This piece originated from an untitled short story I wrote in State College, circa 1985. I had been playing with a couple of vigilante story lines and the beginnings of a comic-book style novella. I finally realized that while some of the writing was pretty good and the story arc worked, the overall plot premise was too unrealistic to work. But this was a segment that broke out from the rest of the work and stood on its own.
I hope you enjoy it.
Joey was my kid brother after all. When he came to me for help, I didn’t even think of saying no, but I hadn’t imagined that he was in such deep trouble. The Devil Ratts were not a big league gang. They controlled an area of a few square blocks, and either did not usually cause enough problems to involve the police, or the cops had too much on their hands already. The gang consisted of the usual ragged group of adolescents who had more free time than they knew what to do with, and much less money than what would keep them alive. They harassed the local kids, extorted a few of the shopkeepers, and made the lives of the drunks and whores more miserable than they already were.
I remember an accusation of armed robbery, and of more than one rape, but nothing was proven, no charges were filed, and life settled back into the same vicious routine. The Ratts had been around for about three years, and it had been time enough for their younger members to become as hardened as necessary for the life they led. Recently, they’d been trying to recruit new members, though slaves might be a better description. I guess that the lives of the kids who had not been cooperating had become impossible. Joey told me that he’d had to sneak to school and back to avoid the beatings a couple of his friends had taken.
Apparently, these kids were the first ones to get fed up with the situation. Joey and five of his friends nailed one of the Ratts behind D’Angelo’s. It must have been the most action that the alley behind the bakery had seen in years. The Ratt was alone and did not have a chance to run. I hear that he is still in the hospital, but at least he is not dead.
The next day, the Ratts let Joey know that they knew who he was and of what he had been a part. One of them had recognized the pocket knife protruding from their friend’s gut. Joey came to my apartment, upset and scared, but he didn’t cry. I guess he felt that he could not do that in front of me. He explained what had happened – how he found his bicycle, bent and battered, and sprayed black, red, and florescent green. The Ratt’s favorite hate mail. It is hard to believe I gave my brother that knife three years ago; it was his tenth birthday. It seems like a long time now.
I agreed to help him, not thinking that the leaders of the Ratts might be my age. There were three of them, and they had been street fighting since they were Joey’s age, and although I had been in a few scraps, it wasn’t second nature to me. It was for these; it was how they survived.
I must have gotten lucky the night I took them on, although my brains had helped, too. The fight was prearranged to be on my home ground, but where I had only wished to frighten the Ratts enough to break them up, I ultimately did much more.
I expected the laughter as I told the Ratts how much trouble they had bought themselves, threatening my brother. But I was very conscious of it when it started. To say that it was unpleasant to stand under that streetlight in the Heights Elementary playground while fifteen kids half my age laughed at me does not do it justice. I felt the perspiration sliding down my back, a thickness in my throat, and an acute fear.
I stood my ground, and then the laughter stopped abruptly. Someone had stepped through the lineup in front of me. He was slightly taller than me, bigger, muscled from days spent in a gym that I never found time for. Two others appeared at his sides. These were the ringleaders, and I knew then that if I could break them, the rest of the Ratts would follow.
The first one had a scar that ran from the base of his left ear to his lips. When he opened his mouth to speak, I thought he was going to split wide the whole side of his face. He said one word; I remember it distinctly.
It was what I had wanted him to say, but keeping myself in the presence of that group until he said it was a chore I will never forget. I turned and ran, and as I ran I half hoped that my scheme would fail and they wouldn’t follow me. But as my adrenalin started to put an end to my fears, I allowed myself a brief smile, for I heard the slap of a leather boot on the pavement behind me.
The alley where I wanted to go was not far from the schoolyard. It’s dead end would signal a victory to both them and me. For different reasons, of course. The aluminum baseball bat had been put into place an hour before, and I had been practicing wall running for the past week. Wall running is the name I gave the little stunt I had taught myself. They call it parkour now.
It started with a fast run toward the interior corner of a wall, and then a leap into it to try to get as many steps up its face as I could. It came slowly, but soon I had been able to plant two steps, then three, and at my peak four steps up the wall. However, this led to a long drop, and I didn’t feel like continuing to abuse my knees. As I entered the alleyway, I couldn’t help thinking that it would not have hurt being at my peak again.
Pebbles flew from my sneakers as I spun around the corner, and headed toward the back wall. I swore I felt their anticipation when they realized that I had no escape. I charged the left corner, leapt into the night air, and in three steps was close to fifteen feet from the ground. The Ratts had come near face-to-brick with the brick, and were watching as I stopped my ascent. I grabbed the bat as gravity began to pull me back to the earth, and then tucked to pick up as much velocity as possible.
Like a released spring, I snapped open just before my feet touched the macadam, and I swung the bat down from over my head. Between the bat’s own momentum, and my weight to back it up, the improvised club was not going to stop, not even for the thick skull the Ratt had. I heard the sound of breaking bone. It was so fast. I missed seeing the spurting blood with this first one, but I did not with the others.
I spun just in time to smash the bat against the scar-faced leader’s jaw. If he had lived, he would not have had to worry about his looks any longer. In symmetry, as if it had been jealous of the left side, the right side of the punk’s face tore, and his jaw sailed across the alley to crush itself against the stone building next to us. He collapsed.
The last of them then stood before me. Thinking back on it now, his expression of disbelief was rather comical, until my bat whirled again. He was either lucky or smart. His makeshift shield of a length of chain intercepted my swing and saved his eye by about five inches. His chain got tangled though, and I used the time it brought to drive the end of the bat into his groin. He dropped the chain; I dropped the bat.
I picked up the chain, and began to twirl it around my head, sling-fashion. I guess I was trying to show some touch of irony. I think I laughed when his cheek and nose disintegrated. As the blood erupted from his face, spattering my chest, the moment froze.
I felt my blood temperature grow cold, and I watched the scene like a snapshot in an old album. His blood glistened crimson in the air, backlighted by the city, its lights appearing as stars in a deep red sky. Yet, when it reached the ground, the liquid became a black stream, flowing on the alley’s pavement, and coating the tiny stones with its evil as it went. I shouldn’t have wrapped the chain around his neck and strangled him. That will be the one seen as murder.
That is why I came in. I did not give myself a choice, because I wanted to do the right thing.
“Thank you for your statement. Sign here and then go with Detective Brenshaw,” the officer said, pulling the sheet from the typewriter. “Do you have anything else to add?”
The young man shook his head no. Brenshaw helped him stand, holding his uninjured arm.
“You had better take this with you,” he said, motioning to the jacket hung over the chair. “We might be awhile.”
After they had left, the officer looked across to where the young man had been seated. He had not seen anything like it, and hoped he would not have to take a statement like that again. Then he cursed the kid for being such a fool, tearing his eyes away to return to paperwork that should have been written up as just another street fight.
Across the desk, from where he had withdrawn his gaze, the jacket was now gone. But some of the blood from it had gotten on the chair and was now drying there. It did not glisten crimson, nor was it evil’s black.