posted Oct 21, 2008
They met at the Tio Taco stand in Highland Park, eight boys, all seniors at St. Patrick’s. They wore their school jackets, nubbly green wool with white vinyl sleeves, their names stitched in white script over the school crest. There was no plan, except to meet. It was Halloween night, something should happen.
No one knew of any parties to crash. Frank Sanchez had heard about a dance, but it was in El Monte and he thought you had to wear a costume. They were hanging out at a liquor store parking lot, below the taco stand, hoping for a wino who might buy beer for them but none had showed.
Bored, antsy, they clustered in shifting groups. Cars cruised by on the shining black street, still wet from an early evening rain. They watched their breath steam in the chill air, their hands jammed into the slash pockets of their jackets. The fragrant odors of fried tortillas and carnitas and the clean, soapy smell of beans drifted down to them. Two of the boys collected money and went up to order food. They talked, ate, jostled, smoked and spat until the liquor store owner came out and made them move. It was then, the fourth time he’d proposed it, that they took up Kenny Culver’s suggestion.
Kenny, a slight, excitable blond boy whose enthusiasm carried little weight with the group, had proposed that they go egging. “We get some eggs,” Kenny had said, “we nail some people.” Now, as the liquor store owner herded them toward the sidewalk, Kenny made his suggestion again and added the kicker, “We could nail the fucking school first.” No one had a better idea.
Jim Wylie, the meekest of the group, after asking the time of everyone there, remembered that he had to be home by nine. They let Wylie walk and divided themselves up to fit two cars.
Kenny found himself in the wrong car. He’d wanted to ride with Frank Sanchez, in Sanchez’s Buick Riviera. So did everyone else, and while Kenny was still talking they piled in. Kenny was left with Cherzniak and Clark, two football players he scarcely knew, and Cherzniak’s battered Ford Business Sedan.
Cherzniak followed Sanchez’s Buick to Woody’s Ranch Market in Eagle Rock to buy eggs. The suspicious checker there watched them pool their money and pile the cartons of eggs on his checkout counter. There were sixteen dozen altogether. The checker paged the manager, seeking an opinion but the manager never answered. At length, he took their money, bagged the eggs and stared at them until they were out of the store. In the parking lot, they divided up the eggs on the hood of Sanchez’s Buick. Johnny Martinez leaned back against the fender, cupping a pair of eggs against his crotch. “Check out these cojónes,” Martinez said, “Real huevos. Extra large. Grade-A.”
They set out for the school. Cherzniak led, driving through the back streets toward St. Patrick’s. Kenny sat in the back seat, the egg cartons at his feet and handed out the first dozen: four each, one for each hand, one in either jacket pocket. Cherzniak, driving, risked two in his front shirt pockets.
Kenny was watching Clark and Cherzniak. Both had the same burr haircut, the mark of athletes at St. Patrick’s; Clark’s was patchier, a home-cut, Kenny suspected. It matched his raw features, the broken nose, the bristling jaw, the spread ears, the muscular neck sloping to his shoulders. Clark was a linebacker. Cherzniak was bigger and softer, a defensive tackle. It was clear they were close friends. They were talking about Clark’s father and Cherzniak was saying, with some heat, “You oughta tell Jack to go piss up a rope.” “You’re right,”Clark said, “What can I say? I know you’re right.” Kenny wished again that he were in the Buick.
They were approaching the high school from the back, driving under the freeway. In the underpass, Cherzniak and Sanchez turned off their lights and parked beside a huge pillar. The seven of them picked their way down the railroad tracks toward the front of the school. Kenny was last; the eggs in the cupped palms ahead of him bobbed luminously in the dark like cartoon teeth. They bunched together as they closed on the school gates. Frank Sanchez, who was leading, stopped short, sucking in a breath and holding his arms out to stop them.
Kenny saw some movement behind the gates. “Brother Cyril,” Sanchez said. Kenny recognized the stance: a small man in a black cassock with a green sash. His hands were clasped behind his back and he patrolled the gates at an aggressive tilt. Definitely Cyril, the school’s dean of discipline.
