Chapter Fifteen: Crossing the Threshold

John found his boys in a state of total chaos at Woody’s place, because the latter had just found out that Scott had been seeing Darlene behind his back. Woody had drawn that conclusion from seeing the couple in a heavy clinch in his sister’s bedroom.
“I’m gonna kill you for touching my baby sister, you bastard,” Woody had yelled.

Scott used the twin bed as an obstacle to Woody’s wrath and then stutter-stepped to one side when Woody jumped on the mattress. Mike was in the kitchen, listening to the pandemonium and laughing his guts outs.
“Woody, Woody, don’t hurt him,” Darlene whelped, and she fluttered about trying to protect Scott, but Woody had gone into one of his rages.
His sister, the one sacred thing he had in the world, was on the point of corruption by his best friend.
“Sumbitch! I’m gonna rip your dick off so that I never have to worry about you again,” Woody said in a softer tone that seemed somehow more dangerous.
By this time, Scott had wormed his way out of the bedroom and had taken refuge in the living room, but he was still cut off from the doorway leading out of the apartment. John heard the ruckus from outside and opened the door. He saw Woody and Scott circling each other, the latter in a state of fear, the former hopping from one foot to the other in anger.
“What the fuck are you doing?” John asked.
“Woody’s upset,” Mike answered from the kitchen.
“He tried to dork my sister!” Woody said.
“Calm down,” John said.
Woody didn’t answer but turned his eyes back to Scott. He tried to move closer but Scott skipped away towards John.
“Woody, I said to fucking… calm… down,” John said again, but in a lower tone of voice, through clenched teeth.
Woody’s rages were becoming more and more frequent. It was really starting to piss John off.
“I tell you, the bastard went behind my back,” Woody said.
“I already know,” John said, “we all knew.”
“Ooops,” Mike said.
“Say what?” Woody asked, and he looked hard at John, trying to refocus his rage onto this new antagonist.
“You’re starting to get pissed when your toast burns in the morning, Woody. It’s time you got a grip.” John said, and he pointed his finger at Woody in controlled anger.
Woody shrank back, with a guilty look on his face.
“What do you mean?”
“Why the fuck did you beat up Willy?” John shouted.
Willy was a connection who moved a fair amount of coke for the boys. Woody glanced towards his sister.
“Let’s not talk about it now,” he said, now totally deflated.
“Then let’s go outside,” John said, and they did.

The two boys huddled together in the parking lot outside the public housing units and kept their voices low, but it was still all John could do to hold back his anger. Woody had swung to the other extreme, his rage expended. He looked meek and apologetic.
“C’mon, we fronted him two ounces, and he tried to short us a C-note,” Woody said.
“The story he told me was that the money was on its way. It woulda been in our hands by tommorrow.”
“He was bullshitting,” Woody said sullenly, “I saw it in his eyes.”
“Then you beat him up the day he breaks his promise, not the frigging day he makes it,” John whispered fiercely, “Goddamn, would Gates had done what you just did?”
“People gotta respect us,” Woody said.
“People gotta want to do business will us. Nobody wants to deal with a pyscho.” John said.
“I’m sorry,” Woody said, and he lowered his head.
John resisted the urge to tear into Woody any further. It was the fucking powder. Woody was just taking too much of it for his own personal use.
“Alright, issue settled. How’s the back?” John asked.
“Better, a lot better. Pretty soon it’ll be 100 percent.”
John suspected that the back had not bother Woody for days, maybe weeks. But it was a convenient excuse for Woody to keep snorting cocaine. Maybe if he and Scott and Mike tried to make Woody kick the habit, he would re-injure it, by accident of course. For the first time, John realized that he couldn’t trust an addict, no matter how close a friend he was. But John didn’t know what to do. The best he could hope for now was some sort of a holding pattern.

“Alright, are we okay now?” John asked.
Woody nodded. John took a few seconds to carefully think out what he was about to say.
“Now Woody,” John said, and he put his arm around him, “what’s wrong with Scott seeing your sister? For God’s sake, who would you rather see with your sister than your best friend, good ole Scott?”
“Hey, my sister’s a good kid,” Woody said.
“…And Scott’s a good man. He’ll treat her right. C’mon Woody, think. Trust me, the two really like and care for each other.” John said.
He spoke softly, as wise man always does when talking about another man’s family.
“I guess it’s all right,” Woody said grudgingly.
“It’s a good thing,” John said.

