Chris Till

Archive for the ‘glenbard west’ Category

1. To Burn or Not to Burn

In boulder colorado, cocaine, glen ellyn, glenbard west, marijuana, santa cruz, Sean Hayes, Stoner Noir on May 3, 2010 at 2:00 pm

            On May 13, 1985, newspapers reported that the US had sponsored a March car bombing in Lebanon.[i] In a failed attempt to assassinate a popular Lebanese civic and religious leader, the massive bomb devastated a crowded urban neighborhood, killing more than 80 people.

Isaiah

      “Let it burn,” Isaiah told himself, sitting on the bus watching a mansion in flames on the side of the road. “Rich bastards.”

      The Denver-to-Boulder bus had stopped on Highway 36 to let the red fire trucks pass. The mansion looked like it had been recently built and now its roof burned furiously. Isaiah had never seen the mansion before nor did he know the residents. All he needed to know was that it looked like some rich person’s mansion recently built over farmland.

      After a minute, the bus continued north. Looking back at the fire, Isaiah could see yellow-clad firemen begin to spray the fire with a water hose.

Boulder

      Isaiah stepped off the bus at the Boulder bus station in the early afternoon. 19 years old and thin as cardboard, the suspicion that something great had just ended gripped his empty stomach. What that something was, he did not know.

      With his long brown hair loosely tied back with a rubber band, he carried a small black backpack over his shoulder. Due to a prominent scar marking his left cheek, he presented two profiles to the world: fair on the right side and wounded on the left.

      Inhaling, the air smelled different than Illinois air: cleaner, but drier. As he walked towards the campus, a black and white magpie cavorted in the trees above him, seemingly following him. In the sun, its black tail feathers flashed iridescent green.

      “Brother bird, have you come to welcome me to Colorado?” Isaiah asked aloud.

Bobby

      “So when’s your friend getting to town?” Little Bobby asked Bobby, as they drank coffee in Little Bobby’s kitchen. On the table between them, two short lines of cocaine beckoned. Through the kitchen window, the white and grey tombstones of a cemetery contrasted with its green grass and trees.

      “Supposed to be this afternoon some time. Haven’t seen him since he was a kid,” Bobby replied.

      As a warm spring breeze blew in through the open kitchen window, both men sat shirtless at the table. Both clean cut and in their early 30s, Bobby had quick, intelligent eyes while Little Bobby cultivated a look of irreverent torpor.

      “Good for you,” said Little Bobby. “You know, I’m serious about being done driving empties back. It’s just not worth it for me.”

      “Me and his uncle used to be real good buddies back in high school.”

      “Real good buddies?” asked Little Bobby, looking at Bobby questioningly.

      “Not like that, but we tripped together a lot back then. Yeah… Three grand?” A vase of red tulips sat on the kitchen table between them.

      “God, I love tulips. Really, man, I just have a bad feeling about it.”

      “Four?”

      Little Bobby shook his head and sniffled. His nose was chronically runny.

      “So, does the kid know?”

      “Isaiah? No. Yeah, probably. Through his uncle, I guess. Maybe not. He’s a good kid. His mom died in some weird accident or something a couple years ago. His uncle, Zen, my old friend, used to be Ben, right? I told you about him, he’s like super spiritual, a guru-type… I mean, come on, man, what, five, six, seven, ten grand? What?”

      “Bobby, I’m just done. It don’t feel right. Not now. After the last time I got back from Florida, I threw the I Ching and it said ‘contract,’ as in ‘withdraw,’ ‘simplify’… like that.”

      “Maybe it meant ‘contract,’ like a business contract.”

      “Yeah, I knew you’d say that. I’m done driving: empties, full, anything, done. Find someone else. I’m just gonna work the bike shop and keep it simple.”

      “Bobby, you promised you wouldn’t flake out on me again,” said Bobby, exasperated. “I mean, how many times…”

      “Hey,” Little Bobby interrupted. “I gotta do what feels right, right? Last time I was in Florida, last month, it didn’t feel right. Like that one dick cop down there knows what’s going on and needs to make a bust just to make himself look good. You know?”

      Bobby quietly set his cup down, shaking his head and gazing across the cemetery. Out the window, a long-haired little girl wearing orange overalls and a bright green tank top wandered through the cemetery picking wild daisies.

Welcome to Boulder

      “Isaiah? Welcome to Boulder, man,” exclaimed Bobby, coming through the fence gate and striding across the back yard of his house.

      “Hey Bobby,” said Isaiah. “Thanks, man.”

      Both smiling widely, they shook hands and hugged awkwardly. Waiting for Bobby to get home, Isaiah had been fallen asleep on a cushioned lawn chair in Bobby’s backyard.

      “Haven’t seen you since, what, you were eight years old or something? How you doin’?”

      “Good. The Greyhound was all right. All night long though. Kinda tired but whatever.”

      “Well, come on inside. You got your own bedroom and…”  Bobby led Isaiah into his plain-looking ranch house. The interior resembled a new Holiday Inn hotel room.

      “Yeah, that room used to be the grow room for pot,” said Bobby, pointing to a simply furnished bedroom. “You can stay in there. And the garage, through there, used to be for growing mushrooms.”

      “Cool,” said Isaiah, dropping his backpack in the bedroom.

      “Yeah, that was a good time. It was like an indoor farm. So… you hungry? Tired? If you wanna take a nap…”
      “That’s cool, man. I’m alright. I’ll probably go to bed early, but… Actually, thirsty if…”

      “Tell you what, you just make yourself at home. There’s the kitchen. Help yourself. If you want, we can go for a drive up in the Mountains later on, maybe show you around town some.”

      Isaiah went to the kitchen and filled a water glass from the sink.  Bobby sat on a couch in the living room, dark because of the closed curtains.

      “Great. Yeah… I sure appreciate the hospitality,” said Isaiah, sitting in a living room easy chair. “My plan is to just get to California as quick as possible. I haven’t seen Uncle Zen in years and just totally am feeling the call to get out there.”

      “Yeah. Good for you. Family’s important. I got a letter from him a while back. He doesn’t use phones, right? Yeah. I guess he’s started his own church or something?”

      “Yeah, not a church, but like a spiritual group. He calls it the Inner Circle.”

      “Yeah right, I never really understood all that soul travel or Inner Circle stuff, but if he’s doing it, I respect it. He could have taken the easy way out, but he does it his way, even if it’s the hard way, right?”

      “Yeah,” replied Isaiah, shaking his head uncertainly.

      “He probably thinks I took the easy way out,” said Bobby, staring at the carpeted floor. “I guess our paths have kind of diverged, but maybe they’ll converge again.”

      Isaiah nodded and finished his water. The air conditioning kept the house quite cool and reinforced the hotel vibe.

The Rocky Mountains

Driving his black 1984 Jeep Wagoneer up Sunshine Canyon Road, Bobby pulled into a gravel turn-off with a panoramic view of the Great Plains.

“You can just about see Kansas from up here,” said Bobby, parking. “I like this spot. Gives me perspective.”

“Wow,” said Isaiah, looking all around as Bobby produced a thick already-rolled joint.

“Some indoor indica a buddy of mine grows,” said Bobby, handing the joint to Isaiah. “Three hundred bucks an ounce.”

“Damn, that’s expensive. It’s like a hundred or maybe ninety an ounce back in Glen Ellyn,” said Isaiah, smelling the joint and checking his pockets for a lighter.

“Yeah, well, it’s worth it. So, how’s old Glen Ellyn these days?”

“Same, probably. Land of wide lawns and narrow minds, like the old man said.”

“Hemingway, yeah,” said Bobby, handing Isaiah a lighter. “Yup, you know, back then, me and Benny were the only guys in the Glenbard West Class of ’71 to have pony tails? He was still Gentle Ben back then. Go ahead, take two hits, I don’t need much.”

“Yeah?”

“How often you hear from him?” As cars zipped by on Sunshine Canyon, the cloudless sky glowed a rich shade of blue. Isaiah pondered the word “azure” and passed the joint to Bobby.

“Just a couple times a year or something, but I still feel super-close to him. Even right now, like I’m digging being here, but I just wanna get out there to see him as soon as possible.”

From his car seat, Isaiah kept looking all around, up into the craggy red mountains and out into the absolute flatness of the Plains. A red-tailed hawk arced effortlessly far overhead.

“So, you got a girlfriend back home or a, uh…” asked Bobby, raising his eyebrows.

“Well, I just broke up with this girl Maureen a month ago but…”

“Me, I didn’t even know who I was until I was 25.”

“Yeah?”

A black Jaguar pulled into the turn-off and parked at a distance behind Bobby’s Jeep. Isaiah turned around and looked at the car.

“Don’t worry about that guy, he’s probably just cruising,” said Bobby, passing the joint to Isaiah.

“What?” replied Isaiah.

“Cops can’t afford Jaguars anyway. So, how you doin’ for money?”

“Uh, well, I got like almost two hundred bucks. I was working making like restaurant bun toasters for the last couple weeks.”

“Hmmm. Well, there’s easier ways to make money, you know?”

Bobby looked Isaiah in the face then down his chest. Not noticing, Isaiah took a second hit on the joint and passed it back.

“Yeah, people back home told me to mail acid and Ecstasy back from California ’cause it’s cheap out west.”

“Not bad. They front you the cash?”

“No.”

“Yeah, well… You got that lighter?” Isaiah handed Bobby’s lighter back. In the rear view mirror, Isaiah could see the black Jaguar still parked behind them.

“We used to bring weed in on speedboats to the Florida coast. The main ship would be out in the ocean and we’d meet it and offload the bales into the speedboat. That was fun.”

“Damn, sounds like something out of Hollywood.”

“There’s money to be made out of Florida. But shipping weed is a drag. It’s big. It smells. And the profit margin for the size is not great.”

“Yeah?” said Isaiah, as Bobby handed the joint back.

“The CC, on the other hand, is tiny. And it doesn’t smell. Know what I mean? Anyway, enough of that. You wanna see my retirement home?”

“Sure, man. Like an old folks’ home?” Bobby pulled the Jeep back onto Sunshine Canyon and they drove higher up the Mountains. The black Jaguar did not move.

“Not exactly. Cash can be a real problem, you know? It’s bulky. You end up with shoe boxes of it in your car trunk and that’s not good. And it’s noticeable when a guy tries to buy a car or something with, like, fifteen thousand cash. So… when you find a deal where the seller is cool and will take cash…”

“That is one problem that I do not have,” said Isaiah, exhaling. “Yeah, well. Maybe some day, right?” They drove in silence for a while. The road dramatically curved ever higher. Bobby pulled off onto a private driveway on the right and headed around more curves.

“I just rent it for now. It’s too flashy for me, but it’s not in my name, which is a big plus. Once you start getting assets, that’s when the cops wanna bust you. But this is where I’m gonna retire. Like maybe in a few years. The tenants might be home and I don’t want to hassle them, so I’ll just show you the outside real quick.”

The driveway ended in front of a strange glass house. Nestled into the mountains on three sides, it looked like two large flattened glass domes joined on the edges. It had a panoramic eastern view of the Plains.    

“Damn, dude. You own this?”

“100% paid in full. No mortgage. They pay the rent to me. I told them I’m just the property manager for the guy who owns the place. Not bad, huh?”

“I never seen a house like this. It’s like all glass. Or half glass.”

“I love it. Can’t move in here until I don’t have any more stones to throw, though, you know? Supposedly, some gay porn movie got shot here in the 70s, I don’t know. But that is my retirement home.”

Bobby looked at Isaiah intently then pulled around in the driveway and headed back to Sunshine Canyon. Isaiah, thoroughly stoned, still held a quarter of the joint in his hand.

“Go ahead and chuck it,” said Bobby. “Or keep the rest for later if you want. Whatever, I got more.”

As they drove past the turn-off where they had first parked, the black Jaguar had vanished. When they got back into Boulder, Bobby stopped at a parking lot payphone on 28th Street to make some phone calls. As Isaiah waited in the Jeep, he saw a black Jaguar pass on the street. It looked identical to the Jaguar that had pulled in behind them in the Mountains.

      “Always do your business on payphones and always change your payphone,” advised Bobby, getting back in Jeep. “It looks funny if a well-off guy is always using the same payphone. Hey look, you hungry? I usually go over to my buddy Little Bobby’s place for dinner around seven. He’s a great chef. Or if you’re tired…”

      “Yeah, man. Well, actually, I think I might just hit it early tonight and get rested up for tomorrow. I’m gonna check the University ride board in the morning to see if there’s any rides heading to Cali.”

Bobby and Little Bobby

      The two men lay in bed at Little Bobby’s house watching the ten o’clock Channel 9 news. A number of Americans had been captured in Lebanon in the previous year. Little Bobby shifted restlessly on the bed, sniffling.

      “By the way, I seen one of your tenants and told her that their rent was going up,” said Little Bobby, voice somewhat groggy. The news showed black and white images of five Americans held by unknown captors in Lebanon.
      “Those Lebanese dudes are pissed,” said Bobby. “Can’t blame ’em really. What, it was just like two years ago that the US was bombing the hell out of the place for some far-from-clear reason. What are you talking about?”

      “You don’t charge enough for that place.”

      “Look man, they got a one-year lease. They’re good tenants.”

      “Lease shmease, you should get more for that place.”

      “Dude…” said Bobby, crossly.

      “Hey, it’s money in your pocket. I told the girl to add a hundred bucks a month to the rent.” Eyes a bit glazed, Little Bobby grabbed a medicine bottle off the bed stand and shook out two pills.

      “Man, you should talk to me before you do stuff like that.”

      “Well, you should tighten up your business affairs. Take care of number one a little more. Like this kid, Isaiah or whatever, you’ve known him for, what, one day, and you’re offering him a job?” said Little Bobby, swallowing the pills with a glass of water. “That’s real cautious, man.”

      “Hey, why do we need a new empties driver? Huh? Yeah, so… And I’ve known him since he was a kid. And I’ve known his uncle since I was a kid. It’s all right. Plus he’d be cheap. He’d do it for a thousand bucks, I bet. Anyway, I haven’t asked him. Yet.”

      “You gonna set him up?”

      “What?”

      “You know what I mean.”

      “No. I’m not. Come on, dude. I know this kid’s family. I wouldn’t do that.”

      “You once told me you’d feed your grandmother to the wolves to stay out of jail.”

      “I was just messing with you, bro,” Bobby said, putting his arm around Little Bobby. “I’m not really like that.”

      Little Bobby looked at Bobby doubtfully. On the news, President Reagan vowed to punish those responsible for capturing the Americans.

      “Uh huh,” Little Bobby said, raising his eyebrows. “Right.”

      “Anyway, that whole thing was just a theory. One of the Columbians told a story, something about feeding a lamb to the wolves every once keeps the wolves happy. Maybe that’s true in Columbia, but… Up here it’s different.”

