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The Hero Experience - Chapter 8

 
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Bud Brewster
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 19, 2015 7:31 pm    Post subject: The Hero Experience - Chapter 8 Reply with quote



____________________________________________


Chapter 8





“Hot dang! We’re famous!” Stan shrieked gleefully as he finished reading the page-six article about our exploits. He was leaning back against the headboard of Doug’s small single bed while the rest of us sat around the edges, oblivious to the fact that the bed was creaking from the weight.

“That article is exactly what we wanted,” I said with a huge self-satisfied grin. “It makes us sound like dashing characters who fight evil in the night.” My eyes went out of focus as I remembered the moment when I had shouted, “We’re the Bowmen!”

Carl's expression was a tad less exuberant. “We’re not gonna feel so dashing if that old geezer at the gas station gives an accurate description of me and the Jeep.”

“He probably won’t even read this article,” said Doug. “And even if he does, I doubt he’d remember much about you or the kind of car you were driving.”

I smiled and patted Carl on the shoulder. “Relax, Carl. It was dark. He was old. And we’ll all come visit you at the penitentiary every weekend. We promise.”

“I wonder if they’ll mention it on the noon news,” said Stan. We all looked over at Doug’s clock radio. 11:55. We almost killed each other in our stampede toward the living room.
___________________________________________

He was suave, he was handsome, and he was smiling as he looked straight at the camera while he delivered his perfectly worded report. His name was Wayne Beckman, the anchorman on Channel 2’s News at Noon, WSB-TV — and by God, he was talking about the Bowmen.

On the lighter side of the news, the police received a helping hand last night around eleven o’clock when four masked men armed with bows and arrows stopped two burglars from looting a mini-warehouse on Forsyth Street. The group, who called themselves the Bowmen, fled the scene when the police arrived. Officer Alex Ward couldn’t pursue the vigilante group of crime fighters because his patrol car collided with the pickup truck being driven by the would-be burglars.

So, sleep soundly tonight, Atlanta. We now have our very own version of Batman and Robin!

___________________________________________

“Batman,” said Doug, looking pleased with things in general. “He compared us to Batman. I’ve always admired Batman. No super powers — just brains, big muscles, a great costume, and a customized car. Very cool.”

Carl and Stan were smiling, too. We had succeeded in doing exactly what we had set out to do. We were legendary. Life was amazing.

The next few days were a strange mixture of exhilaration and dread. We read and re-read the newspaper article until we could quote it from memory. It was our claim to fame, and each of us had a copy of if clipped from the newspaper and hidden away. Actually, I had three copies, hidden in different places, just in case the house caught on fire and I had to grab the copy closest to the part of the house not already engulfed in flames.

By the end of the week, I actually did feel like a living legend. My only regret was that it was over. Weeks of preparation for one glorious night of adventure. We’d done what we set out to do. We’d be stupid to press our luck. It was finished. Past history.

And there was still the very real possibility that the police would discover who the Bowmen were. The more we worried about it, the more we realized how clumsy we’d been during our preparations. Mr. Moscowitz would realize that the masks he'd made had actually been for the Bowmen. Carl’s father would realize what his son had done with his bow. The McCluskys would realize why we had borrowed their son’s police band radio.

As unlikely as it might seem, someone in lover’s lane might have written down the license plate of the Jeep Wagoneer with four suspicious men listening to a police band radio just a few miles from the Ace Mini-Warehouses.

Finally it dawned on me that none of us had really believed we would actually pull off our insane scheme.

But the days passed, and no police cars pulled up in front of our houses to arrest us. The papers and the television news didn’t mention us again after our spectacular debut.

We were old news. It was over. Finished.

Naturally on Friday, six days later, I approached the other guys about doing it again.
____________________________________________

“Brad, you’re crazy,” said Doug, the voice of defeatism as we sat in a Dairy Queen, nursing Cokes and looking conspiratorial.

“It was our first time,” I said insistently. “We were nervous. We’ll be better this time.“ I looked over at Stan. “What do you think?”

He looked thoughtful for a moment. “Well . . . I must admit, we did do a lot of things wrong. “ His face slowly lit up with a toothy grin. “But it sure was fun.”

Ah-ha. One vote for my side.

“Carl? How ‘bout you?”

Carl wore a sleepy smile that made him look like a teenaged Buddha. He shrugged his shoulders. “Sure. Why not?”

Good old Carl. Faithful, fearless, a team player, ready to dive back into the battle — lock, stock, and Jeep.

“Have you still got the police band radio?” I asked him.

“By gum, I still do.”

