Read GOING DOWN below.
A Short Story
©2013 Vern Lovic. Exclusive worldwide publishing rights assigned to: Apornpradab Buasi.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to the publisher with subject line addressed “Attention: Permissions,” at ApornpradabBuasi@gmail.com.
Publisher’s Note: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination. Locales and public names are sometimes used for atmospheric purposes. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, or to businesses, companies, events, institutions, or locales is completely coincidental.
Published in the United States of America.
Author’s official website: VernLovic.com.
* * * * *
Growing up a teen in a defunct coal town named Springfield with population 3,010 in Southwestern Pennsylvania was every bit as boring as you’re already thinking it was. To snap myself out of it, I sought out excitement in every form, at every opportunity. I refused to succumb to the lifeless existence that surrounded me. Even as a kid, I made the most of what I had.
My father left my mother when I was six. I still have memories of Budweiser cans and ashtrays on the kitchen table, and Dylan records playing endless mind-numbing loops. I’d love to meet the person that decided turntables needed a feature where they played the same record over and over until minds turned to slush.
Despite having little to no relationship with the man at six years old, their split affected me anyway. I withdrew at school and at home. My mother sensed that I needed something. My ex-father loved baseball, so she took me to join the local soccer team in 1971. I didn’t have the slightest idea what it was all about when I arrived at the indoor gym, except I was told I could have fun “kicking balls.” I did just that over the next eight years, having a great time playing for two different teams in a Spring and Fall league until I was accepted as a junior varsity player on our high school team at fourteen years old.
At fourteen I’d already been introduced to alcohol use as a way of life. Most adults in our town drank at least a few times per week. Many drank nightly. I’d been blitzed at a wedding at twelve, having consumed everyone’s abandoned cups in the dark reception hall. I’d been to a party at a friend’s house at thirteen at which his father bought our soccer team our first keg of beer.
I slept on the second floor of our home. After seeing a neighbor’s house go up in flames, my mother bought a chain and aluminum-rung ladder we could hang out the window to climb down in case there was no way out using the steps. It became the easiest way out of the house at all hours, and I abused it a couple times a week to go out with friends.
Alcohol was a way of life for people growing up in our area. We had more bars per capita than was allowed by the constitution. Hell, alcohol consumption in quantity was a way of life for everyone in our area, from teens on up. I don’t think I knew any adult besides my mother that didn’t drink regularly. Even our Irish priest at the Catholic church we had to attend weekly would sometimes have the unmistakable smell of whiskey on his breath as he handed out the Eucharist.
Without a dad, I felt the need to do more than the average kid to “fit in” with a group. I decided early on that my soccer buddies were the coolest group because we won nearly all of our games. Everyone loved a winner.
I was in eighth grade when a junior on the team, Greg, told a small group of us soccer players about being able to drink in a bar in town called “Coop’s.” Greg called it ‘going down.’ It sounded like BS, but he insisted it was true. He and another junior, Dean, were going to take a select group of us younger guys to the bar to introduce us to the owner that Friday to see if we could be part of the group and go down. I couldn’t believe my good fortune, and yet I half-expected Greg to be pulling a gag like he was so good at. I figured they’d take us and lock us in a room at the bar and laugh at us for half-an-hour making us look stupid and getting their laughs. I was about eighty percent sure it would happen like that.
Was I going to pass up the opportunity to drink in a bar if it turned out to really be true? Hell no. I was going regardless.
Coop’s was known by everyone in town, whether or not they drank there. The owner, Don Cooper, was like the mafia don of our city. People joked all the time that the mayor didn’t run Springfield, Don Cooper did. Our entire police force, judges, and lawyers ate and drank at Coop’s regularly. Damn near daily.
All week I was looking forward to seeing if what Greg was talking about was true. We were really going to be able to drink in a bar at fourteen years old?
Friday finally came, and I met at the convenience store near the bar with the other guys. Greg gave us instructions about how it would all happen. We’d walk over to the front door of the bar, enter, and sit down at a table like we were going to eat a sandwich or something.
Don would come over and sit with us when he thought it was safe. Some patrons of the bar were trusted, and some were not. Don met with all new guys to talk to us and ask us some questions. Then, if conditions were safe, he’d tell one of his employees to take us into the kitchen and down the hidden stairs in the floor to the bar below.
It sounded like a definite setup now. We had to go downstairs in the basement to drink? What the hell? Still, I shut up and went along with the rest of the guys. None of us was walking away. We had to know if this was all bullshit, or real.
“One more thing,” Greg said, holding his finger up to us like we were in kindergarten. “Whatever you do, don’t stare at his bump.”
“What bump? What are you talking about? Where’s the bump at?” The questions flying out of my mouth.
“Shhh Mike! Why you think everyone calls him “Bumpy”? It’s on his forehead. Don’t look at it or you might not get to go down.”
A bump on his head. I hoped it wasn’t too obvious. Shit, I’d do my best, but I wasn’t promising anything. I felt the goal of being able to go down slipping away. I was at the age where funerals were funny. I was never very good at ignoring things I’d been told about. Especially funny things.
We walked slowly over to the bar. Though mostly sure it was a setup, I was still trembling with excitement at the possibility. Sitting at the bar were three or four guys who turned to see us walk in. There were other customers in the booths, eating dinner and drinking. There was a television with Pittsburgh Steeler football on over the bar that was loud enough to drown out most conversation. Don Cooper was standing behind the cash register at the bar as we walked in. He stared at us for a second then motioned for Greg to grab a table in the back.
We each ordered something small. I got fries. We ate slowly while Greg joked quietly that we should be careful not to let Bumpy grab our legs under the table. What the hell? I was nervous already. Bumpy was gay, too? It felt like a test or something. I didn’t want to fail. I sure as hell didn’t want any bumpy-headed pervert grabbing my leg either.
In a blink, Bumpy came over and squeezed into the booth on Greg and Dean’s side, smiling widely. Before he sat down I’d already spotted the bump on his head. It was about three-quarters of an inch high, an inch around, and on the top right side of his forehead. It was impossible to miss, and even harder not to look at. I hoped like hell I could tear my eyes away from it.
“What’s up, guys?” Bumpy said. His voice struck me as funnier than the big growth on his head and thankfully that took my mind away from the bump. His voice was high-pitched and screechy. I’d never heard him or seen him so close before. Bumpy’s eyes went around the table, sizing everyone up, staring deeply into each pair of eyes, reading our faces. It was impossible to ignore. I was sure many kids must have looked at “The Bump” and still been able to go down.
I didn’t know at the time, but hundreds of local youths over the past five decades had been through the same situation. It was a fright of passage for those of us that were selected to go down.