      “Cause the kid would just tell the cops who he worked for.”

      “Exactly. Down there, like the drivers and underlings are afraid of the bosses, but…”

      “Yeah, you nark the kid off to that one dick Florida cop and he’d just roll on you.”

      “Unless…”

      “Unless what?”

      “Unless, theoretically that is, I had something on him,” said Bobby.

      “Bobby Machiavelli. That’s who you are.”

      “Shut up. You look cute tonight.”

      “Bobby Machiavelli changes the subject with flattery. Don’t stop, big boy.” As a Bill Cosby New Coke commercial came on, Little Bobby rolled on his side and snuggled up to Bobby, sleepily kissing his shoulder.

The Offer

      Late the next morning, after Isaiah checked the University ride board, he got two dollars worth of quarters and found a payphone on Broadway on University Hill. Filling the phone with seven quarters, he made the call that he’d been both dreading and looking forward to.

      “Hey Maureen, how you doin’?” he said in his best warm tone. A small raindrop landed squarely on the scar on his left cheek.

      “Isaiah? I thought you’d forgotten about me,” she replied. “I’m okay. Finally out of that boring mental hospital.”

      “Good. I’m glad. Look, I’m sorry I left like the day before you got out. I just… I didn’t know what to do.” A college girl who looked like a hippie Raquel Welch passed by on the sidewalk, smiling easily at Isaiah. He turned and watched her glide gracefully down the sidewalk.

      “Well, your actions speak loud and clear.” Isaiah didn’t respond for some time.

      “Maureen, please, I’m really sorry. I still care about you a lot. It’s just… I made plans to go visit my Uncle Zen and I’ve just felt really pulled to…”

      “Isaiah, you don’t have to make excuses to me. We’re not boyfriend and girlfriend anymore, remember?”

      “No, I guess not.”

      “You guess not? You broke up with me last month then never visited me in the hospital. That’s not how you treat someone you ‘really care about.'”

      “I did visit you in the hospital, on the first day.”

      “Maybe, but not Mercy Center.”

      “Look, you made me promise to stay in touch with you and I am.”

      “Yes, you’re Mr. Isaiah Honesty,” said Maureen, bitingly. “Mr. True-to-His-Word. You love to brag about that.”

      “I’m not bragging, Maureen, I’m just… Anyway, look… I’m just glad you’re out. I do hope you’re feeling better. It’s just… Look, I felt like I was the reason you were so depressed and seeing me wouldn’t help you get any better. Plus I’ve been super depressed lately too so…”

      Another college girl passed. This one looked like a hippie Bo Derek, complete with cornrows in her hair. When Isaiah smiled at her, she frowned at him and quickened her pace.

      “You’re a free man. Anyway, I met this guy in the hospital, one of the nurses. He’s really cool. We’re supposed to go to the Dead show at Alpine Valley next month.”

      “Cool. Well… I just wanted to make sure you were back home safe and sound and to let you know where I’m at. I’m in Colorado and hoping to get to California any day soon.”

      “You know a girl disappeared on the Prairie Path the day before you split? Mary Lou Thorsen. It’s big news here. Cops are all over the Prairie Path.”

      “Mary Lou Thorsen? Damn. I knew her. I went to grade school with her. She was super shy.”

      “Yeah, the day before you left town, Isaiah? Like three days ago. Where were you?”

      “What? Come on, Maureen, gimme a break. That sucks. Mary Lou was a good girl. A little weird but… Hey, if the phone stops, it’s just ’cause I’m out of quarters.”

      “Oh, okay. Well, I’ve got to get dressed anyway. I just got out of the shower and am sitting here in a towel. Have a fun trip.”

      Click. She hung up.    

      Isaiah stood on the sidewalk with the phone in his hand and looked up at the grey sky. A black car drove slowly past. Startled, Isaiah recognized it as the same black Jaguar from the day before. After it passed, he realized it was a Datsun 280Z and felt foolish for being so paranoid.

      When he got back to Bobby’s house, Bobby was in the backyard, pulling the cloth cushions from the yard furniture. A slight drizzle fell.

      “Hey Bobby.”

      “Isaiah! Everything good?”

      “Yeah great, no rides on the ride board though. I guess I’ll just Greyhound it the rest of the way.”

      “Look man, c’mon inside. I got a proposal for you.”

      Inside, Bobby settled on the living room couch and pointed to the easy chair for Isaiah. Again, the curtains were closed.

      “Isaiah, I want to hire you.”

      “What?”

      “I need a driver that I can trust. I take it you’ve got a driver’s license?”

      “Heck yeah, I love to drive. Got no car, but…”

      “Good. It’s a pretty easy job. And safe. I need somebody to drive empties back to Florida.” 

“What?”

“Empty cars. We get full cars in from Florida. That’s the dangerous part. But the other half is driving the empty cars back to Miami. It pays a thousand bucks a car. Plus you get a plane ticket out of Miami to wherever you wanna go. For you, San Francisco. Takes you three days, maybe four. And there’s nothing illegal in the car. Clean as a brand-new jumping bean.”

      “Wow, man. Geez… Thousand bucks, huh?”

      “Yup, you could leave today.”

      “Damn, Bobby, it’s just… I’m super-set on getting out to California and seeing Uncle Zen like as soon as possible. I wrote him that I’d be out there right around now. I even had this weird dream last night that he was getting chased by the cops. I don’t know.”

      “Well, you gotta do what you gotta do, but… Look, it’s about 2100 miles to Miami. Two, three days driving. I give you five hundred bucks for gas, hotels, food, whatever. You fly out of Miami to San Fran, you’ll be there, what’s today, Tuesday? You’ll be in California early next week at the very latest with a thousand bucks cash burning a hole in your pocket.”

      “I don’t know man,” said Isaiah, getting up and walking to the fireplace. A shiny brass statue of the Buddha sat on the mantel. He rubbed the Buddha’s belly and thought of how much he disliked cocaine. It made people noisy and thoughtless and, now, here he was, contemplating working on the periphery of the cocaine trade. Turning around, he looked Bobby square in the eye.

      “Screw it. Hell yeah, I’ll do it. Yes. Fifteen hundred bucks including expenses and a ticket to San Fran out of Miami? And the car is empty?”

      “Yup, street legal as a registered full-blood beagle. When you wanna leave?”

      “Hell, I’d leave today if I could.”

      “Yeah? I hate to hurry you out of Boulder, but… If that’s what you want, great. The car’s in a garage on the Hill. I’ll get Little Bobby, you haven’t met him yet, right? I’ll get him to book the flight and you’ll be good to go.”

      “Yeah?”

      “Yup,” Bobby said, standing up and shaking Isaiah’s hand. “It’s good to stick with family and close friends for stuff like this. You know, people you can trust.”

The Magpie

      A black and white magpie, perhaps the same one that had followed Isaiah when he first arrived in Boulder the day before, sat perched on the very top branch of a silver maple in Bobby’s backyard. Still drying off from the morning’s drizzle, he flapped his wings to air them out.

      Puffing the black feathers on his breast, he chattered loudly and gazed southwest. On the very west edge of Boulder, the Rocky Mountains exploded from the Great Plains.

      Eyeing the Flat Irons, rock outcroppings resembling huge stone hand irons, the magpie enjoyed the fresh smell of the air. The morning’s drizzle had finally washed the smell of the previous day’s house fire from the air.

The Car

      Bobby and Isaiah walked in the front door of Little Bobby’s house. Bobby called his name but didn’t receive an answer. Still calling his name, they went through the kitchen into the garage. Little Bobby had the trunk open of a blue 1984 Toyota Camry and was messing with the spare tire.

      “Hey man,” said Little Bobby, slamming the car trunk quickly. “You must be Isaiah.”

      “Isaiah, this is Little Bobby,” said Bobby. Isaiah and Little Bobby shook hands. Little Bobby had a very soft handshake.

      “Hey man,” said Isaiah, backpack over his shoulder.

      “That’s the car,” said Bobby. “It runs great. Gets tuned up before every run.”

      “Florida plates,” said Isaiah, walking around the car.

      “I booked your flight,” said Little Bobby, sniffling. “Sunday night out of Miami International.”

      “Thanks man.”

      “That’s five days from now, just to give you plenty of time,” said Bobby. “There’s a McDonalds next to a Holiday Inn a couple miles from the airport. Just leave the car in the back of the McDonalds parking lot. The address and directions are in the glove box. Leave the keys in the glove box. That’s it.”

      “That’s it. Piece of cake,” said Isaiah. “Better than making bun toasters for $4.25 an hour.”

      “Moving on up,” sang Little Bobby, leading them back into the house. Bobby sat at the kitchen table counting out cash. Through the kitchen window, he glanced up and saw the long-haired little girl wandering in the cemetery again, now wearing purple pants and a sky blue t-shirt.

      “There’s a fifteen hundred bucks right there,” said Bobby, pointing to a small stack of currency on the table. Isaiah sat down at the table, while Little Bobby disappeared into another room.

      “If the car breaks down, just get it towed, get it fixed. Whatever. The emergency number is Little Bobby’s bike shop. Area code 303 2 B OR NOT. Get it? That’s the number. 303 2 B OR NOT. It’s funny, right? Just call when you get there. Otherwise, only call if it’s a total emergency and just be cool on the phone and give your call back number.”

      “Damn, it’s like all secret agent and stuff, huh? Love it.” On the far side of the cemetery, Isaiah could see a black car passing, but couldn’t tell what brand. His heart began to race.

      “Hey, you gotta be safe,” said Bobby. “The drug war is real. But what you’re doing is easy. And legal. It’s just driving an empty car ‘cross country.”

On the Road Again

    Isaiah drove the blue Camry south down Highway 36 to Denver in the early evening. The morning rain had cleared and once again the sky glowed crystal blue. Yet, his heart still raced and he couldn’t stop checking the rear view mirror.

      With the windows up and the air conditioner on, Night Ranger’s “Sister Christian” played on the FM radio: “you’re motoring.” In the rear view mirror, he could see a black car about an eighth of a mile behind him. It seemed to be gaining on him. On the steering wheel, a single bead of sweat formed on the middle knuckle of his left hand. He wiped it off on his jeans.

      Isaiah exited onto Interstate 70 east. The black car exited too. He slowed down so the black car would pass him, but it slowed down too. Feeling paranoid again, he pulled off to lose the black car or at least see if it was a black Jaguar. East of downtown Denver, he exited on Havana Street south, watching his rear view mirror.

      The black car didn’t pull off. Relieved and looking for a place to turn around, Isaiah drove on.

      As he pulled into a Shell station to turn around, a black car pulled out of the gas station. It was a black Jaguar, heading back towards I-70. Then a Denver Police car sped by, also heading towards the interstate. Several beads of sweat formed on his left knuckles. Again, he wiped the sweat off on his jeans.

      Checking the rear view mirror, he pulled back onto the street, away from the Interstate. Havana Street led by Denver’s Stapleton Airport. Trying to stay cool, but feeling his heart racing, Isaiah rechecked the rear view mirror again and again. When the exit to the airport came, he sharply turned in without a turn signal and accelerated. He couldn’t tell for sure, but it looked like a black car was a block behind him. His forehead misted with sweat.

Little Bobby’s Barbecue

      Back in Boulder, Bobby and Little Bobby sat at a picnic table on Little Bobby’s back deck, barbecuing steaks on the gas grill. It was that hour before dusk when the world sometimes slows down.

      “I told you, man, I’m not gonna burn a family friend, or any friend, for that matter,” said Bobby proudly, drinking a bottle of O’Douls non-alcoholic beer.

      “What are you talking about?” asked Little Bobby, getting up and turning the steaks on the grill.

      “Isaiah. Last night you said you thought I was gonna nark him off to those jackass Florida cops. I’m really not like that.”

      “Hold on, Bobby. Last night, in bed, you told me you had something on him, and you’d feed him to the wolves if, like, he was afraid enough of you. Remember? Like the Columbians, you said.”

      “Yeah, sure. I mean, maybe, theoretically, probably not, but anyway, that’s not the point. The point is…”

      “Bobby,” Little Bobby interrupted, jiggling the spatula in his hand. “I know I was buzzing last night, but you told me you’d… You told me you had something on him and that you were gonna double-cross him or whatever.” The steaks began to smoke.

      “What? I did not say that. You started calling me Bobby Machiavelli or whatever, but I didn’t actually say I was gonna whatever.”

      Little Bobby sat down across from Bobby. He looked him in the eye.

      “Woops,” said Little Bobby sheepishly raising his eyebrows.

      “‘Woops’ what?” The steaks began to burn.

      “Remember when you came into the garage this afternoon with the kid? I had the trunk up?”

      “You did not!”

      “Yes, I did.”

      “How much?”
      “A fat eight ball under the spare tire.”

      Bobby shook his head and drained the bottle. He crossed his arms and looked at Little Bobby accusingly.

      “If he gets busted, there’s no reason he would not nark me, and you, off. I got nothing on him. Tell me you haven’t called that dick cop in Florida.”

      “I haven’t.” The steaks smoked, but Little Bobby didn’t get up.

      “You swear?” Little Bobby got up and took the steaks off in a desultory fashion.

      “Now, I have to swear oaths to you? These steaks are ruined.” Little Bobby took the plate of burnt steaks into the kitchen. Bobby watched Little Bobby walk away then gazed somberly across the cemetery. The colorfully-dressed little girl was not there.

The Decision

     Isaiah parked the Camry in the long-term lot of Stapleton Airport. For several minutes, he waited to see if the black Jaguar had followed him. It hadn’t, but his heart still raced. The knuckles on both hands now sweat. Trying to calm down, he wiped his hands off on his jeans and wiped his forehead with his forearm.

      He pulled a t-shirt from his backpack and wiped the steering wheel, the rear view mirror, and the gear shift for prints. Leaving the parking ticket and keys in the glove box, he locked the car without using his fingers and left the car with his backpack over his shoulder. A shuttle bus took him to the airport.

      Dissolving into the crowd inside the airport calmed him some. Finding a payphone, he dropped in a quarter and dialed 2 B OR NOT. The phone rang twice, but he hung up before anyone answered.

      Spotting the United Airlines counter, he got into line and tried to calm himself. Two young men in turbans stood in front of him speaking an unintelligible language.

      “Welcome to United Airlines, how may I help you?” asked the United ticket agent. Isaiah couldn’t stop staring at the man’s walrus mustache.

      “Can I change a Miami to San Francisco ticket to a Denver to San Francisco ticket?”

      “One way?” The man typed into his keyboard.

      “Uh yeah.”

      “Seventy-five dollars, sir.” Because it covered his mouth, his walrus mustache seemed to move instead of his lips.

      “When’s the next flight?”