“Great.” I looked back at Doug. I debated suggesting that he withdraw from the group, but I didn’t like the idea. I considered us a team of four, forever more, fighting off all crime. Besides, if he dropped out, the others might reconsider.

I gazed at Doug with doleful eyes, beseeching him to support the cause and stand shoulder to shoulder with his fellow crime fighters. “Come on, Doug. We need you, buddy.”

There was a long pause. Then, “Well . . . okay.”

Yes! Let’s hear it for peer pressure.
____________________________________________

The police band radio sat on the dash, speaking quietly about traffic accidents, drunk drivers, and domestic disturbances in its mathematical language.

“What time is it?” Stan asked from the front seat.

“Nine thirty,” said Carl.

I looked around the parking lot of the shopping center. Tonight we had picked a location that provided better scenery than our last spot. People came and went, heading for the stores, the restaurants, and the movie theaters, giving us something to look at besides paranoid lovers in parked cars. Some of the passerbys were young, female, and attractive. That, of course, was a large part of why we’d chosen this location. Unfortunately, the girls were usually accompanied by young men — which didn’t prevent us from looking, but it did lower our morale.

“Hold it,” Stan said, and he turned up the police band radio. We listened for several seconds to a situation occurring nearby, but the police were on it quickly, leaving no chance for us freelance types to do a little business.

We had been there for nearly two hours without hearing anything that was even close to what we needed. This was the third consecutive night we had spent in the mall parking lot. We knew it would take a while to find the right situation, just like the first time. But the waiting was driving us crazy.

Stan and I were wearing long-sleeved button-up shirts over our blue t-shirts in an effort to make the four of us look less conspicuously alike. The bows were covered with a blanket in the back of the Jeep. We were learning caution. We had agreed that if something did develop, it might be necessary for Carl to stay with the Jeep after dropping us off near the scene. He could then pick us up afterward, keeping the vehicle out of sight and out of harm. Even though Carl hated being left out of the action, he knew we couldn’t allow anyone to get the license number or a description of the Jeep.

Dispatch to Unit 24, what’s your 10-9?

Unit 24. I’m on Peachtree Street near Ponce de Leon.

10-4. Proceed to 811 Fairview. A reported 10-31. (A domestic disturbance.)

I stared at the radio for a moment, then I said, “I’m bored. Let’s go break up a family squabble.”

“I’m really bored,” said Stan. “Let’s go rob a liquor store. We’ve got masks and weapons and a great getaway driver. Anybody game?”

Doug and Carl raised their hands, but they never took their eyes off the teenaged girl they were staring at as she walked by. She was with a boy who could honestly claim to be the luckiest guy on the planet, because his date was so blindingly gorgeous. If she had smiled in our direction, the four of us would probably start fighting over her right there in the parking lot.

As I watched the happy couple stroll past, I pictured a mugger leaping out from between two parked cars and demanding the guy’s wallet. If that happened, Stan and I could hastily remove our camouflage shirts, and then the four of us could put on our masks, jump out of the Jeep, run around to the back, open up the tailgate, distribute our bows, yank the arrows from their clips, and then . . . arrive well after the mugging was over.

Hmmm. Maybe we should spend some time practicing our deployment. Something to think about.

In the front seat, Stan slid down, leaned his head back, and placed his trusty cowboy hat over his face. In the backseat next to me, Doug was gazing wistfully at the Baskin-Robbins ice cream shop on the far side of the shopping center. He turned to me and said, “Let’s get some ice cream. What do you think, guys?”

“Might as well,” said Carl. “Captain, why don’t you and Doug go get it? Me and the cowboy here will come get you if crime rears its ugly head.”

“Right. Let’s see some money.”

I took orders and collected money. Doug and I got out and headed across the parking lot. I knew that Doug was here tonight against his better judgment, so I tried to show my appreciation by saying, “It’s rough being one of the good guys.”

He wore a sour expression as he stared straight ahead. “No, what’s rough is having crazy friends like you guys.” Then he looked over at me with a twisted smile, shaking his head. “But, heck, I’m just as crazy.” His expression brightened. “By the way, I was thinking maybe we should come up with code names for each other — you know, so we don’t say our real names when we’ve got our masks on.”

It was a brand new idea, and I mulled it over. “Code names, huh?”

“Right. You called me and Stan by name at the mini-warehouses last week, and those two guys might have mentioned that to the police.”

“What? You’re kidding’!" Suddenly I felt like I'd shouted a dirty word in church.

“Yep, you did. If the next news story includes eyewitnesses who hear our names, somebody we know might call the police and tell them who the Bowmen are.”