I was on edge. He looked at Greg to ask if we had everything we needed. Greg said he had a couple of new guys to introduce to him. We went around the table introducing ourselves. After we said our names, Bumpy asked who our parents were, who our uncles and aunts were. He knew and had connections with everyone in town. He knew we played soccer. He’d been to some of the night games played on the field just behind the bar. He was a sports nut. Or maybe a “young male athlete nut” was a better description.
It was eerie the way he looked at us when we answered his questions. It was more that he was looking into us. He was looking for something, but it wasn’t in the answer we gave. It was in the mindset we had. He was looking to see if we revealed the faintest hint of homosexuality in us. I realized this later of course; I couldn’t have fathomed it then.
Bumpy had no wife. Never had one far as anyone knew. He was in his late sixties, I guessed. He could have been as much as seventy-five for all I knew. He wasn’t an inch over five-foot four, small boned and with close-set eyes. His beady blue eyes stared too long. His pasted half-smile was menacing and probing more than it showed his true emotion. He had a very odd composure about him. He was very self-assured. Of course, he was dealing with kids. He was odd and yet at fourteen years old I didn’t know anything about what gay people were all about. I’m sure most of us were completely clueless.
We’d only been at the table for few minutes when Bumpy abruptly excused himself.
“Greg, you told all my boys how we do things, yes?”
“Yeah, Don, I told them.”
“OK, good guys. Welcome down. Have a good time, and don’t get too loud.”
He smiled. We smiled, not even so much because we were getting the privilege to go down, but we were all terribly relieved that he was leaving the table. We were all uncomfortable in his presence.
About ten minutes later, Bumpy signaled Brad, one of our friends who worked at the bar in the kitchen as a cook. Brad came to our table and told us to follow him into the kitchen and that we should be quick about it.
We crowded into the small kitchen, and Brad pulled the door closed to block the view from the bar area. I’m not sure why, because everyone in that bar knew exactly what was going on, they’d all been down too. Bumpy knew who he could trust, and who he couldn’t. If he let a group of kids go down, you could be sure that every adult outside in the bar was well trusted.
Then Brad squatted to the floor and pulled up on a metal latch to reveal nine wooden-planked steps leading down into the basement.
“Get down, get down fast,” Brad said, “Don doesn’t like it when we dick around.”
And so we did, one after another. Dean in front hit the lights and the hatch we’d come through closed with a jolt over our heads.
We were officially Down!
In front of us was a wooden table with four strong wooden chairs and another one behind it. The door for a simple restroom was between two large black refrigerators with a paper taped to each one. On the paper were prices for each of the different varieties of beer inside. It was too good to be true. The prices were very reasonable, probably just above Bumpy’s cost. The best thing was, Greg said we could run up a tab. Holy shit, beer on credit at fourteen! Beer anytime we wanted it!
In the first refrigerator were quarts of Budweiser, Miller, Schlitz, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Iron City, and other domestic brands. In the second, import beers like Foster’s Lager, Molson, Heineken, and others I’d never tasted, heard of, and couldn’t even pronounce. It was paradise. I’d found the Holy Grail as a fourteen year old.
The room was large, but covered in boxes and old furniture beyond the spot that was cleared out for the tables and refrigerators. It was windowless and unheated. We never heard any noise through the sidewalls, so they must have been thick.
I found out later there were kids from other high school sports teams that were also allowed down – all male. Football players, basketball players, tennis players, and gymnasts. Kids got in only by referral from other kids already allowed down, and then, it was only if Bumpy met you and invited you down. Out of twenty-three soccer players on our team, only seven of us were going down. On the football team there were more, maybe twenty out of forty guys. On the tennis team, only two out of nine. So it was a special club, and yet it was on a massive scale considering how many laws were being flagrantly broken. Coop’s was an institution. Hundreds of kids over scores of years went to drink at their own little bar beneath the bar beginning around fourteen years of age. I was in a privileged group.
How did we know it had been going on for so long? The beams above our heads were carved with the names of everyone that had been down before us. The pioneers. Our mayor, police chief and all of the department, judges, firemen, lawyers, teachers, scout leaders, and owners of stores and bars all over town had all been there. Their names were right there in the beams. We knew the names of everyone who had been down. I found an uncle. Some kids found their brothers or father’s names scraped into the beams. After a few weeks of running up our bar tabs we also added our own names to the group.
Scandalous, right? Such is life in a small town in Western Pennsylvania.
As a senior, I was down with my friend Tim Fliss and some other guys that were already there when we arrived. Tim was a tennis player, tall and lanky, with a knack for losing every drinking game he ever played. On maybe our fourth round of the table, Tim’s quarter inexplicably bounced like it had wings, rolling far across the room during a moment of obvious inebriation. He got up to get it and I said, “No, here’s another quarter Tim, don’t go over there. You know that area is off limits.” The other guys were hardly paying attention, and drinking whenever they felt like it – ignoring the game and just eager to get some alcohol into their blood.
Tim lurched up, already seriously affected by the three beers he’d hammered in twenty minutes. Before I could grab him, he stumbled over to find where the quarter went.
WHAP! His forehead hit the cross-beam and he dropped to the ground. He wasn’t passed out, quite the opposite, it seemed to sober him up. He proceeded to look for the quarter on his hands and knees, ignoring the howls of laughter from the table of drinkers behind us. He squatted and waddled around searching the floor for the coin, intent on getting it – to prove he wasn’t drunk, or for whatever reason. The rest of us went back to playing quarters, bouncing them into cups, and we kind of forgot about him for a few minutes, as drunkards do.
Ten minutes later I realized Tim hadn’t returned to the table yet. I looked over and saw he was nosing around far beyond where he was the last time I noticed him. Frank, an older kid also saw him when I did and told him to get his ass back to the table and stop fucking around before we all got kicked out.
When he finally came back to the table, he was white. I thought he’d maybe thrown up in a distant part of the cellar, but I didn’t want to ask and see him get the shit wrung out of him by Frank. Frank was three years older than us and was always looking for a reason to beat someone senseless. Not anyone his own age, just younger guys. So, I dared not ask Tim if he’d thrown up. When he got back to the table he looked over at me like he’d just seen a ghost, put his head down on the corner of the wooden table and stayed there while Frank and “Sneed” bounced quarters off his head, attempting to get one in his glass so they could make him drink some more.
We left the bar that night completely out of our minds, but Tim was coherent enough to ask me a weird question that stuck in my mind.
“Did you ever see Mark Palmer’s name on the beams downstairs?”
I told him I hadn’t. Mark was a fifteen year old that had disappeared the year before. Nobody had a clue where he’d gone, but everyone agreed, he wasn’t the type to run away.
“You sure you never saw his name? Because, uhh, he had that hat…”
“No, I never did. Why are you asking?”
“He, uhh, god I gotta piss.”
And that was it, he stumbled over to the flower shop wall and pissed in full view of passing traffic. We ran home like fools to get away from an old lady yelling from a window behind us that she was calling the police.
