"Grampa, remember back when I first met Dan, and you told me the story of you and Jake?"
"Uh-huh.... what about it?" I was sitting in the small living room of my apartment in the Farshore Assisted Living Community, in my hometown of Seattle. My grandnephew Amos was lounging on the sofa, with a plate of chips and half of a roast beef sandwich sitting on the TV tray in front of him. It was a warm summer day, and I was watching the Mariners get trounced again. It doesn't matter who was playing them, 'cause everybody's trouncing them this year.
"Well, you talked about hearing a story from your mom and dad and your uncle that made it easier for you to see where they stood with you, didn't you?"
"Yup, I think I may have mentioned something like that..." I smiled a little. I had wondered how long it would be till he asked me about that story.
"Well what? You got something to ask me, boy-o?"
"You aren't going to make this easy for me, are ya Grampa? I want to hear the story they told you. Unless, of course, your memory is starting to slip..."
"Boy, the only thing that has slipped from my memory is why I put up with your snotty attitude," I sniped back, smiling widely so he'd know I wasn't serious.
"If I didn't give you attitude, what would you do for aggravation, Grampa? Giving Ms Judkins grief only goes so far, after all...."
"It may only go so far, but the trip is all pleasure lad. I know I'll pay for it in the end, but I just cannot help myself where that bitch is concerned." I smiled faintly, lost in fond memories of crushing put-downs administered...
"Uh, HELLOO? Earth to Jack Martin: come in! So what's it gonna take to get you to tell me that story?"
"Huh? Oh...are you still on about that? Good lord...I suppose I'll get neither rest nor peace till I tell you that one, will I? Hell, I don't even know if I remember it all..."
"You never forget a story, Grampa." The boy knew the bantering was over and it was time to tell the story. I clicked off the set, sparing myself any further Mariner misery, and adjusted my seat in the chair.
"Well Amos, your great grandfather grew up here in the Seattle area, way back in the early nineteen fifties...I think he lived over in Ballard with his family. When he was your age, he was a bit of a bad boy, I think...got into a lot of trouble over this and that...."
1.) Friday Night in the Square
"Yes, this is George Martin. Who's calling, please?"
"Mr. Martin, this is Officer Larkinson with the Seattle Police Department. I've got a boy down here at the precinct that says he's your son. Name of John Martin. Does that sound familiar?"
"Yes, officer, I do have a son by that name. What's he been involved in this time?"
The officer chuckled. "Well sir, I think it might be best if the boy explained that to you. No criminal charges are being made...I think he just needs a ride home."
"I'll be there as quickly as I can. Is the boy injured?"
"Not a scratch, sir. I'm not sure how that happened, but again, he'll tell you all about it."
"Not for lack of trying, I'm sure of that...I'll be there as soon as I can to pick him up. Thank you for calling, officer."
"You're welcome, Mr. Martin. One other thing - it may not be my place to say so, but I wouldn't be too hard on the boy this time. He may have saved someone from grave harm."
"Thanks again officer. I'll take it under advisement."
It had been a hell of a night. Me and three of my buddies from the team had decided to go down to Pioneer Square, see if we could get a couple drinks and maybe hear a few songs. Sometimes these really gorgeous women sang in some of the clubs down there, their voices all soft and liquid...turned me on, kinda.
So it's the four of us: Curtis Selden, my best friend Jacob Steinman, Jeff Pryse, and me, John Martin. We're walking down Occidental towards First Avenue, when I happened to glance down an alley and see what looked like a scuffle going on. I stopped for another look, and sure enough it looked like a couple guys were beating a guy up, probably just before stealing his wallet.
"Come on guys, let's break this up," I said. The others all looked at each other and rolled their eyes. They knew I was quirky that way - didn't like seeing people get beat up unless I had seen for myself that they instigated it. Besides, they knew I liked a good fight as much as the next guy...ok, maybe a little more. So I went striding into the alley, my three good buddies behind me, with never a thought to the possibility that one of these jokers we were going to accost might have a gun or a knife. I was an arrogant prick back then. Some people think I still am.
The guy that was getting the snot kicked out of him was laying on the ground by now, and I saw one of the guys standing over him lift what looked like a piece of steel pipe, and I knew he was gonna bust this guy's head open with it. I was too far away to stop him, so I yelled as loud as I could "HEY!!"