The idea gave me a serious case of the jitters. I pictured my mother watching the evening news and hearing that two of the masked crime fighters being sought by the police were named Doug and Stan. She would remember that her wacky eight-year-old son had once tied his bed sheets together and lowered himself down from his second-story bedroom window, just because he’d seen it in a movie. She knew full well that my lunacy knew no bounds.

“Hmmm. Good idea. What should our code names be?”

“You’ve already got one. You’re Captain. Stan can be Cowboy — for obvious reasons.”

“What about you and Carl?”

“I’m working on that.”

“Good.” I left it at that, wondering if maybe the question was purely academic in view of the fact that tonight might be the last time we’d even try this scheme. More than likely, he and the other guys would want to give up any further crime fighting after tonight’s failed attempt. Still, the idea of code names was appealing. I wondered if Doug would pick something overly dramatic like Black Bow or Nighthawk. Doug was a true romantic, despite his pessimism, and he might choose something goofy from classic literature — like D’Artagnan.

It was a mild summer evening, and the door of the ice cream shop was propped open. Doug and I passed a dozen people seated at the tables in front of the shop, doing something that would have shocked our Puritan ancestors — licking ice cream shamelessly with members of the opposite sex, in full view of total strangers. My goodness, times have certainly changed.

We entered the ice cream shop and waited our turn to order. An attractive girl in front of me turned around with a large ice cream cone in each hand and almost plastered them to my chest. I smiled moronically as she eased past, and she smiled back. Then I remembered the trouble I’d gotten into for smiling at Godzilla’s girlfriend in the McDonald’s a few weeks ago. I wondered who might be standing behind me, waiting for one of those two ice cream cones. Like maybe her boyfriend, King Kong,

After placing my order, I turned around casually to look for the girl. She was sitting in a chair by the wall with another girl. Both girls were nice looking, and I wondered what luck I might have at striking up a conversation about the relative merits of fudge ripple versus chocolate chip. Probably no luck, as usual.

“That’ll be $2.26,” said a voice. I turned around and paid the clerk. Just as I was getting the change, a horn blared outside. Through the open door, both Doug and I saw the red Jeep squeal to a stop at the curb. Stan called to us in a lilting voice.

“Oh, boooys! It’s time for us to gooo!”

Jeez Marie and all her sisters! Apparently is was Showtime. I hurried out of the ice cream shop without a backward glance, yanked open the back door, and slid across the seat. I turned to see Doug easing his way into the car while he carefully balanced four huge ice cream cones. My eyes and mouth competed to see which could open the widest in amazement.

“Why did you bring those?” I wailed.

“You already paid for them!” he shouted at me in a squeaky, defensive tone.

Carl stomped the gas and sent the Jeep surging forward. The rear door slammed shut without a bit of help from Doug, which was lucky since his hands were full of frozen dairy delights. Carl took us out of the parking lot at a good clip. Stan turned to give Doug a stern Father Socrates look as he stated the blatantly obvious.

“You can’t fight crime while you’re eating ice cream, Doug.”

Doug looked highly annoyed by the indignity of the situation, but he was caught firmly on the horns of a chocolate-covered dilemma. He looked back and forth between us and the ice cream cones a few times — and then heaved all four right out the open car window.

I spoke to Carl. “What have we got?”

“The dispatcher said that somebody was prowling around the back of a record store. Unit 32 said he would check it out as soon as he finished his security check of some big warehouse. We’ve got about ten minutes.”

The Jeep was headed down Peachtree Street, winding through moderate traffic. Carl was doing a masterful job of snaking around the slower cars and avoiding bottlenecks. His driving was calm and competent, not like our suicide ride last week. I felt my heart pounding as I realized we were about to do it again. We were going into action — as the Bowmen.

Stan wrapped the mask around his head and fastened the Velcro. Doug already had his mask on and he was pushing his fingers into the archery glove. Carl put the jeep through a yellow light and then picked up speed as the road cleared ahead.

“What’s the name of the record store?” I asked as I donned my mask and made sure the eyeholes lined up with my eyes. I stuck my right-hand fingers into the archery glove and fastened the strap around my skinny wrist.

“Dailey’s Music,” said Stan. Carl was exceeding the speed limit, and we barely made the next light. “There it is!” Stan was pointing at a sign on the right, not far ahead.

Carl pulled into the parking lot of a small strip mall that paralleled the street. There was only one row of parking spaces along the front of the stores, all of which looked rather humble and run-down. Dailey’s Music was located several stores down from where Carl had stopped. The three of us leaped out and moved quickly to the rear of the Jeep. Stan opened the tailgate and passed out the bows, then he eased the tailgate back up as quietly as possible.