      “The next flight is… Actually, there’s a direct flight in an hour that arrives in San Francisco at 1:10 am, but it is fully booked. No… Yes, there are two aisle seats available.”

      “Yeah?” A hard-looking man about 35 in a black suit stood in the back of the United Airlines line. When Isaiah looked at him, he stared right back with a sour expression.

      “Sorry, yeah, I’ll take it. Definitely. Ummm…” Isaiah pulled a wad of twenties from his front pocket. “Hey, is there like a bank or currency exchange here and a, uh, post office?”

      Isaiah followed the ticket agent’s directions to the World Wide Money Exchange. For half a minute, he stood in front of the shop hesitating. Finally, he walked in and impatiently waited in line, watching the clock.

      “I need a money order for fifteen hundred, no, for fourteen hundred dollars,” he told the cashier, a plain girl his age.

      “Fourteen hundred dollars? Yes, sir,” she replied, eyeing his long hair suspiciously. Minutes later, Isaiah left, carrying the money order in his hand.

      At a convenience-type store, he bought a whole box of envelopes, stamps, and got two dollars worth of quarters. Sitting on a hard plastic chair in a gate area, he pulled his notebook from his backpack and composed a letter.

Bobby,

      Man, I’m really sorry. The car was giving me engine problems. I couldn’t find a mechanic so I just decided to leave it at the Denver airport. It’s parked in the long-term lot section 7A with the keys and parking ticket in the glove box. Here’s your money back and I’ll reimburse you for the ticket when I can.

Thanks for everything and sorry,

Isaiah

      He stared at the letter for a hard minute and almost gobbled it up. Finally, he stuffed it and the money order into an envelope. Addressing and stamping it, he dropped the letter in a dark blue mail box by the convenience store and threw out the rest of envelopes.

      At a payphone, he dropped seven quarters into the slot and dialed a number.

      “We’re not home so please leave a message,” said a girl’s voice on the answering machine.

      “Hey Maureen, it’s Isaiah. Um, that was a tough phone call this morning, but I’ve been thinking about you and wanted to hear your voice. I miss you. Okay? Okay.” He hung up and quickly walked to his gate.

      Out of the corner of his eye, Isaiah saw the hard-looking man in the black suit from the United Airlines ticket line waiting at a gate. The man ignored Isaiah. Isaiah avoided eye contact.

      When Isaiah found his gate, he found a chair facing away from the crowd and sat motionless and breathless waiting for his flight. Still nervous, he convinced himself that the man in the black suit from the United Airlines line was about to arrest him. Every time that a bead of sweat appeared on a knuckle, he wiped it off on his pants.

      Finally boarding the plane, a nun with a pretty face not much older than Isaiah sat in the window seat next to him on the airplane. He grinned at her and she returned an inscrutable look. Putting on his seat belt, his heart finally calmed down. Soon, the plane rolled down the runway and took off.

      “California, here I come,” he said to the nun. She didn’t reply. Isaiah put on his wire-frame mirror sunglasses and slouched back in his seat, relieved.


[i] “CIA Link to Fatal Car Bomb Reported,” Chicago Tribune, 5, May 13, 1985.
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2. Kreepy Krawlers

In christy canyon, glen ellyn, glenbard west, grateful dead, iggy and the stooges, jim morrison, jodie foster army, marijuana, Stoner Noir on April 28, 2010 at 2:59 pm

      On May 13, 1985, Philadelphia police bombed a row house in a crowded neighborhood from a helicopter. The resulting inferno destroyed 61 houses and killed 11, including five children. The residents of the targeted house called themselves MOVE, a small local religious fellowship.

Mole City

      “We should do something crazy tonight,” said Angela, squatting on the concrete floor of Mole City with Nick and Rose. Mole City was a tiny concrete room fifteen feet below a manhole cover in an old suburban neighborhood in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. By climbing into the dry storm sewer outlet at a small lake and walking hunched over for about a block, enterprising youths could enter Mole City. Colorfully spray painted, it was a tiny underground party club. In 1985, it was punk rock heaven.

      “Like what?” asked Nick, sitting in front of a pair of votive candles.

      “Ummm… we could put crazy glue in the door locks of the police cars over at the Civic Center or…”

      “Me and Oreo put glue in the locks at the bank once,” interrupted Nick, scraping his metal pipe for resin. “I ain’t going anywhere near the cop shop tonight. There’s probably a warrant on me for missing the court date on that weed possession thing.”

      “I know!” said Angela, nudging Rose. “Let’s trip tonight! Who’s got acid?”

      “What?” asked Rose, a mile away. “I was spacing out.”

      “Let’s trip tonight,” insisted Angela. “Nicky 666 is gonna turn us on.”

      “Nicky 666. Ha,” said Rose without laughing.

      “If I had acid, we’d all be tripping right now,” he said. “How about let’s just get super stoned and sneak into some rich folks’ house and creep around?”

      “That’d be trippy…” Angela said, as Nick lit a Marlboro Red.

Ox and Amber

      “Try that convenience store in Lombard just down from that bar,” said Ox.

      “Okay,” replied Amber. “But I don’t really care if we drink tonight or not.” Like Ox, a high school senior, she was driving her mom’s white ’81 Chevette hatchback late on a Monday night.

      “Well I told Nick and Angela and them all that I’d try to get some wine,” said Ox. They’d already tried one store in Glen Ellyn and now drove down Crescent Boulevard out of town.

      “Oh great,” she said sarcastically. “Well, then, we must drink tonight. Of course. I mean, do we really have to party every night? We could just go to my mom’s house and like bake cookies.”

      “Bake cookies? Come on Amber. It’s a kick ass night out. There’s a party in Mole City. It’ll be fun. Where’s your smokes?”

      “I’m out,” she said, as Ox rummaged through her purse, finding a half pack of Newports. “Nick is creepy. He looks at me in a disgusting way, like leering and laughing. And Rose just sits there, looking depressed and weird. You know?”

      “Baby, why you smoke menthol?” he said, lighting one. “They are disgusting.”

      “And Angela just totally flirts with you right in front of me.”

      “That’s totally not true. Anyway, it’s like whatever you wanna do, do it. I wanna party a little, I’m gonna party. It’ll be fun. Nick is cool. He laughs at everybody… Ernie’s supposed to be bringing some kick ass new weed too. You like him, right?”

      “No. He’s stoned all the time. He’s all right, I guess. I just… Are you directing me? ‘Cause I don’t really know where to go.”

      “Yeah, just keep going straight,” he said, as they drove past the dark hollow of the Churchill Woods. Billy Idol’s “Rebel Yell” played on the radio.

      Glen Ellyn was a terrifyingly wealthy old suburb west of Chicago and Amber and Ox were two of its children. Their bodies looked full grown, but their minds were as gullible as new born kittens. That particular evening, the night felt young, but was filled with just enough reckless energy that a single heedless decision could derail it forever into uncharted territory.

      “Ox, it’s just… I feel like they’re your friends, not mine.”

      “God, Amber. They’re your friends too. Why does everything have to be so difficult all the time?”

      Finally, they pulled into the White Hen parking lot as a loud yellow-jacket ’72 Chevelle Malibu pulled out. The big-haired strawberry blonde at the wheel eyed Ox as she passed. For a moment the AM radios in each car synched up, both tuned to WLS.

      “More more more, more more more!

      “Cool car,” said Ox, adjusting the rear view mirror and trying to flatten his thick mullet with his hands. Wearing a black Led Zeppelin t-shirt and a cut-off Levis vest, he looked like a typical teenage burnout. Yet, due to his almost giant size, he could sometimes pass for older.

      “You wait here,” said Ox, getting out and slamming the car door.

      “Yes sir,” said Amber, sulking and hiding her cigarettes under her car seat. The WLS news came on. Police in Philadelphia had firebombed a cult house, starting an inferno that burned two city blocks and killed a dozen people. Amber changed the station.

      Trying to look tough, Ox carried two bottles of Boone’s Farm wine to the counter. Over the radio, the middle-aged cashier listened to the same radio broadcast of the police bombing.

      “Crazy,” he said to Ox, squinting. “MOVE? Radio said they’re some kind of Negro back-to-the-land anti-government cult. Still I don’t see why the police have a right to bomb their house like that. It don’t seem… Hey, you’re Ox Lancaster.”

      “No,” said Ox glumly.

      “Yes you are. Why didn’t you go out for football this year? I mean, last year, you started on a team that won state. This year, you might of could of got a college scholarship. I seen you play Proviso Black your junior year and you done…”

      “Hey look,” Ox interrupted. “I’m kind of in a hurry here. Gimme a box of Marlboro Red.”

      “Ox Lancaster, how ’bout that? Look, Ox, I can’t sell you no liquor. You ain’t of age. I’ll sell you the smokes but…”

      “Whatever. Stupid laws. How much?”

      “See right there? Lombard Police. Two ninety for the smokes.” A patrol car had pulled into the parking lot in front of the store.

      “Damn police state,” said Ox, paying the cashier and leaving. The cashier watched Ox leave and shook his head in doubt.

      “Youth is wasted on the young,” said the cashier, frowning and waving a greeting at the cop in his car.

Mole City, Part Two

      “I am gonna get messed up tonight,” said Angela. “And seduce Ox.”

      “Yeah right,” said Rose. High school juniors, Angela and Rose could pass for twin sisters. Skinny shapeless blondes with identical puffed-up fried fluffy hair and black eye shadow, they both wore loose black t-shirts and tight stone-washed jeans. Yet, their personalities were opposites. While Rose was dark and quiet, Angela was sassy and loud.

      “Do it,” said Nick, three years older, sticking a homemade mix tape into his cassette deck. Wiry, Nick had a shaggy mohawk and wore ripped jeans with a studded belt, an old flannel shirt with a skull stenciled on the back, and a studded collar.

      “You jump him and I’ll jump Amber,” he said. “She wants me.”

      “You wish. Nick, you know you’re the only one I want,” cooed Angela fakely.
      “Yeah right,” he said. “This tape is kick ass.”

      “She’s serious,” said Rose, fixing her intense eyes on Nick. Shadows from the candles danced dully on the sewer walls. One graffito read: ALIEN SEX KITTEN.

      Joy Division’s “Transmission” played on the tape deck. Nick scraped resin from his little metal pot pipe with a butterfly knife.

      “When’s Ernesto getting here?” he asked.

      “I don’t know,” said Angela. “That boy operates outside of time. Rose, when’s your true love getting here?”

      “About ten, he said,” replied Rose. “It’s supposed to be totally seedless weed. Naperville Windowbox.”

      “Naperville Windowbox? That stuff sucks,” said Nick, taking a resin hit and coughing.

      “Well I could call out when the going gets tough, the things that we’ve learned are no longer enough,” he sang along to the tape.

Amber and Ox, Part Two

      “Just let me off here if you don’t wanna go,” said Ox, sitting in the passenger seat. Amber had parked behind the football bleachers by the lake.

      “And you don’t care if I don’t go? I mean, we’ve got school tomorrow. Look, if you wanna see Angela that bad, why don’t…”

      “Amber,” interrupted Ox. “I don’t care if Angela is there. You’re just making that stuff up. Anyway, your mom doesn’t care what time you get home. I mean if you wanna go home and bake cookies, be my guest, I’ll just see you to…”

      “Okay I’ll go,” she interrupted, getting out and slamming the car door. “Come on, your buddies are waiting for the great Ox Lancaster.”

      Short and very busty, Amber wore a ripped denim mini-skirt, old green Converse, and a black leather jacket over a tight orange Reeces Peanut Butter Cups t-shirt. She walked quickly, leaving Ox to catch up with her.

      “That’s right, me and my boyfriend are going on a date in the sewers tonight,” she said. “You better not let your buddy Nick drool on me, Ox.”

      Ox shook his head and stuck his hands in his pockets. They walked the rest of the block to the Mole City entrance in silence.

Partytime

      “Just Say ‘NO’ to Nancy” by the local hardcore punk band, Slave Revolt, played on the cassette deck. In a moment, Nick, Angela, and Rose all stopped moving or speaking. Nick turned off the tape deck.

      “Friend or foe?” he called down the sewer pipe.

      “It’s Officer Mike Hunt of the Glen Ellyn Police Department,” replied Ox, in a deep voice. “Come out with your hands up and your pants down.”

      “You’ll never take us alive, pig!” shouted Angela, as Nick turned the tape back on. “Unless you got liquor!”

      “Maybe he’s got some weed,” Nick whispered to Angela. With Nick’s face close to hers, she quickly kissed him on the cheek. He looked at her quizzically.

      “She loves you, Nick,” said Rose somberly.

      “Shut up, Rose,” said Angela. “Ox, sweetie, hurry up, I’m thirsty.”

      Ox and Amber kept walking hunched over down the storm sewer pipe towards the candle glow.

      “I should have brought a flashlight,” said Amber.

      “It’s fine,” said Ox. “I can see the candlelight up there.”

      Nick whispered to Rose and Angela. Angela snickered. As soon as Ox and Amber made it to Mole City, Nick blew out the candles and Rose shrieked.

      “Come on dude!” exclaimed Ox, searching his pocket for a lighter. Coolly, Amber lit her lighter, reached down and relit the candles.

      “Welcome to the afterworld,” said Angela, imitating Count Dracula. “You get me something to drink, Oxie?”

      “We tried, but no luck. This cop in Lombard was like staking out the White Hen. I got some weed, though. And smokes.”

      Nick, Angela, and Rose ignored Amber. She sat in the sewer pipe on the edge of the main chamber.

      “You got weed, dude?” said Nick. “Let’s smoke out. We’re thinking about getting super stoned and doing something freaky.”

      “Yeah, like what?” asked Ox, settling down on the floor and fishing a plastic sandwich bag of weed out of his front pocket.

      “Like… sneaking into some rich folks’ house and just creeping around.”

      “Kreepy krawling!” said Angela snickering. “Freaky, man. Right, Rose?”

      Rose just shook her head, off in her own world. Glen Ellyn had two classes of kids: those who lived in houses and those who lived in apartments. Most of the kids who lived in houses didn’t even realize the depth of this class divide, but those who lived in apartments certainly did. Amber and Ox grew up in houses, the others in apartments.

      “Where’s Ernie and Isaiah and them all?” asked Ox, fidgeting with his weed bag.

      “You wanna roll a joint, dude?” asked Nick, passing him some Zigzags.

      “Uh, I haven’t seen Isaiah since Maureen the Beauty Queen tried to kill herself, but he supposedly just split for California or something,” said Angela.

      “That’s what he told me. He went to see his Uncle Zen or something. Angela, may I have a cigarette?” asked Rose.

      “Maureen’s out of the mental hospital,” Amber said. “She’s okay.”

      “How you doin’, Am?” asked Angela, smiling faux-pleasantly at Amber and handing a Marlboro Light to Rose.

      “Fine thanks, Angela. Another day in paradise. Yourself?”

