Chris Till

Archive for the ‘Stoner Noir’ 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.

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.

3. The Elves of Santa Cruz, California

In Stoner Noir on April 27, 2010 at 4:19 pm

On May 15, 1985, a bomb disguised as a three-ring binder exploded in a computer lab at the University of California at Berkeley, maiming a student. The FBI deemed the bombing the work of the Unabomber, his second bombing of the year.                          

St. George Hotel

      “Hey, I’m here to see Zen McDougal,” Isaiah told the desk clerk at the St. George Hotel. On the wall, a prominent “Visitors Must Check In” sign was posted.

      “And you are?” asked the young clerk in a south Asian accent. Located on the Pacific Avenue Garden Mall in downtown Santa Cruz, the St. George was an historic three-story residential hotel.

      “I’m his nephew Isaiah,” he replied, lightly touching the scar on his left cheek.

      “I see. Zen ‘checked out,’ but he left a note for you.” The clerk surreptitiously glanced around the lobby, then stepped back from the desk and returned with a sealed envelope. A handful of white-haired men, seemingly suspended in amber, populated the half-dozen old couches around the spacious lobby. Looking around the lobby again, the desk clerk slid the envelope to Isaiah. “To ISAIAH” read the only address.

      “What is this?” asked Isaiah. Looking nervous, the clerk shrugged. Isaiah carefully opened the envelope and read the note.

Dear Nephew,

      Welcome to California. So glad you made it. I’ve reserved a room with a view of the Avenue for you.

      Unfortunately, my dear consort Ayloni and I had to leave town rather abruptly due to an uninvited visit by the local constabulary. Please find my dear colleague Rhion under the Soquel Avenue bridge some evening. Just follow the sound of the wooden flute…

      We do look forward to seeing you soon.

      May the Blessings Be, With all the love in the world,

      Your uncle, Zen

      Still standing frozen at the desk, Isaiah looked up at the clerk with consternation. The clerk nodded sympathetically.

      “I am Cyrus. I like Zen very much, but my father was quite upset with what happened. If you meet my father, do not tell him that you are Zen’s nephew. Would you still like the room?”

      “What happened?”

      “That’s not really for me to say.”

      Isaiah shrugged weakly and checked in at the righteously low price of $13 a night. His second floor room had ten foot high ceilings and a shared bathroom and shower lay the hall. A pair of tall windows overlooked Pacific Avenue and its mall.

      Tired, Isaiah pulled a chair up to the window and watched the colorful parade beneath him on the Avenue. Hip college kids, grizzled old hippies, and wealthy yuppies criss-crossed: some shopping, some lounging, and some just looking. Isaiah listened to a black hippie guitar player across the street playing “Horse with No Name.” A half-block away he could see a grim man dressed as a clown, sitting on a bench facing the St. George and smoking.

Rhion

      “Please find my dear colleague Rhion under the Soquel Avenue bridge some evening. Just follow the sound of the wooden flute.

      That evening, Isaiah made his way down Pacific Avenue and turned left on Soquel Avenue. A bridge over the wide San Lorenzo River lay in front of him. As he approached the bridge, a dark figure emerged from the dimness beneath the bridge. He wore a dark cloak with a peaked hood. Seeing Isaiah, the dark figure scurried back beneath the bridge.

      The bridge was a modern concrete and steel four-lane roadway. Isaiah stood on the sidewalk at the edge of the bridge, peering into the blackness under the bridge. Several cars passed at moderate speeds with headlights on.

      A soft wisp of melody seeped from under the bridge. “Follow the sound of the wooden flute.”

      Before Isaiah could summon the courage to step off the sidewalk and walk down the embankment below the bridge, the flute stopped. As Isaiah leaned forward to see into the darkness below the bridge, he felt a warm, but strange, presence behind him. Quickly turning, Isaiah was surprised to come face to face with the hooded flutist. He had snuck up behind Isaiah, having apparently emerged from the other side of the bridge and crossed the street to surprise him.

      The hooded flutist had pale skin and long straw-blonde hair flowing from under his hood. With pale blue eyes fixed on Isaiah’s eyes for a moment, the hooded flutist dramatically turned away and made his way down the sidewalk, again playing his flute.

      “Rhion?” Isaiah called out. The hooded flutist stopped but only cocked his head to the side. Isaiah took several steps towards him. The hooded flutist turned.

      “Isaiah?” he asked.

      “Yeah, man. I’m Isaiah, Zen’s nephew from Illinois.”

      “Well, then, you’re my brother,” Rhion said warmly, grinning and giving Isaiah a hug. He smelled pleasantly of incense, the precise scent of which Isaiah could not place, and high grade cannabis.

      “Right on. Yeah, I just got into town late this morning and Zen’d left a note for me at the St. George. Like… what happened?” The two stood under a street light on the sidewalk. Rhion’s flute disappeared inside his dark cloak.

      “What happened?” Rhion echoed. Looking into Rhion’s phenomenally pale blue eyes felt somewhat disconcerting because his pupils were the size of tiny, sharp pins. Isaiah shrugged.

      “The forces of darkness have moved in,” Rhion said, furrowing his brow. Isaiah nodded knowingly, but didn’t understand.

      “There’s a war on one of the astral planes,” Rhion said, watching the headlights of a car pass. “You smoke herb?”

      “Heck yeah, man,” replied Isaiah. Still standing under the street light, Rhion passed Isaiah an empty black stone bowl. The headlights of a passing car illuminated a slender four-inch quartz crystal pendant strung around Rhion’s neck.

      “Uhh, I don’t have…” said Isaiah.

      “I know. Just showing you the bowl. Nice, huh? Let’s go down by the river. I’ll bring you up to date.”

      The two made their way down the river bank and settled into the grass. The San Lorenzo River was wide, slow, and dark. Draining the Santa Cruz Mountains to the east, it was in its last mile before emptying into the Pacific.

      “So what’s up with Zen?” asked Isaiah, as Rhion packed the stone bowl from a leather pouch.

      “The forces of darkness have made an advance, but shall be reversed. Light always prevails.”

      “Right. So where is he? And Ayloni?” Isaiah watched as Rhion methodically pinched and spread the flower buds before packing them into the pipe.

      “Matches?” asked Rhion, holding out his hand.

      “Uh…” replied Isaiah, checking his pockets.”I don’t think so.”

      “I got a half-broke lighter,” Rhion said, producing an old-fashioned metal lighter from inside his cloak. Rhion raised the pipe to the four directions then to the river and the sky.

      “Blessings,” he said, handing the pipe to Isaiah. “Go ahead, you first.”

      With difficulty, Rhion got the lighter working and lit the pipe for Isaiah. Isaiah hacked out the smoke, coughing.

      “Wow,” said Isaiah, eyes watering, handing the pipe to Rhion. “That is some sweet bud.”

      “Blessings,” said Rhion, taking a hit and holding it. In the night’s darkness, the river didn’t seem to move at all, but only drift in a slow spiral.

      “Rhion. So what happened? To Zen?” asked Isaiah. Rhion fixed the pins of his pale blue eyes on Isaiah.

      “The constabulary moved in on Zen. The marshals searched his room when he wasn’t home. They found some illicit sacraments. Zen and Ayloni got back to the St. George while the search was going on. The desk clerk warned them away and they took off into the Mountains. He’s still free, though…”

      Rhion passed the pipe back to Isaiah. Isaiah took a smaller hit.

      “Damn, that sucks. I just got a letter from him like last week.”

      “How much do you know about the astral war?” asked Rhion, in a conspiratorial whisper.

      “Uhh, well. Not much, I…”

      “Okay, see, I’ll bring you up to date real quick,” Rhion interrupted. “Two years ago, there was a coup within ANEEZA. ANEEZA? You know, the spiritual path that we follow? Or that we used to follow?”
      “Right.”

      “A cabal of black magicians seized control. Since then, they have rampaged on a certain astral plane, running amuck, wreaking havoc.”

      Rhion paused to take a big hit. Isaiah watched the shadows of headlights play along the bridge’s railing. He nodded, trying to understand.

      “What is the great hermetic truth?” asked Rhion, sitting up straight and gazing across the river theatrically. Isaiah stared at him uncomprehendingly.

      “I’ll tell you: ‘as above, so below,'” said Rhion, answering himself. “As there is great conflict on a certain astral plane, so there is great conflict here on the physical plane.”

      “Geez,” said Isaiah, taking the pipe from Rhion. “What illegal sacraments did the, uh, constabulary seize from their room?”

      “The great medicine. The Liberating Sacrament of Divinity itself.” Rhion’s eyes narrowed to needles, piercing Isaiah.

      “Man, this is intense,” said Isaiah, pulling his arms into this shirt sleeves and hugging himself.

      “I see stars all over you,” said Rhion, nodding. “Zen said you were a powerful crystal warrior.”

      “Stars? Yeah? Uhhh…”

      “Speaking of which, this is for you. You can pay me later. Ten bucks’ll do.” Seemingly from nowhere, Rhion produced a crystal necklace similar to his own and handed it to Isaiah. A three-inch quartz crystal pendant with a leather wrap at the top hung from a leather cord.

      “Thanks, brother,” Isaiah said, putting it on.

“Now you’re in the Inner Circle. The Inner Circle is the circle of truth,” pontificated Rhion. “Through the Inner Circle, we are all connected, like leaves upon the same tree. Beneath the same sun. Pretty good smoke, huh? Let’s do another. One good smoke deserves another.”

“Cool. So, I gotta see Zen. I came all the way out here. You know where he is?”

“Zen is everywhere,” said Rhion, packing another bowl from his leather pouch. “I do know that he was really looking forward to seeing you. You seen the clown on the Mall yet?”

“The clown on the Mall? I don’t think so.”

“He’s with the dark forces. Stay away from him. Don’t let him see us together. If he follows you, lose him.”

Isaiah nodded, arms still inside the sleeves of his shirt. The river smelled like thick mud. A woman’s voice shrieked from a car passing on the bridge then faded into the night.

“You take first hit,” said Rhion, passing the pipe to Isaiah. As Isaiah took the pipe, he saw the apparition of a pale electric star on Rhion’s forehead. Or maybe it was just a piece of glitter.

“Blessings,” said Isaiah, raising the pipe to his mouth.

“You like DMT? I got some for sale,” said Rhion. “Pharmaceutical quality.”

“Yeah? I heard of that stuff. It’s like acid that lasts half an hour.”

“Less.” Isaiah passed the pipe to Rhion. “It takes you deep inside Faerie Mountain. Straight to the Hall of the Elfin King himself.”

Rhion gazed at Isaiah with his oh-so-strange pale blue eyes. It seemed like he never blinked.

“I wanna try it. I’ll take whatever. A hit or dose or whatever.”

“It’s fifteen. Ten for you. Smoke it on top of some bud. I’ll throw in the bud. One hit.”

“Cool, man.” Rhion passed the pipe back to Isaiah and they sat in silence.

“Look,” said Rhion, furtively. “Truth is, Zen and Ayloni are holed up in a cave in the Mountains. Meet me tomorrow at the city bus terminal. 12:30. The 35 bus. And don’t act like you know me.”

“Okay,” said Isaiah, exhaling a giant hit. “Like ignore you?”

A large black bird flew slowly down the river towards the ocean, several feet above water level. At least, it looked like a bird to Isaiah. Its long wings flapped methodically and powerfully.

The Library

The next morning, Isaiah wandered around the top of the Mall. Standing outside the St. George, he admired its Spanish Colonial architecture and orange roof tiles. At the top of the Mall stood an old ornate clock tower. On a hillock overlooking the top of the Mall stood the white cathedral and bell tower of the 200-year-old Mission Santa Cruz.

Ambling around the Pacific Garden Mall felt delightful. Built as a combination Main Street and outdoor mall, leafy trees and blossoming flowers grew in abundance. A colorful parade of California lovelies, street musicians, and healthy-looking bums made their way up and down the triple-wide sidewalks. Only buses passed on the street.

In front of the gorgeous Beaux Art-style brick Cooper House, a very old woman in rainbow clothing stood smiled at Isaiah as he passed. She looked like she was about to start dancing on the sidewalk, if only someone would provide music. In front of the bank, a block from the St. George, a man dressed as a clown sat on a bench, smoking and looking both bored and malevolent.

Soon, Isaiah made his way over to the Santa Cruz Library on Church Street. There, he headed straight to the periodical section. In the Santa Cruz Sentinel from two days before, he found the article.

LARGEST LSD BUST IN A DECADE

Last night, Santa Cruz Police executed a search warrant at the St. George Hotel on Pacific Avenue and uncovered a stash of just over 144,000 doses of LSD. The occupant of the room, Benjamin Alexander McDougal, 32, is still at large.

“We have not seen this volume of LSD in a decade,” said Police Sergeant Maurice Porcino. “We intend to prosecute this crime to fullest extent possible to protect our youth from this dangerous mind-poison.”

Unconfirmed reports indicate that the LSD is of an exceptionally high quality. In past years, LSD seizures in Santa Cruz County have involved low-grade LSD, typically mixed with methamphetamine or other adulterants.

“There has been some righteously pure acid on the streets this summer,” said one source, familiar with the local illicit drug market. “It’s like the old-time 60s acid. Puts you face to face with God herself.”

      “Poor Zen,” Isaiah said to himself, looking around the library. Many of the denizens appeared to be older, bearded, and semi-homeless looking gentlemen.

Heading Up into the Mountains

     At noon, Isaiah made his way to the bus station on Pacific Avenue. Sitting on a bench next to a wealthy looking green-haired punk rock girl with a Walkman on, he waited for Rhion and the number 35 bus.

      The bus pulled up at 12:24. As various folks got on the bus, Isaiah waited with no sign of Rhion. At the last minute, the punk rock girl got on.

      At 12:30, the bus driver shut the door of the bus. No Rhion. The bus pulled away. No Rhion.

      Isaiah sat on the bench for another half-hour until another 35 bus came and went. No Rhion. He fished an empty New Coke can out of a trash bin and walked back up Pacific Avenue.

DMT

      Sitting in the chair by the windows, Isaiah fashioned a pipe out of the can. He pushed one side of the can in on itself to make a bowl-like depression then pushed half a dozen small holes into the depression with a safety pin. Finished, he tossed the can pipe into his backpack and slung the backpack over his shoulder. As he headed out of his room, he almost bumped into a man standing directly outside his door.

      “Uh, hey,” said Isaiah to the man. The man had very long, very straight black hair parted down the middle and an odd angle in his eyes.

      “Hey, you wanna buy some food stamps?” asked the man in a soft voice.

“Seven bucks for a ten?”

      “Mmm, no thanks,” said Isaiah.

      “I’m Reemat,” said the man, not extending his hand for a handshake.

      “I’m Isaiah.” Isaiah began to edge his way past the man.

      “I’m from Neptune,” Reemat said, standing up straight.

      “I’m from Illinois. Good luck with the food stamps, man. Maybe some other time. See ya.” Isaiah made his way past Reemat, down the stairs, and out of the hotel.

      At the Soquel Avenue bridge, he called Rhion’s name several times. No response. Making his way down the grass towards the river, he called Rhion’s name again. No response. In the daytime, Isaiah could see a grassy town park on the opposite bank of the river. He made his way back up to the sidewalk and crossed the river.

      Sitting privately down by the river bank in San Lorenzo Park, Isaiah kept an eye on the bridge on the other side of the river to see if Rhion returned. Meanwhile, he pulled out the can pipe and the baggie that Rhion had sold him the previous night. He put the small reefer bud over the small holes he’d punctured in the can then drizzled the white DMT powder over the bud. As he’d seen Rhion do, he raised the can pipe to the four directions, the sky, and the river.

      “Blessings,” he imitated Rhion, then lit it with a match.

      Before he could take the pipe out of his mouth, Isaiah felt higher than he had ever been in his life. He sat frozen.

      Pastel gears appeared in the sky: pale orange, pale pink, and pale rose. They turned excruciatingly slow and seemed to be paradoxically located both beyond and within the sky.

      Suddenly but gently, two, maybe three, short elves stood at his side, ignoring him. Standing just inside his peripheral vision and dressed in working elves’ attire, these elves radiated a mood of mild petulance. For a long while, Isaiah sensed that they had been trying to get organized, but could never quite could get sufficiently organized. The world was a messy place and the elves needed a broom to clean up the mess. They had no broom. They could not find a broom. Perhaps, brooms had not yet been invented in their elfin world. Regardless, the elves knew that things needed to be cleaned up and they could never quite get things cleaned up adequately.

      A handful of minutes, or eons, later, Isaiah mentally returned to the park on the river. Like a statue of a sitting man, he still held the can pipe up to his mouth. Looking into it, he saw that another, much smaller hit remained. He lit it and held his hit.

      Time slowed to crawl. The elves did not reappear, but the shadow of their shadow appeared. Looking into the sky, the pastel gears did not reappear, but the underside of a cumulus cloud caught his fancy. It looked like a cauliflower. Isaiah liked cauliflower. He smiled and mentally returned to the park.

      Near Isaiah, three young children ran down to the riverbank chattering. They threw small sticks into the river then ran back into the park. Isaiah sat by the river and wondered how much time had passed. Fifteen minutes maybe half an hour. Maybe two hours. He didn’t know.

