It had been a while since we had dinner together, so I was trying to put on a happy face, but my thoughts kept drifting back to Mrs. Reader and what I’d just done.
“No, nothing’s wrong,” I lied. “It was just a long day.”
“I heard about what you did,” she replied. “I’m very proud of you.”
The words stung a little.
“Thanks, but it was really nothing.”
“Saving a woman’s life is never ‘nothing’.”
Her choice of words made the sinking feeling in my stomach a little worse.
“I just don’t want anyone making a big deal out of it. I mean, I helped her out of the car, but that was it.”
Mom seemed to understand that i wanted to drop the subject, so she did, but didn’t necessarily move on to a better one.
“So are things better between you and Shawna?”
“Still the same, I think; I didn’t even see her today.”
“I’m sorry, but it will get better.”
The silence continued for several more minutes before mom found a topic we could both appreciate, dessert. She had a recipe for these amazing chocolate cherry cookies. I should have smelled them as soon as I got home but my mind was so preoccupied that I didn’t even notice that she’d made them until we cleared the kitchen table. It was then that she brought them out, still warm from the oven. No matter how bad a day I’d ever had, those cookies would always make it better.
The cookies, and the dinner with mom turned out to be just what I needed, but then she had to leave for her shift at the hospital. The same hospital where Mrs. Reader would be falling asleep and not waking up. I knew that I’d done what I had to do and that I’d made it as peaceful as I could, but that didn’t help me feel any better as mom walked out the door; but I knew what would.
The ride to Weed’s house took no time, but even though I hadn’t given him a heads up, he had a bowl packed and ready for me. It’s a true friend that knows what you need before you need it. He had a little Zeppelin playing and for a while that was all we needed as we passed the pipe back and forth. But when I was sufficiently relaxed I needed something else to focus on to keep my mind from wandering where it shouldn’t.
“I’ve got just the thing,” Weed said, sliding over to his movie collection.
I didn’t even see what he picked out until the title came on the screen.
“Seriously?” I asked. “This is what you chose for us to watch, tonight of all nights?”
Weed burst out laughing.
“You love Cocoon.”
“Yeah, old people are hilarious, but come on.”
He was laughing too hard to even respond. It was the kind of laugh that was contagious. I wanted to be mad at him but I couldn’t even look at him without laughing too, so I finally gave up and just joined in. By the time I was finally able to stop laughing he had already started the movie, so I watched. I didn’t make it halfway through before falling asleep on the yard-sale couch Weed and I had picked up the previous summer, against his mom’s wishes. It looked like something out of a frat house but that night it was the most comfortable thing in the world to sleep on.
Neither of us wanted to wake up the next morning, and to her credit, Weed’s mom did try waking us a couple times before she brought out the big guns. We should have known what would happen, but apparently it didn’t dawn on either of us that she wouldn’t let us be, so as we slept in, clinging tightly to those extra few minutes of oblivion, she stealthily positioned two speakers right by the bedroom door, cranked the volume to 11 and hit play.
I didn’t even know heavy metal yodeling was a thing, but she’d somehow found a record from Germany. Under normal circumstances I might have been interested in giving it a shot but waking up to it blasting a few feet from my head was not how I wanted to be introduced to it.
Weed and I both instantly threw our pillows in the general direction of the horrible noise, but knocking the speakers over only muffled it slightly so we were forced to actually get up. I couldn’t tell if he cut the speaker wire or merely disconnected them, but either way the piercing vocals and screaming guitars were finally silenced.
“Jokes on her,” Weed said, “I’m actually starting to like that band.”
He might have been joking, but I kind of doubted it. His taste in music could get as weird as he was, but that was part of what made us just click.
“You want a little of my go-faster juice?” He asked, slipping on a Dead Kennedys t-shirt.
“Na, I’m good. Just a little Mt Dew or even a coke and I’ll be good to go.”
He tossed me a can which I chugged down in no time, then jumped on the bike and rushed home to shower and grab a change of clothes. Based on her normal schedule I figured I had plenty of time before my mom got home but I didn’t want to take any chances. If she got home before I left for school she would feel obligated to tell me about Mrs. Reader passing in her sleep and I really didn’t want to have that conversation with her so I wasted no time. I didn’t even finish drying completely before throwing on a fresh t-shirt and jeans and heading right back out. Even with waking up late and going back home first, I somehow made it to school with time to spare. Weed, on the other hand, probably fell back asleep in the shower as he was known to do, and barely made it through the door before the last bell rang.
I’m pretty sure we both dozed on and off throughout first and second periods but by third I was finally feeling awake. And I think Weed even managed to keep his eyes open for the whole class, so by lunch we were able to actually hold a conversation. We weren’t talking about anything important but it was nice to feel normal for a minute, until principal Rooney appeared and started heading my way with a serious look on his face.
“How are you feeling today?” He asked, sitting down on the bench beside me, but still facing away from the table.
“I’m alright,” I replied.
“Did you get a chance to stop by and see Mrs. Reader yesterday?”
“I did; she seemed happy about it.”
“I’m glad to hear that because I just got some bad news.”
He paused as if the news was going to be hard, either for him to say or me to hear.
“A representative from the hospital just called to let me know that she passed in her sleep last night.”
I didn’t know how to respond. I wanted to look surprised, or sad, or something, but I’m pretty sure I only managed to look confused.
“These things happen,” he continued, “but she didn’t suffer, if that’s any consolation.”
“That does make it a little easier to hear, I guess”.
“And I want you to know that we’re all here for you if you need to talk.”
“I think I’m okay.”
“That’s good, but if, in the near future you want someone to talk to about this, my door is always open.”
“Thanks, but I don’t think that’ll be necessary.”
“Grief or confusion, especially when it comes to death, is very natural. Sometimes it helps to talk to someone. If not me, consider any of your teachers or the guidance counselor.”
“Thanks, I’ll keep that in mind.”
“That’s all I’m asking,” he said, standing back up.
“Awkward,” Weed said, as soon as principal Rooney was barely out of earshot.
“Tell me about it.”
“So you’re positive it was you?”
“So what was it like?”
“I’m not going to talk about it here.”
“Okay, later then.”
“Why not? I’m just curious.”
“I don’t even know how to describe it, okay? It’s just weird. But only two more assignments and I don’t even have to think about it ever again.”
“Do you know who those two are?”
“No clue, but they have to be easier than that one was.”
“You know you just jinxed yourself, right?”
“Probably, but what could be worse than having to off an old woman you just saved from a car wreck?”
The hospital offered motorcycle parking near the handicap spots but I avoided those and chose to park out in the middle of nowhere, giving myself the longest walk possible to the front doors. It still wasn’t long enough though, because even when I reached them, I still had no idea what I was going to do.
“I’m looking for Ms. Reader,” I told the receptionist.
“Oh, you must be the boy that pulled her from her burning car.”
I really didn’t feel like discussing the reality of the whole thing with anyone else, so I just let it go.
“Yeah, something like that.”
“Well I’m glad I got to meet you. Her room is on the third floor, room 306,” the receptionist said. “She’s been hoping you’d stop by.”
Those words echoed through my head as I waited for the elevator, then made my way to her room. I knew what I had to do but not how I was actually going to be able to. I mean, how was I supposed to kill some little old lady, let alone the one I just saved?
Because of my deal, and based on my other assignments, I knew she had to deserve it, so I had to do it, right? But even if she did deserve it, how was I going to do it? My mind went around in circles as I rode the elevator up.
“You must be Nathaniel,” a nurse said, coming out of room 306. I’d been standing outside the door, staring at the room number, trying to come up with some excuse to leave but obviously I didn’t come up with one in time.
“Uh, yeah. I guess I am.”
“Great. You got here at a good time. She’s awake and feeling much better. You can go on in.”
“Thanks,” I replied, taking a deep breath before moving past the nurse and into the room.
Mrs. Reader’s face lit up as soon as I entered the room. I tried to look away but that felt even more awkward.
“So you’re the one who pulled me from my car?”
“Yeah, I guess that was me.”
“Well come a little closer. I won’t bite.”
I was probably as far from her as I could and still be in the same room so I moved closer to the foot of her bed.
“I just wanted to thank you for what you did.”
“You’re welcome, I mean, It was nothing, really,” I replied.
“Oh, but it was,” she said, pausing as she seemed to gather herself. “You know, when it happened, when the truck slammed into me and my car was spinning around, I thought “this is it”. And I was okay with that. Part of me really wanted to go, to be with my Hermain again.”
She teared up as soon as she mentioned his name, and for some reason I moved around to the side of her bed but stopped short of reaching out to comfort her.
“It’s been quite a while, but I still miss him,” she continued. We were together for almost 30 years when…well, when it happened. It was really hard at first, but it got easier; though even now there are days when I think I should join him. And I thought that truck was going to make it happen. But when I woke up in the hospital, I realized it must not be my time. I guess someone still has plans for me.”
I didn’t know how to respond. Listening to her talk let me put off the inevitable and gave me a little more time to decide what I was going to do. And the part about her wanting to be with her husband did make it seem like it would be a little easier to do what I had to do, but then I doubt anything she could say would truly make it easy for me. But did I really want it to be easy? I mean, what would it mean about me if killing someone, especially an old woman, became easy? I was still lost inside my own head when she changed the topic around to me.
“A lot of people wouldn’t have done what you did,” she said.
“I think most people would if they were in my shoes.”
“That’s a good attitude to have,” she replied, “even if it is naive. I’ve been on this earth long enough to know that most people are selfish, regardless of what they’d like to believe of themselves.”
She said it, not in any sort of depressed or angry way. To her it was just the truth, but I didn’t know how to reply to that so the silence just hung there for a minute before she continued.
“I recognize you from school,” she said. “Though I would never have guessed you’d be the one to save me from a car crash.”
“I don’t mean that in a bad way, you’ve just always came off as someone who keeps to themselves.”
“That’s probably a good way to describe me.”
“So why’d you do it?”
“It was just the right thing to do,” I said, and it was as good a response as any, though I don’t know how true it was. Honestly, I had been asking myself the same question over and over all day and never came up with a good reason.
“Is that why you’re here now?” She continued with the questions.
“I guess. I mean, principal Rooney said you wanted me to stop by, so here I am.”
“And I appreciate that. I just wanted a chance to thank you for what you did. But I can tell you’re preoccupied with something so won’t keep you.”
I was about to apologize for being distracted when she moved her hand to mine and gave it a squeeze. Instantly the images flooded my vision. The images were very much like what I saw when I pulled her from the car, only this time there was no pushing them away. I watched her go home from school, say goodbye to the nurse taking care of her husband, then take care of him herself, night after night. She’d make dinner for them both, then genty feed him before eating anything herself. Then she would give him his medicine and read to him from one of his favorite books or from the newspaper. Night after night she continued doing everything for him as he continued to get worse. Then one night, after waving goodbye to the nurse on duty, she went to her husband’s side and cried. She cried about how much she loved him and how much she missed him. I could feel her pain. She cried about how weak she was. Then she went to the kitchen and fixed them both dinner, vegetable soup, pretty much the only thing he could eat any more.
I wanted to pull my arm away, to just leave her there in the bed, but I knew that if I left, Lucifer would make sure I had another chance and another, until I completed my assignment. And who knows how many other people might be hurt in the process? I couldn’t take that chance so I forced myself to stand there and watch as the scene unfolded in my mind.
Mrs. Reader once again fed her husband, though this time she didn’t eat anything herself. Instead, she grabbed his pill organizer. There were separate compartments for each day of the week but instead of giving him the pills for one day she opened every compartment and pulled out the small yellow pill from each of them. I couldn’t tell you what type of pill it was, but she seemed to know exactly which one she wanted. Then gently, she coaxed him to swallow each of them, one after the other. Then she kissed his forehead, pulled the blanket around him and walked away, going back into the kitchen to do the dishes with tears running down her face.
Several minutes later, with the dishes washed, dried and put away, she returned to her husband’s side. He looked peaceful, like he was sleeping. But then she pressed her fingers to his wrist, cried once more, then went to the telephone. The paramedics were there in no time but they could only confirm what she’d already known. It was at that point that I felt the relief wash over her.
The vision continued to play out in my mind as I tried to process what I’d already seen. She killed him. Her husband. Obviously it tore her up to do so, but she’d done it anyway. I couldn’t wrap my head around it. But then I remembered what I’d done. Just a few days ago I wouldn’t have thought I was capable of killing anyone, and though I didn’t physically carry out the killings, I was responsible for two deaths. So how could I be surprised that she killed him. Was it out of malice? Out of desperation? Out of love? I don’t think anyone could say, least of all, Ms Reader herself. But did it even matter? With the others, I could feel their anger and their hatred. I could feel the evil that caused them to do what they did. With Mrs. Reader all I felt was overwhelming sadness.
“Are you okay?” Mrs. Reader asked, pulling her hand from mine. “You have a pained look on your face.”
“I was just thinking about something I have to do.”
“I’m sorry, you must have a lot to do and I’ve been taking up your time,” she replied. “I won’t keep you any longer.”
“She had lived a long life,” I told myself. And she would be happy being with her husband again. That made my decision to do it a little easier but it didn’t help me decide how. Yes, she killed her husband but she didn’t deserve to suffer. And it would look really strange if she were to die while I was standing beside her bed, so I knew it couldn’t be right at that moment. But Lucifer did say several times that I could do it when and how I wanted, so I grabbed her hand and immediately pictured her falling asleep that night, long after I left. I pictured her laying there peacefully then gently passing away. Somehow, knowing that she wouldn’t suffer made it a little easier. I knew I’d done everything I could, given the position we were both in.
I felt the energy move through me again, reassuring me that my task had been completed.
“It was nice meeting you,” I said, releasing her hand.
“And it was very nice meeting you,” she replied, “Thank you again, for everything you’ve done for me.”
There was a knowing look in her eyes that made me question what she meant by that. Could she possibly know what I’d just done? The question lingered with me as I left her room and walked back to my bike. It stayed with me as I made my way home, the ride was nothing but a blur.
