15

(1)

“Walter” woke up in the apartment late in the afternoon of December 8, restless to go hunting, longing for the thrill of the chase. He loved being out in the woods alone with a gun.

Walter didn’t find himself out on the spot very often, and he knew he would be called upon only when his uncanny sense of direction—a special skill he’d acquired from hunting in the bush in his native Australia—was needed. The last time he’d been out was years ago when Billy and his brother, Jim, had been on a summer bivouac with the Civil Air Patrol. Because of Walter’s tracking ability, he had been pressed into service as a spotter.

But he had not hunted for a very long time.

So this afternoon he took it upon himself to borrow Ragens handgun from the top of the refrigerator. Though it was hardly a substitute for a rifle, it was better than nothing. He listened to the weather report; hearing that it was cold, he decided to bring a mackinaw and gloves. Unable to find his Aussie hat with the pinned-up brim, he settled for a ski mask. He packed a lunch and set off south on Route 664. He knew instinctively what direction to follow. South would lead him to wooded areas where he could hunt to his heart’s content. He got off the highway and followed the signs to Hocking State Park, wondering what game he would find.

He drove into the forest, parked the car and began to walk. As he pressed deeper into the woods, the pine needles felt slippery beneath his feet. He breathed deeply. It was good to be out on the spot, moving through the silence of the wilderness.

He walked for nearly an hour. Besides an occasional scurry that told him squirrels were about, there was no sign of game. It was almost dusk. He was growing impatient when he saw a fat black crow on the branch of a spruce. He quickly aimed and fired. The bird fell. Suddenly he felt dizzy and left the spot . . .

“Barbarian,” Arthur said coldly. “Killing animals is against the rules.”

“Vy he take my gun?” Ragen demanded.

“You left it unsecured,” Arthur said. “That was against the rules too.”

“Not true. Ve have agreed one veapon should alvays be available, out of children’s reach, in case of intruder. Valter did not have right to take it.”

Arthur sighed. “I really liked the chap. Energetic, reliant young man. Good sense of direction. Always reading about Australia, and after all, it is part of the British Empire. He once suggested I investigate the evolution of the kangaroo. Now I’m afraid hes undesirable.”

“Is severe penalty for one crow,” Ragen said.

Arthur gave him a withering stare. “The time may come when you have to kill a human being in self-defense, but I will not tolerate taking the life of a poor dumb creature.”

Arthur buried the crow and walked back to the car. Allen, who had heard the last part of the conversation, moved onto the spot behind the wheel and drove home.

“Killing a dumb crow and thinking he’s a big-game hunter— what a stupid twerp!”

(2)

Driving back to Lancaster at night, Allen felt groggy. He put down the quart bottle of Pepsi he’d been sipping, and as his lights illuminated the roadside-rest sign, he decided he’d better pull off for a while. He parked near the mens room, shook his head and closed his eyes . . .

Danny looked up, wondering what he was doing behind the ‘wheel. Remembering Arthurs instructions, he slid over to the passengers side to wait for someone to come and drive. Then he realized he was at the bathroom stop he’d used lots of times. He noticed two other cars with people in them. One was a lady with a floppy hat. The other one had a man in it. They were just sitting there. Maybe they had changed their spots, too, and were waiting for someone to come to drive them home.

He really wished someone would come. He was tired and he had to go to the bathroom. When he got out of the car and walked to the mens room, he noticed the lady getting out of her car.

Danny stood at the low urinal for little boys, unzipped his fly and shivered in the cold December air. He heard the footsteps and the creak of the door hinge. The lady came in. That surprised him, and he blushed and turned away so she wouldn’t see him peeing.

“Hey, sweetheart,” the lady said, “are you gay?”

It wasn’t a lady’s voice. It was a man dressed like a lady, with a floppy hat and lipstick and a lot of make-up and a black dot on his chin. He looked like Mae West in the movies.

“Hey, big boy,” the man-lady said, “let me suck your cock.” Danny shook his head and started to edge past, but another man came in too. “Hey,” he said, “this one’s good-looking. Let’s have a party.”

