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1. A place, typically a large, deep pit, from which stone or other materials are or have been extracted.

2. Prey that is hunted down.

By Ernesto66

I got the phone on the second ring, staggering around the house in nothing but damp tightie whities, still drowsy from a late night before. Toweling off and just out of a cold shower I'd hoped would open my eyes a little bit wider. Not to mention settle my stomach. Had we actually mixed Jack Daniels and Pepsi Lite?

The phone just had to be Doug. Had to be.

"Tell me something good," I mumbled. No hellos.

"Charlie!" I had to hold the receiver away from my ear. "You will not believe what I'm gonna tell you. Your day is saved. Your effing summer is saved." He sounded really excited, which for someone who got high as often as Doug did, kind of surprised me on a Sunday morning. "I know what Scotty Downard did with the money."

"You-" I couldn't believe my ears. I'd been expecting to hear we were going to a movie. The Search for Spock or something stupid we could lay back and light up in the middle of. For sure not that.

"What? You're fucking kidding me!" My eyes were plenty wide, then.

"I am not. Can you get away, like right now?"

"Believe it, man. Mom and Dad are at my grandparents' all day. Are you- Are we, uh-" I laughed. "I don't even know what to say! I'll be there in fifteen minutes." I hung up on him.

Ha ha! Freaking amazing. I grabbed a clean white t-shirt from the pile on the foot of my bed, stepped into the grungey cutoffs I'd been wearing all week, and jammed on my new Keds. Wallet, spectacles, testicles, keys... I was ready to go.

I locked the back door and jogged down our driveway into the street. It was still cool outside, but there were no clouds overhead. Felt like we might be headed into a hotter afternoon. Doug's house was only four blocks over, so I'd probably overestimated my ETA.

He'd actually found the money? After the police finally gave up the chase, Scott's own parents let the whole thing drop, everybody at school moved on to gossiping about the prom queen's pregnancy... Doug must have had some kind of goddamn brainstorm during the night.

My tennis shoes smacked against the pavement as I rounded the corner and saw him hefting a black trash bag full of something into the back of his rust-eaten Wrangler. The car's top was down and its doors missing, as he always kept it until the very end of summer. He was wearing the same outfit he'd had on the night before.

I stopped at the end of their walk, barely winded. My morning runs were doing me some good.

"Hey," I said.

He looked up from inside the Jeep, Christopher Atkins hair down over one eye. He'd put the back seat up to give whatever was in that bag more room. "Hey." He untangled himself from under the rollbar and pointed to their front door. "Go on inside."

In the Whites' living room I saw something frozen on the big screen of their console TV, a blue and green and black blur with wavy lines all through it. The VCR was on PAUSE and humming loudly.

So where was the money? I sat in his mom's recliner, enjoying the feel of its velvet on my legs. In a second Doug followed me through the door and made straight for the recorder.

I asked "When did you have time to do all this, man?" We'd been out 'til three at a friend's party.

"This morning. Nevermind. You are gonna shit yourself, Charlie. It was right here all along. Watch. I mean, watch."

He knelt on the shag carpet and pushed the PAUSE button. The picture on the screen warped, slowed, and then played at the right speed.

The green was trees and the blue was sky, and in the background was a solid black rectangle. Water. Deep water. I knew what I was looking at. The-

"You recognize it?" Doug asked. "You ought to."

"'Course I do, I was lugging your frigging fifty-pound video camera around all day. My shoulder was sore for a week. Out at the quarry last Labor Day. I thought you gave this tape-"

"I copied it before Dad gave it to the police."

"God, that whole scene was a depressing way to start the year."

"Boo frigging hoo, ya baby. You were still alive, right? Do you remember any of the party?" People we knew were wandering across the screen, waving and smiling.

I thought a moment. "I remember what happened after it. But at the party.... Yeah. Maria Delgado barfed in that Saint Agnes girl's purse, and Andy Slaton almost fell in the lake because he was drunk and went to pee off the edge of the cliff."

"Andy Slaton had a good reason to be drunk that day."

"Huh? Whatever. Am I forgetting something?"

"Naw, you'd never know it was important. Nobody did. Until... now. Look." He touched the TV screen just as Scott appeared on it.

Scotty Downard. Handsome ladies' man, always dating but never committed. Hard-drinking guy's guy. Party animal. Psychopath criminal freak.

He'd robbed his dad's hardware store and then tried to blame the clerk. No one knew how much. And by the time the police caught on, the money was well hidden or already spent. Either way, gone, and he was a free man.

But in another month - in fact on the night of the party playing on the Whites' TV - Scott killed himself. Or fell, in the dark. Whatever.

Drowned, in the black water right there behind him as he mugged for the camera.

Other kids strolled around, punching him in the arm and calling his name. He'd been a real celebrity for a while. Some blonde girl hung off the sleeve of his shirt, tugging on the chain around his neck and playing with his hair. He was eating it up, licking her earlobe and trying to peek down her Daisy Duke halter top.

"I don't recognize that girl he's with-"

"Forget her, man! Look what he does here in a sec." Doug readied his finger by the PAUSE again.

The soon-to-be dead man focused on the camera lens and said "Heyyy, last party of the summer, folks! What we've 'Labor'ed for all year! All you seniors? Did you will something valuable to a loved one?"

The girl at his side said "The editor wouldn't let me put 'My virginity' in the yearbook."

"Real things, baby. Only real things. Boys and girls, be careful and don't leave your heart to the wrong one. And hurry! Everyone's getting outta town and time is running out." I shivered at the last part. Local news had played the scene endlessly a year ago, but I'd forgotten him saying that.

Scott ducked out of the frame and came back with two things in his hand: a Rubik's Cube, all its colors mismatched, and a small bag of M&Ms. He shook the bag so the candy rattled, and twisted the cube a couple of times.

"I'm leaving these. Right here, bud. Talking to you." He pointed into the camera. The girl giggled and reached for the cube but he held it out of her reach. "Not you, sugar." He looked into the lens and shook the bag again. "You. You get them, you get everything I'm leaving behind."

Was that what Doug was talking about? If so, so what? Scott hadn't meant any of it, he'd just been toasted. Half the crowd was. I'd seen stranger senior bequests.

"Was that-"

"Shut up, Charlie, and watch the screen." I shut up and watched.

The cameraman (me) was distracted for about thirty seconds, by something to the side - a Frisbee almost going into the water. Stopped just in time by big sweaty Jeff Wilcox, packed into a pair of tight red shorts, Travolta-long hair hanging in his face. Then of course the cameraman (me) had to focus on a female again, so back to the chick beside Scotty.

He'd unbuttoned his shirt all the way and she was playing with the hair on his bare chest. The Rubik's Cube had disappeared, and as far as I could see he'd moved on from doobie-ously praising its mysteries to chewing on that girl's neck.

There was a couple seconds more, of the camera pointing at the ground while my arm rested. We got a good view of a blanket, the M&Ms, a six-pack, two footballs, a Flowers in the Attic paperback.

Then Scotty again. He noticed he was still on camera, grinned and said "That's the key, man."

Doug paused the tape on the guy's sleepy-eyed smile.

I shook my head. "Is that it, the book? I don't-"

"No, that's not it," he said impatiently. "Come on, I'll explain it as we drive. Time's wastin'."

"You sticking with those clothes?" I smiled. Jordache jeans, a blue Oxford shirt and his good boat shoes. He looked ready for church.

"I got a change in the car. C'mon." He switched everything off and we hurried out the door.

* * * *

For a few minutes we drove in silence. I had a pretty good idea where we were going, so I concentrated on watching Doug. He knew I was watching him, because he was smiling that sonofabitch smile that said "I'm King of the Mountain."

Which he was usually wearing right before he pitched you off the hill.

I caved in. "Okay, you win. I'll ask - is the money inside that book? Was it hollow? Did he stick it down that girl's boobies? What?"

Doug's grin got bigger with each guess, until he couldn't sit still any longer. "No, no and no! They found the owner of the book and the blanket, they found the cube, they found everything else out at the quarry. All accounted for. So the police said all kinds of crazy shit, like maybe he got dopey and burned the money on the barbecue, or secretly gave it away to his friends-"

"Bull fucking shit."

"Exactly. Like I'd be going to Jefferson Community College now." He swerved onto the expressway, away from town. I was right. We were going to the quarry.

"They insisted he had it on him that day, because it wasn't anywhere else. So everything they thought of depended on that. And remember Charlie, they even dredged the lake to see if it was down there with him when he went in. It was not." He stopped talking.

I looked over and he was smiling again, but this time I thought I'd let him be the one to beg. I closed my eyes, laid my head back and stuck my hand out the door frame to let it glide through the air.

"You got me. Asshole." Doug put on his turn signal and we got into the other lane. "I figured it out last night. Like maybe it came to me in my sleep, I don't know. But I remembered that videotape, and when I saw it again it came to me.

"Get this. One minute he has his shirt on and that bitch is playing with the chain he always wore 'round his neck. Next minute, his shirt's open and... No chain."

Oh crap. He was right. "So you think-"

"What I think, is that there was something on that chain. I rewound the tape a hundred times, and there was definitely something there. Scotty hated jewelry, said it was queer, but the chain was a present from his mom. So if there was anything hanging on it, it was important. I'm positive it was a little bitty gold key."

I said "Get off here, it's faster." He glanced at me and realized I'd figured out our destination. "They found his chain in the dirt at the quarry. Funny thing to do with a present before you kill yourself." We turned off the highway and slowed down a long ramp. At the bottom I pointed. "Left."