The street was pretty quiet as I pulled up behind a white Taurus stopped at a red light. We both sat there for a minute waiting for the light to change, and even then, the Taurus didn’t seem to be in any hurry to take off through the intersection. I thought about honking, but I still had plenty of time to reach the school so I just waited, giving them a chance to get moving before I even let out on the clutch. It took them long enough, but just as I was about to follow them into the intersection, I heard the squealing of the gravel truck’s tires as it locked up it’s brakes trying to stop, only by then, it was too late. The sound of the massive vehicle hitting the Taurus was incredible and sickening at the same time, like nothing else I’d ever heard.
The impact spun the car around in circles and slammed it against the curb on the far side of the road as pieces flew in every direction. I didn’t wait for the car to come to a complete stop before racing the bike to within a few feet of the mangled wreck and tearing my helmet off. There was only about half a car left so I knew the driver couldn’t be in great shape but the black smoke pouring out what was left of the engine compartment and the overwhelming gasoline odor told me I had to get them out of there. The driver side door was completely crumbled and the window was nothing but a fractured spider web of glass pieces so I braced myself for whatever shape the driver would be in. There was no way I could have prepared for what I saw when I finally got the door open.
Mrs. Reader was leaning forward, her head resting on the steering wheel like she was asleep but all the blood pouring out of the gash across her forehead told me she might not be sleeping. To make things worse, my first thought wasn’t about how I could help her or how I might save her, it was that I might have gotten out of being responsible for her death and for a brief moment I felt a sense of relief. The callousness of the thought hit me like a brick, but then she moved, slightly, and I knew I had to do something.
Smoke was building up but I couldn’t reach past Mrs. Reader to kill the ignition. Instead, I reached beneath the driver’s seat and was able to find the lever to slide it back, un-pinning her from the steering wheel. With the extra room I was able to remove her seatbelt even though she was still unconscious. Taking a deep breath I readied myself for whatever images I’d be flooded with, then grabbed her up.
I don’t know what I expected to see from her. Maybe I had just become a little jaded after what I’d seen from the others and expected the worst, but from her all I saw were visions of her taking care of the special needs kids at school, then going home to take care of her sick husband. I’d heard about her husband but he had died several years before I even reached high school, though he seemed to be in most of the vision sequences. From the way he looked, he must have been suffering from some sort of dementia and been unable to really take care of himself, though he had an in-home nurse when Mrs. Reader was at school.
I did my best to push the visions from my head and concentrate on getting us both away from the car. She was a lot heavier than I’d expected so I barely managed to stumble across the road and into someone’s yard before falling to the ground with her.
I don’t know whose house we were actually at, but someone came rushing out to see if we were okay. I’d let go of Mrs. Reader when we fell, stopping the visions before I could see anything I didn’t want to, so besides a little exhaustion from the adrenaline dump I was doing okay. Mrs. Reader, on the other hand, didn’t look good at all. The homeowner was on the phone with 911 and I was just starting to second guess whether I should have moved her from the car when the white Taurus burst into flames thirty feet away from us.
With everything going on around me, the KZ was the last thing I should have been thinking about, but when I saw the flames engulfing the car just a few feet from my bike I ran back across the street and stood it up, quickly kicking it to life. My helmet was still laying on the ground by the Taurus but the heat coming off the car was already intense, and I’d rather lose the helmet than the bike, so I left it and pulled the bike a safe distance away.
The homeowner was still with Mrs. reader and I heard sirens in the distance so I knew everything was under control. I also knew that if I was late to in-school suspension things would be even worse for me so rather than wait around, I took off again, using a couple side roads to avoid the first responders as I made my way to school.
The KZ wasn’t quite running as smooth as it had been, but I kept going anyway and made it to the dungeon, smelling of sweat and smoke, just before the tardy bell rang. Vice-principal Miller was our warden for the day and he looked disappointed to see me. I just smiled at him and took my seat.
The first couple hours passed slowly as I tried to work on a history assignment but I just couldn’t concentrate. The wreck, and everything that happened after it, kept replaying in my head. And after each replay I started second guessing myself. Mrs. Reader was my next assignment. Had I not stopped, not pulled her from the wreckage, the whole thing might have taken care of itself. But by not doing something, I probably would have felt just as responsible.
But then I had her in my arms, and I could have done what I needed to right then, but I didn’t. I had the opportunity to complete that assignment and didn’t take it. So the question then became whether I would have another opportunity, and if so, could I take it?
I was still staring at the same page, chasing the same thoughts around my head, when the lunch bell rang. For those of us stuck in the Dungeon it meant brown bag lunches – a cold meat sandwich, an apple and a bag of chips. It wasn’t awful but it wasn’t filling either, basically just enough to get you through the school day without your belly growling too loud. About halfway through my extremely thin turkey and swiss on wheat there was a knock at the door. I didn’t bother even looking up until someone called my name.
“Mr. Holden,” they called out again. This time I saw who was yelling for me and unfortunately it was Principal Rooney, now standing just inside the room beside vice-principal Miller.
“I need to see you out here for a minute, and bring your things.”
I hadn’t done anything new to get myself in trouble, so I racked my brain trying to think of something I’d done in the past that they might have just caught on to as I quickly gathered my stuff. Nothing came to mind which made the trip out to the hallway even more unsettling. It’s hard to come up with an excuse for something if you didn’t know what it was.
“I understand there was some kind of accident this morning,” he said, closing the door behind me.
“You can’t really think I had anything to do with that,” I said, instantly feeling defensive.
“I didn’t say you did,” he replied as he led me up the stairs towards his office. “But you were there?”
“Yeah,” I replied, trying to choose my words carefully. “I mean I was behind Mrs. Reader when it happened, but I had nothing to do with it. The light turned green and she went into the intersection but the dump truck just didn’t stop in time.”
“And that’s when you got involved?”
“I guess. I mean, it wasn’t like I wanted to, but the car was pretty messed up and had a lot of smoke coming from it. I was afraid that it was going to catch fire so I just got her out of there. Why? Was that the wrong thing to do? Did I hurt her more?”
“No, it’s nothing like that,” Principal Rooney said, his face softening a little as he opened his office door. Inside was a firefighter still wearing half his gear with my motorcycle helmet in his hands.
“I’m Sergeant Cooper,” he said, handing me my helmet. “I take it that this is yours?”
There were a couple of fresh scratches from where I had thrown the helmet off but otherwise it didn’t look any worse for the wear.
“It was so close to the car,” I said, amazed that there wasn’t a single burn mark. “I thought for sure I’d lost it.”
“So it was you who pulled her from the burning car?”
“Well it wasn’t actually burning when I pulled her out, it was just smoking a bit.”
“That was very heroic,” Sergeant Cooper continued, “Why didn’t you stick around.”
I really didn’t know how to respond to that.
“It wasn’t heroic, it was just what needed to be done,” I said. “And I guess I didn’t stick around because I’d already done what I could do, and real help was on the way; I heard the sirens. And besides, I needed to get to school. I’d gotten into a little trouble the other day and I didn’t want to get into more trouble for being late.”
Principal Rooney chuckled a little as Sergeant Cooper glanced his way.
“It was just a small incident,” he said, “and I think Nathaniel here, in light of all that has happened, deserves a little leniency.”
I just looked at him as I was trying to figure out exactly what he was saying.
“You can return to your regularly scheduled class,” he clarified.
“Before you do,” Sergeant Cooper said, “I just want to thank you for what you did.”
He held out his hand, and for a moment I hesitated. I didn’t want to be disrespectful, but I also didn’t want to see whatever images might flood my mind. Unfortunately, I couldn’t think of any way around it, so I reached out and shook his hand.
The image of Sergeant Cooper, younger and a little less fit, stumbling through a crowded bar filled my thoughts. I saw him struggling to make it from the front door to his car, as he dropped his keys several times before finally unlocking the green Trans Am and climbing inside.
I felt myself tense up, trying to push the image away and he instantly released his grip. A sense of relief flooded through me as the image faded before I could see what happened next.
“Are you okay?” He asked.
“Yeah”, I replied, rubbing my palm with my other hand. “I guess my hand is just a little sore.”
“Maybe you should get that checked out by the nurse, and make sure you didn’t do any damage while you were saving Ms. Reader.”
“I don’t think I really saved her, I just…”
“Speaking of Mrs. Reader,” Principal Rooney said. “She is recovering at the hospital and would like for you to visit her.”
“What? I, uh, really don’t know about that…”
“Nonsense,” he replied. “She just wants the opportunity to thank you herself. You can stop by on your way home and the whole thing will only take a few minutes.”
The word opportunity hit me like a dump truck. Lucifer had said he’d give me the opportunity to complete my task, so I instantly knew he was responsible for the accident that morning. And since I didn’t take the opportunity that morning, he was making sure I had another chance. How many chances was he going to give me? And at what cost? So far no one but Mrs. Reader had been hurt, but that could easily change.
“Yeah, I’ll do it,” I said, probably more to myself than to anyone in that room.
“Well, It was nice meeting you,” Sergeant Cooper said, with a wave as I slipped out of the office.
Since it was lunch time, and I was out of the dungeon, that meant I was supposed to be in the cafeteria but I really wasn’t ready to be around other people so I took my time getting there, stashing my helmet in my locker on my way. Weed was at our usual table with a shocked look on his face as I walked up.
“I got a pardon,” I said, answering the question he hadn’t yet asked.
“So did you really do it? Did you pull a pregnant teacher and a litter of puppies from a burning car just before it exploded?”
“Not exactly,” I said. “You know better than to listen to hallway gossip.”
“Then how’d you get out of suspension?”
I really just wanted a cigarette, but didn’t want to chance getting caught, so I just sat there, grabbed a couple of his fries, and then told him what really happened, including the fact that Mrs. Reader was my latest assignment.
When I finished he just sat there for a minute taking it all in.
“So why’d you do it? Why’d you save her?”
“I don’t know,” I replied, “it just seemed like the right thing to do.”
“And now you have to off her?”
“I don’t know, I guess so.”
The casual way we’d just discussed killing a teacher was a little unsettling, but we finished out the last little bit of lunch in comfortable silence, then headed to class together. A few people stared or pointed my way but I ignored them the same way they’d always ignored us, partially out of spite, but mainly because I really didn’t care what they thought. The rest of the day went pretty much the same but this time no one was waiting by the bike or Weed’s car when we left. I was thankful for that.
Weed knew I had to stop by the hospital and even offered to join me, but I wasn’t exactly sure what I was going to do and having him there would just make things even more awkward.
“I’ll just catch up with you after mom heads to work, alright?”
“No problem,” he said before taking off in the Weed wagon.
That left me no other excuse not to go to the hospital.
My saturday night wasn’t terrible, but since I was grounded, and mom wanted to feel like she was actually punishing me, she picked out the movies we watched. Desk set, starring Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, was one of her favorites. She followed that up with the Swiss Family Robinson. Even though it was from 1960, it had been one of my favorites as a kid so I’m pretty sure that’s why she chose it. It held up surprisingly well, and I actually enjoyed watching both of them, but I wouldn’t admit that to anyone else.
“I think I’m going to head to bed,” I said as soon as the second movie ended.
“Are you feeling alright?”
It was just after 11:oo so she had every right to be a little concerned. I hadn’t gone to bed before midnight on a saturday night since I was twelve.
“Yeah, I’m just tired. It’s been a long week.”
It wasn’t a lie; I was tired. Tired of not knowing what was going on with Shawna, tired of school, tired of my deal with Lucifer.
“Okay, well you sleep well; I’ll try to keep the noise down.”
“You know that’s never an issue,” I replied as I headed upstairs.
Even though I was tired, I wasn’t quite ready to sleep, so I just shut off the lights, cracked my window and lit up a cigarette while staring out into the darkness. I’m sure mom knew that I smoked, but she pretended not to know so I made it as easy as possible by not doing it in front of her. And normally I wouldn’t smoke in my room when she was home, but that night I needed one, and then another, and another. But the cigarettes didn’t help me, they just gave me something to do while all sorts of thoughts swirled in my head.
When the tobacco didn’t work I thought about lighting up my emergency joint, but then decided against it. Instead, I turned on one of my favorite movies, Point Break. I’d watched it at least two dozen times, and I would probably watch it two dozen more. Sure, I was grounded, though mom grounding me usually just meant I wasn’t allowed to go out and have fun. But I didn’t want to take a chance of pissing her off so I kept my door shut and the volume down.
Something about that movie always draws me in and by the time Utah goes night surfing for the first time I’ve usually forgotten about anything else, but for some reason it wasn’t working that night. After watching the whole thing, I decided to switch gears and put in Shawshank Redemption. It was a great movie too but I figured it would be slow enough to help lull me to sleep. It worked, but with some less than pleasant consequences.
That night my dreams were all sorts of messed up. At one point the Sisters were chasing me through the showers and I woke up just before they caught me, and just before I started screaming.
The alarm clock let me know it was only three am but my heart was racing so I was not about to go back to sleep. I thought about going over to Weed’s to see if he was still awake, but I doubted it. And if I was being honest with myself, he wasn’t the person I really wanted to see.
Out of desperation I lit up the last joint I had hidden in an altoid can at the back of my desk drawer. It, along with another couple of cigarettes, helped ease me back to sleep, and this time my dreams weren’t quite as messed up.
By the time I woke up Sunday morning the sun was shining a little too brightly through my bedroom window so I forced myself to get up and head downstairs.
“About time you got up,” Mom said.
She was stirring a large pot on the stove, and from the smell I was pretty sure it was chili. That really wasn’t one of my favorite foods, but it was cheap and easy for her. She could start a batch early in the day and it would be ready by dinner time without a lot of effort, so I never complained.
“I thought you were going to sleep all day.”
“It’s not like I have anything else to do.”
I regretted the words as soon as they left my mouth.
“Do you really want to get into this?”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it, I just didn’t sleep well,”
“So you’ll just go to bed a little early tonight.”
“I can hope.”