      Isaiah stood up. A tree branch brushed his head. Looking around, there was no tree. The branch lightly brushed his head a second time. He swept his hand over his hair, touching a sparrow as it flew away. It had been trying to land on his head.

      Isaiah looked around, feeling strange. He crossed the river back to Pacific Avenue, heading toward the ocean. After his internal voyage, he felt apart from the people walking and shopping on the Avenue. He felt quieter and not quite of their ilk.

Pacific Avenue wound around for a few blocks and ended at a municipal beach on the Pacific Ocean. Sun worshippers and families crowded the beach. To the south, the roller coaster and carnival rides of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk amusement park rose.

A wharf led out into the ocean for a quarter mile. Isaiah walked down the wharf watching the white and grey sea gulls dive. One gull swept in towards Isaiah several times, seemingly playful rather than aggressive. At the very end of the pier, he stood watching the ocean in silence for a while, looking for clues. It was truly the end of America.

St. George Hotel, Part Two

That night, as Isaiah sat in the chair by his windows at the St. George, a soft knock sounded on his door. In the inner silence of his post-psychedelic calm, he didn’t answer. Another soft knock sounded and Isaiah answered the door.

“Hey brother,” said Rhion quietly, looking both ways down the hallway then slipping into Isaiah’s room. He wore a white t-shirt, white painter’s pants, and white sneakers. His long blonde hair was pulled back in a pony tail.

“Missed you this afternoon, man,” said Isaiah, shutting the door, feeling slightly miffed. Rhion walked over near the windows but kept himself back as if concerned about being seen from the street.

“I saw you there,” Rhion said, pulling the chair back from the window and sitting down.

“You did?” said Isaiah crossly, sitting on the floor.

“Yup, you were right on time.” Rhion pulled his leather pouch and stone pipe from his front pants’ pocket.

“Yeah, man. So what’s up?”

“The time wasn’t right. The clown was on the Mall, front of the bus station. Did he follow you down there?” Rhion stuffed the pipe full of crystalline green and red flower buds.

Isaiah shook his head in resignation. Rhion raised the pipe to the four directions, the sky, and, this time, the street.

“Blessings,” Rhion said.

“I don’t know, man. I just… I don’t know…” said Isaiah, watching Rhion take a huge hit. “Man, Zen’s in trouble. I read the newspaper today. After my Mom died or whatever, he’s pretty much like the only family I got.”

“He told me about your Mom. Sounds pretty mysterious, what happened to her. The Inner Circle will protect Zen,” said Isaiah, looking at Isaiah knowingly. “All of us in the Inner Circle have been meditating for his safety.”

Rhion passed the still-smoking pipe to Isaiah. The smell of a slight summer rain drifted in through the open windows as it began to drizzle outside.

“Yeah? Cool. So what is the Inner Circle?” asked Isaiah. Rhion ignored him, took the pipe back, and squinted out the window. With his pinky finger, he poked at the burnt buds in the pipe.

“They sell Franz Bardon’s Initiation into Hermetics at the Logos bookstore down the street. I had to sell my copy. You should check it out. He wrote three books on how to develop your astral, mental, and, uh, physical selves to increase your occult powers. I think there’s a hit left,” said Rhion, handing the pipe to Isaiah.

“Yeah, so that’s what the Inner Circle is into?” asked Isaiah. Rhion ignored the question again, squinting out the window. A small wind smelling of rain blew in the windows.

“No, not really, I just like the book. Bardon was a powerful magician. After that, there’s, uh, The Practice of Magical Evolution and, uh, The Key to the True Kabballah. He just lays it all out: elemental magic, sigils, letter magic… Here, man, I’ll pack it again.”

Isaiah handed the pipe back to Rhion. Rhion packed it again.

“Cool,” said Isaiah. “Yeah, so let’s go see Zen tomorrow. I’ll be more careful going to the bus station.”

“If the clown follows you again, go in the front of a store, lose him, and hustle out the back way. Say, you need any money?” Rhion sat with the packed pipe in one hand and a lighter in the other.

“Uh okay. Money? Yeah, actually, I’m getting pretty low.”

“Taco Bell is hiring. Past the bus station on the Avenue. They’ll hire anyone. I used work there.”

“Yeah? Okay. So, we’ll go up to the Mountains tomorrow to find Zen? I had another weird dream about him last night.” Outside the window, the rain grew stronger.

“Blessings.” Rhion raised the pipe to the four directions, the sky, and the street.

“So, the 35 bus tomorrow?” asked Isaiah excitedly. “At 12:30?”

“Just lose that no-good clown,” said Rhion, nodding his head. “And don’t act like you know me on the bus. Just keep an eye on me and get off when I do.”

The Bus

At 12:20 the next afternoon, Isaiah made his way down Pacific Avenue on the still rain-wet sidewalk. Glancing about, he did not see the clown anywhere. A block from the St. George next to the Cooper House lay a narrow pedestrian alley lushly overgrown with flowering vines. Without looking around, Isaiah abruptly ducked into the alley then sprinted through it to Front Street on the other end. Running the rest of the block down Front Street, he looked back. No clown. Keeping close to the buildings, he hurried down Front Street to the bus station.

The 35 bus arrived at the bus station just as Isaiah arrived. Once again, Isaiah could not see Rhion anywhere. Isaiah sat at the same bench as the day before. No Rhion. A dozen folks got on, including a teenage girl with sunshine hair who smiled at Isaiah. At 12:30, the bus driver began to shut the doors. Suddenly, from nowhere, Rhion appeared and darted onto the bus, just as the doors shut.

Alarmed, Isaiah jumped up and knocked on the bus doors as the bus driver released the parking brake. Through the doors, the bus driver looked at Isaiah with annoyance. Isaiah pled with her with his eyes. Finally, she relented and opened the doors. Rhion had sat in the very back seat, slumped down so his head did not show above the windows. He wore the same all-white outfit as the night before and had tucked his hair into an all-white baseball cap.

Isaiah ignored him and sat in front of the teenage girl who had smiled at him. As the bus pulled out, he looked back and she gave him a half-smile.

“Hey,” said Isaiah.

“Hey,” she said, coolly. She had long straight sunshine hair and a look of inner bemusement. After a minute of silence, Isaiah caught her looking at him with a pleasant look.

“How you doin’?” he asked, as the bus passed Mission Street.

“Great,” she said. “How ’bout you?”

“Good. Just visiting out here, never been up in the Mountains.”

“Yeah? Cool. Where you from?”

“Illinois. I just came out here to visit my uncle.”

“Fun. You like it?” Isaiah shifted in his seat and put an arm on the backrest so he faced her. Looking to the back of the bus, Rhion still sat slumped in his seat, with his cap pulled low.

“Yeah, just been here a couple days, but, yeah. You live here?”

“Well, I live up in Boulder Creek, like half an hour from town.”
      Soon, the bus arrived at Highway Nine and began to ascend into the redwood Santa Cruz Mountains.

“Wow, I think you’re the first real California girl I’ve talked to so far.”

“That’s me. A real California girl. Born and raised. I love it here. Couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.”

“Yeah? I’m Isaiah, by the way.”   

“I’m Naja Aneezman,” she said, extending her hand.
      “Naja?” Tentatively, Isaiah took her hand and shook it gently. Her fingers looked long and slender.

“Yeah, Naja with a ‘j.’ N-A-J-A.”

“I love it. That’s a great name.”

“Yeah, well. My parents were hippies when I was born. ‘Were’ being the operative word.” The road twisted and turned and climbed higher. Isaiah broke their eye contact to watch the landscape passing.

“It’s mostly redwoods, like those,” she said pointing. “And those. Then, there’s some bay laurels, like… that one.”

“Cool, you can be my travel guide.”

“Sounds like fun. Where’s your uncle live?”

“Uh, he was living in Santa Cruz, right downtown, but he just moved up to the Mountains.”

“I’d like to have a place in town, maybe by the ocean, then a little cabin to visit in the Mountains. Or maybe a house in the Mountains and a cabin in town. Or whatever, I guess. Did you know there’s still wild panthers up in the Mountains?”

“Really?”

“I heard one once but didn’t see it. My brother and I were in the state park, we’ll drive by it, and we heard this low moaning. We just kept quiet and walked away from it. My brother got super scared.”

“How do you know it was a panther?”
      “Cause it sounded like this: ‘mooooooooooowwwwwwnnnnnnn.'” They both laughed.

“Hey,” she asked with a crooked smile. “Why wouldn’t the lobsters share their lunch?”

“Uh, why?”

“Because they’re shellfish.” Isaiah laughed. Her blue eyes looked into his with a trippy intensity.

“I love dumb jokes,” she said.

“Me too. Uh, hold on, no, okay, why did the mermaid wear seashells?”

“I do not know why,” she said in a fake German accent.

“Because the b-shells were too small.” As Naja erupted in laughter, a spittle from her mouth landed on Isaiah’s face.

“Oh god, I am so sorry!” she said. Isaiah wiped his face off and smiled.

“Don’t worry about it. People always do that when I tell that joke.”
      “I love that joke. I’m really sorry.”

“No sweat. Hey, check this out. I swear it’s true,” Isaiah said confidentially.

“What?” She leaned forward.

“Like yesterday, I was in that park by downtown, on the river, just hanging out by myself, nothing special, and, out of the blue, a sparrow landed on my head. Boom, like I was a bird’s nest.”

“Wow,” she said, wiping her mouth. “What’d you do?”

“I just stood there and watched it fly away. It was weird.”

“That’s auspicious. Birds trust you. It definitely means something.” In the back of the bus, Rhion edged his eyes over the back windows and watched the cars behind them.
      “Yeah? I don’t know, but another time, when I was a little kid, maybe seven, I was out in the woods and a tiny bird started fluttering in front of me. I put out my hand, flat, like this, and it landed on my hand.”

“Shut up!” she said, looking into his eyes with the intense trippy look again.

“I swear! I stared at it for I don’t know, ten or fifteen seconds and it flew away.”

“You’re the birdman. Cool.” Isaiah sat back in his seat and Naja looked out the side window.

“I gotta be careful or I get car-sick,” she said. “Or bus-sick.”

The bus stopped in front of a Safeway grocery store in the small town of Felton. Some folks got off and some got on. Isaiah watched Rhion, who remained immobile, slumped firmly down in the back seat.

“How far you going?” Naja asked.

“Uh, just up aways further,” replied Isaiah.

“Boulder Creek’s the last stop,” she said. “Where my family lives.”

“Yeah? Never been there.”
      “It’s just a little Mountain town. It’s pretty. The river runs through there. Or the creek, I guess. Boulder Creek. Yeah…”
      “Yeah?” said Isaiah quietly. The bus pulled away and got back on Highway Nine, winding its way up the Mountains. After Felton, the bus passed a state park. Once again, Rhion peeked above the back windows of the bus to survey the cars behind the bus.

“That’s where we saw the panther,” Naja said, pointing at the state park. “Or heard the panther. I think it was a female panther, but I don’t really know.”

“Cool. Yeah… Are a lot of Californians into spiritual stuff? Like, my uncle and all his friends are really into spiritual stuff. It’s all new to me. Or mostly new, I guess.”
      “Like Christian stuff or New Age stuff?”

“Definitely not Christian. I guess New Age stuff.”

“A lot of people around here are into that stuff. Not everybody. My mom’s into that New Age stuff. I’m open minded but, for me, science and numbers make more sense than most of that stuff.”

“Numbers? Like math and stuff?”

“Yup,” she said, stretching her fingers on the back of Isaiah’s seat. “I’m into numbers. I don’t know why, really, but it’s my thing.”

“Hey, to each, his own. So, do you have a favorite number?”

“Prime numbers are my favorite. You know, 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, all that. When I need to calm down, I just recite prime numbers in my head. Weird, I know.”

 “Wow. I guess I have a scientific mindset, too, but, yeah, I’m open minded. Who knows what’s really going on, you know, like what ‘reality’ really is.”
      “For sure,” she said. Isaiah smiled at her and repeated her name inside his head. Naja Aneezman. She half-smiled at him then looked out the window. The small town of Ben Lomond approached. The bus crossed a river and stopped in front of a coffee shop by the grocery store. After pulling away from the bus stop, just before another bridge over a river, the bus passed a stone building that looked like a small European castle.

“Whoa, what is that?” Isaiah asked, looking back at the castle. Below the bridge, a handful of small cottages right on the river also caught his attention.

“They call it the Vampire Castle,” said Naja with a mysterious look. “Supposedly, some like actor who played Dracula used to live there.”

“Cool.”

The bus slowed but didn’t stop at a tiny town named Brookdale, seemingly consisting only of a bar and a lodge. As the bus sped up again, Rhion repeatedly poked his head above the back windows, looking back.

“So, how long you out here for?” Naja asked.

“I’m not sure. Maybe the whole summer. Probably gonna get a job.”

“A midwestern boy on the loose, huh?”

“I guess.”

“So, how’d you get that scar? I’m sorry, is that too personal? It looks kinda cool, though?”

“Yeah? No, it’s fine. I actually don’t know. I got really high a couple years ago and woke up in the bushes with my cheek all bleeding. It healed and now I got like a crescent moon on my cheek.”

“Seriously, you don’t know how?”

“Yup.” Isaiah touched the scar gently with the tips of his fingers and shrugged.

“It makes you look like a pirate. In a good way.”

“Yeah?” As Isaiah happened to glance back at Rhion, Rhion’s hand shot up and pulled the bus wire, which rang a bell, indicating for the driver to stop at the next stop. After pulling the wire, Rhion slunk back down in his seat, but kept his eyes above the back windows, looking back.

When the bus stopped, Rhion darted out the side door. Isaiah stood up and faced Naja.

“Well, this is my stop. It was really fun talking to you, Naja Aneezman.”

“Yeah, maybe I’ll see you again before you leave.”

“I hope so. Bye,” said Isaiah.

“See ya, Birdman.”

He smiled at her and she returned a half-smile. As he bounded off the bus with his eyes on Rhion’s back, he already missed her.

The Cave

Isaiah and Rhion sat on the bench inside the bus stop kiosk where they had gotten off the bus. Rhion looked up and down Highway Nine nervously.

“All right,” Rhion said. “Keep an eye on these cars. If the same car passes, either way, we go back to town… In a couple minutes, start walking up the road. A couple hundred yards up, turn left up the third driveway. I’ll meet you there.”

Only a couple of cars passed the rural bus stop. Finally, Rhion indicated with his hand for Isaiah to start walking. The thick and tall redwoods shaded the two-lane highway such that only erratic shafts of sunlight shone through. Unlike town, the Mountains possessed a stately quiet. Isaiah walked up the highway then turned left at the third driveway and slowed his walk.

After a few minutes, Rhion caught up. A wise and satisfied look filled his pale face.

“I think we’re good. Come on,” said Rhion, hurrying along. The driveway passed one house on the highway then climbed steeply. After several minutes, they passed an abandoned and dusty vintage burgundy Cadillac. Someone had drawn an ‘Om’ symbol in the dust on the windshield. Eventually, Isaiah could see ahead that the driveway ended at a small somewhat decrepit one-story apartment building. No cars were parked in front of it. Before they walked in plain view of the building, Rhion quickly turned left onto a slight path off the driveway.

“Follow me,” Rhion said, climbing the steep path. Isaiah slid once, but Rhion kept climbing, rapidly and sure-footed. Curiously, Isaiah spotted a small banana on the path and bent to pick it up. In his fingers, the banana felt gooey, alive, and had a small pair of tiny horns at one end.

“What in the world?” exclaimed Isaiah, dropping the yellow thing.

“Banana slug,” said Rhion, looking back then continuing the climb.

“Banana slug,” repeated Isaiah, watching the bright yellow slug slowly writhe on the ground.

At last, the path leveled out in front of a rock outcropping that tunneled back into Mountain. Darting into the outcropping, Rhion began lifting stones and snooping around.

“Is this it? The cave?” Isaiah asked.

“ZEN!” Rhion called. There was no response.

“He would have left a note,” Rhion said.

“Uncle Zen!” Isaiah called. Again, there was no response.

The floor of the cave outcropping was perfectly level and smooth. On one edge lay a ring of stones circling a small fire pit. On a ledge on the side, Isaiah found half a dozen fine quartz and amethyst crystals arranged.

“Looks like he might have been here,” Isaiah said.

“Look for a note or something.”

“Right.” Isaiah looked inside the fire pit. No fire smoldered at all, but it looked like a single sheet of notebook paper had been burned on top of the fire remnants. Isaiah could see the lines on it. He tried to pick it up, but it crumbled into ashes in his hand.

“Here it is,” said Rhion, pulling a dry piece of folded notebook paper from under an album-sized flat stone on the ledge by the crystals.

R (and I?),

The Eagles have flown us north. We look forward to seeing you soon. We’ll be in touch via the riverine grapevine.

With all the love in the world, May the blessings be, Z & A

      Resigned, Isaiah and Rhion sat down on the floor of the cave outcropping and gazed across the tops of the redwood trees. Rhion pulled his black stone pipe out and packed it, dusting the top with white DMT powder.

      “Who are the Eagles? Like the rock band?” asked Isaiah.