They backed down the tracks. When they got close to the underpass they turned and ran, all except Clark and Cherzniak. They kept their pace slow to the point of cockiness. When Clark and Cherzniak reached the underpass they turned, and on a count, lofted their eggs. They sailed out in high elegant arcs.
The five in the tunnel watched, thrilling at the descent. One egg fell short, spattering on the asphalt, the second smacked against the building. Someone yelled, and then they all did, yelling like charging soldiers as they sprinted for the cars. Sanchez pulled out, Cherzniak followed. Clark was screaming in the car, “One hell of an arm. One hell of an arm.” Kenny, facing the back window, was the only one to see Brother Cyril. Cyril had picked up the skirts of his cassock and given chase, sprinting down the parking lot. As they pulled away, spraying dirt, Cyril was halfway up the chain link fence; his teeth were bared but no sound escaped him that Kenny could hear.
Something was released in all of them; they went wild. The first stop sign Cherzniak braked for was smeared with eggs. The yolks, white and bits of shell slid down the red octagonal sign. Clark and Kenny hit it again. Cherzniak lobbed an egg that missed and then burned rubber away from the stop, fishtailing after the glowing red lights of Sanchez’s Buick as it sped up Fletcher Drive. Even trailing, they could hear whoops and yells inside the Buick.
Cherzniak caught up and passed the Buick on nerve, running a red light that Sanchez had stopped for. Sanchez gave chase and they charged up Eagle Rock Boulevard together, hurling eggs as they came: At signs, parked cars, storefronts, a theater marquee. Two eggs smashed against the glass ticket booth. The startled cashier threw up her arms and pitched back against the wall. Then they hit the theater patrons walking away.
They bombed the boulevard. They splattered some kids in costume waiting obediently at lights with attendant parents, a drunk slumped on a bus bench who snapped upright as the eggs hit his chest. The wailing cries of the trick-or-treaters, outraged shouts from their parents and confused cursing from the drunk followed them up the boulevard.
Clark got crazier. He was hanging out of the car, holding onto a sun visor and firing on the move. Each time he threw, he thrust his hand into the back seat, yelling for Kenny to give him another egg.
Near the bowling alley he had Cherzniak slow and made a perfect peg, hitting a woman wearing an ankle length fur coat. The woman seemed to jolt forward as the egg spattered on the brown fur covering her back. Her husband whirled, face red with rage, and charged after them. Kenny hit him on the shoulder with an egg and Cherzniak had to run another red light. The man pounded after the car, punching the air and screaming, then slowed as they pulled away. They watched gleefully as the boys in Sanchez’s Buick came parallel and hit the man with two more eggs as he stomped back toward the sidewalk.
Clark started throwing eggs at oncoming cars. He threw across three lanes and hit the windshield of a Mustang, dead center. A block later he smeared the side window of an oncoming BMW and was rewarded with the shriek of locked brakes and squealing tires. Clark screamed at Kenny to keep feeding him eggs.
Sanchez hit the gas to catch them at a stop light. The boys in the Buick were cheering as they pulled up. “All right, Clark!”, Johnny Martinez called out. “Hell of an arm!”
Kenny was pissed. Clark had kept him so busy, passing eggs that he’d scarcely had time to throw any himself. As the Buick slid alongside and he looked at the flushed laughing faces, his irritation increased. Clark leaned in then and said, “Hey. Load me up.”
“Get your own,” Kenny told him. Kenny crawled out from his own window. He looked across the flat of the roof at the boys in the Buick. Clark joined him, sitting on his windowsill, and placed an open carton of eggs between them.
Kenny understood. He’d been thinking the same thing as he’d sat there, lightly tossing and catching the egg in his right hand, watching the laughing dudes in the Buick. Johnny Martinez, in the front seat, looked up at them. “Orale pues,” Johnny said, “What’s next?”
