|Author: Cornish, Rick
Good morning from Whiskey Creek, where in an hour or so I’m begin day three of work on repairing the main water line from our pump to our house. My gosh, time flies.
Old timers to cbaontheweb.org will remember that back in ancient times there was only one writer of the Welcome column, and that was me. For two years or so I managed to get something written about bluegrass every single solitary day. Then, gradually over time, I began drifting to unrelated topics, at first coming up with stupid, even absurd, tie ins to music and the story I wanted to tell, but eventually even giving that up. Well, before we got the idea of amassing a team of Welcomers, which turned out to be a very, very good idea, I’d penned close to five years of columns, with a fair amount of them long enough and complete enough to be called, dare I say, short fiction. Which is what led me last fall to compile and publish a collection of short stories called Why I Never Lie and 19 Other Mostly True Stories. So I’ve started the whole process over again, have got two stories written and most of a third. I’d like to share one with my bluegrass friends…sort of preview it. If you’ve got the time and inclination jump in. Otherwise, have a terrific week.
I’m cold but there’s nobody to tell. Of course I can’t get up to find a blanket; my body melted into the gurney hours ago. And besides, I’m tethered down by a mish-mash of tubes and wires. No, there’s no moving. I’ll have to wait. Funny, I think, feeling cold is helping some with feeling scared. The room I’m in is pitch dark except for the orange LED of the monitor. Absently I glance at the read out: 140…..140…..140…..144…..145. Opps, shouldn’t have done that; now I’m feeling more scared than cold again. I wish somebody would come……
Bright lights now. I’m back in the ER waiting room and everything is florescent lit. It’s a little before midnight. Eight hours since I arrived in the ambulance.
“Honey we gonna git you a room real soon. We just so busy tonight. Ain’t never seen it like this. You need anything?”
“A blanket please.”
“A blanket? You want a blanket? Of course I can get you a blanket. You wait right here.” She says this as she’s walking away so I can’t tell if she meant it as a joke? Where would I be going? I look at the monitor. 160….163….164….165 and look away before it goes any higher.
“Here you are, sweetie.” She spreads the blanket over me, tucks it around my feet and then pulls it up around my neck. She smiles lovingly, like a mother would, and for a second I think she’s going to kiss me on the forehead.
“How am I doing?” I ask in a tiny voice. A first for me.
“You doin’ jus fine, jus fine. We gonna git you a room all your own real soon.”
“No, I mean really, how am I doing?”
She straightens up and her smile disappears. For the first time I can see her full on, in good light. She’s a big woman with a pretty face. She’s wearing a matching green smock and pants outfit with Winnie the Pooh scenes stenciled on. Oddly, she’s wearing glasses with one lens that’s been blacked out with dark paint. Her eye, the one I can see, is awash with sympathy. Sympathy for me. This is another first. I can’t recall it ever happening. Her nurse’s badge says ‘Melody’.
“Melody, how am I doing? I’m scared. I heard them say I have congestive heart failure. What does that mean?”
Melody steals a glance at the vitals monitor.
“Well, Honey, you got to relax. You know, we got to get that heart of yours slowin’ down. Let’s see, what are we givin’ you?” Melody picks up the chart hanging from the gurney and studies it. She looks back at the monitor.
“Okay, now, I think maybe we can get you something a little more to calm you down. Let me go talk to Dr. Sangee,” and Melody is gone…….
I’m awake again and back out in the hallway. It’s not as crowded now, not as noisy.
“Well, that knocked you out. You been in sleepyland for ‘bout three hours.” Melody is holding my right hand in her left, and with her right index finger she’s tracing a scar that runs from my wrist all the way to the tip of my index finger.
“My, my, my, child, whatever did happen to this hand of yours. How’d you git that nasty scar.”
My eyes dart to the vital’s monitor, but the LED has been turned away, out of my view.