The man grabbed his collar and pulled him back against the wall. The one dressed like a woman held the front of his jacket and grabbed for his fly. Danny felt fear at the roughness and closed his eyes . . .

Ragen grabbed the hand, twisted it and slammed the man into the wall. As the man slumped, Ragen caught him in the chest with his knee and a karate chop to the side of the throat.

He turned, saw the woman and paused. He could never hit a woman. But when he heard her say, “Oh my God, you bastard,” he knew it was a man in woman’s clothing. He reached out, twisted him around and pressed him against the wall with his elbow, watching to see if the other one was going to get up.

“Down on floor with friend!” Ragen ordered, punching the tranvestite hard in the stomach. The man doubled over and dropped to the floor. Ragen took their wallets, but as he started to walk away with the identification cards, the transvestite jumped up and grabbed him by the belt. “Give that back, you bastard!”

Ragen spun around and caught him in the groin with his foot. When he went down, Ragen kicked him with his other foot, smashing his face. Blood burst from the man’s nose and he gagged through broken teeth.

“You vill live,” Ragen said calmly. “I am very careful vat bones I break.”

He looked at the other man on the floor. Though he had not been hit in the face, blood was trickling from his mouth. As Ragen had calculated when he struck, the blow to the solar plexus had put pressure on the epiglottis and ruptured the blood vessels. He, too, would live. Ragen stripped the Seiko watch from the mans wrist.

Outside, Ragen noticed the two empty cars. He picked up a rock and smashed the headlights. They would not follow on the highway without lights.

Ragen drove home, let himself into the apartment, looked . around to make sure it was safe and left the spot . . .

Allen opened his eyes, wondering if he should bother to use the john. He shook his head when he found himself home. He no longer had to piss. And his knuckles were bruised. And what was that stuff on his right shoe? He touched it and examined it.

“Jesus Christ!” he yelled. “Whose blood is it? Who the hells been in a fight? I wanna know. I have the right to know what’s going on.”

“Ragen had to protect Danny,” Arthur said.

“What happened?”

Arthur explained to all of them: “Its very important for the young ones to know that roadside-rest areas are dangerous places at night. Its a well-known fact that homosexuals frequent these places after dark. Ragen had to get Danny out of a dangerous situation that Allen let him get into.”

“Well, Jesus, it wasn’t my fault. I didn’t ask to leave the spot, and I didn’t make Danny come. Who the hell knows who’s coming and who’s going and what all they’re doing during a mix-up time?”

“I should a been dere,” Philip said. “I’d like to have taken on dem fags.”

“You’d have gotten yourself killed,” Allen said.

“Or else you’d have done something stupid,” Arthur said, “like killing one of them. And then we’d face a bloody murder charge.”

“Ahhh …”

“Besides, you are not allowed on the spot,” Arthur said firmly.

“I know, but I’da still of liked tuh be dere.”

“I am beginning to suspect you’ve been stealing time, taking advantage of mix-up periods to go about your antisocial business. ”

“Who, me? Nah.”    ^

“I know you’ve been out. You’re a drug addict and you’ve been abusing your body and your mind.”

“You callin’ me a liar?”

“That is one of your attributes. You are a defective android, and I assure you that as far as it is in my power to prevent it, you will never hold the consciousness again.”

Philip slipped back into the darkness, wondering what an android was. He wasn’t going to ask Arthur to explain. He wasn’t going to give that goddamned limey the satisfaction of getting on his case again. He’d get out whenever he had the chance. He knew that ever since Zanesville, Arthur’s domination had weakened. As long as there was pot or speed or even LSD, he was going to sneak out and keep hard-ass Arthur off balance.

The following week, while Philip was on the spot, he told Wayne Luft, one of his dope customers, what had happened at the Lancaster roadside rest.

“Shit,” Luft said. “Didn’t you know them roadside rests is infested with queers?”

“Sure as hell surprised me,” Philip said. “Fuckin’ faggots trollin’ their bait. I hate ’em.”

“No worsen I do.”

“Why don’t we get us some?” Philip said.

“How’s that?”

“We know they’re always parkin’ around duh roadside rests at night. We go in and let ’em have it. We could clean out dese infected areas.”

