Chapter Seventeen: Rendezvous

They gathered at Scott’s place since it was the safest house. His mother worked the evening shift, and wouldn’t be home until business was done. Woody kept peering out the windows, hiding himself behind the drapes, paranoid as hell.
“They could bushwack us, you know,” Woody said. “Who says they gotta wait until we get to the field?”
Scott gave him a line of coke to calm him down. Woody was getting on everybody’s nerves.
“It’s just a parley,” John said, “No sweat, maybe we just divy up the territory until Gates rides into the sunset.”
Woody snorted, and snorted again.
“So how come you brought those?”And he pointed at the duffel bag containing the shotguns.
John smiled to reassure Woody, but damn if he didn’t look at the coke and get an urge himself. “Well, it’s true this ain’t a Boy Scout Jamboree we’re having here. Gotta look strong while we parley,” John said.
Scott and Mike both smiled at that but looked at the coke too with a sort of hunger. John spilled a box of shells full of buckshot on the table.

Woody sat back in his chair and looked at the munitions. Slowly, a smile crept up to the corners of his mouth and it was ghastly to watch, because it turned his face into an clown’s mask. A smile with empty eyes. It reminded John of a picture in a book, Encyclopedia of Crime, a news-wire photograph taken of a serial killer in the mid-thirties. The man had been in handcuffs, only a few weeks from the electric chair. He had smiled for the camera.
“You’re a junkie,” John said to Woody.
“I know,” Woody said, “and soon you will be too.”
“Like hell.”
“Not to this,” Woody said, and he pointed to his nose.
“You’ll be needing what Gates needs to live.”
“And what’s that, you coked-up son of a bitch?”
“Juice. Power, baby. You see, you keep saying, all we gotta do is wait and Rob will disappear – poof! Like he’s gonna get his diploma and march into the sunset. But I know him. He can no more turn away from the juice than I can turn away from the powder. I remember the time I spent with him, the party times that turned me into the pathetic sum-bitch you see here. You know what Poleshaw? He wanted you, he spoke of you like a brother. It was you who shoulda waited. He told me one time you had the look; the look of a Warlock. You know who they are, don’t ya?”
Mike swore, and turned away towards the kitchen. He needed a drink of water. John wanted to pick up one of the shotguns, load it with a shell, and discharge it into Woody’s smiling face. It still grinned at him, like a court jester speaking the words of a prophet. But he held his breath for a moment and swallowed his emotion. He kept the panic away from his head so he could speak, so he could gamble:
“Alright Woody, you win,” John said.
He emptied his pockets of coke, pot, and a thick wad of cash. Woody’s eyes blinked.
“We give up. We go to Rob and give it up. The coke, cash, everything. We turn our guns butt-first and hand them over too. That’s what you want Woody, ain’t it?”
Woody didn’t answer.
“Mike, get in here,” John said.
“Fuck you. We’re up against the Warlocks. Oh God, I’m gonna puke.” Mike answered. “Goddammit, you chickenshit pussy,” John screamed, “GET YOUR ASS IN HERE!”
Mike came out of the kitchen.
“Who’s gonna break the circle?” John asked. No one spoke.
“You sons of bitches. Turn yellow now, if you’re gonna turn.”

John shook with anger, the dike breaking with a flash-flood of rage. He felt as if the whole world was against him, that no matter how much he schemed and planned and thought things out beforehand, something, or somebody would come along and screw it up. Like now.
“It’s not like that, John.” Scott spoke for the first time. “Nobody’s thinking of running. Nobody’s scared.”
“Fuck you, nobody’s scared,” Mike said. “I mean, I ain’t running, but this is more than shovin’ in the lockeroom.”
“Listen Mike,” John said in a soft voice, “If you leave now, and talk to Gates, real respectful like, and make him understand you’re out of the circle, I think he would leave you alone.”
Mike’s face grew red, and he looked as if he was about to cry.
“Is that what you think? That I wanna break the circle?”
John felt the moment to be at hand, and his fist clenched involuntarily.
“I don’t know, and I have to know. I can’t walk out alone. I need you brothers beside me. Not behind me. Beside me, so I can draw courage from the circle. I’m only mad at you Mike, ‘cause you thought you were the only one who’s scared.”
Mike covered his eyes with his left hand. John stretched out his arm and put his hand on the table. One by one, the other boys did the same, keeping silence as they joined hands.