“Oh, that old heart of yours is just fine. Doctor says you don’t need to be stressin’ out over that monitor. You just relax now, you hear?” Melody continues to gently trace the length of my scar.
“Now, how’d you git this bad boy, honey?”
I try to clear my head. Things are cloudy. What is she asking? Something about my hand.
“What,” I whisper.
“This scar, how did you get this scar? This had to be one mean cut. Gotta be a story behind it.”
It’s so strange….even though I feel barely conscious, my heart is pounding inside my chest like it’s about to explode.
“How’s my heart?”
“NOW YOU LISTEN HERE. You just quit your fretting right now. I can guarantee you one thing—if you keep your eyes glued to that monitor and worryin’ and stressin’, your heart rate, it ain’t never gonna slow down. You understand what I’m sayin’?”
There’s worry in Melody’s face. Not the regular nurse and doctor concern you expect at a hospital. This is different. I take a long, deep breath.
“The Cove,” I say, “I got it at the Cove. I was fourteen. I was being chased. By the police. In the woods.”
“I knew it,” Melody laughed, “I just knew there got to be a good story behind this thing.” She’s rubbing the palm of my hand softly, the way a mother would comfort her child. “Now what’s a good white boy like you runnin’ from the police. And only fourteen. I gotta hear this.”
“Well, it was the end of summer, the summer between eighth grade and ninth grade, and we decided to celebrate. You know, celebrate going off to high school. All of us, I guess maybe eight or ten guys, had spent the summer vacation mostly just hanging out waiting for high school to start. At least a couple times a week all summer we would do ‘sleep outs’. We’d just grab our sleeping bags and head into the woods--our neighborhood was bounded on one side by a deep, forested canyon and beyond it, rolling grassy hills. Once you went down one side of the canyon and up the other, you were in the wilderness. Or at least that’s what it felt like for us kids. We’d been roaming those hills all our lives, sleeping out in summer time since we were in the third grade.”
I look at Melody to see if I should go on. She smiles and nods.
“Um, little third grade youngin’s sleeping out and about on their own. Little Davey Crockett’s, I’d say.”
“Yeah, that’s what we were, little Davey Crockett’s. But by the time we were ready to go to high school we were something else altogether.” I licked my lips and for the first time in several hours tried to sit up a little. Melody helped me by adjusting the pillows.
“So what was you then?”
“We were dudes…..teenagers…..about to start high school and that, at least in my opinion, was grounds for a celebration. That summer we’d managed to grab a six pack of beer here, a pint of whatever there, a pack of cigarettes, for our sleep outs, but this last one, the last sleep out before high school and a brand new life, this had to be special.”
“Your opinion? So the ‘celebration’ was your idea? You were the ‘ring leader’? Why ain’t I surprised?”
“Yeah, well, I suppose I was. So anyway, we…er…I…came up with this idea for scoring some beer. We lived in a neighborhood, a community, called the Highlands. The town of Hayward was below. We were the ‘hill people’. Anyway, at the bottom of the hill, at the end of Highland Blvd., was the Sycamore Grocery Store. Most of us had lived in the Highlands all our lives, which meant that most of us had been going to the Sycamore for a long, long time. We knew the owner and all the workers there. Some of us had done bagging at the Sycamore. So here was my idea. One of us kids goes down to the Sycamore in the early afternoon, tells the manager on duty that his family’s moving out of town and asks if he can have a big bunch of card board boxes…you know, for packing. The manager says, sure, but the kid asks if he can come back later to pick up the boxes. Sure thing, says the manager. So, asks the kid, you’ll tell Archie in case you’re not here? Sure, says the manager.