      “Okay. I like your jacket.”

      “Sure, man, it’s hump day,” said Ox, taking the papers from Nick.

      “Thanks,” said Amber. “My mom’s boyfriend gave it to me.”

      “Oh yeah?” said Angela. “I wish one of my mom’s boyfriends would give me a leather jacket instead of a…”

      “Y’all hear about the police bombing them black people in Philly?” interrupted Nick. “Bombed their house from a helicopter and burned down the whole damn neighborhood. Pigs. Oh here’s the tune.”

      “When they kick out your front door, how you gonna come?” sang Nick, turning up The Clash’s “Guns of Brixton.”

      “Great song,” said Ox, rolling a joint with difficulty over his baggie. “The only rock band that matters. I heard something about it on the radio.”

      “Come the revolution, that’s the only way they’ll get us out of Mole City,” said Nick dramatically. “Pigs’ll drop explosives on us through that manhole cover up there.”

      “What?” asked Ox. Nick chuckled.

      “So, Am, you miss cheerleading?” asked Angela, casting a sideways glance at Rose.

      “Hell no,” lied Amber. “It’s totally superficial. Me and Ox both decided we’re done with all that fake stuff.”

      “Oh hey, speaking of which, you hear they’re gonna make a movie in town this summer?” said Angela. “Like a Hollywood movie filmed at the high school. We should all go be extras in it. We’ll be like the mean stoner kids.”

      “With your hands on your head or on the trigger of your gun,” sang Nick to the tape.

      Ox lit the fat joint, took a big hit, and handed it to Nick. Nick raised the joint in the air, said “hail Satan,” and hit it.

      “Yeah,” says Ox, exhaling. “It’s good. You gonna smoke tonight, Amber?”

      “No,” she said, hitting the joint after Nick handed it to her.

      “Cool. You’re hilarious when you get high,” said Ox.

      “They’re fake,” said Nick to Angela, taking the joint from Amber.

      “I thought so,” said Angela, looking at Amber.

      “What?” asked Amber.

      “Uh, your boobs,” said Angela.

      “Yes, you’re right. They’re just balloons I tape to my chest,” said Amber. “Very clever of you to figure it out.”

      “This smoke is good,” said Nick, taking a hit while holding his butterfly knife in his other hand.

      “Boobs are just fat anyway,” said Angela. Rose nodded.

      “You two are just jealous ’cause you don’t have any,” cackled Nick, looking Amber up and down appraisingly. Amber looked at him disdainfully and zipped up the front of her leather jacket.

      “I love me some Reeces Peanut Butter Cups,” said Nick. “Don’t you, Oxford? Oh yeah. We is gonna get super st-st-stoned tonight…”

A Very Dark Night

      A second joint later, the five teenagers made their way back down the storm sewer pipe. Hunching their way through the pipe, the faint circular light of the outside world was visible ahead.

      “Damn, I scraped my head again,” swore Ox. “Damn it.”

      “Get lower, big boy,” said Angela.

      Making their way out of the sewer pipe onto the grassy shore of Lake Ellyn, the night was dark. Foreboding clouds covered the sky with no moon visible. The lake was absolutely still and perfectly reflected the thick cloud cover.

      “It is exactly midnight,” intoned Angela, doing her Dracula imitation again. “Children of the night, awake.”

      “I am st-st-stoned,” slurred Ox, imitating Nick. The five began walking aimlessly along the east shore of the small lake.

      “Ox?” asked Amber quietly, pulling him aside as the others walked ahead. “I’m kind of tired. You wanna go back to my mom’s house maybe and…?”

      “Baby, come on,” Ox interrupted. “You still wanna make cookies or something? Let’s keep hanging out. I mean, if you wanna…”

      “Oh never mind,” she said, shaking her head.

      “So?”

      “I’m not leaving you alone with…”

      “You two lovebirds coming?” interrupted Angela, looking back at Amber and Ox.

      Ox took Amber’s hand and led her back to the group. Just then a police car came down a cross street towards the lake.

      “Pigs!” Angela called.

      In an instant, they all went down, flat on their stomachs, laying on the grass by the lake. The police car drove slowly down Lake Road and passed them. Rolling onto their backs and watching the impenetrable midnight sky, they waited for a minute to get up.

      “Damn pigs,” said Nick, getting up with his tape deck. “I ain’t goin’ to jail tonight. Screw it.”

      “Damn, it’s dark,” said Angela.

      “It’s almost new moon,” said Rose quietly. “In Taurus. The Bull. It’s a night for breaking through barriers.”

      “Breaking through barriers?” said Nick. “Rose, you is one trippy gal. And that’s just one reason why I love you. Hey, you know that funky old mansion on Crescent with the brass lions in front of it? Some super old dude lives in there by himself. He’s like a 100. Let’s go hang out with him.”

      “You know him?” asked Ox.

      “Hell no. Well, I used to mow his lawn way back when. He never used to lock his doors. Follow me, my pretties. And once we start climbing the hill, let’s be real quiet.”

      “Angela, maybe we should just go home,” said Rose. “I’m feeling kinda tired.”

      “You ain’t going nowhere,” said Angela, taking Rose by the hand and pulling her foreward. “Your mom don’t care when you get home and neither does mine for that matter. Let’s keep partying.”  

      Nick led the gang down Lake Road and cut up the hill on a wooded private drive, quietly singing “Guns of Brixton.”

      “You can crush us, you can bruise us, but you’ll have to answer to, Oh the guns of Brixton.”

The Dark Mansion

      Silently, the gang approached a dark two-story Spanish Colonial mansion just on the other side of the hill. They stood among the trees in the back of unfenced yard, looking across the wide rear lawn.

      “There it is,” whispered Nick. “It’s just one old dude, about a 100 years old. Let’s just go in and move some furniture around to freak him out.”

      “Freaky,” whispered Angela, grinning.

      “I am not burglarizing someone’s house,” whispered Amber. “Right, Ox?”

      “What are you talking about? It’s not burglary if you don’t take anything,” whispered Nick. “Come on, Ox. I’ll bet you five bucks the doors are open.”

      Uncertain, Ox looked from face to face. Rose looked terrified and Amber shook her head with disapproval.

      “I’m telling you, it’s a trip,” whispered Nick. “Just to go to in there and feel the fear. It’s like butt hole surfing down a hill of pure fear.”

      “Oh man man man,” whispered Angela. “You’re coming with, Rose. Let’s just go in for a minute.”

      “Ox, this is stupid,” whispered Amber. “Let’s just go home.”

      “Oxie’s coming with me,” whispered Angela, taking him by the elbow and leading him towards the house.

      “Hell yeah,” whispered Nick, wide eyed. “Okay, Amber, you’re the lookout. If anybody comes or anything, just whistle as loud as you can. And guard my tape deck.”

      “You guys are idiots,” whispered Amber. Nick handed her his tape deck and the four crept towards the house. When they got up to the back door, Nick turned to them.

      “Okay,” he whispered. “If we have to make a run for it, everyone split up and meet back at Mole City. Okay?”

      “I can’t move,” whispered Rose. Nick tiptoed up to the back door and turned the doorknob with his flannel shirt covering his hand. The door was unlocked.

      “You punks owe me five bucks,” he whispered. “You first, Ox.”

      With hesitation, Ox stepped towards the door. Suddenly, Angela pushed him into the house in front of her. Ox tripped over the sill of the door and almost fell into the house. Angela grabbed Rose’s hand and pulled her into the house with her. Nick followed them, shutting the door quietly.

      Cursing Nick and Ox and all of them, Amber crouched in the furthest recess of the backyard. She could hear her own heart beating.

      The four kreepy krawlers stood on the carpet just inside the dark house. Waiting for his eyes to adjust, Nick sat down on the sofa and Ox sat next to him. Angela nestled down between Nick and Ox and put a hand on each boy’s knee. Rose stood still as a statue just inside the door. Gradually, their eyes adjusted somewhat. Smelling of leather, the room appeared to be a well-appointed living room.

      After sitting in silence for a minute, Nick stood up and signaled with his head for the others to follow him. Angela pulled Rose with her. The next room was the kitchen. Without the others noticing, Nick picked up a butter knife and slid it into his back pocket.

      They crept into the dining room. The dining room opened onto a grand stairway.

      “Move the chairs around,” Nick whispered. As Angela and Ox quietly began to move the dining room chairs around, Nick silently darted up the stairs when they weren’t looking. At the top of the stairs, he could faintly hear snoring.

      Creeping towards the snoring, he found the old man’s open bedroom door. Reaching just inside the doorway, Nick flicked on the light switch on the  bedroom wall. In a flash, the old man’s eyes opened and Nick silently slipped back down the stairs.

      Instead of turning towards the dining room where the others were, Nick took the other way around to the back door. Quickly slipping out, he shoved the butter knife into the bottom of the exterior door casing to prevent the door from being opened from the inside, then sprinted towards Amber in the back yard.

      “A light just came on upstairs,” whispered Angela to Rose and Ox, in the dining room. “I think somebody just woke up. Where’s Nick?”

      “He’s not here?” whispered Ox. “Let’s get the hell out of here.”

      The old man sat up in his king-sized oak bed and slid his feet into his slippers. In the light, his bedroom was luxurious and wood-paneled. Tastefully framed woodcuts of American pioneers hung from the walls. In one, mohawked and shirtless Indians lay the woods outside a pioneer log cabin, tomahawks in hand, getting ready for a terrorist attack.

      A World War One veteran, he kept his old service pistol in his night stand. He slid open the drawer and pulled out the gun.

      “No good thieves,” he grunted, picking up his phone and dialing 469-3131.

      “Amber, come on!” whispered Nick, rushing up to Amber in the backyard. “The old dude woke up. Where’s Ox and Angela and uh…? We’re all meeting at the Bahas. Come on!”

      He took his tape deck from her, grabbed her hand, and ran with her by the side of the house to the front yard. Heading in the opposite direction of Mole City, he led her down the driveway to Crescent Boulevard.

      “Where’s Ox and the girls?” she whispered to him, once they reached the street, both still running.

      “I don’t know,” replied Nick. “They must have come out before me. I thought they would have gone to you first, but they must be ahead of us.”

      Inside the dark mansion, Ox tried to open the back door, but he shook so much he couldn’t get the door open. Rose stood paralyzed in the dining room, beginning to cry. Angela grabbed her hand and pulled her towards the back door.

      “I’ve got intruders at 722 Crescent Boulevard in Glen Ellyn. Come immediately,” the old man gruffly told the 911 operator. He hung up, turned out the bedroom light, and walked out of his bedroom, pistol in hand. Hearing noise from the back of the first floor, he slid open the second-floor hallway window and intently watched his backyard with his pistol ready.

      Nick and Amber ran down the sidewalk along Crescent Avenue. Not talking now, they headed for the Taylor Avenue Underpass and the dark safety of the railroad tracks, the Prairie Path bike path, and the Bahas. In the distance, a police siren began to wail.

      Angela pushed Ox aside and tried to open the back door. Turning the door knob and pushing the door with her slight shoulder, she couldn’t get the door to move. It was solidly stuck shut.

      “Bust it down, dude,” she whispered to Ox. Ox, almost a giant, lifted his right leg and smashed the doorknob with the bottom of his foot. With a loud crash, the door flew open. Pulling Rose, Angela ran out first and Ox followed.

      The old man saw his prey from the window: three dark figures fleeing across his back lawn. As a teenage American soldier in 1918, he had killed six Germans in France with this gun. He raised the pistol and set his sights on the thick body of the largest of the three fleeing thieves. The gun was a Colt .45 semi-automatic, blue steel with a walnut grip.

      In the back of the backyard, Ox, Angela, and Rose paused for a moment looking for Amber. In the distance, they could hear the police siren wailing.

      When the thieves paused in his backyard, the old man set his sight on the big head of the largest of them. He intended to just shoot through the window screen.

      “Where the hell is Amber?” whispered Ox, looking back at the dark mansion. “And Nick? Let’s get the hell outta here.”

      The old man pulled the trigger. The hammer rose. The hammer fell. Click. The gun was not loaded.

      “No good rotten thieves,” the old man said, watching them run away, disappearing over the back of the hill, towards the lake.

The Prairie Path After Midnight

      A warm spring night, Nick and Amber walked east along the crushed white limestone gravel of the Prairie Path. Both tried to catch their breath from the run. The siren had stopped.

      “Those guys probably got ahead of us and already got a fire started at the Bahas,” Nick said, no longer whispering. “That was one trippy scene inside that house.”

      “That was stupid. Why do you even want to do stuff like that? And I’ve got school tomorrow,” Amber said petulantly.

      “Yeah, well… Hoowee,” said Nick, exhaling deeply. “The old dude must have heard us. I don’t know. Ox bumped into a chair and knocked it over, that must have woken him up. You got a smoke?”

      “No,” she replied, digging in her jacket pocket and handing him a Newport. He lit it and watched across the railroad tracks as the dark blanket of clouds began to peel back.

      “Thanks, I’ve actually been liking menthol lately,” Nick said, exhaling. “Check it out, the stars are coming out.”

      “Nice,” said Amber, looking up and across the tracks. “So, like where do you live anyway?”

      “Nowhere, really, I got a fort over on the other side of St. Charles Road mostly.”

      “A fort?”

      “Yeah, there’s a big empty field behind those tracks on the other side of Ackerman Park and… yeah, I just live out there pioneer-style.”

      “Crazy.”

      “Hey, it’s this society that’s crazy, not me.”

      “I didn’t mean crazy-bad. I just meant crazy-different. You’re different, that’s all. Like in a good way, probably, okay?”

      “Yeah? Hey, you wanna know what’s crazy that I noticed? Like, in this town, of all the people I know, like nobody has a dad. Nobody. Think about it. You, Ox, Angela, Rose. Me? None of us. Ernie. Isaiah. Maureen. No dads. Talk about crazy.”

      “That is messed up.” Smoking, the two walked quickly down the dark bike path.

Mole City, Part Three

      Ox, Angela, and Amber sat in the main chamber of Mole City, panting. Angela lit the two votive candles, which cast strange shadows on the spray-painted walls. One graffito read: RISE.

      “That was freaky,” giggled Angela, eyes shining. “Like it was scary as hell, but you gotta admit, you felt totally alive in there.”

      “I am never doing anything like that ever again,” said Rose, pale and trembling. “I have never been so terrified in my life.”

      Ox started cackling. Angela joined him. Both felt exhilarated.

      “What a trip,” he said. “It was like…like…I don’t know. I just felt like… Hey, where the hell is Amber and Nick anyway?”

      “I hope he got out of there, but it looks like…” said Angela.

      “It was like…” Ox interrupted. “I mean, like yeah, I was scared but it was like I was totally aware of like every little…”

      “Total awareness, man,” interrupted Angela, sarcastic but grinning. “Looks like Amber-ger blew you off, huh?”