“Yes, the rock band. Just kidding. No, not the rock band. You know, I was one of the last Americans drafted into Vietnam,” Rhion said. “December 1972. Zen drew a high number and missed it. Yeah… In the summertime, the river in town is much drier. A bunch of Vietnam vets live down in the bottoms camping out. ‘The Eagles.’ Yeah.”

“Okay, but… So, that’s who the Eagles are, huh? A bunch of homeless Vietnam vets?”

“Wanna get high?” asked Rhion, raising the pipe.

“Sure, man. The Eagles, huh?”

“Owe me the ten?”

Isaiah nodded and Rhion raised the pipe to the four directions, the sky and the mountains.

“Blessings,” Rhion said. He took the first hit, making sure to ignite only half of the DMT. Closing his eyes, he handed the pipe to Isaiah.

Isaiah lit it. Once again, he felt higher than the clouds before he could take the pipe all the way out of his mouth.

Looking up into the sky, instead of pale pastel gears, he saw a vast pale pastel architecture behind the sky. It was phenomenally ornate and geometric. Not buildings, but the inner machinery of buildings. Shades of orange, pink, and rose: all pale and pastel.

Gradually his awareness left the sky and settled on his immediate surroundings. He realized that this very mountain was Faerie Mountain. Or used to be Faerie Mountain. Inside was the Hall of the Elfin King. Or used to the Hall of Elfin King. He couldn’t be sure.

On the perimeter of his vision, but within his awareness, elves hid behind the redwood trees, watching him. He couldn’t see them, but he could sense their movements behind the trees. Hiding. Watching. Judging him. Weighing his soul on elfin scales.

Isaiah pulled the pipe away from his mouth. Again, he didn’t know if fifteen minutes or two hours had passed.

Rhion had vanished. Standing up, he found Zen’s cryptic note amongst the crystals and amethyst on the cave ledge and reread it.

“RHION!” Isaiah called loudly. “HEY! RHION!”

There was no response. Isaiah sat down and took a last hit on the pipe. The DMT was gone and it was a reefer-only hit.

“RHION!” Isaiah called again. No response.

      As Isaiah pondered the psychedelic mysteries he had just encountered, a physical calm spread through his limbs. He accepted Zen’s flight. He accepted Rhion’s abrupt disappearance. And he thought of the smiling sunshine-tressed teenage girl on the bus: Naja Aneezman.

4. Mary Lou Thorsen

In Stoner Noir on April 26, 2010 at 1:24 pm

On May 25, 1985, in Kuwait, a suicide bomber bombed the motorcade of the dictator of Kuwaiti. The dictator survived the assassination attempt, but the bomb killed four, including the bomber.[i] Iraq blamed Iran and increased its bombing of Iranian cities and shipping. Iran responded by bombing Baghdad and ships using Saudi and Kuwait ports.[ii] 

Maureen and Amber

     “So, what do you think happened?” asked Amber, laying on her back with eyes closed. “To that Mary Lou girl?”

      Beneath the afternoon sun, Maureen and Amber sunbathed on white plastic lawn chairs in Maureen’s mom’s backyard. A tall board fence kept the backyard private.

      “Well, I had a pretty intense dream about it,” replied Maureen uneasily. Where Maureen was a slender beauty, Amber was short and busty. Both wore bikinis: Maureen’s with a pink, yellow, and orange flower print and Amber’s all black and skimpier.

      “Uh oh,” said Amber. “Your dreams usually come true.”

      “I know. That’s why I’m freaking out. I really have a feeling I know who kidnapped her.” Maureen sat up, packing a small metal pipe from a plastic sandwich baggie.

      “But they don’t even know if she was kidnapped or ran away or what. Right?” said Amber, shielding her eyes from the sun while looking over at Amber.

      “She was kidnapped by some boys down by the Bahas,” said Maureen matter-of-factly, rolling up the baggie and dropping it under her chair.

      “What?” replied Amber incredulously. “The Bahas? Who was it?”

      “Okay, I’ll tell you but you gotta swear not to tell anyone. Here, you hit it first. There’s just like two hits in there.”

      Amber took the pipe and lighter from Maureen. The metal of the pipe and the sweat on her lips combined to give the weed a sweet and salty metallic taste. She took a deep hit, held it, and exhaled slowly.

      “It was that devil boy,” Maureen whispered conspiratorially, looking around. “The one who always wears the Black Sabbath and the Iron Maiden t-shirts.”

      “No way!” exclaimed Amber. “Weasel? That guy’s a little creepy, but, still, I’ve partied with him a bunch of times. He’s always following Ox around.”

      Amber handed the pipe back. Maureen took a small hit and put the pipe under her lawn chair. Looking down and adjusting her bikini top, she exhaled.

      “I saw it in the dream. It was like a vision. He molested her at the Bahas in some kind of Satanic sex ritual then took her away in a black van.”

      “Damn,” said Amber, sitting up and looking at Maureen with alarm. “You should call the police. Nick says Weasel’s gay for Ox, but, still, it’s just a dream, right?”

      Unseen by Maureen or Amber, peeking over the fence, a young boy with a Asian face and a black buzz-cut mohawk watched the girls sun bathe. Shirtless, he licked his lips.

      “You know my dreams,” Maureen said, adjusting the orange towel beneath her and laying down on her back again. “How many times have they come true? Like always. Those two should be in jail.”

      “Maureen, you’ve got to call the cops. If that guy really did it, maybe that girl’s alive and your information could save her. Plus, I don’t want those guys running around if…” Amber trailed off, adjusting her bikini top to just cover the tops of her nipples.

      “I’m not calling the cops,” Maureen said quickly. “They’re such dicks.”

      “Some kids were talking about Isaiah ’cause he like split the day after she disappeared,” said Amber quietly.

      “Yeah, I thought that too. But no, it was that Weasel kid,” said Maureen confidently.

      “So, you knew her? Mary Lou Whatsername?”

      “No, I think I saw her around, but never talked to her. I guess she was like super shy and didn’t really have friends or anything.”

      They sat in silence. It was a windless blue sky afternoon.

      “So, what’s it like going out with Nicky?” asked Maureen. “You miss the Ox?”

      Amber didn’t answer for a while. She just lay back shaking her head.

      “Oh right, I definitely miss Ox,” Amber replied sarcastically. “If he wants to go out with that tramp Angela, more power to him. Keeps her away from Nick, anyway. But Nick… is different. He’s just so sweet in private. He’s still like a dick when people are around but…”

      “Nick’s really hot in some weird way. Does Ox still want to kick his ass?” Maureen stretched her long legs out and pointed her toes.

      “Who knows? It’s so stupid. Ox like made out with Angela that same night, so he’s like got no right to be mad. Guys can be so dumb.”

      “It’s weird thinking of you going out with Nick. Like a month ago, you hated him.”

      “I know. Well, he’s fun and really sexy, but… like I don’t want to be in another serious relationship right away, y’know? I wanna just, like, have fun. What about you? You gotta miss Isaiah. Talk about cute.”

      “He broke up with me. What am I supposed to do? Pine? Not. He did leave a sweet message on my machine yesterday though.”

      “Ah. You still love him.”

      “No, I don’t,” said Maureen peevishly and somewhat convincingly.

      “So, you gonna go out with that cute nurse dude from the psych ward?” Amber put her forearm over her eyes. The little mohawked boy now had a pair of small red water balloons in his hands.

      “What? No, he is so boring. He just talks and talks and talks. I think it made Isaiah jealous though, which was fun. Let’s take a break. You want some water?” Maureen sat up on the side of her lawn chair.

      “Sure.” Amber sat up too and ran her fingers through her hair. “Who’s that?”

      “What?” Amber pointed to the corner of the fence where the boy had been spying on them. He was gone now.
      “I think that weird little kid was spying on us again.” Maureen picked up the pipe, lighter, and baggie from under her chair. They stood up and walked to the screen door at the back of the house that led into the kitchen. Both girls straightened the seats of their bikini bottoms.

      “I’m serious, Maureen, you should call the police. That whole thing gives me the creeps big-time. Nick said it was probably Satanists too.”

      “Yeah…” Maureen said, fixing two tall pink plastic cups with tap water and ice. “I should. I hate the idea of him on the loose, after having done God knows what to that Mary Lou girl. I didn’t know her, like nobody did, I guess, but still…”

      “It’s like a serious crime. She was just walking down the Prairie Path and like vanished? We’ve played on the Prairie Path since, like, ever, you know?” Amber leaned against the refrigerator, bumping it lightly with her butt.

      “I just hate the idea of calling the cops. They’re like the biggest perverts of all. Just the way they look at any pretty girl is gross. You call ’em,” said Maureen, handing Amber a cup and turning on the counter radio. “Those old pervs would love you.”

      Over WMET, the Beatles sang, “all you need is love, love, love is all you need.” Maureen started marching around the kitchen to the ending of the song, pretending to be in a marching band. Amber smiled and sipped her water.

      “You’re the one with the information. So, don’t freak out, but I’m going out to dinner with my mom’s boyfriend tonight. And we’re going to The Breakfast Club. It’s nothing weird. He’s just really nice. My mom’s on some kind of business trip. Don’t tell her, though, okay? Or Nick, okay?”

      “I wouldn’t dream of it… That suit looks good on you. You just get it?”

      “Yeah,” said Amber, blushing.

      “What?” asked Maureen, leaning down against the counter with her legs straight, changing the radio station. “Walking on Sunshine” and “Don’t You Forget About Me” came on for five seconds each as Maureen grimaced and kept turning the dial.

      “Nothing,” replied Amber.

      “Yeah right. Let me guess.”

      “Ummm…” Amber muttered something unintelligible.

      “Your mom’s boyfriend got it for you, didn’t he?”

      “Yeah, but I swear it’s not like that. I’m never getting into something like that ever again. He’s more like a dad to me, you know?”

      “I wish my mom had a boyfriend who gave me stuff.”

      “Yeah, it’s cool, huh? Plus, did I tell you? He’s a photographer too and thinks he can get me some sweet modeling jobs in Chicago.”

      “Tell him to get me some modeling jobs too. I’m broke.”

      “Yeah, you could totally model, Maureen.”

      “If my skin’d clear up.”

      “It will. I don’t know though, it’s weird, sometimes I worry that, you know, guys just like me ’cause of that way I look and, like, if I model, like, maybe that’d just make that whole complex worse.”

      “Guys do just like you for your body, though.”

      “Shut up. I’m serious.”

      “All the guys say you got the best tits in town.”

      “Shut up! Really? Anyway, so, seriously, I’ll tell him about you too if you want.”

      “Whatever. You really think I should call the police?” With the intro to Aerosmith’s “Back in the Saddle” playing on WLUP, Maureen sat down on a plain wooden chair at the kitchen table just inside the back door.

      “No, it’s just a girl who was kidnapped a couple blocks from your house by some kind of Satanic pervert, who cares.”

      “All right all right. It’s just that I’ve never called the cops before. They’ve always been, like, the enemy. I’d still feel like a nark, even if I know that Weasel belongs in jail.”

      Maureen played with the tips of her hair, looking for split ends. Amber sat down at the other kitchen table chair.

      “Just call right now,” Amber said, finishing her water. “Then, we’ll go do our backs. I gotta leave pretty soon for my dinner thing.”

      “Oh man. I don’t even know the number.”

      “That suit looks sexy on you,” said Amber, as Maureen checked the phone book.

      “Perv,” said Maureen, dialing the number. “Well, I never thought I’d be a police informant, but…”

Angela and Rose

      “I freeze up every time I see him,” said Rose, lingering around the pay phone at the train station. “He’s just so beautiful.”

      “God, Rose,” said Angela. “Don’t be such a chicken. He’s just a guy. Anyway, he likes you.”

      To anyone but their mothers, they could pass as identical twins with their fried fluffy blonde hair and skinny, shapeless bodies. Still, Angela was loud and sassy while Rose was dark and quiet.

      “Did he say that?” The Chicago and Northwestern commuter train arrived from Chicago and dozens of business suited men and women filed out, heads erect and briefcases in hand.

      “They look like a bunch of slave robots,” said Angela. “You gotta promise to kill me if I ever start wearing a suit and commuting. Pinky swear?”

      “Okay, I promise to kill you if you start wearing a suit and commuting. Pinky swear.” Rose wrapped her pinky around Angela’s pinky.

      “You’re a pal.”

      The train rumbled west, heading for Wheaton. As quick as the train had arrived, the commuters disappeared to their cars and castles.

      “Anyway, Ernie’s just passive,” said Angela, staring at Rose. “Like Mr. Mellow. You gotta seduce him.”

      “Oh my god. I’d have a heart attack.”

      “No you wouldn’t. Just like I’m gonna seduce Nicky and get him away from that slut Amber-ger. I don’t know what he sees in her besides she’s got like disgusting big boobs.”

      “I thought you were going out with Ox?”

      “Yeah, right. We’re not like ‘going steady’ or whatever. I just wanna have fun. Like the song. Ox is just my boy toy.”

      “Gotcha.” Moon faced, Rose leaned against the payphone.    

      “Okay, if you’re not gonna do it, I’ll call him. I want some bud.” Angela put a quarter in the phone and dialed the number.

      “No! Don’t call him!” cried Rose.

Ernie

     Shirtless in the late afternoon sun, Ernie reclined in a lawn chair on the redwood back deck of his mom’s house. She was, of course, at work, and he was, of course, singing and playing guitar.

      “Years ago, in days of old, when magic filled the air, ’twas in the darkest depths of Mordor, I met a girl so fair.”

      With golden wavy hair flowing past his shoulders and the kind of boyish face that didn’t grow whiskers, he looked more cute than handsome, like a Robert Plant teddy bear. In the chair next to him lay a rolled up sandwich baggie that he kept winking at.

      With an inward grin, he stopped playing, picked up the baggie, unrolled it and pulled a dried mushroom out. The cap and stem were intact. Tilting his head to the side, he stared at it and bunched his lips.

      “Hello, mushroom friend,” he said endearingly and kissed it.

      In the next moment, he popped it into his mouth and began chewing with great relish. Looking down at the baggie, he pulled out a long cap-less stem, kissed it and popped it into his mouth. Rolling the baggie back up, he tossed it back on the chair and began playing again.

      “But Gollum, the evil one, crept up and slipped…” The kitchen phone rang. He ignored it for three rings then got up with his guitar.

                   Angela and Rose, Part Two

      As soon as Angela dialed the number, she forced the phone into Rose’s hand. Rose tried to avoid taking it. From the concrete platform outside the train station, they could see half a dozen grade school boys emerge from the downtown candy store across the street. The boys eagerly compared their candy purchases.

      “What are you doing?” said Rose, in a panic.

      “It’s a phone call for you,” said Angela smiling.

      “What? Oh my god,” said Rose, reluctantly taking the phone.

      “Hello? Hello? Who’s there?” asked Ernie in an fake English accent. Across the street, an Asian boy with a black buzzcut mohawk pushed another taller boy.

      “Oh, hey. Hi, Ernest. It’s Rose. Of Rose and Angela. How are you?” she asked nervously.

      “I’m all better now that I’m talking to you, sweetheart. What’s up?”

      “Oh nothing. I’m just calling from downtown. How are you? No, I mean… That’s good. Ummm. What’s going on?”

      “Just hanging out playing guitar, getting ready for practice.”

      “Cool. I love you guys. I mean, I love your band’s music. Baited Hook rules. I, uh…” Across the street, the boys now laughed at each other and made their way down the street, cheeks wide with candy.

      “Baited Hook! What’s up Ernie, you freak?” hollered Angela into the phone. “Come get us.”

      “Is that the lovely Miss Angela?” asked Ernie. He sat down at the kitchen table with the phone propped up to his ear and quietly strummed some chords.

      “Yeah. So, um… Cool. Hey, you have any ‘books’ right now?” asked Rose.

      “‘Books’?” questioned Ernie. “Oh, ‘books.’ Actually, no, I don’t. My dude’s coming over to practice tonight so maybe later.”

      Angela had her ear up to the phone, listening in.

      “Cool, so meet us out at the Bahas later,” Angela demanded, as Rose shifted the phone’s mouthpiece. “There’s gonna be a big bonfire party out there tonight.”

      “Yeah?” said Ernie. “Maybe.”

      “No maybe, you freak,” called Angela into the phone. “Promise.”

      Ernie laughed.

      “You’re the freak, Miss Angela. Sure, I’ll come and I’ll bring some ‘books,’ all right?”

      “Right on, brother,” said Angela.

      “Thank you, Ernie,” said Rose. “I hope you have a really, really great practice. You guys are really talented. Um…”

      “Thanks. Cool,” said Ernie. “Okay, see you two later.”

      “Take it easy,” said Rose.

      “Don’t forget the books, freak,” shouted Angela into the phone as Rose hung up.

Maureen’s Vision

          As the afternoon ended, Maureen sat on a wooden chair in her mother’s attic listening to David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars album on a portable record player and smoking a Marlboro Red. Maureen had long black hair with straight bangs and wore cut-off jean shorts and an American flag halter top over her flowered bikini.