“Oh, anything we want, I guess.” Clark’s voice was unnaturally musical. His left foot reached out to nudge Cherzniak’s shoulder. Clark continued in a sing-song voice, “How about an omelet?” As he finished the question, he and Kenny lobbed their first eggs into the open windows and reached for more from the carton. Clark and Kenny broke a half dozen inside the Buick before the boys managed to crank the windows up. They splattered another six on the windows, hood and sides. Sanchez was yelling. “Hey, hey, hey. Watch the paint. Pinche putos. Cabrones!” He threw the Buick into reverse, backed away and then slammed it into drive, screeching forward and angling toward the Ford as though he would hit it.
Cherzniak didn’t wait. He shot through the intersection, angling between two crossing cars.
They chased each other through Eagle Rock, then Glendale, Silverlake and the Los Feliz district, running orange lights, red lights, stop signs, careening around corners, squealing through curves. Cherzniak drove on the sidewalk at one intersection when it seemed sure they would be stuck in traffic. They lost Sanchez for a time, hiding in a darkened gas station, and got ambushed when they emerged. Sanchez had been waiting down the street at a drive-in dairy, and it was clear from the ceaseless hail of eggs that they had reloaded there. They were pelted for blocks until Cherzniak hit the brakes and bumped over a center island that Sanchez would not risk in the lowered Riviera.
With that head start, Cherzniak headed for Hollywood and lost the Buick in the darkened sidestreets off Hollywood Boulevard. Near Vermont Avenue, with no warning, Cherzniak wrenched the wheel left, so hard the Ford rocked, bouncing from tire to tire. He turned the headlights off as he headed the wrong way on a one-way street and found an alley. Cherzniak backed in, weaving around a trash bin near the mouth of the alley, and they covered the front of the Ford with a mound of cardboard and newspaper. They crouched, breathing hard, their cheeks pressed against the cold metal of the bin. Kenny closed his mouth and slowed his breathing. The smell of the bin, rust and wet newspapers, sharpened in his nostrils. Cherzniak snuffled in the darkness and spat. Kenny rolled an egg around his palm with a thumb. “Think they saw us?”
“Who Knows?” Clark said, “We’ll wait.”
A half hour passed. They cleared the cardboard and trash from the Ford and tried to decide what they would do next. Clark wanted to cruise Hollywood Boulevard, Cherzniak didn’t care
“I’m starving,” Kenny said, “Let’s go grab a burger and then cruise. Five minutes, okay?“
“I’m not hungry,” Clark said. The suggestion seemed to piss Clark off, which was weird, Kenny thought. He asked Cherzniak. Cherzniak admitted he could do with a burger, maybe some fries, but then he looked at Clark. “Maybe we better skip it,” he told Kenny, “I haven’t got that much money with me.”
“I got money,” Kenny said. “Don’t worry.” He dug into his jeans pocket and pulled out a ball of crumpled singles. Cherzniak looked to Clark. Kenny, registering Clark’s raised shoulders and rigid features, remembered the brief flash of embarrassment at the Ranch Market, when Cherzniak had paid for Clark’s share of the eggs.
“No. Really,” Kenny said. “I just got paid.”
Clark’s voice kept its edge. “I can’t pay you back this week.”
Kenny shrugged, “Don’t worry about it.”
They drove down Western Avenue, closer to the weave of searchlights and corolla of neon that marked the heart of Hollywood. Kenny had a thought.
“You know,” he told Clark, “I think there’s a job coming open where I work.” Clark turned around in the front seat. “It’s just boxboy,” Kenny said, “Weekends. But it’s money.”
“I’ve got a job,” Clark said bitterly. “I got two jobs. I don’t need any more jobs.”
Cherzniak laughed. “That’s what you need,” he said, “another job. So Jack can raise your rent.” Cherzniak told Kenny, “You believe that shit? His old man charges him room and board.”
“Fucking Jack,” Clark said, “Jack the Boss.”
“Is that legal?” Kenny said, “I didn’t think they could do that when you’re a minor. How old are you?”
“Seventeen,” Clark said, “As soon as I turn eighteen I’ll be out of there, baby. Aye-dios. All she wrote. I’ll be in the fucking Marines the day I turn eighteen.”