* * *

They played cards for an hour or so, after loading the shotguns and planning for the meeting ahead. Scott cracked a couple of jokes to break the tension that seemed to gather whenever there was a pause in the conversation. One of them went like this:

“…There was this mouse walking along in the jungle, who all of a sudden, heard this whoompin’ and hollerin’. He rushed around the corner to see what was going on, and he came upon this elephant that was dancing around with one foot off the ground, in general just freaking out. So the mouse asks the elephant, ‘Hey, what’s wrong?’
‘I got a splinter in my foot,’ the elephant says, and turns his foot over so the mouse can see. Sure enough, there’s a splinter stuck right between the elephant’s toes.
‘Can you pull it out for me?’ the elephants asks the mouse, and the mouse thinks it over.
‘Okay,’ the mouse finally says – and by the way, the elephant is in freakin’ agony – ‘but if I do this for you, you have to grant me one wish, anything I desire.’”

“Well, the elephant doesn’t even bother to ask what the mouse wants, he’s in so much pain. ‘Just do it, anything at all, it’s yours,’ the elephant says.
So the mouse grabs hold of the splinter with both paws spread wide like this… for the mouse, it’s a big piece of freakin’ lumber. And the mouse pulls with all his might, heaves and heaves, and pop! The splinter comes out.
‘Thank you very much,’ says the elephant. ‘Now what was that favor you wanted?’
‘I wanna fuck you up the ass,’ squeaks the mouse.”

Scott waited until the giggles died down before he continued the joke.
“So the elephant thinks this over and snorts through his trunk. ‘Okay, climb aboard.’
And the mouse climbs the back leg of the elephant, lies himself spread-eagled between the two cheeks, and starts to hump away, holdin’ on to the elephant with all his might. The elephant stands there waiting for the mouse to complete his business, but after a couple of minutes, the elephants starts to get bored, starts shuffling from one foot to another. Well, damned if the elephant doesn’t step on another splinter.
‘Yeow!’ cries the elephant, and he leaps up into the air.”
“Meanwhile, the mouse is just about ready to come, and he hears the elephant scream. So the mouse yells out: ‘THAT’S IT BITCH, TAKE IT, TAKE IT ALL!’”

When the boys had finished laughing, John checked his watch and told them it was time to go. The cleared the table of beer and flushed the cigarette butts down the toilet so Scott’s mother wouldn’t know they had been smoking. They stashed the shotguns under their jackets. Scott went to the bathroom to fetch a can of Lysol. Woody and Mike left for the Mustang. John stood in the doorway.
“Don’t keep us waiting,” he called out to Scott.
“Squeak, squeak,” Scott answered.
When he had finished spraying the room, he put the Lysol back under the sink. Then he followed John out the door.

* * *

Light rain plunked down on the windshield of the Mustang as they drove to Laurentian High. It seemed this month that the Pacific Ocean had decided to spit half its water into the air and send it east. There had been a bit of sunshine last Saturday, but that’s all. The people of Vancouver were of course used to the rain, but after awhile it beat down the hardiest soul. There were not many people on the streets today.

John took eyes off the street for a moment and looked up at the clouds. Maybe they weren’t such a bad thing, he thought. He had read somewhere that the ozone layer was getting thinner, that there was even a hole up in the north pole, letting in harmful UV that slowly, surely, destroyed everything in the path of the beams of light. Perhaps the clouds acted as a shield against some of those rays. Stupid thoughts.

