This is what happens when idle hands of teenagers need something to do...
The first couple of nights we did it the cops didn't come, but they did that last night. What a friggin’ riot! Me and Joey, Chris, and Jeff had nothing better to do. It was late in the afternoon and we'd been hanging out down at Jeff's father's garage. Jeff's dad owns a gas station and repair shop downtown. But this garage was where he kept spare parts and stuff. In the back were racks of new tires we always climb around in. We'd have races climbing through the rows of tires, getting all black from the rubber and bruising our knees. But not this afternoon. Jeff had snuck the key to the soda machine from his dad, so were were drinking ourselves sick on Fanta orange and grape soda.
"Shit, if I drink another one of these grape sodas I'm going to puke," Chris said.
"I just got to take a leak. Hey Jeff, where's the can, man?" I asked.
"Go straight through the tires to the end," he said. "There's a john back there."
Summer was just about over and the August heat was done frying the lawn. At this rate I wouldn't need to get the lawn mower out till October to grind up the leaves. When I got got back, Joey and Chris were climbing out of the tires; Jeff was throwing empty soda cans away.
"Dickie says he's locking up so we got to leave. Get your empties or my dad will get pissed. He won't let us back in if we leave a mess," Jeff said.
The gurgle of a can being up-ended drew our attention back to the tires. Chris was standing there dumping the rest of his grape soda in a tire. Jeff blew.
"What the fuck do you think you're doing, Franks? Are you fuckin' stupid?" Chris just looked at him with a stupid grin.
"What? What's the big friggin' deal?" Chris tossed his empty can in the barrel.
"The deal, asshole, is if we trash this place my dad will beat the shit out of me and we won't be able to come down here to hang out. Now clean it up!" Jeff grabbed a bundle of clean rags and whipped them at Chris. I don't think Chris was expecting it because he took it in the face, but he laughed it off.
"All right, boys, I'm ready to lock up. Time for you to git," Dickie yelled back. Jeff checked the tire to be sure Chris had wiped it all up.
"You're such an asshole, Franks."
"Yeah, same to you."
Once outside we started heading up Ash Street.
"You boys want to shoot some hoop? I'll kick your asses in a game of Horse," Joe said, pausing to mime a shot. I was tempted to kick his butt, as he stuck it out.
"Yeah, what the hell. Check to see if Nick's out?" I said. I started cutting up through Higgins's yard on our left toward Nicky's, not waiting for their decision. We climbed Higgins's driveway and starting cutting through Nick's back yard.
"Hey guys, wait up!" Jon Higgins was charging out the door toward us. He's a tall, skinny redhead who lives with his fussy old grandparents. He caught up and we found Nicky and Rod already shooting baskets in the driveway.
"Hey, it's Rod the Bod, guys," Chris said with a sneer.
"I told you I don't like that. Don't call me that," said Rod. I could hear the threat in his voice but I guess Chris couldn't.
"What's the matter, Bod? Can't take a jo--uhh!" Chris never got to finish it. Rod grabbed him by his shirt front and drove him back into the wall of the garage.
"I said, cut it out." Rod's thick glasses were falling down his nose, but he could see Chris OK. If his face got any closer to Chris's they'd be sharin' spit.
"Kick his ass, Rod. He's been an asshole all afternoon," Jeff encouraged. But Nick intervened.
"Will you guys shut up. The window's open and my mother can hear us!"
"Nicky! What's going on down there?" his mother called. His parents live upstairs in the building so she see everything going on.
"See!" said Nick.
"Ah, nothing Mrs. M. Just some foolin' around," Joe said.
"That better be all it is!" she said, and her face disappeared from the window.
Rod let Chris go and we shot a couple of games of Horse. Chris was pretty quiet; I guess Rod's message sunk in. Jeff, Rod and Jon pretty much suck at hoop, but it was just killing time. Joey and Nick usually take the game, but I held my own.
"Nicky! Tell your friends it's time to eat. You can go out to play after supper."
Nick went in and Rod headed down the street. He lives in a dinky little apartment with his parents at the bottom of the hill. Jon cut out back toward his house. Me, Chris, Jeff and Joe started heading up Mount Vernon. Jeff lives over on Chesley at the end of Grove, so he'd cut through my back yard. Joe's house came first, then mine. Chris cut across old man Mundy's yard to his house, Jeff went out back. Funny how we all ate supper at the same time.
