Percy Howell sat in the back of his non-descript van and watched through the special peephole he had in the van's side panel the apartment complex in which Gwen Munch lived. Other people might get inpatient waiting for hours for someone to show up, but considering he had waited over ten years for his revenge on John Munch, a few more hours was nothing. He had spent years figuring out which cop bastard shot his cousin; even while he was in prison he kept digging. Once he had it figured out, he had to find out where Munch had gone and how to hurt him. Now it was just a matter of executing his plan.
On the ride over to Gwen's apartment Brian chattered on, Munch let him, as he was mostly interested in watching Gwen, seeing how she was doing. When they arrived Fin and Brian got out of the car and acted like two secret service agents protecting the president and first lady. They got out of the car first and un-holstered their weapons, looking around to see if they saw any danger, then they let John and Gwen exit the car between them and marched them quickly to the apartment complex
"Damn!" Howell said to himself and punched the side of the van; he hadn't anticipated the protection detail would be so effective. Well, he'd just wait. Surely they'd slip up, sooner or later, patience would get him his revenge.
Fin and Brian split up once they got in the apartment complex. One headed to the back of the complex and the other headed up to the apartment with John and Gwen. Each offered to relieve one of the uniforms that had been watching Gwen's apartment. They told them to go get some chow; mostly they did it to continue giving Munch and Gwen some time to themselves and partly because they both remembered how boring those kinds of details could be.
"Something about Brian reminds me of your brother Bernie," Gwen observed as she set her bag down just inside the apartment door.
"That would be his non-stop mouth," John said as he stepped into the living room. "Wow, this place looks a lot like our place in Baltimore," he said, effectively cutting off any response Gwen might have had to his previous comment.
"Well, I still have a lot of the furnishing we had back then."
"Yeah, I noticed you still have that awful portrait of you and your mom," he observed.
"It's not that bad," she countered as she moved further into the living room, letting her shoes slip off as she sat on the couch and then curling one leg under her.
"She's scowling at you and you're just a cute little girl in that picture," he disagreed.
She smiled up at him and shook her head a little, John had never liked her mother, a feeling that was totally mutual, but he had been and still was her champion.
John continued looking at the room, letting his fingers trail over things that were familiar, he got to a section of the bookcase and whirled on her.
"Hey, you said you had thrown out all my books," his words sounded accusatory, but a smile played at the corner of his mouth.
"I thought I had, but those were scattered all over the place, in the bathroom, under the bed, behind your chair, under the coffee table. I even found some in the kitchen cabinets. You know you never were very good about putting things away."
"Yeah, and I always had about six different books going at once"-
"And then you'd forget where they were and you'd start another half dozen, between them and your newspapers and your magazines, you drove me crazy," she interrupted him and then sighed.
"You mean when I was home," he said sadly and softly while looking down at the floor.
She got up and moved to the bookcase he was standing in front of. "Do you want me to box these up for you?" she asked, starting to remove a few books.
"No," he answered, placing his hand over hers and helping her reshelf the books. "I've long since replaced these titles and besides, it will give me something to read when I'm here."
"Oh, so you plan on being here do you?" she asked teasingly.
He smiled at her, almost shyly. "If you'll let me."
"I think it can be arranged."
John moved on to inspect another area of the living room. He touched the portrait of his younger self. "God, was I ever that young?"
"And handsome too," she added.
"I was never handsome, you on the other hand were and still are beautiful."
"And you must really need those glasses."
"Gweny," he chided.
"Gweny? I haven't heard you call me that in years, and then usually when you were drunk."
He ducked his head, and that brought her vinyl record collection into his view.
"Hey, I forgot what a great record collection we had," he knelt down and started flipping through the albums, "that you got to keep," he added with a bitter-sweetness in his voice.
"That divorce attorney I got really did screw you over didn't he?"
"I'll say, considering you were the one stepping out on me, but"- he put his hand up, "let's not get into all that OK?"
"OK, let's agree, we can only bring up the good memories from the past, deal?"
"Deal," he said as he brought up an album and handed it to her. "Wanna dance?"
"Yes, but I think maybe I shouldn't, I don't think I'm really up to it yet. How about we just sit on the couch and listen?"
"OK," John took the album back from her and selected a few more and then set them up to play on her stereo. He then came back to sit next to Gwen. He put an arm around her and held her hand. As they listened to songs that had once been favorites of theirs, he decided it was time to talk to Gwen about some things that should happen in the next few days.
