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Authors: Marc Laidlaw

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BOOK: The Orchid Eater
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Scott didn’t
deign to answer. Instead he rolled his eyes at Mike, who suddenly didn’t feel
quite so isolated. But if Kurtis Tyre and Mad Dog could show up out of the
blue, some of those Alt-School girls couldn’t be far behind.

“I get so
sick of that Jesus stuff,” Kurtis went on. “Making out like he’s such a fuckin’
saint. So what if the cops think we’re Nazis? Maybe they’d give us some
respect.”

Edgar picked
up the phone.

“Who you
calling?”

“Craig
Frost. See if him and Howard want to come up, bring the other guys.”

Kurtis
turned his attention to Mike. “Never thought I’d see you here, James. You
trying to join the club or something?”

Mike
shrugged. “I don’t know about any club. I’m just with Scott.”

“And with
me,” Edgar said, covering the phone. “Mike’s moving in down the street. He
wants to be a master thief.”

Mad-Dog
barked his patented hyena laugh.

“A master
thief?” said Kurtis in disbelief. “Oh, man, what is this? Are you serious?”

“I saw a
murder once,” Mike blurted.

For a minute,
Mad-Dog stopped laughing. Edgar was muttering on the phone but even he looked
up.

Kurtis
gaped. “What does that mean? Do you want to see another?”

“I was just
. . .” Forget it, he thought. He wasn’t going to tell the story.

“You’re full
of shit, Kurtis,” Edgar said.

“What kind
of club is it, anyway?” Mike said.

“It’s Hawk’s
One-Way Gang.”

“One-Way?”
Mike said.

Edgar
pointed a finger at the ceiling. “You know, straight up. To Heaven? We’re all
in it.”

Mike looked
at Scott. “You too?”

Scott
shrugged.

“Not if I
have anything to say about it,” Kurtis said.

“Hawk likes
him. That’s what matters.”

“Yeah,
Kuuur-tis,” said Mad-Dog mockingly, laughing till Kurtis grabbed an ear and
twisted it.

It was
almost an hour before Craig Frost and Howard Lean showed up. In that time, Mike
and Scott had to endure so many of Kurtis Tyre’s jibes that it was a relief to
see new faces at the glass—even these faces, which were not the most comforting
in Bohemia Bay. Craig and Howard were several years older than the others. Craig
was out of school completely, though he hadn’t graduated. Everyone knew his
story, the high school was so small. He was a grease monkey at the Central Beach station now. Howard was still in school, though he had been kept back at
least twice. His orthodontist father and realtor mother wouldn’t let him drop
out like his idol, Craig. They had big plans for him, apparently.

“So, Frost,
you got a car tonight?” asked Kurtis.

Craig shook
his head, looking embarrassed. “No, man, we hitched.”

Kurtis
chortled. “Never heard of a mechanic without wheels.”

“My engine’s
laid out all over my fuckin’ garage. Never shoulda let Dusty touch it.”

“So tell him
to steal you a new one. Or do it yourself. You got to brush up on crime, man,
unless you plan on
working
the rest of your life.”

“Howard, put
a fist in his mouth, would you?”

Howard
smiled, showing gray chipped teeth crammed in rows like a shark’s. He stooped
toward Kurtis, fist soaring in slow motion. Kurtis lightly batted it away.

“Guess who
we saw today,” Edgar said. “Sal Diaz!”

Howard’s
face grew even sallower. “That queer? Did you suck his dick this time?”

“No, I bit
it off and brought it for you.” Everyone but Howard laughed. “He was trawling
for chicken in his black van.”

“That guy
makes me sick,” Craig said. “Why hasn’t somebody firebombed his house?”

“Let’s us do
it,” Howard said.

“Guy thinks
he’s a Mexican Bruce Lee,” said Kurtis.

“Well, he’s
only a block from here,” Edgar said. “We could do it.”

“You’re not
going to firebomb somebody’s house,” Scott said suddenly.

