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The Hero Experience - Chapter 9

 
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Bud Brewster
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 19, 2015 8:08 pm    Post subject: The Hero Experience - Chapter 9 Reply with quote


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Chapter 9

The following week was very strange indeed. I felt guilt-ridden about having talked the guys into doing the Bowmen routine a second time. We’d pushed our luck, and we’d paid a heavy price for it. I had nightmares about lying on the trash-covered ground and being kicked in the head by the boy with the acne-covered face and then watching him stab Doug repeatedly.

The press had a lot to a say about the Bowmen — none of it good. All three of the young thieves had been taken to the hospital to be treated for cuts, bruises, and concussions. We were now wanted by the police for a lot more than just questioning.

On the evening news, a police spokesman held up the two sluggers we had foolishly left at the scene. The reporters asked him if the arrows had caused the concussions suffered by the three teenagers. The spokesman said that according to the statements given by the three teenagers, the concussions had been caused by random objects the Bowmen had picked up in the back alley and used as clubs during the fight.

That did not sound good at all. The Bowmen were picking up random objects and clubbing teenagers in back alleys.

We had been too frightened and ashamed to call Matt Daniels at the Journal-Constitution and make a statement about the incident. But he certainly wrote an article about it, and it was on page three of the newspaper the next morning. It quoted the owner of Dailey’s Music (who’s name, for some reason, was not Dailey) as saying that he didn’t think the police would have arrived in time to prevent the loss of his merchandise — three boxes of albums with a retail value of just over two hundred dollars.

I didn’t say anything to the other guys, but I was pretty sure none of us felt that two hundred dollars in record albums was worth risking our lives for.

After reading the newspaper article, I finally called Matt Daniels to see how he would act. He did not chuckle this time. And he tried to get more information about us. He asked me if we were affiliated with any radical organizations, like The Black Panthers, or any left-wing political groups. I was tempted to tell him we weren’t even old enough to vote yet. He was obviously a bit mystified by us. I told him that the three burglars had attacked us when we caught them carting off boxes of record albums from a store they had broken into. He actually asked me why we felt it was necessary to beat the three boys into unconsciousness. He seemed to think we had come out of that fight without a scratch. I told him about how I had been knocked down and kicked in the head, and about how another member of our team had defended himself against two attackers who had cornered him and threatened him with a knife.

Daniels countered by saying that we had no business being in that back alley to start with. He also pointed out that we had obviously inflicted more damage on the three boys than they had inflicted on us, since we had walked away from the scene while the three teenagers had been unconscious when the police arrived and sent them to the hospital.

I ended the conversation with Daniels by saying that we had only meant to stop a burglary and we had only inflicted the injuries because we were defending ourselves. Daniels suggested that the four of us turn ourselves in to the police and explain what happened. He said he was sure they would understand completely. I smelled the heavy aroma of sarcasm and told him we’d think it over and call him back soon.

I didn’t even tell my three friends about the phone call.

Meanwhile, Doug had resigned from the ranks of the living. He sat around staring off into space, very quiet, very still. His infrequent smiles were small and forced, and they didn’t seem to include his eyes. We tried to tell him that we understood his reaction to what he had experienced, but he wouldn’t talk about it, and he continued to crouch behind those haunted eyes, peering out at us despondently.

On the other hand, Stan was okay. His experience had been less upsetting, and his self-image was more intact. Besides, Stan had always had a much easier acceptance of the world’s violence than the rest of us. Stan had a dark side that was beyond my understanding.

Carl was quiet and sympathetic. The look in Doug’s eyes convinced him that the story we had told him was not the least bit exaggerated.

When Doug’s lethargy continued into the following Friday, the rest of us decided to take him out and cheer him up or die trying. Carl suggested that I supply the car for three reasons: (1) he had done all the driving for the last few weeks, (2) his father told him he couldn’t have the Jeep for one full week, and (3) if anything could get a response out of Doug, it was my notorious driving.