The next time I was down, I checked the beams thoroughly. Mark wasn’t on a sports team, but Bumpy occasionally let others down because their parents knew him. I found no sign of Mark’s name or Mark’s dad’s name anywhere on the beams.
Since Mark had gone missing we all assumed he was dead. Tim’s question came out of nowhere, and it bothered me, drunk as I was. Mark Palmer’s hat was on his head at all hours of the day and night. I remembered his family coming door to door on our street showing photos of Mark in his hat and asking if we’d seen or heard from him. Apparently he was wearing it when he disappeared.
The hat was important because it was unique. It had a white cobra embroidered on it. Mark was a nut about cobras, he even kept snakes in his room as pets. He’d bought the hat during a trip to a snake farm in Texas and wore it ever since.
Our town was known for having a huge number of runaways. It was a dead-end town, with few prospects for kids who didn’t already have a plan for college or an interest in taking over the family business. Most people figured Mark ran away like the others. That didn’t make sense to any of us that knew him.
Tim told me two weeks later during a drinking party at a friend’s house what happened that night at Bumpy’s. When he was hopping around on the floor to find the quarter, he moved a cardboard box to see if it rolled back there. Jammed flat between the wall and box he saw Mark Palmer’s cobra baseball cap. Tim said the hat was unmistakably his. It was the only hat like it he’d ever seen.
That night I tried to convince Tim to tell his dad about the hat he found on the floor of Bumpy’s basement. Then I reconsidered. We’d go check ourselves to see if the hat was still there. Better yet, we’d grab it and bring it to show Tim’s dad. I needed to see it for myself to really believe it.
There was a night football game on Friday. We figured it would be a good night to go down and look for the hat because Bumpy was always too busy to come down to visit and chat us up like he did on nights with no game, and other drinkers who were down would leave before the game started.
When Tim and I arrived, there were a bunch of guys already there. We pulled open a metal pop-up table and sat down to a frosty quart of Budweiser’s finest each. It wasn’t long before the others began leaving, they’d apparently been there for hours if the mess of quart bottles on the floor was any indication.
Brad popped his head down and asked if we were leaving, too. We said we were just getting started. Brad said Bumpy had decided to close the bar early so he could go see the game. He told us to stay as long as we wanted and go out the side gate when we were done.
We waited for fifteen minutes as gradually all noise from upstairs subsided. We each had a beer and readied ourselves.
“They all gone, you think?” Tim asked.
“I guess. I haven’t heard anything for a few minutes. Let’s wait a few more to be sure,” I said. I wasn’t eager to do this, and yet I was sure that if we broke this news that Bumpy was murdering kids everyone thought were running away, we’d probably be offered slots in the FBI academy or something.
Things had been graveyard quiet upstairs for a good ten more minutes. Everyone was definitely gone.
“Where exactly did you see it?” I asked him.
It was really dark on that side of the cellar, but maybe it was my eyes trying to adjust after being in the light of a 100-watt bulb dangling from the ceiling on a wire over the table.
“Right there. I was drunk as hell but I remember exactly where it was.”
I went over and squatted down. “This box, right?” I was whispering.
“Yeah, that’s the one,” he nodded.
“Where’s your flashlight – you bring it?”
He fumbled in his pocket and pulled out a mini flashlight that for its size gave a lot of light.
“Perfect,” I whispered.
I took the flashlight from him and pulled the box out slowly, jumping back and nearly cracking my head on one of the metal water poles that ran through the cellar when a mouse came out from the side of the box nearly crawling on my hand.
“What the hell’d you do that for?” Tim cried.
“Rat almost got me,” I lied.
“Holy shit, you scared the hell out of me. Just get the hat so we can get out of here.”
I reached in back of the box where the hat should have been. Nothing. I felt around some more. It wasn’t there.
I flipped the box around. The cardboard Tim said should have been ripped was covered with some duct tape.
“The hat isn’t here. The box is taped up now,” I said.
“We gotta open it and get the hat. Hurry up!”
“Go make sure you don’t hear anyone upstairs in the kitchen first.” I was all for playing detective, but I was a little concerned that the hat wasn’t there any longer. That meant Bumpy had been there to clean it up since Tim found it. I didn’t have a good feeling in my gut.
Tim walked over by the stairs leading up to the kitchen and listened.
“Nobody. Everyone’s gone. Let’s do it now, quick,” he said as he walked back over to me.
The box was duct taped shut on the top too. I peeled it off the cardboard box and the top two flaps sprung open. I pulled open the two inner tabs. There was no hat on top, but there were various items of clothes. Kids clothes.
There were shorts, shirts, underwear, and socks for teenagers. Teen boys, I realized as I rifled through the stack of tightly packed clothes.
“The hat!” I said too loudly.
It was down at the bottom of the pile. I caught my breath. It was really there! I pulled it out and out popped something else attached to it.
“What? What is it?” Tim asked anxiously.
“It’s, uh, got a paper in a plastic bag stuck to the hat. Here, take it.”
Tim reached out and grabbed the hat and bag.
“Let’s read it later. Let’s just get the hell out of here!” Tim had obviously had enough of the whole situation.
“OK, yeah, let me make this box look perfect like it was before I opened it.”
And I took about forty seconds to do just that, making sure the items of clothing were packed down tightly in the box, just like they were.
I carefully and silently slid the box back against the wall.
Tim was already standing at the side door that led out to a sidewalk and a final gate on the side of the front of the bar.
“OK, let’s go,” I said standing up and walking toward him.
Tim pulled the handle on the door. It didn’t move. He pulled harder. We both pulled on it.
“Holy shit, we’re trapped!” Tim said.
Then I remembered something and breathed relief, almost a laugh at Tim’s paranoia.
“No, we’re not. Haven’t you ever opened this door before? You have to unlock these other two locks – one high, one low, before you get to go. Didn’t you ever hear Brad say that before?”
“Yeah I did. I just forgot, just open it quick, and let’s get the hell out,” Tim said, his face showing near panic already.
I reached up and slid the heavy upper and lower sliding deadbolts. The door didn’t loosen up like it usually did. I pulled the handle. Nothing. It was still rock solid, locked from the outside.
What the hell? Did Brad forget to unlock it before he left? I wondered.
I pulled hard on the handle – pulling and pushing, hoping to jar whatever was sticking the door and swing it open. It wouldn’t budge. I looked at Tim.
“We gotta put this stuff back now and start banging on walls to get out of here,” Tim whispered loudly.
“Wait a sec. Let’s try the hatch,” I said, hoping like hell Brad was still upstairs closing up.
Tim moved quickly up the stairs, slipping once and making a loud stomp with his foot as he did so. The noise sounded so loud against the silence.