“Well this might help,” she said, handing me a slip of paper.”
“A list of things you’ve said you’d help with around here. It should give you plenty to do while you’re grounded.”
“I said I was sorry.”
“And I accept your apology. Now would you like a bowl of cereal before you start on that list?”
She was serious, and I knew better than to complain, or worse yet, try to fight her on it. I had told her I’d help with each and everything on the list, but I’d just kept putting them off.
“Thanks, but I’ll just grab a Mountain Dew and get started,” I replied.
The grass was getting a little long, and the garage did need cleaned out, but that wasn’t exactly how I wanted to spend my Sunday, especially with the KZ sitting in the driveway begging me to go for a ride.
I started off by mowing the grass, but we didn’t have much of a yard so even with an old push mower it didn’t quite take an hour. Then it was time to start on the garage. Over the years the garage had become the place to store anything and everything we no longer used, but couldn’t get rid of; and we couldn’t seem to get rid of anything.
The garage was supposed to be a three car garage, but there were so many boxes stashed away that we could only ever fit one car in it. I didn’t know exactly what my mom’s plan was, but the idea of cleaning it out enough that Pamela might fit in it was exciting, so I jumped right into it, starting towards the back of the garage where there was sure to be plenty of stuff to throw away.
Forty minutes later, I finally made it to some boxes not labeled “precious memories” or “do not throw away”. The first couple were filled with all sorts of old paperwork; tax documents and receipts from the 70’s. I knew mom couldn’t justify keeping them, so I moved them to the driveway, starting my trash pile. The pile slowly continued to grow over the next hour and a half, until I reached a lockbox with the key still in the lock. I was sure mom wouldn’t want the lock box thrown out, but I had no idea why she had it stashed out in the garage instead of in the house.
“Mom?” I hollered, then glanced at my watch and realized she wouldn’t answer. It was three oclock on a Sunday afternoon, which meant she’d be taking a nap before her shift at the diner, followed by another one at the hospital.
I set the box off to the side, so I could continue clearing out other junk, hoping to at least make enough room for the KZ to have a new home, but every time I passed by that lockbox, I stopped and stared. After another half-hour of tormenting myself, I finally couldn’t take it anymore.
The lockbox couldn’t have weighed more than a couple pounds, but it felt very heavy as I carried it to a small workbench I’d managed to clear off towards the back of the garage. I told myself that if it was important she wouldn’t have left it out there, but I knew that wasn’t necessarily true. I hesitated once more, with my hand gripping the key, but only for a second.
The key turned easily, releasing the lid with the slightest click. Inside I found nothing but a pile of papers, some in envelopes, and some just stapled or paperclipped together. I skimmed through the stack pretty quickly, not finding anything of interest until I reached the final envelope at the bottom of the box.
My mom never talked about my dad, and he’d never been in my life, at least not that I could remember, so I never cared to ask about him. Maybe I should have, or maybe she wouldn’t have told me the truth about him if I had asked. I really don’t know, but the restraining order in my hand told me everything I needed to know about him. And as I put it back into the lockbox, I was truly happy that I’d never known him.
As I continued cleaning out the garage, I couldn’t help but think about the restraining order and about what it actually meant. Things had to have been really bad for mom to go through the trouble of getting a restraining order. So what did that mean about the type of person my dad was? What might have he done? What did she have to put up with? They were thoughts I didn’t enjoy having so I pushed them out of my mind, but the questions continued to bug me, even as we ate dinner that evening, but I didn’t want to bring it up. I don’t know if I was uncomfortable discussing it, or if I just really didn’t want to know the answers. It was probably a combination. But regardless, mom could tell something was bugging me, though she seemed to think it was just me grounding.
“You did a great job on the garage,” she said. “So, I think that was enough punishment.”
I looked up from my bowl of chili, a little surprised.
“And I’d be fine with it if you want to have Weed over to watch a movie, or something.”
“Uh, thanks. But I think he’s busy with his mom.”
“Okay, then maybe Shawna…”
“Uh, she probably has plans with her boyfriend.”
“Well it couldn’t hurt to ask.”
She was wrong about that. It could hurt quite a lot to ask, but I wasn’t going to argue with her, especially right after getting ungrounded early.
“Thanks, I’ll think about asking her.
“Good. Now I’ve got to get ready for work.”
After she left for work I thought about heading to Weed’s to wait for him to get back, but I didn’t really know what good that would do. Instead, I went upstairs and put on Revenge of the Nerds. It’s one of those movies you can watch over and over again whenever you need a laugh. And it worked, for a little while. As soon as it ended, I started thinking about my mom, again, imagining several scenarios that might have caused the restraining order. To take my mind off it again, I put in One Crazy Summer. I was definitely an outsider and had wanted to be an artist and a cartoonist as a kid, so I kind of related to John Cusak’s character on multiple levels. It was another movie I could watch too many times without getting tired of it, and I had. I’d watched it so many times, in fact, that the VCR tape was beginning to wear out. Eventually I’d have to get it on DVD, but that would require a DVD player, and who had an extra thousand dollars sitting around to pay for one of those?
When I woke up at midnight, I realized that the movie’s had finally worked. I also realized that Lucifer must have taken the night off because the tv was filled only with static, and not his face or voice in any form. I stayed awake long enough to shut off the tv then rolled over and got the night of sleep I needed.
It was such a good night of sleep, that I hopped out of bed a few minutes before the alarm went off, and was even done eating breakfast earlier than normal.
“Are you going to make it to dinner tonight?” Mom asked as I cleaned up my breakfast dishes and gathering my things for school.
“Definitely,” I replied, glancing at the clock one last time before throwing my backpack over my shoulder and heading out the back door. I was leaving a few minutes early but I didn’t want to take any chances by stopping by Weed’s or even by taking the scenic route, so I headed straight towards the school. Two blocks away, though, all my plans changed.
Half an hour later I found myself out by the old quarry and somehow knew where I was heading but I still didn’t know why. It made no sense, but I just went with it anyways, pulling into Finkenbine’s gravel drive a few minutes later.
“Didn’t expect to see you again so soon,” he said, “…on a weekday, …during school hours.”
“Yeah, me neither.”
“So how’d you end up here?”
“It’s a long story.”
There was that weird feeling between us again and I really didn’t know what to make of it.
“Well, I’ve got all day,” he continued, “and I’m guessing you do too, at least until school officially lets out.”
“You’re probably right.”
He stood there for a minute, not really looking at me but not not looking at me either.
“Let’s go this way,” he said, and for some reason I followed, past the gate and through the tunnel of junk to the salvage yard. From there he took me to the left, to a part of the salvage yard I hadn’t seen before. He led me past the appliances, past the dismantled cars and old industrial equipment all the way to the very back of the yard. And there, standing in the corner was one of the last things I would have expected to see; a sailboat.
It wasn’t one of those small ones that a couple people could fit on if they were small enough, it was huge, at least from where I was standing. It had to have been 40 feet long, and the thing was up on boat stands which meant the deck was at least 15 feet off the ground. It didn’t look the slightest bit ready for sailing, but I could clearly see where a lot of work had already been done, starting its restoration. It would have been a massive project for Finkenbine to take on by himself, and I was still trying to figure out why we were back there as he continued up a rope ladder. With no other option I could think of, I followed him.
Up on the deck I could see almost the entire salvage yard and it was even larger than I’d thought. From up there, though, I felt larger too. It was an incredible view I couldn’t have imagined existed so I just kind of scanned the whole yard, trying to take it all in. There were more cars, and more junk, than I could have thought possible, all intricately organized into stacks and piles only Finkenbine understood.
As I was distracted by what I was seeing, Finkenbine disappeared below deck but quickly returned with a couple beers, handing me one. It was ice cold, so obviously the boat had electricity or a really good cooler. I had to wonder what other surprises it held.
“I usually don’t bring anyone up here,” he said, settling himself down on a lemon and lime colored folding lawn chair that looked like it was older than me.
That had to be his way of apologizing for not having another chair, so I just made myself comfortable on a wooden crate.
“I grew up with boats,” he said, taking a drink of his beer as he looked over his salvage yard. It was 9:00 AM and I wasn’t accustomed to day-drinking but a beer did sound good, so I popped the top and took a swig too.
“But I never really understood them, or even really liked them,” he continued. “They’re slow and difficult to control. And they’re a lot of work. Bikes and cars can be a lot of work but at least they’re fast. I like to go fast.”
He took another drink but continued to just stare out across his kingdom.
“I started this project quite a few years ago as a favor for a friend, Buck. He’d won it in a poker game but knew nothing about boats. I offered to help him restore it in return for Mort.”
“Mort? Your hearse?”
“That’s the one. Buck liked to gamble, loved to gamble, really. He’d won Mort in a different poker game. It was in worse shape than the boat and Buck was thinking about just crushing it for scrap value but I couldn’t let that happen. So I ended up with two projects. Buck came over a few times to work on the boat, and in between visits I worked on Mort, got him up and running just in time too, but he was still in rough shape the first time I had to put him to use.”
Finkenbine continued to sit there for a moment, his face like stone, but I saw something in his eyes that told me not to push. Instead I just took another drink. Finkenbine did the same, finishing his beer before I finished mine. Without saying a word, he went back below deck, returning with two more beers and a newspaper clipping which he handed to me. It was the obituary for John “Buck” Buckman.
“Buck loved bikes too. We rode together for years, with a group of guys who’d do anything for you. Even though he liked bikes, Buck liked gambling more and got himself into trouble. And instead of asking his friends for help, he got himself in over his head.”
The obituary said Buck missed a turn on his motorcycle and went over a cliff, suffering extensive trauma which caused his death. The look on Finkenbine’s face told a different story.
“His was the first funeral I drove Mort for, and after that it just kind of became a tradition.”
I didn’t know how to respond to that, but I didn’t think he was really looking for a response.
“Years passed before I could bring myself to work on this thing again,” he said, tapping his foot on the deck. “And by then I started to understand. People change; we change. The people and things we value early in life aren’t necessarily what we find important later on.”
I understood the general message but there seemed to be more he just wasn’t flat out saying and I wasn’t getting it. I wanted to ask questions, but I didn’t know what to ask so we just sat there in silence until we both finished our second beer.
“So are you going to tell me how you ended up here today?”
“I’ve just got a lot going on, things I have to do that I’d rather not do. And people I’ve upset that I wished I hadn’t. It’s all kind of overwhelming. I just needed a break.”
“I get that. Everyone needs a break at times, as long as it doesn’t turn into an excuse to run away, either from people or responsibilities. At the end of the day, we sometimes have to do the very last thing we want to.”
He was right, and I knew it. I had to face what I’d done, to mom and to Shawna. And I had to live up to my end of the deal with Lucifer.
“Yeah, you’re right; and I guess it’s about time for me to get back to those responsibilities,” I said standing up from the crate.
“Are you sure you’re fine to get on your bike?” He asked.
“Yeah, I’m good,” I replied as I moved to the ladder. “Thanks though, you know, for what you said…and for the beer.”
“Thanks for the visit. Sometimes it’s nice to have someone to drink with, though let’s not make this a habit. And next time you find yourself needing a break from everything, feel free to bring a paint brush with you, this thing could use a nice coat of paint.”
“Deal,” I said, waving to him as I climbed back down the ladder.
I was able to find my way back through the junkyard without too much trouble and by the time I reached my bike I was already feeling much better. But unfortunately feeling better didn’t make what I had to do any easier, though the beers did help a little. Thinking of them, I pulled a pack of gum from my bookbag and popped a piece in my mouth before slipping on my helmet, firing up the bike, and heading back to school.
“Nice of you to re-join us”, vice-principal Miller said as I walked through the front door. I’m sure the sound of the bike let him know I’d returned, and that gave him plenty of opportunity to get to the door to greet me.
“Yeah, must have been something I ate for breakfast that didn’t agree with me. I feel much better now.”
“I’m sure you do,” he said, “but not for much longer. The handbook says I can only give you in-school suspension for what you did or else you’d be out of here right now, but I’m going to personally make sure the next three school days are the worst of your high school career”
“I appreciate the personal attention, but it’s really not necessary,” I said, grabbing the suspension slip from his hands. “I’m sure you have some innocent kids’ locker to search or some lunch lady to harass.”
The look on Mr. Miller’s face was priceless as I headed to the in-school suspension room, a barely renovated old steam room on the bottom floor of the school, affectionately referred to as “The Dungeon”. Various teachers took turns watching over the juvenile delinquents throughout the day so no one teacher was stuck with them the whole time. Mr. Whitesock, the freshman basketball coach, was there when I opened the door.
“I thought you had left us for the day,” he said, reviewing the attendance sheet as I took my seat.
“I’m feeling much better now.”
“I bet you are,” a kid two seats away said, reaching his hand to high five me. “We all would feel better doing that to a teacher.”
“That’s enough,” Mr. Whitesock said. “There’s to be no talking of any kind. Anyone who wants an extra day added to their punishment can try me on that.”
The leader of my fan club settled back into his seat with a smile on his face. I hadn’t really thought about what I’d done, and I sure as hell didn’t do it to score any points with other students like that, though I did kind of like the feeling of infamy. But if I had my choice, I would have preferred to have no attention from anyone. Unfortunately, as I was heading out to my bike after that first excessively long day of sitting in one seat, it became quite obvious that I wasn’t going to be able to disappear into the background as quickly as I’d hoped.
It started off with just a couple people glancing my way with a smile, or giving me a thumbs up, and that was bad enough, but then came the whistles from across the parking lot. There were even several people just hanging out near my bike and Weed’s chevette. The unimpressed look on Weed’s face said it all.
“Hey is it true…?” one of them started to ask.
“Don’t believe everything you hear,” I replied, putting on my helmet.
“Hey man, I’m telling you, I was there I saw you…”
I kick started the bike before he could finish. Whatever I did or didn’t do wasn’t so I could become some upper class hero to the likes of them. But even the sound of my engine drowning them out didn’t seem to stop them. They just grinned even more and started yelling even louder. Weed pulled out of his spot, having to honk his horn to get one of the dumbasses to move out of his way. I followed right behind.