“You ought to go see a lawyer,” Kenny said.
“Oh yeah,” Clark said, “Jack would love that. He wouldn’t kick my ass too hard. Not too much.”
“Big Jack,” Cherzniak sang, “Jack the Boss. Big Bad Jack.”
“I don’t give a rat’s ass,” Clark said, “Six more months. I’m out of there.”
Kenny suddenly remembered Clark on his daily rounds of the cafeteria, trying to trade his peanut butter sandwich to anybody, even freshmen, for anything.
They found a McDonald’s on Vine, south of Sunset. They sat on the fenders of the Ford in the parking lot to eat their Big Mac’s and watch the crowd, costumed and plain, streaming toward the Boulevard. Clark, still jittery and sure Sanchez would find them, collected all their remaining eggs, and set them in an open carton on the Ford’s hood.
They were nearly done. Kenny was stuffing styrofoam containers into the big bag. Cherzniak leaned close to his ear, his voice was an insinuating crawl. “Check it out.”
A tiny black woman was walking towards them. She wore a black satin jacket, a flame red blouse, a black mini skirt the width of a handkerchief and red high heeled shoes. The shoes were so disproportionate to her size that she nearly toppled as she walked. Her legs were bowed by the strain, her calf and thigh muscles were like small knots on a branch.
She tottered to the car next to them and leaned against it. Her eyes swam, unfocused, with the right eyelid drooping as her head nodded forward. “Whatchu boys doing?”
“Eatin’,” Cherzniak said.
“You boys looking for a party?” Her voice was semi-slurred, some words were clear, then the next word would trail off or lurch, like someone pitching forward on a stair.
Kenny looked at Clark and Cherzniak. “You a hooker?” Kenny said.
“Hard to say, baby. Maybe this is a costume. Why? You a cop?”
“Us?” Kenny said, “You gotta be kidding.”
Cherzniak leaned into the light, “What’s your name?”
“Tish,” she said. “What’s that?” She pointed a curved crimson nail at the open carton of eggs on the hood.
“Eggs,” Clark said.
“They cooked?” Tish asked.
Kenny shook his head.
“Why?” Clark asked.
“Why? What you think? For breakfast.”
Clark lifted one from the carton and tossed it to her. His throw was high but she snagged it near her shoulder and brought it down. Her hands were small but the nails were so long that she couldn’t close her hand; they caged the egg like a red five- pointed star. She stared at the egg. “What you doing with them?”
“Oh,” Cherzniak said. “We throw ‘em.”
“That’s crazy,” she said. “That’s a waste. Why you do that?”
None of them answered. She slipped the egg into her jacket pocket and pushed off from the car she was leaning against. “That’s crazy.” One red shoe slid forward until her hips cocked. “You boys got any money?” Again, none of them answered. “What a junk night,” she said, “nothin’ but kids and cops.” She addressed Clark, “Ten bucks. For ten bucks you can get you a hand job.”
Cherzniak said, “Will you be here tomorrow?”
She raised a hand and waggled her fingers at them. “Bye,”
They watched her wobble off across the lot, pitching, scuffing her shoes. At a seam in the pavement she nearly tripped. “Shit,” She stepped out of the shoes and padded away with them slung from her hand; without the high heels her legs lost all definition, from the back she looked like a child. In front of the restaurant she took the egg out of her pocket and tossed it into the street.
They drove west, all the way to La Brea and then crossed over to Hollywood Boulevard. They joined the stalled traffic there, near the Chinese Theatre, where a bank of searchlight shafts quivered and reeled in the darkness over the rooftops, signalling the premier of another Friday the 13th sequel. Lines of motionless cars, bumper to bumper, stretched down the boulevard; drivers and passengers had gotten out of some of the cars and were standing on the roofs and fenders.
The sidewalks were thronged with the costumed, carousers, tourists, Latino families and street people. “Hollyweird,” Kenny said. Mounted police bobbed ahead of them at an intersection.