The guy with the pipe spun around and looked at me: "What the fuck do you want?"
I kept moving closer to him, gearing up for a fight now, and said "I want you to put that pipe down and walk away, or..."
"Or what?" the guy's tone was downright disrespectful. His two buddies were watching the two of us now, and my buddies had arrived and were standing behind me, a solid presence at my back.
"Or I'm gonna bust your head. Your choice."
"C'mon Chico, let's go. The kid ain't worth it, we'll get him another time."
"Listen to your buddy, Chico. That guy you're beating on wouldn't be worth tangling with us over if he was a Rockefeller heir. G'wan, get outta here." He looked at us for a moment, making up his mind, and then he spun on his heel, kicked the guy on the ground once more in the ribs, and started off down the alley away from us, his two buddies in tow.
"How the fuck do you do that? You just talked those guys outta fighting us and killing this guy. That was amazing." Jacob was all admiration. I smiled. We'd talked about it before, but he just didn't seem to get it. It's all about being fearless - or at least looking that way.
Curtis was the trainer for the football team, and he was down on his knees checking out the guy we'd just saved. The alley was dark and utterly filthy, with mounds of garbage against the walls of the surrounding buildings.
"How is he Curt?"
"He's got a pulse, and he's breathing ok John, but he's unconscious. I think we better get him out of this alley and call the police."
"I got us into this mess, so I'll haul him out of here." I stepped over and knelt next to the guy on the ground. He seemed awfully short, and really thin. I grunted a little as I swung him up in my arms and stood up, and started down the alley towards the lights of the street. I heard him moan a little from where he was draped over my shoulder, then we moved out of the alley and onto the street. There were a couple of park benches just up the way, facing onto Occidental Square, and that's where I took him, laying him gently down on one of the benches. Finally, I had a chance to look at him.
He was a short, skinny guy. His hair was full of filth from the ground in the alley, but I could tell it was blond. He was really young...younger than any of us.
Jacob was peering over my shoulder at the kid. "Hey, I think I know this kid. Yeah, he's the smart kid that's in my geometry class at school. Bill something, I think.... What the hell is he doing down here, getting his ass kicked in an alley?"
"I don't know, Stein'...guess we won't know unless he wakes up and tells us. Pretty banged up, isn't he? Jeff, why don't you run over there and ask that cop about getting this guy to the hospital?" I had noted a horse cop riding up the edge of the Square. Jeff took off running to get him, and a moment later returned with the cop in tow.
"Howdy boys, I'm Officer Larkinson. What you got here?"
So we started telling the officer the story of interrupting the beating in the alley, and what we had done since. He had pulled out a little pad of paper and a stub of a pencil and was jotting notes as we talked. When we were done telling what had happened, he asked several questions to clarify a few points. Meanwhile, the boy on the bench had started to stir and moan a little, reminding us he still needed help.
"Ok boys, I think I got enough for the moment. Stay here with this guy, and I'll be right back. I need to call for some assistance." So saying, he re-mounted his horse, clucked his tongue at it, and took off at a trot over the cobblestone square. We found out later that there was a fire station a few blocks over, and that's where he was headed. A few minutes later, an ambulance arrived to pick up our guy, this Bill somebody, and took off with him bound for Harborview, the County hospital.
By now it was full on dark, and I knew it was getting pretty late. If I didn't hustle, I was gonna get my buddies in trouble, being out too late. Damn, I'd been looking forward to a beer, but I guess I was going to have to be content with saving somebody's life. The trolleys stop running at sundown, so I wasn't getting a ride back out to home. I sat on the bench and tried to figure out how to get home without walking the whole way.
"Ok boys, I'm gonna need all of you to come to the station with me so I can get more complete statements from you. Just follow along - it's just down four or five blocks on 2nd Avenue."
So we walked along beside the officer, who was leading his horse and walking. He was a friendly guy, asking us how the football team from our high school was doing...turned out he'd gone there himself a few years before and played ball on the defense team. Seemed big enough for it, that's for sure. He was a little taller than me, and I'm 6'3". He was wide too. Not fat, just a real big guy.
As we walked down first, I saw a low building with a big sign on the outside that said "The Garden Of Allah". I'd never seen it before, or maybe just never noticed it before. There were a couple of men standing around outside the door, dressed very neatly.