Rob and his boys were waiting for them at the other side of the field, leaning up against his Camaro. John wondered if any were packin’. He could guess Rob had a gun for sure. Hell, they all did. Anything else was wishful thinking.
“Showtime,” Scott murmured.
They gathered behind the Mustang to tuck in the shotguns under their jean and leather jackets. “Tuck in these green bandannas somewhere where they show. They’re our colours,” John said, and he handed them out.
“Yeah, show the flag,” Woody said.
“So what do we do?” Mike asked.
“Walk beside me, but don’t say a word,” John said. “Let me speak for everybody. Is that okay?”
Woody looked around and sealed the deal. “You’re the man, John.”

John started to walk over to the football field, and the boys fell in beside and behind him. Fog rolled off the waters of the Burrard Inlet to the north of Laurentian, and the day turned a little darker as the evening approached. A flock of seagulls flew over the field, heading towards the dumpsters of the diners and restaurants on East Hastings Street. The last of rush-hour traffic trickled out of Granville and the Trans-Canada and the Lougheed Highway as the commuters ended their day. But John was only aware of the grass under his feet as it dampened his running shoes. It had not been mowed in months. The hashmarks had all but disappeared. Rob and his gang moved towards them, their arms barely swinging with their strides, eyes level with John and his boys. In an insane moment John thought of the Coach stepping on the field and blowing the whistle, and every one would fall in together and run around the track, or gather in a military formation and do some calisthenics. John stopped walking when Rob was ten metres away. There were four other boys with Gates, most of whom John recognized from school. One of them was the lineman that had told him the dirty joke during the championship game. John couldn’t put a name to the face. It had all seemed so long ago. The rest of Rob’s gang looked to be older boys, everyone of them seniors. John couldn’t figure out what they had to gain by sticking with Rob, unless they didn’t have a choice in the matter. But the important thing to note was that all their jackets were open, and that meant they were all packing.

Rob looked insane. His eyes were round and his mouth was nothing more than a straight line drawn with a pencil. He looked like a boxer at the beginning of a fight, when the opponents touch gloves, only here there was no referee between them to advise them on the rules set down by the Marquis of Queensberry. For a long moment there was silence between the two gangs, and John’s senses sharped even more. The fear was gone, replaced by a heightened sense of being alive. The tension gave him a boost like rocket fuel, but the high was cleaner then from any narcotic. He felt as if he knew what to do and what to say.
“I’m glad you had the balls to come,” Rob said to John.
“What’re you talking about Gates? I thought this was all settled.. you know, in the weightroom.” “Easy to look brave when you’re setting an ambush, you little shit,” Rob snarled.
John shrugged his shoulders.
“Had a good teacher,” he said, and he looked away from Rob towards the other four boys, and spoke to them in a casual voice. “Okay, which one of you was the fucker that blindsided me during football practice? C’mon, somebody stuck an elbow in my ribs, who was it?”
John could hear Woody and Mike snicker behind him. Points for John in the opening round.

Rob saw that his words struck no fear into John and it made him angry, but he bottled it for the moment.
“You talk to me Poleshaw. Only me.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right Robby. God knows the boys standing right behind you look about ready to crap their pants.”
“I ain’t scared of you, punk,” one of the boys said, in a weak sort of way.
It was an outrage that John Poleshaw, barely a junior, was sassing a senior in such a way.For a moment it looked as if John and his boys would break out laughing at their opponents, but Rob moved his feet and hands darted towards belt buckles. But Gates was only moving his feet to make a point. He started to pace back and forth, throwing his face and arms to the sky in utter exasperation.
“John, John JOHN!” he cried out, “what the fuck ARE YOU DOING? This isn’t some fucking GAME! Are we gonna parlay or slap dicks on the grounds? Jesus!”
His fingers bent out from his hands like twigs from a dead tree, section-straight but contorted at the joints. His elbows pointed at his stomach, and his palms were raised upwards. He looked at John with eyes open so wide, they looked ready to drop straight out of the sockets. It was a damn freaky sight.