"Yeah, I know." We went on. "My point, is that he took it off, this present, and it did have something on it. I say a key."

"So what happened to it?"

"Well, we might know, if-" He smirked and shook his head.

"If what? Oh, excuuse me. If that Frisbee hadn't gone by."

"You mean," he said, still smirking "if that big hunky guy hadn't gone by. Jeff Whatshisname..."

"Wilcox," I reminded him. "What?!"

It was a good thing I wasn't the one driving, we'd have been up in a tree. "What the fuck do you mean-"

"Forget it, man, shut up. Shut up! Shut... Up. It's not nearly as big a deal as you think, and we don't have time to discuss it. We'll be there in a minute."

But I couldn't drop anything, least of all that subject, so I kept arguing. "Fuck you, ask Amy Stoller, ask any girl I've dated since middle school!"

My best friend in the world, who apparently knew me way better than I knew myself, gave me a long cool stare. "Stop it, man. We've been buddies for how long now? Give me some credit. Amy Stoller told me you never touched her and all you two did was go to the mall and shop."

"She-!" I sputtered. "I..."

And just like that I ran out of excuses.

Doug said "There's been like one other girl in six years, Charlie. And I'm pretty sure she munched the rug."

What could I say. When you're busted you're busted.

"She did, you know. Amy's probably. Shit fuck bitch fuck hell!" I yelled as loudly as I could. Since we were in the middle of the countryside by then, no one but the cows we were passing heard me. "Fuck."

"Charlie," he said. "Look at me." I did. "It's no big deal. Every guy pops a bone in P.E., every guy thinks Scott Baio is a hot and girly piece of ass, and everyone on earth would bend over and grab his ankles for either Batman or Spider-Man. Where's the beef?"

God. "Sounds like you think it's somewhere in between Scott Baio and Adam West."

"Maybe." He leaned over and poked me in the thigh. "I said 'everyone,' didn't I? There's people all over the world who know there are five better reasons to watch Duran Duran videos than those stupid models."

Wait, what?

"Hey, there's that light bulb! Took ya long enough. Those twelve grades weren't totally wasted." He smiled and sat back. "I'm bi. Get it?"

Jesus, my mother must've dropped me on my head at least a dozen times when I was a baby. Maybe more. Had I been out to lunch all that time?

Doug rolled his eyes and grinned at me. "Whew, the cat's out now! That wasn't as hard as I thought it'd be. Look, I'm sorry I never told you before, but I was trying to sort it by myself. And you're the first I've told, man. Nobody else even knows.

"Best thing about this situation we have now..." His finger, still on my thigh, moved an inch further east and tickled my left nut. My leg jumped. "Next time one of us goes on a date, gets blue-balled and needs to bust one, we just call, get together and, uhm, voilà."

God. Okay, my mind was spinning and that last image actually wasn't too horrible a thought to entertain...

"I'm not bad at it, either. My cousin Bethany showed me a trick to do with your tongue that guys absolutely love. Ask Andy Slaton." He wiggled his eyebrows.

"Really? Huh. File for discussion later. Jeez, how'd we get on that subject?"

"You didn't know where to put the damn camera."

"I do now."

Doug cleared his throat, counting on his fingers and steering at the same time. "The camera's off him, suddenly there's no chain and no Rubik's Cube. Neither one was on the blanket. My theory is, he took the chain off when he unbuttoned his shirt. Then he took the key and stuck it..."

I shut my eyes, but opened them again just as we passed an overgrown gravel side road. "You forget? That was the turnoff. And I know what you're gonna say."

He grinned and threw the Jeep into reverse. We backed up until we were even with the road again, and braked. "Am I right?" The car quietly idled for a moment as I went over my mental image of a Rubik's Cube.

Who hadn't taken one apart, to get it over with and solve the damn thing without putting any more work into it? Each one of them was, what, twenty-six hollow cubes held together by a core of three little spindles. Hollow cubes. Twist it two ways at once and it'll fly apart... unless you're careful. Be careful, and you can see how the whole system hangs together, like a peek at the works inside a watch.


"Yes, you're right," I agreed.

"I know!" He jerked the wheel hard left and we turned onto the gravel. Bushy weeds and dangling milkweed scraped the sides of the Jeep, but never got thick enough to stop us. In a hundred feet we came to the steel-pipe and barbed wire fence at the back entrance of the quarry grounds. Doug went right, pushing through the tall grass to the side, and in a couple of yards the wires and pipes ended at a six-foot staircase of rocks.

I grabbed hold of the rollbar above my head with all my strength. We'd been that way plenty of times before, so we both knew what to expect.

The Jeep lurched up over the first rock step, tossing me and Doug from side to side and nearly out both our doors. The car's body groaned and creaked like it was being taken apart by crowbars. But its tires, which Doug was fanatical about keeping in good shape, bit hard and carried the car higher with plenty of clearance. We climbed and leveled out, then one last stair appeared.

"Hold on tight," he warned, right as we went over the top. The back wheels flew up, our asses bounced out of our seats, and the car came down hard on flat ground. It slowly got quiet again.

We looked around us. Nobody'd been back in a year - no big groups anyway, no parties - out of some kind of respect for Scotty. Nothing had changed.

The Wrangler sat on a wide brown stretch of stone and weeds that ended, abruptly, at a straight line of cliff in fifty feet. The land disappeared and all you could see beyond was a dark shadow, even first thing in the morning. The quarry.

I pointed to the far side of the shadow, where the weeds petered out and tall pines took over. "Looks like that's still the best place to park," I said. "Only one with any cover around here."

"Agreed." Doug got us on the overgrown work road, to skirt the quarry and take us away from the eyes of drivers on the highway in the distance. We pulled into the thick trees, the Jeep's tires crunching on bitter-smelling fallen needles, and stopped at our usual spot. We were beside an enormous ball of tree roots, big as a garage, that students over the years had nicknamed George. Our unofficial mascot, long ago pulled out of the ground by the quarry's workers and left to die.

We got out and I was just about to ask Doug what was in the bag in the back of the car when he saved me the trouble. He reached over the tailgate and dragged it back over the bed. Two pieces of black rubber slid out - oh, the diving flippers he'd bought in Key West in '81. He took another metal and plastic object out... His diving mask. Then a blue nylon swimsuit, one with our school's mascot printed on it.

He looked at me and chuckled. "I probably won't need any of this crap. It's only like twenty feet deep, and that's out in the middle. But I was a Boy Scout, you know." He gave me the three finger salute and I gave him another with only one finger.

Doug laughed and I said "You're the one actually going in, though, right?" He knew I couldn't swim and hated water. Anything deeper than the bathtub.

"Of course. But if what I think is right, we don't want to go out too far anyway."

"So, what do you think? And I was gonna ask... What the hell was the little key for?" A hole in his theory.

"Come on," he said, sticking the flippers, mask and trunks back in the bag and knotting the open end. He started for the quarry at a trot and I hurried to keep up.

A path through the woods appeared, marked by old newspapers, beer cans, shiny can pull tabs and various food wrappers. Students from our school had always claimed the abandoned quarry as their property, and we maintained it as we saw fit.

Over his shoulder, Doug called out "Hey, I know what I was gonna ask you. Did you ever hang out with Mitch Metcalf?"

"In study hall once. Nice guy. Why?" I dodged a fallen limb.

"I was thinking about something." He jumped over a patch of brown grass. "Watch for the rusty cans there. Do you think Scotty knew him?"

"I dunno." I jumped the cans too. Our path was easy to find if it was late or you were high, but you definitely couldn't call it neat. All you had to do was follow it, provided you remembered where-

We skidded to a stop at the edge of a cliff that hadn't been there before.

"Shit!" We both cried at the same time. Our word echoed around the quarry's distant walls as tiny pebbles we'd kicked up dropped thirty feet into the water below.

Dead in front of us was acres of open lake, the water black as night, sunken into the earth. It was as beautiful a sight as ever, and as frightening. The quarry's stone walls, some solid and some (obviously) not, stood like a giant's tumbled building blocks.

"Jesus fuck me that was close!" My pulse was pounding and I could tell Doug's was too. He was about the color of old milk. "What the hell?"

He stepped forward and looked over the side. "The rock gave way," he said. Sure enough. At that spot one of the towers of rock, never quite cut loose by the quarry's workers, had finally overbalanced and fallen in. When it did it took the cliff with it, all the way to the treeline. Our path was gone.

"Okay. God damn." He smiled. "Last surprise of the day, right? Let's go."

* * * *

Some senior from the class of '79 - the first to hold parties there - declared that the best spot to do anything along the top of the quarry was at the southwest corner. Five years of drunken celebrations since then had proved him right.

It was a low place in the surface with several boulders around to protect it from the wind and prying eyes, well-placed bushes nearby for sanitation purposes, and most importantly Jacob's Ladder. A present left behind for us by the quarry's workmen.

In about ten minutes, Doug was carrying his bag down the Ladder and I was close behind him, doing my best to keep up. It wasn't easy going hand over hand down the rusty pieces of rebar and trying to figure out what the hell our hurry was, at the same time.

"So you were going to explain, the key?"

"Watch my fingers, Bigfoot," he warned. "My brother Danny worked with Scott at the hardware store, and he told me something once I never realized was important. That store's a big place, a hundred people a day coming and going. Employees have lockers to stow their personal shit in while they're working." -king.

"Wait," I said. -ait. The walls and water were starting to seriously echo our voices the deeper we got. "The police would've torn the place apart looking for anything there, wouldn't they?" -ouldn'tthey?