As we pulled out of the parking lot a couple of the guys jumped into a pickup truck and started to tail us with one of them standing in the bed waving. Weed obviously saw, and headed down a couple side roads to see if they’d stick with us. They did, so he did the next logical thing, he took the first street out of town and gunned it.
It was a back country road that really didn’t lead to anywhere for at least ten miles so as soon as we passed the city limit sign I gunned it too. I was able to stick pretty close to Weed for the first quarter mile but the pickup never had a chance. Like a replay of the last time we raced, though, Weed continued to pull away even though I had the throttle pinned wide open. A quick glance behind me confirmed that we’d left the pickup far behind us but Weed just kept going. A mile further I started to feel a little sketchy at 120 mph so backed off the throttle and settled back down to a comfortable double digit speed and quickly lost sight of him. Another mile later I saw the sign for Milford road so I slowed even more to take it. Milford was the quickest way back to Weed’s house so I assumed that was the way he went. I was wrong.
Back at Weed’s place I pulled the KZ next to the garage even though his car was nowhere to be seen. Pamela was sitting in the garage just as we’d left her the night before so I went inside to give her the once over. The progress was a little slower than I would have liked but she was definitely looking better. I’d even let Weed finally convince me to replace the old radio with a new one he’d picked up at a swap meet at the beginning of summer but that would be one of the last things we replaced so it was still sitting in the box on the workbench at the back of the garage.
Popping the driver’s side door and sliding behind the wheel I could almost picture how she was going to look and feel once we were finished but as soon as I did, the red glow from the in-dash radio interrupted my daydream.
“Decided to take the day off?” His voice asked before I had a chance to slide back out.
“It wasn’t exactly something I planned.”
“Like I said, it doesn’t make a difference to me. You choose when and how, I just thought you’d be in more of a hurry to finish.”
“I can’t wait to be done, to be rid of you, but It’s not like I had a good opportunity to meet up with Mrs. Reader.”
“Get rid of me? I’m hurt.; I’ve done nothing but try to help you. And maybe I can prove it to you.”
I really didn’t like the sound of that.
“That’s really not necessary.”
“I know you want to live up to your end of our deal, and you’re going to have a hard time doing that while you’re stuck in in-school suspension, so I’ll help you out.”
“You really don’t need to do that,” I said, trying to figure out why just the thought of him “helping” me made me so uneasy.
“It’s my pleasure,” he replied.
I just continued to sit there as his voice and the red light faded away.
“I really didn’t expect you to be here.”
I jumped at the sound of Weed’s voice. The Chevette was loud enough that I should have heard it, but I must have been so lost in my own thoughts, or fears, that I completely missed it.
“Where else would I be?”
“I don’t know, with your new fan club or something.”
“Look, I’m no happier about them, or about all of this shit, than you are.”
“Then why’d you do it? You know the teachers leave us alone because we leave them alone. Now all of that’s going to change.”
“I know. I just, you know, had enough. I had a bad night, didn’t sleep again and I wasn’t thinking…”
“Don’t tell me this is about Shawna again.”
“Look, it’s not just her, it’s everything.”
“Everything, including her?”
Yeah, I guess.”
“If you couldn’t sleep you should have come to me; I’ve got something to fix that. I just don’t have anything to fix your hangup on her.”
“I didn’t want to drag you into any of this more than I already have.”
“I’ll always be there for you man. Don’t shut me out for any reason.”
“It’s not that simple. I mean, I’m responsible for, you know, killing people and stuff. I can’t make that go away and I can’t make you have to deal with that stuff.”
“I told you, I’ve got your back, no matter what.”
The look on his face told me he was serious; that there was no way I was going to be able to get rid of him. That made me feel a little better and a little more apprehensive at the same time.
“So are you going to sit there pretending to drive or are we going to get a little work done on her?” Weed asked, grabbing a couple pairs of gloves from the shelf beside the boombox and tossing one to me.
“You really do know just what I need.”
“I sure do,” he said, cranking the music.
Metallica kicked off “50 minutes of music every hour” as we got to work. We pulled off the old headers and exhaust, replacing them with a more free-flowing system. Once again it was nasty work on rusty metal, and I loved every minute of it. The entire time we were underneath that car I was focussed on the task at hand, or on whatever goofy topic came to Weed’s mind; did Han shoot first? Was Indiana Jones really inconsequential to the outcome of Raiders? Which of us would make the better Keyser Soze? The topic really didn’t matter; what mattered was that I never once thought about Shawna, or Mrs. Reader, or any of the shit I’d done. For a little while I felt like me again and it felt good.
I got back home a little later than I wanted, and still needed a shower, thankfully this time my room remained dark when I was done. But even though Lucifer’s voice wasn’t coming from the television, I heard it in my head. Our whole conversation from that afternoon kept replaying in my mind. Thankfully Weed had sent home a little something to help with that. Cracking the window, I lit it up and with the first hit I started to feel better. I didn’t even need to finish the whole thing before I was ready to sleep, and for once, I did.
The next morning I woke feeling much better than I had for some time, until I got down stairs.
“What are you doing up?” I asked mom.
It was nine am on a Saturday morning. She should have gotten off work at seven, home by 7:15 and in bed by 7:30, 8:00 at the latest. Instead she was drinking a cup of coffee and folding laundry while waiting for me to get up.
“We need to talk,” she said, her face a combination of anger, exhaustion and disappointment.
“So they called you about yesterday, huh?”
“Of course,” she replied, “you’re not 18 yet. If you were, Vice-principal Miller probably would have had you kicked out of there by now.”
“I think there has to be some sort of board meeting before they can completely get rid of me.”
“It really bothers me that you know that.”
“I hear things.”
“But I don’t want you getting any ideas. I just want you to graduate.”
“I will, you don’t have to worry about that.”
“So what do I have to worry about?”
“Nothing,” I said, and I meant it. “I just had a bad day and reacted badly. It won’t happen again.”
“The whole thing with Shawna?” She asked, looking up from her coffee.
“That didn’t help things.”
“Did you have a good reason for skipping out on dinner?”
“No, I just got to working on Pamela and forgot. But I’m sure she read more into it. Or not. Maybe she was just looking for a reason to get mad at me. I really don’t know.”
“I’m sure things will return to normal if you just give her a little time.”
“I don’t even know what normal is anymore. Everything seems to be changing.”
“That’s called life,” she said. “No matter how much we’d like to stop it, life keeps on moving and keeps on changing. And we’ve just got to learn to keep up with it and roll with the punches.”
“I know, and I’m trying. And really, I don’t think I’m doing too bad with it, I just made a stupid mistake.”
“I get that,” she said, “But if you going to do something stupid, at least be smart about it.”
And that was my mother in a nutshell. Part disciplinarian, part friend, and part philosopher. She could make you feel awful about what you’d done, forgive you and offer sage advice all in one sentence.
“I will,” I replied. “I promise.”
“Good”, she said, picking up another shirt to fold. “But you realize I still have to punish you, right?”
“Yeah, I guess I knew that was coming.”
“Since you’ve got in-school suspension for three days, I think your grounding should be the same.”
“I guess that’s fair, but can I at least go to Weed’s to work on my car?”
She hesitated, looking like she was deep in thought. And for a moment I thought Pamela was going to have to wait.
“Tomorrow only, straight there and straight back, just to work on it. Sunday you’ll be here.”
“And be home before dinner.”
We spent the morning working on Pamela, only stopping at noon when we needed more parts.
“That’s great, and all, but I’m a little short on funds.”
I hated being so close to finishing her but too broke to get her roadworthy again. At least I had the KZ to get me around.
“I’m sure I can pick up a few hours stocking shelves at the hardware store, or maybe get hired in at the Burger Palace a couple nights…”
“Friends don’t let friends flip burgers.”
“It’ll only be for a little while…”
“Not on my watch.”
Weed made his way over to a metal shelving unit towards the rear of the garage and pulled a cardboard box from the top shelf.
“I’m sure this will be more than enough to cover the radiator, and probably anything else we might need from Finkenbine.”
I was a little confused. We’d been friends forever, and I’d spent countless hours in that garage, but I had no idea what was in the box or why it could possibly be so valuable.
I felt the anticipation grow as he slowly pulled his treasure from the box.
“That?” I asked, stifling a laugh. “That piece of junk will pay for a radiator?”
The gas tank was in worse condition than the KZ’s had been.
“Junk? Do you have any idea what this is?”
“A motorcycle gas tank pulled from the wreckage of the titanic?”
“Close, but not quite,” Weed said. “Finkenbine’s been after this for a long time, but I wasn’t ready to part with it. I figured one day I might have the rest of the bike to go with it.”
“And exactly what bike would that be?”
“A ‘54 Aniversary Yellow Harley Hydra-Glide.”
“A ‘54 Harley would be cool, but I still don’t see how that would be worth a whole lot to him.”
“Well, it’s not just the tank,” he said, before reaching back into the box. “He needs this too.”
Weed tossed a small medallion to me but I still didn’t understand.
“The 1954 Harley’s came with a special anniversary medallion on the front fender, but very few of them have survived so originals are worth a lot. I just wish that I’d found one attached to an original fender.”
I could tell how much those couple of pieces meant to him.
“Look, man, I can’t let you trade that just to get me a radiator. I mean I want to get Pamela back on the road, but…”
“Nah, don’t even worry about it. That stuff has just been sitting up there collecting dust.”
“But nothing,” he replied. “You know you’d do the same for me”
“Really I appreciate it, but I’m supposed to be grounded so I really shouldn’t…”
“Did you forget who you’re talking to? I’m the guy who’s helped you sneak out every time you’ve been grounded, so shut up and get in the car so we can get the radiator.”
Ten minutes later we pulled into the junkyard’s parking lot without having said another word.
“I didn’t expect to see you two here today,” Finkenbine said as he emerged from the garage beside the trailer.
“We need a radiator for Pamela” Weed replied before I had a chance.
“That shouldn’t be a problem.”
Finkenbine disappeared through the salvage yard gate so quickly we didn’t even have a chance to follow so instead we waited in awkward silence. Thankfully he returned almost as quickly as he’d left.
The radiator in his hands looked practically brand new, but there was still no way it was worth as much as the Harley parts.
“She’s a good one,” Finkenbine said, handing it to me. “What if we say an even $50.”
“Actually,” Weed chimed in, “I was hoping we could work out a trade.”
Finkenbine’s eyes lit up and a small grin stretched across his face.
“What kind of goodies have you brought for me?”
“Let’s take the radiator to the Weedmobile and we can show you.”
Finkenbine’s steps were even faster than usual, or maybe it just seemed that way because I was left carrying the radiator. Weed opened the rear door and for a moment Finkenbine just stared.
“Um…Can I put this in there?” I asked.
“Yeah, of course,” Finkenbine said, sliding over the box holding the Harley tank to make a little room.
“You know I’ve wanted this for quite a while,” he said.
“Yep,” Weed replied.
“But it’s not just the tank I need.”
“The medallion’s in there too.”
Finkenbine’s grin turned to a full blown smile.
“As much as I want these,” he said, with a fading smile, “you know it’s not a fair trade. And I don’t mind getting the better end of a deal, but this isn’t even close.”
“It’ll be a more even deal when you throw in the new windshield and another headlight.”
Finkenbine’s grin returned.
They shook on it without even looking my way.
“Now that the deal’s done,” FInkenbine said, “Let me show you what these parts will be going on.”
Weed and I followed him to the garage next to his trailer. He had shelf after shelf filled with parts, but the main area was taken up by two bikes. The first was a black trike completely decked out in chrome.
“Four speaker stereo, AC and even heated handgrips and seat,” Finkenbine said with pride. “I can almost ride it year-round, though it does start to get a little squirrely once the snow starts accumulating.”
I wanted to check out the trike a little more but FInkenbine moved on to the second bike, still underneath a cover.
“This is it?” Weed asked, his smile bigger than I’d ever seen.
“In all its glory,” Finkenbine replied, pulling back the cover.
The yellow bike stood in stark contrast to the black trike but it still seemed to suit Finkenbine, who stood next to it like a proud papa. It was missing a gas tank, but otherwise it was in pristine condition.
“She’s beautiful,” Weed and I said in unison.
“1954, Anniversary edition. I traded my first car for her when I was 18, and I rode her ever since. Well, at least until the accident.”
“So this is the bike you were on when…”
“I’d never know it,” I replied.
“After the accident she and I both needed a lot of work, but with this leg, I haven’t been able to ride her so I’ve had plenty of time to fix her up. And I’ve been able to find all the parts I needed, except for these two.”
He set the gas tank on the frame, and even though it was in rough shape compared to the rest of the bike, it was nice seeing the whole thing together.
“I’m glad we could help each other out,” Weed said, “but we really should get back to Pamela so we can get her radiator installed while there’s still daylight.”
“Sure, sure,” FInkenbine replied, his eyes not leaving the bike.
Weed and I looked at each other, then started towards the garage door.
“I’ll let you know when the windshield is in,” FInkenbine said with a wave, but he still didn’t take his eyes from the bike.
Weed smiled then looked at me and nodded towards the mail truck, so I just followed his lead.
He still didn’t say much on the way back to his place, but there was a different air about him as we pulled into the driveway.
“Now we’re really going to get somewhere with her,” Weed said, popping Pamela’s hood. And judging by the look on his face, he was as excited about it as I was.
I spent the afternoon being Weed’s little helper as he worked underneath my car. The original radiator, with rusted bolts and corroded hose clamps, fought us the whole way, but by the time dinner rolled around we’d managed to replace it with one that would actually hold coolant instead of leaking it all over his garage floor.
“I’ve really got to go,” I said, wiping my hands on a shop rag. “I promised mom I’d be home for dinner.”
“You going to sneak back over later?”
“No, she’s not working so she’ll probably be up most of the night.
“Sucks to be you.”