Beside them, a lowered, root-beer brown Toyota truck with flashing blue lights in the fenderwells and undercarriage was pumping out salsa music at a head-pounding volume. They couldn’t see inside the truck; the windows and windshield had been blackened. The noise from competing stereos and exhausts was deafening. The movement of color and light was manic: A continual wash of neon and strobe lamps. There was a blimp overhead showing cartoons. There were searchlights, flashing advertisements, a constant carnival flare of brakelights ahead of them and headlights coming toward them.
They were stopped a long time in front of a bar called “Life After Bruce.” Two bearded men in drag, the bristles of their beards poking obscenely through putty colored makeup, leaned against each other in the doorway of the bar, pointing out costumes and shouting comments. “This,” the one wearing a red sequined gown shouted, “is the best I’ve ever seen it on the Boulevard.” His companion squeezed his shoulder delightedly. “This is our night, Roy,” he yelled. “This is the Holy Night of Nights.”
A man walked by wearing a tuxedo and orange blinders. An enormous hairy foot protruded from his mouth. A mummy trailing ten feet of gray tatters pushed an empty stroller. Four shirtless teenaged boys whose only costume seemed to be fake blood and scar makeup made their way easily through the crowd chanting in unison: “I’ve got AIDS. I’ve got AIDS.” The crowd split ahead of them like dirt before a plow. A pregnant nun on roller skates rolled along in their wake, like a car trailing a sirening ambulance.
Near Las Palmas they witnessed a confrontation. A small Mexican evangelist had taken over a crosswalk. He held up an open bible; the shopping cart beside him held leaflets, books, painted plaster statues of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, and a tape deck playing hymns. The evangelist was facing a devil in full regalia. The devil had a real mustache and a glued on goatee. His red satin suit had a peaked cap and a stiff pointed arrow tail that curved to nearly touch his thigh. The evangelist held up his bible. The devil shrieked and shook his pitchfork. The evangelist turned to include the crowd, making the devil his showpiece, and bawled out, “He’s not the real devil.” He turned back to address the devil directly, “You got a bad condition of the heart.” The devil growled and shook his pitchfork again before stomping to the curb, his tail bobbing. “Nobody is perfect!” the evangelist yelled. “Everybody needs Jesus!”
Only Clark was not enjoying himself. He played with the radio, drummed his fingers on the dashboard, and ignored what was going on outside his window.
An older Lincoln with a load of cheerleaders pulled into the lane next to them. Their red and white pom poms filled the rear windowshelf and the space between the two girls in the back seat.
Clark came to life. “Move up. Pull up,” he told Cherzniak. Cherzniak eased the Ford forward about five feet, until it was right on the bumper of the car ahead and even with the rear door of the Lincoln. Clark leaned out and knocked on the rear window of the Lincoln. A startled pretty face, a dark-eyed girl with brown shagcut hair, turned toward him and then her window dropped down halfway. “Are those your costumes?”, Clark said.
“What?”, she said. “No. We’re real cheerleaders.” Kenny laughed. “We just left the game,” she said.
“Where do you go?” Clark asked.
“Sacred Heart Academy.”
“That’s what I thought,” Clark said. “Did you win?”
She looked at him. “What? Oh.” She turned to her friends, “Did we win?” and turned back laughing. “Yeah, we won. 42-38.”
The other girl in the back seat leaned forward and looked over the Ford, Clark, and Kenny; she sank back in the seat.
The girl Clark was talking to turned away suddenly, intent on something in the front seat. “Ooh,” she said, “Turn that up. Turn that up.” The driver twisted the volume knob and an old Go-Gos hit, “Vacation,” blasted out. She closed her eyes, with a pleased smile, and danced in place, her small fists shimmying above her shoulders.
Clark was unable to restart the conversation. The Lincoln moved ahead. Clark kept bugging Cherzniak to catch up but it was impossible. Their lane was locked solid.
A sleek white Thunderbird, a classic from the sixties, was just ahead of the Lincoln. There were four guys in the T-Bird. The two in the back seat were turned around; one waved to the cheerleaders. The cheerleaders were talking animatedly, but their eyes were on the T-Bird.