"Maybe, but he wouldn't have left it there to begin with. Once they'd searched the store, and he pinned it on the clerk, then it would have been safe." -afe. "Find an empty locker, steal the key, voilà."

"Well. All right, so on the video he says all that about leaving things behind, takes the chain off and drops it in the dirt, sticks the key inside the cube and... Since we're descending into the bowels of the earth, you think he dropped it in the water while the camera was elsewhere." -where.

"I do. And it gets better. But I don't think he dropped the chain on purpose. Ask me about that later. We're almost there. Hang on." -on.

"Hanging," I said. I looked down as Doug jumped from the last rung onto a triangular slab of rock sitting crooked in the water at the bottom.

"Okay, Charlie." I came down two more rungs and let go, landing beside him. We were surrounded by stacks of brown stone as big as houses. The water they were sitting in stirred like oil and reflected only the sky. You'd have to get right up to it to see what hid below.

He laid his bag on our platform and squatted next to it. I said "How does it get better?"

Once down there, I began to get a little nervous. The water wasn't deep at the sides of the quarry, but it was common knowledge the bottom dropped steeply only a few feet away from the walls. Everywhere you looked were razor-sharp edges, and no way to get out of that pit except slowly and straight up Jacob's Ladder.

"In a second. Turn around."


"Turn around, fag." He grinned. "You think I'm getting undressed in front of you after what you just confessed? Turn the hell around."

I crossed my arms and leaned around the ladder. Which wasn't comfortable, but there was no way I was moving. "Nope." I yawned. "My parents aren't coming back 'til eight, so I got all day."

"Shit." Doug made up his mind fast. He stood up to yank the shirt out of his jeans and begin unbuttoning it. "Asshole."

"Now you're shy? You made me confess it, and then what did you say? Oh, yeah. 'It's no big deal.'" He tossed his shirt in the bag and kicked his shoes off into it too. "Nobody wears socks with boat shoes, man."

He pulled those off and then popped the button on his jeans. Fingers on his fly, he said "Hope you like the view." He unzipped and almost shyly stepped out of the bright-blue Jordaches, his eyes on me the whole time. My eyes were somewhere lower.

"Don't worry," I smiled. "I do." Hey, what do you know, he was a boxers man. They were a size too small and been washed a few too many times, if you know what I mean. In certain spots he was pale, in others very tan.

"You were also the one to suggest you and I get together and try out your cousin's tongue exercises. How can I decide if I even want to try that, without checking out the goods? I mean, maybe I don't want to..."

Well I found out I was wrong about that when the boxers dropped to the rock.

Really wrong. " that, uhm. Nevermind. How long ago was it we had Gym together?"

"Sophomore year. Why?" Doug snagged the nylon trunks from the bag and put one foot into them.

"I don't remember your pubes being that color."

Looking up at me, he smiled like the devil. "I knew you were looking at my junk all those times! Just wait, Charlie. Bethany taught me a bunch of stuff that nobody but a slut like her would think of doing to a guy. When we get home and we're rich I'll teach you a couple of them. Here's three words for you: Finger. Butthole. Crisco."

My mouth went dry. With my best friend? Well shit, why not? So long as he was offering.

He straightened and pulled the shorts up to his waist. Crap. I said, "Why wait all morning? Nobody comes out here anymore. Show me that tongue thing."

"Yeah. Tempting but we're on a schedule. The hardware store closes early on Sunday, and I'm dying to collect this thing and sneak in there." He took some deep breaths and stretched his arms like he did when he was getting ready to dive.

He sighed. "Okay, you want a fast grope?"

"Hell yeah!" I replied, and took full advantage of how small that rock was and how close we were standing. And since he never said no or pushed me off, in thirty seconds I went from copping a feel to being on my knees and inches away, like a dog drooling over a thick juicy bone. So to speak.

Which was the absolute perfect time for him to say "Charlie. Charlie!" -lie! "I've got to go."

"Shit, really?"

He sighed. "Fuck. Ten seconds." He tugged on the waistband of the shorts until it just cleared his balls. Wow. So I had ten more seconds' worth of fun. I made it last.

* * * *

Doug's theory about where the cube had gone was based on a further theory of his about how lazy cops could sometimes be.

They'd dredged the lake closest to the spot we always partied at, and found nothing. If you called a hundred pounds of used condoms, cigarette butts, glass soft drink bottles, deflated beach balls and a Rubik's Cube nothing. They found no money of any kind. All they really had to show for their search was Scotty's mom's chain.

That was on the news, for everyone to see in the weeks after his suicide. What wasn't on there was what they did with the trash afterwards.

Doug insisted it went right back into the quarry when they were finished with it. Easier, he said, than calling Solid Waste and having a truck drive out to the county line for just a few cans' worth of garbage. The quarry would probably be a dump one day anyhow.

So on our walk around it, we estimated the most convenient spot for them to have returned it. That was where he was swimming to, just a few yards from the bottom of Jacob's Ladder.

I'd seen him wade out, the tent in his shorts pointing the way, then jump in and turn the corner around the brown rock pillar on our right. Watched his wake slowly ripple across a football field's worth of water, in the silence realizing how little noise made its way down there. Not even birdcalls or traffic from the highway. All I heard was water slopping against the rocks.

But in less than five minutes (I was counting) I heard "Charlie!" -ie!, ie!, ie!

I jumped. "What!"

"I found it! I mean, I found the spot, not 'it.' There's a ton of shit over here. If I keep digging I'll find Jimmy Hoffa." -fa, fa, fa.

"Great! You need any help? I think I could walk on these little rocks under the wat-"

I heard something - something weird - and shut myself up. I said "Quiet, man..."

What'd I heard?

"What'd you say?" -ay, ay, ay?

"Quiet!" I yelled. -iet!, iet!, iet! Shit.

I wasn't sure what I thought I'd heard, but by the time my last word finally faded, it was gone. I stood as still as I could at the base of the ladder, straining my ears but nothing else came over the edge of the quarry to me. Or was that...

I recognized the sound of a car approaching, above me. Gravel popping and cracking, an engine running, then silence and then two bangs. There was someone up top. Likely two someones.

What the hell was going on? We go to the quarry for the first time in a year, and somebody else does too - the exact same morning? There had to be something Doug hadn't told me. Dammit.

I realized that, funny as all his running around had seemed, I'd ignored the fact he was acting fairly serious the entire time. Like there was a good reason to be in the middle of nowhere, playing "Get Smart." Why? Had he been expecting someone to show up and interrupt us?

Meanwhile there I was totally in the dark. And stuck. I couldn't in a million years swim away, and even if I did it's not like I'd make it anywhere. Every direction around me ended in thirty feet of vertical stone.

Whoever it turned out to be, I was a sitting duck. We were.

I tore my eyes from the ladder, convinced I'd see a face lean over the side in a minute, and looked down to the water, where Doug had disappeared. He was standing there.

I stifled a "Shit!" and stumbled back a step. My heart held onto itself for a beat and then started hammering inside my chest.

Doug was confused. "What the-"

I put my finger to my mouth and said "Shhh!" as forcefully but silently as I could. Then nodded, upward. The color literally drained out of his face, a sight I hope to never see again in my life.

Is somebody up there? he mouthed.

Yes! I replied. Two.

Standing ankle-deep in the water already, he stepped back and put his hands to his face, like he was going to cry. He mouthed I am so fucking sorry, Charlie.

I whispered to him, getting tired of that game. "What for?"

"We are in trouble."

My heart was suddenly beating a lot harder. "What?"

"Jesus, I'm sorry. We have to get out of here." Now he was looking up, and I was so convinced I'd see something I did too.

"God, Doug, what the fuck's going on?"

He whispered "Later! Get going!" He hit his forehead. "Shit, you can't swim!"

"Totally my lucky day."

He shook his head. "No, I'm not leaving you."

Should that've made me feel better? It actually did, a little bit, even though I was still way out in left field.

"If they know where the ladder is they'll be down here soon. Can I walk over to where you were?"

"Yeah," he whispered without much conviction. "It hasn't rained in two weeks, so the water's low. Your shoes should protect you from the rocks."

"Shit. New Keds," I said.

"We find that money, I'll give you the five bucks, Cheapo."

We shared weak smiles. "It's a deal. You go ahead and I'll follow."

Doug surprised the hot holy shit out of me then by leaning in and planting a kiss on my lips, a good long one, and groping my crotch as firmly as I had his. My dick loved the attention, but before I could really enjoy the feeling he was gone, slipping into the water as carefully as he could and swimming away.

I stepped off the rock into the cold water and my shoes and socks filled up with it immediately. Screw, I'd almost forgotten the garbage bag with his clothes. I went back and imagined for a split second I heard voices above. Before I could think about possibly not doing it, I did it and stepped in the water again.

There were thousands of sharp little rocks just under the water's level, that my tennis shoes slid over and stuck to, and which I hoped led all the way around the corner to the dump. I dreaded going any deeper than my calves. I hated swimming that much.

I continued, hugging the stone and feeling grit scratch my hands and knees where they met it. I turned the corner quickly as I could, disturbing the water as little as possible. I clearly heard voices. They had to be coming down the ladder.

On the far side of the column of rock Doug was waiting for me, treading water a couple yards away. He moved closer and gestured to the dump, two big piles of old tires and discarded shit that bulged out of the water on my right.

"Did you see the cube?" I whispered. He shook his head no. "Keep on. Maybe they don't know about it." He gave me a look that I only understood later, and pointed further to the left.

