by Ben Simon
In which our boys find themselves on the bad side of Gerd Franklin.
In which the boys find themselves on the bad side of Gerd Franklin
We’d driven about two miles down the highway back to Garen and Gerd was in a better than good mood because of all the beer he'd taken from old Larry File. Gerd was laughing it up with Toadstool, who also seemed to be in a better mood now that we were headed home, when we spotted two gals walking on the side of the road towards Guardian. I immediately recognized one to be Chelsea Fink, who was two years older than me and already had a fairly notorious reputation in and around town. She was with another girl who I didn't recognize and I wouldn't have thought anything else about them if Gerd wasn't so full of himself. As it was he said something to Toadstool when he saw them, I'm can only imagine what, then he started whooping and hollering as we drove by the girls. We were about twenty or thirty yards in front of them when Gerd pulled over to let them catch up, which didn't sit that well with me because I didn't really want to deal with Chelsea Fink. We were also getting to the point where Toadstool's mom would be blowing a geyser when we got home.
"Hey, we've got to be getting home," I said, and I admit I whined just a little bit.
"Don't worry about it," Gerd said, brushing his hand back in my direction, "I just need to talk to some chickens for just a minute."
There really wasn't anything me or Toadstool could do, and I could tell he was getting just as fidgety with this as I was. The girls weren't helping us out, either, as they were in no hurry to get to Gerd but took their own sweet time walking through the dust on the side of the road. Finally they caught up to us and Chelsea bent down and leaned on Gerd's window, and when she did it reminded just how ugly she was. She had kind of a long face, with eyes that were slanted downward from the bridge of the nose and a thin nose with nostrils so big I swear you could see her brain through them. Her hair was this stringy dirt-brown stuff that looked like she never used conditioner because it was always dry and frizzy. She was thin, like anorexic thin, with a pair of bird legs that shouldn't have been able to support her weight. For some reason, she was constantly showing off those stick legs by wearing short shorts or jean skirts even in cold weather, which was just disgusting because, on top of being pencil-thin, they were also the whitest legs on Earth. Her dad had been a junkie who ran out on her when was just six and according to some of my mom's friends her mom was just as bad. She had a reputation for being the local barfly and constantly got in trouble for being intoxicated in public. At least, that’s what my mom’s friends said. That left Chelsea on her own for the most part, and from what I understood she'd ran away several times, spending time in a bunch of foster homes across southern Illinois. Despite all that, she was semi-popular because all the kids knew she knew where to get booze, that she knew how to get dope and that she was an easy lay if you needed one. Right about then, I guess Gerd needed one.
"What're you ladies doing?" Gerd asked with this big, dumb grin on his face.
"Just coming back from a party."
"A party? Where is there a party this time of the morning?"
"The party was last night, stupid. Jeannie Fletcher had a kegger on her old man's farm. Me and Stephi, my cousin here, were able to score some root beer schnapps and we got wasted. We passed out at the farm, so we've got to be getting home because sooner or later the old lady will be missing us."
"Come on, she ain't going to be missing you. She was probably more wasted than you were last night."
"She ain't been drinking so much lately because she went to the doctor and the doctor told her that she has liver problems. So she's cut back and she's been a real old bag since she's done so. She tried to stop me and Stephi from going last night, but you know that wasn't happening. Anyway, if we don't get back soon we ain't going to hear the end of it."
"You ain't going to hear the end of it anyway. Why not put off the screaming for a little bit longer?" As Gerd said this, he put his hand out and tried to playfully pinch Chelsea where her belly button might have been. He had a look in his eye and I was pretty sure he'd forgotten about me and Toadstool.
"What, with you?" Chelsea asked, acting hard-to-get, which, for her, was just completely ridiculous. "I've got better things to do than hang out with an old dropout like Gerd Franklin."
"What've you got going on that's more important than me?"
"The old lady, for one thing. And, I've got a hangover that's not stopping any time soon. I swear, I puked three times this morning and I still feel sick."
"Hair of the dog."
"The cure that's good for what ails you. I've got six cases of beer in the trunk that say they can make you feel better in about a half hour."
"Oh, God," Stephi moaned in a low and tired voice. It was the first thing she'd muttered since she got there.
"I don't think that drinking a bunch of pee-warm beer is going to make me feel any better," Chelsea added.
"Warm. . .? Do you think I'd do that to you? This beer just came out of the cooler. Any colder and it would be ice."
"What kind of beer did you get?"
"Only the best."
"And that would be. . .?"
"Stag beer, what else?"
"Oh, no. You're not putting that stuff in my gut. I'll be puking three more times before it's all done."
"C'mon. You put enough of those in you and your gut won't know that it's feeling sick. I've got all these beers and I'm going to waste the day away just drinking them by myself, which is just sad. You can save me from that."