“We could rob ’em, too,” Luft said. “Get us some Christmas money for our time and get rid of all the homos. Make the place safe for decent people*”

“Yeah,” Philip laughed. “Like us.”

Luft got out his highway map and made marks on the roadside-rest areas in Fairfield and Hocking counties.

“We’ll use my car,” Philip said. “It’s fast.”

Philip took along a decorative sword he found in the apartment.

At the roadside-rest area near Rockbridge in Hocking County, they noticed a single Volkswagen Beetle with two

occupants, parked in front of the mens room. Philip pulled the Grand Prix around to the other side of the highway, facing in the opposite direction. He took two Preludins that Luft handed him. Then they sat for half an hour, watching the VW. No one came or went.

Luft said, “That must be a couple of ’em. Who else would just stay parked so long at two in the morning in front of the mens room?”

“I’ll go in foist,” Philip said. “Wit my sword. If they folia me inside, you come up behind ’em wit the piece.”

Philip felt good as he walked across the highway, the sword under his coat, to the men’s room. Just as he expected, the two men followed him.

As they approached, he felt his skin crawling. He wasn’t sure if it was them or the speed that was doing it, but he whipped out his sword and grabbed the queen. The guy with him was a fat slob. When Luft came up and shoved the gun in the guy’s back, the faggot stood there stunned and shaking like a mountain of jelly.

“All right, fuckin’ faggots!” Luft shouted. “Lay down on the fuckin’ floor.”

Philip stripped the fat one of his wallet, a ring and a watch. Luft did the same to the other one.

Then Philip ordered them into the car.

“Where are you taking us?” the fat one asked, sobbing.

“Fer a little stroll in the woods.”

They drove off the highway onto a deserted country road, where they dropped the two men.

“That was easy,” Luft said.

“Nothin’ to it,” Philip said. “It’s duh poifect crime.”

“How much we got?”

“A lot. Dey was loaded. And credit cards, too.”

“Shit, man,” Luft said. “I’m gonna give up my job and do this for a living.”

“Public soivice,” Philip said, grinning.

Back at the apartment, Philip told Kevin about the perfect crime. He knew he was going to crash. He took a couple of downers to help him land softly . . .

(3)

Tommy put up a Christmas tree, strung the lights and put out the presents he’d made for Marlene and the family. He looked

forward to going over to Spring Street later to see Mom, Del, Kathy and her boyfriend Rob.

The early evening at Spring Street went well until Rob and Kathy came into the living room and Kevin found himself on the spot.

“Hey, that’s a good-looking leather jacket,” Rob said. “And I noticed you’re wearing a new Seiko.”

Kevin held the watch up. “Best there is.”

“I’ve been wondering about that, Billy,” Kathy said. “You haven’t been making that much at Anchor Hocking. Where are you getting the money?”

Kevin smiled. “I’ve discovered the perfect crime.”

Kathy looked up at him quickly. She felt there was something different again, that sneering, cold-blooded attitude. “What are you talking about?”

“I ripped off some fags at a roadside rest. No way they could ever find out who did it. Didn’t leave any fingerprints or anything. And those guys won’t even dare complain to the cops. Got money and credit cards.” He held up the watch.

She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. It wasn’t like Billy to talk that way. “You’re joking, aren’t you?”

He smiled and shrugged. “Maybe I am and maybe I’m not.” When Del and Dorothy came in, Kathy excused herself and went out to the hall closet. Finding nothing in his new leather jacket, she went out to the Car. Sure enough, there was a wallet in the glove compartment. There were also credit cards, a driver’s license and the identification of a male nurse. So he hadn’t been joking after all. She sat in the car for a while, wondering what to do. She put the wallet into her purse and decided she had to talk to someone.
After Billy left, she showed her mother and Del what she had found.

“God Almighty,” Dorothy said. “I can’t believe it.”

Del looked at the wallet. “Why not? I believe it. Now we know how he’s been buying all this stuff.”

“You’ve got to call Jim,” Kathy said. “He’s got to come home and see what he can do to straighten Billy out. I have some money in the bank. I’ll pay his plane fare.”