"We have to get away from here too!"


"You need to move on down that way, around that next big angle in the rock. But get away from the trash! I'll meet you."

Goddammit. Before I could ask him anything he bowed his body and dived under the black surface. I frowned but obeyed his orders and kept going. I told myself I should have made him take his own damn clothes with him.

My foothold climbing over the garbage was worse, since none of it was nearly as solid as the gravel underneath, so I was as scared of it as I was of the water. If I slipped I'd land right on one of the dirty shards of metal or plastic or wood poking through the rest.

But I was desperate. I didn't want the whole trip to have been for fucking nothing, so I clawed at the pile a couple of times as I squished through it, pushing stuff aside. Shit. Not a sign.

In the back of my mind I heard parts of words reverb over the walls of the quarry, louder and louder behind me. "-ladder, shit", "-over there", "-ucker."


My ears pricked up. "Doug"? No. Something else, surely. Yeah, of course. Bug. Fug. Hug. Jug. Mug. I was hearing things. No one knew he was there. Pug. Rug.

I was almost at the next turn in the rock, jabbering away inside my head, ready to move along, doing my best to hold on to Doug's bag and not fall and impale myself. Two things happened. Three really.

Number one: I saw it.

No shit.

It was there, really there, one yellow corner of it I was not hallucinating. The cube. There!

Two: I thanked fucking God.

Three: I got a picture in my head. The police captain or whoever the hell had led the investigation, saying "That's the last of the garbage over the side, now this stupid thing..." Tossing the cube over the cliff, on top of the pile. The very top.

I almost shouted with joy, and had to stuff my wrist in my mouth, remembering someone - someone right around the bend - could easily hear me.

I teetered off the rocks, putting my foot atop a cracked Frisbee for support. I stretched a hand as far as I could, my fingertips just touching the cold plastic squares. The cube sank an inch and caught. Shit.

I wasn't going to try and stand on the trash, no way, my shoe would get stuck on something out there, or I'd get a rusty nail through the bottom of my foot or the bag would get snagged and tear open and there was no telling who was coming around that corner-

Who was I kidding? Rumor had it Scotty'd gotten away with a thousand bucks. I balanced, prayed, put my other Ked in.

The trash held. I grabbed the cube, jumped back onto the rocks with as little noise as possible, and nearly fucking ran around the next corner.

There was Doug, standing knee-deep in the water, his fists on his hips. "Where the hell have you been?" he whispered hoarsely. "I've-"

I pulled the cube from behind my back and held it out to him, smiling. His eyes about bugged out and he grinned unbelieving from ear to ear. I hadn't had the balls to try it yet, but I needed to, just to be certain. I very gently shook the cube, and we heard-

Clink, clink, clink, inside.

Doug said Oh my god! in some kind of ecstatic personal sign language, and when he calmed down I pitched the thing to him. He kissed one side of it, then waved me further back with one hand. The voices, whoever they might be, were just on the other side of us.

"I found them! Here they are!" -are!

We both froze.

"I don't wanna have to dig through all this shit, man!" -man! God. They hadn't found us, but the twin dumps.

"You got a better way to make twenty thou today?"

Doug and I mouthed Twenty thou?! to each other.

"Sell some stock maybe, bet on the horses, rent your winter home? Get the fuck over here." I heard splashing. They were so close their ripples disturbed the water around my feet.

"Jesus, Danny, how're we ever gonna find the goddamn thing in this?" -is?

Whatever was said after that, I missed. I blanked out for a second.

I hated myself for it, hated myself for even thinking it, but I had to look up. I had to. Because suddenly I'd figured it out. Doug had-

The look on his face told me I was right. My heart sank, knowing what he'd done. I wondered how much trouble we were actually in, with...

With Doug's brother and whatever asshole friend of his standing ten feet away from us.

His brother Danny, and one of those muscled-up rednecks he played football with, I was sure. Drank and whored around with. Went out into the countryside with, on the weekends, and for the fun of it blew away beer bottles and squirrels with their guns.

Oh, Jesus were we fucked.

Doug had lied to me, or somehow Danny and this other guy found out about the money, and we were both boned. Nothing else made sense.

Worse than the look that told me I was right, was how Doug's face twisted when he realized I'd finally caught up and joined the party. I was mad at the fucker, no doubt, but I felt something weird in my chest at the thought he knew he was responsible for our predicament.

"You dig in that one, I'll get this. How hard'll it be to see those colors?"

"You know it's gonna be here?"

"Where else, Matt? You saw the video. Just start digging, man!"

"Shit." -it. More splashing.

When I glanced up, Doug was wading up to me with his hands out. I let him push me deeper into the rocks, until I resisted and whispered to him "What are you doing? I mean, now?"

He was on the verge of tears again. "I'm sorry, Charlie. I can't say it any other way. I fucked up. I'm going to make it right." We each took another two steps.

"Really? How?"

"You'll see. Just get out of sight under here-" he pressed my head down, under a yard-high stone shelf at the very back of our cove. But before he did he kissed me again, longer than before and with a lot more... I don't know, warmth I guess. Which was nice in the circumstances.

He stood and whispered "I never meant it to go like this." He made a helpless gesture and shook his head.

I crouched down and watched him wade out again. My lips were tingling. Shit... Sex was one thing, but kissing was a whole other one. You didn't just do that. I was so confused by the feelings he'd hit me with I didn't even try to hold onto him. Then it was too late.

Doug turned, and leaped in with as much force as he could. Black lake water flew up, and the voices next to us quit and then got louder.

"Who the fuck is that?"

"Douggie! It's my goddamn brother. Douggie! You better stop!" -op!

"What the hell?"

"Shut up, Matt. Obviously he was listening this morning, heard what I said about the video and thought he'd beat us to the loot." Out in the quarry, Doug came to rest and turned to look at his brother. "You better get the fuck back here, you little shit!" -it!

"I'm not going anywhere near you two," Doug called.

"You gonna go swimming the rest of the day?" the one named Matt said. "All we haveta do is guard the ladder, man. Or you know, walk around down here and keep you from getting out of the water. You'll get tired and drown."

"Cut it out, Matt, Jesus," Danny said. "Doug's smart enough to keep his mouth shut," he added, loud enough for it to carry. "There's lots of stuff I can use for blackmail. He wouldn't want Mom and Dad finding out about those books he has stashed in the bottom of his desk. Or where the Crisco goes, bit by bit..." -it.

"Fuck you, man!" Doug bobbed on the dark water twenty feet out.

"Makes no difference to me, Douggie. You want to suck some guy's dick, you go ahead. But you talk about this deal... There'll be major trouble. The money is ours. Scott left it for whoever was smart enough. That's us. You didn't tell anybody, right?"

It might have been my imagination but for a split second I thought Doug shot a look my way. "No." -o.

"Good thing for you. Get back here, and let's discuss this like adults."

"Fucking got that right."

"Heh. Or like two adults, plus Matt."

Danny's friend growled "Fuck you, asshole." My leg was beginning to stiffen under me.

"I'm gonna come back in, but promise me you won't hurt me, like you did Scott."

Danny replied, sounding surprised, "What?" -at?

"You heard me. I think you two might've killed him. Maybe by accident, maybe not. Tell me you didn't, Dan, and I'll believe you."

"Oh my god, you know I couldn't ever do anything like that, Doug! He jumped. Get real."

I held my breath, feeling a cramp take ahold of my leg from being under me all this time. I rubbed the muscle and tried to remember what Doug said divers did to relieve a cramp. Something about extending your foot-

I moved my toes, like three inches, and hit something sitting next to my slushy shoe. A pebble or piece of trash. I put my hand out, quickly, and caught it just before it nudged off the rock.

No. Holy shit! He'd left the cube behind.

I had to stifle myself, once more, and I wasn't really successful at it that time. Even Doug heard my Mfff!, and I clenched my jaw but too late. Damn him, he started swimming in to distract his brother and the other one. I cringed as he vanished from sight.

"Get in here, you sneaking little fuck." There was some splashing, as I imagined Doug must be trying to make his way past the sharp rocks under the garbage.

"Ow! Get your hand off me. What am I gonna do?"

Matt said "What we say, for your sake. Get around there, tough boy."

"Take your goddamn hand off me."

Their voices got fainter, and I slowly unbent myself from the nook, holding on to the cube. Doug's bag of clothes I left.

I could stick the cube down my shorts, I thought, or carry it with me the rest of the day, but since I had a minute... I twisted its top row part way, then one of the layers along its side. The individual cubes pried apart just enough for me to see the hollow works that kept them all together. Any more force and they'd pop apart, but just enough pressure and there you were. A tiny gold key slid out and I took it in my fingers. All this over something so small.

I put it in the watch pocket of my cutoffs for safekeeping.

When it seemed the three voices had faded enough, I stuck my head out to make sure they were gone. I shuffled around the piles of garbage as fast as I could, to the pillar of rock on their far side. Just behind that was Jacob's Ladder.

I clung there for a second, listening as they continued to rise higher out of the pit. Danny said "How'd you think you'd get away with it, Douggie?"

"Ow! Took you long enough to get here, didn't it? I thought I'd be gone before you found it." That was right, I remembered Danny'd gone to a different school. The quarry wasn't their hangout. "Ouch!" -ch! -ch!

"Move it, asshole." Matt.

"Why don't you put your whole fist up my ass, Captain Football?"

"You asked for it."