“Sucks to be you too,” I replied. “It’s not like you’ve got anyone else to hang out with.”
“The truth hurts.”
“Yes it does.”
“Tomorrow then?” I asked. “Get a little more work done on her?”
“Tomorrow’s no good. I promised mom I’d go with her to the outlet malls and that usually takes all day.”
“Wow, your life really does suck doesn’t it.”
“Yeah, but at least I can still leave my house tonight so right now my life doesn’t suck quite as much as yours.”
The work on Pamela seemed to be taking forever, but I could begin to see the progress we were making. And while we were fixing the damage from the accident, we were also fixing some of the other less pressing issues I’d put off; the passenger window crank that kept sticking, the weather seal on the trunk that leaked if it rained too hard; little things like that. Weed even suggested replacing the radio with one that actually worked but I hesitated. Only, I don’t know why. I had no problem replacing the broken parts with ones from the junkyard but Finkenbine didn’t have an original radio so I’d have to put in a modern one and I wasn’t quite ready to do that.
“That’s probably a good stopping point,” Weed said, tightening the bleeder valve on the last brake caliper. We’d completely replaced every brake line, with Weed doing most of the bending and flaring. I tried bending a couple pieces and wasted twice as much as we actually used so he took over from there. I just had to crawl underneath the car and install the new lines while trying to keep the rust from the old lines from falling into my eyes and mouth.
Glancing at the clock, I saw it was almost 9:30 pm, which gave me just enough time to make it home and into the shower before heading to bed. Then it dawned on me; I’d completely forgotten about dinner with Shawna and mom. How the Hell had I forgotten?
“I’ve got to go,” I yelled to Weed as I grabbed my helmet and ran to the KZ.
He just stared as I fired up the bike and literally burned rubber as I pulled from his driveway.
I made it home in no time, but even as I pulled up I knew I was way too late. The house was pitch black, which I should have expected. Mom had to work and Shawna would have been completely pissed at me, and rightfully so. I don’t know how I let it slip my mind so completely. I’m sure the thought of my next assignment had something to do with it but I couldn’t use that as an excuse with her.
Making my way into the house, I flipped on the kitchen light and saw a plate of meatloaf and mashed potatoes on the table, but no note. Part of me would have prefered if mom or Shawna had left a little note telling me how upset or disappointed they were with me. Not having one just seemed to make it worse. I thought about tossing the plate in the microwave but I didn’t have the appetite and instead headed towards my room. Crawling under the car for several hours had taken its toll on me and I was sure I’d be able to sleep like a baby once I climbed into bed. I contemplated waiting to shower until the morning. Then I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the hallway mirror on my way upstairs. Bits of rust and dirt were scattered throughout my hair, and there was enough grease on my face to lube an entire chassis, so shower it was. Only as I reached my room, I knew the shower would have to wait.
“I’m sorry,” I said to Shawna. She was sitting on my bed, not ten feet away but she didn’t even turn to face me. Instead, she just kept staring forward as she spoke.
“Your mom left you a plate on the table.”
“Yeah, I saw it. Was she pissed?”
“We had a nice time talking, catching up while we waited for you to show up. Eventually she had to head to work.”
“I know, I’m sorry. I don’t know how…”
“I wanted to come over, to know that things were still okay between us. I think I got my answer.”
“That’s not fair. I’m not the one who changed things between us.”
She finally looked at me, and that look said it all.
“Staying here to talk to you was a mistake,” she said, pushing past me.
“Wait,” I said, instinctively grabbing her arm as she pushed past me.
“Don’t touch me,” she yelled as she pulled her arm away. That’s when I saw the bruises.
“What are those?”
“Nothing,” she said, moving to the staircase.
“Did Matt do that to you?”
She just kept going. And I just kept standing there like an idiot, unsure what to do. Unsure what she wanted me to do. I was angry at myself for forgetting dinner, at her for blaming me for the way things were between us, and at Matt, for whatever he did to her. I wanted to do something to convince her she was wrong about me and wrong about Matt but I was sure going after her would only make things worse. The sound of the front door closing brought me back around and I remembered how filthy and tired I really was.
Letting my exhaustion win out over my anger, I stripped off my grime covered clothes and hopped into the shower. The hot water did nothing to keep me awake either, so as soon as I towelled off I was ready to fall into bed but as I stepped from the bathroom and saw the television glowing I knew that wasn’t going to happen right away.
“Come on, not tonight,” I said before I even made my way around to the front of the set.
“You can do it whenever you like,” Lucifer’s voice boomed from the TV.
“I’m exhausted and I’d never make it to wherever I need to go.”
“It’s probably best that you wait until tomorrow anyway, seeing how you’ll both be at school all day.”
My exhaustion faded a little as my interest piqued.
“You want me to get rid of someone at school?”
“Again, you can do it wherever and however you like,” he said, and I could hear the grin on his face even if I couldn’t see it.
A hundred possibilities rushed through my mind but I couldn’t even venture a guess who it might be. The soccer coach who only seemed to like his star players and detested any other students? The assistant principal who seemed to enjoy finding any reason to punish anyone? Or maybe even the lunch ladies who looked like they’d rather be serving prisoners in the state pen? It could have been any of them.
“So who is it this time?” I asked, before immediately knowing I’d regret it. But I couldn’t not know, so I braced myself as I moved around the television. The face that appeared on the screen was probably the last one I would have expected.
“Mrs. Reader?” I asked. “There’s no way.”
“I told you I’d only assign you the killers, rapists and child molesters so you know how it goes, you touch her and you’ll see exactly what she’s guilty of.”
Lucifer’s voice coming from the Special Ed teacher’s face was one of the most disturbing things I could have imagined.
“ You send her on and you’re one step closer to being done. Or if you’d prefer we can just forget about the deal. I’ll even let you say goodbye to your mom…”
“Enough. You’ve made your point.”
“Good. So our deal stands.”
“Yeah, but I just…I just can’t believe she’s done something to deserve that. I almost don’t want to know what she’s done.”
“Well tomorrow you will and you’ll send her on just like the others.”
The screen went black and I was left in darkness, with only a sliver of moonlight peeking through the window to see by. I thought about turning on a lamp but I made my way to the bed without it, even though I knew I was no longer ready to sleep. For some reason staying in the darkness felt a little better as I laid there with a thousand thoughts running through my head. What could she have done to deserve to die? And if it was really that bad, how was I going to send her on? Could I make it easy on her? Did she deserve something worse? But even if she had done something that bad, could I really do that to her? It had been hard enough to take care of Sowers, even though he was trying to kill me.
I really didn’t know Mrs. Reader personally but everyone at the school, hell, everyone in town and possibly in the state, knew everything she’d done for the kids she was in charge of. She was almost like a local hero, and I was going to have to put an end to everything she had done. The thoughts of her and what I was going to have to do kept running through my head until thoughts of Shawna took over, causing another round of restlessness. Eventually my mind gave in to my body, letting me sleep a little though it was anything but peaceful.
When morning came around I was no better off than I’d been the day before. I thought about asking Weed for some more of his energy potion but decided the chance of death wasn’t worth it. Worst case, I might have to use a couple classes to catch up on my sleep.
Two cups of instant coffee gave me enough energy to leave the house but I took my time getting to school. I don’t know who I was avoiding more, Weed, Shawna or Mrs. Reader. All I knew was that I was in no hurry to stop riding and by the time I pulled into the last available parking spot the final bell had already sounded.
Mr. Baker, the American History teacher, was writing a bunch of useless facts on the whiteboard and had his back to class as I entered the room and slipped into my seat. Somehow luck was on my side, or so I thought, until he started talking to me without even turning around.
“Nice of you to join my class Mr. Holden,” he said. “Maybe next time you can try to do so before the bell rings.”
Several comments jumped to mind but I bit my tongue, pretty sure pissing him off wouldn’t make me feel any better. Instead I nodded silently.
“No excuse or at least a snide remark?” He said, finishing his writing and finally turning to face me.
“No sir,” I replied, though I could feel my face starting to turn red.
“I was hoping for something good; maybe “I was abducted by aliens” or at least “I had a flat tire”, but nothing?”
I don’t know why, maybe it was the lack of sleep, or everything with Shawna, or even the whole Grim Reaper thing, but I just wasn’t in the mood to put up with some teacher who thought his class was the only thing that mattered. Grabbing my bookbag, I stood up and threw it over my shoulder, then turned and headed to the door.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Mr Baker asked as I turned the handle.
“This,” I said, flipping him the bird as I walked out of his class.
I heard him start to yell something but the laughter of the entire class drowned out whatever he was saying as I kept walking. I made it back out to the parking lot and even managed to get my helmet on without seeing another person but just as I kicked the KZ to life I saw the assistant principal rush out the doors. He was too late though, only reaching the bottom of the concrete stairs as I took off. I didn’t know where I was going, or even why, I just knew that I wanted to go, so I did.
I really don’t know why the tears came. Sowers was a bad man, so I really shouldn’t have felt bad for what I’d done to him. But then again, maybe the tears weren’t for him but for what he’d done; maybe they were for those boys. Those boys, any one of which could have been me. It didn’t really matter why the tears came though; there was nothing I could do to stop them. All I could do was wait for them to pass. And when the tears finally stopped I realized just how late it was and just how exhausted I was.
But sleep came only fitfully before the sun started to rise. I thought about skipping school, but then I would have to come up with a good excuse for mom and that wasn’t going to happen, so I forced myself out of bed and into the shower, though that barely helped. By the time I shut off the water I was even more tired than I’d been when I started it. I couldn’t see myself making it through second period without a little help, so against my better judgment I hopped on the KZ and went straight to Weed’s place.
“Give me some of your devil’s elixir,” I said, flinging open his curtains as he pulled his pillow over his face.
“Go away!” He mumbled through the pillow.
“I’m serious, I need your help.”
“Making it through a school day drunk takes a lot of practice,” he continued, not taking the pillow away from his face, “and you’re not ready for it.”
“That’s not what I meant,” I said, pulling the pillow from his face, “I need some energy, and lots of it.”
He slid the pillow from his head, a grin showing on his face.
“I knew this day would come.”
“Don’t make a big deal of it, I just didn’t sleep last night, or really the night before either.”
“You sure you’re up to this?”
“I said don’t make a big deal out of it.”
“First you have to tell me I’m a genius.”
“Not going to happen.”
“Then at least tell me I was right.”
“Fine, You were right.”
And now to fulfill the bet…”
2 years ago, after a weekend long party, Weed had come up with some concoction that combined high levels of caffeine with ginseng, vitamins, pre-workout supplements and asthma medication. He swore it not only cured his hangover but also gave him superhuman energy; I called him an idiot and swore he was just trying to kill himself. He ended up bouncing off the walls and not sleeping for two days, but he didn’t seem to suffer any lasting problems from the stuff so he bet me one day I’d beg him for his recipe. I hated that he was right, but knowing what was coming made it even worse.
“Where do you want it?” He asked, barely able to contain his excitement.
I rolled up my sleeve and braced myself but I still wasn’t prepared when the electrical charge hit me, practically dropping me on the spot.
“Damn,” I said, as I tried to shake it off. I don’t know where Weed had gotten the cattle prod but we’d been trading shots with it for several years, usually the result of losing a bet. Even with that much experience, though, it still hurt like crazy.
“Now let’s get you wired,” he said.
“After that jolt, I might not need anything else.”
“Trust me, you’re going to thank me later.”
He was right, again. After chugging the nasty concoction Weed mixed up for me I started to feel better and by the time I reached school I was wide awake, even a bit more energetic than normal. I didn’t sleep through a single class but by lunchtime I could feel my heart pounding in my chest.
“Yeah, that happened to me the first few times too,” Weed said, “but it’ll go away before long.”
‘Before long’ turned out to be another couple hours, just before the final bell rang. As I made my way to my bike I was finally beginning to feel like myself again, and for that I was thankful. I was even more thankful to see Shawna standing there beside the KZ.
“Hi,” she said.
She had her books clasped in one arm, her other arm was resting on the handlebars.
“You look like you’re doing good.”
She had no idea how far off she was.
“You too,” I replied, and I meant it. She looked very good but with a sadness in her eye. It was a sadness that had been there when I first met her but that had faded over the years. I wasn’t sure if something had happened with her and Matt; though the thought did bring a little smile to my face and I hated myself for it.
“I thought maybe we could get together tonight, just to hang out.”
I felt my smile grow a little bigger.
“That’d be good; Mom’s been asking about you.”
“I’ve been meaning to stop by but… you know…”
“Yeah. Why don’t you come over for dinner? She’d be happy to see you.”
“That sounds nice.”
“And then maybe we can throw in a Monty Python DVD?”
“Make it a John Hughes movie and it’s a deal.”
“Uh, I’ve got to go,” She said, the smile fading from her face. I glanced over my shoulder to see what she was looking at and saw the red Corvette pull into the parking lot. I didn’t know what to make of it so I just waved as she made her way towards Matt’s car.
“Please tell me you’re not going down that road again,” Weed said. I didn’t even see where he came from.
“We’re friends. Period.”
“Just friends. She’s coming over for dinner with Mom. Nothing more. Besides, she’s with Matt.”
“For as long as that lasts.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, my interest peaked.
“I’m not even going there. You’re looking for any straw to grasp.”
“I’m over her entirely. Completely.”
“So you’re ready to move on to someone else.”
“If the right girl comes along…maybe…wait. What’ve you done?”
“Trust me,” he said with a grin that terrified me.
“I know better than that.”
“Have I ever led you astray?”
“Only always. Like that time you convinced me to get on that sled tied behind your car.”
“That was a blast”
“Yeah, up until you floored it, got me up to highway speeds, then slammed on the brakes.”
“We never got above 50.”
“I still face planted onto your rear bumper.”
“And you lived.”
“Or like the time you told me that mound of wasabi was guacamole.”
“Now that was funny.”
“I couldn’t feel my tongue for a week!”
“That’s what made it so funny.”