"Hey officer, what's that place? I never noticed it before."
"Oh, that place? That's a bar where the sissy boys hang out...you know, the queers."
"Oh." I'd heard of sissy boys and queers before, but hadn't ever met one. I stared with renewed interest at the men standing outside the door of the bar. One of them smiled at me a little and waved.
"Hey John, I think he likes you," Jacob teased.
"Yeah," I replied. "I hear they like real men, so I guess that let's you out."
"A real man wouldn't touch one of them with a ten foot pole, much less a different pole." Steinman never could pull off a comment like that. Every time he tried, he ended up embarrassing himself and turning really, really red - just like he was doing right now. Jeff and Curt jumped in then with increasingly filthy comments, trying to keep Jacob's face red for as long as they could.
And then something happened that was to stay with me for a long time. Officer Larkinson stopped walking. His horse stopped and stood next to him. I stopped to wait for him, and the others slowed and stopped when they noticed us not keeping up.
"Come here, boys." The officer gestured to us. "I want to say something to you boys, that I hope you'll understand. I know that all the stuff you boys have been saying since I told you about the Garden has all been in fun and just a matter of joking around. But listen up: This is my beat down here, y'unnerstan'? I walk these streets every day, except when it's me and Buckshot here." He patted the horse's neck, which tossed its head and snuffled at him.
"So I know the people down here about as well as anyone, I guess, and they know me pretty well too. Being down here as has taught me a thing or two, and I want to share one those things with you. You boys are young yet, and over the course of your life, you're gonna run into a lot of people who think and act different than you do. You know those men standing over by the Garden? They're a good example of those who think and act different from you boys. But I'll tell you something: it is wrong to judge a man's worth by how closely his values and thoughts look like your own. Do not judge a man's worth on the basis of familiarity. Those men over there are very different from you boys, but I don't hold you to be lesser men than they are for all that difference, do you see? A real man is someone who doesn't hurt other people unless every other possibility has been exhausted. And that's how those men over there are." And without another word, he turned and started walking down the street again, leading his horse by its bridle.
At the precinct station, Officer Larkinson took our statements in full, getting very thorough descriptions of 'Chico' and his two buddies, and then he called each of our parents and asked them to come and pick us up. The other three pissed and griped about this, 'cause their parents hadn't known they were down in the Square, but I didn't care because my father knew that I hung out there sometimes, seeing that I didn't try to hide things like that from him. He knew it wasn't important enough to fight over, so if he disapproved, he kept quiet about it.
As I stood to leave with my father, Officer Larkinson walked over to me and gripped my hand. "You did a good thing tonight, John. I'll be watching the football games a little more closely from now on, I reckon, now that I know someone who's playing. By the way, the boy you saved? His name is William Brierly, and he's at Harborview Hospital."
"Thanks officer, I appreciate you saying so." Yes, my mama did teach me how to have good manners when they seemed warranted. "Maybe I'll swing by the hospital tomorrow and just check up on that guy."
The officer smiled and nodded, and then turned and walked away, through a swinging door at the back of the lobby.
My father looked at me and raised his eyebrows, then smiled just a little bit. "Ready?" he asked. And that was all I ever heard from him on the subject of that Friday night's activities in Pioneer Square.
2.) Not A Good Place To Be Sick In
I slept late the next day and had a slow breakfast. Everyone else was out getting busy with his or her day, so I was fending for myself. I put some water on to boil, made some toast, shredded some left-over boiled potatoes and with some poached eggs, had a swanky little breakfast. Orange juice topped the whole thing off nicely, and I was ready for my day. I had some homework to do before Monday, but that's what Sundays are for. I decided I'd go to the hospital and check on the kid from last night, before heading back and seeing if there was a pick-up game going on over at the high school field.
A long walk, a trolley ride and another long walk later, I was standing outside the county hospital, a bit sandstone looking building, built on the edge of a hill overlooking the downtown area. I pushed through the front doors and approached the information desk. A tiny, wizened old man was seated there.
"May I help you?" he wheezed. I wondered how he'd managed to escape from his ward and make it all the way down to this desk. He looked like the walk alone should have done him in.
"Um, yeah...I'm looking for a guy named William Brierly. He came in through the trauma center last night."