"Do what he says, bro. And you can thank your friend Andy for telling us about this shitty little hideout."

"Fan-fucking-tastic. See if I blow him again. Goddammit, stop!"

"I got things to do to you, retardoid. Move!"

"You let this asshole give the orders, Dan?" I prayed for him to just shut up and cooperate with them, but of course that wasn't nearly Doug's style. "I'da thought that would be you."

"Nobody gives me any fucking orders, you little shithead. Move!" -ove! -ove! -ove!

One by one each of their voices and echoes disappeared, and I guessed that they'd reached the top of the cliff. I started to panic a little. What should I do? I couldn't just sit there, until they'd done... whatever they were going to. Who knew what was going to happen once they were out of my sight?

Shit. I crept from behind the pillar. The ladder climbed into the sky, empty, and I couldn't hear anything from above that wall. I stepped out onto the triangular slab of rock we'd stood on together just a while ago, and prepared myself.

I heard a noise from overhead, a cry or something high-pitched. Doug shouting, or one of them laughing? Damn it, he'd saved me and I had to save him. I grabbed the bottom rung and started up.

The trip to the top took longer, weighed down not only by twenty pounds of soaking wet tennis shoes and socks, but not knowing what the hell I'd find when I got there. They might be beating an answer out of him, getting ready to force him back down the ladder, tying him to something so they could go search, anything.

I slowed and caught my breath as I neared the last rung. I wanted to peek over the rim, get my bearings and make a plan. God knew what I was about to see. Turned out, it was-

Danny. Squatting at the edge of the cliff, waiting for me. I looked into Doug's brother's dark eyes and knew we were beaten. He smiled, an even bigger King of the Hill, and took a handful of my t-shirt to pull me up even with him.

"Charlie! Sit still when you get the chance. Your boyfriend sacrificed himself for you and here you are anyhow, dumbass."

"He's not my boyfriend."

"Yeah? Well you're still in the shit."

He dragged stumbling me across the ground, as I squinted and tried to adjust to being in bright air again and not surrounded by the quarry's walls. There was a red Firebird or Corvette parked in front of the line of shrubs we'd always used for bathrooms. He strode over to the car and pushed me into its rear bumper. The chrome burned the backs of my legs.

"Where's Doug?" I tried to keep my voice level.

"'Where's Doug?'" Danny mimicked, and his eyes went to one side, to the bushes. I realized there was something going on over there, some kind of fight maybe. "Getting to know Matt better, I guess. Biblically. I hope you brought him a change of pants."

Out of the corner of my eye the bush leaves shook and hissed, and I heard muffled moans. I couldn't imagine what was happening over there.

Dan twisted the front of my shirt in his fist until he almost cut off my air. I felt his hand grope my front and rear pants pockets, but miss the little one inside on the right. "What am I, stupid? Like that faggot can handle anything by himself."

We got closer and closer together, and as a parting shot he jabbed his knuckle into my nuts. I'd just run out of air and gasped with the last of my breath at the punch. My vision started to black out. He suddenly let loose of me and air flooded back into my lungs. "You're gonna be sorry you didn't stay hidden." He took my arm and pushed me ahead of him toward the front of the car.

He threw the front door open and I crashed into its side.

"Watch the fucking paint, Matt loves this thing." He sat heavily in the driver's bucket seat and jerked me down after him, between his legs. Both my knees hit rock and pain shot up into me. "Aw, that hurt? Not as much as it will."

He used his fist to pin my shoulder to the inside of the door, and looked me in the eye. "You have the key, Charlie?" he asked conversationally.

I kept my mouth shut and stared past him out the window on the opposite side of the car.

He repeated "You. Have. The key?" And banged me into the door, the window crank catching my shoulderblade. I didn't answer.

He shook his head. "Be smart, little man. One of you will talk, or we'll spend the rest of today and tonight with both of you in constant pain. We will fuck you until you're bloody. Not that I'd fuck my own brother, that's what Matt is for. But you..." He pinched my chin between his thumb and forefinger. "You I'll fuck. You I'll get twenty thousand dollars worth of fucking out of."

I started to protest, "Listen-" before he jammed his dirty thumb into my mouth and pulled my jaw into his crotch.

"No, you. Talk." he said. "You have fifteen, twenty minutes yet if I know Matt."

I tried to spit his thumb out but he took firmer hold of me, adding his other hand to the back of my neck and forcing my face against him. "Talk or I'll give you something else to do with your mouth." The zipper in his jeans scratched my cheek and the smell of lake water filled my head.

His thumb left my mouth and he raked at his fly and button, opening them and groping himself inside. He had to knead his half-hard dick to get it firm enough to take out over the top of his underwear.

Oh shit. I managed to gasp "Look, Matt's got-" before he got it loose and wedged it between my lips.

"Don't let anything you hear from the bushes distract you, sweetheart. They're having a great time. Matt n' I got plenty of the white stuff for you. Now suck this."

My neck muscles strained backwards, but Danny had both hands over my ears and his knees on either side of my shoulders so struggling was useless. The head of his cock shoved all the way to the back my throat. It was hot and solid, not big enough to cut off my air again - he wasn't that well hung - but long enough to gag me. Repeatedly. The taste of it overtook my mouth and I felt tears running from my eyes. I shut them.

While my head was being jerked up and down into Danny's crotch I heard him talking, almost to himself. "Ohhh, yeah... We'll rape your asses until you scream for mercy. One'a you will talk or we'll get the revolvers out and play roulette."

I felt like puking, or biting him, as he tore my mouth apart with his cock. But I knew that'd only be asking for trouble so I relaxed as much as possible and let him do it to me.

I barely had the presence to tell myself that as tortures went it wasn't the worst possible one. Doug's was far worse, and I guessed I was looking at the same thing happening to me in a while too. Thinking of Doug I imagined his face, and ached to see him again, before whatever was-

My mind came back to reality just as Danny emptied himself into me.

"Ohh, yeahhhhh..." He groaned deep in his chest and mashed my head into his warm lap with his hands, so every burst of his jism went down my throat. When he was finished his grip loosened, and I tried to pull my head back far enough to spit some of that shit out, but he wouldn't let me.

He bent my neck back so his cock fell from my lips, then pinched my nose tight in his fingers. I had to open up and swallow it - like a mouthful of medicine, the worst ever - and I did. How without vomiting I don't know.

Danny's breathing slowed and he eventually looked down, from the roof of the car to me. He swabbed his dick with the front of my t-shirt until he was clean and then stuffed it back in his jeans.

I couldn't believe I'd just done that.

He smiled lazily. "You are gonna be sooo popular this fall, Charlie. I know a couple of frats who'll love partying with you." He let my nose go but grabbed my bicep in his fist.

I wiped my face, feeling slime and spit on my arm. "Danny, listen to me, you have to-"

"I don't have to do anything, pussy."

I talked as fast as I could. There was no telling if he was high, or drunk, or could even understand. I'd finally caught on to all the clues my friend had been dropping that morning, and they added up.

"Danny, this is serious. Doug thinks someone killed Scotty. Your friend Matt? If you didn't do it together, then he did it by himself."

"Bullshit. Matt'd never kill anybody. He roughs up his girlfriend but she deserves that. You think? Let's go ask him." He tugged on my arm.

"No! All he'll do is kill one of us. Listen." I pulled one of his public hairs from between my teeth and spat into the dirt. "Jesus, listen! You got Andy to tell you about the quarry, but did he tell you where to park? How'd you find the ladder?"

"It was like, obvious-"

"Nuh-uh, it's hidden. How about this: Where was Matt the night of the party last year?"

"Ha, asshole! I told the police, there was a Labor Day sale at the hardware store. He helped us out that night, off the books like he does, and he left when we closed."

"Yeah? Where'd you all go, Dan?"


"Really? End of a holiday weekend, you college men didn't go out and fuck a pig or rob a liquor store? Who's a pussy now?"

He squeezed my arm in his grip so tight I felt the seam in my t-shirt rip. "He left right before eight, after..." His voice faded.

"After what, Danny?"

His eyes unfocused from mine. "Shit, after Scotty showed up. Scott wanted me to let him borrow something, while Mr. Downard was in the back."

"Right, I remember that. Did he want a metal detector? Or a-"

"A flashlight." He seemed to be waking up, like he was just beginning to realize what he'd gotten everybody into. "I told them I didn't give it to him. I had to help a customer, but when I got back he was gone and Matt was leaving. Early."

Doug had been right. "I bet they drove out here that night. Scott was looking for the chain he lost."

Dan made like he wanted us to stand up again. "Let's go ask Matt, fuckhole. You don't know what-"

"No!" I jerked my arm out of his grasp and fell to my knees again. With no choice and no time either, I was sweating through my shirt, praying for him to understand. We were going to need him to get out of there alive.

"Danny, it's me and your brother I'm talking about, then maybe you. If Matt did it once, he'll do it again." I had one last card to play, my trump. "I never met this guy before, right? Matt?"

"So what."

"Bet me what letter his last name starts with."

Danny sat back into the seat and looked at me. "How would you-"

"M, right, M?"

"McCarty, yeah."

"The bag of M&Ms. Doug thought it might be Mitch Metcalf, but this makes more sense. Scotty said 'I'm leaving these, talking to you,' whatever. 'You get what I'm leaving behind,' 'Everybody's leaving.' Where was he going?"

"How do I know-"

"He was leaving town, and he was leaving the money behind. He was 'willing' it, to..."

I swallowed, the taste of Danny's come still sour in my mouth. If he'd bought the story so far, he had to hear the next part too.