      “I guess,” he said.

      “Her loss,” said Angela, getting up and sitting in his lap. Rose was rocking back and forth on the floor, holding onto her knees.

      “Roll us a joint, big boy,” whispered Angela, biting his ear.

The Bahas

      East of the Underpass, the Prairie Path gradually diverged from the railroad tracks. In that divergence, several acres of woods grew between the bike path and the tracks, hidden by a steep ridge that rose along the path. Another secret party spot, local youths called those woods “The Bahas.”

      ” Ox? Angela? Rose? What the hell?” called Nick, walking down the ridge into the dark Bahas. “If you guys are hiding, I’m gonna kick your asses.”

      Amber followed him, feeling uncertain. She zipped her leather jacket all the way up.

      “Ox?” she called. “Ox? This isn’t funny.”

      Nick started picking up small branches as they approached the cold fire pit. He broke up the branches and dropped them into the pit.

      “Rip up that box, Amber,” he commanded, pointing to an empty Miller bottles 12-pack box in the pit. “Please. Maybe they’re behind us. Maybe they took the tracks or are coming through the back way, by Jenny Bell’s house.”

      Soon, they had a small fire going. Nick found more branches and broke them up, building up the fire.

      “I used to be a boy scout,” said Nick, as Amber raised her eyebrows. “Yeah, I know.”     

      Amber sat on a large log used as a fire-side bench and lit a Newport. Nick turned on his tape deck: the Replacements “Androgynous:” “now something meets boy and something meets girl, they both look the same, they’re overjoyed in this world.”

      “You thirsty?” Nick asked, offering her a silver flask. “Good stuff.”

      “What is it?”

      “Like whiskey. Mostly. Try it. It’s good for the nerves.”

      “Holding out on us, huh? I see the way you are.”

      “Well, there ain’t much. If I shared with everyone… you know.” With the fire burning, he sat next to her on the log bench.

      “I like this song, Nick,” she said. “It’s sweet.”

      Hesitating, she took a small swig from the flask and handed it back. Nick just held it between his hands without taking a sip.

      “Hey Amber, I know I been kinda rough on you. Like hazing you and all. I’m just not used to hanging out with girls of like your caliber. I guess you used to kinda scare me a little.”

      “Thanks, I guess, but I scare you? Now that is weird. You’re like the scariest guy in town and I scare you? Huh.” Nick handed her back the flask and she took another small swig.

      “Yeah, right, well, like I’ve never hung out with a cheerleader before, I’m like a total burnout freak and you’re like the hottest girl in town, going out with Mr. Football Star and all.”

      “Hey, I’m not a cheerleader anymore and, thanks, but I really don’t think I’m the hottest girl in town either.”

      “To me, you are.” Nick turned and faced Amber, gently taking both of her hands in his. “I would kill for your love.”

      “Oh my god, you are totally freaking me out,” Amber said, taking another swig from the flask and feeling a bit woozy.

Mole City, Part Three

      As Rose lay curled on her side on the concrete floor, hands folded beneath her head, Ox took off his jean vest and laid it across her small body. Angela still sat in his lap, rubbing his back.

      “Ox, I love the way you feel. Like a man. Not like a skinny little stoner boy.”

      “I thought you loved Nick?”

      “Well, all the girls love Nick, right? I guess I’ve always loved him and all… probably always will. But! I think it’s really actually probably like brother-sister love, you know, not boyfriend-girlfriend love.”

      Angela kissed him quickly on his lips. He hugged her. She bit his lip.

      “Ouch, that hurt,” he said, feigning pain. She ran a hand under the back of his t-shirt and scratched his back. Rose appeared to be asleep or at least pretending to be.

      “Oxford Lancaster,” Angela cooed in his ear. “Looks like you’re all mine tonight.”

The Bahas, Part Two

      As the midnight stars spangled above the dim trees, Nick stared into Amber’s eyes. Leaning forward, he kissed her once, softly, on her lips. With hesitation, she kissed him back. From the tape deck, the Replacements played “Sixteen Blue:” “your age is the hardest age, everything drags and drags…

      Tenderly, he ran his hands through her hair and down her cheeks. For a moment, his body trembled. Finally, in the May firelight, he kissed her again, deeply, and unzipped the front of her leather jacket.

      Running both hands inside the front of her orange t-shirt, he cupped her bare breasts. Both Amber and Nick let out a deep sigh. A tiny breeze passed and the two teenagers fell into each other.

6. The Search

In Amy Carlson, blizzard of ozz, Corey Haim, glen ellyn, glenbard west, grateful dead, led zeppelin, marijuana, psychedelic mushrooms, Sean Hayes, Stoner Noir, the clash on April 12, 2010 at 6:35 pm

On June 30, 1985, after a sixteen-day ordeal, the Lebanese hijackers released the remaining 39 Americans hostages from the TWA flight. Soon after, Israel released over 700 Lebanese and Palestinians captured during its occupation of Lebanon.  “Let me further make it plain to the assassins in Beirut and their accomplices, wherever they may be, that America will never make concessions to terrorists,” President Reagan said upon the hostages’ release.[i]   

The Anarchy Center

      “I bet she’s buried out along the railroad tracks somewhere,” Ox said to Weasel, crossing the railroad tracks at the downtown Glen Ellyn train station in the late afternoon. A giant ex-high school football star, Ox wore a cut-off denim vest and black Led Zeppelin t-shirt. Pointy-nosed with stringy long hair, Weasel wore a wrinkled black Black Sabbath t-shirt.

      “Who?” asked Weasel, putting a Tootsie Roll in his mouth and dropping the wrapper.

      “The girl who disappeared? What’s her name? Mary Lou Whatsername?” Ox played air guitar as they walked. Weasel kept his hands in his pockets, his head down, and kept bumping into Ox’s side. Ox punched him in the arm and pushed him away.

      “Watch where you’re going, dill wad,” Ox said.

      “I never seen that chick in my life,” said Weasel. “When I got busted that night at the Bahas, the cops kept asking me about her.”

      “We was in jail on that weed thing that day.”

      “Yup, that’s what I told those fools.” The two boys walked across the train station parking lot toward downtown.

      “I think I saw her around, but I didn’t know her,” said Ox. “Seems like she didn’t have any friends or something.”

      “Tough luck for her,” said Weasel, chewing the candy with his mouth open.

      “Hey man, let’s cruise over to the Anarchy Center.”  

      “Is it still a hang-out place? I thought Teddy was on tour with Slave Revolt.”

      “Yeah, Slave Revolt’s on tour but that weird old dude he was living with still runs a swing-door at the apartment.”

      “Cool.”

      “Hey, I got ten bucks, if you got like five, we can call Ernie and get an eighth. You got a fin?”

      “Guess.”

      “Right. Maybe he’ll sell me a short eighth then. Hey, maybe Angela’s there. I could use a little you-know-what, you know what I’m saying? Dude, check out that car. What is that?” A yellow jacket ’72 Chevelle Malibu rumbled by on Main Street.

      “It’s a Malibu 350, ’72,” said Weasel, squinting at the car. “The timing’s all screwed up. Some hot chick with big hair and a leather mini-skirt drives it.”

      They entered the apartment building just south of Soukup’s Hardware and walked to a door under the stairs. The hallway smelled of weed and dust. Ox knocked on the door of the apartment, known to the local kids as “the Anarchy Center.” Nobody answered, but they could hear music and voices within.

      Finally, an old man with a receding hairline answered the door. “Yes?”

      “Hey man, remember me?” said Ox. “I was here a couple weeks ago, friends with Teddy?”

      Owitz, in his early 40s, stood reluctantly aside and they walked in. The doorway opened into the main room. Amber, Maureen, Rose, and Tommy the Elf sat on the floor around the coffee table smoking and talking. A slightly rotten smell pierced the cigarette smoke.

      “Hey dudes. What’s up, Angela?” said Ox, not looking at Amber. Ox and Weasel plopped down on the old couch and pulled out cigarettes.

      “How long’s Slave Revolt on tour for?” Ox asked Owitz.

      “A month at least. They’re supposedly in Denver or something right now,” the old man replied grumpily, sitting on the sofa as Ox and Weasel moved aside.

      The apartment was two rooms long and narrow.  Really, it was like a hallway that had been split into two rooms. It was also windowless, ill lit, and messy. Graffiti covered the walls. Punk Rock Is Revolution. Smash Capitalism. Destroy the State. Just Say Yes.

      A tape deck played Iggy and the Stooges “I Wanna Be Your Dog.” The old man, looking like a dissolute high school science teacher, sat talking about science with tiny red-haired punkish Tommy.

      “What about if three lasers were used?” asked Owitz, overly enunciating his words.

      “Three lasers would mess up the symmetry. Holograms can only use two lasers. It has to do with the refractions created when the…” explained Tommy, sneaking looks at Maureen.

      “So where’s your other half?” Ox asked Rose, borrowing Weasel’s lighter. Though Rose and her best friend Angela looked like twins, skinny shapeless girls with fried fluffy blonde hair, Rose was the dark quiet one and Angela was the sassy one.

      “Angela?” replied Rose quietly. “She’s out looking for you, I thought.”

      “Dude, gimee my lighter back,” said Weasel to Ox.    

      “Hey Rose, you wanna call up Ernie and see if he’ll sell me a short eighth?” asked Ox.

      “Yeah, seriously,” Tommy told Owitz. “Hey, you hear what Reagan said? Like he thinks he’s Rambo? He’s gonna do a Sylvester Stallone on the terrorists next time they capture Americans? What an idiot.”

      “He thinks he’s still making movies,” said Owitz disdainfully.

      “Unless anyone’s got five bucks to go in on an eighth?” Ox begged loudly.

      “Why didn’t you go to the Dead show?” Amber asked Maureen, leaning back on her arms. Whereas Amber was a short and busty hottie, Maureen was a slender beauty. “I thought that guy bought you a ticket.”

      “The nurse dude?” replied Maureen, examining the ends of her hair. “Yeah, he did, but, you know, he just drove me crazy with his talking and, like, always asking me if I was okay.”

      “Yeah? Huh,” said Amber, looking at her watch. “Nick said he was going to be here like forty minutes ago. It’s so predictable. As soon as you give a guy what he wants, he doesn’t want you anymore.”

      “Yeah?” asked Maureen, inquisitively. “So you and Nicky did it, huh?”

      “Of course not,” Amber said, fidgeting. “Hey Owitz, are you going to the liquor store?”

      “Uh no. Why?” replied Owitz, not looking at her.

      “Me and Maureen want some vodka for tonight.” Amber, wearing a ripped jean mini-skirt and tight green t-shirt that read “I’m Up Here” with an arrow pointing to her face, got up from the floor and sat next to Owitz.

      “Please?” she asked, giving him a shy smile.

      “Yeah maybe,” Owitz replied, staring at her chest.

      “Hey everybody. Owitz is going on a run to Malloy’s if anybody wants anything,” Amber said. “I’m getting vodka for the Towers party tonight.”

      “Dude, get me cigarettes,” said Ox, still avoiding acknowledging Amber. “Marlboro Reds. Box. Can I owe you?”

      “Yeah, man,” said Tommy the Elf, reaching into his pocket for money. “How ’bout some Mickeys? I think they’re having a sale on 12-packs. I got five, no, seven bucks.”

      “All right,” said Owitz, collecting the money. “Marlboro Reds dude: no fronts. From each, according to his ability and to each, according to his need. But no credit. I gotta make something off this too if I’m the one walking down there, right?”
      “Yeah, you guys,” said Amber, sticking her chest out. “Don’t be dicks. Make it worth his while. He needs money to help smash the state. Right, Owitz?”

      Iggy and the Stooges “1969” played on the tape deck: “It was 1969, okay? War all over the USA.” Ox, Weasel, and Tommy talked conspiratorially to each other. Tommy looked up at Owitz appraisingly.

      “You ask him,” demanded Ox.

      “What was the date?” asked Tommy.

      “I don’t know,” replied Ox. “What the hell? I can’t even remember her name.”

      “Mary Lou Thorsen,” Tommy told Ox. “You ask him.”

      “He did it. I’m sure,” said Ox. “He’s got the body in his closet in the back room. That’s what that nasty smell is. The smell of death. When he leaves, we’ll check the back room.”

      As Owitz collected the money and left for the liquor store, Rose made a call from Owitz’s telephone.

      “Owitz makes his living off welfare and shaving money off kids’ liquor orders,” snickered Ox. “Hey, Amber, I think he likes you.”

      “Shut up, Oxford,” said Amber. “You know you’re the one he likes.”

      “Did you see the way he was looking at you?” Ox asked. “I think he actually slobbered on himself. He’s gonna ask if he can take your picture.”

      “Gross,” said Amber. “I hate perverts.”

      “Ernie’s not home,” Rose told Ox quietly, hanging up the phone.

      “Hey, let’s look in the back room,” said Ox loudly. “We’re pretty sure he’s got Mary Lou Thorsen’s body in there.”

      “What?” Amber asked, standing up.

      Ox, Weasel, Rose, and Amber poured into the back bedroom. Maureen stayed in the front room.

      “If there’s a body back there, I am seriously going to vomit,” Maureen said to nobody in particular.

      “I’ll stay up here with you, Maureen,” said Tommy in a kind voice.

      “So, you really got a scholarship out in California?” Maureen asked. “You always were like the smartest kid in class.”

      “It’s no big deal,” said Tommy, looking sheepish. “University of California at Berkeley. Berkeley’s supposed to be real cool, though, and, I don’t know, I just really like physics so…”

      “Lucky you. Seriously.”

      “Thanks, Maureen. Hey, I got you a present.” Tommy reached into his pocket and pulled out a small jewelry box.

      “I love presents!” she said. “Why’d you get me a present?”

Taking the box from Tommy, she opened it and found a pair of silver earrings with feathers on the end.

      “I dunno. I saw them and thought they’d look good on you.” Maureen thanked him and went into the bathroom to try them on.

      Owitz’s bedroom was both messy and filthy. Mattress on floor. Bed unmade. Dirty clothes and dirty plates strewn about. Bookshelves with books on science and left wing politics. The kids stood in front of the closed closet door.

      “All right, you guys,” said Ox, smoking a cigarette. “On the count of three. One, two…”

      “Hold on, hold on,” interrupted Amber, arms wrapped tightly around her chest. “It’s his closet. It’s like private. Let’s just leave it alone.”

      “Scared?” asked Ox scornfully.

      “No. Yeah. Shut up,” said Amber. “I’m getting like goose bumps. Let’s just call the police.”

      Rose stood in the back room as far as possible from the closet. She shivered slightly.

      “Open it, dude,” Ox told Weasel, as Ox made a drum roll on his thigh. Weasel paused and looked closely at the closet door. It didn’t fit the jamb properly, standing about three inches above the floor. Nicks and chips laced the well-worn beige paint on the edges of the door as well.