      From her perch, she looked out of the small dormer window to the street below, waiting for the police. “Five Years” played: “pushing through the market square, so many mothers sighing, the news had just come over the air, we had five years left to die in.

      Finally, the cop car arrived and pulled into the driveway on the side of the house. She stopped the record and went downstairs to answer the door.

      “So, you have some information about Mary Lou Thorsen’s disappearance on May 11?” Sergeant Casino began. He was a sturdy man in his 40s with a cop mustache, sunglasses, and a tired look. They sat at the kitchen table just inside the back door. 

      “Yes. I didn’t know her. Her younger brother is my age. I walk down the Prairie Path all the time and… Whatever happened to her is just not right.”

      “Miss, we can all agree with that. If you’ve got information, it’s good that you called.”

      “So you know the Bahas? Down off the Prairie Path?”

      “Who are they?”

      “It’s a place, not people,” she said with exasperation. “The kids call it ‘the Bahas.’ It’s where everyone parties. Or where like the burnouts and pseudo-hippies or whatever party.”
      “I see. And where is that?”

      “Like between the Prairie Path and the railroad tracks, there’s this big empty area. Of woods. It’s like a no man’s land. Like if you kept walking on Whittier, past Walnut, past the Prairie Path, up the hill on the edge of the Path? Well, on the other side of that little hill, the land goes down and that’s the Bahas.”

      “Okay. That’s where the kids ‘party,’ you say?” The cop began taking notes in a small notebook.

      “Yeah, pretty much every weekend night, there’s a bonfire party out there, like ten or fifteen kids, getting drunk and smoking or whatever. All those kids with the Black Sabbath t-shirts and the Iron Maiden t-shirts. If Mary Lou disappeared on the bike path, I’d check around there. Some of those kids are like little devil worshipper wanna-bes. Not all of them, but some of them.”
      “What are their names?” he asked.

      “I don’t really know them or their names,” Maureen said, shifting in her chair.

      “Don’t lie to me,” the cop said sternly, drumming his thick fingers on the table. “What are their names?”

      “I don’t know,” she said, looking down.

      “Yes, you do,” he said, raising his voice. “Look, Miss, an innocent teenage girl about your age disappeared in broad daylight on the Prairie Path, less than a half mile from right here. Whoever did it should be in jail. I think you know that. That’s why you called. Now, please, what are their names?”

      Maureen sat up straight. Looking at the cop, she pulled up the front of her halter top and crossed her legs.

      “Okay okay. Weasel. I don’t know his last name. And maybe that kid Nick, too, I don’t know. They’re all pretty dark.”

      “All right,” he said, writing down their names. “How do you know this?”

      “Look,” she said, taking a deep breath. “I’ll just tell you, okay? I’m psychic. I just am. I had a vision of… bad things happening to her, down in the Bahas, okay?”

       “A psychotic vision, you say?” the cop said, slamming his notebook shut. “Look, Miss, this is a serious police…”

      “Psychic!” she interrupted. “Not psychotic. And I am serious. Some of those kids down there are really dark. They’ve got like ‘666’ written on the rocks. There’s this one big flat rock they call ‘The Sacrificial Altar.’ You’ll see. It’s screwed up. You just got to…”
      “I don’t have to do anything, Miss, and you should watch your language. Have you actually heard anything real or seen anything real having to do with Miss Thorsen’s disappearance? Or is this all just your so-called ESP? I do know you were recently released from the mental ward at Mercy Center.”

      Upset, Maureen began breathing heavily. She shook her head.

      “Never mind. Forget I called, I’m just trying to help, you jerk.”

      “I told you once to watch your language,” the cop barked, standing up. “I could arrest you for obstructing police business. Is that what you want?”

      Maureen bit her lip and kept her mouth closed. The cop stood over her, looking down. His knees almost touched hers. She pulled up the front of her halter top again.

      “I tell you what,” he said, hands on his hips. “Your mother’s not home, right? You’re a nice girl. A pretty girl. I want to give you a break. Just relax and…”

      “12-10,” the radio on his belt called. “Sergeant Three. 12-10 at 475 Duane.”

      Casino reluctantly pulled the radio from his belt.

      “This is Sergeant Three. Responding. 475 Duane Street. Please confirm address.”
      “Yes, that’s correct. 475 Duane Street.”

      “I’m on my way. Over.”
      “Over.”

      “Have a nice day, Miss,” he said sarcastically. “And do me a favor, next time, I don’t wanna hear about any of your psychotic, woops, I mean ‘psychic,’ visions.”

      Sergeant Casino slammed the screen door shut and left. A small tear formed in the corner of Maureen’s eye.

Ernie Trips Down the Street

     With his black guitar case in his hand, Ernie made his way north down Park Boulevard at dusk. First, he looked down at the concrete sidewalk squares. The concrete seemed to be made of an infinite number of tiny pebbles glued together in a most marvelous fashion. Then, he looked at the tree bark on the trees he passed. It looked like gnarly medieval armor. Eyes wide, he started grinning.

      “Hey Ernie, man, you need a ride?” asked the passenger of a dark green 1980 Ford Fairmont full of teens that stopped in the street by Ernie. A tape in the car played Van Halen’s “Dance the Night Away.”

      “What’s up, dudes? Nah, I’m cool.” Ernie stopped on the sidewalk.

      “Yeah? Party at the Bahas tonight, man.” Another car stopped behind the Fairmont.

      “I heard. I’ll probably be over after practice.”

      “Bring the whole band, man. See ya.”

      “Baited Hook rocks!” another kid shouted out the window as the Fairmont sped away.

      Still standing on the sidewalk, Ernie looked up at the sky. The shade of blue gradually changed as he watched. It was now royal blue. Ernie liked royal blue. He grinned again and rolled on down the sidewalk humming.

Party at the Bahas!

“Dude, what is this music? Some New Wave crap?” Ox asked. Almost a giant, he wore a black Jimi Hendrix t-shirt and cut-off Levis vest. Six teenagers, four boys and two girls, sat around a small bonfire in the Bahas that Saturday night. A tape deck played The Cure’s “Let’s Go to Bed:” “I’m shaking like milk.”    

“Man, just listen to it,” Tommy the Elf, a tiny red-haired punkish boy, said. “It’s absolutely great music.”

“Dude, put on some rock and roll. Put this on,” Ox demanded, trying to hand Tommy a tape. Tommy wore a white Clash t-shirt.

“Blizzard of Ozz? Yeah, that’s okay, but it’s the oldies, man… When’s Ernie getting here with the weed?”

“He’s getting here an hour ago,” Angela snickered.

“Who’s got a cigarette?” Ox demanded. “Nick, gimme a smoke man…”

“OPC’s your favorite brand,” Nick replied, playing with his butterfly knife. Wiry, he had a shaggy mohawk and a homemade tattoo of a skull glowering on his left bicep.

“What?” Ox asked.

“OPC’s your favorite brand, fool. Other People’s Cigarettes. Why don’t you steal your own?”

Nick threw a Marlboro Red at Ox and offered his pack to the two girls. They each took one.

With his eyebrows raised, Tommy eyed Nick. Nick shook his head, sighed, and threw a cigarette at him. The fourth boy, Weasel, sat quietly next to Ox, lost in his own head. Wearing a black and white Iron Maiden jersey, Weasel had a pointy nose and long stringy hair.

“But now you gotta put on my music, dude,” Nick said. “Put on something metal or punk.”

“Yeah!” said Ox. “Screw that poser garbage.”

“It’s not poser garbage, you dork. Where’s your tape?”

“So, is your new girlfriend coming out?” Angela asked Nick sarcastically.

“Amber?” asked Nick, looking down. “Naw, she’s doing a girls-night-out thing with her mom.”

“I don’t know why you’re so into her. She’s short and has like disgustingly large breasts. She’s like a freak of nature.”

“Sounds like jealously, Miss Angela. How ’bout you and your new boyfriend?” Nick asked, eyeing Ox. From the tape deck, “Goodbye to Romance” played.

“This is not metal,” said Tommy, looking at Ox with disgust. “This is like poser lounge music.”

“He’s not my boyfriend. Yet. But he’s madly in love with me,” said Angela. “Right, Ox?”

Oblivious to Nick and Angela’s conversation, Ox pushed Weasel off the log they sat on and shifted over to his spot. Weasel just readjusted to sitting on the ground and watched the small fire.

“Anyway, I met this totally hilarious kid at Tiffany’s Cafe,” said Angela. “Corey. He’s like 14 but is totally cool. He’s like the star of that movie they’re filming at Glenbard… Corey something. He was sitting with like the Glenbard West High School Thespian All-Stars, that goofy freshman kid Sean Hayes and, whatsername? Amy Carlson. We split and he got me super-st-st-stoned in the alley.”

Rose nodded and Nick ignored her. A quarter of a mile away, beyond the ridge that hid the Bahas, two police cars parked on the corner of Whittier and Walnut Street with their lights out. As an old yellow-jacket Chevelle Malibu with a loud engine and a burnt out tail light rounded the corner, each officer exited his car. Without conferring, the two strode towards the Prairie Path in the darkness.

A quarter-mile away towards downtown, also heading towards the Bahas on the Prairie Path, Ernie carried a 12-pack of Miller Genuine Draft bottles in a paper grocery bag. Wearing mirror sunglasses at 10:30 at night, he wore a plain black pocket t-shirt and his usual faded jeans.

Starry starry night,” he sang to himself, kicking up the tiny white limestone gravel on the Prairie Path. Indeed, the night was black, moonless and starry.

Back at the Bahas, “Mr. Crowley” played on the tape deck. Ox and Weasel mumbled along, playing air guitar.

“Hey, you guys, go get more wood,” commanded Nick. “I’m keeping you in smokes. You keep me in fire.”

“Gimme another smoke and I’ll get some,” Ox said.

“Yeah right. Get some wood and I’ll give you a smoke. A good amount of wood. Enough to really get this thing cooking. It’s new moon out, almost, let’s…”

“Come on, let’s get some wood,” Angela said to Rose, standing up and pulling the other girl’s hand.

“I’ll guard the fire,” Rose said, without smiling. “You go.”

Ox and Weasel walked off into the woods. Nick spun his butterfly knife on his forefinger.

“Hey Nick, you ever hopped a train out here?” asked Tommy.

“Huh? Yeah, one time, me and Oreo and Fat Tommy were out here and this train comes by like super slow. Me and Oreo jump on the ladder on one of the boxcars. We didn’t give a damn, but Fat Tommy couldn’t pull himself up. He kept jumping and like falling on the rocks… So, me and Oreo… What’s that noise? Anyway, Oreo is a nut job, he gets up on top of the boxcar and the train starts…”

“Dudes!” whispered Ox loudly, running back to the fire. “Split right now, that dick Casino and some other cop are just coming down the hill.”

“You two are coming with me,” Nick said coolly to the girls, standing up. “I know this place like the back of my heart.”

The three other boys instantly ran towards the railroad tracks. Nick quickly led the two girls further into woods away from the direction of the cops.

“Dick ass cops,” Nick said quietly, as Angela giggled. “Come on.”

In the dark, coming down the ridge towards the Bahas, the two cops saw a bonfire glimmering through the trees.

“Those freaky kids are gonna try to run,” whispered Sergeant Casino.

“Probably, but we’ll catch at least a couple of ’em,” whispered the younger one, pulling his gun. Sandy-haired, he an identical cop mustache as Casino. “Jesus knows what kind of mind drugs they’re on. When we get right up to the fire, we’ll hit our flashlights and surprise ’em.”

“Put that gun away, you idiot, before you shoot yourself,” whispered Casino, annoyed.

As if they were sneaking up on a Viet Cong village, the two cops moved silently towards the bonfire, unlit flashlights in hand. Silhouetted by the firelight, the younger cop saw three figures dash away from the fire toward the railroad tracks. He turned on his flashlight and ran sprinting through the brush after them. Casino shrugged and walked to the abandoned bonfire.

As the younger cop thrashed through the woods, Ox struggled with a tangle of honeysuckle vines by the rocks of the railroad tracks. The younger cop caught up with him.

“Glen Ellyn Police!” he shouted. “Don’t move and get your hands up right now.”

Tangled in the honeysuckle vines, big Ox froze and almost began to cry. Suddenly, pointy-nosed Weasel appeared from the side and shoved Ox out of the bramble.

“What the hell you think you’re doing?” shouted the younger cop, moving forward and grabbing Weasel by arm. Weasel didn’t resist as Ox ran up the rocks to the railroad tracks and disappeared into the night.

“You are under arrest, slimeball,” said the younger cop, roughly cuffing Weasel’s hands tightly behind his back.

Meanwhile, Ernie walked down the Prairie Path, getting close to the cut-off to the Bahas.

Years ago, in days of old, when magic filled the air, ‘Twas in the darkest depths of Mordor, I met a girl so fair. But Gollum, the evil one, crept up and…” he sang to himself.

“Frickin’ Ernie, you maniac,” exclaimed tiny Tommy panting, stumbling out of the bushes along the Path, carrying his tape deck. “Dude, the nimrod police are busting the Bahas. You gotta get off the Path. Seriously.”

I guess I’ll keep rambling,” sang Ernie, gracefully stepping off into the bushes on the edge of the Path and stashing the bag of beer.

“Come on, my elfin brother, it’s cool,” said Ernie. “Just dump anything you got here and we’ll come back in an hour and get it. Where is everybody?”

Looking around, Tommy cooled down. Ernie was right. They didn’t have anything illegal on them.

“Yeah, screw the police,” Tommy said, still out of breath. “Let’s walk downtown. I don’t know. Everybody skedaddled when the cops came. Like roaches when the kitchen light comes on.”

“Alas,” said Ernie. “And my two favorite girls? Rose and Angela? Wherefore art they? Hey hey hey.”

Ernie offered Tommy a Marlboro Red and they headed back towards downtown.

Maureen and Amber, Part Two

      “Yup, I told the dick cop just what I told you,” Maureen told Amber over the telephone. Late that night, Maureen sat at the kitchen table of her mom’s house. She touched the cool brown linoleum floor with her bare feet, then lifted them up.

      “No, I didn’t tell him anybody’s name. I just said, like, ‘the burnout dudes who hang out at the Bahas.'”

      “Well, I’m glad. Good for you,” said Amber.

      “Yeah we’ll see… My mom is driving me crazy. She’s just a selfish bitch. As soon as she got home tonight, she went straight to her room. To get drunk. As usual.”

      “That sucks.”

      “Yeah I know. So, how was your big date? Did he take your picture in your hot new bikini?”
      “Stop. It’s not like that at all.”

      “Sorry. I’m just kidding, Miss Sensitive. Okay?”

      “Yeah. It was nice. It’s like having a dad for once, you know?”

      “No, I wouldn’t know,” said Maureen looking out the dark window on the kitchen door. Because it was light inside, she couldn’t see outside at all. Someone could be three feet away from the undraped window and she wouldn’t know it.

      “But I’m glad for you. Maybe he’ll be your new stepfather someday.”

      “That’d be cool. Just to have a real regular family, you know? Anyway…”

      “Do you call him ‘Daddy’?”

      “I’m serious, Maureen. Cut it out.”

      “Okay, okay. Yeah, well, call me tomorrow, okay?”

      “Okay, I love you.”

      “I love you too, sort of. Just kidding. I do love you. Bye.”

      Maureen hung up. She felt like someone watched her from outside the house. As goose bumps rose on her arms, she walked to the living room.

Maureen’s Backyard

      Laying on the sofa in her mom’s living room reading a romance novel about Vikings abducting farm girls, Maureen heard a strange noise from the backyard. Putting the book down, her eyes focused on the dark backyard window.

      Three pale faces with tongues out smooshed up against the window glass. Shocked, Maureen’s heart skipped a beat.

      “What the hell?” she said aloud, reaching for the protection that was not there.

      Nick, Angela, and Rose cracked up laughing at Maureen’s reaction. They signaled with their hands for her to come outside. She shook her head, feeling like the victim of a bad practical joke, and walked slowly around to the back door.

      “Shhhh,” Maureen said, opening the door and stepping outside. “Don’t wake my mom up. She’ll freak.”

      “Hey Maureen,” Nick and Angela said, as Rose hung back, silent.

      She led the group into the back of the backyard. Angela snickered.

      “What’s up?” Maureen asked.

      “Pigs just busted the Bahas,” said Nick, lips snarled. “They might have busted the Ox, the Weasel, and the Elf. Not sure.”

      “Hmmm,” said Maureen, pursing her lips. “What’d they bust ’em for?”

      “Who knows?” said Nick. “Whatever they want. I think the Ox had some weed.”

      “That’s a cool shirt,” said Angela, referring to Maureen’s American flag halter.

      “Thanks, Angela. So what are you guys doing besides scaring me half to death?”

      “You should of seen your face… Yeah… So, can we like hide out in your back yard for a minute? We just came straight from the bust,” said Nick.

      “I guess,” said Maureen. “You got a smoke?”

      “My smokes are your smokes,” he said, shaking out a Marlboro Red for her. They sat Indian style under an overgrown blackberry bush.

      “I guess Amber thinks Weasel might have had something to do with Mary Lou Whatsername’s disappearance,” Maureen probed.

      “Really?” said Nick. “She never said anything to me.”