“Who is this
pussy?” Howard asked.

“Meet Albert
Einstein,” Kurtis said.

“Don’t
worry, Scott,” Edgar reassured him. “We’ll just go over and moon the guy. Bug
him a little.”

“Oh, he’ll
like that all right,” Kurtis said. “Give him a nice whiff of his favorite food.
I mean, don’t do the fag any favors.”

“This room
is suffocatin’,” Craig said. “Let’s get out of here.”

He slid open
the sliding glass door and stepped outside. Everyone tumbled after him, though
Edgar hung behind a moment and Mike watched him take a small glass vial from
his pocket. He uncapped it, touched it to his fingertips, then dabbed himself
behind the ears. Mike smelled the strong odor he’d caught from Edgar all
day—the hippie, Alt-School smell.

“What is
that?” he asked.

“Patchouli
oil. You want some?”

Mike
wrinkled his nose, shook his head.

“It’s for
protection, attracting money . . . and sex.”

“Sex?”

“Yeah.
Drives girls crazy.”

Mike put out
a finger. “Maybe a little.”

It didn’t
smell
that
bad.

 

6

 

It was good
to get outside again, into the air, especially since he regretted the patchouli
oil immediately. It made his eyes water and his nose begin to itch and run. He
didn’t feel much like an adventure now, not with these guys. It was becoming
pretty obvious that no girls were going to turn up. They wouldn’t be acting
like this if there were. Going to bother queers wasn’t going to get him any
closer to his first lay—not the kind he was hoping for, anyway.

He was half
tempted to walk away from them, go back to the new house and stare at the moon
on his wall. He thought Scott would probably come along, but then he saw Scott
arguing with Edgar over what they should do and say when they got where they
were going. He was laughing, having a great time. Mike kicked himself mentally.
How much excitement did they have in their lives anyway? He spent most of his
time wishing for something to happen; and now here it was, happening, and he
was already trying to get out of it.

Screw it.
Screw fear.

Besides, it
was dark. It wasn’t like Sal would see his face—or even his ass—in this light.
Nobody was going to catch them. He’d been doing this sort of thing all his
life. When it came to pranks, he was practically a pro.

Dried grass
hissed in a warm wind along the embankment. All the houses were on one side of
the street, facing undeveloped land on the other. Barbed wire marked the
boundary. Most of the homes were dark, but he could hear the steady
thud, thud, thud
of disco up
ahead; the only sign of life in the development. As they got closer to the
sound, he saw Sal’s black van sitting in a driveway.

The seven
boys stopped in the middle of the street.

“Somebody go
ring the bell,” Craig said.

For a
paralyzing moment, Mike was certain they would choose him.

“Mad-Dog,”
said Kurtis.

“Yeah-yeah-yeah!”
Mad-Dog agreed with a sniggering laugh.

Mike
relaxed. Apparently he wasn’t cool enough to be considered even for the dirty
work.

“The rest of
you get ready,” Craig said. “About fuckin’ face!” They turned their backs to
the house, strung across the street in a straggling line like a half-hearted
human roadblock. Mad-Dog, meanwhile, scampered past the black van, up to the
door. Looking over his shoulder, Mike saw Mad-Dog capering under the porch
light, then he touched the doorbell and came tearing back to the line-up.

The muffled
music died.

“Hey,
queer!” Howard called.

“We know
you’re in there, you faggot!” Kurtis joined in. Thumbs hooked in the waist of
his trousers, still twisted around, Mike saw the door open. A man appeared in
silhouette, leaning against the doorframe looking out.

“Pervert!”

“Fucking
homo!”

“Queer!”

“Cocksucker!”

“Buttfucker!”

“Goddamn
faggot!”

“Queer!”

“Suck my
dick, you quasar!”

“Kiss my
ass!”

Sal—if Sal
it was—stayed perfectly still.

Craig said,
“Now!”