“Or that time with the jumper cables and nipple clamps…”
“Okay, that one might have been a little too mean, but in my defense I didn’t know body hair could catch fire that quickly.”
“So whatever you have planned, I’ll pass.”
“No you won’t.”
“And why wouldn’t I?”
“Two words – boarding school girls.”
“You realize boarding school is two words, right?”
“But schoolgirl is one word.”
“Yeah, that’s how they spell it on all of the movie titles in the back of the video store.”
“Yeah, because pornos are known for their grammatical accuracy.”
“Don’t be putting down the most American of arts.”
Regardless, of where you take your spelling lessons I’m saying no to the whole thing, whatever it is you have planned.”
“Come on, this weekend will be their first one home after being stuck on a campus with only girls…”
“How do you even know any boarding school girls?”
“Boarding school, correctional facility, same thing.”
“No it’s not even close.”
“Hot girls locked up with no guys, only other hot girls, doing god knows what to each other…”
“Life is not a porno. It’s not only hot girls that get put in those places, and I really doubt they’re doing what you picture them doing.”
“Why do you have to kill the dream?”
“Have you even met these girls?”
“Kind of. I mean, we’ve exchanged letters and pictures.”
“Do I even want to know when or how you became a penpal to girls in a correctional institution?”
“It’s been a little while. Last summer, while you were busy fawning over Shawna, I joined through a church youth group for a couple weeks. I thought it would be a good way to meet some chicks.”
“The youth group or the pen pal program.”
“The youth group, at first, but when that didn’t work out I moved on to plan B.”
“You’re going to hell, you know that, right?”
“That’s where the hot naughty girls will be.”
“You really need help,” I said, slipping on my helmet.
“That’s not a no.”
“Because I already said no.”
I fired up the bike while shaking my head at Weed.
“Fine,” he said. “Your loss. You still coming over to work on Pamela?”
I hesitated to say yes. I wanted to work on her. I wanted to get her all fixed up and back out on the road, but I wasn’t sure I was ready to say yes if He came to me again with another assignment. And what would happen if I said no? But then I realized it didn’t matter where I was or what I was doing, the first assignment came while I was at home, asleep. Avoiding my car wouldn’t keep him from coming to me again. And I had made a deal, it was time to live up to it.
Mom was already up, showered and working on dinner by the time I got home, which meant she probably had a rough night at work and didn’t sleep well.
“Are you making progress at Weed’s?” She asked as soon as I walked in the door.
“Yeah, it’s coming along nicely,” I lied a little.
“That’s good,” she replied, “I’ll feel better when you’re back to driving a car instead of the bike so much.”
“I’m very cautious,” I lied a little more, “maybe even more so on the bike.” That part was true.
“It’s not necessarily you I’m most worried about,” she said, continuing to stir the spaghetti sauce. “Other drivers aren’t always so careful and it’s easy for them to overlook someone on a motorcycle.”
She wasn’t wrong, and I knew nothing I said would change her mind, so I decided to change the subject instead.
“So while I was at Weed’s I heard that Mr. Dinkle, the librarian, died last year. I’m a little surprised I didn’t hear about it back then.”
“Why were you talking about Mr. Dinkle?”
“I’ve got an assignment so I’ll probably go to the library a little later when you head to work. It’s been a while since I’ve been there, but I thought I would have at least heard about Mr. Dinkle.”
“I’m glad to hear that you’re taking school seriously,” she said, once again steering the conversation away from Mr. Dinkle’s death. “I know it can be easy to slack off in the final stretch.”
“You don’t have to worry about that,” I replied, “but why are you avoiding talking about Mr. Dinkle?”
She stopped stirring the sauce, but still didn’t turn from the stove. Instead, she sighed, grabbed another pot and began filling it with water before answering.
“Well, he was getting up there in age and had a few health issues, so it wasn’t completely out of the blue. And he wasn’t married and didn’t have any kids of his own, so there wasn’t a large funeral service or anything.”
“The same things could be said about that beautician, Ms. Wilson. She was old and alone but half the town still showed up for her viewing. I mean, I wasn’t a huge fan of Mr. Dinkle, but I thought I would have at least heard something.”
“With Mr. Dinkle there were certain circumstances that some people felt would be best to keep quiet so they could fade away quicker.”
Again she paused, then moved back to stirring the sauce while still not facing me.
“Do you know what autoerotic asphyxiation is?” She asked. It was a question I’d never expected to hear from her.
“I’ve heard of it,” I replied, feeling my cheeks blush a little. That really wasn’t a conversation I wanted to have with my mom.
“That was the official cause of death for him.”
“Oh,” was all I could say. I mean, how else do you respond to something like that?
“And some of the pictures found near him were very disturbing, especially to mothers of young boys.”
I got what she was saying, but it didn’t add up with what I’d been told in the garage.
“But he’s dead,” she continued, “and most of those who know about how he died want it to stay buried with him.”
“I won’t say anything,” I said, but I wasn’t sure I meant it. If Dinkle was the pedophile, then maybe Mr. Sowers wasn’t guilty. And if Lucifer lied about Sowers, then what about the biker? But then I remembered the visions I saw when I touched the biker, and I knew he was guilty. And though I couldn’t touch Dinkle to see what he had done, I would be able to see what Sowers was guilty of. It would only take one touch, and then I’d know.
“So it’s my turn to make you uncomfortable,” mom said, clearly ending that conversation, “How’s Shawna doing? And why haven’t I seen her since she’s been back?”
I think I preferred the other discussion.
“You know how it is with school just starting and everything,” I said, trying to keep it vague.
“Surely she can find a few minutes to swing by,” she replied, not letting it go. “You two used to do homework together every night, you were practically inseparable.”
“That wouldn’t be a good idea; we’re in completely different classes this year.”
“Well I’m sure…”
“And she has a new boyfriend.”
“Oh,” she said, going back to the sauce.
“Well there are plenty of girls…”
“Mom,” I said, a little more harshly than I meant to. “I’m fine. We’re fine. And I’m sure she’ll be over sometime soon. Right now it’s just a matter of priorities.”
“There’s a cute new CNA at the hospital. She just graduated from Southview last year. I could…”
“I really need a shower,” I said heading up the stairs before she could begin to rope me into anything. I wanted to take a long hot shower but mom would be heading to work shortly and I had to get to the library before the doors closed.
Dinner was ready by the time I got out of the shower and made my way back downstairs. Mom had made her soft breadsticks and I could smell them before I even reached the kitchen. It was times like that that made me feel everything was going right; but then she had to go work herself like crazy and I had my own job I had to finish. But at least I saw an end for what I had to do. She, on the other hand, had been working herself to death since before I could remember. The only way it was going to end was if I could do something to help her out. In order to do that, I had to finish my next assignments as quickly as possible. That thought made heading to the library a little easier.
The sun was already pretty low by the time I pulled into the library parking lot. There wasn’t a single car in any of the spaces, but glancing at my watch I could see that it was still a few minutes before eight, so I hung my helmet on the handlebars and hurried towards the building. Back when I knew him, Mr. Sowers didn’t drive; he rode a mountain bike everywhere. As I reached the front doors I was actually thankful to see his bike chained up to the bike rack but when I pulled on the door handle, it refused to open.
“Damnit,” I mumbled, as I plopped back against the door, pissed that I’d missed my opportunity. Sure, there’d be other chances, but psyching myself up to do what I had to do was tiring, especially when it was for nothing.
A knock on the door behind me shook me from my thoughts, and as I turned around, I could feel a smile forming on my face. Mr. Sowers was standing there unlocking the front door.
“Sorry about that,” he said, without fully making eye contact with me. “It’s just been me here for the past hour so I thought I’d close up a few minutes early.”
“No problem,” I said, trying to act casual. “I just need a book for a report I forgot was due.”
“School just started and you already forgot about a report? That’s really not a good way to start the school year.”
“Yeah, uh, that’s why I rushed over here.”
“So what kind of book do you need?” He asked with a smile, that might have been genuine, but with everything Lucifer told me, it just looked creepy as Hell. That made it even harder to come up with a good lie.
“Uh, Napoleon,” I said, blurting out the first thing remotely scholastic that came to mind.
“Those books are back here,” he said, leading me towards a slightly darkened corner packed with history books. I stared at the books, moving from one title to the next while not really paying attention to them as I tried to think of some way to touch his arm casually. I needed to see that he was the one guilty of what I’d been told, but before I could come up with anything, he grabbed me, spun me around and shoved me against the shelves of books.
“What are you really doing here?” he asked, the gentle face now looking terrifying.
“I just need a book for a report,” I stammered.
“Napoleon is taught in freshman history, and no reports are assigned about him until the second semester. So I’m going to ask you again, what are you really doing here?”
When I didn’t answer right away, his giant hands moved from my shoulders to my neck, slowly gripping tighter. I grabbed hold of his wrists, trying to break free and that’s when I was flooded with images. I saw him with several different boys, all young, all innocent. Then I saw what he did to them. What started gently, timidly at first turned more violent when they started to cry, begging him to stop.
I yanked my hands off his so the images would stop, but then he started squeezing my throat even harder. I could feel myself getting lightheaded and knew I had to pull his hands off of me, but convincing myself to touch him again was harder than I would have imagined. The thought of just going to sleep was much more appealing than having to see those images again, but once I was asleep there was no telling what he might do, or even if I’d wake up again.
Grabbing his hands once again, more images flooded my mind, this time I saw a boy I kind of recognized, possibly from the park, or supermarket. Sowers had him in a small storage room, showing him pictures of other boys, the ones from the earlier visions. He must have taken them, either as trophies, or even just to convince other boys it was okay because others had done it. But then Mr. Dinkle burst into the room. I could see the anger in his eyes and feel the shame and horror Sowers felt at being caught. But then the shame turned to fear, and fear turned to rage. Jumping to his feet I saw through his eyes how he grabbed Mr. Dinkle’s throat, just as he had mine, and how he had choked the man to death with his bare hands.
The kid screamed, and started crying so Sowers did the same thing to him, only requiring one hand to stop the noise. I could feel the relief and pleasure he felt at the silence before looking at both bodies. It was then that I could feel the tears start flowing. But then his tears turned to fear of getting caught, and once again the fear turned to anger, so he took off Mr. Dinkle’s belt and wrapped one end around his neck and the other around the storage room door handle. Leaving his prized pictures beside Mr. Dinkle, Sowers grabbed the boy’s body and shoved it into the contractor sized trash bag and took it out back to the dumpster.
It was only then that I realized where I’d seen the boy before. His face was on missing person posters. A year ago they’d been all over the area and even featured on the local news. But over the passing months, they’d all just kind of faded away. With the timing of the boys’ disappearance and Mr. Dinkle’s death, along with Dinkle’s assumed guilt for all of Sowers’ other acts, everyone probably just assumed the kid was one more of his victims too.
Sowers’ hands squeezed a little tighter, and the visions of what he’d done were replaced by a swirling sensation and I knew I was about to pass out. With every ounce of strength I had left, I pictured him having a massive heart attack right in front of me. I felt the same energy pass through me that I had that night at the bar, and instantly Sowers froze, his grip loosening enough for me to get a breath. The ice cold burning sensation finished coursing through me as the swirling sensation started to fade, I felt his hands leave my neck completely. His eyes glossed over as he grabbed at his chest and dropped to the floor.
I stared at him for a moment before the overwhelming warmth flooded my body, just as it had the night before, intoxicating me with its energy. I just wanted to stay there and enjoy the moment, but I knew I needed to get out of there. I mean, there’s no way I could have been blamed for Sowers’ heart attack, but I didn’t want to take any chances.
Rushing out of the front door I couldn’t shake the image of his face; it was the first time I’d witnessed anyone die in front of me, and knowing I was responsible for it made the whole thing worse. Immediately my stomach tightened and flopped. I leaned into the nearest bush lining the sidewalk from the parking lot to the building and started heaving. It refused to stop until I’d gotten rid of every ounce of the wonderful dinner mom had fixed for me.
It took me a minute after I was completely empty to stop shaking and to gather myself enough to stand back up and finish making my way to the bike. It took another minute of sitting on the bike before I convinced myself I was good enough to ride. The vibrations of the engine beneath me did nothing to help my stomach, and I seemed to hit every pothole on the way home but somehow I made it back without having to pull over. Once home though, I rushed into the nearest bathroom and started dry heaving until my body was satisfied there was nothing left to get rid of. That’s when I sat with my back against the wall and let the tears fall.
My mom didn’t have a shift at the diner that night so she would be home for a bit before heading to the hospital and I’d already spent a good amount of time at Finkenbine’s, so as soon as we got the Hearse done I skipped going to Weed’s place and headed home instead. Starting back on Pamela would just have to wait another night. And part of me was actually glad to have an excuse to get away from Weed for a little while. I couldn’t be certain that I’d killed Finkenbine’s friend, but I was pretty sure I had. And Weed had to assume the same thing. How did he feel about that? How would I feel if my best friend just killed someone? I really wasn’t prepared to find out, so a night at home and spending a couple hours with my mom, would do me good.
Unfortunately, my mind was so preoccupied with what happened at Finkenbine’s that I completely forgot about hiding the bike from my mom. I realized that as I was walking up to the back door, pulling off my helmet.
“That’s new,” Mom said, before I’d even closed the back door. She was sitting at the circular dining table drinking a cup of coffee.
“Yeah,” I replied, trying to play it off, “I’ve got Pamela at Weed’s so we can do some more on her, and he had a bike laying around, so…”
“You know I don’t like those things,” she continued, but in a softer tone, “but you are about to be 18, at which point I can’t really control anything you do…”
“I’m just saying, if you’re going to be riding a motorcycle, be safe.”
With that, she tossed a pamphlet to me. It was for a local motorcycle shop who offered fee classes.
She just nodded as she took another sip of her coffee.
“I was going to tell you, I was just working up the courage. It happened so suddenly. I wasn’t planning on getting a bike, Weed just had it and…”
“You don’t have to explain it all to me,” she said, stopping me from blabbering on too much. “I just want you to know you can tell me anything. You don’t have to hide anything from me.”
