James had come home ...
James had come home from juvenile hall bragging that he could steal a car in 30 seconds. He was willing to prove it.
He’d learned all the tricks.
We’ll wear two layers of clothes, he said, and if the cops are after us, we just take off the top layer and walk away into the night.
If they send the dogs, he said, once you get some distance between you and them, piss. It will throw them off the scent.
It was just the 4 of us that night… James, myself, Billy and the step sister, Vanessa.
Billy had pushed me down the stairs at Lisa’s house the day before… 16 or 17 steps. He thought it was hilarious.
As I came to my senses, he stood at the top of the stairs with an axe in his hand, asking what I was going to do about it.
Vanessa was a tall blonde, pretty, who liked to wrestle. Her mother owned an old red van with no side windows. She’d earned somewhat of a reputation.
We set out on foot. James had spotted a likely van a few miles away and we headed in that direction.
It was 1230 at night. A summer evening. We were all wearing dark clothing. We stopped at the grocery store and stole a couple packs of cigarettes.
James continued his monologue about juvie… the people he’d met.. the things he’d learned. We listened.
He’d once knocked a pretty tough guy I knew into the man made stream at the city park. He had a weight bench in his room.
At the van, the claim of thirty seconds proved to be a falsehood. For the better part of an hour we waited as James tried to break the steering column. Billy looked on from the passenger seat. He wanted to learn.
Vanessa and I went to the store and made some prank calls from the payphone until James and Billy picked us up.
There were girls I knew, eager to get out of the house, a few miles away, who we planned to pick up once their mothers were finished with the Tonight Show.
To kill time, we drove to Victor’s house and broke into his dad’s van…. Acting on the rumor that in the glovebox was a .38. It turned out to be false.
We drove to the house of the girl I knew. James was behind the wheel. He’d pulled the headrests from the front two seats and was sitting on them so he could see over the dashboard. We were 13 years old.
He killed the lights as we pulled into the girl’s apartment complex. I got out and threw a few pebbles at her window.
The three of them came out and got into the van. It seemed like they were happy to see us. Their pockets bulged with wine coolers.
My parents had once brought home a large pack of spritzers… set them in the pantry…. On layaway for some party they’d never throw. They gathered dust there until my brother and I got up the nerve.
We pilfered one each and no one noticed. After two or three more, they caught on. We were punished with the task of drinking all of them. It turned into a really nice afternoon.
The girls got into the back and started drinking. They liked to party. They’re probably all dead now of liver failure or falling in with the wrong sort of men.
Billy’s mother was somewhat of a sadist. Once, as punishment for spilling his Kool aid, she’d put the family cat into the dryer. It hadn’t gone well for the cat. Everyone was careful with their juice after that.
I’d met her at a bowling alley. She had a pitcher of lager all to herself, playing pull tabs. She’d pulled me aside at one point and told me in a breathy whisper that we could go into the bathroom for $20. She was wearing a bathrobe. Where does a 13 year old get $20?
Steal it, she’d said. When she looked away, I went into her purse. There was a gun in there. I thought better of it. This wasn’t a woman who would be victimized (again)
Billy wasn’t adjusting well to life. He’d put Eric’s arm into a vice grip in the tech shop at school and turned the handle until Eric pissed himself. Mr. Robert had laughed about it when he came out to smoke a cigarette with us after 3rd period. Mr. Robert rejoined the army later in the semester to avoid a hit and run charge.
He had a distinguished career. Rose through the ranks. He now does commentary on defense for a major news network. I doubt he remembers me, but him and Billy were close.
In the van, Billy was turned around to look at the girls from the passenger seat. He was wearing the same look he’d had on right before he pushed me down the stairs. The girls didn’t even notice. They were talking about tattoos they wanted to get and what a whore Becky Slater was. When he offered me the coveted shotgun seat, I feared for them.
James had put on racing gloves. He was taking his driving position very seriously, saying things like, watch me run this red light or ten points for the cat.
He wasn’t adjusting well either. Lately he’d been talking about how he really wanted to know what it was like to kill a man. He’d put some thought into it. He was going kiss his victim on the mouth right at the death rattle ‘cause, you know, that’s when the soul is up for grabs.
I hoped it wouldn’t be me. I was pretty defenseless at that point. It wasn’t until a few years later that I’d learn a few things about Bushido.
The party in the back was starting to get a little lascivious. Vanessa was kissing the girl that I was interested in and from the looks of it, she knew what she was doing. Billy’s hand was careening dangerously close to ‘that’ part of his pants when the red and blues came on behind us.
There’s this girl I really like these days. She has green eyes just like Peter O’Toole and we’re still in the place where neither of us have remembered how much we like sleeping alone.