The sound of
zippers and snaps broke out along the row, as the boys yanked down their pants.
Mike felt the breeze on his cheeks, and craned around to look at the luminous
doorway. The man had gone back inside. The door hung open like a mouth about to
speak. Mike sent his own voice hooting out with the others, barking like a
fool, his blood foaming with an adrenaline rush.

Giddy,
feeling wilder than any of them now, he clutched at the pocket of his jacket
and felt the bulbous avocado inside, where he had stuffed it when they were
running from the grove. He dug into the pocket without another thought,
screaming and yipping and laughing—yes! He was a wild man! Part of the
pack—invincible!

He lobbed
the green fruit as hard as he could, and watched in amazement as it sailed—as
if expertly tossed—straight through the open doorway and exploded on the wall
within. Guacamole splattered; chunks of green pulp gleamed on the white
plaster. . . .

“Holy shit!”
Edgar said. “Run!”

The command
was unnecessary. None of them would have stood still another instant. And they
had good reason to run.

Shrieks
poured from the open door. Mike saw a blur of silhouettes merging with
darkness. His own scream came involuntarily. He yanked up his jeans, trying to
run without tripping. For a minute he thought he heard Mad-Dog’s laughter echoing
down the empty street, but Mad-Dog’s mouth was clamped shut. The seven fled in
silence. The sound he heard was Sal’s gang, howling hungrily for their blood.

Mike could
hardly see where he was going, even though his eyes were used to the dark.
Edgar hissed and pointed them down a hill street; halfway down the block, they
dodged into a walkway between two houses. Mike felt like a frightened rabbit running
for a hole. The cries of their pursuers faded in another direction. They
bounded into the clear, coming out in a vacant lot. Mike stumbled and fell into
deep dead grass. Sticker-balls from burr-clover buried tiny snags in his palms;
sticky foxtails pierced his clothes, making ripping sounds as he tried to rise.

“Down!”
Edgar whispered from somewhere nearby, unseen. Someone giggled breathlessly.
They were all in the weeds, huddled down.

Craig:
“Where’d they go?”

“Whyn’t you
go look?”

“Fuck you, Tyre. Edgar, how do we get to your house from here?”

“They know
where I live, man. They’re probably over there right now.”

Mike raised
his eyes—no more than that—above the grass. Just down the street, less than
half a block away, a black Cadillac gleamed in a carport. He stifled a laugh.
The other guys were about to enter into his debt.

“Hey, my
house is right there,” he said.

“No shit?”
said Craig. “Is anybody home?”

“We haven’t
even moved in yet.”

“Whoa,
that’s right!” said Edgar. “We got a key!”

“Let’s do
it,” Craig said. “Follow the twerp.”

Mike crept
to the edge of the vacant lot; dry grass rustled behind him, the only sign that
he was being followed. He looked up and down the street, saw nothing but
darkness. As soon as he stepped onto asphalt, he heard a shout. Gray shapes
swarmed under a streetlight up the hill. They had seen him.

A dozen or
so long, leaping strides brought him to the porch. The other boys plowed into
him, grabbing at the doorknob. “Hurry, man!” He dug into his pocket for the
key.

“What the
fuck’s wrong?”

“Let us in!”

“Come on,
Mike!”

“Get it
open, dipshit!”

“I’m trying,
I’m—”

“They’re
coming!”

The key
twisted in the lock. The street echoed with bloodthirsty cries. The door flew
open from the pressure of seven straining bodies.

Suddenly the
carport shook with new arrivals.

Mike nearly
stumbled down the stairwell in the dark; he caught the rail and tried to grab
the door, but it had already banged shut. He twisted the knob to make sure it
was locked. The other six clustered around him, waiting, some pressing hard on
the door as if they didn’t trust the lock.

Just then,
someone started pounding on the wood. It sounded as if they were using mallets.
Mike could feel the jarring in his feet.

“Gonna kill
you!” whispered a deep voice.