I was just finishing my supper when Chris came up on my back porch. "Be right out!" I said to him. I was halfway down the steps when my mother yelled, "Be home when the streetlights come on!" "Yup!" I yelled back. Jeff was coming up through my back yard and the three of us cut across Quimby's yard to Joey's. He was halfway down the steps when his mother yelled out to him, "And don't you get into any trouble!" Joey had a reputation. Well, all the Cranes had a reputation; Joey just got caught a lot.
We all headed down to Nicky's, who was again out shooting hoop with Rod. Jon was there too. None of us felt like basketball, Chris's pool filter was on the fritz so his pool was out, and Higgins's grandparents were already closing up their pool. We were bored, school was less than a week away and the last of our summer vacation was slipping through our fingers like beach sand. For some reason, I don't know why, we were heading down to Higgins's. We went down his driveway and all of us were just standing on the corner of Ash and Grove, in front of Jon's house. I think it was Higgins's that came up with the idea.
The gag was pretty simple: one of us would be the “victim” and the rest of us would act like we were kicking the shit out of him. The first night we did it, Higgins was with us. It was stupid, it was fun and what the hell. We'd done it a couple of times when Jon's grandmother started yelling for him to come in. "I better go guys, or she won't let me out tomorrow night. See ya!" he said. God, you'd never know the kid was thirteen, the way she mothered him.
We decided it worked better after his grandmother called him in because it was getting dark . You know the time when cars start putting on their headlights but it don’t do any good ‘cause it’s still kinda light out? That’s the best time because people driving by really can’t see what we’re up to. Plus, the sidewalk on this side of Ash was three feet above the road, on account of the hill being so steep right there. It was perfect because we'd be above a car's headlights.
Well, what we’d do is wait until we saw a car coming and get in a kind of circle and act like we were beating the crap out of somebody. That first night a couple of drivers laid on the horn until we took off, but no one got out of their car to check the “victim.” The next night, two people got out of their cars, yelling at us. Nick was our victim on that last one, and he almost got caught laying there on the ground. The guy was about five feet away when up jumps Nick and hightails it out of there. We all had a good laugh over it and headed to Joey’s for a hot and sticky game of night whiffle ball.
We thought we’d do it one more night, to see if we could get a few last laughs out of it. The first couple of times I was the victim, but no one paid any attention to us. I guess my acting ain’t Academy Award material. Then Jeff plays the victim. Jeff’s kind of chunky and slow, and the biggest of all of us, so I thought it would look fake, but he actually got one driver to help him up before he ran. He swore at the guy, and maybe that’s why somebody called the cops.
Anyway, Nick says he wants to be the victim again. It’s getting dark by now, and we figure we have time for one last try for the night. We circle up, Nick gets on his knees and starts to give the performance of a lifetime.
“A car just turned down Ash from the Avenue,” Chris said. We were working that corner of Ash and Grove again, two blocks away.
“Yeah, there’s another car at the corner of Maple, looks like he’s gonna turn this way, too,” said Rod.
Jeff really gets into the role, making like he’s choking Nick. The rest of us just look like we’re either punching or kicking him. Meanwhile, Nick is making choking sounds, and the rest of us are grunting and vocalizing our every move. Then Joey gets down on one knee and makes like he’s pounding Nick in the face. Nick starts screaming.
“Is that car still coming?” asks Jeff, between grunts.
“Yeah, he’s just coming up to the stop sign on Mount Vernon. But he’s moving’ real slow,” I said.
“The other guy’s....oh, shiiit!” Chris yelled.
The blue lights were coming from behind me. The roar of the police car behind us was so loud it sent a thrill of panic up my spine. I started to giggle. Oh shit, we’re screwed, I’m thinking. Oh shit! Oh shit! Oh shit!
“Oh Jesus Christ, run!” Jeff yelled. The roar I’d heard was not one but two engines; the car coming up Ash Street surged toward us, blue lights searing my vision.
“Go! Go! Go!”, screamed Chris, pushing Rod toward Grove Street. The squeal of the brakes broke my panic; I turned to run up Grove as well. Suddenly the cop car from Maple lurched part way up banking just beside me.
I heard Joe scream, “Nick! Get up! Get up!” I could hear the cop behind us, coming down Ash, skidding to a stop. The door of the closer one popped open. I saw a hand reach out to me between the the windshield and the door. “C’mere kid!”
