Auntie Broski made her decision while visiting her friend in the hospital. Poor Mrs. Lowenstein lay broken in the metal bed, trying vainly to believe her visitor's lie that she would soon be up and about, good as new. At her age – at their age – fractured hips seldom mend well.
Later Auntie poured boiling water over the tired leaves from breakfast and pondered while her tea slowly darkened. Despite abhorring violence with a lifelong passion, she could see no way to avoid it when confronting the neighborhood mugger. Obviously, something had to be done. Equally obviously, nobody else was going to do it.
Everyone knew who he was, of course: that horrid Morris boy, Eddie. But knowing wasn't proving, not with his many cronies eager to confirm his alibi, “No, yer Honor, couldn't no way be Eddie cause we played pool that whole afternoon. I 'member special cause,” a shamefaced head drooped, “he won five bucks off’a me. I know playin' for money's wrong, yer Honor, but I gotta tell the truth.” Who'd believe wavering voices and failing eyes against such credible testimony?
Even after Eddie carelessly ran smack into a police car still clutching Mrs. Lowenstein's purse, an overloaded court calendar and an overworked DA plea-bargained the offense to something nearly as innocuous as littering. Perhaps they feared a lawsuit over the police negligently driving across the thief's intended escape route. Whatever the reasons, Eddie received only a year's probation. Barely a month later, unseen hands pushed Mrs. Lowenstein down a dark staircase. Eddie would have been the natural suspect, except – Surprise! – he'd been playing pool that whole day.
* * *
The next morning in Mrs. Lowenstein's apartment, Auntie quickly collected the personal items her friend had requested, then, standing on a chair, she reached to the full extent of her slight frame and felt cautiously at the back of the closet shelf. ‘There! No, that's only an old jewelry box. It's not here! Could she have thrown it away? Wait,’ stretching one final inch, ‘Yes! I've got it!’
Back in her own kitchen, after some tea to calm her racing heart, she unwrapped her find awkwardly in rubber gloves too large for her tiny, trembling hands. Oh! She hadn't pictured it so huge when poor, senile Mr. Lowenstein, rest his soul, described endlessly how he'd ‘liberated’ it from a German officer. He'd repeatedly begged his wife to show his trophy to their guests, but, although unloaded, it still terrified Mrs. Lowenstein. Auntie had suspected her friend wouldn't dare even to throw it out.
Auntie controlled her revulsion at touching the cold, hard instrument of death as she cleaned the gun meticulously, pushing a damp cloth down the barrel, then scrubbing the entire outside with a soapy rag and wiping it dry: couldn't afford a slippery handle! The flat metal container of bullets puzzled her briefly before she discovered how it slid up into the handle, snapping into place with a sharp click. Done: the gun was loaded! She cut the dirty rags into tiny pieces before flushing them away, a few at a time.
Auntie looked sadly at her favorite handbag, a birthday gift from her niece Alice in Seattle. Such a shame, real leather too, but she had nothing else suitable. She sighed, then opened it and, using a dishtowel, carefully placed the gun in one of the two large compartments. Selecting her most rickety kitchen chair, she twisted the old wood in her small hands until two of the rungs popped loose. After a few brief phone calls, and a bracing cup of tea from fresh leaves, she was ready.
* * *
Sweating slightly, more from nervousness than exertion, Auntie rested on the park bench. She'd flashed her thick wad of one dollar bills at several stores: somebody must have noticed. Glancing anxiously up and down the street, twice she thought she saw Eddie, and twice she was wrong. But the third time, no mistake! She reached into her purse, squeezed the tube carefully, then pressed the button and watched the sickly green stain spread. She stood and walked slowly across the park, wrapping the purse strap tightly around her left arm; she was right-handed, after all.
She tried not to flinch on hearing the steps coming closer, closer. Almost close enough, just a few more seconds... She hugged the reassuring hardness within her purse and prayed for strength, telling herself, You've got to do this!
Despite her anticipation, the sudden jerk still caught her by surprise as it spun her around, yanking her arm painfully. A rough hand pushed her backwards and she heard a tiny snap as she hit the ground. The sparse grass didn't feel as soft as it looked but, even while screaming in agony, part of her mind noted with relief that none of the pain came from her hips.
* * *
Auntie looked at the huge cast engulfing her left arm, then up at the policeman, "They said it's a clean break and it should heal well even at my age."
"Glad to hear that," he said, "But it's still great bodily harm." He hesitated, then continued, "Ms. Broski, I have to ask: do you own a gun?"
"A gun?!" she exclaimed, then answered honestly, "No! I've never owned one. I'm scared of them. Why do you ask?"
"We caught Eddie Morris, the guy who robbed you, right away; got several anonymous tips. He had a gun, said he found it in your purse." She shook her head in disbelief as the cop continued, chuckling, "He couldn't get rid of it 'cause it stuck to his hand. The gun stuck to him, the purse and the stuff in it stuck to him, and he had green paint all over himself!"
"Oh," she remarked brightly, "I had just bought some super glue and a can of green spray paint to fix a broken chair. Maybe he accidentally spilled them when he searched my purse. I'll bet it's ruined!"
"Yeah," the officer sounded unconvinced, "looks that way. Glue got into the gun, too – never could have fired, even if that old ammunition still worked. But that don't make any difference: we got him for assault with a deadly weapon, carrying a concealed weapon, aggravated assault, and half a dozen other felonies. And this time the DA isn't dealing light, figures he's got him cold. Old Eddie's looking at thirty years, easy."
"Will... will I have to testify?" Auntie asked anxiously, "I don't really remember much about what happened."
"I doubt it. He'll probably plead guilty. If he don't, he could get life as a habitual, and we got plenty of other witnesses, now that they're sure he's going away for a long time."
Auntie's eyes fluttered and closed briefly, then a second time and the officer took the hint. From beneath drooping lids, she watched him pause in the doorway and glance back uncertainly, then shake his head muttering, "Naw. Couldn't be. We just got lucky for once; that's all." She managed to keep the smile from her face until his footsteps faded away.