The shift change was the key to the whole plan. The day manager, Butch, got off at five. By showing up at the Sycamore after five and confirming with the night shift guy with a mere nod that we’d been cleared by Butch, we were free to go in the back, grab as many boxes as we could carry, and walk out. And that’s just what we did. We walked into the Sycamore single file—me, my best friend Brooks, Bob Bajuk, Greg McLaughlin and Ralph Smith. As I walked past Archie the night manager I nodded and pointed to the back room. ‘Help yourself’, he said with a broad, friendly smile, “take what you need.” Brooks let go a half a laugh but I turned on my heels and shot him a withering look. Once in the back room each of us grabbed an empty box, placed two or three six packs of beer inside, put a smaller box over the haul and then, single file, marched right back out of the Sycamore. As we walked out, Archie, the night manager, yelled after me, “Ricky, say hey to yer mom and dad. Tell ‘em we’ll miss you all. You hear?” “Sure, Archie, I hear.”
Every successful heist needs a get-away car and driver, and we had the best. Steve Tingley had always been part of the Highland crew but never really part of it. For one thing, he was two years older than the rest of us…hence the driver’s license and the red convertible Corvair with white naugahyde upholstery. And he’d never gone to school with us. He and his two brothers had always attended parochial school. Steve was, in a word, extreme. Up for anything, willing to take any risk, the quickest to shrug his shoulders and keep right on going if anything ever went wrong. So there was Steve, right there on a red light at the corner of Mission and Highland, and by the time all five of us piled into the convertible, each clutching his take, the light turned green and we were on our way. To the Cove.
I said beer, but actually it was Country Club malt liquor that we grabbed at the Sycamore. Higher alcohol content.” Anyway, we went straight back up the Hill and dropped off our haul at the Cove. The Cove wasn’t really a cove at all. It was just a forty or so yard wide crater cut out into the side of the hill overlooking the canyon. On the other side of the canyon, opposite the Cove, was Highland Boulevard, which was lined with tract style, close-in houses on both sides of the street. Civilization. We stashed the stuff behind some madrone bushes and each of us headed home.
It’s funny, I can tell you exactly what I had for dinner that night—a lingucia sandwich on a French roll, a bowl of green olives stuffed with pimentos and a can of root beer. It was Thursday night, payday night when my mom did grocery shopping for the week, and that’s what I always got. My favorite. She would serve me my sandwich and olives and root beer and sit down across from me and we’d talk; actually, it was the one time each week that we’d talk. (No that I think of it, years later, after I was grown, moved away from Hayward, and had started a family of my own, it was a Thursday each week that we’d talk on the phone.)
“Sleep out tonight”, I said, munching an olive.
“I thought you boys were finished with that for the summer.”
“Nope, one last time before school starts. Kind of a celebration.” Whoops.
“What? What kind of a celebration? You mean a party? What are you celebrating? Who’s going to be at this party?” I could see she was getting wound up very, very quickly.
“No, no, no, not a party,” I protested. “What I meant was that this will be our last sleep out of the summer. Who knows, maybe the last one ever. You know, next Monday is school. High school. Things will change. Next summer I’ll have my driver’s permit. I’ll have a summer job.”
My mother looked at me warily. “Hmm,” she said.
Brooksie and I made our way down the steep trail single file. We each carried our sleeping bag under one arm and rolled up jacket under the other. In the last fourteen years we’d walked the narrow trail hundreds of times; it switched back and forth as it led down the steep edge of the canyon. Once under the cover of the oak and sycamore and bay trees the setting sun was almost completely blocked out. It was dark and cool and very quiet.
“I almost blew it with my mom,’ I said over my shoulder, “I told her the sleep out was a celebration of starting high school next week.’
“What? You’re joking. Tell me you’re joking. Why would you tell your mother that? Why the FUCK would you say that?” Brooks sounded genuinely concerned.
“I don’t know why,” I admitted, “stupid I guess. But it’s okay, she doesn’t suspect anything. I just told her we were doing a sleep out ‘cause it might be the last one…you know, the last one we ever have.”
