"Are you going to write about this Marvin Gluck adventure in your memoirs?" Groot asked.
"And implicate myself? Negative."
"Charlie," he said, "as your trusty compadre, I'll do it for you if you can't manage. Really. I don't think I want you to do this. You're not made for it, Charlie. I am."
"That's sweet. But I have to do this myself. Is it really that difficult?"
"Honestly, no, not at all. The human being is flawed with frailty. And the quality of mercy is so strained" — that a bit of Shakespeare I'd have to look up.
He slid out a seven-inch blade from inside his cowboy boot — by what means he had acquired his high regard for that babble clucked out by Garth Brooks, I cannot say — and handed it across the table to me. It was, by golly, the same knife that nearly filleted those lacrosse bullies fifteen years earlier. The rubber and metal of the thing felt so . . . balanced. And clean. It seemed a great shame to dirty it with Gluck.
"Use this," he said.
"A knife, eh? Not a gun? Or, uhh, poison, maybe?"
"No, a gun's too messy, too many potential problems. The noise, ballistics, powder residue, and all that. Poison is hard to get, besides too traceable."
"This is all new to me, Groot. You kill with a knife, and I kill with my words. Ahem."
"That blade is serrated on one side, a razor on the other. When you exit the body you pull up on the serrated side. You know the vital areas?"
Of course I did: I myself was mostly vital areas.
"The Southern man," he said, refilling his iced tea at the table, "is one sick dude. Some of the sickest dudes I've ever met in the military are Southern. Hostility left over from the Civil War. They're good soldiers, so use caution."
"I shall," I said, and held up the knife to the sunlight jabbing in through open blinds.
And then we didn't speak for a stretch; we just stared at the sun reflecting off the blade, Groot no doubt convinced I had snapped my cap, I wondering about the repulsive mess the knife would make when it found Marvin Gluck's jugular.
"Frankly, Charlie, I'm worried about you. You've always been the artsy kind, peace-loving and all that. I never understood it myself, but I esteemed the idiot in you. Now I feel as if you might be crossing a line into a whole new mode of existence."
"Groot," I said, "understand: this must be done. He'll stalk and kill her one day, I can feel it. Or firebomb our wedding. He already said he would. We told the cops; they don't give a damn. Bastards protect their own. So what kind of man would I be to do nothing, to let my lady live in fear?"
"Syrupy Miss Gillian really has a vise grip on the heart of my pal Charles. It makes me proud to see you all grown up," and he winked at me. "When we were in college I was worried that you might become a loner and misanthrope, a stranger to the flesh of others."
"Likewise, loyal Groot. You make me proud, too."