A half-later they were sitting in Woody’s family apartment again. John had brought along a six-pack, and the four boys were sitting at the kitchen table, laughing and sharing small talk as if nothing had happened. There was a knock at the door. Darlene went to answer it but she asked who it was first.
“Police,” a voice said. Everyone froze at the table for a moment and then turned their eyes to John.
“Nobody move,” John said, “and look cool.”
“We got booze on the table. We’re underage,” Scott hissed.
“This ain’t a bar, it’s a private home. They can’t touch us,” John said. “Just stay calm.”
John had three ounces of coke in the inner pocket of his jean jacket. If he got nailed with it, he doubted that he would be able to convince the police that he intended it only for personal use. He would be charged with trafficking. John nodded at Woody.
“Open the door sis,” Woody called out.

The two constables were courteous to a fault. John thought it strange when they took their hats off and asked if they could come in. They seemed hesitant when Darlene told them that her mother wasn’t home. There was an awkward pause. One of the constables finally broke the silence by telling Darlene that her uncle was dead. She broke down and cried. Woody rushed to her side to hold her. No one at the table could think of anything to say or do. They had all known Dickie. One of the officers tried to console the brother and sister by telling them Dickie hadn’t suffered at all. John felt sad, but he had a nasty feeling at the pit of his stomach. He asked how it had happened. One of the constables hesitated, so the other spoke.
“Homicide,” he said. “There was a robbery at the place of business. They shot him after emptying the cash register, and then left the gas stove on to try and destroy the evidence. There was a fire, but not an explosion.”
“Don’t worry,” the other policeman said, “we’ll find who did this. This isn’t Detroit.”
“Animals like that, we usually find them at the nearest skid-row bar boozing their brains out,” the first policeman said. “Probably nothing more than a couple of junkies looking for their next fix.”
After a while the constables ran out of things to say and they started to shuffle from one foot to the other. Woody took his eyes off his sister for a brief instant and thanked them. They left.

John and the rest of the boys left soon after the policemen. There was nothing they could think of saying to Woody and Darlene, except that they were sorry. In the elevator, it was Mike who first voiced what all three were thinking.
“Christ, you don’t think it had anything to do with us, do you?”
“No,” John said.
“How come you’re so sure?” Scott asked.
“Why would someone kill Dickie because of what we’re doing? Maybe one of us, yeah. Or one of our connections. Dickie had nothing to do with us, except that he fed us patties once in awhile.” John said.
They got off the elevator and walked outside.
“This is bad news,” Mike said, “Woody’s been digging into the powder too much anyways, and now this happens. Dickie was a father to him. We gotta cut him off.”
“You gonna be the one to tell him that?” John said.
“Maybe Woody should be included in this conversation,” Scott said. “Maybe we shouldn’t be talking behind his back like this.”
“It’s good to see you two are so close,” Mike said sarcastically, “considering he tried to rip your head off not two fucking hours ago.”
“We’re brothers,” Scott said. “We all swore to that. Is your word no good?”
John stepped in.
“Woody is my brother Scott. You and him and Mike is all I got. It’s the same all around. But make no mistake. Woody and Woody coked up are two different people. The second is someone I don’t know.”
Scott turned away and walked a few steps. “The goddamn powder. It makes us all feel good but it’s killing us piece by piece. We shoulda never got into this business.”
“You’re forgetting Scott,” John said. “It was this or kiss Rob’s ass and still get a boot in the face. You want out or something? You think you got a choice? You think I got a choice?”
“No,” Scott said, “you’re right.”
“Good,” John said. “We’ll talk about it again later, if you want to, but I gotta go. Business.”
“You getting the vehicle?” Mike asked.
“Tommorrow,” John said. “A supercharged Ford Mustang. We need wheels, we’re so successful. Okay, see ya.”

Scott and Mike cheered up a bit at the news and John was happy because of that. He did not want to think just yet about Dickie dying, because he had a nasty suspicion that he was wrong when he had told them that it had nothing to do with them.

