane watched his friend
jog away with his M-16 at port arms. Freddy had not offered to help him
back into his wheelchair. But he had not expected the offer and would not
have accepted it anyway.
As he pulled himself up
into the hated wheelchair he saw Freddy enter the expensive,
hand-controlled van, with the "handicapped disabled veteran" tag, and pick
up the phone.
Norman Kane thought this
war was over. But it was only beginning.