Hmmmm . . . would she notice if I suddenly changed the subject?
“Well, I had taken to bringing a knife to school, not a switchblade or anything cool but a little two- inch blade on my key chain. It was all I had. And I get this blade free and I get behind Billy and I slice him, right up his back, a shallow little cut up his spine. It wasn’t deep but it got his attention and he fell over, thinking he was dead, blood all over the bench and the floor. And I got on him, sat on his chest and I started jabbing at his face, cutting, the blade bouncing off bone in his forehead and blood and . . .”
I thought long and hard about how to dress up this next part, but couldn’t think of a way. I wondered when the doughnut shop was scheduled to open.
Filling in the silence, Amy asked, “What did they do to you?”
“Let’s put it this way. I’ll never, ever tell you.”
She had no answer, which either meant she was totally unfamiliar with the concept or very well familiar. I pressed on.
“So, I wound up—”
—cutting out his eyes—
“—hurting him pretty bad, he lost his eyesight. I mean, like, legally blind. I wound up getting charged with aggravated assault and several other things that are all synonyms for aggravated assault. The school was talking a permanent expulsion. My dad—my adoptive dad—he’s a lawyer, you know, he had a series of meetings with the school and the prosecutor and it was a mess. They wound up testing me for mental illness, which I knew even at the time was a way to get me off because the case could be made that the school should have protected Billy from me, should have diagnosed me, whatever. I met with a counselor who had me talk about my mom and look at inkblots and role- play with puppets and draw a picture of how I viewed my place in the world. . . .
. . . and I knew it was a scam, a lawyer trick, but I kept picturing Coach Wilson turning his back, again and again and I figured, hey, screw them. The prosecutor, this bearded Jewish tough guy, didn’t want to push the charges. He said it was a five- on- one fight and shit happens, didn’t want to see me disappear into the jaws of the juvie justice system. The school backed off on the expulsion under threat of lawsuit and, bada- boom, I wind up spending my final year at Pine View.”
A speck of crystal landed on the windshield. A lone snowflake. Another landed a few inches away.
“So,” I said, “four months later Billy is adjusting to life without eyes, saying good-bye to sports and driving and independence and knowing what his food looks like before he eats it and never knowing if a fly has landed in his soup. He takes all of his pain pills at once. Demerol, I think. They find him dead the next day.”
Silence. Desperate to hear her say something, anything, I asked, “So how much of that story did you already know?”
“Most of it. There was a weird rumor that went around that you had snuck into his room and poisoned him or something stupid like that, with rat poison or something, which was stupid because the police would have noticed that.”
I started that rumor, by the way.
“You must have felt horrible when you found out. About Billy, I mean. That’d be awful.”
What followed was the longest and most tense conversation pause of my life, like being stuck on a Ferris wheel with somebody you just puked on. Exactly like that, by the way. The truth was, I didn’t feel sorry for Billy. He teased a dog and got his fingers bitten off. Fuck him. Fuck everybody. And fuck you, Amy, for somehow getting me to tell you this. Sure, yeah, I felt bad about it, Your Honor. And that day years ago when I heard about the kids shooting up the school in Colorado I shook my head and said it was a tragedy, an awful tragedy, but inside I was thinking the look on the jocks’ faces when they saw the guns must have been fucking priceless. So, yeah, as far as you know, I felt just as bad about Billy as a good person would. And I’ll never, ever tell you otherwise. Never.
She said, “Still, who knows what he would have done to somebody else if you hadn’t—”
“I don’t feel bad about it, Amy. I lied about that part. When I heard, I felt nothing at all. I thought I would, I didn’t. The guilt just wasn’t there because I’m not that type of person. And that’s what I’ve been saying, that’s why you’re in danger here. I don’t think those things, those bits of walking nothing can use you, but I think they’d know me as one of their own. So keep the gun on me. And keep your finger along the side of the trigger and be ready to squeeze it as hard and as fast as you can.”
Silence again. Did I say that last silence was the longest and most awkward of my life? The record didn’t stand for long.
I would give everything I own to somehow take this conversation back.