Reaching the ceiling with his hands, he pushed up.
“Shit luck, man.”
We’d have to wait until Bumpy returned from the football game that night and let us out. Though scared, I had to think it was probably an honest mistake. Brad was probably excited to get to go to the game, too. He was always working on game nights.
Ever the optimist, I figured it wasn’t all bad. We did have two refrigerators of beer, and the evidence we needed to show someone so they could investigate Bumpy about Mark’s disappearance. We just had to get out of there in one piece.
“Let’s look around, all the walls, maybe there is another way out. Also, look for telephone plugs and a telephone somewhere so maybe we can call someone to get us out,” I said, still full of hope we could get out without waiting for Bumpy.
We covered the entire range of the sprawling basement. It was about five-hundred square-feet in size, and there were no other exits we could find. I clearly remembered being able to see Bumpy’s windows from the back alley outside, so I wondered how this room was set up. It seemed to be a cell, isolated from the outside. The walls were solid brick, but it must have been within the space where Bumpy lived. Almost like his living environment surrounded the entire basement where we went down to drink.
Something like an observation tank.
I imagined peep holes all over the walls and I felt sick to my stomach. Holy shit, was Bumpy like that? Is this what happened to Mark?
Tim plopped down on one of the chairs. My eyes were still surveying our bleak surroundings. There were no other lights, just the one bulb hanging, and the small one in the restroom. There wasn’t anything I could come up with to do so I sat down in the chair next to Tim.
“Give me that hat for a second,” I said.
Tim pulled the hat with the attached paper out of his jacket pocket. It looked like a note. I unsealed the baggie and we both read at the same time. Chills raced up and down my body with every line.
You think you outsmarted old Coop right?
You think I don’t watch closely what’s going on down here?
Now listen up, because this is the only way you’re walking out of that room tonight. Start drinking. Get another couple quarts in ya, and be quick about it. You’d better be shitfaced drunk within an hour. Then maybe I’ll unlock the side door and you can get the hell out of there. Leave anything you took on the table where I can see it.
NOBODY FUCKS WITH COOP.
* * * * *
Holy shit. Bumpy was on to us. I slid the note over to Tim.
I couldn’t think. I couldn’t do anything because Tim started crying as he read the note. Tears streamed down his face.
I crossed my arms on the table and put my head down.
“Tim!” I whispered loudly. “TIM! Put your head down like this so we can talk. Put your head down like me. Maybe Bumpy is watching us and listening to us. Just whisper like this so we can figure out what the hell to do.”
“You really think he’s watching us?” Tim whispered through short sobs.
“Who knows? Let’s make a plan here quickly,” I said, feeling the need to have some sort of plan or I figured we were going to both die that night.
“Let me think for a minute…” We really did have to fool Bumpy somehow. I couldn’t think how we could talk our way out of taking the hat. Bumpy obviously knew someone had been into the box before, and maybe even knew that Tim was the one that found it the first time. He figured Tim would come back at some point, so he planted the note. Maybe it really was a coincidence that the door was locked and we couldn’t get out. Or, maybe Bumpy had seen me go into the box tonight and pull out the hat and note. No way to know which.
“YOU BOYS DRINKING IN THERE, YET?” Bumpy yelled loudly through the side wall somewhere. His scratchy voice came through the wall muffled but there was no mistaking what he said.
Tim heaved and cried where he sat. Inside my head my brain screamed holy shit, holy shit, holy… over and over. I quickly got up to get us a couple of quarts of Bud.
“Yep, just starting! Sorry about this, Don!” I yelled through the wall in the direction I guessed his voice came from. I hoped to calm him down a bit and throw him into low-gear if that were possible. I’d never seen Bumpy mad, but the tone of his letter made him seem as close to psychotic as anyone I’d ever seen.
“GIT SOME QUARTS IN YA OR YOU TWO’LL BE IN THERE FOR A LOOONG TIME!”
I came back to the table and twisted the caps off the beer, giving one to Tim. I sat with my back to the open space between boxes that I thought might be the best spot for Bumpy to spy on us through a hole in the wall.
The boxes were piled waist-high and in places, chest-high around us. There were only a few spots where a hole in the wall could provide a decent line of sight. I didn’t think he was looking through the ceiling because the kitchen was right above us and the lights were always on when we came down. We never saw any light peeping through the rafters. He was pressed up against some holes in the walls for sure. That meant he couldn’t see much when we sat down, just our heads really.
We both took a token swig and put our heads back down on the table.
“Listen, Tim. Bumpy is a small guy, thinner than you. I’d kick his ass, I’m sure of that. Unless he has a gun, if I’m sober, I’ll kick his ass. I think that’s why he wants us so drunk we can barely stand up. He can manipulate us that way. Anyone is strong enough to overpower two drunks who can’t stand up.
“You keep drinking, I mean really get hammered like he wants us both to get. I’m going to spill my beer in some of the empty bottles on the floor as much as I can. I’ll still drink some, but I’m going to stay alert so I can get us the fuck out of here. You get drunk. At least we might fool him like that.”
“I can’t fucking believe this is happening. Let’s break the fucking door down and get out now.”
“I don’t think that door’s coming off the hinges man. It’s metal for Christ’s sake. You know how solid that thing is. The only way to get out is to fool Bumpy into thinking we’re smashed, and then get the upper hand on him by surprise,” I reasoned.
“Come on, drink some more. He’s watching.”
We drank another swig and sat there looking at each other for a few seconds. Tim was tall and wiry, not very strong, and emotionally weak. I had a better chance at beating the hell out of Bumpy without Tim in the way fouling it up. I came up with my plan in those few moments.
Between my feet, I pulled up an empty quart bottle the guys before us had left on the floor. I put it inside the pocket of my coat. Every time I took some beer, I leaned down and spit it into that bottle. As I filled it up, I repeated the process with a new empty bottle, putting the full bottles on the floor. In thirty minutes Tim had consumed a quart and a half. I only had a half-dozen short swigs I actually swallowed. I was straight sober and Tim was well on his way to being smashed.
“KEEP DRINKING IN THERE WISE GUYS! ANOTHER QUART EACH!” Bumpy’s voice shrieked through the wall.
I walked over to the fridge and grabbed us each another quart and on the way back to the table I saw a glimmer of light coming through a hole in the wall. Ha! I knew where he was looking. Now I was sure he couldn’t see me with my back to him, and he could only see Tim’s head.
Tim drank the last quart and a half in thirty minutes and I spit mine into bottles. I acted drunk each time I walked to the latrine to piss, and Tim needn’t act. He was damn near falling down drunk by that point.
When I came back to the table I reached down and grabbed an empty brown quart bottle and slipped it up the right sleeve of my jacket. My plan, which in my scared shitless state I thought was damn near brilliant, was to smash Bumpy in the head with the bottle in my hand when I got a chance and get us the hell out of there.