      “Come on, dude,” commanded Ox. Weasel had his hand on the door knob. Rose shuddered and Amber backed up.

      “Hold on, hold on,” said Amber. Weasel paused.

      “What?” asked Ox, frowning at her.

      “Ummmm… Nothing. Just hold on for a sec,” Amber replied, backing up and standing next to Rose.

      “One two… THREE!” shouted Ox.

      In the bathroom, Maureen admired the feathered earrings that Tommy gave her. He stood in the doorway, watching her look in the mirror.

      “Thanks, Tommy,” she said. “That’s really sweet.”

      She kissed him quickly on his cheek and walked out of the bathroom. He watched her walk back into the living room and softly touched his cheek where she had kissed him.

      In the back bedroom, Weasel pulled the closet door open. As a baseball bat fell out with a thud, Rose screamed. A couple dress shirts and pants hung from hangers. On the floor of the closet sat a stack of pornographic magazines, some dirty socks, and an old Kentucky Fried Chicken box.

      “Shut up! God, that’s annoying,” Ox told Rose, who covered her mouth. “Look at the KFC box! It’s got maggots in it!”

      Indeed, the chicken bones in the KFC box crawled with countless pale maggots. With the closet door open, the reeking smell seeped into the room. Amber ran to the front room, over-dramatically gagging and holding her hands over her mouth.

      “Look, it’s the Witzer’s porn stash!” said Ox, grabbing a Penthouse from the floor. “Weas, get that KFC box out of here.”

      Ox took the Penthouse to the front room. It was the February 1985 issue. Grimacing, Weasel gingerly took the KFC box out the back door.

      “Check it out,” said Ox, settling into the front sofa next to Tommy. “It’s got an interview with Henry Lee Lucas in it and an article on serial killers.”

      “Sex and death,” said Tommy. “Jim Morrison would love it.”

      “What?” asked Ox, not understanding.

      “He must have already dumped the body somewhere,” said Weasel, returning to the front room and opening his eyes widely in mock terror.

      At the same time, Nick and Angela stood just outside the front door. As Angela raised her fist to knock, wiry and mohawked Nick squeezed her skinny bottom. Ever the sassy one, she smiled, stuck her rear out, and slapped his hand.

      “You love it,” he said.

      “You wish,” she said, knocking.

      “Come in!” hollered Ox. “Hey! It’s open!”

      “What’s up, my people,” said Nick, striding in and standing in the center of the room. Angela followed, grinning.

      “Hey Nick,” said Ox, smiling. “What’s up, Angela? We was just checking Owitz’s closet for the body of that chick who disappeared.”

      “Yeah?” said Nick, sitting on the couch. “That’s not where the body is.”

      “So where were you?” Amber asked Nick irritably.

      “Hither and yon, you know. I was there and now I’m here. Why?” Nick replied, acting oblivious.

      “You said you were gonna be here almost an hour ago,” accused Amber.

      “What is that nasty smell in here?” asked Angela, screwing up her face.

      Ox shrugged as Tommy kept sneaking glimpses at Maureen. Feeling constricted in the small smoky apartment, Weasel wanted to leave, but felt self-conscious and unable to stand up and excuse himself. Instead, he sat and tried to laugh when the others laughed.

      “Leave the back door open, it reeks in here. So you guys searched Witz’s closet?” asked Angela. “Where’s he at? I want some cigarettes.”

      “He’s on a run to Malloy’s,” said Rose. “Amber’s getting vodka for tonight.”

      “Right on, Amber,” said Angela. Amber looked at Nick darkly.

      “There was some rotten Kentucky Fried Chicken in the closet,” Ox finally told Angela. “Weas, open up that back door to air this place out, huh?”

      “If you wanna keep doing what we’ve been doing, you can’t be running around with other girls,” Amber tersely told Nick, while looking at Angela. Weasel got up and fanned the back door back and forth to air out the rotten smell.

      “I wasn’t hanging out with Angela, if that’s what you’re asking,” said Nick. “We just ran into each other in the hallway as I was just getting here.”

      “Yeah, right,” said Amber, frowning.

      “Look, I don’t have a telephone,” Nick said. “What am I supposed to do? Why you being so possessive all of a sudden?”

      “I am not being possessive,” Amber replied.

      “Hey Amber, check it out, this chick in the magazine looks like you. Christy Canyon,” Ox shoved the magazine in front of Amber to make her see the pictures. She pushed it away.

      “She says, hold on, she says here that she recommends that every woman make an X-rated movie. She says she loves making porno movies. Says every woman should make one. How ’bout that, Am? Check it out, Nick, don’t it look like Amber?” Nick took the magazine and looked.

      “The face is different, but the body is the same.”
      “You guys are both jerks,” said Amber, disgusted.

      “So why you so sure that girl who disappeared’s body ain’t in Owitz’s closet?” asked Ox, leafing through the Penthouse again. 

      “Sure seems like you’re being possessive,” Nick told Amber, ignoring Ox.

      “What are you doing after summer?” Tommy asked Maureen.

      “Maybe go to junior college,” she replied. “Maybe model for a girly magazine if my skin clears up.”

      “Yeah?” Tommy said. “You should come out to California with me.”

      Carrying a brown paper grocery bag, Owitz walked in the front door. Amber jumped up to greet him.

      “Thanks Owitz,” she said, sliding her vodka bottle out of the bag. “Hey, Maureen, let’s take off.”

      “Sure,” Maureen said, standing up.

      “Hey, can I come with you?” Tommy quietly asked Maureen.

      “I guess,” Maureen replied ambivalently, looking at Amber, who nodded her head in affirmation. Slipping the vodka bottle into her purse, Amber walked out the front door without saying goodbye to anyone. Maureen followed, looking back at the others and shrugging.

      “See you guys at the Towers later,” said Tommy, taking the bag with his beer and leaving. “Maybe.”

      “What’s up with Amber?” asked Owitz.

      “She’s all jealous that Nicky was talking to me,” said Angela, smirking. Ox tried to show Weasel some pictures from the Penthouse, but Weasel just scowled.

      “Come on, dude,” said Ox. “Check this chick out. Christy Canyon. ‘Queen of the X-Rated Cinema.’ Naked, she looks just like Amber.”

      “That guy is such a selfish jerk,” said Amber, as she, Maureen, and Tommy walked to Amber’s Mom’s car in the downtown parking lot across the street. “He’s even worse than Ox. Why do I attract such jerks?”

      “Most guys are at least partial jerks,” said Maureen. “Sorry Tommy.”

      Getting into Amber’s Mom’s Chevette, the trio drove towards the railroad tracks. With the bell ringing and red lights blinking, the railroad crossing guards came down.

      “So, has he been messing around with Angela the whole time he’s been supposedly going out with me?” Amber asked Tommy.

      “I really don’t know,” Tommy replied. “I mean, Nick’s probably been with a lot of girls, but not that I know of.”

      “So that means ‘yes’?”

      “No, Amber, I really don’t know,” said Tommy. A freight train passed, heading towards Chicago.

      “Gotcha,” Amber replied. “Hey, you two wanna go see a movie tonight?”

      “What about the party at the Towers?” Maureen asked.

      “I don’t wanna go to the stupid Towers. I’ll buy your ticket. You can come too, Tommy.”

      “Sure, I’ll go,” Tommy said, looking at Maureen hopefully. As the train passed loudly, they sat in silence.

      “Hey, Maureen, you wanna go be an extra in that movie they’re filming at Glenbard this week?” asked Tommy, over the sound of the train. “They need kids for a big crowd scene or something.”

      “Yeah? Maybe,” Maureen replied, rifling her purse for cigarettes.

      “I think it pays like twenty-five bucks or something,” Tommy said. “How ’bout I call you?”

      “Sure, whatever,” Maureen replied, lighting a Camel filter.

      “Hey, you guys wanna see my modeling portfolio? My mom’s boyfriend, I told you, is like a professional-quality photographer and he did it for free. They’re good.” Amber handed Maureen a manila envelope that had been sitting between the front seats.

      “Damn, Amber,” said Maureen, looking at the 8″ by 10″ photos of Amber posing in her black bikini. “These are pretty sexy. Your mom’s boyfriend took these? You said he wasn’t a perv.”

      “He’s not. He was totally professional. Like I said, he says he can get me some modeling jobs in Chicago. Once I turn 18, which is in like two months.”

      “You sure you wanna let Tommy see these? Tommy, you 18 yet?” Maureen laughed and handed the pictures to Tommy. He looked at them quickly and handed them back.

      “So what do you think? They’re good, right?”

      “I can’t believe you modeled in your underwear for your Mom’s boyfriend. Does she know?”

      “It’s not underwear. It’s a bikini. Anyway, my mom wouldn’t care. She was out of town. As usual. Don’t tell her though, okay?”

      “So, where’s her body, Mr. Know-it-all?” Angela asked Nick, back at the Anarchy Center. They sat next to each other on the floor, leaning against the wall.

      “Who?” Nick asked.

      “Nobody,” Angela said.

      “Oh, you mean the girl who disappeared?” Nick asked coolly. “Yeah, her body’s over off St. Charles Road.”

      “What? Are you serious?” Angela exclaimed. “What the hell?”

      “Hey! I didn’t have anything to do with it,” said Nick. “I swear.”

      “Who’s got weed?” pleaded Ox in a faux desperate voice. No one responded.

      Nick pulled a tape out of his pocket and put it in Owitz’s tape deck. JFA’s “Jodie Foster’s Army” blared: “he shot Reagan, he shot the pig, didn’t he?

Maureen and Isaiah

     Stoned and blue, as usual, Isaiah stood in front of a payphone in a Santa Cruz laundromat. Filling the slot with seven quarters, he dialed Maureen’s number.

      “Please leave a message and we’ll call you back as soon as we can,” sounded Maureen’s voice on the answering machine.

      “Hey Maureen,” he said glumly. “Just wanted to say hi. I hope everything’s good out…”

      “Hello Isaiah,” Maureen said sternly, picking up the phone.

      “Hey baby.”

      “I’m ‘baby’ again, huh?”

      “I don’t know. Sure. How you doin’?”

      “Great. It’s been a fun summer out here. Lots of parties. Me and that cute nurse guy I told you about saw the Dead at Alpine last week.” Three girls who looked like sorority girls walked into the laundromat with their baskets, all talking at once.

      “Yeah? Cool.”

      “I miss you.”

      “You miss me or you miss the sex?”

      “You. Both… I don’t know. So, is that nurse guy your new boyfriend or what?” One of the sorority girls eyed Isaiah. She had bleach blonde hair and overly tanned skin.

      “Well, he got a little too frisky after the concert, but it’s casual.”

      “Right. Well. I see. Yeah. Still haven’t seen Uncle Zen out here. It’s weird though. If I’d gotten out here two days earlier, I might have gotten busted with him.”

      “Uh huh.”

      “But I got a job at the Taco Bell so I’m not going broke.”

      “Ambitious of you. A glamour job. You probably look hot in the uniform,” she said sarcastically.

      “Yeah well. It’s money. So you’re okay?”

      “Why does everyone ask me that? I’m fine.” The sorority girls laughed at a private joke. The too-tanned one had stopped looking at Isaiah.

      “Oh, I moved too, so don’t send anything to the St. George. Me and that dude Rhion are subletting this little basement apartment while the guy’s in the county jail.”

      “Are you gonna send me a card with your new address?”

      “Sure.”

      “So, what you wearing?”

      “Up to your old tricks again, huh? I’m wearing super short cut off jeans and a red bandana top.”

      “A red bandana top?”

      “Yeah, you’d like it. Just a red bandana wrapped around like a bikini top.”

      “Wow,” said Isaiah, trying to catch the eye of the bleach blonde sorority girl again. She ignored him.

The Girl Who Disappeared

“I done told you,” said Nick, wearing black jeans and a black Travis Bickle t-shirt. “I didn’t have anything to do with it, but if you promise not tell, I’ll show you where her body is.”

“Nick, you ass,” Angela said. She wore her prized black WLUP FM 98 “The Loop” t-shirt. “You are freaking me out. Just tell us.”

Through the old suburban neighborhood, they walked down Riford Road towards St. Charles Road. As the sky faded into dusk, Rose lagged behind them a step or two.

“What’s up with you chicks, getting all possessive?” asked Nick.

“Dude, if you’re comparing me to Amber-ger…” said Angela.

“Just cause people have sex don’t mean they’re married,” interrupted Nick.

“What do you expect? Going out with cheerleaders, Nicky? I don’t know what’s up with you sometimes,” said Angela.

“Hey, she’s hot,” said Nick defensively.

“She got big boobs, that’s about it. I don’t know why you guys are so into that. Boobs are just fat.”

“If you had anything to do with it, I’m calling…” began Rose, wearing an oversized tie-dye.

“Look,” he interrupted. “I told you I didn’t have anything to do with it. Just shut up and I’ll show you where her body is. If you want. Or not.”

“Let’s just go to the Towers and party,” Rose quietly pleaded.

“Show us the body first,” said Angela grimly. “We can cut over to the Towers on the tracks on the other side of Ackerman Park afterwards.”

“Your wish is my command,” said Nick.
      “If she’s all nasty and decomposed, I’m going to…” said Angela.

“She’s buried,” interrupted Nick, with a bleak look on his face, stopping on the edge of Forest Hill Cemetery. “In here.”

“The cemetery? She has not been buried yet. Her body hasn’t even been found yet, dude. What the…” said Angela

“Quit tripping,” Nick interrupted. “You two are the ones that wanted to know where the body was and I’m showing you. Just relax, all right? Have a cigarette.”

Nick gave each of the girls a Marlboro Red, but didn’t take one for himself. Angela and Rose lit the smokes and the trio stood on the cut grass on the edge of the road, looking into the graveyard.

“I don’t like graveyards,” said Rose, standing apart from the others. “I’ll catch the breath of death, if I breathe in there.”

“Come on, Rose,” said Angela, shaking her head. “Graveyards are cool. It’s destiny, you know? Like some day that’s where we’ll all end up? And, just for the record, I know that you’re just messing with us, Nicholas. But I wanna see what the punch line is.”

“You’ll see. I’m gonna do just what I said,” Nick said.

A yellow-jacket 1972 Chevy Chevelle Malibu 350 with a loud engine drove slowly towards St. Charles Road. Run-D.M.C.’s “King of Rock” played on the car radio. “You can’t touch me with a ten foot pole, and I even made the devil sell me his soul.” The big-haired strawberry blonde driving eyed cooly Nick as she passed.

“Cool car,” said Nick aloud, staring back at her with a hard look. As Rose held her breath, he led the girls through the stone gateway into the cemetery.