      “That dim bulb?” said Angela. “I mean, I love that guy, but he couldn’t plot a trip to the grocery store.”

      “He was in jail that day for that weed thing with Ox anyway,” said Rose quietly.

      “In jail? He was?” asked Maureen, swallowing. “For sure?”

      “Yup. Remember? Him and Ox got pulled over in Weasel’s mom’s car. Ox had weed, but Weasel said it was his so they arrested both of ’em.” said Angela. “I remember looking for them that day ’cause there were so many cops on the Prairie Path, but they’d gotten busted the day before.”

      “Damn,” said Maureen.

      “Damn what?” asked Nick, looking at her strangely. A car sped by on the street in front of the house. It did not have its head lights on.

      “Oh, just, damn I hope they catch whoever did it,” Maureen said.

      “Neither of their mom’s would bail ’em out for like three days,” said Rose in a hushed tone.

      “Ah, that girl probably just ran away,” said Nick. “Her family’s real weird. Her older brother’s my age. He was a… I don’t know what, but a real specimen.”

      “So Ox and Weasel were in jail then?” asked Maureen again.

      “Hey, so you’re doing better?” asked Angela.

      “Huh? Yeah,” said Maureen. “Mercy Center is super-boring. I’m just glad to be out. I met a cool guy in there I’m gonna go to the Dead up at Alpine with. A male nurse. Super cute.”

      Angela and Rose sat side by side with their arms around each other. Nick looked at Maureen with a compassionate look. He started to say something, stopped and put his hand on her bare knee.

      “Good,” said Angela, looking straight at Maureen. “I’m glad you’re doing better. We were real sad to hear you, uh… had to go to Mercy Center and all. You belong in the outside world.”

      “Really? Thanks, Angela. That’s nice.”

      “Same here,” said Rose sincerely. “I’m really glad you’re okay.”

      “Thanks guys,” said Maureen, genuinely touched. “Really. That’s real nice. You guys thirsty? I could swipe some of my mom’s wine. She’s probably passed out by now.”

“No Clues in Search for Missing Local Teen”

Glen Ellyn News May 16, 1985

            Searching through the tall grass and woods along the Prairie Path over the last week, the Glen Ellyn Police have found no clues regarding the whereabouts of missing 19-year old Mary Lou Thorsen. Thorsen was last seen along the bike path in Glen Ellyn east of the Taylor Street Underpass on the early afternoon of May 11.

            “We’ve had a big group of community volunteers comb the area,” said Police Sergeant Phillip Casino. “We’ve had dogs out there. Nothing. It’s like she just vanished in thin air.”

            Thorsen is a 1984 graduate of Glenbard West High School. She lives with her family several blocks from the Prairie Path and occasionally walks the Path recreationally.

            “At this time, we are investigating her disappearance as a crime,” said Casino. When last seen, she wore green jeans, a red windbreaker, and white tennis shoes. Police ask that anyone with any information about her location or disappearance to call the Glen Ellyn Police Department immediately.

Glen Ellyn Police Interview with Douglas Cummings May 20, 1985

This is Sergeant Phillip Casino on May 20, 1985. Uh, Douglas, could you please state your full name?

            Me? I’m Douglas Jonathan Cummings.

Thank you, Douglas. We’re just going to go through some of the stuff that you did on May 11. Now, you had said before that you were on the bike path, the Prairie Path, that day?

            I guess. Yeah, me and Jamie were riding bikes.

Jamie? That’s your friend? What’s Jamie’s full name?

Jamie Matheson. I don’t know his middle name. He’s in the sixth grade with me at Ben Franklin Elementary School.

Okay. Great. So, about what time were you and Jamie on the Prairie Path?

I don’t know. Jamie has a watch that his mom gave him, but it was in the afternoon. It was a Saturday. We went the Good-BY Ranch and bought some candy. I got a big thing of Watermelon Now-or-Laters and Jamie got some Good ‘n’ Plenty, I’m pretty sure, and, yeah, so that’s what we did.

And then you went for a bike ride on the Prairie Path?

Yup. Well, we were just walking our bikes ’cause we were eating the candy and stuff. That girl was standing on the bike path crying. Jamie said “hey, you lose your kitty cat?” to her. He’s always saying weird stuff to strangers and stuff and she just looks at him and says like “no” real quiet and spooky-like and, um, that’s what happened.

Okay, the girl who was crying. Did you know her?

Nope. I never seen her before in my life. It’s the girl who’s picture’s in the paper. Mary Lou Whatsername.

Okay. What did she look like?

Just like the picture. Like her hair was almost white, like blonde. She looked like a teenage girl pretty much. Her hair was messy. Skinny.

Was she with anyone?

Nope. You know when you come up that hill from the Good-BY onto the bike path then it levels out? That’s where she was. Just crying and stuff. Yup.

Was she walking towards the Good-BY Ranch or away from it?

She was just standing there. Crying and stuff. Jamie said “hey, you lose your kitty cat?” or something just to be funny and we just like walked down the path after that. We ride down to Hill Street almost to Lombard and back and that’s what we do.

Did you see anyone else on the Prairie Path that day?

Well, Jamie. I seen him and that girl. And I don’t know. Maybe. Sometimes them teenagers hang out on the Prairie Path, but I don’t remember for sure.

Which teenagers?

Well sometimes you see them teenagers with the black t-shirts and the long hair. The burnouts or whatever. But I don’t know.

You don’t know what, Douglas?

I don’t know if I seen ’em that day. I remember that girl ’cause of the reason that she was crying and Jamie said that funny thing to her. I guess we kind of laughed when he said that about her kitty cat. He says funny stuff. You should ask him, maybe he saw other people and stuff.

What was the girl who was crying wearing, Douglas?

Clothes and stuff. I don’t know. Like a preppy girl or something. Maybe. Girls clothes probably.

Were her clothes dirty or clean?

I guess they were clean, but I don’t remember them being dirty probably.

When did you realize it was the girl that people are looking for?

I seen her picture in the Glen Ellyn News. My mom gets it in the mail and I seen it on the table. I says to Jamie, “that’s that girl what was crying on the Prairie Path. The one who didn’t lose her kitty cat you know” and he said “yup, that’s her all right.” Her picture was on the front of the paper. And then I told my mom and she called you guys and made me come down here.

Is there anything else that you remember from that afternoon on the bike path?

Well. No. I guess not. We was eating candy and that girl was crying mostly. I kinda felt bad that we joked with her and all. Afterwards when her picture was in the paper and all, but we didn’t mean nothing bad by it. Just funning around, you know?

Glen Ellyn Police Interview with Jamie Matheson May 24, 1985

This is Sergeant Phillip Casino on May 24, 1985. Jamie, could you please state your full name for the record?

            For the what? You don’t know my name? You’re the cop.

Well, as I told you, we’re tape recording this and it helps to have the interviewee state their name on the tape. This is Sergeant Phillip Casino and I’m interviewing Jamie Matheson on May 24, 1985. Jamie, I’d like to talk about stuff you and your friend Doug Cummings did the other day on the bike path.

            Am I in trouble?

No, Jamie, you’re not in trouble at all. As you know, a young woman in town has disappeared and you and Doug might have seen her that day on the bike path the day she disappeared? Is that correct?

I don’t know. I heard a girl disappeared but I sure as shootin’ don’t know nothing about it. I don’t know what that kid Jamie told you. I let him hang around sometimes but we’re not really friends.

I see. Well, do you recall seeing a young woman on the bike path that day?

How’m I supposed to know? You see lots of people on the bike path. Joggers. Old dudes with canes and funny hats. Like families riding their bikes and stuff. I seen an old Chinese guy on there once but I ain’t bragging about it. I’m sure I seen girls on the bike path but how’m I supposed to know?

Thank you, Jamie, that’s very helpful. Now, Doug said you two stopped at the Good-BY Ranch and bought some candy then walked your bikes up the bike path by the Underpass that day. Does that sound right?

If I’m not in trouble, I don’t have to talk to you, right? I just came down here ’cause my mom said I had to, but I can leave if I want, right?

Of course you can leave, Jamie. You don’t have anything to hide, do you?

            Like what?

Doug said you two saw a young woman on the bike path that afternoon, right after you’d left the Good-BY Ranch. Does that sound right?

Look, I see lots of girls. How’m I supposed to know? Do you remember every girl you ever seen?  I do know I didn’t do nothing wrong.

So, you didn’t see a young woman on the bike path that afternoon?

            (no response)

Do you think Doug Cummings was lying when he told us you two saw a young woman on the bike path that afternoon?

I ain’t saying that and I ain’t not saying that. He might have seen what he said he seen. How am I supposed to know? I ain’t him. I do know that I don’t know.

You don’t recall seeing a young woman crying on the bike path that afternoon?

            Crying? Who was crying on the bike path? Say, you got any candy, Mr. Boss Man?

Would you like some candy?                    

            Is there an echo in here? Why are you being condescending?

You can have candy after you answer my questions, Jamie. I’m not the enemy. We’re trying to find a girl who disappeared, okay? An innocent teenage girl. We don’t think you or Doug had anything to do with it, but we think you might have been the last known people to have seen her. Okay?

            Okay what? You sound upset. Maybe you should switch to decaf.

We think you two might have been the last people to have seen Mary Lou.

I don’t remember seeing any girls or anyone. It ain’t a crime to buy candy or ride bikes on the Prairie Path, is it? And I don’t have to talk to you anyway. I know my rights. I don’t want candy from you anyway, copper.

You don’t recall asking a young woman if she’d lost her cat that afternoon?

            You crazy. I know my rights. I’m taking the Fifth.

Jamie and Doug

            On May 29, 1985, outside of Los Angeles, the killer known as the Night Stalker entered a beige house through its unlocked front door around midnight. After assaulting and killing the two residents, he drew two pentagrams on the walls of the house with red lipstick.[iii]

      “Can’t believe you narked me out,” said Jamie, shaking his head dramatically. A glorious summer afternoon, he rode his banana seat Schwinn bicycle downtown Glen Ellyn alongside Doug. Jamie looked Asian and had a buzzcut black mohawk. Taller, Doug looked like a clean cut preppie boy.

      “I didn’t nark you out. We ain’t in trouble, Jamie. You don’t think it’s weird that that girl disappeared that day?” 11 years old, both boys had loaded water pistols tucked into the waist bands of their jeans.

      “It ain’t my problem, Officer. Let me tell you something I learned a long time ago. Never snitch. Mind your own business and never snitch. Them’s the golden rules.” Jamie practiced riding with no hands on the handlebars. He wondered if maybe somebody somewhere held a contest for no-hands bike riding. If so, he figured that he might just win the contest.

      “I didn’t snitch!” Doug said, upset.

      “Oh yeah? Then how come the coppers called my house. They about scared my mom to death, having her bring me in to talk about some girl I don’t even know’s disappearance. You owe me.”

      “I owe you what?”

      “I’ll think of something.” Without talking, the boys pulled up across the street from the downtown post office at the drive-up mail boxes. Parking their bikes on the sidewalk, the boys crouched behind the mail boxes.

      A woman pulled up to the mailboxes and rolled down her window. She looked to be in her early 40s and wore a scarf around her hair like a Mennonite woman. As she reached out to put two letters into the box, the boys whipped out their squirt guns and sprayed her with water.

      “Stop that, you nasty boys!” she said, shoving her letters in the slot. The boys kept spraying. With an angry look on her face, she quickly rolled up her window and accelerated away.

      “Why do I never get tired of this game?” Jamie said. Doug laughed and licked the dripping tip of his green water pistol. Several minutes later, a tough-looking man in a white Ford F-150 pickup truck drove up to the mailboxes. When he rolled down his window to drop off a letter, the two boys jumped up and nailed him with water from their squirt guns. The man tried to open his car door, but it smashed against the mail boxes. He accelerated forward two feet and opened his door.

      Jamie and Doug ran to their bikes and rode away laughing. As they shot their water pistols into the air and whooped, the man chased them for half a block before giving up. The boys hid in a downtown alley for a couple minutes then rode over to the bakery.

      “So what’d you tell the coppers anyway?” Jamie asked.

      “Look, my mom made me go. I told her that I’d seen that girl whose picture was in the paper. I didn’t know we were like the last people to see her alive or whatever before she disappeared.”

      “You tell ’em what I said to her?”

      “I might have told him that you said something goofy to her about like ‘why you so sad’ or something, but that’s all.”

      The boys parked their bikes in front of the Flour Barrel, the downtown bakery. They liked to go there and hassle the cute 20-something woman who worked there. As walked up to the bakery door, a skinny teenage boy walked by in a dirty McDonalds uniform. He had tears in his eyes.

      “What’s the matter, young fellow?” Jamie asked. “Your dog die?”

      The boy in the McDonalds uniform looked at Jamie evilly and passed by. The boys stepped into the bakery.

      “Damn, why people always crying around us?” Jamie asked, walking into the bakery. “Hey Tina, you’re certainly looking lovely today.”

      She rolled her eyes and said nothing. Jamie walked up to the counter and stuck his skinny chest out. Doug stayed by the door where a railing protecting the display cookies was low.

      “Little boy, if you try to steal cookies again, I’m calling the police,” she said. Jamie moved away from the display railing.

      “So, what’s the word, hot stuff?” Jamie asked. She crossed her arms and looked out at the street.

      “Are you going to buy anything or are you just here to annoy me?”

      “Mostly the latter, but a little of the former,” Jamie replied. “That blouse sure makes your chest look big.”

      “You are one obnoxious brat,” she said, crossing her arms tighter.

      “It’s a compliment!” Jamie said. Doug glanced out the window and saw a white Ford F-150 park across the street from the bakery.

      “Dude! Let’s go!” Doug called. Jamie looked out the window and saw the tough-looking man get out of the truck. The boys ran out the front door and hopped on their bikes. The man tried to chase them on foot again, but quickly gave up. The boys rode back to their alley hideout.

      “That’s hilarious,” said Jamie. “That guy’s stupid.”

      “He’s a regular do-do bird,” said Doug.

      “A first class numbskull.”

      “A for-real Denny Dimwit, as my mom says.” The boys caught their breath.

      “So, you tell the cops what that girl said to us?” asked Jamie.

      “Nope.” Jamie looked at Doug quizzically.

      “Yeah you did.”

      “No. Scout’s honor, I didn’t.”

      “Why not?”
      “I told you, man. I ain’t no nark.” Jamie nodded and sucked on the end of his orange water pistol. “Hey, anyway, I gotta go. My mom’s actually making dinner tonight.”

      “Cool. Later.” The boys slapped five and on the side. Jamie rode home quickly. He lived in a large ranch house with a half basketball court in the front driveway on the edge of downtown.

      When he got home, he went straight to his bedroom and shut the door. Going straight to the closet in his room, he pulled a Penthouse from a backpack on the floor. It was the February 1985 issue. Laying down on the bed, he propped up on a pillow and opened the magazine. He liked reading some articles first, to build up anticipation before looking at the wonderful photographs.

      This issue had an interview with a serial killer named Henry Lee Lucas. In the interview, Mr. Lucas proudly bragged of traveling back and forth across the USA for years, murdering hundreds of strangers for the thrill.       Finally, Jamie turned to the first pictorial, which included explicit anatomical photographs of an 18-year old starlet named Christy Canyon. In one quote, referring to her modeling career, Ms. Canyon stated, “I really like what I’m doing, and don’t know when I’ll move onto something else. I’m having too much fun.” I would love to kidnap that girl, Jamie thought to himself, feeling amorous.


[i] New York Times, May 26, 1985.

[ii] David Schaffer, The Iran-Iraq War, 77-78, Lucent Books 2003.

[iii] Id.

5. Water Music

In boulder creek, DMT, franz bardon, hermetics, LSD, marijuana, santa cruz, st. george hotel, Stoner Noir on April 19, 2010 at 5:59 pm

On June 14, 1985, two Lebanese men hijacked a TWA flight and forced the pilots to fly the plane to Lebanon.[i] 40 Americans were on board. The next day, the hijackers murdered an American Navy sailor on board, then threw his corpse onto the airport runway.[ii] Although it had no evidence, the U.S. suspected Libyan involvement.[iii]

The Clown 

Smoking a cigarette, the Clown walked down the crowded outdoor Pacific Garden Mall talking to himself. Looking over his shoulder, he checked the time on the Clock Tower at the top of the Mall. It was almost high noon.

“The Night Stalker? They have got get that guy,” the Clown said to himself out loud. “Raping and killing people in their own homes in the middle of the night? It’s just not right. Is it? No, it isn’t.”

Wearing a purple and gold velvet jester’s hat and the white and black face paint of a sad clown, he held a marching baton upright in one hand. The rest of his red, yellow, and blue clown costume was made from satin. He looked like a wealthy, sad, and mean clown.

“Go ahead and look at me. Laugh at me. I don’t care,” he said to no one in particular. He kept his mirthless eyes on each passing pedestrian, but most looked away uncomfortably. If someone tried to hold his gaze and smile at him, he returned a contemptuous frown. Why would a grown man dress as a clown and hang out most days on Santa Cruz’s leafy outdoor mall?

“To be invisible, that’s why,” he explained aloud. “Who wants a sad clown around?”