I heard the side door creak as a couple of deadbolts were released on the outside.
“Come on, Tim. Let’s get out of here.”
We stumbled over to the door and waited, not sure if we should just push through or what.
“COME OUT ONE AT A TIME,” Bumpy instructed.
Shit. Which of us to go first.
Better me I thought, so I can get a crack at him quickly. He might hurt Tim if I go out second, or shit, he might not even let me out if Tim goes first.
I grabbed the handle of the door and eased it open.
Standing in front of me was a policeman in uniform. Oh shit… Then I relaxed and felt a little better. Had he decided to just turn us into the police? On one hand I thought, it’s better to have the police involved. On the other I thought – maybe now we were really fucked because I wasn’t going to be able to crack that cop and Bumpy with a bottle and get away. The officer’s face came into the light and I realized I knew him: Vic Stansky. I knew his name and yet he probably didn’t know me. I’d seen his name on one of the beams downstairs.
Vic pulled me out onto the sidewalk and slammed the heavy metal door in Tim’s face.
I knew it just went from bad to worse. I thought there was a good chance we were going to die in some horrific way.
Bumpy’s voice came from behind me, but I kept facing the cop in front of me. “You guys thought you were pullin’ the wool over Coop’s head, right?” He smacked the side of my head with an open palm. It stung, and I pretended like he knocked me off balance and I fell to the ground. As I did, the bottle in my coat sleeve broke and I felt it slice into my wrist. “FUCK!” I screamed out.
“What are you stealin’ my beer now, too? You piece of shit!” Bumpy gave me a quick kick low in my back to the kidney, and it hurt much more than the cut on my wrist. I struggled to sit up and shake the broken bottle from my coat sleeve. The neck of it I held onto tightly, hoping they wouldn’t notice I had it. Blood dripped quickly on the ground among the shards of glass.
Tim was yelling from behind the closed metal door, but I couldn’t understand what he was saying. Something about how sorry he was.
“He’s cut pretty good. Maybe just let him bleed out.” Vic, said with big smile.
“Let’s get the other numbnuts out here,” Bumpy said, and opened the door to find Tim crying in a heap on the floor. His eyes went wide as he saw me on the ground and Vic towering over us.
“Get your ass up Tim, you stupid piece of shit. You’re the one that caused this trouble for me. GET YOUR ASS UP, I SAID!” Bumpy was pulling on Tim’s jacket, dragging him out the door. Tim was trying to stand, but was too drunk to even manage that. Tim fell to the ground beside me, still crying, gasping, trying to breathe between sobs saying ‘please, please Mr. Cooper,’ over and over.
Bumpy kicked Tim a few good times, and got what he wanted – wails each time he connected. Then he walked up to the gate at the end of the sidewalk and cracked it open slightly. I didn’t see any cars going past. It it was already late.
Vic pulled us to our feet and dragged us down the sidewalk to the gate. The gate swung open to the main street. There wasn’t a car going by. The game was over and pedestrian traffic had stopped hours ago.
Tim fell when he hit the small step and Vic took the opportunity to kick him in the back too – eager for some action apparently. Tim cried out as Vic roughly dragged him up and pushed him against the front of the bar to hold him up.
“Get ’em in the squad car,” Bumpy ordered Vic.
Vic started to pull us toward his car and then had a second thought. “We’d better throw them in your van, Don. Too many people will notice the cruiser.”
Don thought for a second, “Yeah, OK, do that. Door’s open.”
We all marched the twenty steps down to Bumpy’s big black van. Vic almost literally threw us in the back, Tim first. In the back I quickly switched places with Tim so I could be behind whomever was going to be driving. I pulled on my seatbelt and motioned for Tim to get his on.
Vic drove. We pulled out onto Pittsburgh Street and headed up some side streets right past our high school and on up into the country roads. There wasn’t any doubt in my mind now, they were going to kill us out there and cover it up somehow. Bumpy was a powerful character. Whether Vic knew about Bumpy killing Mark Palmer or not, I couldn’t guess. I figured I had to try to shake things up between those two and give us a chance at living through the night.
I blurted out, “Vic! Don has Mark Palmer’s hat in the basement. He killed Mark!”
Vic laughed quietly to himself and Bumpy reached over the back seat to punch at me and Tim, who was already passed out and pissing himself.
“Why you think you’re in this mess, dumbass?” Vic replied, still laughing.
He already knew.
Vic drove on. Streetlights illuminated the inside of the van every fifty feet or so, and then after a couple of turns, no more light at all. In twenty minutes of driving we didn’t pass another moving vehicle.
I readied myself behind Vic, and I let the fear build up inside me to give me confidence in my all or nothing plan. I pictured Tim being shot in the head first, and then me. We’d be left for dead in the middle of nowhere and it would all be covered up. Hell, people would think we ran away like the other guys.
As fear gave way to panic, I bared the sharp end of the bottle outside my sleeve and gripped the glass neck as tightly as I could. I held it up behind the seat close to Vic’s neck and leaned forward to get as close as possible.
I waited for Vic to turn to Bumpy as he talked, baring his neck and giving me the best chance. I was also keeping an eye on where we were so we’d be able to find our way back home through the woods. We were doing about 30 MPH going around a bend when Vic twisted his head slightly to look at Bumpy.
“You want to go to the old…” Vic stopped mid-sentence as I reached up as fast I could with both arms around Vic’s neck and jammed the broken bottle, twisting it against him as I had him in a headlock as fierce as I could hold. At first both arms locked straight against the steering wheel, then one flew up to try desperately to fight what he must have thought was just a headlock. This sent us right off the road after the curve ended and over a small hill. I had my belt on tight so I just held onto his neck and drove that glass into his throat like it was the end of the world. Bumpy was slow to react, and I remember all of us bouncing around, turning upside down and back up, a rain shower of glass, then back sideways again as the truck rested on its left side up against a tree that smashed the roof. A dog barked in panic at the noise somewhere, but it was way off. It was pitch black inside the van, but as my eyes adjusted I realized there was a little light from the strong moon. The truck headlights were off, probably smashed as we hit the trees.
Bumpy and Vic hadn’t worn belts and Bumpy must have been thrown out of the window, I thought. I didn’t think he was in the van. Vic was draped across the floor on the passenger side. The dash, seats, and what part of the windshield remained were covered in black liquid. It took me a moment to realize it was blood. Everything was covered in Vic’s blood.
Tim was now awake and looking around wide-eyed.
I was shaken up, but still in my seatbelt and hoping like hell Vic didn’t get up and pull his gun.
Shit, I gotta get the gun.
I undid my belt and reached up over the front seat. Vic’s right side was jammed solidly against the seat. I reached between his right side and the seat to find the gun. I kept expecting him to jump up and grab me. He wasn’t moving though, and I heard nothing outside to let me know Bumpy was up and moving around.