We were desperate.
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“I noticed you waited to pick Doug up last,” said Carl on Friday evening as he got into the car with Stan and me. He knew it had nothing to do with the fact that Doug lived on the other side of town.

“I figured we could all make a real loud and cheerful entrance. Start things off with a bit of razzle and dazzle.”

Carl nodded with approval, then he said, “Bowmen-style, eh?”

I gave the remark no comment. Carl was the only one who didn’t have some very bad memories about our summer project. The rest of us knew that the Bowmen were dead. Finished. Kaput. A black mark on our personal histories that we’d spend years living down.

It had been a beautiful day, and the evening was coming on with equal enthusiasm, smelling of honeysuckle and freshly mowed lawns. As we cruised the streets on our way to pick up our troubled friend, we played the AM radio at high volume to cover the lack of conversation. The Beatles begged us for help, Elvis Presley was crying in the chapel, the McCoys told Sloopy to hang on, Petula Clark recommended that we go downtown, and the Righteous Brothers had lost that lovin’ feeling.

When I considered all the hard luck these rock songs described, I decided the rest of us should count our blessings and stop whining.

When we got to Doug’s house, Stan donned his beat-up cowboy hat while I hung a party grin on my face and ordered it to say there until further notice. When Doug’s timid little mother opened the door, we all three said hello in perfect harmony, like the Pips standing six feet to the left of Gladys Knight. Very convincing, very festive. Mrs. Green smiled wider than I’d ever seen her smile before, so we must have done it right.

Doug’s greeting when we entered the kitchen was more jovial than we had expected. The swelling of his nose was almost gone. He had told his parents that he and Carl had gotten into a fight. Carl had backed up the story by telling his own parents the same thing. They made Carl call Doug’s father and apologize. It was a weird and humiliating experience for both of them, but they managed to pull it off.

As we sat down in the kitchen with Doug’s parents and started chatting, I was surprised by the way his father was acting toward Doug. He was being reasonably pleasant. Apparently he had noticed Doug’s gloomy mood during the last few days and was trying to cheer up his one and only son. Surprisingly, Attila had a heart after all. The fact that he thought Doug had been injured in a fight with one of his closest friends must have touched the heart of Doug’s granite-faced father.

“Where are we going tonight?” asked Doug, wearing a smile that was wide, high, and fake — bless his noble heart.

“We’re undecided,” I told him with a straight face. “Stan thinks we should masquerade as health department officials and try to close down the Varsity Drive-In. But I think we should raid one of the cathouses on 10th Street and frisk all the girls for concealed weapons. What do you think?”

Doug played right along with the act, although I could tell it was an effort. He smiled just a little as he said, “Gee, I was hoping for something really exciting.”

Doug’s father was laughing — which I had never seen him do before, and the sight gave me hope for the future of mankind. “Why not do both,” he suggested. Doug’s mother was chuckling inaudibly while she did things around the kitchen that certainly could have waited until tomorrow.

“Whoa . . . here’s an idea,” Stan said, looking like he’d just cured cancer. “Mr. Green, you would make a great Health Department official. Why not come along with us and join the fun?”

Mr. Green was still wearing one of his first-ever smiles as he said, “Thanks for the offer. Not this time. But you can count me in on one of those cat house raids.”

Stan smiled and gave a throaty chuckle as he said, “We’ll do that, sir.”

A moment of quiet contemplation followed for everyone present, then a voice said, “Let’s roll, guys.” It was Carl, the voice of reason in a world gone mad.

We bid the elder Greens good evening and headed for my blue Dodge Polaris. I drove us to the nearest fast food restaurant at a sedate speed, and once there we sat and killed a little time. We ordered Cokes to feed our teenaged acne and French fries to get a head start on our middle-aged spread. We sat around and made mindless chitchat, hoping that Doug would begin to resemble the mildly pessimistic person we had come to know and love, instead of the totally pessimistic person he had become during the last few days.

Doug seemed to be cheering up for a while, but then he grew quiet again, and we wondered if he was suffering a relapse. The conversation faltered and died out completely. Into the silence, Doug said, “Uh . . . guys? About the Bowmen. I think that we — ”

The rest of us all started talking at once.