Dorothy made the long-distance call and begged Jim to take an emergency leave to come home. “Your brother’s in trouble.

He’s into something very bad, and if he can’t get it straight, I think we’ll have to go to the police.”

Jim applied for emergency leave from the Air Force and came home two days before Christmas. Del and Dorothy showed him the wallet and the clippings from the Lancaster Eagle-Gazette about the roadside-rest robberies.

“You got to see what you can do with him,” Del said to Jim. “God knows, I’ve tried to be like a father to him. I thought for a time after Zanesville that Billy could take the place of my own boy—rest his soul—but Billy won’t let no one tell him nothing.”

Jim looked through the wallet, went to the phone and dailed the number on the I.D. card. He had to check it out for himself.

“You don’t know me,” he said when a man answered, “but I’ve got something that may be of importance to you. Let me ask you a hypothetical question. If someone was to know you were a male nurse by way of your identification card, what would you say to that?”

After a moment, the voice answered, “I’d say the person who knows that has my wallet.”

Okay,” Jim said, “and can you tell me what your wallet looks like and what else is in it?”

The man described the wallet and its contents.

“How’d you come to lose it?”

“I was in a roadside-rest area between Athens and Lancaster with a friend of mine. Two guys came into the men’s room. One of them had a pistol, the other one had a sword. They took our wallets, watches and rings, then they drove us out into the woods and left us.”

“What kind of car was it?”

“The guy who had the sword was driving a blue Pontiac Grand Prix.” He gave Jim the license-plate number.

“How are you so sure about the car and the number?”

“I saw that car again in a store downtown the other day. I stood not fifty feet away from the guy who carried the sword, and I followed him to the car. He was the same one.”

“Why didn’t you turn him in?”

“Because I’m in a position to get an important new job, and I’m a homosexual. If I report this incident, I expose not only myself but several of my friends.”

“Okay,” Jim said, “on the premise that you don’t want to report this incident and expose yourself and your friends, I’ll see that you get back your wallet and personal effects. Lets just keep it anonymous. You’ll get it in the mail.”

When he got off the phone, he leaned back and took a deep breath. He looked at his mother and Del and Dathy. “Billy’s in trouble,” he said, and picked up the phone again.

“Who are you calling now?” Kathy asked.

“I’m going to tell Billy I’d like to come over tomorrow and see his new place.”

Kathy said, “I’m going with you.”

The following evening, Christmas Eve, Tommy greeted Kathy and Jim at the door in his bare feet. Behind him, in the comer, stood the brightly lit Christmas tree surrounded by presents. On the wall hung a plaque with decorative crossed swords.

While Jim and Tommy talked, Kathy excused herself and went upstairs. She was going to see if she could find further evidence of what he’d been doing.

“Hey, just one question,” Jim said when they were alone. “Where are you getting all the bread for this stuff—this duplex apartment, all those presents, clothes, that watch?”

“My girl’s working,” Tommy said.

“Marlenes paying for all this stuff?”

“Well, a lot of it’s on credit, too.”

“Those credit cards’ll get you if you don’t watch out. I hope you’re not getting in too deep.”

Jim, who had just completed an Air Force course in interrogation techniques, decided to put his skill to use now to help his brother. If he could get him to talk about it, admit he was wrong, maybe there would still be a way to keep him from going to prison.

“Carrying credit cards around is dangerous,” Jim said. “People steal ’em and bust ’em, and you’re stuck with paying—” “Aw, there’s a fifty-dollar liability. After that, it’s the company gets stuck. They can afford it.”

“Like I’ve been reading in the papers,” Jim said, “about these people who got held up in the roadside-rest areas, had their credit cards stolen. I mean, you know, it could happen to you.”

Jim saw the strange look in Billy’s eyes, a clouding over, tracelike. It reminded him of the way Chalmer Milligan would look before he went into one of his violent fits of rage.

“Hey, you all right?”

Kevin looked up at him and wondered what Jim was doing here, how long he had been in the apartment. He glanced quickly at his new watch. Nine forty-five. “What?” asked Kevin.

“I said, ‘Are you all right?’”

“Sure. Why shouldn’t I be?”