I knew she meant it, or at least she thought she did. I also knew there was no way I could tell her what happened the night of the crash, or even what had happened last night, as much as I might have wanted to.
“Thanks, Mom,” I said, trying to put on my best smile.
“At least you’re wearing a helmet,” she said. “But the skull on it?”
“Yeah, it’s not really my style either, but it was from Weed”
“He really is a good friend, isn’t he.”
“One of the best,” I said, hoping it was still true.
“Why don’t you go get cleaned up and I’ll see what I can put together for dinner.”
“Sounds good to me.”
Mom ended up fixing us pizza bagels and mozzarella sticks, probably because they’re my favorite. Then she put in Goonies which I’d seen a thousand times, and which I could have watched a thousand more, only I knew she really didn’t care for it. I couldn’t tell if she was setting me up to hit me with some bad news, or if she just really wanted me to have a great night. Regardless of her intentions, she never dropped a bomb on me and by the time she left for the hospital I was more relaxed than I’d been in a very long time. I’d almost completely forgotten about all the other crap I had going on.
“Don’t stay up late,” she said as she headed out the door.
“I won’t,” I replied, and I really meant it. I had no intention of being up late, but someone else had other ideas.
Once again I found myself being awakened in the middle of a perfectly good sleep. This time it wasn’t the TV that interrupted my sleep, but a thumping at the window.
“What the Hell?” I yelled to Weed as I unlatched the window. “Why didn’t you come up the stairs?”
“I didn’t know if your mom was working and I didn’t want to wake her.”
“But you’re cool with waking me?”
“I didn’t know how much sleeping you’d be doing, and I didn’t want to miss it if you got another assignment.”
“So you’re cool with it if I did do what we think I did?”
“What, rid the world of someone who even Finkenbine didn’t think should still be out there doing God-knows-what?
“I doesn’t bother you that I might have murdered someone?”
“Don’t think of it like that. You got rid of a bad guy. You’re like a superhero using your superpowers for good.”
“Not even close.”
“Well, however you want to think of it, you’re not a bad person. You’re just doing your job, and in the end, some little part of this world is better off for it.”
“Thanks,” I said, feeling a little better knowing that Weed was on my side.
“Now that that’s taken care of,” he said, pulling out a baggie, “we could both probably use a little something to help us get some sleep.”
“We’ve got school in a couple hours,” I protested, though even I barely believed the words coming out of my mouth.
“Which is why we need a little rest, and this is just the bag to help us do it.”
Ten minutes later we were both silent. I couldn’t tell for sure if he was out at that point but a few minutes later I was enjoying peaceful dreamless sleep. There were no thoughts of car crashes or motorcycle accidents; no voices or smiling faces. It was perfect oblivion. Exactly what I needed.
The alarm woke me, the next morning though it didn’t even begin to faze Weed. He’d apparently fallen asleep in my recliner with a grin on his face. Thankfully the window had been left open enough that there was no residual smoke hanging around the room. And though I should have been at least a little groggy, I was actually more rested than I’d expected so I grabbed some clean clothes and headed to the bathroom, enjoying a longer than necessary shower before waking Weed up. I tried to think of a creative way to start his day but the best I could come up with was to plug in my guitar, crank the volume to 11 and do my best Jimi Hendrix Star Spangled Banner impression. It barely woke him.
“Why’d you stop?” he asked, with his eyes still closed.
“You look like you’re going to need something a little stronger than Jimi to get you going.”
“So you’ve got coffee ready?” He replied.
“Instant’s the best I can do.”
“We can’t be friends any more.”
“Tell you what, you get your ass up and I’ll try to figure out the coffee maker.”
“Counter proposal,” Weed said, slowly pushing himself up from the recliner, “We’ll take the KZ to my place where we’ll get a decent cup of coffee and a bowl of something sugary.”
“I’ll drop you off at your place,” I replied, “but I think I’ll pass on the coffee and diabetes.”
“You still going to try to smooth things over with her?”
“There’s no ‘We’ll see’,” Weed said, visibly frustrated, and rightfully so. Shawna had her Ken doll, and even if she didn’t, I had no idea what the hell was actually going on with me. I didn’t want to drag her into my mess, at least not until I’d made good on my end of the deal. But I also didn’t want her to leave my life completely.
“I just think a bit of a ride would do me good before school,” I said, trying to shrug off his implication and failing miserably.
“Just promise me you won’t go to her place. Nothing good can come from that.”
“Promise,” I said, “Now if we don’t get going we’ll be late.”
“Sure,” he replies, “just one more thing…”
“You’re riding bitch,” he said, grabbing the KZ keys and jumping halfway down the stairs before I could even catch what he’d said.
“Oh Hell no,” I yelled, rushing down the stairs after him, but it was already too late; he was on the bike before I was even out the back door.
“That’s not cool,” I said, as he kicked the bike to life. “I don’t want anyone to see me riding bitch on my own bike.”
“Then you should have called it first,” he grinned, “but at least my place isn’t that far.”
And he was right about his place not being too far, but in those few blocks I swear we saw half a dozen people I knew staring at us as we went by, me holding on to Weed’s waist, and him screaming the lyrics to U2’s “One” as we made our way down the street. I know he was going as slow as possible just to embarrass me as much as possible. Thankfully I had the helmet on, so no one could see how much it was working.
When we got to Weed’s house I didn’t stick around, opting instead to find an empty road to enjoy, once I was back at the front of the bike. There was something therapeutic about being on the bike, so much so that I completely lost track of time and almost ended up inadvertently playing hooky. By the time I pulled into the school parking lot, my head was almost completely clear. There were no thoughts of that biker, or what I’d done, or even Shawna. But the cherry red ‘vette commanding attention in front of the building changed all that. I just kept driving past it, pulling into the last open parking spot, right beside Weed’s Chevette.
“Say the word and I’ll help you key his car,” Weed said without even getting out of his car.
“No you wouldn’t, it’s much too nice for that.”
“True,” he replied, “but to be honest, I didn’t think you’d take me up on it; you’re not that type of guy.”
“I’m not,” I said, “but the thought was nice.”
“You want a puff before the bell rings?” He asked, holding out his silver bowl.
“Nah, I’m actually feeling pretty good, all things considered. Then again, I might just not be completely recovered from last night.”
“Maybe after school then.”
“I was hoping to get to work on Pamela after school.”
“Definitely; we’ll just save a little of this for when the work is done.”
“It’s a deal,” I said, just as the last bell rang, telling us we had to get our assess to class.
Weed spent most of each class trying,and failing, to stay awake. I tried actually concentrating on what was being taught but found my thoughts drifting to anything else. Hanging with Weed definitely helped me deal with all the shit going on in my life, but talking to Shawna would have probably helped too, not that she’d believe my story any easier than Weed had. But her perspective would have definitely been different than his. From his point of view I was the good guy who got rid of a bad guy, but the world isn’t that black and white. And killing is killing, isn’t it? I mean, even though I didn’t shove that guy in front of the train, I was still responsible, wasn’t I? Good, bad, Maybe it is all subjective, but that didn’t make it any easier.
Trapped in class after class, the philosophical debate went on in my head all day until finally the last bell mercifully rang. Only by then I was so caught up in my own thoughts that I didn’t budge from my seat.
“You ready to go get started on Pamela?” Weed asked, pulling me from my thoughts.
“Oh, yeah,” I replied, trying to shake off the haze that clouded everything. Unfortunately it wasn’t the fun kind of haze that Weed and I prefered.
“Cool. You head there while I pick up a couple things from Steve’s Tow shop. It shouldn’t take long.”
Weed took off and I headed towards his house, before taking a slight detour towards Shawna’s. I knew it wasn’t the best choice, and Weed would have killed me if he found out, but I just wanted to see her for a minute, to make sure things were still cool between us. Half a block away from her house I realized just how bad my choice had been. Before I even got close, I saw Matt’s Corvette sitting on the street in front of her house, right where I should have been parked. The two of them were still inside the car, their faces locked together, their hands doing only God-knows-what.
With a twist of the throttle, the bike took off, the exhaust roaring more than I’d anticipated. But once again I really didn’t care who heard me, I just wanted out of there as quickly as possible, and the bike obliged. I thought about keeping the throttle pinned and just seeing how far a tank of gas would take me but Pamela was waiting in Weed’s garage, and I knew he’d be back there shortly, so I let off the gas so the bike could return to a more acceptable speed, before I reached his place.
The driveway was still empty as I pulled up beside the garage, but the garage door was open and from there I could see Pamela waiting for me. Slipping off the helmet, I made my way around her, checking out the progress we’d made, along with all the work we had yet to do. She did look much better with the new headlight in and all the dirt and corn stalks off of her. Weed was grabbing some wheel ramps so we could check out the underside of her a little easier, but even if we didn’t find anything else, it was still probably going to be another week before she was road worthy. The thought was a little depressing, but at least I had the KZ to get me around until she was done.
“You did well,” the voice said. The light in the garage was dim enough that I could see the red glow from the stereo without even looking inside the car.
“Thanks? I guess?” I replied. I mean, how do you respond to that?
“So you’re ready for another one?”
“Another assignment; one step closer to completing your end of the deal.”
“I’m not sure.”
“I figured you’d be in a hurry to get them done and have everything return to normal.”
That was what I wanted, more than almost anything, but for some reason the way he said it made me a bit apprehensive. And I wasn’t sure I had really come to terms with what I had done the first time, let alone being ready to do it again.
“What’ve you got?” I asked, with as much confidence as I could muster. I mean, what did it hurt to at least know what the assignment was before making a decision.
“This one’s an easy one,” he replied, and I swear I could hear the grin on his face even if I couldn’t see it. “He’s a pedophile, working out in the open at the library. His job puts him in contact with a lot of young, trusting kids. You’ll be doing your community a great service.”
“My community, like this town?” I asked, trying to wrap my head around a pedophile working at the town library. It’d been a few years since I’d been there, but as a kid, mom used to take me there every Saturday to pick up enough books to keep me busy during the week. I had fond memories of some of the books I’d read. Those memories brought to mind one person.
“It’s Mr. Dinkle, isn’t it?”
Mr. Dinkle had been the head librarian for what seemed like forever. He was a small, slightly hunched man with a long hooked nose, who always seemed to be popping up suddenly anywhere and everywhere in the library. I can’t count the number of times he’d caught Weed and me goofing off on school trips there. He always gave me the creeps, appearing out of nowhere.
“Not even close,” the voice said with a chuckle. “Mr. Dinkle was actually the reason there weren’t more victims. He always suspected, and did his best to keep an eye on all the kids that came and went from there, but he died last year and the pedophile, your next assignment, has been a bit more free to pursue his desires.”
The thought of a predator hanging out at the library, searching for his next victim to do unspeakable things made my skin crawl. As conflicted as I had been about the first assignment, I knew I had to take this one out, but more than that, as I thought about what he might have done to those kids, I wanted to end him. Someone like that, I would almost consider pulling the trigger myself, but thankfully I didn’t have to. I just had to choose how he would go; it was that simple. The thought almost made me smile.
“I’ll do it,” I said.
“Don’t you want to know who it is first?” He asked.
“It doesn’t really matter. Someone like that needs to go.”
“That’s the spirit,” the voice called out. “But it needs to be done soon before he can find another victim.”
“Gladly,” I said, “so who is it?”
“His name is Glenn Sowers.”
“Sowers? Mr. Sowers the Janitor?”
“After Mr. Dinkle passed away he was promoted to a librarian position.”
“There’s no way. I mean, he always seemed so nice; quiet, but nice. He always had an extra stick of gum…”
“Always nice to little boys, offering them gum and candy. I see why it’s hard for you to believe he’s a pedophile.”
“No, what I mean is, he never even came close to trying anything with me.”
“You mean when Mr. Dinkle was keeping an eye on everything, sure to pop up anywhere and everywhere.”
He was right, and I didn’t like it.
“I get it, but it’s still hard to believe.”
“One touch and you’ll believe it, but remember what I said, you can’t unsee what he’s done.”
The red glow disappeared from the front seat of the car and I knew he was gone. He hadn’t told me where to find this assignment, but I knew where Mr. Sowers would be. The library was open until 8:00pm, which meant I still had plenty of time to decide how I was going to approach him, and how he was going to meet his end, but I still found it hard to wrap my head around. Sowers, as the janitor I knew, was a large man, at least six foot and 250 pounds but even with that size, he was never intimidating. And he always had a comic book in his back pocket to read when he wasn’t cleaning. And he always made time for us, keeping us up-to-date on the latest superhero exploits, and he was just as excited about them as we were. It was almost like he was one of us kids.
“I thought for sure you’d be at Shawna’s,” Weed said, his voice causing me to jump as he turned on the overhead lights. I’d been so lost in my own thoughts that I hadn’t even heard him pull in.
“Why would I want to see her, when I can be here staring at your pretty face instead?”
“Such a sweet talker,” he replied, with a grin, “but I know you’re only here because of Pamela.”
“Truer words have never been spoken. I get enough of your ugly mug in class.”
“Okay then, enough with the flirting. How about we make some progress on her.”
“Works for me,” I said, cranking up the old boombox on the corner of the workbench. Nirvana, doing an acoustic version of one of their songs, echoed off the garage walls. Kurt Cobain had died just a few months after that performance was recorded and for some reason hearing the dead man’s voice hit me a little harder than I would have expected. For a minute I just froze.
“You okay man?” Weed asked.
“Yeah, yeah,” I replied, shaking my head . “I’m good.”
“Good,” he said, “then let’s get started.”
I helped Weed get the ramps from his car. It took a bit to get Pamela onto them, but once she was up in the air it was much easier to see her underside. There was one brake line dripping some fluid, but other than that and the dried mud caked into every little crevice, she was in better shape than I expected. We spent a couple hours trying to clean out every bit of mud we could, and the menial work was just what I needed. By the time I left Weed’s place I was almost feeling normal so I headed home to spend a little time with Mom before she had to go to work. Once she was gone, I wanted to get on with my next assignment.