We were at the bottom now, at the edge of the creek. Brooks began making his way across, carefully selecting stepping-stones we’d used to cross on so many expeditions before. We knew the canyon as well as we knew the layouts of our respective homes. We owned the canyon, had for years and years. Others used it, but we owned it.
Half way up the switchbacks climbing up the other side, Brooks asked over his shoulder, “And what did you mean about the other thing?”
“Other thing?” I asked.
“Yeah, what’d you mean about the last sleep out ever?”
“I told you, I said we were celebrating the last sleep out before school starts.”
“Yeah, but then you said ‘last sleep out ever’,” Brooks said, still climbing up the narrow, steep path. “Why would that be?”
“I don’t know. It’s just something I said, I guess. I don’t know. In a week we’ll be in high school. Who the hell knows what that’s going to be like?”
Brooksie stopped, turned and stood silently for a long moment. He was a good twenty feet up the canyon wall from me.
“Ah, yeah, I’m pretty much aware of the fact that school starts next week. And, yes, it’s a sure bet that it won’t be like junior high…let’s hope it won’t…but what does THAT have to do with doing sleep outs? Why would being in high school stop us from doing sleep outs?”
My gaze met Brook’s. The smell of bay trees was thick in the air; it was the perfect canyon smell, and the quiet gurgling of the creek down below and the far off squawk of an angry jay blended into the perfect canyon sound.
I started to tell Brooks that it was a throw away comment designed to get my mother off the scent, because that was the truth. But I stopped short of saying it to my best friend. I didn’t say it because now, in absolute stillness of the place we both loved so much, I’d begun to suspect it was the truth. Maybe not the last sleep out, I thought with a shiver, but maybe one of the last.
“Look in less than a year I’ll have my drivers permit, which means I can drive a motorcycle, which means you and I can go anywhere. ANYWHERE WE WANT, MAN! I’m not saying that means we’ll stop doing the things we’ve always done, I’m just saying that, well, I’m saying that I don’t know what it will mean.” Brooks started to reply, stopped, opened his mouth to speak but then turned and silently continued his way up the zigzagging trail. We’d been communicating back and forth since well before either of us had learned to talk, or even walk…literally. Even silence was ladened with meaning between Brooksie and me.
Though afternoon had turned into early evening, as we reached the ridgeline and stepped out of the oak and bay canopy the bright sun made us squint. There before us were the treeless rolling hills, made golden by grass bleached out by a long and hot summer. And beyond the hills that tumbled sharply down to the flatland, with its dense civilization, lie the southern end of the San Francisco Bay. Brooks and I had climbed the far side of the canyon and stepped out of the forest into the sun far too many times to be awed by the panorama…with one long sweep, south to north, Alviso and beyond it San Jose, then Palo Alto, Menlo Park running up to the long, sleek San Mateo Bridge, then all the way up the Peninsula to the recently completed Candle Stick Park, to San Francisco’s cityscape, less the Pyramid which was almost exactly a decade away, then the Bay Bridge, broken two-thirds of the way across by Treasure Island and, beyond it all, visible only on clear days, the two towers of the Golden Gate. But jaded or not, my best friend and I never failed to stand for a moment and take it all in.
It was a ten-minute walk at most along the ridge headed west toward the bay to the Cove. As we approached we spotted Steve Tingley’s red and white Corvair first, then, maybe twenty feet away, stacked neatly on the far bank, the huge cache of malt liquor covered by twenty-pound sacks of ice.
“Wow,” Brooks said.
“Yes”, I agreed, “wow”, and we both giggled.
“Well, look who’s finally showed up. This is your party, man, and it looked like you wouldn’t even show.” It was Bob Bajuk.
“My party? Not MY party,” I said.
“Okay, then, your idea,” said Tommy Murray.
“You’re complaining?” Brooks spoke up.
“Not me, man, I’m not complainin’. Look at that. Would you just take a look at that,” Tommy said, pointing at the huge mound of 16-ounce cans of high-octane malt. Everybody laughed.