The old man pulled a large ledger-looking book toward him, flipped it open and began to run his finger down a list of names. "Here it is: William Brierly in room 207 west. Just go down the hall behind you, and halfway down, you'll see a sign for the stairs on the left. Go up the stairs one flight, and when you exit, follow the signs to the room you're looking for." He was panting heavily by the time he finished the instructions. I thanked him and headed down the hall as indicated. Sure enough, just about midway down the hall I found a door with a sign next to it indicating that this was the way to the stairs.
On the second floor, the air smelled different. There was still the smell of floor wax, but now there was a different odor with it...it smelled of sickness to me...a little like urine and a sweetish, rotten smell. It was really faint, but it was there. I saw a sign opposite the door that indicated that room 207 was on my right, so I headed off that way.
Room 207 was a big room with four beds in it, with curtains that could be pulled around each one. All the curtains were pulled back when I came in, so I scanned over the beds to see where this Bill guy was...two of the beds were empty, and one had a great big fat guy in it, so that must mean that little blanket covered lump over there must be the guy. I walked over to the foot of the bed.
"Hey," I said, "You Bill Brierly?"
The figure on the bed stirred a little. "Go away. I don't want to talk to anybody." The voice was very small and very young. 'Where are his parents?' I thought.
"That's a hell of a way to greet the guy that quite possibly saved your life," I said airily. "Didn't your mama tell you it's bad manners to snub your savior?"
A tousled head slowly came out from under the covers, and two bright blue eyes pierced me. Well, one really: the other was swollen closed and surrounded b\y dark purple bruises.
"Why the hell did you save me? Who told you I wanted to be saved?"
I was a little shaken by that question, and I covered by moving over to the bedside chair and sitting down in it. He frowned at me and I ignored him.
"So you're saying I should have just walked away and let that dirt bag bash your brains out with a steel pipe...'cause that's what he was going to do, you know?"
"Yeah, I heard...I guess it wouldn't have made my life any worse, would it?" the kid seemed almost to be talking to himself. I was confused - did this kid want to die? I felt way out of my depth here. What was going on with this guy?
"I don't get it, Bill. Getting bashed on the head wouldn't have just made your life worse; it probably would have ended it. That's kind of a weird thing to say."
"Yeah, well you don't know much about my life, do you Mr. Big-shot football player, who all the girls in school want to date and who all the boys want to be friends with? You got it easy - nothing's ripping your world and family up into little pieces and spitting it out the side chute, is it? You didn't think I'd recognize your face, with it plastered all over the front page of the neighborhood paper all the time? Thanks for checking on me. Now go away, please." The kid rolled over so his back was too me, and I could hear his muffled sobs and see his shoulders shaking. What was he crying for? Why the hell was he angry at me? I wanted to just walk away from this annoying kid, but some inner part of me wanted to stay, wanted to find out what was going on with this kid.
"Hey Brierly, my buddy Steinman says you're in his geometry class. Says your pretty smart."
That got a response. "You're Jacob's friend? He's a pretty nice guy, for a jock. He sits next to me in math and copies off my tests all the time...he won't talk to me around other people at school, but sometimes I help him with his homework after school."
"Yeah, me and Steinman have been best buds since the second grade. He is a good guy...but kind of a goof. There was this one time...." And I told him a story about one of Stein's more glorious mishaps from two years ago, involving a motor scooter, a clothesline, a really big housecat and a backyard swimming pool.
By the time I was done telling the story, Bill was laughing a little, breathing in little gasps cause it made his injured ribs hurt, and he had a big smile on his face.
"So what were you doing down in the Square last night, Bill? It's not exactly a safe place to be late at night, as you discovered."
The smile slid off Bill's face and his eye slid away from him. I could see that question was making him pretty uncomfortable. "I don't want to talk about it."
"But you're going to," I said, surprising myself. I hadn't really intended to say that. "Because I'm really good at talking people into doing what I want them to do, usually just so I'll shut up about it."
That got a sad little smile out of the boy in the bed. "You're not going to let this go until I tell you about it?"
"Nope. I'm gonna keep bugging you till you tell me the truth."
The kid thought about that for a moment, then he opened his one good eye and looked at me. "Ok," he said "But you have to promise you'll never tell anyone, ever, what I'm going to tell you, ok? If you do, my life is over."
Intrigued, I held up three fingers on my right hand. "Scout's honor. I never say one word about any of this to another living soul."