I was by him, but I heard Jeff bounce off the hood behind me. “Let go of me dammit!” I glanced back to see Jeff wrench his shirt out of the grip of the cop. After that I concentrated on reaching the woods behind the row of houses across Grove. I could hear Jeff’s sneakers flap the pavement behind me. I had no idea he could move this fast. Ahead of me I saw Chris and Rod veer to the left into Guppy's yard, heading for the woods as well.
Jeff and I crashed through the woods looking for a trail we know ain't there. I just about plunge into the brook in our hurry. Jeff couldn't stop his bulk in time.
"Shit! This stuff's right up to my friggn' knees!" he said. The brook is this stream that comes out of the water works about a half mile through the woods to the north. The water always has this oily look and the bottom of the brook is orange sand and muck. Orange muck clings to branches trailing in water, and spots in the brook are deep, orange quicksand. It stinks in the summer. The brook never freezes.
I helped Jeff out of it, the muck making this sick sucking sound holding him in, like it's losing a meal. We caught up with Rod and Chris by the big spill pipe. The woods are this gully, a couple of hundred yards across, that separate Grove Street and Horne Street. The pipe, twelve inch corrugated metal that sticks out of the top of the hill about six or seven feet, is a favorite hangout. Always a great time, sitting on the pipe, yelling in it for echoes, daring each other to jump off onto the rocks below. The hill and pipe back the Horne Street neighborhood; gray water spills out constantly to rocks about ten feet below.
Between pants, Jeff gasps, “Jesus, that was close.”
“I can’t believe we got away with it! That was great!” said Chris.
“Great?!? You call that great? How the hell are we going to get home? My mother’s going to kill me!” cried Rod. Knowing Rod’s mother, he was probably right. But that wasn’t what I was thinking.
“Do you think Joe and Nick got away, or did they get bagged?”
Not one of us saw what happened to them after we tore up Grove and into the woods.
“I saw Joe heading up through Higgins’s yard, but Nick was still on the ground,” said Rod.
“Yeah, Joe was gone, but I don’t know about Nick,” said Jeff.
We decided to follow the brook to a path we used to go to Horne Street. It came out by Jeff’s house on the Grove side. Funny, I’ve walked that trail a million times, but this was the first time at night; it was like I’d never been on it before.
One by one, we came out of the woods, watching the road, but there was nothing.No traffic. It was dark now, but we still hung back from the road, ready to melt back into the woods for safety. At Soupy’s house, we cut up through the yards, past Joey’s house and headed down Mount Vernon toward Nick’s. Still no sign of either Nick or Joe.
By now, our boldness had returned and we were simply strolling down the sidewalk. At Nick’s house, the driveway was clear, but we headed in anyway. As we approached the garage, we heard Nick calling to us from the lilac bushes in his back yard.
“Will you guys get in here! The cops are still cruising around,” he said.
“We did’t see any coming down here,” said Jeff.
“Shhh! My parent’s can hear us!” he said.
“OK, OK. But tell us what happened to you guys,” I said.
“Yeah, how’d you guys get away?” Chris asked.
“I almost didn’t, no thanks to you guys,” he said.
“What do ya mean? I tried to get you up! I was practically dragging you!” said Joe.
“Keep it down, will you? I don’t know what happened. First Joey’s beating’ on me, then he’s yellin’ and pullin’ me up. I was rollin’ over when the cop starts asking me if I was all right. I mean, the guy asked me if I needed an ambulance. He was like five feet away when I rolled over and took off. I just ran,” Nick said.
“You mean he didn’t chase you?” I asked.
“I think he started to, but then he stopped I guess,” said Nick.
“It was great though, wasn’t it?” asked Chris.
“Yeah, we should do it again tomorrow night!” said Jeff.
“Not me. I know when to call it quits,” said Rod.
“I’m with Rod. I don’t think we should push our luck,” I said.
Just then, Nicky’s mother’s voice rent the crisp, night air. “Nicky!!”
“Comin’!” said Nick.
"You boys aren't climbing my lilac bushes I hope!" she said.
We came back with an impromptu, ragged chorus of, "Nope!"
“I better head on home, too,” said Rod. “Catch you guys later.”
“Yeah, later guys,” I said. I headed home. What a riot!