“I was telling you to be careful with credit cards. You know, all these holdups at roadside-rest areas and stuff”

“Yeah, I read about it.”

“I’ve heard that some of those guys who were robbed were homosexuals.”

“Yeah. They deserved it.”

“What do you mean?”

“Why should them faggots have all that money and stuff?” “But whoever did it has got to be careful. There’s a long prison sentence attached to that kind of thing.”

Kevin shrugged. “They’d have to find the guys. They’d have to prove it.”

“Well, for example, you’ve got a sword on your wall just like the one the guys described.”

“They can’t tie that sword in with the one that was there.” “Maybe so, but there was also a gun used in the robbery.” “Hey, I didn’t hold no piece. They can’t get me.”

“Yeah, but they’ll nail the other guy, and then whoever was in on it with him will take the fall just as well.”

“They can’t connect me with it,” Kevin insisted. “It’s not the kind of thing the fags are gonna press charges about. There aren’t any fingerprints or anything like that.”

Kathy came down and sat with them a few minutes. When Billy went upstairs to the bathroom, she handed Jim what she had found.

“Jesus Christ,” Jim muttered. “All these credit cards with different names on them. How the hell are we going to get him out of this one?”

“We’ve got to help him, Jim. That isn’t like Billy.”

“I know. Maybe the only thing is to confront him directly.” When Kevin came back downstairs, Jim showed him the credit cards. “This is what I meant, Billy. You did those robberies, and you’ve got the evidence right here in your own , apartment.”

Kevin became furious and shouted, “You had no right to come into my house and go through my stuff!”

Kathy said, “Billy, we’re trying to help you.”

“This is my property, and you two came in here and searched it without a warant. ”

“I’m your brother. Kathy’s your sister. We’re just trying | to—

“Evidence obtained without a search warrant wouldn’t be admitted in court.”

Jim told Kathy to wait for him in the car in case it came to blows. When Jim confronted him again, Kevin began to walk into the kitchen. “Billy, you’re buying all this stuff on the credit cards. They’d get you on that.”

“They’ll never know,” Kevin insisted. “I go buy one or two things and then I throw the card away. I only hold up queers and people who hurt other people.”

“Its a crime, Billy.”

“That’s my affair.”

“But you’re getting yourself into trouble.”

“Look, you got no right coming out here from Spokane and getting on my case about what I’m doing. I’m my own person. I’m old enough. I’m outta the house. What I do is my own business. Besides, you left the family a long time ago.”

“True, but we care about you.”

“I didn’t ask you to come over here. I want you to get the hell out of here right now. ”

“Billy, I’m not leaving until we’ve had this out.”

Kevin grabbed his leather coat. “Well, fuck you. Then I’ll leave.”

Jim, who had always been stronger than his younger brother and had been trained in the martial arts in the Air Force, stepped between Kevin and the door. He grappled with him and threw him backward. Jim hadn’t intended to be so hard or violent,but Kevin crashed into the Christmas tree, knocking it against the wall and onto the presents. Boxes were crushed. Bulbs shattered. The wire was yanked out of the outlet and the lights went out.

Kevin got up and started for the door again. He was no fighter, and he had no intention of battling Jim, but he had to get out of there. Jim grabbed him by the shirt, throwing him against the bar.

Kevin lost the spot . . .

As Ragen hit the bar, he saw very quickly sho was attacking him, though he had no idea why. He had never liked Jim. He had never forgiven him for leaving home, for leaving the women and Billy to face Chalmer alone. Seeing that Jim was blocking the doorway, Ragen reached back, picked up a knife from the top of the bar and threw it with such force that it stuck in the wall beside Jim’s head.

Jim froze. He had never seen such cold hate in Billy’s face or seen him respond with such swift violence. He looked at the knife, still quivering in the wall inches from his head, and realized that his brother hated him enough to kill him. He stepped aside as Ragen walked silently past him, barefoot, out into the snow . . .

Danny found himself outside, wondering what he was doing i walking on the freezing street in a tom shirt and without his i shoes or gloves. He turned around and went back into the house, shocked to see Jim in the doorway staring at him as if he were crazy.