“So, where we going, Mr. Scary?” asked Angela. Nick didn’t reply, but walked ahead of the girls, leading them into the middle of the cemetery. They walked in silence. Passing, Rose noticed the epitaph “Peace and Love” on one old gravestone.

“The girl who disappeared is right over there, behind those bushes…” Nick said, trailing off.

“If there is a dead body over there, I swear I am going to scream,” said Rose.

“You are walking on dead bodies right now, you freak,” said Nick. “So start screaming.”

“What’s that Morrison poem?” asked Angela. “Ernie has a book with it, about a cemetery. He can do a killer Morrison imitation. It’s about like tripping in a cemetery at night, it’s like “‘Cemetery cemetery, cool and quiet,’ or something.”

“Creepy,” said Rose, holding her own arms. “I know what we should do! Let’s leave, like right now. I hate doing stuff like this.”

Nick and Angela ignored her. They walked around some bushes. Nick pointed to a gravestone with its back to them.

“There she is,” he said somberly. “The girl who disappeared.”

“Dude, what are you talking about?” asked Angela, annoyed.

The gravestone stood low to the ground, less two feet tall. Its back was unfinished gray granite. Holding her cigarette close to her mouth and taking quick small drags, Rose stood back from the others and looked at her shoes. She wore puffy white sneakers.

As the other two walked around to the front of the gravestone, Rose looked up at the dusk sky. A single cloud floated motionlessly. To her, it looked like a hazy white face with one eye, a Cyclops cloud that stared right at her, judging her harshly. She froze.

Nick and Angela walked around to the front of the gravestone. Reflexively, Angela dropped her cigarette and grabbed his hand. The front of the gravestone was polished smooth. It read:   

Karen Sue Schuchardt

Birth: May 16, 1956

Death: May 13, 1974

Her light shines on.

“This girl died like 10 years ago, numb nuts,” Angela said to Nick. “But she was my age. That’s sad.”

“It’s the girl who disappeared,” said Nick. “In front of the drugstore downtown. You remember that?”

“Are you serious?” said Angela. “That’s freaky. I’m getting goose bumps. I didn’t even live here then…”

“I remember,” said Nick somberly. “Somebody snatched her off the streets of Glen Ellyn in the middle of the day. They found her body in the Fox River or something the next week. Some bad dude… Yeah, so her killer has never been found. Yet.”

“Let’s leave like right now or I am going to totally start screaming,” said Rose. Angela hugged her.

“You said you wanted to know where the body of the girl who disappeared was,” Nick said, smiling evilly. “You didn’t say which girl, though.”

“You are a dick, Nick. Nick the Dick. You better gimme another cigarette right now,” said Angela. As dusk faded away, they all turned and silently walked out of the graveyard. In the distance, the voices of neighborhood children playing summer games filled the air.


[i] Robert Parry, “Colin Powell Being Colin Powell,” New York Times, September 13, 2005.

8. Breakdown

In billy idol, glen ellyn, glenbard west, joy division, marijuana, replacements, Stoner Noir on April 1, 2010 at 3:01 pm

8. Breakdown                               

            On July 15, 1985, the US formalized secret plans for a joint US/Egyptian military invasion of Libya. Though the US. had “had absolutely no idea” who had kidnapped Americans in Lebanon, it suspected Libya and sought to punish it. Back to the Future, that summer’s blockbuster Hollywood hit, also featured Libya as America’s enemy.

Death on the Railroad Tracks

      The gray-haired woman on the train looked out the window and screamed when she saw a mohawked boy stab a girl in the tall grass on the edge of the train tracks. The girl stared mutely at the gray-haired woman as blood exploded from her chest.

      A minute earlier that Friday evening, the Chicago & Northwestern commuter train had left the Glen Ellyn train station. The grey-haired woman had settled comfortably into her seat. Six other riders sat on the train car with her, all seemingly asleep or absorbed in reading.

      Being in a Thank-God-it’s-Friday mood, she had surreptitiously added a shot of vodka to the can of orange pop she carried. When the train gradually picked up speed, she gazed out the window at the tree line along the tracks. Between the tracks and the trees lay a strip of tall grass. Ahead of the train, near the tracks, she saw three youths scuffling in the tall grass.

      One blonde girl tried to hold back a tough-looking boy from attacking another blonde girl. The boy had a strange haircut, a mohawk haircut. When the train passed by, the grey-haired woman on the train watched as the boy with the mohawk pulled himself away from the first girl. She saw the silver glint of the butcher knife in his hand.

      In the half-second as the train passed, the grey-haired woman on the train watched as the boy raised the butcher knife over his head. Frozen in the tall grass, both girls stared at the grey-haired woman. The one who was about to be stabbed had a mute helpless look while the other looked apologetic.

      With a grimly determined look on his face, the boy with the mohawk plunged the butcher knife into the girl’s chest. The girl’s white shirt blossomed with red blood.

      When the grey-haired woman on the train screamed, the other commuters stared at her with annoyance. No one else saw the attack. She took a big gulp of her drink.

      “Did anyone just see that?” she gasped. No one responded.

      Mohawked Nick and sassy Angela collapsed laughing as the train disappeared down the tracks. Her white t-shirt dripped with raspberry soda pop.

      “Oh my god!” Angela said. “That was hilarious. That one old lady totally saw the whole thing.”

      “You two are mean,” Rose said darkly, wiping her arm. “That lady’s probably having a heart attack right now. And you got some of that gross red pop on me.”

      “Let’s get outta here,” Nick said, still laughing. He wiped the handle of the knife off with his flannel shirt and threw it into the grass. The three walked through the tall grass onto the bike path by the tree line.

      “This pop feels gross on my skin,” said Angela, pulling the wet t-shirt away from her belly. “Let’s go back to the Good-BY then over to my mom’s apartment so I can change.”

      “That was a classic,” said Nick, shaking his head and smiling. “What’d her face look like?”

      “She was totally watching us! I don’t think anyone else saw. I could practically hear her scream,” said Angela.

      “Hilarious,” said Nick. “You should be an actress.”

      “It’s true,” Angela said. “She looked like totally terrified. Oh my god.”

      “I wonder if she’ll call the police,” said Nick. “Probably.”

      “God… My heart is beating like crazy,” said Angela. “Whoo wee.”

      “I can see the headline: Old Lady on Train Sees Girl Stabbed,” said Nick. The three walked down the bike path.

      “So, you finally done fooling around with Amber-ger?”

      “No, I don’t think so,” said Nick. “She pretty jealous and all, but I ain’t ready to quit rockin’ that sweet body just yet.”

      “You know she’s been fooling around with her mom’s boyfriend too, right?” A family of bicyclists passed the trio on the bike path.

      “Seriously?” Nick asked. “That’s funny. And she’s the one getting jealous on me?”

      “I figured you knew,” Angela said. “I heard her telling Maureen about it. She really likes the old guy.”

      “Yeah?” said Nick. “That’s messed up. I met the creepy old guy over at her house once.”

      “Anyway, she ain’t the girl for you, Nicky,” Angela said. “Don’t feel bad.”

      Nick kicked at the tiny white limestone gravel on the bike path as they walked. Rose trailed a step or two behind.

      “That old lady on the train literally looked terrified,” Rose said quietly. “Like she was seeing a ghost.”

      “Too bad you and ol’ Ox are still together,” said Nick. “You got a cigarette?”

      “Why? We ain’t boyfriend and girlfriend,” Angela said, handing Nick a Marlboro light. “He’s still half in love with Amber. Or three-quarters. I mean, him and her were probably made for each other. You know they were on the prom court together last year?”

      “I guess they’re just slumming these days, huh?” Nick said. Ahead, the bike path sloped down to the street at an underpass under the railroad tracks. The Good-BY Ranch, a small suburban convenience store, stood at the corner.

      “I dunno,” Angela said. “So, you got anymore ideas on where that girl is? Mary Lou Whatsername?”

      “Hey, all kidding aside, like I said before, I have absolutely no idea. The cops already asked me about it. But I’ll tell you what I didn’t tell them. Like her older brother was a real weirdo back in junior high. Like cat-killing weird, you know?”

      “Gross,” said Rose, catching up with the other two. “That’s not cool.”

      “Hey, I’m a jerk and I know it,” Nick said, inhaling and exhaling his cigarette. “But I ain’t no cat-killing weirdo type of jerk.”

      “You got that going for you, Nicky,” Angela said, looking at him slyly.

      “Seriously,” said Nick. He and Angela stood in front of the Good-BY Ranch. Rose walked to the payphone mounted on the outside wall. She dropped a quarter into the slot and waited. An answering machine picked up.

      “Hi Ernie. It’s Rose. Hey, if you’re not doing anything tonight, we’re just gonna hang out at Angela’s mom’s apartment. So, stop by. Okay? Okay. So, maybe I’ll see you. Or not. If you get this message, that is. Okay? Okay. Bye.”

      Hanging up, she slunk back over to Nick and Angela.

      “Why do I always sound so stupid when I talk to Ernie, or even just leaving a message? I’ll bet you anything he doesn’t come over.”

      “Don’t be so gloomy, my dark Rose,” said Angela. “He loves you, even if doesn’t know it yet. Why? ‘Cause you’re the best, pal.”

      “Hey, you got a quarter I could borrow?” asked Nick. “I gotta make a phone call too.”

      Rose walked into the store and Angela reached into her purse and gave Nick a quarter. Nick walked over to the pay phone mounted on the outside wall of the store and dialed 411.

      “Yeah, I need the number for Morris Cargill in Glen Ellyn,” he told the 411 operator. Hanging up, he put the quarter in the slot and dialed the new number.

      “Hello,” said a man’s voice on the other end.

      “Morris Cargill?” Nick asked, speaking in a deep voice. “This is Steve Glazowski. Amber Glazowski’s father?”

      “Is Amber all right?”

      “Shut up, creep, and listen to me carefully. You stay away from my daughter or I am calling the Glen Ellyn police on you.”

      “What is this?”

      “I said shut up, you dirty old man,” Nick interrupted in his deep voice. “She told me what you’ve been doing to her. I should call the police on you right now, but I’m giving you one more chance. You see her one more time and your perverted ass is going to jail for statutory rape, you sick bastard. She’s seventeen years old, pervert. That’s rape in the State of Illinois. Consider yourself warned.”

      Nick hung up the phone violently as Angela and Rose walked out. Each carried cold cans of the New Coke.

Amber Pees on a Stick

      Sitting on the toilet in her mom’s bathroom, Amber held the plastic stick in one hand and a tall glass of water in the other. A busty girl, she put the stick between her legs and tried to pee. Nothing came out. She forced herself to drink half the glass of water and tried again. Nothing came out.

      “Please no please no please no,” she prayed and drank the rest of the water. Trying again, she forced herself. Nothing came out.

      “Please no please no please no,” she prayed again. “God, if you help me out this one time, I promise I’ll never ever have unprotected sex ever again!”

      Finally, she tensed all her insides and let out a tiny squirt. Holding the stick carefully, she managed to pee on the end of it.

      A horizontal line formed along the stick. She waited. One minute. She waited. She knew she could never tell her mother. She wouldn’t be able to tell anyone. She’d have to run away to Florida. Or Europe. Maybe she could find a rich family in Ireland who would take her in.

      A second minute came. She couldn’t stand the thought of people laughing at her behind her back or, even worse, feeling sorry for her. At least she was out of high school, she figured. She’d have to get all new clothes. Oh my God! she realized with a sudden fury, my body will be ruined!

      “Please no please no please no,” she prayed a final time.

      A vertical line gradually formed on one end of the stick, crossing the horizontal line. Amber slumped on the toilet and cried.

Tommy’s in Love

      Carrying a handful of wildflowers and taking deep breaths, tiny red-haired Tommy walked past Maureen’s mom’s house. Walking to the end of the block, he turned around and approached the house again. Standing in front of the house, he looked down at the collection of wildflowers in his hand and stretched his neck from one side to the other.

      “Come on, dude, just do it,” he told himself aloud and walked up the driveway.

      “Tommy?” Maureen, a slender beauty, said through the screen door. “What’s up?”

      “Hello, Maureen. How you doin’?” Tommy stood on the concrete door step outside the back door.

      “Fine. What’re you doing with those flowers?”

      “Well, I brought them for you.” Tommy held the flowers out towards the screen door and looked down.

      “Why?” Maureen asked, not opening the door.

      “Why?” Tommy repeated. “Well, I just thought that… that a beautiful girl like you deserves to have fresh flowers around, is all.”

      “Where’d you get that line, Mr. Suave? A TV movie?” Tommy still held the flowers to the shut screen door.

      “Nowhere. I just… I just…” As he stammered, Tommy’s pale skin flushed. Maureen began to laugh.

      “Sorry,” she said. “You’re like Mr. Genius and I’ve just never seen you unable to answer a question. It’s cute. You wanna come in?”

      “If you…” he began. “Yes. Yes, I would.”

      Maureen unlatched and opened the screen door, taking the bouquet from Tommy. Tommy watched as she pulled a glass vase from a cabinet and filled it with water. To him, all her motions seemed graceful, like something from a ballet.

      “You can sit down if you want,” she said, gesturing towards the kitchen table. When she set the bouquet on the table, Tommy sat down.

      “So…” she said.

      “So, you look real pretty tonight, Maureen,” Tommy said.

      “Less pimples than usual, huh?” she said. A lovely and slender girl with flowing golden blonde hair, acne covered Maureen’s pretty face.

      “No, that’s not what I mean,” said Tommy. “You’re all ways beautiful.”

      “Well, you must have been studying books on flirting lately, huh?” Maureen fingered the petals of the wildflowers. “You probably know the Latin names of all these flowers.”

      The phone rang. Maureen picked it up.

      “Oh, hello, Isaiah.”

      “Hey Maureen, how you doin’?”

      “I’m fine. You?”

      “Okay, I guess. What you been up to?”

      “Nothing much. Working on my tan mostly. I got some sweet tan lines, just like you like.”

      “That sounds pretty hot. Yeah, I’m still out here in Santa Cruz. Still haven’t seen Zen. It’s kind of a bummer, but… They arrest anyone for that girl’s disappearance yet?” Maureen looked at Tommy and raised her eyebrows in exasperation, making a sign with her hand that Isaiah talked too much. Tommy sat awkwardly at the table, studying his hands then moving a small bread crumb around the table.

      “No, they haven’t. Why are you so concerned? You said you didn’t even know her.”

      “I’m just wondering. You seemed pretty scared about the whole thing. Anyway… what you wearing?”

      “Why do you want to know what I’m wearing? I’m stark naked and getting wet.”

      “Oh my god. Really?”

      “No, I’m teasing you. Look, I’ve got someone over. Did you just call for phone sex or do you actually have something to say?”

      “Who’s over there? A guy or a girl?”

      “Why do you care? Are you jealous?”
      “No. So it’s a guy?”