As Gerd was talking to Chelsea he'd been flirting with her physically, reaching out and playing with her hand or fingering her belt. As much as she was saying she didn't want to do anything with him, you could tell she was enjoying the attention she was getting. She stood there for a moment, then, with a big, stupid grin on her face, she looked back at her cousin.
"You said they were cold?" she asked him, though she was looking at Stephi.
"Chelsea. . .," Stephi said in a long whine, acting like she wanted to deny her cousin but lacked the strength to do so.
"What? You can go home."
"And face your mom by myself? No, thanks."
"Then you’re stuck. Besides, it'll just be a few beers, right, Gerd?"
"A couple of beers. Enough to get your buzz going. Then, once you’re done, we'll drink a few more."
Gerd laughed at that, and so did Chelsea, who'd completely lost her resistance, but Stephi didn't seem too happy about it. As for Toadstool and me, we were about to hit the panic button.
"Gerd, we've got to get home. . .," I said, with a little bit more of a whine than last time.
"Mom's going to kill me," Toadstool broke in over me.
Gerd looked back at us and I think he'd honestly forgotten that we were there. He looked kind of annoyed, and without saying anything to us he looked back at Chelsea.
"I've got to take these two doorknobs back to their moms," he said, and he was no longer that friendly guy who'd picked us up earlier. "It'll just be a quick trip to Garen, then we can party all day if you want."
"I don't want to go all the way to Garen," Stephi said.
"I know," Chelsea said. "It's bad enough I have to go to there in a week for school, I sure don't want to go there now. Why don't you take them back and, if we still feel like it, you can come back for us."
Now, Gerd was smart enough to tell that that was Chelsea's way of delivering an ultimatum. If he took me and Toadstool back, she and her cousin would be back at her mom's house trying to sleep it off, and that would be that for whatever action Gerd thought he was going to get that day. That put the needs of Toadstool and me on the backburner.
"I'll tell you what, I'll go in and talk to your mom," Gerd said, which, if he'd actually done that, would've been the worst mistake of his life. "I'll tell her that I was helping you out and I'd had car troubles. She'd be able to understand that, don't you think?"
Toadstool didn't really say anything, but I'm pretty sure he and I both had the same image in our minds, which would be a drunken Gerd getting laid flat by Toadstool's mom. Still, Toadstool was never really one to assert himself, especially with someone like Gerd, so he kind of just sat there silently, which Gerd took as agreement.
"Okay, now, we can go down to the woods just outside of McClaren's farm down on the bottom road, no cops are going to come by that way this time of day. That okay with you girls."
"Fine by us," Chelsea said, with no real response coming from Stephi. "You're the one who's going to get in trouble for serving minors if we get caught anyway."
"That's not going to happen. Joey, get in the back so the girls can sit up here."
Toadstool reluctantly opened up his door and moved towards the back, which was really cramped now because of all the fishing tackle we'd put back there. The girls got in with Chelsea sitting in the center and scooting over real close to Gerd. Gerd turned up the radio volume up loud, which was now playing some kind of Led Zeppelin music, and with another whoop he peeled out and we headed towards McClaren's farm, which took us about a mile back towards Guardian. Toadstool and I didn't say anything to each other on the way and didn't really even look at one another, preferring to keep to ourselves.
It took less than a minute to get to the wooded area outside of McClaren's farm, which had a thin drive path that Gerd’s car barely fit. This led to the creek that ran through McClaren's property. If the farmer would've known we were there he'd have driven us off with a shotgun. His farm was huge, though, and he hadn't been farming the ten acres or so that surrounded the wooded area that year. That made it perfect for partiers because it was hidden from the bottom road, which also meant it was hidden from the county cops.
Gerd parked parallel to the creek, then got out and opened up the trunk, leaving the radio on and turning the volume down just slightly. Chelsea came out and was right beside him, moving so close that you'd think she was going to crawl inside him.
"You guys want a beer?" he asked without looking at us, to which both of us said no.
"You sure? You guys have got to grow up sometime."
"Mom'll kill me if she smells beer on me," Toadstool said.
"You guys worry about your moms too much. If I didn't know any better, I'd think you guys were both in diapers."
"They're probably peeing themselves right now," Chelsea said with a stupid laugh, and she gave us a look like we were something to be scraped off her shoe.
"You guys don't want to drink, fine," Gerd said. "Sit down and do whatever. But me, I'm going to have some fun."