By the time I got home Mom had already left for the dinner shift at Max’s Place. Everyone called it a diner, but it was barely even that. The place had a couple tables, four booths and one long bar that held a half-dozen people if you didn’t mind sitting a little too close to your neighbor, which most people in town seemed to enjoy. Not me, though. I preferred having some space of my own. So even though I could have gotten a free burger and fries if I’d gone to visit her, I just grabbed a cold-meat sandwich and a bag of chips and went to my room.
Being the first day of school, only one teacher had assigned any homework but I didn’t even feel like doing that. Instead I popped in an old John Candy film, something to take my mind off everything. And it worked for a while. Around 1:30 in the morning I woke up, realizing I had fallen asleep and missed most of the movie. The TV was still on, but with only static coming from it so I rolled out of bed to shut it off. The static stopped just as I reached for the power button.
“Are you ready to live up to your end of the deal?” His voice asked. It might have been coming from the television, but unplugging it didn’t seem to help. He just laughed.
“You want me to go kill someone at . . . 1:36 am?” I asked, glancing at the clock beside my bed.
“You are already up.”
“I also have school in the morning,” I replied towards the TV, unsure where else to direct it.
“The choice is yours,” he continued. “You get to choose when and how, but you will honor our deal.”
“Of course I will,” I said, still feeling a little self conscious about talking to an unplugged television. Sitting back on my bed, I thought about what he said. He wasn’t wrong, I mean I was already up, and I fell asleep early so I wasn’t exactly ready to go right back to sleep.
“Are you serious about giving me an assignment?” I asked, not sure what to expect.
“Then I guess I could at least check the guy out,” I said, standing back up.
“Who said it’s a guy?” The voice asked, and I just stopped in my tracks. I hadn’t even considered that I might have to kill a woman.
“Relax,” he continued. “I’m just messing with you.”
A face appeared on the television screen but it wasn’t Lucifer’s, or at least it wasn’t the same as he’d looked the other night. This one was rough, covered in scars and tattoos, like he was purposely trying to make himself as unattractive as possible. I couldn’t make out the lettering tattooed on his eyelids but I knew the tear drops inked beneath both eyes were most likely prison tattoos. And the SS and 88 on each side of his neck meant he probably part of a white supremacist gang.
“This is the guy you want me to go kill?”
“No, I want you to take him to brunch,” the face on the TV snarked back. “Yes, he is your assignment.”
“Are you trying to get me killed?”
“If I wanted you dead, would I have made the deal with you in the first place?”
He had a point.
“I guess not, but this isn’t the sort of guy I can just walk up to.”
“So find another way, unless you just want to call off our deal.”
It didn’t really matter which face it came from, I was just really beginning to hate Lucifer’s voice.
“No,” I replied, I’ve got this.”
On the television, beneath the face, was an address, flashing like a late night infomercial phone number. “
He’ll be there for a little while yet,” the voice said. “If you hurry you can take care of him and be back to bed in no time.”
I wasn’t thrilled about leaving the house in the middle of the night, but I was a little excited to have an excuse to take the KZ so I grabbed a scrap of paper and a pen, jotting down the address, then grabbed my helmet and keys. With mom out of the house I didn’t have to worry about sneaking the bike out of the driveway before starting it so I fired it up while I was still behind the shed and let it run while I tightened the helmet on my head.
“I can’t believe I’m actually doing this,” I thought as I pulled out onto the road and headed towards the address one town over in Southview.
Even at two in the morning the temperature was in the 60’s so the ride was quite comfortable with only a jacket on. The moon was mostly full, which meant there was plenty of light, and had I not been on my way to try to kill some ex-convict, it would probably be a relaxing ride.
Southview was only fifteen minutes from my house in Rosewater but even the short ride had calmed my nerves a little by the time I pulled up across the street from the address I’d written down. Then I saw exactly where I was.
“Seriously?” I asked myself as I looked over the biker bar where I was supposed to find my first assignment. Normally I figured spotting a guy with facial tattoos would be pretty easy, even from a distance, but at a place like that I didn’t like my chances.
The sign out front said “Dogtown Pub”, and unfortunately I’d heard some stories about that place. I don’t know how many were true and how many were just urban legend, but I knew for a fact that I wouldn’t be able to just walk into that place. I was parked across the street with my helmet on, so it would be hard for anyone to tell I was underage, even with my faceshield up. And it wasn’t like being in proximity to a bar was illegal or anything, but I still felt a bit out of place.
Even at that time of night, though, a few cars drove by, and each made me feel a little tense until they continued past without stopping to ask what the hell I was doing.
I continued to stare across the street as several guys left the bar, none of them trying to be quiet as they made their way to the parking lot next to the bar, and each one revving their engines louder and longer than necessary before taking off one direction or the other. It was really hard to make out any identifying marks from my distance, but each of them had really long hair and the guy I was looking for was practically bald. None of them seemed to pay any attention to me, until a pair of large guys stepped out. One headed to the parking lot while the other stopped to light a cigarette and looked directly at me. Every ounce of my being told me to get the hell out of there, but then I noticed the tats on his face and neck. It was quite possible they were an SS and an 88, but even with my visor up I couldn’t tell exactly what they were from across the street. I needed to get closer but as I racked my brain trying to come up with a plan, I realized I didn’t have to.
“That’s a KZ isn’t it?” He said, crossing the street and walking towards me.
“Yeah,” I replied, my hands starting to shake as I tried to figure out if I should split or not.
“Man, that takes me back,” he continued getting a little too close for comfort. Even with my helmet on I could smell the alcohol on his breath. I wanted to leave but from up close I was finally able to get a good look at him and his tattoos and I was sure he was the guy I was looking for.
“My first bike was a KZ,” he said, bending down to get a better look at the engine. “I rode that thing like it was the baddest bike on the planet, and I thought it was, until I tried my first V-twin. Even though it doesn’t have the torque of a ‘twin, it was still a great bike. No matter what I did, I couldn’t kill that thing. It took every bit of punishment I threw at it and it still kept going.”
Sure he was a bit drunk, but he didn’t really seem like a bad guy. Which didn’t make things any easier. I mean, could I really kill a guy just because some voice told me to?
“This one’s a little rough,” he continued, “but I bet she still runs like a scalded dog, huh?”
“Oh yeah,” I replied, trying not to let on what was actually going through my head.
“Just remember to keep an eye on the spark plugs. They tend to foul out a little too easily.”
“I appreciate the advice,” I said, still not sure how I could make my move.
“Hey, anything for a fellow biker. And I appreciate this little walk down memory lane,” he said, leaning in and putting one hand on my shoulder and holding out his other. I knew it was probably my only chance, so I shook his hand and Instantly focussed on trying to see what sort of things he’d done that might have earned him a death sentence, only I wasn’t prepared for what I saw. Images of him slashing a throat and stabbing a chest were only the beginning. My mind was flooded with so many violent visions it was overwhelming. Murder, rapes, and bassically every deadly sin; he’d done it all. And I was seeing all of it through his eyes, but I wasn’t just seeing it, I was feeling it; feeling how much he actually enjoyed it. His enjoyment scared me, but it also fuelled my own anger and I suddenly knew I could do it. I could picture him dead, not just because of the deal I’d made, but because he deserved it.
He’d been drinking at the bar, so of course my first thought was of him having an accident, but a simple wreck didn’t seem fitting enough. There was a set of train tracks just outside Southview. I pictured him racing to beat the train as the crossing guards started to lower but not making it. A shiver went down my spine, and I felt the hairs on my arms stand on end. All at once I felt electrified as an ice cold yet burning energy passed through me. That’s when I knew there’d be no open casket for him.
“I’ve got to get going,” he said, suddenly. “My old lady would kill me if I’m not home soon.”
I’d never even considered him having someone to go home to. If he had a wife, or a girlfriend, he might have had kids. How bad would things be for them without him around?
“You be careful, and take good care of that bike,” he said, over his shoulder as he made his way to the parking lot beside the bar.
“You too,” was all I could think to say.
I stayed where I was until he’d fired up his bike, revved the engine and headed towards those train tracks. Only then could I finally kick the KZ back to life, riding away in the opposite direction.
Unlike the ride to Southview, the ride back home was anything but calming. Had I actually done what I thought I’d done? I mean, I didn’t pull a gun on the guy or anything like that; I’d only pictured him hitting a train. There’s no way an image in my head actually had actually done anything, or at least that’s what I kept telling myself. But then I remembered the energy rushing through me. Clearly something had happened. And if what I saw in those visions was true, then he really didn’t deserve to keep living his life. He wasn’t a good man. If I’d done anything, it was justified.
Parking the bike behind the garage and making my way to my room seemed like a dream. I was so lost in my thoughts that I didn’t even change out of my jeans and t-shirt before climbing back into bed. Pulling the blanket up over my shoulders didn’t get rid of the chill I felt throughout my entire body but I clutched it tighter anyway. I laid there just like that for several minutes until another jolt of energy hit me, then sent a gentle warming flow through my body. The chill was gone, replaced by an almost euphoric sensation. It was better than any high I’d ever experienced. I wanted to go tell Weed, or Shawna, or …someone. I wanted to share the feeling, but I also wanted to keep it all for myself. For the first time in my life, everything felt great, everything felt right. I continued to lay in my bed, enjoying the sensation until it started to fade, and taking with it every ounce of energy from my body, leaving me feeling empty.
The alarm jolted me out of bed, though I had no idea what time I actually fell asleep, if I did at all. Images of that guy getting hit by the train played over and over in my mind, each one more graphic than the previous, some of the images not even making sense. The television was still broadcasting a continuous stream of static, but this time when I went to shut it off, there was no voice. I began questioning if I’d even left the house in the middle of the night, or if I’d just dreamt it; then I saw my homework assignment laying next to my school bag. I knew I hadn’t done it, but somehow it was sitting there completed, with a little post-it note stuck to it. There were no words, just a grinning smiley face hastily drawn across it.
I felt like the walking dead and thought a shower might help; it didn’t. And while mom routinely enjoyed a cup of coffee, I had no idea how to brew a pot. Instead, I scrounged around the kitchen cabinets until I found the instant coffee. It tasted like dirt but the caffeine allowed me to at least keep my eyes open long enough to grab my keys and helmet.
Once on the bike, I felt a little more alive, and even though it wasn’t a long ride, it really helped wake me up. What helped even more was seeing Weed in the school parking lot.
“Thanks,” I said, pulling off my helmet and grabbing the can of Jolt from his hand. I had it chugged before he could even get a word out of his mouth.
“You’ve got no idea.”
“Step into my office and tell me about it,” he said pointing to the Weed Wagon.
“No Chevette today?” I asked, climbing through the sliding door.
“I need to pick up a few parts after school,” he replied, lighting up a cigarette and handing me the pack.
“Maybe I’ll follow you, let Finkenbine check out the KZ.”
“Sounds good to me,” he said, “now tell me about last night. You didn’t go after her again, did you.”
“No, it had nothing to do with Shawna.”
“Then why wasn’t I involved? You know I’m always down for a little trouble.”
“No, you usually cause the trouble, but that’s beside the point.”
“So what happened?”
“Should I bring out the good stuff to loosen you up?” He asked, nodding towards the monster box beneath the dash. The monster box was a ridiculous lunch box that looked like a monster’s face. It hinged at the mouth and roared when it was opened. It was one of the places Weed kept his stash.
“Not today,” I replied, “I’m so exhausted I’d never make it to class if I lit up.”
“Then just spit it out already.”
“I’ll try, just don’t give me any shit about it, okay?”
“You know I can’t promise you that.”
I needed to tell someone, and despite Weed’s mouth, I knew he wouldn’t say a word to anyone so I decided to tell him everything. When I was done he just sat there for a minute, then turned to look me right in the eye.
“I don’t think we can be friends any more.”
“You fell asleep watching a John Candy movie. That’s just wrong on so many levels.”
“That’s what you took from everything I just said?” I asked, as the grin started to spread across his face.
“It had to all just be a dream,” he said.
“I don’t know …”
“You fell asleep, dreamed you woke up and went for a ride, yadda yadda, and never left your room. Why else was the TV still on this morning?”
“Maybe you’re right,” I said, silently wishing he was, “but what about the post-it note?”
“Tell you what,” he continued, “forget about it right now and tonight we’ll check around for someone wrecking their bike into a train. When we don’t find anyone, then you’ll know it was only a dream.”
Just talking to him about it made me feel better. It also made me realize how silly it all sounded. The more I thought about it the more I realized he had to be right; there was no way I’d killed a guy last night just by thinking about him dying.
A knock on the window made me jump.
“It’s way too early for that,” Shawna said through the window. I slid the door open and stepped out.
“Just a cigarette,” I replied, dropping the butt and grinding it out with my foot.
“I thought he might have finally passed all of his bad habits on to you.”
“Almost,” Weed said, climbing out of the Weed Wagon, “but I still have a little more work to do.”
“Well don’t try so hard,” she said, “the world still needs good guys.”
“Anyways…,” I said, trying to change the subject to anything else.
“Anyways,” Shawna said, “I feel bad about bailing on you at the party the other night so I thought we could maybe hang out after school.”
“What about your living Ken doll?” I said, before I had a chance to stop myself.
“Hey,” she said, hitting my arm before laughing a little, “he’s, uh busy.”
“Too busy to hang out with you?”
“He’s got to work.”
“And what sort of work does he do?” Weed asked, the size of his grin matching the size of her discomfort. It was obvious that she didn’t want to talk about it, but there was no way Weed would let it go, and she knew it.
“The kind that pays really well,” she said, glancing down at her watch seemingly hoping she’d be saved by the class bell.
“And that would be doing…?”
“Fine, but you guys can’t say a word.”
Weed and I both crossed our hearts.
“It’s a photoshoot.”
Weed and I both burst out laughing at the same time.
“You both promised, she said, her face turning red.”
“We didn’t say a word,” Weed replied, between laughs.