      “Is it so surprising to you that another guy might like me?”
      “No, of course not. I mean…”

      “It’s Tommy. Say ‘hi,’ Tommy.” Tommy didn’t say anything.

      “Tommy the Elf. I didn’t know you dated hobbits.”

      “He doesn’t like to be called that, you jerk. Anyway, he got a full scholarship to UC-Berkeley to study physics and wants me to move out to California with him. Right, Tommy?”

      Tommy perked up. He’d been trying to ignore the conversation.

      “Wow,” said Isaiah. “Okay okay.”

      “You sound disappointed. Poor boy, no phone sex for you.”

      “That’s not why I called.”

      “Sure, sure.”

      “Well, I’ll let you get back to your new boyfriend. I actually just called to tell you that I still love you.”

      “Ha. Well, if you still loved me, you shouldn’t have dumped me.”
      “I didn’t dump you.”

      “Yes, you’re the one who dumped me.”

      “Okay, Maureen, whatever. Anyway, I miss you and…” Maureen interrupted.

      “You miss me or you miss my body?”
      “You. Both. Damn.”

      “Okay, well, I love you too, Sugar. Bye.” Maureen hung up the phone and shook her head.

      “That boy,” said Maureen. “He doesn’t want anything that he can have, only things he can’t have. You know what I mean?”

      “Not really,” said Tommy, sitting up and looking into Maureen’s blue eyes. “You guys sure have a weird relationship.”

      “He won’t stop calling me. The crazy boy, he only wants me when I push him away. So, you still want to take me to California with you?”

      “For sure, Maureen. I’m a man of my word. We could get an apartment near campus and live it up.”

      “And I’d have to get some nasty stripper job to pay the rent, right?” she asked.

      “Not at all. I’ll pay the rent and everything. You can just hang out. I’ve got a full scholarship plus… Look, when my Grandfather died, he set up a trust fund for me starting when I turn 18. So…”

      “Oh, I see… I didn’t know you were rich.”

      “Well… I just think it’d be fun. It’d be good for you to start fresh somewhere.”

      “How do you know what’s good for me all of a sudden?”

      “Maureen, like we’ve been friends or whatever, casual friends, for years and…” Tommy trailed off.

      “And what? And you want to be my sugar daddy now? I always wanted a sugar daddy. Isaiah never had ten cents.”

      “I think you’d have a blast living out there. It’s just across the Bay from San Francisco. I’ll have my car. We can go to beaches on the weekend.”

      The phone rang again.

      “Miss Popular,” Tommy said. Maureen stared at it for a moment and picked it up on the second ring.

      “Maureen?”

      “Hey Amber. What’s up?”
      “Maureen?” Amber sobbed.

      “Are you crying?” Amber kept sobbing.

      “Oh my god, you sound terrible. What’s going on?”

      “I… I… I… just…”

      “What? I can’t understand what you’re saying. Did Nick do something bad to you?”

      “No,” Amber said, still sobbing. “No, that’s not it.”

      “Poor thing.” Maureen looked at Tommy and shrugged.

      “Maureen, I think I missed my period.”

      “Hey, it happens. Don’t get too stressed out. I mean, you haven’t been like having sex anyway, right? Right?”

      “Well… Just a little. I did one of those home pregnancy tests too, though…”

      “No way! And what?”

      “It was positive. What am I going to do?” Amber cried.

      “For sure?”

      “For sure.”

      “So, who’s the daddy? It’s either Ox or Nick, right?”
      “Probably, it’s either them or…”

      “Or who?”

      “Well, my mom’s boyfriend just kept being so sweet and I kinda felt sorry for him and we, I don’t know, he’s just really good at making me feel beautiful.”

      “Oh my god, Amber, you did not! You told me you weren’t going to fool around with any of your mom’s boyfriends ever again!”
      “Please, Maureen. Not tonight. Look, you’re the only person I’ve told. I don’t know what to do.” Amber only cried softly now.

      “You’re right, I’m sorry. I just can’t believe it. So, what are you going to do?”

      “I don’t know. I don’t know. God, my mom just got back. I’ll call you later. Don’t tell anyone!”

      “For sure. But definitely call me later. I love you, Sweetie. Bye.”

      “Bye.” Maureen hung up and sat at the table with a look of disbelief. Tommy eyed her curiously.

      “So?” he asked. “Is that what it sounded like?”

      Maureen didn’t answer, but got up and poured a glass of water. Looking out the window over the sink, she took a long sip.

      “Damn,” she said. “Poor Amber. Knocked up at 17.”

      “Whoa,” Tommy said. “That sucks.”

      “Yeah, but at least she’s got it narrowed down to three guys.”

The Police and the Knife

     That night, Sergeant Casino and the sandy-haired younger cop silently searched along the railroad tracks. Using their flashlights, they moved slowly through the tall grass with their eyes on the ground. It was the precise area where Nick, Angela, and Rose had faked the stabbing. Kicking lightly through the grass, Casino bent down and motioned to the other cop.

      A butcher knife lay on the ground between the shafts of grass. A dry reddish substance covered the blade. Casino pulled on a tight plastic glove and picked the knife up. Smelling the blade, he made a strange face at the other officer.

      “Smells just like raspberry soda pop,” he said, dropping the knife into a plastic evidence bag. Nearby, he reached down and picked up an empty liter of raspberry soda pop. It had several blade-sized cuts in it. He dropped it into another plastic evidence bag and shook his head with annoyance.

Ox and Weasel

       “What are you doing man?” Ox said angrily. Almost a giant, he pushed Weasel away with one hand then finished urinating in the utility sink. “What the hell?”

      “Sorry, man,” said Weasel. Zipping up his fly, Ox kept pushing Weasel until Weasel fell onto the basement floor.

      “What’s that all about, you freak?” demanded Ox.

      “Relax, man,” said Weasel, getting up and straightening out his long stringy hair. “I wasn’t even paying attention.”

      “You were watching me pee or something!”

      “Shut up, dude! I didn’t even see you there. I space out sometimes.”

      “What? Okay, I must be freaking out. Sorry for pushing you, dude.” Ox reached down for Weasel’s hand to help pull him up. Weasel hesitated before taking Ox’s hand. Weasel’s hands were sweaty.

      “It’s cool,” said Weasel, taking Ox’s hand and getting up. “Hey, you want a beer?”

      The boys stood in the basement of Weasel’s mom’s apartment. Though it had been built as a storeroom and utility room, Weasel had converted it into his own primitive mini-apartment.

      “Usually.”

      “Just chill on the couch and I’ll go upstairs and swipe some of my mom’s.” Ox sat on the threadbare sofa and looked overhead at the rafters and pipes of the unfinished ceiling. A poster of Scott Baio shirtless was pinned on the wall. Soon, Weasel came down the stairs with two cans of Lite Beer.

      “Yeah, it sucks, I know. But it’s beer.” Handing one to Ox, Weasel plopped down on the sofa and opened the beer.

      “I guess I’m just on edge, dude,” said Ox. “My mom’s been freaking out on me. She’s obsessed with me playing football again. Like some coach from Eastern Illinois called her up and like wants me to try out for the team.”

      “Yeah?”

      “They’ve still got a scholarship open, but I’m, like, whatever. Why is football so great? Like it’s violent, you know? What’s up with that?” Ox opened his beer, drank half of it in one gulp, and belched.

      “Hey, you gotta do what you gotta do.” An ant crossed the concrete floor at Weasel’s feet; he stepped on it.

      “Why is it so important to go to college? Like maybe I don’t wanna be just another cookie-cutter suburban commuter, you know?”

      “Dude, you could probably move into the basement here if you want. My mom would be cool with it. Kick her a few bucks now and again, you know.”

      Ox looked around the basement. Boxes piled haphazardly. A washer and dryer. Plus the sofa, an armchair, and a dresser.

      “Yeah? Maybe, man.”

      “Plus she’s getting me a job at her place. She could probably get you one too. Super easy work. It’s like a plastic injection molding factory. Like making medical tubes ‘n’ stuff.”

      “Yeah? Maybe. It’d be good to get out on my own. My mom’s driving me nuts. It’s all ways ‘the future, the future’ with her, but what about right now, you know?”

      “Definitely.”

      “Yeah… I don’t know, man.” Ox finished the beer. “Your mom got anymore beer?”

Nick and Amber

     At midnight, Nick stood in the bushes outside of Amber’s bedroom window. He could see lights behind the closed drapes. Running his hand through his mohawk, he knocked on the window. He knocked again. The curtain opened and Amber’s face peered into the dark. Due to the reflection on the glass from the light in her room, she could barely see outside.

      “Amber,” Nick said. She could hear his voice before she could see his face.

      “You trying to scare me to death?” Amber asked through the window. Her face was flush and raw with recent tears. Nick grinned at her.

      “Hey, hot stuff. Let me in.” Amber opened the window but left the screen down.

      “What do you want?” she asked.

      “You look awful. You been crying?”

      “No,” she replied, wiping her face. “What are you doing here?”

      “I just wanted to see you ’cause I been thinking about you.”

      “Yeah?” she replied. She lay on her stomach on the bed with her face to the screen. Her room was mostly pink and decorated with posters of Poison and Cinderella.

      “You look like you could use some company. I promise I’ll be nice,” Nick said.

      “I don’t know,” Amber said, sniffling. “It’s been a pretty weird night. Not good.”

      “Come on,” Nick said. “I’ll cheer you up. I promise.”

      “No. Well, just for a little while,” she said. “Meet me in the screen porch around back.”

      Nick sat on the sofa in the screened in back porch while Amber sat in a wicker chair with her feet tucked underneath herself. In her hand, she carried a Kleenex box.

      “What’s up with the tears?” Nick asked.

      “Nothing. My mom’s boyfriend dumped her tonight. Over the phone. Which is pretty rude. He said he never wanted to see either of us ever again. I don’t know.”

      “That guy was kinda creepy, I thought.” Nick stared at a photo on the wall of the porch. It must have been Amber as a baby being held by her smoking hot mother, who looked very much like Amber did now. Amber blew her nose.

      “He was nice! I thought like maybe they’d get married and we’d finally have a normal family or something.”

      “Hey, why don’t you sit with me on the couch here,” Nick said, patting the couch cushion.

      “No!” she said. “We’re not fooling around tonight. I just… Whatever, it’s not like you’ve been real attentive lately.”

      “Hey, I been busy,” Nick said.

      “Busy hanging out with your pal Angela. You know she loves you, right?”

      “Ah, we’ve been friends forever. She’s in love with half the guys in town.”

      “Why would he just dump my mom like that?” Amber began sobbing again. “Guys all ways abandon us. I’ll never have a real dad.”

      Nick suppressed a yawn and stared at her chest. She wore an old thin t-shirt that he could almost see through and no brassiere. A soft knock sounded on the porch door. Through the screen, she could faintly see Ox’s face.

      “Hey Amber,” Ox said through the door, only then realizing that she was talking to Nick. Amber got up and walked to the door.

      “Oxford Lancaster,” Amber said. “This is a surprise.”

      “Sorry, guys. Nick. I didn’t see you there. Look, I’ll just see you guys around. See…”

      “We’re not doing anything. Right, Nick? You can come in,” Amber said, holding a Kleenex. She opened the door.

      “You all right?” Ox asked with concern, staying outside.

      “Yeah, I’m fine. It’s been a weird night.”
      “But you’re all right?”

      “Yeah yeah. Come in.” A single firefly lit up and landed on Ox’s arm. He stared at it. It remained still on his forearm.

      “No, that’s cool. But here.” Without Nick noticing, Ox handed her a note that had been folded very small.

      “Have it your way,” Amber said. “You smell like beer.”

      “Yeah, well. Hey, I’ll see you guys around. See ya Nick.” Nick nodded his head as Ox lumbered away.

      “I didn’t know you were still seeing good ol’ Ox.”

      “I’m not. That’s the first time he’s even talked to me in a good while. Stay here, I’ve got to go to the bathroom.”

      Locking the bathroom door behind her and sitting on the toilet with the seat down, Amber unfolded the note. It had been written in pencil with many eraser marks. His handwriting was large and block-like.

Dear Amber,

      I still think about you lots. Me and you were real good together and I miss you. Maybe we could hang out again sometime and bake cookies together.

      I’m sorry that I took you for granted. You’re a great girl.

Love, Ox   

      Amber folded the note back up and put it in the pocket of her sweat pants. Looking in the mirror, she washed and dried her face. When she walked back to back porch, Nick quickly sat down. He’d been looking at the picture of her and her mom. Amber looked more composed.

      “Well, I’m going to go to bed soon, but thanks for stopping by,” Amber said. “I guess I did need someone to talk to.”

      “Sure, baby. Let’s get together tomorrow.”

      “You can call me. I’m sure a resourceful guy like you can find a telephone somewhere.”

      “Okay, sure,” Nick said, still sitting down. “How ’bout a good night kiss?”

      “Nick, not tonight. Tell me, you ever think about just getting married and raising a family?”

      “Whoa!” Nick said. “Is that a proposal?”

      “No,” Amber said. “Not at all. I’m just wondering. Like where are we going? You and me?”

      “Hey, I dig you, Amber. You don’t even have to think twice about me and other girls. But I got a lot of living to do before any of that family stuff. Plus, marriage is just a bourgeois scam, right? Like is it realistic for people to be forever satisfied with one person?”

      Amber looked him in the eye and a little further still. She nodded, with a serious expression on her face.

      “Just wondering. Okay, well, call me tomorrow, okay?”

      “Sure, baby.” Amber stood up and opened the screen porch door. Nick stood up and pulled her body to his.

      “Stop!” she cried and pushed him away angrily. “I said not tonight.”

      “Damn, don’t freak out.” Nick stood in the doorway then reluctantly stepped outside.

      “Good night, Nick.” Nick walked away without responding.

Rose and Ernie

      After midnight, Rose walked by Ernie’s mom’s dark house. Standing at the foot of the driveway, all the house lights were out and no cars were in the driveway. The streetlight revealed a mournful look on her young face.

            In her hand, she held a red rose without a stem. Imagining his cuddly Robert Plant teddy bear look, she kissed the rose and gently tossed it into the yard. Pinching the bridge of her nose with her thumb and forefinger, she stopped herself from crying and walked away down the sidewalk.     

“Pageant Demonstrators Sentenced,” San Jose Mercury News, July 22, 1985

            Three of the six people arrested at a demonstration against the Miss California Scholarship pageant last month have been sentenced in Santa Cruz Municipal Court.

            Protest organizer Ann Simonton was sentenced Friday to 15 days in the county jail for pouring a bag of her own blood on the sidewalk in front of the downtown Civic Auditorium.

Simonton, 33, was one of about 1,000 people who demonstrated outside the auditorium June 24 against the 62-year-old event.