Toadstool and I went by a nearby oak tree and I sat down on the ground while Toadstool leaned his back against the tree. I started picking up some rocks and chucking them into the creek, but I also started taking some looks over at Stephi, who didn't seem too interested in the beer herself. She didn't really look like she'd be Chelsea's cousin as she was dark-skinned and had exotic looks like she was Indian or some kind of Asian. She had this thick, jet-black hair and she cut a pretty good figure in her spaghetti-strap top and her jogging shorts. I think she'd have been good looking if it wasn't for the fact that she had a skin condition that covered her whole body and gave her craters everywhere. She was rummaging through her small blue, sequin-covered purse that looked like it had been put together in some kind of home economics class. In a few moments she pulled out some rolling papers and a small plastic baggy with a little bit of weed in it. Now, I'd never really seen weed before except when my brother Derek was caught with some when I was eleven, but then mom caught him and made sure I didn't get a real good look at it. Still, as easy as it was for a girl to get her hands on a pack of Virginia Slims, most girls didn't go around rolling their own cigarettes and without knowing for sure I was pretty certain she was rolling a joint. She was quick about it, too, and within a few seconds she had the joint lit and was inhaling, holding her breath when she'd gotten a lung full of it. It was at this point she noticed us for what seemed like the first time, then she exhaled, and all that smoke surrounded her head like some kind of weird fog.
"You want a toke?" she asked, and she looked directly at me.
Now, I have to admit that I've let girls talk me into doing a lot of stupid things. I'm a sucker for a girl, I really am. And, despite all those craters on her face, this girl had a big pair of deep brown eyes that could cause a Greyhound to stop. Any other time I might have tried it, as stupid as that would've been, but the image of Toadstool’s mom was there again, and her smelling pot on me would’ve been infinitely worse than her smelling beer on me.
"No, thanks," I said.
"Suit yourself," she said with a shrug and a little bit of contempt in her voice. "You guys aren't narcs, are you?"
"No," I said, and somehow I didn't sound convincing to myself.
"You better not be. I'll kill you if you are."
With that she ignored us again, sitting herself down on the banks of the creek and puffing away at her joint. As for Gerd and Chelsea, things had pretty much gone as anyone could've predicted. They'd started out flirting and wrestling and trying to drink on the beer in between, but pretty quickly their tongues were down each other’s throats, a sight which caused me to gag a little bit. I didn't have to see it for long, though, because Gerd had pretty quickly directed Chelsea towards his car, then inside of it. Now, those Broughams were pretty big, and an average-sized person could easily lay down on one of their seats. Even so, Chelsea maneuvered herself so her bare feet were sticking out the rear driver's side window. When I saw them I couldn't help but notice how big they were. They were absolute boats, she could've water skied on them without the skis. When I saw that I couldn't help but think about Olive Oyl, Popeye's girlfriend, and that made me laugh, which caused both Stephi and Toadstool to look at me funny. Pretty soon, though, that car started to rock back and forth, and I couldn't bear to look at it any more.
I don't know how long we sat there, me and Toadstool keeping to ourselves and Stephi toking on that joint while we tried to ignore the sounds coming out of that car, sounds that were thankfully masked by the music of Creedance Clearwater Revival coming over the radio. I was getting pretty anxious about the state of everything, and I know for certain that Toadstool was too, but I think we were both too afraid that Gerd would just leave us there to say anything. Finally, the swaying and the sounds stopped, and all you could hear was Gerd and Chelsea talking real low and laughing a little bit.
Gerd popped open the driver's side door and got out, stretching himself and posturing like he just conquered the universe or something. Chelsea got out the other side and was adjusting herself, straightening her skirt and pulling on her top, which was another sight that just made me wince. Gerd went to the trunk, grabbed another beer and popped it open, sitting on the edge of the open trunk while Chelsea went over to Stephi to bum a toke from her joint. None of them seemed really worried about getting me and Toadstool back home, and really didn't seem to notice we existed at all. It was at least eleven now, if it wasn't closing in on noon, and Toadstool was still sitting there silently but I knew he was going crazy inside.
"Feels like it's going to be a good day, girls," Gerd yelled out to them. "Got the whole day ahead of us and a whole lot of beer in my trunk."
"We ain't going back to Garen," Chelsea said while trying to get the last few hits out of that joint.
"Plus, I think I want to get some sleep," Stephi chimed in without looking up. "We've been out all night and I feel like crap."
"Sleep's overrated," Gerd said, getting up from the trunk and walking over to where the girls were sitting. "There's too much to do on a day like this to waste it on sleep. But, I'll make a compromise with you. You guys stay with me and drink my beer and we can find someplace around here to do our partying."
"There is a lot of beer there," Chelsea said, finally giving up on the joint and tossing it towards the creek. "I don't think even you can drink all of that up. And I am feeling better, thanks to all the beer, weed and Gerd I just had."
"What'd I say? It'll cure what ails you."