"God, I have no idea why I'm gonna tell you this.... I hardly even know you. But I guess I gotta tell somebody or it's gonna kill me. Ok...you really promise?"
"Devil take my soul if I tell your secret."
He nodded. "Ok...I was down there looking for a place...a kind of club, I guess...where I heard that guys who like other.... um, guys like to spend time. I was down there looking but I couldn't find it, and then that guy grabbed me as I passed the alley...so I never did find the place and got beat up instead. It's just my luck."
I sat there frozen. A place where guys that like other guys.... he was talking about the Garden of Allah! The place Officer Larkinson had shown us. Holy shit, this kid was a fairy, a sissy boy...
"Oh," I said without thinking, "you mean The Garden of Allah."
If I hadn't been so pre-occupied I would have laughed at the look of shock on his face. "You know about it? How do you know?"
"Um, after you went to the hospital last night, we walked to the police station with Officer Larkinson and he told us about it when we went by it."
"Are you still not going to tell anyone?" he asked me anxiously.
"I promised, didn't I? Your secret is safe with me, Bill. I don't stop liking people just cause they think or do things differently than I do."
"You like me? Even though I...um, like other guys?"
"Yup, I do. You seem like a good guy to me, and I'd like to be your friend, if that's ok with you."
"Yeah, that would be so great! And you don't have to talk to me around other people, like Steinman doesn't...I understand."
"Fuck that, Brierly. I don't ignore my friends just 'cause I'm around other people."
He blushed a little at my language, but he was smiling really big. I leaned forward and held out my hand to him. He took it in his and I shook it vigorously.
"Nice to meet you Bill Brierly. I hope we'll be friends for a long time."
I left after that. I was confused about why I had done what I did with that kid. I guess I'd been thinking about Officer Larkinson's words more than I thought. And how the hell could I not be nice to a kid that looked as sad and pathetic as the one I'd just visited? Jesus, with that sad, puppy dog eye staring at me, and all those bruises and cuts on his face, how could anyone resist him? Besides, he seemed like a good guy. So sure, I'd spend some time with him...wouldn't hurt me any.
3.) In The Halls
Four days later, Bill left the hospital and came back to school. I had a long talk with Jacob about the way he treated his less popular friends a day before Bill returned, and we got that "Don't talk to me in the halls or when other people are around" shit squared away. Bottom line, Jacob was a little too paranoid about popularity, and insecure about his status as a football jock making him popular. He didn't want the 'in' crowd to think that he was friends with kids like Bill, who might as well have been invisible to the popular crowd for all the attention they paid him.
So when I saw Bill in the hall that morning, I walked up behind him and fell into pace beside him. He glanced over and I saw a nervous smile on his face.
"Hi," he said, a little shyly I thought.
"Hey pal, how you feelin'?" Truth was, he was still looking a little rough. Lots of bruising on his face, his eye had gone down a bit but was still a little swollen and the cuts were all scabbed over. He was healing, but he still looked like hell.
"Better, though I know I look worse."
Just then, Steinman came walking out of a side hall and fell in beside us. "Hey Bill, you look like you got run over by a trolley. How you feelin'?"
"Not like I got run over by a trolley, thank God...and thanks to you and John here. Thanks for rescuing me last Friday."
"Wasn't me what done it. All I did was stand behind the hero here and look tough. He did all the talking."
Bill looked at me and grinned, then let out a mock sigh of admiration "My hero!" he quipped.
"Damn betcha, and don't you forget it." I caught an odd look from Stein' and ignored it, just grinned at Bill. I wasn't about to crush the first good mood I'd ever seen from him.
"Bye John, Stein'. See you guys later. See ya in Geometry, Stein'." I waved at him as he left us at the intersection of two halls, headed off to another class. Stein' left me just before I went up the stairs to go to Geography.
And so it went for the next three weeks. Life went on much like before the pioneer square incident, with classes and football practice, and working out for football taking up most of my time. I still spent a lot of time with Stein', and now we added Bill several days a week. He was helping both of us with our homework after school, and both Stein' and my grades were on the upswing. Bill started to come watch football practices, and wait for us to get done so we could go study, usually at my place.
One evening, as we were getting done with practice, Nels, the place kicker, came up to me right after we'd run a play.
"Hey John? You know that kid that's always in the stands when we're doing practice? Who is that guy? Have you noticed the way he watches you?"