“We’re alive!” I heard Tim say suddenly. He couldn’t believe it, nor could I. I tried desperately to grab the gun and but couldn’t quite get to it.
I straddled the passenger seat and used my right foot to push against Vic and get him away from the seat. Reaching down I felt the gun and tried to pull it out. It wouldn’t budge. I was ready to kick Vic in the head if he woke up, but I needn’t have given it a second thought. He hadn’t a drop of blood left in him.
Finally I realized there was a leather strap holding the gun in. Unsnapping it, I was able to pull the gun out, holding a handgun for the first time in my life. Weirdly, I felt more afraid than I had the whole night. How in the hell did I shoot it? Was the safety on or off? Hell if I knew. I just knew we had to get away from there as fast as possible if we were going to make it through the night.
“Come on. Climb out the door over here,” I told Tim, hoping he was in some condition to do so. He wasn’t. The smell of piss, vomit, and blood mixed to create a scene from a nightmare. Tim tried a few times to climb up and push open the back door, but it was vertical and maybe jammed. Fuck!
“Climb over here and come out the window like me.”
It was an effort to get out the window pointing toward the sky. I was aware that Bumpy might hit me with a tree branch or something, but I still didn’t see him around at all. Was he laying the grass somewhere or running back to the bar?
“Come on Tim, quit fucking around and sober up NOW so we can get out of here!”
He’d climbed into the front seat and was standing on Vic’s head to climb out of the window. I grabbed him under one arm and pulled out as best I could, but I didn’t want to let go of the gun for anything.
He was half out the window when I saw Bumpy lying on the ground, face up about ten feet from the truck.
“Hold on, Tim. Stay right there. Don’t move. I see Bumpy.”
I jumped backward down off the truck and walked slowly over to Bumpy, holding the gun on him and still not knowing if it was ready to fire. As I got closer I saw his eyes were wide open. Shit! He was still alive. I kicked him in the arm. He didn’t move.
“Get up, asshole!” I held the gun two feet from his face so he could definitely see it.
He didn’t move. Neither did I for about two minutes.
He was dead. Great fucking luck. We had to get out of there as soon as possible.
I went back to Tim, who was now passed out and hanging half inside the truck, and half on the door outside.
“Come on, Tim. Wake up man! Let’s go, let’s go!”
The dog was still barking, but it seemed closer.
I smacked Tim in the face and shook him. He seemed to snap out of it for an instant and I pulled him until he rolled out of the window and hit the dirt hard in front of me.
That appeared to sober him quite a bit, and I dragged him to his feet and pulled him down the road, ducking into the woods occasionally where I thought I saw a trail, but we couldn’t find one for twenty minutes as we walked. The dog had stopped barking. There wasn’t a sound in the autumn night. Stars and moon were brighter than ever in the crisp air.
A cool wind blew, giving a preview of the winter to come. We were both heaving fog out of our mouths, a testament to the fast pace we were moving at.
Tim was a pain in the ass to keep moving, but we kept going for three solid hours, most of it through the woods once I found a trail I was familiar with. I knew all the trails within five miles of my house. The woods provided an escape for hours at a time, away from the reality of our boring town that seemed to be locked in its own time-warp.
It was ten miles at least to get back to town, then another few to get to Orchard Street where the trail came out of the woods at a spot we called ‘The Spring’ where ground spring water flowed out of a pipe in the side of the hill.
The streetlight illuminated the blood on our faces and clothes. Sunrise would be within the hour and we still had a couple hundred yards to get down to my house. We didn’t have anywhere else to go. We splashed around in the ice-cold water to wash the blood away. Tim was pretty sobered up by then and I realized I still had Vic’s gun in the pocket of my coat.
“What am I going to do with this gun?” I asked Tim, not expecting him to have any bright answer.
“We get caught with that, we’re going to jail! Get rid of it.”
I quickly jumped back up the hill onto the trail, walked back into the brush and tried to make a hole in the hard dirt deep enough to cover it up. I could barely scrape the hard soil enough to make any progress. I wiped down the gun with my shirt, hoping all my fingerprints would be removed. Not knowing what else to do I went well off-trail and piled sticks, leaves, and rocks on top of it and climbed back down to Tim on the road.
“Let’s go. Keep your head down and walk fast, straight to my house. Your parents will be home and give you hell if you go there. Let’s go to mine and climb the side ladder. Deal with your parents later.”
We walked as fast as possible down the sidewalk. Daybreak was just beginning, and if someone wanted to they could see us and maybe even know who both or one of us was by our height and gait. Small town folk are notoriously good at knowing people from afar. I hoped nobody was up and out that morning as we headed down Orchard, made a right at Willow and a left down the alley in back of my house.
Climbing the metal rung ladder at 5:45 am., after all we’d been through was an incredible feat, and yet we both managed. Once inside my upstairs bedroom we crashed on the floor and didn’t wake up for ten hours. I woke first, hearing my mother pulling the Buick in as she returned from work.
“Tim, you up?” I shook him and he was up in an instant, smelling like rancid piss.
“Yeah. My head is pounding!” He whispered, “Holy shit, are we ever in trouble.”
“Maybe. Maybe not. Let’s think about it. Bumpy’s dead. Vic is dead. Nobody saw us get in the van or near the van. Nobody saw us on the way back here.”
“I saw Bumpy, but how do you know Vic is dead?”
I realized Tim had been sleeping when I cut Vic’s throat with the bottle.
Bmp bmp bmp.
We both shuddered from shock at the knock on the bedroom door.
“What, Mom? I’m naked. Don’t come in,” I pleaded.
“Oh, just wanted to see if you were home. I picked up some apples from the fruit market if you want some.”
“Thanks, I’ll be down in a bit.”
“Jesus, that was close. So, how you know Vic is dead?”
“While you were passed out, I cut his throat with a bottle when he was driving. How you think we rolled the truck!?”
“You what? HOLY SHIT! You killed a fucking policeman! We’re going to jail until we die. Oh my god, I can’t believe you did that. Are you nuts?”
“There was no choice! They were taking us out to the woods to shoot us in the head! You’ll thank me later when you realize you’re alive because of me, asshole!”
I let him think about that for a bit while I stripped down and jumped into the shower.
I relived the night as I watched the nightmare wash from my body. Blood, dirt, sweat, leaves and grime… the runoff alternated brown and crimson as the evidence of the night swirled down the drain. I opened up the cut on my wrist and rinsed it out thoroughly, more afraid of infection than the hurt it gave me opening it up.
Tim followed, showering up as I found some of my old clothes for him to wear.