A red-haired child limped away from his mother. He stood in front of the Clown, stopping him on the sidewalk.

“Are you a clown?” the little boy asked in a tiny voice. The Clown grimaced blankly at him, saying nothing and exhaling cigarette smoke towards the boy. The boy’s mother pulled him away and scooted him along.

When the Clown reached the Taco Bell at the end of the Mall, he flicked his cigarette butt into the street and stood in front of the restaurant window. First, he looked at his own reflection in the glass with an expression of bored ambivalence. Then, he looked through the window at the workers behind the counter. In the back, sweeping the floor, Isaiah looked up and, for a moment, locked eyes with the Clown.

Rhion

That afternoon, pale blue-eyed Rhion lay reclined underneath the Soquel Avenue bridge watching the muddy San Lorenzo River slowly roll towards the ocean. Several hours earlier, he had ingested one hit of high-quality white blotter LSD.

In his hands, he held a pair of Tibetan brass hand bells that he chimed every minute or so. The sustained high-pitched tintinnabulation of the bells pleased him greatly. In his ears, the sound of the bells harmonically merged with the low hum of the river.

Gradually, he realized that some dark shape passed underwater in the river. He didn’t notice it until it had almost passed. On alert, he sat up. Perhaps not physical, the large shape, formless and dark, had been birthed in the Mountains and now slid inexorably towards the ocean. Rhion felt a chill but did not know the precise cause.

Soon, the dark underwater shape slid out of sight. Across the river in the park, Rhion watched a child try to get a kite aloft. Back and forth, the child ran, unsuccessfully trying to get the kite airborne on the windless blue sky afternoon.

Taco Bell

“One beef taco with no beef,” the Clown told the Taco Bell cashier in a monotone.

“Okay, so a veggie taco?” the cashier asked irritably, making brief eye contact with the Clown then looking away.

“One beef taco with no beef.”

“Right.” Skinny and scar-faced, Isaiah looked up from his mop and caught the Clown studying him. Isaiah ignored him and kept mopping.

Pushing his mop bucket along, Isaiah felt the remorseless eyes of the Clown on him. After the Clown paid the cashier, Isaiah looked up and inadvertently locked eyes with him again for a moment. Isaiah turned his back. To Isaiah, the Clown’s eyes seemed to judge and mock him.

“You know that creepy clown guy?” another Taco Bell worker quietly asked Isaiah.

“That’s a big ‘no,'” Isaiah said, still feeling the Clown’s eyes on him. The Clown’s presence cast a pall over the Taco Bell workers. They all silently went about their work, waiting for the Clown and his heavy vibes to depart. With a frown, the cashier bagged the Clown’s taco and started to hand the bag to him.

“Keep it,” said the Clown, spinning on his heels and walking out.

“That clown dude creeps me out,” the other Taco Bell worker said to Isaiah.

“My friend says he’s like a police informant or undercover agent or something,” Isaiah said warily.

“Around here, I wouldn’t be surprised.” Taking a deep breath, Isaiah resumed mopping the red tile floor.

Krishna Johnson’s Apartment

Rhion’s friend Krishna Johnson caught a three month sentence at the Santa Cruz County Jail on a cannabis charge. During his incarceration, he sublet his apartment to Rhion. For half the $180 rent, Rhion shared it with Isaiah. It was a small, windowless basement apartment in a house just over the Broadway Avenue bridge from the Pacific Garden Mall.  

Before Isaiah and Rhion moved in, the filthy apartment had apparently not been cleaned since sometime around the Gerald Ford presidency. When Isaiah cleaned the fridge, he found four half-empty ketchup bottles, three half-empty mustard bottles, two half-empty relish jars, and three empty hot dog bags. Ol’ Krishna likes him some hot dogs, Isaiah figured.

“So, what’d that Clown say to you?” Rhion asked, sitting on the sofa with Isaiah that night.

“He didn’t say anything. He just stared at me with like a mean look, like he was judging me,” Isaiah replied.

“I’d say stay away from him. He’s probably the one that nailed Zen.”

“Really?” On the wall, Isaiah stared at a tattered 1982 calendar featuring a picture of Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of abundance, showering all with gold coins.

“They’re scared of Zen. The local police and three-letter agencies. Zen’s a powerful operator on the astral plane. Rare is the man who can leave his body at will and affect change.”

“Yeah? I know that’s what ANEEZA was into, like soul travel and all that, but it never worked for me.”

“The soul can leave a body and return just like a body can leave this apartment and return.” Rhion opened and closed his hand to symbolize the soul’s departure and return.

“Far out. Yeah, I remember when I first smoked pot, it felt like I left my body, but that was like the only time.”

“Now there’s a good idea,” Rhion said, perking up and pulling a plastic baggie from his pocket. Reaching under the sofa, he slid out some of his magazines. From among the old copies of Penthouse and Juggs, he grabbed the November 22, 1984 issue of Rolling Stone. Cleaning the weed on the back of the magazine, he started to roll a joint.

“It’s just trimmings, but it’s indica,” Rhion said, referring to the leafy cannabis. “Indica leaf is as good as sativa buds, in my humble opinion.”

“What a weird day,” said Isaiah. “Having that clown come into the restaurant really shook me up.”

“You read this article about the Satanist kid in here?” Rhion asked, referring to the magazine. “I guarantee that’s who that Night Stalker is down in L.A. Some dumb, violent kid amped up on Satan, not even knowing what he’s talking about.”

“Yeah? Some girl from my hometown disappeared without a trace last month,” said Isaiah, fidgeting as Rhion slowly rolled the joint.

“Satanists, man, that’s what I’d guess. Bunch of idiots, they are. Violent idiots. You got a lighter?” Isaiah pulled some matches from his pocket and gave them to Rhion.

“Used to be a Satanic cult up in the Santa Cruz Mountains in the late sixties,” Rhion said, lighting the joint. “They built altars up there and sacrificed some people.”

“Yuck,” said Isaiah, taking the joint from Rhion.

“Most of ’em got busted. Supposedly, a few of ’em still live up in the Mountains. The dark forces are real.”

“Yeah? Sounds like bad news.” Isaiah coughed and handed the joint back to Rhion. Rhion leafed through the Rolling Stone until he reached the article called “Kids in the Dark.” Leaving the magazine open to the photograph of the trippy-looking teen murderer, he tossed the magazine on the floor.

“That’s just what it is. You know, back when I was a teenager, I used to lay up high on LSD all night long watching the UFOs come in over the Berkeley Hills,” said Rhion, hitting the thick joint.

“Yeah? I’ve never seen a UFO.”

“They’d just come in waves, one after another, coming in low over the hills. You want some? Acid? Five bucks a hit, four for you. It’s real good stuff. The last of the batch that Zen got busted with.”

“I didn’t know you had some of that stuff left. Yeah, definitely.”

“You know, with the UFOs, some of them are here to help us. They’re our space brothers, like Zen says. Other ones, though, are some pretty rough characters, in league with the dark forces. They do awful things to people.”

“Yeah?” Isaiah took a hit and held it. He noticed that when Rhion made a particularly trippy point, his already tiny pupils narrowed even more.

“My eyes?” Rhion said, noticing Isaiah’s gaze. “I told you what happened, right? I used stare at the sun when I got back from the jungle. Meditating. Trying to see beyond this world. Messed up my pupils.”

“Hmmm,” said Isaiah, passing the joint. The smoke sat on the ceiling of the small apartment, gathering like a hazy cloud. Isaiah looked at the photograph of the teen murderer in the Rolling Stone on the floor. Wild-eyed, the kid looked like he was tripping, but reminded Isaiah of some of his burnout friends back home in Illinois.

“It’s weird. The things that happen to us that’re beyond our control. That affect us permanently. Like, for example, your mom dying or whatever when you were a kid. Or Zen getting busted. Or…”

“Or what?”

“Like you know what happened to me, when I was like ten? Like I was raped by a priest. A youth priest back home. That probably had a big effect on me.”

“Dang. That sucks, man. Hey, I’m really sorry to hear that. Did he get like charged with a crime?”

“No. I didn’t do anything about it. I heard he died since then. But like, it was something totally beyond my control. That affected me. Totally random. Anyway, yeah. This leaf is all right, huh?”
      “Yeah it is.” Isaiah looked down at the Rolling Stone again. A headline in the article identified the teen murderer as “the Acid King.”

“You know the reason they want Zen so bad is that he knows the chemist?”

“The acid chemist?” Isaiah asked.

“Yup, I have no idea who the chemist is. I do know Zen doesn’t make much money off the doses, he just kind of holds them for the chemist.” Due to a curious air pattern in the apartment, the cloud of smoke shaped itself into a loose spiral on the ceiling.

“Wow.”

“That smoke looks like a galaxy, huh? So, I got like half a sheet left of the good stuff.”

“For sure. I just want like one, though. For later.”

“You should take it up in the Mountains, man, up in the redwoods. You can have a really peaceful nature trip up there.” Rhion blew towards the smoke, dispelling the spiral.

“Cool… So, where you think Zen’s at now?” Isaiah asked, taking the joint back from Rhion.

“I surely do not know. Somewhere safe. I doubt he’d leave California. I wouldn’t be surprised if he…” Rhion cut himself off.

“What? Surprised if he what?”

“Nothing. Pretty good smoke, huh?” Rhion took an enormous hit from the joint.

“Come on, man. You know where he’s at?” Rhion held in his hit and finally exhaled, filling the room with smoke.

“The Inner Circle is protecting him with a cloak of safety. You ever read The Lesser Key of Solomon? A very rare book. Elemental magic. There are various elemental energies and protective genies that can be conjured with certain sigils and emblems. You know what I mean?”

“Uh, not really, you mentioned it before, but, like, what were you saying before, about Zen?”

“Zen is a powerful magician, Isaiah. Still young, but he’s all positive. To be honest with you, he’s the head honcho of the Inner Circle.”

“Right, I figured that, but you were saying you wouldn’t be surprised if something.”

“Well, yeah, I don’t know where he is. Somewhere safe, but I just wouldn’t be surprised if he, uh…” Rhion trailed off.

“What man?” Isaiah said sharply. “Come on.”

Looking around suspiciously, Isaiah moved to the edge of the sofa. Getting up, he turned on the water in the sink to cloak his voice and whispered to Isaiah.

“Well, he sure likes to go to the hot tubs at Esalen down in Big Sur on Sunday nights. That’s when they open it to the public. I wouldn’t be surprised if he…”

“Really? What’s today? Friday? Let’s go down there Sunday night.”

“Ah. It’d probably just be a wild goose chase. I’m not going.” Turning the water off, Rhion slumped back down in the sofa with the joint in his hand.

“Well, maybe I should go?”

“Might not be safe,” said Rhion. “Sounds like that clown is on your trail.”

White Blotter LSD

Isaiah ate the acid at Krishna’s apartment late on the morning of June 15, 1985 then walked to the bus station. On the way there, he could distinctly feel the heat from the sidewalk radiate up from his feet up his legs. As he arrived at the bus station, the 35 bus to the Mountains arrived. Feeling utterly normal, he got on the bus.

Reminiscing about chatting with the beautiful sunshine-tressed Naja Aneezman, he felt a pang of loneliness and horniness. Passing the spot where he and Rhion had gotten off the bus to look for Zen weeks earlier, he remained stone-faced and felt nothing.

When the bus stopped in Boulder Creek, he got off and walked to a phone booth. Downtown Boulder Creek looked like an old-fashioned downtown from 1920s, with a quaint Main Street full of shops and shaded by towering redwood trees. The air smelled like country air.

As Isaiah leafed through a phone book chained to the pay phone, he began to feel slightly strange. Under “Aneezman,” he found an entry for “Gloria Aneezman.” Must be Naja’s Mom, he figured. Pulling a quarter from his pocket, he stared at the portrait of George Washington on it. A great number of tiny scratches covered the quarter. Why had someone purposefully defaced George Washington’s face? Or perhaps it was just ordinary use. George Washington looked like he had a pony tail. The year on the quarter was 1965, the year he was born. The Beatles made some music that year. Isaiah liked the Beatles.

Isaiah didn’t want to talk to Gloria Aneezman, but rather what he hoped would be her daughter, Naja. Still holding the quarter while standing at the payphone, he felt good. When a man stands at a payphone, he is conducting business. Isaiah’s business was personal in nature. The phone had a rotary dial with numbers inside the finger holes. Isaiah lightly touched the very center of the dial with his index finger. Feeling pleasantly indecisive, he walked away from the payphone, sliding the scratched-up quarter in his pocket.

Keeping his eyes to himself, Isaiah made his way down the street to the creek. The best thing of all would be to be alone. A shadow in him felt that the eyes of others might not like what they saw in his eyes that day. He needed to be free from such judgment. The creek looked safe to him. Like a kid carelessly cutting through back yards, Isaiah walked off the sidewalk and down the embankment along the bridge. Looking under the bridge, he understood why Rhion hung out under bridges. It’s safe under bridges, a world away from the prying eyes of the masses.

Tumbling over rocks, the water ran clear, so clear it seemed almost invisible. Well, not invisible, but its signature was primarily wetness, not solidity.

The shaded atmosphere under the bridge felt nice and cool. Squatting, Isaiah held his palm just above the flowing water and could feel its coolness radiating up to his skin and into his hand.

Down by the creek, Isaiah could see no buildings or creations of man besides the bridge. Beyond the shade beneath the bridge, Isaiah could see the creek bend around a corner up into the Mountains. Because of the low water level, a path way of dry river stones edged the creek. Leaving his turquoise flip flops under the bridge, he stood up and walked along the river stones.

He tried to walk as quietly as he could, such that the main sound was the tumbling of the creek, not his walking. To his ears, aspects of the tumbling sounded like the ringing of tiny stone bells.

Suddenly, he realized he did not feel like smoking pot. Nor was he thirsty. Or hungry. He needed nothing because he had it all.

At the creek bend, tall redwood trees framed both sides of the creek. Isaiah sat on the dry river stones and listened to the water. It seemed to be singing. Not singing, exactly, but chattering with melodic gibberish, understandable only by river people. The longer he sat, the more he felt like a river person. Soon, the creek sounded like water music, a complex symphony. A symphony entirely improvised, without chorus or reprise. Isaiah bent his ear towards the creek and concentrated.

Recalling his DMT experiences, elves entered his mind and he looked around. Just as quickly, he realized that no elves lived in this part of the forest. Why? He did not know.

Isaiah felt himself a pioneer. A pioneer fried on LSD, the Liberating Sacrament of Divinity.

Looking to his left, a dead bird decayed on the river stones. The tiny white avian skeleton still held a few black feathers. The beak and the skull seamlessly joined such that the beak dominated the skull. Feeling the gravity of death, he looked away and thought of his mother. How many years had it been? Three? Four? It had happened in early spring, whatever year it was.

“What’s the matter with me?” he wondered aloud. The two women I’ve loved both try to kill themselves. At least Maureen survived it. I must be drawn to suicidal women. Or they’re drawn to me. And now Zen, the only real family I’ve got, has disappeared.

Now, even the woods seemed dark and tawdry. Second-hand imitation woods. The water in the creek seemed mechanical, like hydraulic fluid from a science experiment gone bad. I’m having a bad trip, he thought to himself.

Then, with grim determination, he began to try to consciously divorce his mind from thoughts of his mother’s suicide. Who knows if it was really suicide? She left no note so nobody really knew what had happened to her. Don’t look at the bird, he told himself. Listen to the water music.

With a single tear running down his left cheek and curling along his scar, he stood up and slowly walked barefoot up the creek. At that moment, life seemed very heavy. Full of death and sad endings.

In the next moment, six words came to his mind with sudden clarity: I AM TRIPPING MY BALLS OFF. Maybe this is the one-way trip, he thought, the trip that ends in the mental hospital. Come on, man. Hold it together. Be cool. Everything’s all right. The river is singing to me. Water music. My world is a good place.

A small breeze reached his back, gently moved across his right arm, then turned around and touched his face. That sweet little breeze felt just like a tender caress. Through the trees along the creek, he could just see a car pass on a street, possibly Highway Nine, maybe fifty feet away. A lone figure walked next to the street, a woman with long sunshine blonde hair. Could it be Naja Aneezman, the girl on the bus?

Isaiah’s heart jumped and he wiped the acid tears from his cheeks. Tempted to chase the woman down, the acid coursed through his mind as he glimpsed her hair sway.

That girl on the bus, Naja, sure was nice. And pretty. Isaiah sat down on the river stones again. It was gonna be all right.

Rhion at Work

Long straw blonde hair loose on his shoulders, Rhion fried up two burger patties on the grill of the Saturn Café then carefully laid two slices of cheese on each. It was after midnight and the restaurant was closed. Two hours a night, he cleaned the restaurant alone: mopping the floor, scrubbing the grills, and cleaning the bathroom. Working two hours a night seemed a bit much to him, but he could live fairly handsomely on twelve bucks and two cheeseburgers a night.

Tall windows ringed the restaurant. Though he could not be seen from the street when he worked in the kitchen, when he cleaned the dining area, he could be easily seen from the busy street in front of the Café. That, he did not like. Anyone could be watching. Anyone could just park their car across Mission Street and watch him mop the dining area. It was a bad feeling.