“Get close to them,” Clark told Cherzniak. The two guys who had been staring got out of the T-Bird. They both rolled their shoulders and adjusted their jackets, like athletes getting out of a bus, and walked back to the Lincoln. They were large, one dark haired, one blonde; the blonde one wore a USC jacket, the dark haired one wore a maroon blazer with a fraternity crest. Both had exceptional tans. The one in the blazer leaned down to the driver’s window, the other spoke to the girl on the passenger side. “Give it up, Clark” Kenny said. “Those guys are in college. They’re fraternity boys.” As the traffic crept forward, the two guys from the T-Bird walked alongside the Lincoln.
“I don’t give a rat’s ass,” Clark said. He leaned out, trying to regain the dark haired girl’s attention. Kenny’s voice was mocking: “Give it up.”
Clark didn’t give up. He stretched out further and further, calling to her. She was intent on the boy in the maroon blazer. Clark threw a gum wrapper at her door. Then a cigarette butt, then another. Then a handful of cigarette butts, thrown as hard as he could. She never looked Clark’s way. The only one who noticed Clark at all was the guy in the maroon jacket, who glanced at them when a butt bounced off his tan loafers. Kenny was suddenly afraid Clark might throw an egg.
The car in front of them pulled ahead. Cherzniak took his foot off the brake; the Ford crept forward. Clark reached over and grabbed the steering wheel; he jerked it toward him so the Ford veered toward the T-Bird and the Lincoln. Kenny leaned over the front seat. Clark had an egg in his other hand. “Don’t do it,” Kenny said, “Don’t do it, you fucker. Those guys would kill us.”
The guy in the maroon jacket straightened up. The Ford had stopped with the bumper a foot from his knees. All the girls in the Lincoln were staring at Clark. The other two guys were getting out of the T-Bird. “Oh shit,” Kenny said, “Oh shit.”
Clark was weird but cool. “Hi,” he said to the guy in the maroon jacket. Kenny saw, with some relief, that Cherzniak had his hand clamped on Clark’s wrist. The guy in the jacket was equally cool. He nodded and smiled at Clark. “Hello,” he said. “How’s it going.” His voice was deep and assured and amiable. He smiled at Clark again, nodded again and then he laughed.
It was a light, calm laugh and when Kenny tried to figure out what was wrong with it, the only thing he could think of was that it didn’t sound forced or phony. The way he knew it would sound if he, Kenny, were laughing alone, in front of strangers. The guy laughed again, a rich, reassuring laugh. One of the girls in the Lincoln laughed nervously. Clark grinned. The three other guys from the T-Bird, standing there with their arms folded on their chests, started to laugh. Laughter built in the Lincoln and then they were all, all of them, laughing. It felt good. Kenny laughed harder than the rest, relieved. Clark’s taut shoulders and neck relaxed. Peals of laughter came from the Lincoln. The fraternity boys were laughing, nodding and laughing together.
Kenny realized they were laughing in unison. The guy in the maroon jacket lifted his hand like a blade—the other three watched him—he slashed his hand down. Their laughter cut off instantly, replaced by four blank masks, all fixed on Clark.
The laughter stopped in the Lincoln. Clark and Cherzniak were the only ones still laughing. That trailed off. There was a small pop. Kenny, looking over the seat, saw the yolk and white dripping onto Clark’s pants from between his clenched fingers. Cherzniak still held his wrist.
Maroon jacket turned away. He leaned down and whispered something to the red-haired girl driving the Lincoln. His fingertips touched her hand on the steering wheel. She smiled, listening to him, and she looked at her friends in the rear view mirror.
The fraternity boys all climbed back in the T-Bird. The car pulled out of line and into a side street. The Lincoln followed them. Kenny watched its stuttering red turn signal until it rounded a corner and disappeared.
Clark wiped his hands on the seat. “Let’s get out of here,” he said. Cherzniak pulled out of line, squeezing between two cars whose drivers honked furiously at him. They headed toward Sunset Boulevard.