"I am gross," Stephi said, picking herself up from the side of the creek. "I need to go someplace and at least get a shower before we go and do anything else."
"We can go back into Guardian and I can bug my buddy Stacks for a shower," Gerd said. "That way you guys can avoid your mom, and maybe I can help you out with that shower."
"You ain't getting in no shower with me," Stephi said, but she sounded more playful than repulsed.
"C'mon. I'll get the hard-to-reach areas for you."
I don't know what got to me the most, Gerd completely ignoring us or his flirting with those skanks. I knew that both me and Toadstool were screwed, and I knew Toadstool would never say anything about it because that just wasn't his way. It was also getting hotter, even in the shade, and I was sweaty and sticky and that was adding to my irritability. So it was at this point that I decided to stand up and make myself heard.
"Hey, Gerd, what about us," I said, and I don't think my tone was any too friendly. "You said you were just going to go into Guardian then bring us home, and that was probably more than two hours ago. My mom's going through the roof by now, and Toadstool here's going to get murdered by his mom. So, when do you plan on taking us back?"
"If you're going to get killed when you get home, I don't see what your hurry is," Gerd said with a type of ignorant laugh, paying more attention to the girls in front of him than to me.
"I'm serious," I yelled, and I think I was kind of screaming at him. "You said all you were going to do was get the beer then bring us home. If you weren't going to take us home, why'd you even pick us up?"
Now, if I were to see Gerd Franklin today, I don't think I'd find him a very physically intimidating man and that's considering that I'm not really a juggernaut myself. But I was fourteen and he was nineteen then and I was even scrawnier then than I am now, plus he had a few inches on me. Add to that the fact that I wasn't really a fighter and you can see how I got more or less intimidated when Gerd started coming at me. I stumbled back a little bit, surprised at how quick he was to get mad at me, but I didn't move nearly fast enough to avoid him. He caught my arm and drew back, then he slapped me. Like a girl slaps. Well, like some girls slap, because I've known six or seven females who could land a harder punch than Gerd could. Still, it stung, and he didn't stop at one slap, but threw in a few more for good measure. One missed my cheek and hit me square in the nose, and I could feel stuff trickle down my nose across my upper lip and when I tasted a combination of salt and iron I knew that he'd made my nose bleed. Despite that, I wasn't really hurt, just embarrassed. I started to squeal, which caused Gerd to let up just a little bit, but he still held my arm and threw a few more in.
"You want to go back to your mommy?" he was asking through clenched teeth. "Is that it, you're a momma's boy? What's momma doing for you now, huh, momma's boy?"
The girls stood up and came over to see the show, and Chelsea was standing there laughing, showing off her crooked teeth. "Maybe he needs his diaper changed," she said, cackling the whole time.
Gerd stopped his slapping and looked up at Toadstool, but he held my arm firm. "Joey, I can't believe you'd hang around with a momma's boy like this. You ain't a momma's boy, too, are you?"
Toadstool didn't say anything; he just stood there with his head down, kind of half-looking at Gerd, so Gerd repeated himself. "Joey, I asked if you were a momma's boy like this guy here. Well, are you?"
Toadstool looked at me and shook his head just slightly, and you could tell that at that moment he'd rather be anywhere but there. I knew the feeling. Gerd kept ahold of my arm and just kept me there, and I just stayed there with my head down, using my free hand to wipe away some of the blood that was still flowing from my nose and the tears that had started to flow out of my eyes.
"I don't deal with momma's boys," Gerd finally said, flinging my arm away from him. "You want to ride with me, you've got to have cut the cord. I think you boys are on your own from now on."
"How do you think we're supposed to get home," I asked in a low tone, knowing that I was risking another smack.
"Call your mommas. It ain't my problem, I've got other things to do."
With that he turned towards the two girls, but he kept insulting us while he did so, saying how we probably weren't potty trained enough to be in his car and how our moms would have to change our diapers once we got home. He acted mad, throwing our fishing tackle out of the car hard onto the ground, though I think it was mainly show for the girls. He also needed to justify ditching me and Toadstool, which he did so by acting like he was so ticked off he couldn’t stand to be around us anymore.
He slammed the trunk closed and walked up front to open up the door, Chelsea walking beside him and agreeing with his insults, occasionally adding a few for good measure. Chelsea climbed in on his side and scooted to the middle, while Stephi got in the other side and Gerd got in last, slamming the door and starting the Brougham up, revving the engine as he did so. Toadstool and I couldn't really do much but watch as they got ready to leave, knowing that we were now officially screwed with no way home and no way to call anybody. Gerd didn't care and emphasized the point by peeling out as he left, leaving a column of dust behind him that floated towards me and Toadstool and more or less smothered us.
And that would be the last we would ever see of Gerd Franklin.