Chapter 20: EAST SIDE BOYS
Hector Clay was in another part of town, driving around in a daze. He was still rolling when the sun went down, trying to integrate and resolve his conflicting thoughts and feelings about all that had happened to him in the past few hours: Vivian missing, Mayhew dead and, now, the prophetic visitor to his home who had warned him not to go outthe frightened little guy who would not have been killed before his eyes if he hadnt gone out.
How was a man supposed to cope with all of that at the same time?
Warped plywood boards covered most of the doors and windows of what used to be a thriving commercial strip on both sides of a six-lane, pot-hole-riddled avenue. The full moon and the occasional unbroken street lamp bounced their light off of the sheet of rainwater covering the trashy pavement.
Hector stopped at a red light. He was deep in a DZ on the east side of Woodward Ave., the dividing line between East Side and West Side Detroit. He sat back in his seat, trying to clear his mind, to sort things out and put them back together the way they belonged. He had hoped the drive would help but it hadnt.
When the light turned green, he pulled over to the nearest curb, stepped out of his car and started walking. From time to time other cars passed by unnoticed, including a green Taurus Classic that he had seen and studied from a birds eye view in the T-window of Brandon Krouses time machine.
Hector wandered down the sidewalk on foot as aimlessly as he had driven to the neighborhood on wheels. The hard heels and soles of his jump boots sounded a solitary rhythm on the strangely deserted street. One establishment on the corner with an open-for-business sign on the door should have been showing signs of activity. It was a common, all night weapons store and licensed dispenser of sugar, alcohol, heroin, tobacco and cocaine; a place called...Parmenders?
Hector stopped with his left foot out in front and slowly turned his whole body toward the bold, block letters on the reflective glass. Yes! It did say Parmenders, the last place on Brandon Krouses list of where Hector would go to look for Shag Man. The jolt to Hector's nervous system so strong that, for an instant, he believed that he had literally been stuck by lighting.
My God, he thought, its true!
He saw what Brandon had not seen about Parmenders relationship to his search for Shag Man. If the harried and hurried tracker had taken the time to trace Hectors rout to this place, he would have seen how not to get killed. He had all the clues he needed to do it, including Hectors statement that he didnt know what Parmenders was, much less where. But if Brandon had previewed the time track that would have spared his life, Hector would not have been there.
There was a name for that sort of thing. What was it the little man had called it, the Paradox Displacement Principle of ? Yeah, that was it.
Hectors mind was racing now to recall everything Brandon had said about the principles of nature underlying fate and the things that gave it physical expression. The existence of death dispensers like Parmenders in DZs like this one expressed the fate of consumers with limited foresight and influence and dealers with plenty of both. But the only natural thing about that state of affairs was the willingness of most people to allow it, whatever the cost to strangers if opposing it had the potential of exacting a personal price. Thats what made courage and integrity such rare and valued qualities in the conduct of human affairs. That was why people who displayed those qualities as a matter of principle had so many natural enemies.
There was indeed a principle underlying everything that could happen in the physical universe and the deists on the staff of God all understood some of them thoroughly:
Mayhew had understood the principles underlying the American war effort he was a part of. He had known what would happen in all of Indochina if the murderous regime he fought against in Vietnam was allowed to win power by default. He knew what would happen wherever similar regimes could follow suit if the principle of opposing them remained, at best, a subject of debate.
Gail knew that what went on in the DZs was based on the same principle that silenced old vets like Mayhew and canonized the ones who helped to win the debate against them in the name of peace. Everyone on the staff of God knew that they were as much at war with the tolerance of the majority of people who could live in peace with genocide as they were with the intolerance of the few who practiced it.
Only now did Hector understand the inevitability of so much human misery and death by human design and human neglect.
Nothing ever happened until it was ready to happen, until the ground for it had been plowed and seeded and nurtured and nothing else could keep it from happening. In a universe of constant motion some things were happening all the time to prepare the way for other things that had to happen as a result. That was the real meaning of "fate." All that mattered to humanity in the long run, from the exploitation of fire to the exploration of space was, therefore, preordained. Failure in the short run was often essential to getting there.
The entire staff of God was what it was because of what old combat vets like Mayhew were not able to do in their war with their weapons or their words. It was being taken to a place that it could not have reached if the millions of people those vets had tried to save had been saved.
Suddenly, the paradoxes of quantum mechanics made sense. In Gods infinite reckoning of time, thought Hector, were all dead anywaydead, and alive and waiting to be born, like billions of characters in a book spanning many lifetimes.
Perhaps one’s awareness of being alive came and went in only one reading through the eyes of one character. Perhaps it was more like a movie in which the self inhabited many bodies through the ages or the same body more than once. It didnt necessarily matter. But the principles by which all of the characters lived their lives had to. Fate would allow nothing else.
