Chapter Four

     They all came running when Shelly and Vera pulled up with the battered VW. The little car looked as if it had been through a war. The windshielf was completely smashed, as well as the window on the driver's side, and there were large dents both in the front and back where Shelly had backed into the motorcycles, then run over them full-steam. As Shelly pulled up in front of the porch, Chuck reached them first. He put his hand through where the windshield used to be.

     "What happened to your windoshield, man?" he said.

     Shelly and Vera got out of the car. "We had a slight misunderstanding with a motorcycle gang," said Shelly, trying to sound nonchalant, as if misunderstandings with motorcycle gangs were something that happened to him every day.

     "Yeah, but Shelly made them see the error of their ways," said Vera, putting her arm around him. "Didn't you Shel?".

     Flustered, yet beaming with pride, Shelly managed to stammer. "It was nothing."

     Rick came out and his jaw dropped when he saw what had become of his VW. "My poor car!" he said with disbelief. "What did you do to it?"

     Vera handed him the keys as she passed him, carrying the groceries up into the house. "Yeah, well, we're really sorry, but it wasn't our fault," she said.

     "A few minor repairs and it'll be as good as new," said Shelly, with a shrug, as if it were no big deal.

     Rick ran up to his car and stood staring at it, shaking his head with amazement. Chris came up behind him.

     "That's it!" said Rick, turning on her furiously. "I've had it! I thought it would be good for us to spend some time together, but this is a little more than I bargained for!"

     He threw open the door and got into the car.

     "Where are you going?" Chris said.

     "Away from here," Rick said, with disgust. He didn't now what the hell he was wasting his time for. Chris didn't seem as is she wanted to pick up where they left off and he had no use whatsoever for her friends. Especially after this! He started the car.

     "Stay with me," Chris said.

     "Why should I?"

     "Because I want you to," she said softly.

     Rick looked up at her. She had that lost-little-girl expression stuck on her face that he was always such a sucker for. He shook his head. "You don't play fair, do you?" he said. He took a deep breath and let it out in a heavy sigh. Then he reached across to the passenger door and opened it. "Get in."

     Chris ran around to the other side and jumped into the car. Rick shifted into gear and slowly drove back down the driveway, across the wooden bridge, and out onto the road.

     As they passed the dried-out steambed, a large figure dressed in grubby work clothes stepped out of the shelter of the trees. He breathed heavily as he watched the VW disappear around a bend. It was happening again. Just like the last time. These people were exactly like the others, the ones who had hurt his mother. A raging fever began to burn within him; a white-hot fire of hate threatened to consume him. And there was only one way to quench the flames.

     "Hey, let's go for a swim," said Debbie, pulling on Andy's arm. All afternoon, he'd wanted to do nothing except lie around in the sun.

     "I don't know. . ." he said lazily, as if it would be too much of a bother to walk all the way down to the lake.

     "We'd be all alone," Debbie said seductively. "We could do anything we wanted and nodody would see."

     Andy grinned. "Sounds disgusting," he said. "Let's go."

     "I'll grab a couple of towels," she said, smiling at him. "I'll see you down there."

     She went over to the van and slid open the side door. It was really strange, but ever since she'd found out that she was pregnant, she'd been really horny. And it kept getting worse and worse. She had expected to feel positively ill. Well, there was the occasional bout with morning sickness, but other than that, she felt terrific. Chris had even commented o it. "You've got a glow," was the way she had put it.

     She remembered her mother always complaining about it, always bringing it up each time they had an argument. Rolling her eyes in agony and saying, "I carried you for nine months! You don't have any idea what that's like! You should only have to experience something like that and then wind up with an ungrateful daughter!"

     From listening to her mother, Debbie had expected this to be a terrible experience, but so far it was wonderful. She couldn't even tell that she was pregnant yet, at least not by looking, though she checked herself in a mirror every day, but she could feel the changes taking place inside of her. She knew the experience would not be terrible at all. It was something wonderful.