John felt the first pang of fear in his belly, not the type of fear one felt from a superior opponent, and not from any lack of courage. It was the fear one felt when faced with a dog that may or may not be slightly rabid. John guessed that Rob had spent a little too much time in some dark corner. A nasty realization hit John, as much from intuition as deductive reasoning. Rob had been the one who had smoked Woody’s uncle. Okay, okay, John thought, now’s the time to be cool. Mellow out the situation and let the bad vibes blow away in the breeze.
“You took from me Poleshaw! You took from me and I want it back. I’m taking it back today!” Rob said, and pointed a crooked finger in John’s direction that wavered in little circles.
John said nothing and rolled his head around once, twice. He could feel his neck muscles cracking. Yup, a little bit of tension up there.
“Answer me!”
“What do you want me to say?”
Rob stopped in his tracks as he digested this bit of news. Then he smiled for the first time.
“Kiss my ring. Get down on one knee. Be my first lieutenant. We bury all this shit that has gone on before and we come together.”
“Why should I?” John said.
“Because I’ll destroy you if you don’t.”

John thought for a moment. He thought of getting up in the morning and taking orders from his mom on what to eat for breakfast. He hated that nutritious wheat-germ shit in warm milk. He thought of going to school and taking orders from teachers who gave him shit if he so much as wore a baseball cap backwards. Then there was the football coach and the track coach who thought a God-given right to bust his balls. He thought of the convenience store clerks who threatened to call the cops on him because they thought he was shoplifting. At church he got dirty looks if he so much as scratched himself. Did God really care if he relieved himself of an itch in His House? Every damn day of his life, nobody looked upon him as a human being to be respected, just something to be ordered about or spat. And now there was another fucker who wanted him to bow down and stick his nose in the dirt.
“No,” John said.
“That’s too bad, Poleshaw,” Rob said, “I figured you to be a smart boy. Guess I was wrong.”
The old Rob was back now. Cocky, arrogant, with a shit-eating grin on his face, Gates farted loud enough for everyone to hear, and the boys behind him all laughed. John felt anger now. The injustice of everything that had happened to him leaped up and slapped him in the face.
“You’re history, Gates,” he whispered.
“What’s that Poleshaw? I didn’t hear you,” Rob said.
“Go home. Go to sleep. You’ll wake up tommorrow and nothing will have changed. My retail will be lower than your wholesale. Hell, I’ll give it away free for the next month. You can bust heads from here to June and people will still come to me, begging for the stuff. And by June, you’ll be gone.”
“No you ain’t, your supplier is long gone from this planet,” Rob spat.

John should have winced at that comment, should have checked five paces to his right, because Woody tilted his head back in surprise and started to put two and two together. But John was gone. The anger consumed him in a sudden flash and spilled out of his mouth, words, words, words.
“Bend my knee to you, you fucking twat? You’re nothing but a hyena that waits until a man turns his back and then you lunge for his hamstrung. I faced you and you turned your back like you wanted a rim job. You’re like a goddamn ugly poison spider that waits until night before crawling out from under a rock. Take orders from you? I’d rather die. You dumb bastard, do you know how many people wanna stick a knife up your ass? You’re history and you’re too dumb to know it. I’m talking to nothin’ but a ghost.”
“You’re a dead man Poleshaw,” Rob said, completely calm and cold now. “You won’t even make it to June. And I’ll piss on your grave.”
“Oh yeah? How’m I gonna die Gates? You tell me. A shotgun blast from a moving car as I come out of church with my family? A knife in my back as I’m taking a leak in a school washroom? And you’ll be sit in some bar on the other side of the city, wetting your pants as your Warlock bum-buddies pull your fat out of the fire again.”
“I kill you myself, I swear,” Rob said. “I’ll look into your eyes and see you die, like I done before, like I toasted that fat old fuck Dickie…”

And he stopped, but it was too late.
“YOU!”John whipped his head to the right. Woody no longer stood erect but looked hunched and ready to run through the line of scrimmage one more time. His face registered nothing but shock. It had hit him.
“Bastard!”
Woody reached inside his jacket. A heartbeat later, thunder.