Hector turned on his heels and headed back to his car with a quickness in his step that bespoke a man with a purpose. He didnt hear the footsteps of the young men filing out of the liquor store. Young men in two-tone canvas shoes with soft rubber soles, some with ruby Daylights, sporty flat-top caps, weird hairdos and spotted pants. Young black men holding shiny, bone-cutting hunting knives and dull, 7mm hand guns at their sides. They, too walked with a purpose.
Hector wasnt sure whether he heard the boys behind him, felt their presence or caught wind of their unwashed bodies. Whatever it was told him where they were before the burly, bare-chested leader called out, "Hey, man!"
Hector looked over his shoulder without slowing his pace. His heart thumped with the fear of a man who knew what kind of danger he was in from the armed youthssix or seven of themall young, all armed and all too close behind. He wished he had his gun. In this situation, his bayonet may not have been enough. He didnt have the initiative. He didn't have the bayonet, either.
How stupid it had been for him to leave his weapons in his car. Half a block ahead of him, he saw the shadow of a car parked beneath a burned out street lamp. It wasnt his car. His was on the far corner of the next block.
Hector took in everything at a glance, seeing nowhere to run and no way to fight. He knew that he could die if he didnt find a way to do one or the other. He knew that he would die if he didnt keep cool. The switch in his head that went from civilized man to ruthless killer, as the circumstances required, slipped quietly into the killer mode.
He stopped and turned to face the youths, sizing them up for whatever he might have to do to extricate himself from the situation.
All of the youths sported skull necklaces with two or more skulls. The biggest, blackest guy in the bunch, standing front and center with the long, shiny hunting knife in his left hand pointed down at his side, appeared to be the biggest threat. He had muscles like Mr. Universe and more of the little skulls strung around his neck than Hector could count. The boys on his left and right had an impressive number of skulls around their necks, too. Nobody in any disposal zone ever wore one of those highly prized trophies without a confirmed kill to go with it. But when anyone sported as many skulls as these boys did, it almost invariably meant that they counted the murder of helpless civilians the way honorable street soldiers counted only combat kills. These were the kinds of predators that the Bogeyman made his prey.
Hector took special note of the fact that the dark, muscular youth also had a thick head of hair braided securely around a large gold ring flopped forward on his shaven upper hairline. One other boy in the gang had a similar hair style topped with a similar gold ring and nearly as many skulls as the two boys flanking the leader.
The big guy smiled, showing a mouthful of bad teeth. The shorter, slimmer boys on each side of him also showed their bad teeth. Their body odor was almost overwhelming. "My name is Samson," said the big guy. "Welcome to the neighborhood."
The other boys snickered.
"Thank you," said Hector, bringing howls of laughter from the whole gang, none of whom appeared to be over twenty-one.
"Man," said Samson, "you is a riot, aint he Chief?"
The boy on his left with high cheekbones, a broken nose, a burning cigarette in one hand and a gun in the other, nodded, "He show is, aint he, "Doc?"
The light-skinned boy on Samsons right wearing a grubby pink fedora and ruby Daylights said, "He show is."
Hector expected the indirect round of introductions to include all of the boys but it stopped there. "What," said Doc, "was you doin lookin at the window all that time? You got on some kinda special contacts or somethin?"
Hector squinted, as if by doing so he could better see what the boy was talking about, "What?"
Samson took over, "You was standin there starin for a long time. You musta been lookin at somethin besides yoself."
"I was thinking," said Hector.
For some reason the boys thought that was funny.
A boy in the back of the group with a thin mustache and a tam, made it clear that he thought it was funny when he said, "You must nota been thinkin too good when you decided to walk down here in Leopard country in dim sheep clothes."
That broke the boys up again.
"That was a good one, Chucky," said Doc.
"Well," said Samson, looking Hector up and down without noticing the slight turn of his body and his subtle shift of weight to his back foot, "I dont know who you is o what you doin down here but if you dont wont no trouble with the authorities," he pointed his heavy, jagged-edged hunting knife at himself and the boys behind him, "you gotta pay yo taxes."
"Oh," said Hector, darting his eyes from place to place in what looked to the boys like a comic show of runaway fear.
"Yeah," said Doc, showing his crooked, black and yellow teeth and counting with the long barrel of his gun on his finger tips, "You gotcho lookin at the stow window tax, yo walkin down the street tax..."
While the boy talked and his friends laughed, Hectors eyes continued to bounce from one key point of attack and defense to another. He took a detailed lay of the land, noting every offset crack in the sidewalk and every strategic contour of the storefront on his right. He saw where each of the seven boys stood, counted the guns, studied the body languageand readied himself to strike.