I said, “We have no idea what they were doing to you, Amy, when those things took you all of those times. But they’re not going to do it again. This being scared bullshit, it’s exhausting for me. And you know, I reach a point where I say, you can kill me or tear off my arms or soak me in gasoline and set me on fire, but you won’t keep me like this, imprisoned by fear. Now, after everything I’ve seen, I’m not really scared of monsters and demons and whatever they are. I’m only scared of one thing and that’s the fear. Living with that fear, with intimidation. A boot on my neck. I won’t live like that. I won’t. I wouldn’t then and I won’t now.”
After a long time she said, “What do we do?”
“We sit here. Just keep the gun on me, okay? We’ll sit here and wait for the sun. Then I’ll talk to John. John will know what to do.”
I can’t believe you just said that.
John had decided to go to the Drain Rooter job site early to get a look around on his own. So while Amy and I sat camped out in my Bronco at the unborn doughnut shop, John was rolling his Caddie up the snowy road past Amy’s house. He didn’t get far, of course, arriving at a bundle of vehicles trying to unstick a jackknifed Drain Rooter semi tractor trailer.
Now, I wasn’t there, so this story is hearsay. If you know John, you’ll take the details for what they’re worth. Please also remember that, where John claims to have “gotten up at three thirty” to perform this investigation, it was far more likely he was still up and somewhat drunk from the night before.
John says he pulled up to the scene, which was roped off with yellow- and-black tape that announced it as a Hazardous Material Area. Several guys in yellow jumpsuits were milling around and cleaning the scene with some urgency, so of course he immediately decided to cross the DO NOT CROSS tape. Two steps in, John found himself standing on a faded pink stain on the snow, as wide as a car. He deduced that this was blood, though the truck driver’s body was gone. He stood over this large bloodstain and said, out loud and in the presence of several bystanders, “This is blood! David must have been here.”
At this point two elderly security guards in parkas, the guys who normally work the front desk at the plant, asked John to step behind the tape. John claims that here he told the guards that he could not speak English and when this failed to persuade them, he faked a violent seizure. I am unclear as to the purpose of this part of his plan. John flung himself down and began rolling around in the snow, thrashing his limbs about and screaming, “EL SEIZURE!!! NO ES BUENO!!!” in a Mexican accent. Half a dozen pairs of boots came mushing through the snow toward him.
From the ground, John saw something that stopped him cold. The semi trailer was, according to him, “bleeding from the ass.” John saw gallons of a red liquid running freely from the rear cargo doors of the truck, pooling on the road below, the stuff almost black in the moonlight. Several gloved hands seized him and dragged him through the snow, men in jumpsuits and protective masks. John squinted through the bustling team of men around the truck and saw several guys haul out a couple of blue plastic barrels, stained on the sides with the red substance that now seemed a little more like transmission fluid than blood. Dark and thick and oily.
Right behind them, several casket- shaped boxes were hauled out, the men carrying them like pallbearers. John stressed that these containers were not caskets but were merely casket- shaped, coated with several stickers that seemed to indicate some kind of biohazard. Not the sort of thing you would use to ship bottles of a household chemical to the local True Value.
Here’s where things get hazy. John claims that the men hauling him away from the scene were escorted by other men carrying submachine guns, though when pressed, he admitted that they may have been flashlights. Either way, John says the men threw him down and intended to execute him, at which point he kicked one of the men in the face and backflipped to his feet. He then wrestled away the man’s gun and “dick- whipped” him with it. I am unclear as to whether or not this means he struck the man in the groin or merely slapped him in the same manner in which he would slap a person with his dick. I never ask John to clarify such things. Anyway, he said he swung again and slammed another man’s skull with the gun, so hard it “made the batteries fly out.”
Next—according to John, of course—in one continuous motion, he “triple-kicked” a third man in the face, while shooting a fourth “right in his damned cock.” John, of course, knew that he couldn’t leave that man just lying there, screaming in pain. So he grasped him by the sides of his face and mercifully snapped his neck with a sharp twisting motion of his bare hands. At this point John says the rest of the hazard workers noticed what was going on and a chase ensued; he escaped by stealing a nearby horse. This is the first inconsistency in John’s account, because when the story picks up he is calmly driving his Caddie back down the road, past Amy’s house and away from the Rooter plant. I suspect that, in reality, either the men at the cleanup site didn’t see John at all or they merely gave him a dirty look until he turned around and drove away. Again, I wasn’t there and I do not wish to cast an unfavorable light on John’s personal credibility.