“We’ve been waitin’ for you before popping the first one open,” Greg McLaughlin said.
“Not me. I ain’t been waitin’ on Cornish. I been waitin’ for the brew to get cold and, hey, guess what, dudes, it’s cold.” Ralph Smith grabbed a can, flipped it open and nearly drained the contents. “Oh, God dammit it,” he screamed, “brain freeze, BRAIN FREEZE.” More peels of laughter followed by a rush on the malt mound. Everyone who was coming to the Cove was there. Ralph and Greg, Bob and Tommy, Eddy Kissick, Steve and his brother Frank and Jeff Banks…and of course Brooksie and me.
“Hey,” Bob Bajuk said grabbing my arm as I walked toward the iced mound of malt liquor, “where’s the dog? Where’s Pogo?’
“Oh, shit,” I said, “I didn’t even notice. Damn, damn, we left Pogo at home, Brooks.”
“Well, you gotta go back for him. No doubt about that,” Brooks said.
“Nope, no doubt,” said Tommy Murray.
“ME? Why me? Why don’t one of you go back for him?” I grumbled, already knowing the answer.
“Well, dah,” Brooks said sarcastically, “how about because Pogo is your damned dog?”
“Okay, okay, I’ll go. But don’t start without me.”
‘Yeah, right,” came a raucous chorus of fourteen-year-olds.
As I walked out the shallow end and then up and around the crater we called, for no apparent reason, the Cove, I looked down onto the scene. Everyone was holding a sixteen-ouncer, a bag of cracklings was being passed around and Greg McLaughlin took a long drag off a fifth of what looked like Old Crow and handed it to Brooks.
The sun was still a ways shy of setting when I reached the path down into the canyon but I knew it would be gone before I made the trip back. I decided I’d better bring a flashlight. As well as I knew the trail walking it blind would just make the hike back that much longer...not to mention unsafe. Even as second graders, none of us had ever thought of our canyon as dangerous, but climbing the steep banks at night, that was a different story
Technically, of course, they were right about Pogo. He was my dog and had been since he was a puppy nine years before. But Pogo, a sort of lab-beagle looking mutt, clipped tail, roly-poly, would most definitely argue the ownership question were he asked and able to speak. He would say that, in the first place, nobody owned him and that he was his own dog, dammit, and in the second place if he was owned it was Brooksie and me who owned him jointly. And he certainly wouldn’t get an argument from the residents of the small rural community known as the Highlands. Everyone knew Pogo, had had some experience or other with him, had at some point called the Cornish’s to say he’d been seen in this place or that place. Once, the waterman, Mr. Dean, called my dad and reported he’d seen our dog wandering around Lake Merrit…in Oakland…seventeen miles away. Pogo could sometimes disappear for a week at a time so, Pogo in Oakland? Sure, why not.
On a hunch I went past Highland Elementary School on my way home. Sure enough, there was Pogo lying under a tree on the playground. He’d tagged along with some young neighbor kids who lived on my block; they were playing kick ball and he was half-watching, half-snoozing. When he spotted me he came running.
“Dumb dog,” I scolded, “you’re watching little kids play kickball when you could be at a big kids sleep out?” In other words, ‘Blah, blah, blah, blah-de-blah blah sleep-out,’ which meant that now he was jumping up and down and barking. The kick ball players looked over to see what all the fuss was about.
“I’m taking my dog,” I said crossly, as though they’d had anything to do with Pogo following them up to Highland School.
It was a five-minute walk to my house. My dad’s old Chevy was parked out front…he was home from work.
“You wait here, you damned dumb dog. If it weren’t for you I’d be with the guys right now. I’m gonna get a flashlight and I’ll be right back. No barks, you hear,” I said in a low voice, “no barks.” There was a long, black night-stick flashlight in the back porch and if I was quiet I could slip in and…
“BARK, BARK, BARK, BARK-BARK.”