Humming a song to himself, he thought about Zen. He knew in his heart that Zen was safe and that, one day, he’d be free again. Everyone in the Inner Circle prayed for him and that must be a powerful ring of protection. Although, he reflected, not quite powerful enough to have prevented Zen’s room from getting busted in the first place.

Hitch Hiking South

From north to south, Highway One ran along the entire coast of California. In places, the highway cut inland but often it ran within sight of the ocean. In Santa Cruz, the highway ran a mile or two inland.

Late on that Sunday morning, Isaiah started walking down Soquel Avenue through the prosperous neighborhoods of east Santa Cruz. The neighborhoods looked both pretty and ugly at the same time. At the end of every block, he methodically stopped and looked back for the Clown or anyone following him. He also tried to keep track of passing cars to make sure one wasn’t tracking him. 

Finally, he stood at the on-ramp to Highway One with his thumb out, feeling invisible, heading to the hot tubs at Esalen. After a miserable hour of waiting, a slight man in a blue car stopped. On the drive to Watsonville, the slight man recited to Isaiah the history of early 20th Century dance crazes. He grew particularly excited about “the Cake Walk,” trying to explain what the dance looked like. Apparently, Cake Walk dancers lifted their arms to shoulder level and did an exaggerated tip-toe movement to the music. Isaiah thought the slight man might pull over and demonstrate.

Later, an older Vietnamese man picked Isaiah up. Nguyen talked about how very beautiful Vietnam is, with many flowering fruit trees, and how much he missed it.  He had fought in the South Vietnamese Army and escaped to Thailand after the U.S. defeat in 1975.  Eventually, he made it to America and worked in an electronics plant in San Jose.

“War was very bad thing,” Nguyen said simply. “Too many people die.”

Nguyen had the day off and was heading down the coast to see the famous Hearst Castle. Once they got past Monterey, the road mostly hugged the coast. On one side, a cliff led down to the ocean. On the other side, a forested mountain rose. The mountains, mostly national forest or state park, looked quite dry because of a summer long draught.

Mostly, Nguyen and Isaiah rode in silence. Approaching Big Sur, Isaiah decided to just ride with Nguyen down to the Hearst Castle and get dropped off on the way back.

Past Esalen and a thousand and one twists and turns of Highway One later, they arrived at the Castle. It looked exactly like a vast fairy tale castle from a Walt Disney movie: tall turrets capped by steeply pitched conical roofs and surrounded by mountains. Unfortunately, it was also after five o’clock and closed for the day.  Nguyen and Isaiah sat in his car in the parking lot and looked at it, marveling.

Reaching into a back seat cooler, Nguyen produced two “banh mi” Vietnamese sandwiches, essentially pickles and beef on a croissant. With the car parked facing the Castle, each ate their sandwich in silence.

On the way back north in the early evening, Nguyen dropped Isaiah off at the gates of Esalen Institute in Big Sur. Surrounded entirely by undeveloped national forest, Esalen was right off Highway One, between the highway and the ocean. While the dry Big Sur Mountains rose steeply across the two-lane highway, Esalen occupied a gentle slope right on the ocean. Isaiah could see a handful of Japanese-looking buildings nestled among the landscaped grounds fifty yards from the highway.

Isaiah knew Esalen was a world famous healing and educational center.  Renowned alternative psychologists and spiritual teachers gave seminars there. Unconfirmed rumor had it that Charlie Manson himself visited there the day before his friends committed those grisly murders back in the summer of 1969.

The gate across the driveway was shut. A small sign announced that the hot tubs were open to the public from 10 pm to midnight on Sunday nights for a ten dollar fee.

From his pocket, Isaiah pulled four one dollar bills and the same quarter as the day before. Looking at the quarter, he could no longer see all the tiny scratches that had amazed him the day before.

Maybe Esalen would take $4.25 for his admission fee? He shuffled indecisively around the driveway entrance. Though very little traffic passed on Highway One, a bright red Porsche with mirror windows sped by with a hum.

Sticking his hands deep in his pants pockets, Isaiah considered abandoning his quest and just hitch hiking back to Santa Cruz. He felt a fool for not checking how much the hot tubs cost before letting Nguyen drive away.

Not a soul was visible. A dense thicket of blackberry bushes grew to the left of the driveway and protected Esalen’s southern border. With the knowledge that anything worth having is worth working for, Isaiah decided to try to sneak in.

Taking a deep breath, he got down on his hands and knees and crawled into the blackberry thicket, heading down the gravelly incline. Only by crawling slowly and trying to painstakingly untangle the brambles could Isaiah hope to avoid being mercilessly scratched up by the infinite number of blackberry thorns. Because of that, Isaiah made only gradual progress. Out of his sight, the sun disappeared past the ocean.

Despite his care, after what seemed to be an hour, slight scratches covered his face and arms. It was dark and he found himself in the middle of a particularly infernal and thorny thicket. Stopping, he decided to turn around. He lay on his stomach and rested his head on his forearms in resignation.

After five minutes, he changed his mind again and decided to resume the arduous crawl towards Esalen. Unfortunately, a great quantity of poison oak vines grew among the blackberry bushes, a fact that would remain unknown to him until the next day.  After a miserable hour in that dense and thorny thicket, Isaiah could finally see what seemed to be the hot tub building. 

Several dim lights lit the outside of the Japanese-looking building. Seeing nobody around, Isaiah emerged from the thicket and dusted himself off.

One first stripped in the building then walked out to the outdoor tubs. The tubs themselves were dramatically perched on a deck maybe thirty feet above the Pacific Ocean. The dozen or two folks present maintained a quiet calmness, creating a meditative experience.

Isaiah stripped naked and blended in. Though he felt shy, he stole quick expectant glances at everyone present, looking for Zen.

“ZEN!” he called. No response.

Sitting in a steamy tub with half a dozen naked strangers, he noticed Joni Mitchell herself climbing buck naked into the tub with him. Looking her up and down, he focused on her remarkably high and firm breasts.

Sitting up straight, he raised his eyes and realized she was a teenager. Not Joni Mitchell, but only a teenage girl with a 1970 Joni Mitchell haircut. After her, a perfect specimen of blonde California beach stud got in. The cleft on his chin cut so deeply that it looked like an extra chin.

“He hasn’t killed anyone in a couple weeks. Who knows? Maybe he killed himself,” the beach stud consoled her.

“It’s so scary. We should move out of Los Angeles,” she said breathlessly, with a worried expression.

“Baby, the Night Stalker is not gonna get you, I promise,” he said sincerely. Despite his looks, Isaiah thought the guy actually seemed nice, not smarmy. The beach stud put his arm around the Joni Mitchell girl and hugged her.

“There’s no way you can actually promise that. Anyway, let’s not talk about it,” she said, nuzzling his neck. Feeling overheated, Isaiah sat up on the edge of the hot tub to cool off and looked out at the ocean.

“ZEN!” he called again loudly. Several hot tubbers looked up at him irritably. He walked around the deck, peering into the steamy tubs, looking for Zen.

Abruptly, a face appeared out of the steam. Looking about 50, with short hair and a skinny frame, the naked man stood in front of Isaiah.

“Looking for someone?” the man asked in a low voice. Isaiah froze and stared at the man.
      “Uhhh…” Isaiah stammered. The man looked like the Clown without makeup. On the man’s left cheek, a small streak of white paint revealed itself. Face paint? With a look neither friendly nor unfriendly, the man just kept staring at Isaiah expectantly as Isaiah stared fixedly at the blotch of white paint.

“Not much of a talker, huh?” Noticing that Isaiah stared at his cheek, the man touched his own cheek. “Still got paint on me? Hey, in my business, it happens.”

“Hey, look… I… Uh…” said Isaiah, backing away and trying to figure out how the Clown had followed him.

Rhion and the Window

After cleaning up the Saturn Café that night, Rhion found himself walking slowly home down side streets. Well after midnight, it was a warm summer night, with the quiet punctuated only by the sound of cars in the distance. Though the street lights kept the moonless city from falling into utter darkness, most of the residences were dark. Except for one. In the middle of the block, this bungalow was between streetlights and set back from the street.

Without a pause, Rhion ambled off the sidewalk and into the side yard. As if he lived there, he walked straight towards a window at groundlevel on the darkest side of the house. Mostly obscured by bushes, lights shone from the basement window. Rhion got on his knees and crawled into the bushes, positioning himself directly in front of the window but a few feet back.

The window had no curtain. In a small and tidy bedroom behind the window, a woman with long brown hair stood with her back to Rhion, brushing her hair in the mirror. She wore only a white bath towel, which set off her bronze tan.

Rhion suppressed a grin and settled into his hideout. He felt like a rabbit hunter with his prey cornered. Only he didn’t plan to kill this rabbit or even harm the rabbit.

The woman finished brushing her hair and dropped the towel on the bed. Her tan covered her whole body except for her snow white bottom and a white strip across her back where her bikini top fit. Beach girl, Rhion thought. With her back still facing Rhion, she picked up a pair of panties and a t-shirt from the top of a dresser.

With an expression of cool appraisal on his face, Rhion feasted on the site of her bare backside, which she quickly covered with sky blue panties. Just as she lifted her arms to pull on the t-shirt, she turned to face Rhion. She looked like a college girl. Though she appeared to be staring directly at him, she could not see his face at all in the dark. For the briefest of moments, the t-shirt covered her face and her bare and white pendulous breasts thrust towards Rhion. In the next moment, she pulled the big UCSC t-shirt on and turned the light off.

The whole strip show lasted maybe three minutes. Rhion congratulated himself on his wonderful sense of timing. “How do I do it?” he asked himself. God is on my side, he answered himself, that’s how.

Isaiah at Esalen

As the stars slowly slipped one by one into the Pacific Ocean, steam relentlessly rose from the hot tubs. Isaiah, naked, could hear the lapping of the ocean waves below him. Above him, the forested Big Sur Mountains rose. In front of him, the naked man stood, nicking at the white paint on his cheek with his fingernail.

“Look, man, I don’t know why you’re following me but I wish you would just leave me alone,” Isaiah stammered angrily to the man. “I never did anything to you.”

“Brother, brother,” the man said gently. “Calm down. This is a healing place.”

“I know who you are, you’re that bad clown that’s been, uh, following me…” Isaiah trailed off, now feeling unsure. The man raised his eyebrows and snorted, still nicking at the white paint on his cheek.

“Brother, I been called worse, but bad clown? Look, I’m just a house painter. I’ve been painting the meditation room here all day. I saw you here and just thought you looked a bit lost.” Finally, the man got his fingernail under the bit of paint and flicked it off.

“House painter?” Isaiah said, realizing his mistake. “Right. Hey man, sorry. I thought… I saw that white paint on your cheek and… Look, sorry.”

Embarrassed, Isaiah stepped away from the man. He walked back along the hot tubs, peering into the steam for Zen’s face. Of course Zen’s not here, he thought to himself. Of course. It’s another fool’s errand, courtesy of crazy Rhion, who probably just wanted the apartment to himself for the night. A deep sadness began to settle in, breaking new ground.

Settling into a hot tub, Isaiah ignored the others and gazed up into the dark sky. Through the steam, he concentrated on the blackness between the California stars.

Anti-Pageant Former Model Will Parade in Meat to Protest Miss California ‘Cattle Show’

San Jose Mercury, June 24, 1985

                While 40 poised, young women parade on a light-studded runway at the Miss California Scholarship Pageant in Santa Cruz tonight, Ann Simonton will strut around the outside of the auditorium wearing skirt steak.

            Simonton plans her own anti-pageant fashion show as a satirical jab at the event she says degrades women by displaying their bodies as pieces of meat. As organizer of the “Myth California” protest that has become an annual ritual in Santa Cruz,

      “Judge meat, not women!” shouted a woman, wearing a tiara and a bathing suit made of meat. Over her meat bathing suit, the woman wore a banner identifying herself as “Miss Behavin’.” She stood outside the Santa Cruz auditorium, jostling with about a 1000 other protesters and dozens of grim police officers. Inside, the Miss California beauty pageant, a Santa Cruz tradition for 50 years, commenced. Outside, the Myth California anti-pageant commenced.

      Still chanting “judge meat, not women,” other protesters wore tiaras and banners emblazoned “Miss Ogyny,” “Miss Guided,” and “Miss Shapen.”  One carried a sign reading “Women are not cows.” Another carried a sign reading “Vegetarian against pornography.”

      As the other protesters cheered, Miss Behavin’ broke through the police line with a zip lock baggie of women’s blood. As a past victim of sexual assault, she had collected her own blood and the blood of other sexual assault victims. As police officers charged her, she poured the contents of the baggie on the sidewalk in front of the auditorium.

      “Over the blood of raped women!” she shouted, as police seized her roughly and handcuffed her. With the blood and her arrest, the protesters surged towards the auditorium. The police line held them back.

      Isaiah stood at the edge of the crowd watching and itching his ears. He still had a residual poison oak rash from his misadventure crawling through the bushes outside of Esalen. For some reason, the rash particularly affected the outsides of his ears.

      As police arrested another woman and dragged her away, he thought of Rhion’s Penthouse and Juggs magazines under the sofa and his own fondness for erotic photos of the fairer sex. He wondered what a real man would do in a situation like this then turned around and walked home.


[i] Woodward, supra at 408-409.

[ii] Id.

[iii] Id. at 409. US relations with Libya had been tense since at least August 19, 1981 when the US shot down two Libyan Air Force jets over the Mediterranean. Id. at 167. That incident was the first overt US military action since the Vietnam War.

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.

7. The Eagles

In boulder colorado, cocaine, marijuana, Stoner Noir on April 7, 2010 at 6:50 pm

Throughout 1985, the US expanded its military and financial aid to Arab mercenaries fighting the USSR  in Afghanistan. On July 12, 1985, the US sold shoulder-fired Stinger missiles to Pakistan.[i] Evidently, Pakistan provided some of these Stingers to the Arabs fighting in Afghanistan[ii], which proved to be extremely effective in shooting down Soviet helicopters and led to the Soviet defeat.

Isaiah Falls

      As Isaiah fell over the trip-wire, an unkempt man with no legs below his knees stumped quickly towards him. Then, falling flat on his face, Isaiah’s head smashed bloodily against a strategically-placed rock. His mind went blank.

A Smoky Morning

      Isaiah, scar-faced and skinny, had awoken early that day to begin a new career as breakfast and lunch dishwasher at the Crepe Place. With the apartment reeking thickly of burnt cannabis, pale blue-eyed Rhion sat on the sofa staring obliquely at a hand mirror. Isaiah ignored him and went groggily to the bathroom.

      “You been up all night?” asked Isaiah, after he’d washed his face.

      “Is it morning?” Isaiah asked. “I’m conducting an experiment on mirror magic. At the right angle, I’ve been catching glimpses of the past. I’m trying to solve the Big Sur fire.”

      “Like who started the fire or what?” The previous week, a wildfire had erupted in the dry mountains around Big Sur. With miles and miles of forest burnt, Esalen itself had almost caught fire.

      Rhion nodded strangely and resumed staring obliquely into the mirror. Isaiah felt hungry but figured he could eat at his new job.

      “So, are we set this afternoon?” asked Isaiah. “You’ll take me out to the river bottoms and find the Eagles?”

      “I’ve uncovered some real clues,” said Rhion, glancing at Isaiah with faraway eyes.

      “About Zen?”

      “About the fires. Like 20 miles of the Santa Cruz Mountains burned last week, too.”

      “Yeah, there’s wildfires all over the state. It’s dry as hell this summer. Well, I gotta go to work, but we on for this afternoon?”

      “The river bottoms. The Eagles.”

      “Cool,” said Isaiah, heading out the door. “Let’s meet here at three. I’ll try to bring you some grub from the restaurant.”

Rhion Gazes into his Magic Mirror

      After Isaiah left, Rhion settled into the sofa and stared hard at the mirror. With his eyes narrowed, he didn’t look directly at it, but from the side. According to his understanding of mirror magic, one could glimpse the immediate past or immediate future by gazing with one’s eyes unfocused just above the surface of the magic mirror.

      He felt certain an arsonist must have set fire to the Mountains. The only question was who did it. It must have been a black magician or a Satanist, he figured. A sorcerer allied with the dark forces, perhaps one of the evil extraterrestrials. The magic mirror would help him find the responsible party.

      To his chagrin, he could see nothing besides the reflection of the unfinished ceiling of the basement apartment. Wood rafters and water lines. With his brow furrowed, he concentrated further. Again, nothing.

      Lighting a roach, he lowered his head until it almost touched the mirror and looked at the mirror from an even lower angle. Smoke drifted along his face. A water droplet, perhaps sweat, sat in the middle of mirror. Rhion stared at it exclusively. The mirror under the water filled the water with silver light.

      In his mind, he began to think of the water droplet as a hill. A small round hill, maybe he’d climbed it once in the past. No, it was taller than a hill. It was a mountain.

      The water droplet mountain kept growing higher. Tall spruce trees grew on its sides. Snow covered its very peak. This was no ordinary mountain. It was a holy mountain. His eyes gleamed. Wondrous events occur on holy mountains.