As he got dressed, I wound an ACE bandage over the cut on my arm as I tried to piece together what we’d do. But I had no plan at all. Basically we’d wait to see if anyone knew we were involved with the accident and murder. I didn’t think we’d better go to anyone with news of Mark Palmer’s hat in Bumpy’s basement because that would lead right back to us and implicate us immediately.
I went downstairs and pulled my mom into the back room to talk about joining the Air Force giving Tim a chance to climb out the steel ladder hanging out the window.
That day I heard nothing.
I called Tim before I went to sleep and asked him if he’d heard anything. He told me he hadn’t heard a thing. There was nothing in the local news on TV or the radio and nobody was talking about Bumpy and Vic being dead. Maybe they’d not been found yet. It was possible I guess. Maybe the police were waiting for someone to come forward with some information.
The next morning I woke up with a strange feeling. Something wasn’t right. Someone would have been talking about something by last night. Bumpy’s bar was NEVER closed, so having it closed for a day would have really had people talking. Vic’s police cruiser sitting in front of the bar and Vic not coming back from patrol would have alerted the police to a serious problem.
I laid in bed thinking for a couple hours. I knew I had to take a walk and see what was going on at Bumpy’s. I pulled on my pants, two long sleeved shirts, and jacket and walked down our street. I thought I’d walk over Walnut street, parallel to Bumpy’s bar, and see what, if anything was going on there. Peeking between the bank and the haircut place I could see the front of Coop’s Bar. The front door was open and people were coming in and out just like they always were at lunch. Most were buying Pennsylvania Daily Number lottery tickets. It seemed like business as usual on a Sunday morning.
What the hell was going on?
I went to a payphone about 200 yards past the bar and called Tim.
“Tim, I just walked by Coop’s. It’s open! You hear anything?”
“Glad you called. I’ve been trying to reach you at home. Guess what my dad said to me this morning when I woke up? He said, ‘Don told me you’re a ‘good egg’ last night, and you should stop by to see him.'”
“A good egg? What the hell does that mean?” I asked, not expecting an answer.
I held my breath, fighting the full weight of what he just said.
“Bumpy’s ALIVE?” I blurted out much too loudly into the phone. “HOLY SHIT TIM!” All the energy dropped from my body and I thought I was going to pass out on the street. I braced myself up against the glass phone booth and tried to make my mind work. Tim kept talking. But I only heard half as my mind reeled at the possibility.
“He’s alive,” he whispered into the phone. “My dad went there and drank like he does every Saturday night, he watched the game and told me Bumpy mentioned that I was a good egg. We are so fucked, I can’t even think straight.”
Nor could I. I couldn’t believe Bumpy was alive after flying out of the truck and landing in the dirt that night. Had I snapped him out of it when I kicked him? Maybe that dog came and woke him the hell up. Who knew? All I knew was that life was about to get scarier and I didn’t have any plan at all for this twist in the nightmare.
“Tim, meet me at the sled-riding hill so we can talk about what to do. Half-hour, OK?”
I hung up the phone and continued to lean against the glass. We were so completely fucked and I couldn’t see any way out. I couldn’t see a positive outcome at all. I thought we were probably best to run away and hope shit blew over. I steadied myself and turned to walk quickly up James Street with my face buried in the neck of my jacket.
I arrived at our meeting spot near the top of the hill where some of the best sled riding in town was after a heavy snowfall. I thought about all the good times I’d had there with friends, and how it was all over. I thought maybe I could join the Air Force quickly with my mom’s permission and get the hell away from the area before things all went to hell.
Bumpy was still alive and the bar was open just like usual. What did that mean?
Nobody had been to our house looking for me. The cops hadn’t arrested me. What happened?
The nearest I could figure out was Bumpy woke up and did like we did, got the hell out of there. He maybe even used Vic’s walkie-talkie to call the police chief and send them looking for us. That didn’t make much sense because there would have been some officers waiting around my house that morning we climbed out of the woods.
Maybe Bumpy walked straight back to the bar. What would he tell the cops about Vic and why Vic’s throat was cut and why he had his truck?
I couldn’t guess at all. Was Bumpy that powerful that the police wouldn’t touch him and they covered up Vic’s death as an accident?
What else could it be?
I could see Tim climbing up the hill now. His posture made him seem like a paranoid mess. He looked behind him, to his right and left, he was already a nervous wreck, same as me.
“You got any ideas?” I asked when he got close enough.
“No. I can’t stop thinking about it, but no answers are coming. Bumpy is maybe acting like nothing happened.”
“Maybe he’s got the police that wrapped around his finger, you know? Maybe he’s showing us that it won’t do any good to go to the police because they aren’t going to help us at all – and probably they’re going to kill us if we go to them anyway.”
“Yeah. We’re in such deep shit…”
“Let’s play out a couple scenarios,” I said. “One. Bumpy told the police that I killed Vic and how and why it all went down. He told them about Mark’s hat. Maybe they already know he kills kids. Who the hell knows? Anything is possible I guess.
“Maybe he told the police to leave me alone because I’d come to tell them what happened, and then they could get rid of me quietly however they wished.”
“Uhm hmm, and what’s two?”
“Two. Bumpy made up some story for the police and told them Vic borrowed his truck, and died unfortunately, but didn’t say anything about you or me. He might be waiting for us to make a move,” I said.
“So what, we just wait it out some more?”
“I guess. I don’t know what the hell is going on,” I said, exasperated.
“Was Vic’s patrol car still in front of Bumpy’s when you went by?”
“No, I didn’t see it there. It was already gone.”
“So, the police definitely know something is up with Vic. They almost definitely know he’s dead.”
“Vic IS fucking dead, isn’t he?”
The question was not one I wanted to hear. I didn’t answer for a while. I thought back to what happened. I buried the glass bottle’s sharp edges as deep into Vic’s neck as I could. My hands were covered with blood. Maybe I held him like that for four or five seconds before we crashed. Maybe eight or nine? Then I figured he must have bled all the way out because of how much blood there was everywhere after the accident.
Did he die for sure?
I didn’t know. Now that we knew Bumpy made it, it made the idea of Vic living through it too – more plausible. I knew if Vic made it, he’d be setting us both up for a bullet in the head as soon as he recovered.
“That’s a scary fucking thought. I don’t have an answer. I was sure he was dead. I was sure he bled so much that he couldn’t possibly still be alive.”
“That’s three. Here’s four,” he said, being a smart ass, but all I could do is listen.
“What if Bumpy grabbed Vic’s radio and called an ambulance immediately and got him help? Think he could have lived?” Tim said, playing out scenarios I didn’t even want to consider.
“Yeah, I don’t know about that. I’d say no, but I’m not too sure about that either. Fuck if I know. I just don’t know.”
Panic set in, but it was a panic of hopelessness, not running around with my head cut off like a chicken at the losing end of a hatchet. Everything was up in the air. Was Vic really alive, too?