“Ricky, is that you?”
“It’s me. I just came back to get a flashlight,” I said, hoping against hope that would be enough. I so wanted to get in and get out.
“Come in here.”
I went into the living room and found my dad in his easy chair reading the sports page, an empty bowl on the end table, sure sign of a Hormel chili-saltine cracker dinner. No lingucia on a French roll with green olives for him.
“Big celebration tonight, eh?” he said without looking up from the paper.
“Celebration. A big one, eh?”
“I don’t know what you…”
“What are you celebrating, boy? The last thing I’d celebrate when I was your age was the end of summer. What’s that all about, anyway?”
“You talked to mom.”
He put the newspaper in his lap and looked up at me, his utterly clueless, soon to be high school freshman fourteen year-old only son.
“Now, you listen here. After I’ve gone to bed tonight if I have to get up for anything…ANYTHING…other than the alarm going off at six a.m. you are going to be one very, very sorry boy. Got me?” (Let me say parenthetically here that not once, right up to the day my dad died in 1982, did I ever find out what ‘one very, very sorry boy’ actually meant. Thank God.)
“Got ya.” I turned, left the room and then did something that, to this day, I can’t explain, at least not for sure. Instead of rushing out the back door and heading to the Cove to join my friends in the wild drinking party I’d been masterminding for the last third of the summer I walked down the hall to my bedroom, went in, closed the door, laid down on my bed and found the place in the book I was reading, Men Against the Sea, the second book in the Bounty Trilogy. I didn’t decide to do that, I just did it. Did my father’s warning worry me? Sure it did, but I’d learned to live with that. Did I start getting cold feet about being the ringleader of a group of close to a dozen thirteen and fourteen year olds who were, at that very moment, seriously breaking the law? Not on your life. Just lost interest? Are you kidding? This Cove operation was one of the biggest in my career. So what was it, why didn’t I rush back with my dog and my nightstick flashlight and catch up on the biggest night of this fourteen year-old’s life? I don’t know for sure, but I think maybe I just wanted to slow things down a bit. As the summer had drawn to an end I’d begun to feel more and more like change was coming. I was excited…scared. And then there’d been the brief back and forth with Brooks in the canyon, upsetting in a strange way. And then all those guys at the Cove, all those kids I’d known since kindergarten, diving into that mound of malt liquor. Yeah, I think I just wanted to slow things down.
And stranger still, while reading I fell asleep. When I awoke it was half-past nine. My father was already asleep in bed. I panicked. I jumped off the bed, ran out of my room and out the back door, flashlight in hand. Pogo was waiting where I’d left him and we took off running. Getting to the edge of the canyon took no time at all, but once we stepped into it and started down the trail that led to the creek, progress got slow going. Despite a near full moon, once in the oak and bay forest it was very close to black. My strategy was to let Pogo go first, shine the flashlight just over his head and illuminate the trail for my dog. Normally he’d be tearing twenty yards ahead of me but in the blackness he was cautious and took advantage of the narrow lighted trail. Half way across the creek, Pogo tumbled off a boulder, splashed into the meandering water and then scurried up the bank. I made it without falling in.
Climbing up the opposite side of the canyon was easier. We’d been cautious going down not to step off the trail and maybe tumble down the embankment…and it was a long ways down, but now we fairly ran up the trail of switchbacks. We had a good flashlight and, more important, my dog and I had eight or nine years of experience going down and then up our canyon. Once out of the forest and headed west along the ridge trail we broke into a trot, Pogo now twenty or thirty yards ahead. Half way to the Cove I could hear my band of merry men; my dog heard them too and started barking excitedly.