I told her this story and she squeezed me a little tighter. She thought I was some sort of outlaw. The squeeze was welcome but this was an absolute bullshit notion.
Childhood was spent in a dream like state of constant terror. Aliens. That really eerie music from unsolved mysteries? The green river killer? I slept in my parent’s room until I was eight. I once peed in the corner of my bedroom because I was too afraid to step out into that dark hallway outside my door.
Billy wasn’t afraid. He actually smiled and let out a little war whoop when he saw the lights behind us. When James said, oh shit, I’m on probation, Billy jumped into the driver seat. All glee and determination. He faked like he was going to pull over while he pulled on James’ driving gloves, then gunned it into oncoming traffic. The girls were crying. I climbed into the back and tried unsuccessfully to hide under a seat.
High speed chases are supposed to be fun but, they’re actually really scary. A van full of psychopaths flying through a construction zone with 7 or 8 squad cars in tow when all you’re trying to do is get the family home from the off season and discounted version of the nutcracker you just cooed through?
Little did I know, but in the lead car was an officer Hardy. She’d arrested me earlier in the year for a little bit of weed at school and her and her partner had put Ryan and me in separate rooms and played good cop bad cop until we both ratted on each other.
The construction cones we were hitting were flying out from beneath our wheels and she was deftly avoiding them. Her husband hadn’t been treating her very well since he’d gotten back from the summer fishing in Alaska. He’d begun to keep a diary which she couldn’t for the life of her find.
There was a rattling in my stomach just like the sound a flask makes when you’ve enjoyed the better part of it, which I could hear above the din.
Billy was laughing maniacally. Vanessa downed a spritzer and put on a brave face. The girls were huddled together. James was dusting the car for prints. My dad was going to be pissed.
We were going way too fast as we approached the place where 148th st ends. The light was red but, we weren’t obeying traffic laws just then.
There was a lone pickup truck, the short bed kind that guys who do handy work and play music in the evenings drive, passing through the intersection. We sideswiped him and his truck was flung into the guard rail. The cowboy music he was listening to abruptly stopped. I doubt he had insurance.
The van quit at that point. Just died. And we rolled along at about 50mph. People were making their minds up about what to do.
One of the girls opened the sliding door and jumped out. In a rush of panic, I followed her. I didn’t even say goodbye to anyone.
I thought if I hit the ground running, I’d be okay but, like her, my feet hit and my momentum carried my top half into the concrete at a pretty high velocity. It didn’t even hurt. Later my chiropractor would say that the manic episodes and wild depression were in no small part due to this and the various other head injuries accrued. I thanked him for the excuse.
I rose and jumped a retaining wall and fell violently down a hillside of brambles. Midway down, I stopped my tumble by clutching at the thorns. I peeled off my second layer of clothing, heard the dogs, turned to face up the hill where the silhouettes of officer Hardy and others were in hot pursuit, undid my pants and peed into the darkness. I dove head first down the hillside, rolling painlessly through the scratch of the bushes and prepared to ‘walk away into the night’
The other girls hid in the car and concocted the story that we’d kidnapped them. Not true. But, they were believed. They were home in a few hours.
James and Billy, I learned later, had rolled the van through the front wall of a convenience store and taken a Korean man hostage. The lengthy stand off ended in a hail of gunfire where only the hostage was hit. James and Billy slipped out the back in the confusion.
Billy later stabbed a security guard in the neck when caught shoplifting. He leads a prison gang called the danger boys. Sometimes he hits me up to put money on his books.
James got a job as a bag boy at Trader Joes. He stuck it out and saved up some money. He’s assistant manager now. He owns a motorcycle and doesn’t like to talk about the way things used to be.
There was a moonlit creek at the bottom of the hill. It was really pretty. I always liked creeks. I used to skip 6th period and wander around in the one behind our school, constructing leaf boats and seeing just how far I could follow it.
When my head hit the water of the crick, it felt really good and I decided to drown myself then and there. The decision wasn’t even a struggle. I had acne that people looked too closely at. My friends were assholes who didn’t even really like me. A few weeks earlier my mom had attacked my dad in the driveway and when the police came I’d hidden in the barn and cried.
I could hear officer Hardy shouting in that far off way that people sound when you’re too sleepy to listen. She sicced the dogs (not fooled by James’ ploy) on me and they dragged me out and Hardy did CPR. Apparently I reminded her of a younger version of her husband, back when he used to really listen to her. She didn’t even use her nightstick.
My dad sent me to live with my mom under a convenience store in some country town. The years went by and then I met that girl and got a little taste of the hope that people are always talking about.