     Andy was taking it in stride. The responsibility didn't seem to frighten him. He knew it would be hard for them, especially at their age, but he h ad simply accepted it and decided to make the best of it. A lot of guys would have freaked out, but not Andy. He stuck by her, just like she knew he would.

     "The way I see it," he had told her, "the important thing is that we really want this baby. It's gonna be tough for us and money's gonna be real tight, but if we stick together, we can make it. We didn't plan on this, but since we've decided that we're gonna have this bab, we've got to make sure we really want it. We can't go blaming the kid if things get tough. The baby didn't make things tough for us, we made things tough. Now we just gotta go for it and do the best we can."

     If she ever had any doubts about him, they had disappeared right then. The important thing, she thought, is that we remember the mistakes our families made with us and not make them with our kid. She knew it would be hard. But she also knew it would be worth it.

     She was so preoccupied with her throughts, she didn't hear the soft crunch of gravel beneath the heavy black engineer boots on the other side of the van. She pulled several towels out of her beach bag and zipped it back up, then trotted off toward the lake just as the punky-looking biker from the roadside convenience store slowly came around the back of the van.

     He stood still for a moment, looking around with a cigarette drooping from his lip. Then he gave an animalistic grunt to signal the others that the coast was clear.

     "Maybe we shouldn't do this, Ali," said Fox, the hard-looking young black woman in the skintight leathers.

     "We gotta even the score, don't we?" said Loco, the white biker with the spiky hair.

     "Nobody's gonna get hurt, baby," said Ali, the biker with the shaved head and goatee. He glanced at Loco and grinned. "Righteous!"

     He stuck a siphon down into the fuel tank and set one of the large metal gas cans they had brought down onto the ground. Loco reached for the siphon hose.

     "Let me do it," he said.

     "I know what I'm doing," Ali said, backing him down with a stare.

     He had to stay on top of Loco all the time. Loco was so spaced out, he'd probably wind up drinking half the gas if he let him siphon out the tank. He wasn't called Loco for nothing. That bo was truly bugfuck. He did things on that motorcycle that no sane man would ever do, and when he had seen what that fat little turd had done to his scooter, he'd been ready to do murder.

     Ali just couldn't believe that fat little creep had the balls to do what he did. Luckily, Ali's bike hadn't suffered to bady. It would need a new front rim and fender, handlebars, and a replacement clutch lever, a headlight, and a few other odds and ends. He wasn't going to worry too much about the paint since, they were both sort of rat bikes to begin with, and he could always do the paint himself, but Loco's machine had taken a real bashing and it would be in the shop for weeks till they could run down the parts from someone who specialized in old British bikes, since it hadn't been manufactured for years.

     Loco was ready to tear that fat little bastard apart with his bare hands. He probably would, too, thought Ali, only there was no point in letting Fox know that. She acted real hard, but when it came right down to it, she was pretty soft on the inside. She was even a little squeamish about burning down the barn. Hell, the barn was going to be only the beginning, Ali thought. Nobody trashes my scooter and gets away with it. Nobody.

     As he siphoned the gast out of the van's tank, Fox wandered over toward the barn. There didn't even seem to be anyone around,s o she went inside. She could understand Ali and Loco wanting to get even with thos kids for what they did, and trashing their van––or ripping it off, as she'd suggested––was one thing, but burning down a barn was getting a little heavy.

     Suppose the flames got out of control and spread to the house or started a forest fire? The area was heavily wooded. Cops might not look too hard for a stolen van that was probably insured anyway and they could have it miles away before the cops could even start to look for it. Hell, she thought, by that time, the boys could have it in the shop, repainted and the old numbers ground off, and they'd have it sold before anyone could ever trace it to them. But arson, that was something else, again.

     It was that Loco, she thought. Ali was fine when he wasn't around, but when the two of them were together, Ali always had to be harder and badder and meaner, and what made it worse was that Loco simpl did not know when to stop. Things could get out of hand with him really fast. She could tell he really wanted to kill those kids, and it was all her fault. If she hadn't started messing around with that Chicano girl, none of this would've happened. Well, it was out of her hands. There was nothing else to do but ride with it.