      Finally, he recognized it. It was the one and only Mount Shasta, the holy mountain of Northern California. Revered by the Rosicrucians, none other than Saint Germaine, patron saint of the color purple, took his mystic abode at Mount Shasta.

      The magic mirror had worked. After starting the Big Sur fire, the black magic arsonist must have sought refuge in Mount Shasta. Rhion felt sure of it.

      As quickly as the vision had appeared in the mirror, Mount Shasta began to collapse. The snow on its peak melted. The spruce trees disappeared. The tall slopes leveled. It shrunk and collapsed back into a mere water droplet on a hand mirror in a dirty basement apartment.

      With the roach still in his mouth, Isaiah put the mirror down. His eyes glazed with purpose. He had all the information he needed. Shoving his pipe and plastic baggie of cannabis into his pocket, he hustled out the door.

      Heading to the Greyhound station, he planned to catch the bus north to Mount Shasta and find the evil arsonist. What he’d do to him once he caught him, he did not know.

Isaiah Gets Off Work

      After finishing the first day of his Santa Cruz dishwashing career, Isaiah walked quickly home. He felt excited to go down to the river bottoms with Rhion and finally meet the mysterious Eagles. Homeless Vietnam vets, perhaps they could tell him where his beloved fugitive Uncle Zen hid.

      Further down the Pacific Avenue Garden Mall, Naja, the sunshine-tressed girl from the bus, appeared on the sidewalk in front of him. Wearing a white cotton tank top, she looked right at him. As quick as a hand clap, all the other pedestrians disappeared.

      “Hey,” said Isaiah, smiling. “Naja.”

      “Yeah. Isaiah, right?” she said. Her bemused eyes met his and did not move.

      “Yup,” he said, sticking his hands in his pockets. “I was hoping I’d see you again.”

      “Here I am. So, you been having a good time out here?”

      “Yeah, it’s been good. Yeah… What you been up to?”

      “Not much. My mom threw me out of the house again so I’m kind of on the sofa circuit, but… I been having a good summer.” Immediately, Isaiah began calculating his strategy of having Naja stay at his wrecked apartment.

      “Yeah? Huh…” A tall and handsome teenage boy with an aquiline nose came out and stood next to Naja. He looked at Isaiah with contempt.

      “Oh, this is my boyfriend Ari. Isaiah.”

      “Hey man,” said Isaiah in a friendly fashion.

      The tall boy grunted a monosyllable and possessively put his arm around Naja’s waist. As Isaiah’s heart sank, the other pedestrians reappeared. He, Naja, and her boyfriend stood in front of Tampico’s, a Mexican restaurant on Pacific Avenue.

      “Our table’s ready,” the tall boy told Naja.

      “Good to see you, Isaiah,” she said. “Take care.”

      “You too,” he said to her back.

      Arriving back at the apartment at three, Rhion was not home. Isaiah sat on the couch and waited. Picking up the old Rolling Stone, he read the article that Rhion had mentioned. Called “Kids in the Dark,” it told the true-life tale of a teenage boy who had stabbed a friend to death after the friend refused to say he loved Satan. The killer looked like a handsome heavy metal fan; he’d later killed himself in jail. In the magazine photo, the killer wore an AC/DC t-shirt and had a crazy smile. He looked like he was tripping.

      Disappointed that Rhion still hadn’t returned, Isaiah went into the bathroom with one of Rhion’s Penthouse magazines. The February 1985 issue, it featured articles on serial killers and detailed anatomical photographs of 18-year old starlet Christy Canyon. Returning to the living room after several minutes, he felt relieved and decided to look for the Eagles all by himself.

The Eagles

      Where the San Lorenzo River neared the Pacific Ocean, it spread into a wide flood plain. During the dry summer months, the water was low and much of that flood plain was braided with small islands.

      Rhion had told him that the Eagles, a ragtag band of disaffected Vietnam veterans lived out on these river bottom islands in the summer. These Eagles supposedly helped Zen escape Santa Cruz and might know of his current whereabouts.

      Only by wading through several feet of water could the islands be reached. The water felt cold but looked somewhat clear, unlike the muddy Illinois rivers back home. Approaching the islands through the shallow river, Isaiah felt like he had left America and entered a parallel outlaw country. The first island he reached was little more than a narrow sand bar a few inches higher than water level. All the sand was damp and there was no sign of habitation.

      Stepping back into the river, he reached a second island. This island was again a sand bar but had several low bushes growing on it. Like the first island, he couldn’t find any signs of habitation. Towards the ocean, but close to the river bank, he spotted a third island. It looked bigger and had some small trees growing on it.

      To get to the third island, Isaiah made his way back to shore and walked along the river bank. Stepping into the water, he found himself surprised that the water level was less than a foot deep.

      Fishing line laced the outer perimeter of the island. Strung between trees and bushes, someone had attached bells to the fishing line, seemingly to alert the inhabitants if anyone intruded.

      Bells ringing, Isaiah stepped over and through the fishing line. In some spots, it was just a single line. In other spots, several lines criss- crossed. If anyone still lived on the island, they likely already knew of Isaiah’s presence as he walked toward the higher land in the middle of the island. Reeds and small bushes grew all over the island. Isaiah could distinctly smell barbecue.

      “Hello?” he called. “Anybody home?”

      With his next step, he tripped over the hidden ankle-high trip-wire and hit his head on the strategically-placed rock. As he fell, he saw an unkempt man with no legs below his knees stump rapidly towards him. Wearing an old Army jacket, the shaggy-haired man could really move along forcefully on his stubs.

      Isaiah didn’t know if he had gone unconscious, but when he next opened his eyes, his face lay in the sand next to the rock. The rock had wet blood on it. Isaiah lay sprawled on his stomach. His head hurt.

      “What you doin’ on mah island?” said a low southern voice to his side.

      “I didn’t know it was your island,” Isaiah said, still not moving. “Sorry.”

      “I’ll ask you one more time. What you doin’ on mah island?” Isaiah felt a sharp point in the back of his neck. He couldn’t see it, but sensed that the man held a knife to the back of his neck.

      “I’m looking for the Eagles,” Isaiah said, spitting some sand out of his mouth and feeling along his teeth with his tongue for missing teeth.

      “Boy, don’t nobody go lookin’ for the Eagles. The Eagles look for you.”

The man smelled like smoke and sweat.

      “Sorry. I’m friends with Rhion and Zen and they said, well, Rhion said, well, Zen, too, kinda said that, well, you could help me find Zen.” The front of Isaiah’s tooth had been chipped on that strategically-place rock. He spit it out. His mouth tasted like sand and blood.

      “Me? They said ah’d help you?”

      “Well, they said the Eagles would or might help. Maybe.”

      “Boy, I don’t know who you talkin’ bout,” the man said, still hidden on Isaiah’s side. “But this here’s mah island. I’m the law here. The judge and the jury. See?”

      “Man, I’m really sorry. I just… Zen’s my uncle and I haven’t seen him in a long time. I come all the way out here from Illinois right before he got busted.”

      “Zen’s yer uncle? Prove it.” The man pushed the knife point into Isaiah’s neck, but probably hadn’t broken skin. With his face still pressed in the sand, Isaiah could see his blood on the rock slowly drip off. The sun shone starkly in his left eye.

      “Man. I don’t mean you any harm. If you’re not the Eagles, I apologize and won’t come back.”

      “Eagles ain’t here no more, boy. They flew away, right? Couple weeks ago, pigs came through, rousted all the brothers out. ‘Cept me, see, cause ah’m clever. You like the feeling of that knife on yer neck?”

      “No, I sure don’t.”

      “No, sir! I’m an officer. Lieutenant. Got that?”

      “Yes sir, Lieutenant. I think I’m bleeding.”

      “Course you’re bleeding, grunt. I know that Rhion yer talkin’ about and let me tell you something. That LSD acid will turn your mind into strawberry shortcake. There ain’t no shortcut to inner knowledge. Got that?”

      “Yes sir.” The man patted Isaiah’s back pocket for his wallet.

      “You support military veterans, grunt?”

      “I guess… Sir.”

      “When’s the last time?”

      “The last time, what? Sir.”

      “Don’t play dumb, boy,” the man said, again poking Isaiah’s neck with the knife blade. “When’s the last time you supported yer military veterans?”

      “Man, Sir, look, I got my wallet in my back pocket. Go ahead…”

      “You think ah’m here to rob you? You crazy, boy. I spent two years in the jungle for this country. Lemme ask you something. And if you give me the right answer, ah’ll let you right on up. How many Vietnam vets do it take to screw in a light bulb?”

      Isaiah’s hands sprawled on his sides by his waist. When he’d fallen, he hadn’t even the time to raise them. One hand found a fist-sized rock, which he clutched.

      “Man, I really don’t know. Sir.”

      “That right! You don’t know! ‘Cause you weren’t there!” The man started laughed maniacally. “That’s a joke. You can laugh.”

      Isaiah tried to force a laugh, but his mouth felt dry and now tasted like copper. Isaiah lifted himself up on his hands and knees. The man pushed the knife tip into the back of his neck threateningly.

      “Go ahead, man, I don’t care.”

      “Yeah? That’s the attitude I like, boy. Life and death, it’s all the same game.” The man took the knife away. Isaiah raised himself up to his knees. Blood flowed from his nose into his mouth. He looked over at the man. With Isaiah on his knees, they stood the same height. The man’s bloodshot eyes looked like a caged animal’s. Staph infection covered the man’s face and his shoulder length brown hair grew in a thick mat.

Rhion at the Bus Station

      The northbound bus did not leave until noon, but Rhion had decided to wait in the Greyhound station. With his mind’s eye focused on the magic mirror’s revelation of Mount Shasta, he settled into a hard plastic chair. A Spanish-speaking family sat across from him arguing. The grandmother sat with her arms crossed, glaring at Rhion with foul intent. He noticed the bus station lockers: a good place to hide something someday.

      Crossing his arms over his chest, he reclined in the uncomfortable chair. As he hadn’t slept that night, he closed his eyes to meditate. Colorful electric imagery played across the insides of his eyelids: green lines, orange lines, and dull yellow points.

      “Last call for the northbound bus to San Francisco, Eugene, and Seattle,” sounded the voice from the loud speakers. Startled, Rhion awoke from his rough slumber. The Spanish-speaking family had left. He hadn’t bought his ticket yet: $38.20.

      Awaking, the magic mirror’s revelation of Mount Shasta seemed a world away. Mount Shasta itself seemed a world away. And a bus ticket for $38.20? He didn’t even have ten bucks on him.

      Looking around, he got up and ambled out of the bus station. The noon sun felt oppressive and he headed for the shade across the street. Time for a siesta in the park, he figured.

The Lieutenant

      “Me, ah liked the jungle. Felt like a god over there. You want a nip?”

Isaiah and the Lieutenant sat in old lawn chairs in the Lieutenant’s camp on the island. So he could sit easily, the chairs had been modified so they didn’t really have any legs. Isaiah declined the Jameson’s bottle.

      “Life and death. Right there, in my hands. What’s not to like?” A camouflaged tent was set up. A grill from a house oven was set up on the rocks ringing a fire pit. On the grill, an indeterminate meat roasted in a cast iron skillet. Garbage littered the camp site: at least seven Jameson’s whiskey bottles, Taco Bell bags, and Albertson’s donut boxes.

      Isaiah’s head still hurt from hitting the rock. He wanted to leave but felt weak.

      “Back in ‘Nam, you could get you a blowjob and a haircut from a cute Vietnamese girl for a dollar. Can’t beat that, huh? Yup, we was gods over there. Kids following you around everywhere, begging for pennies.” The Lieutenant looked off dreamily then spat.

      “Yes sir,” said Isaiah.

      “Over there, we had to take care of ourselves. Sometimes we’d get these green-horn gung ho officer-types, don’t you know. All rarin’ for glory, ready to lead us into a slaughter. That ain’t was gonna happen. Some of the boys’d take care o’ that problem real quick. Frag him, you know. Bullet in the back. End of problem.”

      “End of problem,” repeated Isaiah weakly.

      “You stoned? You got to stay away from them drugs, boy,” the Lieutenant said. “Turn your head into mashed potaters.”

      Isaiah didn’t respond, but watched him drink from the Jameson’s bottle.

      “So the Eagles, or whatever you wanna call them, are all gone?” asked Isaiah, rubbing the sides of his head with both hands.

      “Like ah said before, maybe you wasn’t paying attention, but the Eagles done flew away. Or got busted. Pigs charged in here like Viet Cong at dawn. Hauled a bunch of the boys away. Me, ah hid. Cain’t tell you where.”

      “Sure sure sure. All right. Look, man, Lieutenant, sir, I’m sorry I like bothered you or whatever. I’m gonna…”
      “Tain’t no trouble,” the Lieutenant interrupted. “It’s good to have company to discuss things with now and again. If’n you want, tell you what, you could set up your own camp out here. There’s some good flat spots back behind them little willer trees. A man can live free out here, I tells you.”

      “Yeah? Hey, thanks for the offer, uh, Lieutenant. I reckon I’m gonna take off, but, hey, maybe we’ll see ya ’round.”

      “Why doncha stay for lunch? That steak’s gonna be good ‘n’ done pretty soon here. Nuff for two.”

      “I appreciate that, but…” Isaiah stood up and started walking backwards.

      “Sure. Well, c’mon back sometime,” the Lieutenant said.

      “Sure thing, dude.” Isaiah turned around and walked away, disappointed, angry, and hurting.

Holding

      With his shoes soggy and pants wet up to their knees, Isaiah climbed out of the river. Feeling that Rhion had once again led him on a wild-goose chase, he felt forlorn and angry. As he climbed up the river bank, a Santa Cruz police officer climbed down the river bank.

      “Afternoon, young man,” the Officer said. He looked about 50 and had a regulation police mustache.

      “Officer.”

      “Wading out into the river?”

      “Yes sir.”

      “Why? Looking for something?”

      “No, not really.”

      “Not really, you say. You’re on drugs, aren’t you?”

      “No sir.”

      “You know it’s a crime to lie to a police officer. What’s that blood on your face?”
      “I fell and hit a rock.”

      “You got delirious because you were intoxicated on drugs? Is that correct?”

      “No sir.”

      “I can tell that you are lying. What’s that lump in your front left pocket?” Isaiah though of making a crude joke, but resisted. Instead, he said nothing.

      “I’ll tell you what it is. It’s drugs. Looks like a clear sandwich baggie of, let me guess, about a eighth of cannabis. Indica, probably, locally grown by Hells Angels up in the Mountains. And a Bic lighter. Is that correct?” Again, Isaiah remained silent.

      “Look, it’s been a real bad afternoon for me, Officer.”

      “And it’s getting worse for you. Perhaps you didn’t know, but cannabis is illegal in the United States. ID, please.” Isaiah submissively fished his Illinois drivers license out of his wallet. The cop radioed in his identity and waited for a response.

      “Son, why don’t you pull that bag of drugs out of your pocket and make it a bit easier on yourself,” said the cop. Isaiah obeyed and handed the cop his bag of weed.

      “Indica indeed,” said the cop, opening the baggie and sniffing it. “You know you are helping to finance a violent criminal gang when you buy this stuff? Hells Angels are not good guys.”

      As Isaiah stood with his hands handcuffed behind his back, the cop received information on Isaiah from his radio. Isaiah was not wanted.

      “No warrants,” said the cop. “Good for you. At your age, you should be going to college, not looking for drugs down by the river.”

      “Yes, sir.”

      “I could arrest you, son. But I’m just going to write you a ticket. You know it’s not too late for you to make something of yourself. You should think about going to a Narcotics Anonymous group or some kind of rehab.”
      “Yes, sir.” The cop wrote out a $125 ticket for possession of cannabis. The mandatory court date was three weeks away.

      “Good luck to you, son. Think about what I said.”

Rhion and the Clouds

      A white cow floated across the sky. It had no legs. Perhaps it was actually a white buffalo, the mystic white buffalo prophesied by the native people to restore America to purity.

      Rhion lay on his back with his hands under his head, watching the clouds. With a carefree and wandering melody in his head, he pursed his lips to whistle but made not a sound.

      Returning from the river bottoms, Isaiah stopped at the payphone booth in front of the Taco Bell. Dispirited, lip swollen and top front tooth chipped, he dropped a quarter into the slot and dialed Maureen’s phone number back home.

      The phone rang. And rang some more. As a vintage Valiant full of cackling punk rockers drove by, the answering machine picked up. He hung up without leaving a message.

      Running his tongue over his newly chipped tooth, Isaiah walked back towards his apartment. Whatever great thing that had ended when he first came out west in May had been thoroughly lost and forgotten. He kicked a piece of gravel on the sidewalk and slunk home.


[i] Bernard Gwertzman, “U.S. Rushing Missiles to Pakistan; Cites Air Raids from Afghanistan,” New York Times, July 12, 1985.

[ii] Tim Sullivan, Matt Singer and Jessica Rawson, “What were policymakers’ and intelligence services’ respective roles in the decision to deploy Stinger Missiles to the anticommunist Afghan mujahedin during the rebels’ struggle with the Soviet Union?” Mentis Vita: The Georgetown Undergraduate Journal of Scholarship, Spring 2007.

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.