Danny looked past him and saw the toppled Christmas tree and the broken presents. He felt a sudden fear.

“I didn’t mean to knock your tree over,” Jim said, startled by another incredible change in his brothers face. The cold rage had vanished, and now Billy was cowed, trembling.

“You broke my Christmas tree,” Danny sobbed.

“I’m sorry.”

“I hope you have a very merry Christmas,” Danny whined, “’cause you spoiled mine.”

Kathy, who had been waiting in the car, came rushing in, her face pale. “The police are coming.”

Seconds later there was a knock at the door. Kathy looked at Jim and then at Billy, who was crying like a little boy.

“What are we gonna do?” she said. “What if they—”

“I’d better let them in,” Jim said. He opened the door and admitted two officers.

“We got a report about a disturbance,” one of them said, looking past him into the living room.

“Your neighbors called in a complaint.” said the other.

“I’m sorry, Officer.”

“Its Christmas Eve,” the first one said. “People are with their kids. Whats going on?”

“Just a family quarrel,” Jim said. “Its over. We didn’t know we were so loud.”

The officer made a notation in his memo book. “Well, cool it, folks. Just keep it down.”

After they were gone, Jim got his coat. “All right then, Billy. I guess I’ll have to say good-by. I’m only in Lancaster for another couple of days, then I’ve got to go back to the base.” As Jim and Kathy left, their brother was still crying.

The door slammed shut and Tommy looked around, startled. His hand was bleeding. He picked the pieces of glass out of his palm and washed the cuts, wondering where Kathy and Jim had gone and why the place was such a mess. He had worked so hard on that Christmas tree, and look at it now. All the presents he and the others had made with their own hands— not a single one bought. He had a painting upstairs for Jim—a seascape he knew Jim would love—and he’d wanted to give it to him.

He picked up the fallen tree and tried to made it look decent again, but most of the ornaments were busted. It had been such a beautiful Christmas tree. He just had time to arrange Marlene’s present before she arrived. He had taken it on his own to call her to come over for Christmas Eve.

Marlene was shocked at the mess in the apartment. “What happened?”

“I don’t really know,” Tommy said, “and to tell you the truths I don’t give a damn. I just know I love you.”

She kissed him and led him to the bedroom. She knew that at times like this, when everything was confused in his mind, he was most vulnerable and he needed her.

Tommy blushed and closed his eyes. He did wonder, as he followed her, how come he never kept the spot long enough to make it through the bedroom door.

On Christmas Day, Allen, who had no idea what had happened the night before, gave up trying to make sense of the mess in the living room. He asked around inside his head, but no one answered. God, how he hated these mix-up times. He salvaged what presents he could, rewrapping the tom packages, and loaded them, along with the painting Tommy had done for Jim, into the car.

When he got to Spring Street, he began to piece together quickly what had happened the previous night. Jim was sore as hell about him throwing a knife, and Kathy, Del and Mom jumped on him about some robberies.

“You did those roadside-rest robberies,” Del shouted, “and used a car registered in your mothers name.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Allen shouted back. Throwing up his hands in disgust, he stomped upstairs.

While he was gone, Del went through his jacket pockets and found the keys to the car. He, Kathy, Jim and Dorothy went outside to check through the trunk of the car. They found credit cards, driver’s licenses and a highway map. The roadside-rest areas along Route 33 were marked with X’s.

When they turned, they saw him at the door watching them.

“You did it,” Del said, waving the evidence in his face.

“Nothing to worry about,” Kevin said. “I won’t get caught. It’s the perfect crime. I didn’t leave any fingerprints or anything, and the fags won’t report it.”

“You goddamned fool,” Del screamed. “Jim called the guy whose wallet you stole. He saw you in town. You dragged this whole family into your goddamned ‘perfect crime. ’ ”

They saw his face change; panic replaced coolness.

They decided to help Billy by getting rid of the evidence. Jim would take the Grand Prix back with him to Spokane and keep up the payments on it. Billy was going to move out of Somerford Square to a smaller apartment on Maywood Avenue.

Through it all, Danny listened, wondering what in the world they were talking about and when everyone was going to open the presents.

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