     She looked around to make sure that there was no one watching and cautiously pulled open one of the barn doors. Shafts of fading sunlight cut through the gloom within, softly illuminating the straw-strewn, packed earth floor. She grinned as she looked around. It was an old barn with lots of tools and stuff stored inside it; horseshoes and old bells and blacksmith's tongs hung on the walls. A weather-worn western saddle and girth were slung over the wall of one of the two large wood-framed horse stalls with wide, swinging wooden gats. She ran her hand over the saddle. The leather was cracked and discolored.

     Several wooden benches were set against the walls and a couple of old saw horses had dusty, faded woolen blankets draped over them. There was an ancient, rust army canteen hanging from a peg, as well as an old, olive-drab, World War II canteen belt. She decided the belt looked kinda funky. She'd grab it on the way out.

     It was the first time she had ever seen the inside of a barn and she felt a little like a kid turned loose in a toy store. She completel forgot about the guys outside planning to burn it down and lost herself in the fascination of rummaging through all the junk, the rusted tools, the various items of old clothing and camping equipment and worn-out riding tak that had been left hanging in there. She found an old brass cowbell, struck it to hear its tone, then decided to also grab that on the way out. Then the high heel of her boot caught on something and she fell sprawling, facedown, to land with her eyes scant inches away fron the upturned tines of an old pitchfork.

     "Shit! " she said, realizing how close she'd come to landing right on top of the nasty-looking thing. She'd have to be more careful. You never knew what could happen to you in a dark old place like this, she thought.

     She glanced up at the loft, wondering what was up there. Maybe she'd find something else that she could liberate. She took hold of the wooden ladder t hat extended vertically straight up to a trapdoor in the loft, and started to climb up.

     Behind her, a large shadow fell across the barn floor as a massive figure came in quietly throught the open door and softly pulled it shut behind him.

     Ali finished the first gas can and quickly transferred the siphon hose to the mouth of the second can, losing only a few drops in the process. He shoved the hose down inside, then capped the first can and handed it to Loco.

     "Here, take this into the barn and start pouring," he said. "And find Fox!"

     That was all he needed now, having his lady wandering off. She was probably screwin' around down by the lake, he thought, wading around the shore or dumb thing, and here they were getting ready to torch the damn place. He wanted her where he could keep an eye on her. They'd have to hit these turkeys hard and then split fast. He didn't want anyone to be able to identify them, assuming Loco left anyone alive to do it. He was in a real state. Maybe a nice big bonfire would mellow him out, but if not, there wasn't going to be any talking him out of this one. And, bottom line, Alit didn't really feel like it. The hell with 'em. These kids had called the shots when they ran over their scooters. The sons of bitches were going to get wasted, and he wasn't going to cry about it.

     Loco walked over to the barn, carrying the heavy gas can and looking all around, keeping an eye out for anyone who might give an alarm. He got over to the barn doors and set the gas can down. He was about to reach out and open up the door when a sudden shriek coming from overhead startled him, making him reach for the large folding knife in his belt sheath.

     Fox came swinging out like a jungle queen on the host through the open square window doors of the hayloft, laughing and yelling like a kid.

     "Whoooo-weee!" she cried, with childllike delight.

     Loco stared up at her in disbelief. "What the hell are you doin'?" he said, glancing over his shoulder quickly to see if anyone had heard her. "Are you crazy? Get off that thing!"

     She disappeared from view, swinging back through the hayloft door, and a moment later she came swinging out again like a little girl in a playground on a set of swings.

     "This feels so goooooooooooood!" she yelled, giggling like a child.

     Loco simply stared at her. He couldn't believe it. What did the silly bitch think they were doing here, playing games for chrissake? He glanced back over his shoulder, looking in Ali's direction. The van was out of sight, around a bend in the driveway, behind a large oak tree. He shook his head. If Ali saw this, he'd lose it for damn sure.

     "Ali's gonna be pissed if you don't stop this screwin' around!" he called up to her. "We got shit to do!"

     The hoist came swinging out by itself, with no sign of Fox.