"Gwen, I know I told you that we were getting close to the end, but there's still a lot of things that have to happen."
"Well, for one thing you need to see a rape counselor."
"Do I have to do that?"
"Yes, this time I'm not going to let you avoid seeing a therapist." John stood up abruptly and started to pace. "I was wrong to be so resistant to psychotherapy after Etta's death. I should have made you go. I should have gone and I should have made us go together. I just,"– he trailed off and came back to stand next to her one knee on the couch.
"You just what?" she asked, taking his hands and pulling him down to sit next to her.
'I hate therapists. I got my fill of them after Dad died."
"Why's that?" she tilted her head and reached out with both hands to remove his glasses. She wanted to be able to see his eyes, so that she knew he was being honest with her.
He put his head down and then he looked up at her and sighed. "I should have told you this a long time ago. You were my wife. I never should have kept so much from you, but it was always so hard to talk about, so hard to relive."
Gwen moved a little closer to John. "Tell me now," she said simply and gently.
"You know my Dad died when I was a kid," John paused and Gwen nodded her head to confirm that she did.
"What I never talk about is how he died or the events leading up to his death," John took a deep breath, as though even saying this much was already taking a lot out of him.
"I was twelve years old, Bernie was six. We had a routine. My dad went to work early, so he was home by the time Bernie and I got home from school. Mom often did volunteer work in the afternoon, so sometimes she got in a little after us. That day I'd walked over from my middle school to Bernie's elementary school and then walked him home. We came in the house and it was deadly quiet, and then I smelled this strange odor, to me it was sort of like fireworks on the fourth of July. I called out for Dad but I didn't get an answer and that sort of spooked me. So I told Bernie to wait in the living room. I walked into the dining room and there he was, the pistol in his hand and his brains blown out all over our dining room wall," John was quiet for a time and Gwen could see him remembering.
"Oh my God Johnny, I had no idea," she pulled him into her arms. He let her hold him for a time, but then he pushed away and gathered himself.
"There's more, I always felt so guilty about his death," he explained.
"Why, why on earth would you feel guilty?"
John started a very slight rocking, back and forth on the couch, clearly in distress. "The evening before he committed suicide, he disciplined me for being a wiseass and, and,"– John started having trouble getting the words out as he felt the long suppressed anguish. "I yelled at him. I told him I hated his guts. Those were the last words I ever said to him. I never got to tell him I didn't mean it. I loved my Dad. He was my hero. I didn't mean what I,"-
"Johnny, he was your Dad, he knew you loved him, just like he loved you and he knew you didn't mean what you said. He knew you were just angry. Parents know those things."
"But I never got to take it back and I didn't protect Bernie," John added.
"I was so shocked I just stood there, and after a while Bernie came looking for me, to see what was wrong. I should have kept him from seeing Dad that way, he was so little and Dad always said it was my job to take care of Bernie, because he was my little brother" John's guilt came through clearly.
"When Dad died I was sent to see the Rabbi and the school psychologist. I hated them both. I hated the rabbi because I had been studying for my bar mitzvah, and had read about how suicide was just like murder, it went against God's commandments. I thought that some how the rabbi was being hypocritical to pretend that my father's suicide was OK, when I knew many in the congregation thought, and whispered loudly enough to be overheard, that my father should not have been accorded a Jewish funeral or have been buried in consecrated ground. I thought the school counselor, on the other hand was an idiot, with a bunch of stupid platitudes and worn out psychobabble. I just wanted them all to leave me alone."
"I pushed everything aside after awhile, until we got married and you wanted to have kids. I suddenly started wondering if maybe I'd be the same kind of father as my dad. Maybe one day, when my kids really needed me, I'd want to take the easy way out too. I couldn't do that to a kid."
"Oh Johnny," Gwen reached out for him and wrapped her arms around him drawing him into an embrace. They held each other for several minutes, before letting go.
"I should have told you then. I shouldn't have had secrets from you. I should have told you, maybe things would have been different for us."
"Stop it, just stop it! You can't change the past. You aren't responsible for your father's death or Etta's, and maybe if we'd gone to counseling back then we'd have stayed together, but we don't know that and it's spilt milk any way. We can't change the past or predict the future, we just have to deal with what we have right here and now."
John looked at Gwen for a moment and then a smile crossed his face. "You're gonna give the rape counselor a run for her money."
Gwen laughed but before she could respond there was a knock at her door.