What happened next was straight out of a Smokey and the Bandit movie. From where I stood on the ridge trail I could see several hundred yards of the nearly completed Campus Blvd., the new super wide road that would connect the under construction Cal State Hayward Campus to my left with the city below to my right. Coming from both directions were long lines of law enforcement vehicles, lights flashing but no sirens. I counted fourteen—Hayward Police Department, Alameda County Sherriff, California Highway Patrol, Cal State Campus Police and a couple utility vehicles from the construction companies working on the huge project. All, of course, were converging on the Cove. Pogo and I continued, now in a run, toward our friends, who were as yet unaware of the army headed in their direction.
“HEY YOU GUYS,” I screamed at the top of my lungs—I was now looking down at them in the deep ditch carved out of the hillside, “HEY! IT’S THE COPS. THE COPS ARE COMING! THE COPS ARE COMING.
Ralph Smith was the first to look up and hear what I was yelling.
“THE COPS. T H E C O P S!,” I screamed at the top of my lungs, pointing in the direction of the long line of on-coming. Ralph yelled something to the others and almost instantly all the kids understood, grabbed their sleeping bags and headed into the canyon, up the ridge trail toward me or down the ridge trail away from me. All, that is, but one. There, in the moonlight, I could see Brooks standing along, dazed and unsteady.
“BROOKS,” I screamed, “BROOKS! COME ON, MAN, COME ON. BROOKS, GET OUT OF THERE.” My best friend looked up in my direction but I was sure he couldn’t see me; his glasses were gone and he couldn’t see three feet without them. By now Pogo had reached Brooks and was barking and jumping up trying to lick his face.
“BROOKS, BROOKS, BROOKS,” I continued to yell, “GET OUT OF THERE. RUN. GET OUT OF THERE! Police cars were now parked along Campus drive and uniformed men with flashlights, just like mine, were pouring out and heading toward the Cove. Just then Eddy Kissick reached me on the ridge trail.
“Come on, man, let’s get the hell out of here. We’ll go to my house.” Eddy grabbed me by the arm and we both took off running. As I looked back the first cop, I think it was a county sheriff, was reaching Brooks. Pogo was running to catch up with Eddy and me.
The Kissicks lived just above Highland School and we were there, sneaking into the lower level rumpus room, away from the main part of the house, in just a few minutes. Before we said a word to each other, Eddy and I were both in our sleeping bags on the floor. Pogo was pressed up tight against my left leg. He was an outside dog at our house so this was quite a treat for him.
“Shit”, my friend whispered. It was the first word spoken between us since he’d grabbed my arm on the ridge trail.
“You got that right. Shit is right.” I waited a long while to speak again.
“So, what was up with Brooks? He didn’t run…just stood there. He looked…”
“Fuckin’ totally drunk, right?” Eddy giggled.
“He was drunk, completely, from almost when you went back to your house for the dog. It’s like, he didn’t even drink that much, I swear to God. Crazy. He popped a malt and drank most of it in one gulp, Greg gave him a hit off the whiskey, he chased it down with the rest of the brew and, well, that was pretty much it. He was gone, just gone. Laughing, crying, screaming, picking fights. He even tried to get Ralph to fight him. Ralph Smith!
The full moon shown through a window and illuminated Eddy’s father’s collection of opera records, stacked in neat piles on the built in shelves on the wall opposite the window. There must have been three or four hundred of them. Mr. Kissick was an English professor who would teach at Cal State Hayward when it opened. His mother, a beautiful French woman who’d fallen for Mr. Kissick when his unit liberated Paris in 1945, worked as a librarian. The Kissick’s, including Eddy, were cultured and intellectual and, in 1962, out of place in the Highlands. I’d eaten my first bite of lamb at the Kissick’s—nobody ate lamb in the neighborhood where I grew up.
Eddy and I lay silently in our sleeping bags for five minutes. Then, suddenly, I jumped out of my bag and felt around in the dark for my tennis shoes.
“What are you doing?” Eddy asked in a panicked whisper.
“I’m going back.”
“What? WHAT? Are you crazy? Are you fucking out of your mind? What, you’re going to go back and turn yourself in? Surrender, for Christ’s sake?”