"...A loved one. MM, whoever that was. He said 'Don't leave your heart to the wrong person.' Matt was the wrong person, and Scotty was giving him the money as a going-away present."

He reacted by punching the roof of the car. "You- Bullshit! Matt's no fag, man!" He looked past me, his eyes on what I thought was the quarry. Was he trying to imagine what it would take to make the leap from bullying a girlfriend to permanently getting rid of your deepest secret?

"I bet Scott figured out he dropped the chain while he was fooling around, and asked Matt for the flashlight and a ride out here in the dark. He decided to be honest and go ahead and tell him he was leaving, instead of let him wait to see the video. Matt couldn't take it, and I guess Scott didn't get the chance to tell him about the cube before..."

I winced and looked up at Danny. His expression, which had been so threatening before, had turned into something else entirely. I don't know what reaction I'd been expecting, but I was sure it would be a more violent one. For a moment he looked just like Doug, almost about to cry. If only I'd known...

No. It wouldn't have made a difference.

He wasn't thinking about the past but the here and now. Not about how he'd stupidly helped a friend get away with killing someone.

How he was about to do the same thing again.

"Hold onto him, man," I heard. "I searched your little brother, inside and out. If one of 'em's got the key, it's this one."

I spun around, or tried to, with Dan's hand tighter around my arm than before. I twisted my neck, in a panic to see behind me. There was Matt. Black buzz cut hair, black KISS t-shirt, eyes like a guard dog. Standing just feet from the car, twice as big as Doug's brother. Four times as big as me.

"Where's Doug?" Danny and I asked at the same time.

Matt nodded toward the bushes. "Over there. He's not going anywhere for a while. I wore him out good." He reached down and snapped the silver buckle on his belt. "This one tell you anything? You wanna fuck him, or should I? I'm ready to go again."

Danny whispered to me "We were fooling around, Charlie. I thought we were. Jesus, I'm sorry." I was getting really tired of hearing that, that day.

I said "Dan knows all about you and Scotty, killer. Everyone does now." I watched Matt's face cloud over as he stepped forward. Before my insides turned completely to jelly, I asked "What're you going to do with us? Danny thought threats would be enough to keep Doug and me in line, but now we know the truth... You gonna throw us in the quarry too?"

I felt myself being shoved to my feet, as Danny pushed himself up out of the car. I unwillingly skidded from in back of the door and across the dirt and rock toward Matt. His hands were huge, I couldn't help but notice, each one as big as my head. He made to grab me but I swerved as-

Danny let my arm go.

"Did you enjoy fucking my brother, Matt?" he asked, his voice shaking. "This was fun, so long as we were just playing around and getting our rocks off. Now it's for real. Did you kill that guy? Did you hurt Doug?"

"Go ask him yourself, limp dick. His mouth's busted, but not half as bad as his asshole is. You." He pointed at me. "You got proof any of that shit you were just saying is true? I gave him a ride. A year ago? Prove it."

"The only thing they'll need is Scotty's fingerprints in your car... Or better yet how about yours, somewhere in his house? Or his in yours? I don't know where you all went to knock boots. Any of the girlfriends you slap around ever called you 'M&M'?"

Danny elbowed me out out of the way and started around the back of the car, into the shrubs on the other side. Matt's eyes followed him and I almost had the nerve to run for it then but there was no possible way I could leave Doug behind. Or ever outrun two guys that big. I stayed put.

In a second we heard Dan yell "Douggie!" My stomach dropped, at the thought of what he might've found. Then what sounded like the bushes being torn apart, silence, and heavy footsteps coming back.

Danny burst through the shrubs, his arms out toward Matt and me. "Where the fuck is my brother?!" he shouted.

Matt laughed and started to say "Are you kid-" Then he sobered up as he realized what Doug being gone meant. "I told you to help me hold him down- Fuck it. Keep this one from going anywhere. Long as we have one of 'em..." He whipped his keys out and unlocked the trunk of his car, grabbed something from inside and slammed it shut. Then he stomped into the bushes, a glint of silver in his hand.

I looked up at Danny's pale face. "See? Are you gonna-" But before I could even make a case, he took off after his friend. The two of them disappeared and I could hear them arguing and sweeping the area on the other side of the car.

Shit, what now? I was free, but I wasn't. I couldn't leave and I couldn't think of anything else to do. I felt useless, like my feet were nailed to the ground. I searched left and right, hoping Doug might appear and we could just get the hell out of there while they were too busy to notice. I glanced under the car, around the boulders at the edge of the site... Where'd he gone?

I inched forward, just about ready to follow them in there and probably get shot myself, when the last thing I expected to, happened.

Doug walked out of the bushes. Limped really, his hands on top of his head. He'd been crying, and there were red marks, bruises and scratches all over his body. Especially his knees. The trunks, that'd looked almost new that morning, were dirty and ripped, hanging off a strip of waistband on one hip.

I was so happy to see him I almost cried, myself. When he saw me standing there he closed his eyes and stopped. Matt walked up behind him, the gun in his hand aimed right at Doug's ear.

My heart caught. A moment later Danny ran out onto the bare stone to join them, out of breath.

"Shit! Come on, Matt-" he gasped "-give me the gun. We're not..." He hesitated. "We're not killing anyone. Not my brother, man. What can they prove? Let's just get the cube and go. We'll leave them out here, get the money and-"

"And? What? Have them tell everybody Scotty and me fucked around?"

"So what, it's not true!"

"Grow the fuck up. What's it matter if it is? Everybody'll hear it!" He wiped sweat off his neck with his free hand, then shoved Doug forward, hard. My friend staggered two steps and went to his knees. Matt kept the gun against his head.

Dan, panicked, said "But- but, what then? You kill them, are you going to kill me too? I've known you since kindergarten, you asswipe. You think that's a secret I can-" He clammed up, apparently realizing how much further in the hole he was digging us. Matt smirked, humorlessly, and cocked the automatic.

"You. Asshole number one." He kicked Doug in his bare thigh. "Tell me where the fuck that cube is, or I'll shoot you. Or your friend. I don't care, but in five seconds one'a you'll be laying on the ground."

"Stop!" I yelled, my tongue suddenly unglued. The three of them faced me. "He doesn't know where it is. I do! I moved it. Let him alone, I'll-" Matt was fast on his feet for a football player, and he had the gun on my forehead before I could finish my sentence.

"Talk. Talk!"

Knowing what I was seeing, the end of a barrel, holding a thing inside it that would be stuck in my brain in a minute, causing my death... I talked.

"I laid it at the bottom of the ladder before I came up." I gestured to the cliff. "It's right there, you'll see it."

Through clenched teeth Matt told Danny "Go look." My friend's brother walked over to the edge and peered down.

"I think that's it," he confirmed. "You want me to-"

"No." He shook his head. "Eenie, meenie, miney. You, asshole number three, go get it. Remember what your boyfriend looks like, while he's still in one piece."

"Don't!" I cried. "I'm going." I walked to the edge of the cliff and turned my back on the lake, facing them. I stepped off backward, into air, and my shoe came down on hard metal. The three stood there like they were posed for a picture: Matt, armed. Doug, frightened. Danny... How?

Wounded. My heart broke a little, and I prayed Please let him be there when I get back.

It was seeing him, caught in the middle of what was going on, that gave me the start of an idea. I went down the ladder, skipping rungs and trying not to think about the blades of rock surrounding me or the water lying below. I had an idea.

Something blocked the sun above me and my eyes lifted. Matt's head was over the lip of the quarry and Doug's was next to it. The gun was out of sight. "Grab that goddamn thing and get back here double-time!" Matt shouted at me.

"I'm going!" -oing!

I reached the bottom, picked the cube up, held it out for Matt to see, and started climbing again. I thought I had a plan. I did have a plan. But what the hell made me believe it would work? It was simple enough, I told myself, counting rungs as I went, and enough of it was already in motion, so what more...

I was babbling again, drowning out the voice in my head saying it wouldn't work. That we'd be dead soon. Twenty-nine, thirty, thirty-one. I was at the top again. My insides were like liquid. I took one damn deep breath.

They were still there. Matt backed away, taking Doug unwillingly with him, the gun stuck underneath his armpit. Doug's bare body was so pale next to all that black, I thought. Dan was six feet or so to their left.

I had the cube tight, in first one and then both hands, as I stepped off the ladder. It was firm against my chest and wasn't going anyhere until I was far enough from the cliff nobody could push me over.

Or shoot me. Matt kept the pistol up, staring at the cube like it held the chariots of the gods. "Put the gun down," I said. "Or I'll throw it back in."

"Fuck you." Matt took a step toward me. Doug too. I glanced at him and smiled a split second for his benefit.

"Then let Danny hold the gun, man. He's on your side."

"Fuck you again, faggot." He held his hand out. "Gimme my money"

Did Dan need any more convincing? He'd just admitted the prize was rightfully his.

Matt and Doug were only a yard away by then. I scooted from the rock's edge and very carefully extended my arm. "Take the goddamn thing. Nothing is worth this."

Matt's big hand came down over mine. I dropped the cube.

His hand switched direction midair to catch it, and I grabbed Doug's wrist and yelled "Don't shoot him!" Which Matt couldn't have, if he'd wanted. The gun was pointed at me, nowhere else. Could Danny tell?

It went off.

My ears rang but nothing on me hurt, so I was okay, right? Matt missed catching the cube. It hit the ground and rolled to the top of the ladder. He lunged for it. I took Doug the rest of the way into my arms and went down on one knee. "Douggie, no!" I shouted, doing my best to sound like he'd been hit.