* * *

Ten seconds of silence passed before John lowered his head to see what was making his knee so cold. It was on the ground. Instinctively he had bent down to steady his aim. The action had saved his life, he could remember now the sound of bullets or pellets whizzing over his head. They had aimed high. He was alive. He gloried in the feeling for a half-a-minute. He breathed in deeply, and it felt wonderful. They had tried to kill him, but they had missed and before they could try again he had sighted his shotgun and pulled the trigger, reached out and took life. He had fired twice, both times seeing one man fall as he looked along the barrel of the gun. They lay before him now, on their back or crumpled face down in the wet grass, unable to hurt him anymore. Death all around him, but it did not touch him. He did a pirouette to show the world that his heart still pumped blood through his body, that he could sing and dance and eat and shit and…

Suddenly a wave of loneliness broke over him, and washed away the joy. He looked at the line of dead bodies not thirty feet away from him. Still, motionless, like a photograph. He turned his head from side to side. Mike lay face down on the ground, and John was close enough to see the wind ruffle his hair. He looked pathetic dead, his legs sprawled out in a clumsy sort of way. Blood covered the bone poking out of his jean jacket, a shotgun burst had caught him dead center in the chest, the pellets slicing through his trunk to come out the other side. Woody’s face was half-gone, his features covered by a sheet of crimson. White gore separted what was left of his head from the grass. A dark cloud obscured John’s vision, and for a brief moment he could imagine Woody merely asleep, resting his head on a small white pillow, shielding his face with a red hankerchief from the sun. But there was no sunshine today, as the clouds hurried dusk along and the subtle shadows lengthed across the field, bringing darkness. Everybody’s dead but me, John thought. He felt as if he had stepped out of one world into another. He thought again of the firefight, Rob and each member of his gang dropping one by one. Gates had been the first. He had fallen to his knees, and by superhuman effort, drew his revolver and fired three times, but the last shot had been a wild one into the air as he flopped on his back. The barrage had only last five seconds. At ten metres, with sawed-off shotguns on both sides, the pellets had swept the field like a steel-whisked broom. John had not seen any of his friends fall.

Scott lay on his side, back facing John. A hand moved, and John blinked, not daring to hope. Scott’s hand twitched again, and John rushed to his friend’s side, and laid him over on his back. Scott opened his eyes.
“Shit,” he said.
It seemed an appropiate thing to say. His jacket was ripped on his left side, under the armpit. “They got you, man, oh shit,” John said, “we gotta get you to a hospital.”
“I’m alive, hot damn, I’m alive,” Scott said, as he fully came to his senses. He tried to sit, but cried out in pain and fell on his back again.
“Woody? Mike?” Scott asked.
“They’re dead.”
“Gates?”
“Dead too. Everybody’s dead but us.” Scott closed his eyes for a few seconds.
He opened them wide again, not out of shock, but from a sudden thought.
“Pigs!” he hissed. “We gotta get out of here.”
He struggled to sit up, and John helped him.
“Gotta-get-out-of-here.”
“Maybe we should wait for an ambulance,” John said.
“No! Everybody’s dead. We’ll be dead too if we wait. Help me to my feet.”
“You’re hurting, man.”
“Listen John. We have to get out of here. We’ve done killings… They’ll put us in adult court for this… I’m alright. The burst must have just grazed me, otherwise I would be dead.”

John stood paralysed for a moment. Run? To where? Everything was lost. The circle was broken. Futile to run away. A siren sounded in the distance and Scott gasped, bringing himself to his feet on guts alone. John instinctely wrapped one of Scott’s arms around his shoulders.
“We have to hurry,” Scott said. They staggered towards the Mustang, the wail of the siren growing louder. No time to think anymore. The fight-or-flight reflex chased active thought out of John’s head, as he carried his friend across the field.

Copyright 2008 by DJ Dunkerley All Rights Reserved

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