"That guy, up in the stands there? That's Bill. He's tutoring me in math and English, and he's a friend. He's ok."
"I don't know, John. He watches you pretty close. I wonder if he's a pansy or something. Maybe he's got a crush on you. Yeah, I bet he's a sissy."
"Naw, he ain't like that. I know him pretty good, and he's not weird like that."
"Ok, whatever you say."
It shook me a little. I hadn't really noticed Bill doing anything sissy...well, ok, he wasn't the most masculine boy on the planet, but he wasn't real obviously girly either. Damn, this stuff was hard...harder than I thought. I had a moment of uneasiness at the thought of anyone thinking I was that way...I shrugged and walked on into the locker room to shower off the mud.
That evening, after Stein' left for home, I had a little talk with Bill.
"...So this Nels guy thought I was watching you too much? And he said he thought I was a sissy?"
"Yeah. So I think you need to start bringing a book to practice, or maybe we could pick you up outside the main doors after practice. What do you think?"
"Maybe that would be better," he said slowly. "It's true, you know. I do watch you all the time when I'm waiting for you guys. You're a really good player, and I like watching you a lot... Sometimes when you run to catch the ball, it's really beautiful." He looked at me and blushed bright red, but kept looking at me. "I... um. I think... you're really beautiful sometimes." And his eyes went to the floor and he turned even brighter red, if that was possible.
"Bill. What are you telling me? Are you saying you have a crush on me? You're a good friend to me Bill... almost as good as Steinman. But you know I'm not like that, pal. I can't like you like that."
"I know," he said miserably. "I know that. Sometimes I think I'm crazy 'cause you'll say something and I'll take it wrong and I'll think you like me that way, and then I realize you don't, and it makes me cry. I think I cry too much." As if to prove it, a lone tear spilled out of his right eye and ran down his cheek as I watched.
"I'm sorry, Bill." As I said it, I realized that I really was. I had this weird pain in my chest, and a tightness that put a hitch in my breath. It tore me up to see me friend crying over me, but I was feeling something else too... like a sense of loss, only I didn't know what I'd lost. I looked at Bill, and I realized something else - I'd never really seen him before. Well yeah, I'd seen him lots, but not really seen him. The bruises and cuts from his encounter in the square were all gone, and his skin was pale and creamy, his hair a very light blonde, almost white. His eyes were big and soulful and intensely blue, especially now with tears hovering on the brim of his eyelids. Looking at him, I realized that my friend was beautiful - not just good-looking - but really beautiful. In that moment, something way down deep in me changed, and I set my foot on the path I would follow the rest of my life. I didn't know it then, of course... I just tore my eyes away and made a comment about how Stein' and I would pick him up at the front doors of the school after practice tomorrow and see how it went.
But I didn't forget that moment, somewhere inside me. I found myself looking at him at odd moments - when he would be laughing at a joke Stein made, his head bent down and giggling and looking slyly at my friend out the corner of his eye. Or when he'd look at me during a tutoring session and I'd be trying to explain what I thought I was supposed to be understanding, and his astonished look would say "What the hell are you talking about?" and there'd be a laugh lingering behind his eyes... and I'd realize again that he was the most beautiful person I knew.
I started thinking about him when he wasn't around, wondering what he was doing, and whom he was with. I'd hear something funny, and I'd find myself wanting to tell him, to see him laugh. I'd never felt this way about a friend before... it was a little scary, and a little exciting. So I was spending a lot of time with him, almost every day. It was usually he and I and Stein', but more and more it was just the two of us. My grades were getting really good, football was going like a dream, and I was spending all my spare time with my two best friends, and life was good. I should have known it couldn't last.
4.) Train Wreck
Two things happened, one almost on top of the other, which changed my life for good that week. The first was on Monday, right as I was getting done with football practice. I was standing on the field, and Coach had just blown the whistle, telling us all to go hit the showers, when I saw somebody running onto the field from the direction of the school. It was one of the kids that Bill hung out with when he wasn't with me or Stein'...a short, kinda pudgy kid named Anthony. He was really hurrying now though...he came running up to the field and stopped, looking at all the players in uniforms and helmets and not knowing who was who, but clearly looking for somebody.
I walked over. "Hey kid, looking for somebody?"
"Yeah! I'm looking for John Martin! I gotta talk to him real bad! You seen him?"