* * *

John eased the Mustang through traffic with a very light foot on the accelerator pedal. It didn’t run too bad at all for an engine that was pushing sixteen years of age. The 1973 model was the last of the muscle machines for Ford, before they wussed the Mustang down and tried to make more economic on fuel. It drank gasoline like an alcoholic drinking Night Train. John had bought it from a mechanic who had restored it to near-perfect condition mechanically. It still need a new coat of paint but John hesitated about doing that right away. He figured that they didn’t need the attention. It was better to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. After a week of driving John was satisfied that he had gotten a good deal. He had thrown in an ounce of very fine grass with the cold hard cash and signed no papers. He wondered how many new parts on the car had been stolen. Well, John was sure there were at least a few honest auto mechanics in the world, he just didn’t know if he would ever meet one.

Just as the thought passed through his head, the motor started to chop a little as he idled at an intersection. John started to swear at the mechanic but then he remembered with a guilty twinge that he had lent the Mustang to Woody last night. Woody loved speed, any kind of speed. He had probably ignored John’s caution and burned rubber all through the night. Maybe, John decided, he should count his blessings. Woody could have smashed up the Mustang, or been busted for speeding and God knows what else. It seemed no matter how many precautions John took, or how carefully he watched his own back (as well as the back of his brothers), he still had to turn to Lady Luck sometimes. Every damn day, something happened that forced him to roll the dice. It didn’t stop him from trying, God knows, to load the dice in his favour.

Debbie was waiting on the corner for him, carrying a Navy duffel bag, the type that could stretch out to four feet in length when fully packed. John didn’t like the picture of her standing on the corner. She looked somehow vulnerable. He pulled up to curb and she got in.
“Gees, Deb, howcome you didn’t want me to pick you up at your Mom’s place?” he asked in a sharp tone.
“We had a fight,” she answered sullenly. “I don’t want to see her just yet. I’m staying at a friend’s place tonight.”
“Yeah? Who’s that?”
“A friend.” And that was all she would say.
“Did you get what I wanted?”
“Yeah.”
“Then let’s see them,” John said.
“No. Drive me up Burnaby Mountain. I wanna see the view. I want to see the city.” Debbie said.

John didn’t really have time for this. He had a lot of things on his mind. But he headed east towards Burnaby anyways. He just wasn’t in the mood to pick a major fight with Deb. Plus, he figured, he might need all the friends he could get, real soon.

They didn’t talk in the car. Debbie seemed depressed. John drove up the moutain to the parking lot on top. The view was often gorgeous, when not obscured by the unfortunately frequent clouds. It was cloudy today, so there weren’t many people at all. Debbie got out of the car carrying the duffel bag, and motioned him to follow. She walked through the trees until she reached a small clearing on the downward slope of the mountain. The city of Vancouver lay below them, shielded by low-lying cloud. It was getting dark. She sat down on the grass and zipped open the duffel bag. She held out her hand for money and John paid her. He put his hand into the duffel bag and took out one of the four shotguns.
“It feels light,” John said. He turned it over into his hands. Not much heavier than the old Daisy BB gun he had at home.
“It’s good quality,” Debbie said. “The best are the lightest. You had the bread.”
John grunted.
“It will be even lighter once you saw off the barrel,” she added sarcastically.
Oh shit, this is what she’s pissed about, John thought, the guns. He said nothing.
“Goddamn, you stupid bastard,” Debbie hissed, and she got up her spot and walked a few feet away with her back turned.
“What are you going to use them for, huh?”
“We won’t ever use them. It’s just nice to have them,” John said. “Sometimes me and boys have to carry a lot of cash and stuff. We don’t deliver cookies and milk, you know. I don’t why you’re so choked.”
Debbie didn’t say anything for a minute, but then she dropped a bombshell.
“Woody’s uncle was snuffed by the Warlocks, you know,” she said.
John leapt up from his spot and grabbed her by both shoulders and spun her around. His eyes bore into her. But she was unfazed. She talked quite calmly.
“I heard from a friend who heard it from a friend… you know. Word’s on the street, or around people who know these things. They smoked your supplier.”
“Dickie had nothing to do with our business. Not a damn fucking thing.” John said.
“Oh,” Debbie said, and she looked away.
John released his hold.
The little nasty demon that had been nibbling away at the back of his mind took center stage of his thoughts. John felt more than a little sick. But then he felt a strange calm come over him and he cocked his head. He smiled in a stange way that scared Debbie.
“I guess it’s a good thing I got these.” John said.
“No John,” Debbie said,
“God, don’t. Tell your supplier and he can pay the Warlocks off. Or bargain for his life. It’s his problem.”
“No it isn’t,” John said.
“Dickie was family for Woody, maybe all of us. And my supplier won’t do dick.”
“No,” Debbie repeated, “you can’t go up against the club. They don’t want to touch you because it would look bad and bring down the heat. But if you show them disrespect, they will come after you.”
“No,” John said. “It’s gone too far.”
“I want out then,” Debbie said. “They’ll kill you, and me.”
She started to cry. John walked over to hold her, because he couldn’t think of anything to say.