Me: ”Doug, I’m sorry I ever thought the dumb idea up.”

Stan: “We should have quit while we were ahead.”

Carl: “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

And right in the middle of all this, Doug quietly dropped a bomb.

“I think we need to do it again.”

We all stopped talking and stared at him with our mouths open so wide our tonsils started to dry out. After a long pause, I finally managed to ask a question, practically in a whisper.

“Uh . . . we should do what again?”

“Be the Bowmen,” said Doug. He was dead serious. We were stunned. That left him wide open to keep on doing all the talking. “I’ve given this a lot of thought, and I’m pretty sure that if we’re careful, we can avoid another situation like last weekend.”

I somehow resisted the urge to pat him gently and sympathetically on the shoulder, but I just said, “You don’t have to prove anything to us, Doug.”

“I’m not trying to prove anything!” Doug said forcefully. Then he made an effort to stay calm as he said, “Well, maybe I am. Let me explain — ”

“We know what you went through. Any one of us would have been — ”

Doug’s voice was like the crack of a whip. “Dammit, Jones, just once you should let somebody else finish before you butt in!”

I closed my mouth so hard my teeth made a clicking sound. I tried to look very humble. Doug nodded and continued. “Okay. I’ll admit that what happened Saturday night really shook me up. But I do not intend to let it beat me. It was just so . . . unexpected. I’ve never been up against someone who could just laugh in my face and stick a knife in my stomach.” Doug swallowed hard as he pushed the ugly memory away from his mind’s eye and focused on looking at each of us, one by one.

“We know,” I said quietly.

Doug straightened his shoulders and continued. “So, how ‘bout giving me a chance to win back my own self-respect. All I’m asking for is one chance do it right. Something nice and simple. And safe.”

I looked over at Stan. “What do you think?”

“Well . . . at the risk of giving everybody heart attacks, I actually agree with Doug this time. I don’t think any of us wants to remember the Bowmen as that bunch of pansies who got the crap beat out of ‘em.” He turned to Doug and said quickly. “No offense.”

Doug wore a lazy smile and delivered a quiet reply. “None taken. After all, I took on two guys — one of whom had a knife.”

Stan looked annoyed at the insinuation, but he didn’t rise to the bait. Instead, he said, “Well, I’d kinda like our last appearance to be something that leaves a better taste the in public mouth than you feeding a dirty broom to that kid."

Doug winched at the reference, then he said, "That's not something I'm very proud of, Jenner, so why would you bring it up when – "

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” I said quickly. “Gentlemen, please. Superheroes do not engage in personal rancor.”

Stan turned quickly and looked at me like I had just announced that I was his brother and our whole family thought he was a moron. “What the hell is rancor?”

Doug pounced, verbally speaking. “Rancor means resentment or bitterness.”

“Shut up, Doug! I wasn’t talkin’ to you,” Stan said quickly, still looking at me. “Jones, when you use words like that, you sound like him.” He pointed at you-know-who.

Carl had started laughing as he listened to three lunatics make no sense whatsoever. Into the brief-but-blessed silence that ensued, he provided something constructive to the discussion.

“Isn’t anybody going to ask me what I think about the idea of saving the Bowmen’s reputation? Bear in mind that if I vote no, you’ll all have to run around town fighting crime on foot.”

There was a long moment of silence while we mulled over that sobering thought, then I said, “Well . . . what about it?”

Carl kept his eyes on his French fries and as he delivered his reply with a look of faint amusement. “Hey, don’t ask me, man. I just drive the car and save your miserable lives. Whatever you guys decide is fine with me.”

And so it went. I was just a tad bit dumbfounded by the whole thing. After a whole week of feeling guilty about coming up with the crazy scheme, I suddenly found myself sitting there with a trio of maniacs who actually yearned to be superheroes one more time.

Just like I did.

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Is there no man on Earth who has the wisdom and innocence of a child?
~ The Space Children (1958)
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