Jesus, man. I didn’t know what to think anymore.
Just then a police cruiser idled slowly across Willow Street about a hundred fifty yards away.
“Get down!” I smacked Tim in the chest, sending us both backward in the tall grass. We watched to see if they were going to jump out and run up the hill. They didn’t. They were just out for a slow tour around the town like they sometimes did. Was that Vic’s patrol car?
We chatted there on the grass for another forty minutes, running through different scenarios that could have possibly occurred, but nothing we could think of made more sense than anything else. It was all wild guessing, and we were scaring the hell out of ourselves. We agreed to go home and continue to play it by ear.
At home I was watching all the media closely to see if there was any news of Vic’s death. Finally on the radio on Monday there was an announcement that Officer Victor Stansky had been killed in a tragic accident. There was no mention of murder, no mention that he was driving Bumpy’s truck, just that he had run off the road and crashed into some trees.
Wow, they were covering up the murder. That was good, and that was bad. It was bad because that meant they probably were going to have us killed in an “accident” as well.
I called Tim immediately and gave him the news. The newspaper and news on TV ran reports about the accident that day as well, and there was no mention of the circumstances of Vic’s death. Nothing was mentioned about murder at all.
We debated going to school that day, then figured it would be safer than staying at home. Hundreds of people around. Nobody was going to try anything there.
School was uneventful for the first class, then as the day went on, no less than five different students and two teachers said to me, “Bumpy asked that you stop by and see him as soon as possible.”
Stop by and see him? I wouldn’t go see him without an AK-47 in my hands.
Walking home, Tim and I took a shortcut through the cemetery and then some side streets. Just as we were coming off one small street and heading across a main road to another, we heard a WHOOOP WHOOP!
HOLY SHIT! We said in unison. A cop car was coming up on us fast from the top of the hill. We stopped in our tracks on the sidewalk. “Are they going to take us in right now? Holy SHIT, man,” Tim said.
The patrol car stopped and the window rolled down. It was Tom Zumisko.
“How you boys doing?” He didn’t wait for an answer, “You know Don Cooper would like to see you both as soon as fucking possible. You get that message yet?”
“Hi Tom. Oh yeah, we did. We’re going to see him. Thanks.”
“Yeah sure you are. Why I don’t make it easy on ya? Get in the back.”
“Thanks, we’ll just…” I never got to finish my lame excuse.
“I SAID GET IN THE FUCKING BACK OF THE SQUAD CAR NOW, YOU TWO.”
Tim started moving toward the car automatically and I pulled him backward with me, both of us running our asses off up the short street, hitting the trail in the woods.
We stopped running after a good two mile sprint through the woods. We stopped, panting like dogs at the intersection of four trails and I figured it would be best to stop there in case we had to choose one. Tom would only have a one in four chance of guessing which one we took.
Surprisingly, Tom didn’t follow.
What the hell was going on, then?
“Bumpy must have told the police department he’d handle us, or Tom would have been chasing and shooting at us,” I said.
“What are we going to do, man?”
“Not going to see Bumpy, that’s for damn sure. He’s either going to kill us, or have us kill someone else to indebt us to him. Maybe he’ll hold the death of Vic over our heads and we’ll become his slaves. You want Bumpy to have a free ticket to your ass?”
“Hell no, man.”
Tim was quiet for a minute, picking up rocks and chucking them high into the woods at some distant pines, like we might have done just a few years ago. Before the world got so damn big and scary. Then he said the same thing I had already decided hours ago.
“We gotta leave town for a while.”
There we were, months from finishing high school, and we weren’t going to be able to.
“How much money you have saved?” I asked him.
“I don’t know, two hundred bucks? You?”
“I got almost a thousand from cutting grass. Let’s take a bus out of here. NOW. I am not going to get caught by this crazy asshole. We got to get out now Tim.”
“Let’s go home and get some clothes and write a note for our parents,” Tim said.
“Forget that! What if Tom and more cops are waiting at our houses?”
“How we going to get money to take a bus?”
Shit, he had me there. I wasn’t thinking straight.
At great risk, but having no other option, we both went home and grabbed our money and a few things in a bag. I left a note under my pillow for my mother explaining that I’d be gone for a while. I knew I’d be gone for a long time, probably at least until Bumpy died.
Tim and I met back up at the spring an hour later.
“Let’s walk over to Freeport up through Stanley Park, down the hill, cross the bridge, and get a bus there. If we can’t get one, we’ll hop a train or something,” I said.
“How long we gotta stay away you think?” Tim asked.
“Until Bumpy and the entire police force is dead? Hell if I know. Let’s think about that later. I just know we’re dead meat if we stay.”
The walk through the woods wasn’t easy, but I don’t remember thinking about the struggle to walk all those miles. I was focused on staying alive. I was already focused on the future. What the hell would we do, and where were we even go? California? Canada?
As it turned out there was no bus going anywhere but Pittsburgh. We took it and then found one to Washington, DC. From there we went to Dallas, Texas and then Moab, Utah. It was the weirdest destination we could find on a map. There was no way Bumpy would ever find us there. We got jobs working with a landscaping company mowing lawns and cutting bushes. What else did we know how to do? We slept in a room in a lady’s house and talked every night about when we’d go back, if ever.
It had been forty days since we’d left Pennsylvania. It was Friday, and I called my mom and talked briefly with her. I gave her the address where we were staying and told her not to tell anyone where we were. I tried to reassure her, telling her not to worry, and that Tim and I were in the wrong place at the wrong time and got in some trouble and had to leave town for a bit. I cut the phone call short, telling her I had to hurry to work – which wasn’t true, but I couldn’t explain any more about why I’d left home.
Early the next week I got a short letter from her. The post office had stamped it Friday afternoon just after we spoke.
You know we can work out whatever trouble you got in. You scared the daylights out of us here. Why don’t you come home and work it out, please honey. If it’s money you owe we can get a loan and pay on it. We can do anything to make it right again. Please don’t worry son, just come home.
It’s not only me and your family that misses you. I didn’t have time to mention it, but you’ll never guess who I ran into this morning at the fruit market. Don Cooper. He said he hasn’t seen you around in a while and asked me to tell you to stop by and see him. When I told him you were visiting friends across the country he said, ‘Oh that’s a real shame, I’m going to miss him.’
Then he did something I never expected. He invited me to come by for dinner tonight. He was so well dressed, and you know he’s such a charmer. I thought, why not, I’m single? So, wish me luck. I’ll write you again in a few days.
I’m getting my things on to go and just wanted to give you a quick note. Please come home honey, nothing is so bad that we can’t figure it out.
See you soon! Love you sonny!
P.S. COME HOME!
I called hundreds of times over the next few days. The phone rang and rang. My mom never did answer.
* * * * *
Thanks for reading “Going Down!”
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