All the stores in the strip mall were closed, and no one was in sight. We moved quickly over to the sidewalk along the front of the stores. Carl cut the headlights and rolled along next to us, keeping our getaway vehicle as close as possible and providing us with cover from the drivers of the passing cars who might glance over and see the masks and bows. We came to a wide alley between Dailey’s Music and the store next to it. The alley was grimy and littered with trash, obviously intended for garbage trucks to back into so they could collect the trashcans from the area behind the stores.

Carl stopped at the mouth of the alley while we started making our way down it toward the rear of the strip mall. I pulled a slugger from my clip and got it ready to fire. I glanced back and saw Stan and Doug do likewise.

We made our way cautiously down the dark alley. I could see a high wooden fence behind the row of buildings, leaving a space about as wide as the alley we were in. A dim light, burning somewhere around the corner to the left, illuminated the fence and the area behind the buildings.

As we neared the end of the alley, three figures walked across the visible area, moving from left to right. They each held heavy boxes as they shuffled along, struggling with the weight of their loads. They didn’t see us in the dimly-lit alley, just a few feet away.

When all three passed the alley I leaped out behind them and shouted, “Hold it right there! Don't move!”

And that’s exactly what they did not do. They all turned quickly, and the one closest to me flung the box he held straight at my knees. I had just enough time to stumble back, but I stepped on a rusty tin can and it rolled forward while my feet went up in the air. The bow flew from my hand, and I landed flat on my back, knocking all the air out my lungs.

One of the three men shouted, “Get ‘em!” The other two men dropped their boxes, one of which broke open. Record albums spilled across the ground.

Stan hauled back on his bow and fired a slugger three feet from the man who rushed toward him. The slugger caught his attacker on the right side of his forehead and glanced off. The man stumbled into Stan and they both fell to the ground. Stan’s bow clattered onto the asphalt near him.

The second man reached me before I could rise from the ground, and he kicked me savagely in the side of the head. The world lost all its focus and all it's meaning. Time went completely cock-eyed.

Doug fired his slugger neatly over the left shoulder of the man who rushed at him, then his bow was torn from his grasp and tossed aside. He caught a fist squarely on the end of his nose and it sent him stumbling backward as the two men who were still standing advanced on him, forcing him further back along the narrow area between the back of the stores and the fence behind them. Blood flowed down from his nose as he scuttled backward away from the two attackers.

Stan was rolling back and forth on the ground with his adversary, both grunting and gasping in their earnest efforts to kill each other.

Watching from ground level, my brain still scrambled and foggy, I heard myself whisper, “No . . . wait. Stop.”

Doug was stumbling along as his tormentors forced him backward along the enclosed area between the fence and the back of the stores. Through an aching mental fog I realized that we were battling teenagers no older than ourselves.

“Come here, pal,” rasped one of Doug’s attackers as Doug retreated ahead of them. When they came closer to the light bulb which burned above the backdoor of Dailey's music I saw that the boy had a narrow face which was ravaged by acne. He wore a toothy grin that clearly terrified Doug.

“What’s with the mask, boy?" The teen next to him made giggling sounds as he stayed close to his cohort's side.

The boy with acne pulled something from his pocket. The dim light glinted off the shiny blade of the knife as the boy unfolded it and waved it in front of Doug. Blood streamed from Doug’s nose and dripped from his chin as he was forced further down the alley.

I sat up with groggy slowness as I watched Doug being backed into a group of battered trashcans just beyond the light at the back of the store. As the two boys moved to close in on him, Doug was forced to scramble up onto the tops of the cans and crawl frantically across their dirty and dented lids.

“Come here, you gutless little freak!” the acne-faced boy chanted, waving his blade at Doug, eager to open ugly holes in his intended victim. As Doug climbed down from the last of the trashcans, he blundered into a group of mops, buckets, and brooms that were stacked against the fence. The two boys moved quickly around the trashcans and surrounded Doug.

He was trapped.

I heard one of the boys chuckle softly as they closed in on Doug. My head ached ferociously as I pulled myself to my feet.

Six feet away, Stan’s opponent was on top of him with his hands wrapped around Stan’s throat. I stumbled toward them and swung my foot hard at the boy on top of Stan. I caught the boy along his bottom rib, and he lurched with the impact. Stan’s hand swung up with a Coke bottle he had grabbed from the litter around him. It rang off the boy’s skull like a broken bell, and he sagged to the ground next to Stan.

Still frustratingly groggy, I helped Stan to his feet. He was gasping for breath and rubbing his bruised throat. I turned toward Doug, expecting the worst.