     Loco waited for a moment, starign up at the hayloft, but Fox didn't reappear. He scowled and went into the barn.

     "Fox!" he called, getting really irritated. He wanted to get on with it; he didn't feel like wasting time playing nursemaid to Ali's old lady. "Where are ya?"

     The cigarette dangled from his outh. I oughta just dump the dodamn gas out and toss the butt down and be done with it, he thought. Let the stupid bitch find her own way out. Serve her right if she got burned. He ground his teeth together. No, then he'd have to deal with Ali. Where's Fox? he imagined Ali saying. Oh, she's back in the barn, man. Oughta be nice and crispy by now. No, he didn't guess Ali would go for that. Shit. He'd better get her and bring her the hell out.

     "Stop screwin' around!" he yelled up at the loft. "You're messin' everything up!"

     There was no response.

     "Shit," he said savagely, staring up the ladder to the hayloft. He'd had it with her. He didn't care if she was Ali's old lady or not, he was going to grab her by the goddamn throat and toss her right out that big square window up there. "You're dead now, woman!" he shouted.

     He came up through the opening in the floor and stepped off the ladder onto the floorboards.


     He turned around. . . his jaw dropped and his eyes opened wide with shock at the sight of Fox dangling in the air, pinned to a crossbeam, impaled through the throat by the long tines of a pitchfork like a butterfly pinned to a board. Her eyes were ghastly, wide open, frozen into a stare of utter horror. Blood trickled down her leathers and dripped down onto the floor of the loft, soaking into the straw.

     Loco panicked and turned to run.

     The second pitchfork was driven deep into his stomach with a dull, wet, smacking sound; the long, sharp tines ripped through his entrails, penetrating deeply, going straight through him and coming out his back. Blood bubbled up into his throat as he opened his mouth to scream, and his hands clutched helplessly at the wooden shaft of the pitchfork, his horrified gaze fixed on his attacker. He staggered forward one step, and then his legs turned to rubber and collapsed beneath him. There was a brief period of the most incredible, agonizing pain he had ever experienced in his entire life, and then everything started spinning and he was falling as fire exploded in his mind and the whole world started burning.

     Ali came hurrying up to the barn doors, carrying a heavy can of gasoline in each hand. He scowled at the sigh of the closed doors and kicked at them, looking around to see if anyone had heard him. He waited for either Fox or Loco to let him in, but no one came. Angrily, he kicked the door again.

     "Loco! Fox! Open, this damn door!"

     There was no response from inside. Ali gritted his teeth and set the gas cans down, then pushed the door open himself. He picked up the cans and went inside, setting them down once again and looking all around the interior of the barn. They were nowhere in sight. He heard the sound of heavy footsteps up in the hayloft and looked up.

     "What the hell are you two doin' up there?" he demanded angrily. "You hear me talkin' to you?"

     He stormed over to the ladder and grabbed it, about to start climbing up, when suddenly Loco's body was thrown down from the hayloft. It came flying down at Ali, landing right on top of him and sending him crashing to the ground. His eyes went wide as he saw all the blood and he shoved Loco's corpse away, scrambling out from under it.

     "FOX!" he screamed, and then he turned quickly as someone dropped down from the hayloft, landing back in a dark corner of the barn.

     Ali looked around quickly and his gaze fell on a rusted machete among the array of gardening tools. He grabbed it and started for the back of the barn, his eyes glittering with homicidal fury.

     When I find you, you bastard, you're a dead man! he said.

     He rushed back to the stalls, brandishing the machete, and then he spun quickly as he heard someone jump down behind him from the pile of hay bales in the corner. In the dim light inside the barn, he saw a huge figure coming at him, holding something in his hand. Ali swung the machete at the shadowy figure's head with all his might.

     Moving with amazing speed, his attacker ducked beneath the blow and Ali staggered, momentarily caught off balance, and then stars burst before his eyes as an iron plumber's wrench came down upon his skull and he fell crashing to the floor. The wrench descended on him three more times like a sledgehammer driving in a railroad spike, but Ali never felt it.

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