One of the boys was out of position for what Hector had to do, a bug-eyed boy with mottled skin and a soiled Tiger baseball cap cocked sideways on his head. But just as Hector was thinking where he wanted him to go, he moved there, sidestepping in front of Chucky, the boy with the thin moustache and the tam who was holding a gun.
The boy in the baseball cap joined in on naming the kinds of taxes the short, funny-talking old man with the old, funny-looking boots would have to pay for entering their part of town. They were having a great time, showing off for each other and laughing at each others jokes as Hector eased his left hand up and back, palm out to shoulder level as if to beg like a sissy not to be hit. The boy called "Chief" was laughing so hard he cried and Doc doubled up clutching his gun hand to his gut as Samson threw back his head and howled.
Thats when Hectors spring-loaded left arm shot forward.
The V formed by his thumb and forefinger caught Samson square in the throat with such stunning force that Hector was able to lift the knife out of his opened palm. Before anyone could react to what was happening, Hector slashed Chiefs gun hand completely off at the wrist with an outward swipe of the blade that ended high in the air to his right. At the same time, he grabbed the ring in Samsons hair in his left fist, balanced himself on his feet and brought the sharp, heavy blade across the side of Samsons neck with all of his considerable might.
A split second later, Hector was doused in warm blood gushing from the stump of Chiefs wrist and Samsons neck, with Samsons knife in one hand and his severed head in the other. As the rest of Samsons body fell thrashing to the ground, Hector drew back the living severed head and sliced across his twisting body at Doc, opening a deep, wide, gut-spilling gash in his lower abdomen.
Hectors mind was working so fast that he saw everything in slow motion, like a big league slugger on a hitting tear that made the toughest pitch look like a floating softball. He was high on adrenaline, feeling that ecstatic combat rush that no artificial stimulant could match.
Still, he knew what he was doing, planning every move in advance for maximum strategic advantage and psychological effect. He could have killed Chief outright as easily as he had cut off his hand, but dead men dont scream. He wanted the others to hear one of their leaders scream.
Chief did scream, like a man in a bear trap. So did Hectorlike a demon from hell.
Hector raced toward the boy in the baseball cap drawing the head on the ring across his body. With a hard swing of the head, he cracked the boys skull.
Of the three boys left, only one had a gun but the shock of Hectors violent attack was beginning to wear off enough to snap them out of their initial paralysis. They were all moving, now, the tam-wearing boy called Chucky having the presence of mind to backpedal for a clear shot at Hector. But Hector bowled the boy whose skull hed just cracked with Samson's severed head, into him on the follow-through of his swing. He reached around in mid air as the three boys fell to the ground and drove his blade deep into Chuckys side.
The old soldier did all of that with an efficiency of motion that would have been poetic if his task had not been so gristly. With Samsons battered head in his hand, Docs intestines on the sidewalk and Chief on his knees hollering and holding what was left of his wrist, Hector sprang to his feet to finish the other two boys off. Instead of charging from the outside the way he knew he should have, he bluffed up the middle, expecting them to flee. He had never run into anybody tough enough or foolish enough to stick around after suffering the kinds of losses these boys had suffered so quickly. But hed never before gone up against any East Side boys.
These were experienced street fighters, both armed with the same kind of knife that decapitated one of their leaders and whacked off the hand of another. They understood what had happened to their group and how to react. Their dark brown eyes were all business, even as one of their maimed leaders howled, another tried to collect his guts and a third could do nothing without his head. They split up, trying to catch Hector between them.
As soon as he saw what they were up to he dropped Samsons head and dashed for the other youth with the ring in his hair and the most skulls around his neck.
The boy stopped and faced off with Hector. The old soldier feinted high with his knife. When the boy reacted to the fake, Hector kicked him hard in his shin with the side of his boot and stomped on his instep. That gave him time to see that the other boy had slipped in his friends blood and pulled a groin muscle, rendering him unable to move with alacrity. It also gave Hector time to see that he was going for Chuckys gun.
Hector plunged his knife dead center into his pain-frozen opponents belly button, jerked it up and out with a spray of blood and threw the body to one side. The adrenaline which had gotten Hector's savage attack off of the launching pad was losing its kick. He truly regretted having to kill the helplessly dazed boy who remained, though that was the only way to assure his own survival.
Hector dove for the gun lying beside Docs writhing body and picked it up at the same time his young enemy came up shooting. The boy fired high to avoid hitting Doc, which gave Hector time to put his first round where he intended for it to go. It was not in time to keep the boy from simultaneously doing likewise with his second round.
Hector didnt hear the third shot, the shot from down the street that put a small, neat hole in back of the gravely wounded boy named Chief and ripped a big, ragged hole through his chest....Back to top
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Contact the author: Jasper Garrison