* * *

John turned on the television set in the rec-room downstairs and turned the volume down so that it was barely audible. He walked to the next room which was his Dad’s workshop. He wanted to be able to hear if his parents got up from bed to go for a drink of water or a leak. If they came downstairs to check up on him, he would stash the guns and jump on the couch, and pretend to watch T.V. The creaky floorboards would give them away. But he would bet that they would not wake up, as long as he was quiet as he could be. It seemed like he had not been in his Dad’s workshop for the longest time. He looked around the room, at the Black & Decker tools and the Sears wrenches and the Canadian Tires thingmajigs that always promised savings in labour and time. He remembered as a young child playing in the workshop while his father happily worked on some project or another. Dad would give him a few bits of wood to play with, along with a few clean nails and a hammer. Every once in a while he would bang one of his fingers, but that was part of growing up to be a man. He wouldn’t cry out, but stick the bruised finger in his mouth to suck away some of the pain. The smell of sawdust had brought back these memories, and John shook his head. That time of his life had been filled with new discoveries every day, from completing a puzzle to blasting his bike down the neighbourhood hill that was really too steep to be safe, or so the local mothers thought. A couple of years ago, the city had sent a bulldozer in the park to level the hill because one too many kids had wracked up their ten-speeds. John took the duffel bag over to the work-bench and zipped it open. He took one of the shotguns out and placed in the workshop vise. He wound the vise shut on the barrel of the gun so that two thirds stuck out from one end. He looked for a hacksaw and found one. He took a set of wet blades out from the duffel bag and affixed one of them to the hacksaw. It would be best not to use one of the old man’s because he might notice. From what he could remembered, his Dad kept track of every damn screw and bolt. He spread a towel underneath the vise to catch the filings. Back and forth the blade bit into the steel, making less noise than John had expected. After finishing two of the shotguns, he went outside for a cigarette but black thoughts chased him back to work. Two hours, and three blades later, four hunting shotguns had been transformed into four killing street-sweepers. The dispersion rate of the buckshot as it left the shortened barrel made aiming unnecessary. Just point in the general direction and pull. They were also easier to conceal now, John could fit all four of them into his gym bag. He cleaned up the workshop and went back to his room, taking with him a file that he would later return. He sat on his bed and started to file down the sharp edges of the muzzles. He was getting tired and his hands shook a little. He could not stop from thinking about the future. John remembered when he was seven or eight years old. He had snuck out of the house at midnight on a Friday and had met some of his friends at the park who had done the same. They had sat down under the cover of some trees and gotten scared. A good sort of fear -the fear of something new and forbidden- ducking for cover whenever a pair of headlights had shone on the road next to the park. Once, a drunk had staggered across the field heading home after a night on the town. A strange thrill had taken hold of John. He had jumped up and yelled “Run!” Some of his friends had screamed with surprise, and they had jumped up and ran away too. The startled drunk had fallen to the ground. The boys had run non-stop to John’s backyard. Then they had started to laugh, as quietly as possible, but laugh nonetheless until their bellies had ached. They had all been scared, but the fear had had a make-believe, magical feeling about it. The fear of the unknown. The thrill of adventure. There was no thrill now, just a weird sort of sickness that ate into his belly. If it did not conquer the sickness, it would draw lines into his face that would make him look ten years older. One of the mystical dividing lines that a boy must cross before becoming a man is the realization of one’s mortality. That night, John crossed the line, and he was afraid.

Copyright 2008 by DJ Dunkerley. All Rights Reserved

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