At the corner of Ivar and Sunset two men waited for the light, arm in arm, a Dracula with blue eye shadow and a muscular Alice in Wonderland. Clark hit Alice with two eggs, one in the chest, one in his blonde wig. Alice yelled, “You Bastard” at Clark, and Dracula advanced toward the Ford.
Clark reached under the seat. Kenny heard his fingers scrabbling. Clark got out of the car holding up a tire iron. Dracula hesitated. “Come on Butt Boy,” Clark cooed. He smacked the heavy end of the iron in his palm.
Alice yelled “Get out of the street, Ron. Now!” Dracula backed away. Clark smashed the iron against the side of the car and then at the pavement, striking sparks. “Come On”. He held the iron before his eyes, and his voice was hoarse and almost pleading, ”Come on. Come on Faggot. Here’s something you can suck.”
Cherzniak and Kenny dragged him back in the car.
The light changed. Cherzniak hit the gas, smoking the tires. Something thumped against the trunk as they turned onto Sunset and Alice shouted, “Asshole breeder.”
Cherzniak shot down Sunset. Clark tapped the iron against the metal dash. His eyes were closed, his head bobbed and jerked to some song of his own. Cherzniak went onto side streets, speeding up to fifty, slamming across bumps and dips. It seemed to calm Clark down. By the time they reached the Hyperion bridge, he was sitting up straight and only holding the tire iron.
Cherzniak pulled a U-turn off the Hyperion Bridge and drove onto the Glendale Avenue bridge that crossed the L.A. river and Golden State Freeway. He slowed then and looked over at Clark, checking him. As the car slowed, Clark stared out the windshield at something ahead of them on the roadway. “Hey,” Clark said, “pull over.” Cherzniak slowed some more. “Stop, Goddamnit.”
Clark jumped out of the car while it was still rolling. He sprinted into the beams of their headlights, holding up the iron. In a single fluid motion he brought the iron across his body and flung it. They watched the iron spin, crossing on itself for fifty or sixty feet in the headlights. It went into the dark where it thumped against something scuttling along the bridge wall.
They ran after Clark. He’d retrieved the tire iron by the time they reached him; he was holding it out like a stick, poking at something. A huge brown rat lay on its side next to the bridge wall, its back legs twitched feebly then were still.
“Jesus,” Cherzniak said, “that was a hell of a shot.”
“Is it dead?” Kenny said.
Clark poked the rat’s stomach but there was no response. “I don’t know,” Clark said, “but I’m gonna find out.” He looked at Cheraniak. “Get me the flares.”
Cherzniak went back to the car while Kenny and Clark stood over the rat. Cherzniak dropped the box on the pavement, struck one of the flares and handed it to Clark. “Okay rat,” Clark said, “let’s see if you’re faking.” He touched the sputtering flare to the rat’s foot long tail, then moved the flame in, playing it over the rat’s puckered anus and below, around the fur covered balls.
Kenny straightened up. He looked out over the bridge railing and down, into the pit of the freeway where taillights and headlights streamed by. He was ready to go home.
Cherzniak pushed the tire iron down on the rat’s chest while Clark twisted the rat’s mouth open, forcing the flare into the jaws and then shoving it into the throat. The rat’s belly lit up with a red glow. Lice and fleas streamed across the belly fur, moving away from the heat. Red smoke poured from the rat’s mouth.
Using the flare like a handle, Clark lifted the rat up and set it on the bridge wall. He lit two more flares and put them on either side of the rat, like candles.
They stood there in the roiling red smoke, watching the flares sputter and burn. The rat’s swelling belly glowed like a Jack-O-Lantern. “I hate those fuckers,” Clark said. “God, I hate those fuckers.” The acrid smoke coiled around them.
A stench like burning hair made Kenny’s stomach do a slow turn. A smoking black spot appeared on the rat’s red belly and grew, like a pupil dilating, and Clark said again, in the same flat, hopeless voice, “I hate those fuckers. I hate them.”
© 2008 Lou Mathews