From our left Danny roared "You motherfucker!" and charged into Matt's side. They went past us and for the longest moment I just shut my eyes and hugged Doug to my chest, feeling his skin warm against mine. I didn't care if they'd gone over the side or not. I wanted to cry, to never let go of Doug for the rest of his life. He weakly returned the hug and buried his face in my neck.

From behind us I heard the sounds of Dan and Matt grunting and cursing, scratching against the rock. So they were still there. I stood us up and around in time to see Matt, flat on the ground with Danny straddling his stomach, aim the gun straight at his opponent's head. The automatic swayed between them, their arms locked together as they fought for it. It came toward Doug's brother again. Matt yelled "Ha!" and it fired.

Doug screamed in my ear. Danny jerked backward, but quickly righted himself and wrenched the gun away from Matt when he paused after the shot. Dan swung it wide and hit his friend full in the jaw with the chunk of metal, then slapped his fingers over his ear. Crimson suddenly soaked the collar of his shirt.

He drew his arm behind him and pitched the gun into the air over the side of the quarry. "You fuckhole! You want to kill some faggot nobody cares about, you go ahead! D'you think I'd just let you kill my fucking brother?" He began punching the bigger man in the head, smearing his own blood across Matt's face. Matt defended himself against the blows the best he could-

And while I was distracted by this Doug slipped out of my grasp, circling the two of them on the ground and making for the rungs of Jacob's Ladder. I reacted too late, reaching out for him, but he'd already made it there. I was afraid he was about to descend into the quarry again, but instead he ducked and grabbed the damn cube. Without looking back he ran across the rock and into the shrubs behind the car.

I watched the blue and pale-skin blur vanish into the green. It occurred to me where he must be going: the pines on the far side of the lake, where his Jeep was parked. Limping, but still at a good speed. In a minute he'd be too far for them to follow. I had to do something.

Before I could Matt and Dan finally noticed the prize they were fighting for was gone, and Matt viciously clubbed Doug's brother off him into the dirt. "Get back here!" he yelled into the distance. With Danny out of the way Matt pushed himself off the ground. He was bleeding from cuts on his cheeks, and standing on unsteady legs. He shook his head and walked to his car.

I steeled myself and jumped into his side, thinking of Doug and only wanting to slow the bastard down. He was ready for my stupid tackle, and turned to punch his fist dead center into my chest. I fell to the ground clutching the pain bursting from my ribcage.

Through teary eyes I watched Matt rip the keys out of his pocket, pop his car's trunk and reach in to pull an even larger gun out. He slammed the trunk. "Hey!"

Danny was slowly getting to his feet over by the ladder. He swayed a second and looked at Matt through a swelling eye. "What?"

"Get him." He pointed at me. "I'm after your brother. How far's he gonna go with no shoes?"

"Don't you fucking hurt my brother!" Dan spat a wad of blood into the dirt.

"That record's getting old, man. You want to try and stop me, then stop me. We're in this together and you're in as much trouble as I am. Who's gonna stop who?" With that, he lurched into the bushes in the same direction Doug had gone.

Barely able to breathe in, I fought to get to my knees. I felt a fist close around my arm, scaring me, but all Danny wanted to do was lift me up. I wiped tears from my eyes as he cried into my ear. "What am I gonnna do, Charlie? He'll shoot Douggie..."

"You need to man up, Danny. Matt's lying. He's the one in trouble." I took a bigger lungful of air and suddenly felt like I could go more than three steps. Hearing he was as worried about my buddy as I was helped.

"I bet you don't have a key to his car?"

"Fuck no."

"Could use a freaking gun. Doesn't matter. I know where they're headed and we can get there first if we hurry. Come on." Supporting each other, we started across the flat stretch of rock that led to the pines.

* * * *

The bitter smell of needles reached us a hundred feet before we were at the treeline. I'd already pointed out where we were going, so Danny was ahead of me when we got there. He tripped into the low-hanging branches and vanished. I was close behind.

In the shade of the trees Dan and I slowed to listen for Doug or Matt coming toward us. All we could hear was birds and the wind. The Jeep was somewhere to our left so they'd be approaching us from the right.

We stopped just short of an open spot.

"They might be through here in a minute, I don't know," I whispered. "There are like a hundred places in the woods where people go to fuck or take harder drugs privately, so there's no telling where."

Dan spit again - for the fourth or fifth time - and peered at it. "Asshole broke my damn tooth, I know he did." He noticed me watching him. "I'm sorry about the blowjob, man. I thought... I dunno. We'd have fun and you just give us the key. No one was supposed to get hurt. God, I wish Douggie'd been asleep this morning, none of this would've..."

I grudgingly admitted "I give you major credit for figuring that shit out after all this time. But you picked the wrongest person to tell it to."

"Huh. No shit. How was I s'posed to-? Fucking M&Ms."

"You do know when we get out of here that money is all ours now?"

"Yeah. Fuck. Please don't turn me in, man, I swear-"

"Bullshit. Shut up," I said.

In another minute nothing had happened. Doug must've been giving him a good fight. I waved Dan forward with me. We crept along fifty more feet, the trees thinning out as we got closer to the edge of the forest around the property. I finally spotted the landmark I needed - George.

On the other side of the mound of roots was the Jeep. But no sign of Doug. "Dammit, I was sure he'd come this way. You know where he keeps his spare key."

"What do I know, I'm just his goddamn bro-"

"Jesus, Matt's right, you need a new record. You don't know what a brother is fucking for." I elbowed him aside and knelt by the car. I ran my hand under the bottom of the driver's seat until I felt the edge of the key with my fingertips. I plucked the duct tape away and took it loose.

"If he's not here soon we're going back that way to look for him. If I knew for sure he was coming this way I'd start the car or something-"

"That's him! Here he comes!" Danny pointed past me, through the windshield at a blur in all that green, fifty feet away. Doug darted into view through the trees in front of the car.

He saw us standing there and shouted "Start the fucking thing! Start it!" My heart beat in my throat as he ran across the open space we'd just left. He was alive! We were going to get out of there!

I pushed Dan out of the way, and stomped down on the clutch and stabbed the key in and turned it all at once. The old Jeep coughed and sputtered but started.

Doug was almost there. He leaped over a fallen branch, snagging his shorts, and yelled "Get out!"

"What?" I cried.

"Get out!" He gestured over his shoulder. "He's coming this way. Get out and let me go!"

I had no idea what he wanted, but I was too happy to see him again and too confused to argue. I slid out of the driver's seat and in three seconds he was there. He threw his arms around me and kissed me full on the mouth.

I gladly returned it but he abruptly pulled away. "God, I hurt all over." He jumped into the car and the engine roared as he stomped on the gas. "Don't go anywhere!"

Then we all turned as one, to see Matt crash through the same spot in the pines, waving his gun in our direction. He didn't stop but fired twice as he pushed through the trees and continued coming toward us. Dan and I ducked for separate cover, but I was dismayed as Doug ground into gear and took off. The Jeep's wheels spun and kicked dirt and leaves everywhere, literally leaving us in his dust.

I looked up. What was he doing? Instead of backing up and getting the fuck out of there, or driving straight ahead down the work road, Doug made a wide arc that was about to take him right past Matt. I gasped as his tires bit and tore at the uneven ground.

He spun out within a yard of Matt's leg, and the asshole had to stumble backwards out of the way. Off-balance he didn't have him time to aim or fire the gun again, but he was close enough-

"Shit!" I yelled. As the Wrangler angled to the left, he grab the car's tailgate with one big hand and jumped onto its rear bumper.

"Hey, goddamn it!" Danny yelled. He and I together started picking up sticks and rocks to throw at Matt. Mine all missed, but one of Danny's rocks glanced off the guy's shoulderblade. He ignored us and hung on, putting his leg over the Jeep's rear tire into the bed. He was too unsteady to do anything with the gun yet, but he had hold of the rollbar and was moving forward toward the driver's seat.

Doug finally righted the car, and with the tires spinning he aimed it down our bumpy - and narrow - path to the lake. I couldn't believe my eyes. Danny pushed off from where he was crouched and ran after them. I was on his heels.

From farther and farther behind we watched as Matt, his gun hand waving, struggled to get to Doug as the Wrangler divided the path wider. They climbed over bushes and fallen limbs while green branches broke on the car's windshield and sides. Leaves and needles and bark flew through the air around the two of them and rained down on us. I had to stop, coughing and rubbing shit out of my face, but Danny kept going.

I couldn't. I listened as the Jeep's engine faded, then its tires squealed painfully on something hard, and both sounds abruptly disappeared. After a long second they were replaced by something like a huge booming thunderclap. It echoed for what felt like forever, and when it was done I heard "-ooooooooooooo!"

It was Danny. Oh, hell.

I forced myself on, feet dragging over debris the Jeep had knocked free and left in its wake. I knew what I'd find. Danny was up there alone, in the empty space at the very end of the path. We'd found out just that morning where it ended, hadn't we?

Dan was at the edge of the new cliff, staring down, standing atop black tire tracks smeared onto the bare rock. He held his hand to his injured ear, and looked like he might be crying, or about to. I decided he could wait.

I looked to my left. I knew what Doug meant to do, of course, but had he fucking made it? It was the most incredibly stupid thing I'd ever seen anyone try, but what choice did he have? Matt would've kept coming, and nothing would have stopped him. My friend had done it for us.

I promised myself I'd never let him live it down... If.