Cornered and desperate and staring wide-eyed at the gleaming blade about to slice into him, Doug grabbed a broom and brought the ragged straw up to hold off the two boys. He poked the dirty straw into one boy’s chest, and they both scrambled back.

Stan and I desperately searched the ground for our fallen bows. We found them and started moving toward the end of the alley where Doug was battling for his life. We saw the teenager with the knife hack at the broom, sending bits of straw flying.

A wave of dizziness caused me to stumble and fall to my knees. Stan yanked a slugger from his clip and placed it on his bow. Just as he pulled the arrow back and sighted it on the boy with the knife, Doug lunged forward and poked the broom forcefully into the boy’s face. The filthy ends of the straw gouged into the boy’s eyes. He dropped the knife and bellowed with pain as he slapped his hands over his face.

The second boy rushed forward, but Doug lunged with the broom and caught him squarely on the throat, forcing him backward. The boy stumbled into the side of the building and he was almost knocked unconscious by the impact to the back of his head.

With both his two attackers temporarily stunned, Doug raised the broom high and swung it in a whistling arc that ended on top of the head of the dazed boy leaning against the building. The savage blow dropped him instantly and snapping off the straw broom head with a loud crack.

The other boy was rubbing his eyes and stumbling around blindly. Doug showed no mercy as he held the broken broom handle like a fencing foil and jabbed hard at the boy’s forehead. The boy’s head snapped back, and he bellowed with pain as he turned and stumbled toward Stan and me, feeling his way along the wall, blood trickling down from a gash in his forehead.

Doug’s face was a mindless mask of rage as he leaped over the prone figure of the unconscious boy and went after the other fleeing teenager. Goaded beyond endurance by the threat of that slicing blade, Doug was clearly in a murderous rage.

Stan was helping me up off the ground as the blinded boy staggered past us, his brain woozy and his legs wobbly from the blow to his forehead. Stan and I leaned against the wooden fence and let him pass. Doug rushed by us and caught up with the injured boy. He made two more lightning-fast thrusts with the broom handle, catching the boy in the back of the head. It put the kid’s lights out, and he crashed face-first onto the littered asphalt. Doug stood over him for a moment, clutching the broom handle like a baseball bat, his chest heaving.

His face was a twisted mass and his eyes were abnormally wide as they glared down at the motionless body at his feet. His lower face was covered in blood, and his lips were drawn back, showing his front teeth pressed together, edge on. A strange, ugly noise came from deep in Doug’s throat, and he raised the broom handle high over his head.

“Doug, no!” shouted Stan. “Don’t do it!”

Doug froze for a long moment, still staring down at the teenager, then he lowered the broom handle and let it clatter to the ground. He turned his back to us, and I saw him put his hands over his face.

Stan and I heard a noise behind us and we turned to discover Stan’s former sparring partner slowly climbing to his feet. He looked around and saw his two unconscious friends. Stan took a few steps backward, raised his bow, and hauled back on the slugger, aiming it at the boy’s face. He said one word in his rasping, injured voice.

“Run.”

The teenager’s eyes grew big, and he stumbled toward the mouth of the back alley at the end of the wooden fence, where the alley joined the side street. He ran right past his fallen comrade without a backward glance and steered a wide path around Doug. He was gaining speed when he reached the end of alley.

Suddenly the pavement ahead of him was bathed in the headlights of a car approaching along the side street from the right. The Wagoneer screeched to a halt right in front of the boy. He slammed into the side of it with bone-jarring force, took two stiff-legged steps backward, and fell like a sawed-off tree.

Through the open window, we could see Carl’s startled face as he stared down at the teenager on the ground, then he looked up at us and shouted, “Police car, right up the street, comin’ fast!”

My head was killing me as I stumbled toward the Jeep. Doug seemed dazed and sluggish as he followed. Stan came running up behind us carrying his and Doug’s bows. We crawled in quickly, and Carl stomped the gas pedal as we closed the doors. The Jeep hurtled down the side street at a breakneck speed, headed away from Peachtree Street and the approaching police car. No one was talking, a fact that worried Carl.

“Hey . . . are you guys okay?”

Stan’s hoarse voice was the only one that answered. “No. We’re not okay. Just drive. Get us out of here.”

Sitting in the backseat with Doug, I leaned forward and wrapped my arms around my aching head, fighting a growing nausea. The lower half of Doug’s face was coated in blood, and his nose was starting to swell. He was shivering as if he was cold. I heard him stifle a sob, then he turned his face away from us in shame.

I looked out the car window and tried not to hear the sounds Doug was making. An odd and unwanted thought drifted into my throbbing head.

The comic books never showed this.


____________________________________________



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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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