I pulled off my helmet. "Yeah kid, I'm John Martin. What can I do for you?"
"Thank God! You gotta hurry! Bill is in trouble...out by the main doors!"
I didn't wait for any more explanation. I ran over, grabbed Stein's arm and said "C'mon."
It was kind of a long shag out to the main doors of the school from the field. Driven by adrenalin and my out of control imaginings, I pretty much flew the distance, slowing twice to let Stein' catch up. I could hear yelling just before the two of us burst around the corner of the building.
It was a mess. A group of guys who all followed one bully in particular had waylaid Bill and his friends as they hung out by the front doors of the school, and now there three fights going on all at the same time as different member of the two groups mixed it up. Bill and his friends were getting much the worst of it. Even as we rounded the corner, I saw one of the bullies drop another skinny guy to the ground with one punch to his gut. Two guys had hold of Bill, one getting ready to punch him, and I noticed Bill's packsack laying on the ground next to where they had him stood up, one holding him up in a full-nelson and the other ready to punch him in the gut. It was like all of a sudden, everything was moving in slow motion and I could see every detail of what was happening. Then my eyes landed on Bill's face as he saw me - he had the most awful expression of fear and resignation on his face and it twisted my heart to see it.
I leaped over one pair of bodies on the ground - a bully and a geek, with the geek giving surprisingly good account for himself - and plowed right into the guy that was about to hit Bill. I hit him with a hard right jab into his kidney, and he let out an agonized gasp and folded. The guy holding Bill shoved him at me, and I almost shoved him out of my way in my eagerness to get at the thug. But I took a moment to tell Bill to go stand out of the way.... he flashed me a look and tore himself away, and jumped on the back of a much bigger guy who was thumping one of my buddy's square friends. So I grabbed that thug, spun him around and clipped his chin, knocking him down.
I looked around till I saw who I was really looking for: Patterson, the leader of these assholes, was leaning against the wall a short ways away, looking at me and scowling. I noticed he had a blue book in one hand that looked vaguely familiar. Without thinking a whole lot, I headed over toward him, my buddy Bill's arm in one hand, towing him along with me. Out the corner of my eye I saw Steinman rescue another skinny kid from a bruiser, then head over towards us. I noticed that my free hand was clenched in a fist.... when I reached Patterson, I didn't even stop to talk, which I kinda think he was expecting. I simply reached for him with my free hand, palmed his face and pushed him back against the wall, then laid my forearm across his throat and leaned in close to his rapidly purpling face. Strangely, though he's a big guy and I normally couldn't have intimidated him like that, he didn't try to kick me or hit me in any way. Bill later said I looked scarier at that moment then he'd ever seen me.
"OK, asshole...here's the way it is." I wasn't talking loud. I didn't want to share this with the rest of the crowd. I pulled Bill up closer to us. "See this kid? This one right here that was about to get hurt when I got here? Yeah, take a good look at him. This kid is mine. You got that, fucker? This kid gets hurt, and I come looking for you. I don't care whether you or any of your asshole buddies hurt him or not, it's you I'm coming after. And if I have to come after you, I'm gonna make sure no-one else ever has to come after you again, 'cause you're not going to be able to move fast enough to get away. And if you think those sons of bitches you call friends are gonna protect you, think again. I doubt they'd like to be on the bad side of the football team. You understand what I'm telling you?" I noticed that Patterson was getting a little blue, so I leaned back a little and let him breathe a bit.
Patterson gasped for breath for a moment or two. "That kid is a fairy!" he spat at me when he had enough breath. The guy just didn't seem to learn. I released Bill's arm, leaned back and slapped Patterson hard, snapping his head sideways and leaving a livid handprint on the side of his face.
"I don't care if he fucks dogs, asshole. He gets hurt, you get hurt a lot more. Got it?" I made my voice as cold and grim as I could. It seemed to work. Patterson just nodded, so I stepped back, and he slid down the wall. I noticed a big wet spot in the crotch of Patterson's pants, so I figured I must have made an impression. Bill picked up his blue book from where Patterson had dropped it, and turned to me. He had kind of a scared look on his face.
"I don't know you very well, do I?" he said, then turned and walked away. Stein' came up just then, talking about how it was all over and all the geeks were ok, except for a few black eyes and other bruises.
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