I refused to let myself think about his plan not working, and in a minute I got my reward. Only a couple of yards from the point of no return, I spotted something lying at the bottom of a beech tree. It was Doug's arm, knotted under a pile of leaves. I steeled myself for what I might find and started digging. He was turned sideways, his limp arms and legs pale against the smooth grey skin of the tree. The only thing covering his bruises and welts were the torn blue gym shorts. They were nothing but a rag.

"Doug?" I said fearfully. I tried to put my hand under his cheek, but I felt him push my wrist away.

"God, I thought I hurt all over before..." He squinted at me and chuckled faintly. "When do we tell Dan I'm all right?"

"After his trial," I answered him, through my own tears. I bent forward and kissed him, as gently as possible, on his mouth and forehead. He shook his head no and pressed our lips together as hard as he could.

He leaned back against the tree. "Cut that weepy shit out. This isn't Brian's Song and you're definitely not Billy Dee Williams. I've been moving all my fingers and toes, and I remember how many meters in a kilometer, and..." He smiled and wiggled his eyebrows. "And how to do that thing with my tongue."

I laughed out loud. "Oh my god, you are the biggest horndog ever! You almost died-"

"Jeez Louise, I did not! But I tell you I was never in my life more happy that I took the doors and roof off that Jeep every summer." He slowly worked himself up onto his elbows, groaning all the way.

"Take it easy for at least sixty seconds, man," I scolded him. "Hey, your car is gone! I mean I'm assuming, I haven't seen it for myself yet."

"No big deal. I hated that thing. It was a hand-me-down from Danny when he got his Saab. I liked the four-wheel drive though. And it was easily accessible, and whatever the opposite of 'accessible' is. Exitable. You should have seen Matt's face when he realized what I was gonna do. Fucker."

"Douggie?" we faintly heard, from over my shoulder. Danny ran over to us, kicking dirt onto his brother's chest. "Doug!"

Doug spit and brushed at himself. "Hey, it's the cavalry. Thank goodness, we're all saved." Dan sobbed and fell to his knees to put his arms tight around his brother.

"Ow. Dan. Dan. Danny." Dan pulled back and their eyes met. Doug continued to brush dirt off.

"You are in a lot of trouble. I mean, thanks for taking the bullet, but really you brought that on yourself. Lots and lots of trouble."

Danny put his tearful face into his hands. "I know, I know," he whined. "I told Charlie I didn't have any idea what Matt-"

Doug waved his hand. "Yeah, right. You're an innocent lamb. But just so's you know, getting fucked up the butt by your goddamn dead friend was no picnic. Even giving you the benefit of the doubt about Scotty, you let him do that to me."

Danny frowned and turned his head to gaze at the lake, Matt's resting place.

"That better be shame and hatred I'm seeing, and not you figuring to somehow worm your way out of being punished for this. Because believe me, when we get out of here and grab all that money, I'll..."

"What, bro?" Danny asked, like he expected to hear he was going to Lagrange State for five to ten.

Doug glanced at me and wryly smiled. "Charlie, can we have a minute alone?"

"Sure." I stood up from my crouch and wandered over to the cliff to see things for myself. The tire tracks did lead right over the crumbled edge of it. I looked down, past them, and saw what was left of the Jeep. It was spread across that end of the quarry, under a couple of feet of water and in a million pieces of metal and glass. If I hadn't known it was once a car, I might not have recognized it. The only familiar parts of it I saw were the grill and tires.

I thought that Matt's body must be somewhere in there, and I felt bad. I realized I wasn't feeling, well, much of anything at the loss of him, only that our ordeal was finished. More than anything else, that was the reason I felt bad. Not that he was dead. Pretty cold-blooded, right? If it makes me sound more human, add that I was thinking my best friend in the world had nearly gone over with him and died too. There.

I scratched my head and waited for Doug and his brother to get through talking.

How the hell were we ever going to explain all that shit to anyone?

* * * *

In a minute the two of them were done, and Danny trudged off around the lip of the cliff, back toward Jacob's Ladder. Doug tried to push himself up higher, against the tree, and I trotted over to help him.

I stuck my arm under his and lifted him out of the leaves. "Whatever you do, don't ask me how I feel. Or smell. But tell me how I look, 'cause I've got a plan."

"You and your fucking plans. 'It came to me, I figured it out in my sleep last night, man.'" I shook my head. "Liar."

Doug surprised me by pressing his face into my filthy t-shirt. "Don't remind me of that, either." I could barely make out his words. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, Charlie-"

I tightened my grip on him and rubbed his warm skin. I shouldn't've brought it up. I guessed it would always be a sore spot somewhere in between us, and I swore to try and forget it from then on. "I know."

In a minute he looked up at me. His tears had left clean tracks in the dirt on his face. "Please forget I did that to you. My brother's bad enough, but you're my best friend."

"I was just thinking it the same thing. It's forgotten."

Doug sniffled and playfully wiped his nose on my shirt, and we limped on down the path, away from the quarry.

"Danny's going to see if he can find a spare key to Matt's car, if you were wondering."

"Uh huh."

"So if there is, great, we'll drive home and I'll take a shower and spiff up, call the cops and report the Jeep missing. Leave his car somewhere quiet, and act normal until they find it and call me back. Or find the Jeep. Tomorrow we'll get drunk, along with half the population of Louisville, and pretend nothing's happened." We went on a few more steps. "And get me a case of Preparation H for this pain in my fucking ass," he grumbled.

"Was it that bad? I don't want to hear any details."

"Like having a snow shovel pounded up there. Sideways. For my first time, I think I took it pretty well. I hope..."

"What?" I asked.

He smiled a little and nudged me with his shoulder. "I hope my second time goes better."

"Good luck to you. Why tell me this?"

"'Cause... I don't really think there's gonna be a day, anytime soon, that either of us gets blue-balled and left high and dry. I think from here on we should keep all the dating shit between just the two of us, and then nobody'll get left anywhere."

My heart, that had been through such a tough workout that day, happily sped up one more time. I smiled back at him, which was my way of saying Yes to what it seemed he was asking.

But there was still business to take care of. "Huhm. But. If there is no car key?"

"I guess we walk back to town. It's only five or ten miles, and all our folks are gone until tonight. I'll shower, call the cops, get in Danny's car and see if Downard's Hardware is still open today. If not they'll have a Labor Day sale tomorrow, right?"


"Danny can sneak in and out, we'll have our dough, and I'll teach you the tongue thing. And the Crisco thing I told you about. And, there's also a hand thing she showed me. But I'll need to rest up before that."

"You know, you're assuming I have the key to the locker."

"I know. Shit, you do, though, right?"

I pinched it from my watch pocket and held it up to the light.

"Asshole," he said. "Car or no car, doesn't matter. We're free and clear. There's nothing to connect Matt to the money, or the money to the store, or us or Danny to anything else. Hah, except..."

"Except what?" I asked. Doug suddenly looked troubled. What was there?

He grinned. "I'm pulling your chain. The only thing connected to Dan now, is you."

I shook my head. "Me no get."

"When you left us alone I told him I wouldn't turn him in, which made him unnaturally grateful. But his payback for letting Matt rape me was to let you fuck him anytime you want."

I laughed. "You're not serious. He said what to that?"

"Yes, of course."

I had to stop, for laughing so hard, and I dropped his arm a moment. "You're fucking kidding!"

"I swear! I said we'd give him fifty bucks each time to keep his mouth shut, so it's not like the weekend was a total write-off for him. He went for it. So imagine spending the next few months fucking an older man in the ass whenever you want..."

"I dunno. There wasn't anything else?"

"And I told him I got to videotape it."

"Pervert. What made you think I'd go for that?"

"I know you. You'd think it's poetic justice, or irony or something. I bet Danny'll eventually get fed up with the arrangement, or find a new way to pay for his beer, but until then we can have a lot of fun."

We'd just about reached George by then, and Doug seemed to be doing pretty well on his own, so I let him go on without me. He put his butt down on a big gnarled root and sat back with a sigh. I stood next to him him. Danny, with or without a car, would be back eventually and we could get on with that endless day.

I wondered if anyone would ever again come out to the quarry to party like they had before. I doubted it. The place would be thought of as doubly cursed, once word about Matt got out. I wondered if anyone would miss him. His family, I guessed. Maybe his friends. And...

"Whatcha thinking?" Doug asked, comically frowning at me like I must have just been doing unconsciously.

"Wondering. If the police'll bother to take that junked car out of the lake."

He smirked. "You know my answer to that. And?"

Boy, did he know me. "What Danny's reaction will be when we make him go back down there to get your bag of clothes."

"Hah. Actually I wonder if he'll ever be able to look you in the eye again." He poked me with his elbow. "And?"

I took my time answering him. I didn't want to assume anything based on just one unspoken conversation between us, especially when it'd been about something we'd never discussed before. At the same time, I wanted to make my position on certain things clear.

"Last thing I'm wondering is what it will feel like to make love with you on top of twenty thousand dollars in cash. I mean, it'll get all wet and sticky, and the ink'll come off on you, and bills will get caught in places they shouldn't..."

* * * *

Luckily the bills - mostly twenties and fifties, which made it a lot easier to pay Dan later - were well used and soft, a stash we speculated the Downards had probably been laundering. Which was one more item to wonder about, in the way of costs and the prices you sometimes pay for things. But by then I'd plastered one of them to Doug's smooth blond ass with my tongue and some come I had all over the palm of my hand, and we didn't care what the answer was any more.

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