“Shit,”
Kurtis whispered, “did you see? Those guys had nunchuks.”

“You’re dead
in there,” said another voice.

“Dead!”
promised another.

“Must be
like twenty of ’em,” Howard whispered. “Oh, we picked a good night to hassle
Sal. A real good night.”

“They
probably have swords, too,” Kurtis said. “Like, those big Bruce Lee machetes?”

After a
minute, Sal’s gang left off pounding. The whispers of the seven fugitives
sounded loud in the empty house. Mike went halfway down the stairs, listening
to a thudding too far away to be his heart. He felt fairly sure that someone
was running down the stairs between the houses.

“They’re surrounding
us,” he announced.

“What are
you talking about?”

Before he
could explain, they heard hammering and pounding in the depths of the house.
It sounded like the Diaz gang was about to shatter the sliding glass doors on
the ground floor.

“Where’s the
light?” Howard asked.

“No, keep it
off,” said Scott. “They can’t be sure we’re in here. Maybe they’ll try another
house and get somebody really pissed off.”

“Oh, fuck,”
Howard was saying. “We’re going to die, man, we’re really going to die!”

Craig:
“Everybody! Just shut the fuck up! Especially you, Howard.”

It was worse
in silence, because they could clearly hear whispering outside, all around
them, along with the sound of feet scurrying up and down the stairs and
hillside. There were no more noisy threats, only the quiet persistence of
determined assassins.

“Whose idea
was this anyway?” Kurtis said.

“Yours,”
said Mad-Dog.

“But who the
fuck threw that avocado?”

Mike
swallowed apprehensively. He couldn’t believe Kurtis was trying to blame this
on him. He’d only been joining in the spirit of things . . . hadn’t he?

“Forget it,”
Edgar said. “Let’s check the balcony.”

Edgar, Scott
and Mike crossed the living room, opened the sliding glass door, and went out
on the deck. The only illumination came from streetlights along Shoreview Road, far away at the edge of the canyon. Mike leaned over the railing and saw
shadows moving around the base of the house. Big shadows. It took him a moment
to realize that they were cast by the eucalyptus tree. He tried to look between
the houses, but it was pitch black in there. He was sure he heard whispering
and bootsteps crunching in earth. Suddenly three shapes rushed out from under
the house, where they’d been busy in the little fern grotto. Mike jerked back
abruptly.

“I can’t see
anything,” Scott said, from the other side of the balcony, “but I can hear
them.”

“They’re
definitely down there,” Edgar agreed.

As they went
back in, rocks and gravel began to pelt the sides of the house, rattling on the
windows and sliding glass doors. Mike prayed they wouldn’t throw anything too
big, but that prayer only opened the gates to deeper levels of hopelessness. He
never should have fled to the house. He’d be better off out in the street, free
to move without putting his house at risk. What if they busted windows? What if
they spray-painted the walls? What if they broke down the door and massacred
everyone? He had promised his mother he wouldn’t go in after dark, and instead
he had attracted the wrath of a gang of marauders.

“What do we
do now?” Howard said.

“Gimme a
minute to think,” said Craig.

“I wish Hawk
was here.”

“He’s not,
so forget about it.”

“Call him,
Edgar,” Kurtis said.

“There’s no
phone,” Mike said. “I’m not even supposed to be here.”

They ignored
that.

“We gotta
get Hawk, that’s all there is to it,” said Kurtis.

“Oh, and how
the fuck do you plan to do that?”

“Somebody
has to go get him, that’s all.”

Suddenly the
pounding started up again at the front door. They all jumped. Mike stared at
the door, expecting it to come flying open, torn from its hinges. He was
waiting for the
real
destruction to begin. The guys outside weren’t yelling anymore,
but he could hear them whispering their threats, and that was even worse.
Death, mutilation, torture—all this and more was in store for them. Jack and
his mom would find the walls freshly painted in the morning—painted with his
blood.

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