“I’m leaving my sleeping bag here. Come on, Pogo,” I said feeling my way toward the basement door that led out to a small patio.
“Rick…Rick, answer me, man. What are you doing? Why are you going back there?’
“I shouldn’t have left Brooks like that. I shouldn’t have. I’m gonna go back to the Cove and see what’s happening.”
Eddy started to protest but Pogo and I were out the door and gone.
Once we stepped out of the trees and back onto the ridge trail we could see a bright glow emanating from the direction of the Cove. It was like a sky full of red and orange and green and blue Christmas tree lights, blinking and jumping rays coming from more than a dozen police and sheriff’s cars. We headed down the trail toward the lights, hugging the dense forest on our right. Pogo stayed close at my side, seeming somehow to understand that this was no game. Fifty yards from the crater we called a cove I could make out the silhouettes of the policemen, each human figure defined by its own tiny pinpoint of light, the nightstick flashlights each carried. If I could see them, they could see me.
I switched my flashlight off and Pogo and I jumped back into the cover of the trees and bushes and began slowly making our way forward, crawling under and climbing over the dense foliage. The side of the canyon dropped off sharply once into the brush and our way was very, very narrow so I preceded carefully, getting a new hold on a tree branch or vine with every couple of steps. It was a long, long ways down to the creek.
As we got closer the first thing I could hear was the penetrating sounds of police car radios; like the lights, they sort of melted together into a confused rumble. We kept creeping forward, toward the gathering of men who stood in little knots of two and three, talking, some laughing. Pogo was close behind, his muzzle nosing the back of my thigh. I lay there, soundlessly, on my stomach, legs dangling over the edge of the steep embankment, and peered through the leaves and branches, Then, suddenly, not more than twenty feet from the edge of the forest in which we were hiding, I spotted Brooks. He was sitting on the ground, surrounded by several officers, and he was crying. An instant later Pogo saw him and…how could I not have known that this would happen, how could I have not even thought about it happening…my dog started barking in his staccato bark, bark, bark-bark-bark. In a heart beat fourteen flashlights shown on me through the thick tree branches and bushes.
“Another one…over there! OVER THERE!”
As the mob of twenty or so uniformed men came swarming in my direction I let go of the Manzanita branch I was holding on to and pushed off, feet first. I don’t remember being frightened as I plunged down the twenty-five or so yards of the sheer embankment, but I do remember thinking that if I didn’t somehow slow my descent I was going to hit hard when I reached the bottom. As I skidded down, still on my stomach, my arms flailed madly in the darkness as I felt for anything I could grab to break my fall. At one point I was able to grab hold of what felt like a vine, but I was plummeting with too much force and speed to hang on and it slipped through my hand.
The next thing I knew my eyes blinked open and Pogo was licking my face. I was lying on my back, partly submerged in the creek. My head ached where it had smacked against a boulder and I felt wet and cold and nauseous. Then I heard voices in the distance, one set headed down the creek, the other, headed up, both headed toward me. It took a long moment for me to piece together what was happening, where I was, but then I was on my feet and tearing up the gentler, flatter trail that led away from the creek and up the other side of the canyon. Pogo was running in front of me now, leading the way home.
As I hurried down our driveway I could see that lights were on in the kitchen. Obviously one of Brooksie’s parents had called. I didn’t want to go in, but I knew I had to. Where else would I go? Whatever was going to happen was going to happen right now.
“Get into the bathroom. Get those clothes off. Get cleaned up. Your mother’s on her way home from work.” My father’s voice didn’t sound as angry as it did weary, but his eyes, his steely hazel eyes, told the real story.
As I stood alone in the bathroom, washing the thick dirt from my arms and wrists and hands, I studied my face in the mirror. It was streaked with dirt and blood. One eye was turning black and blue. I could see a little red in my hair where my head struck the boulder. Then I glanced down into the washbasin and gasped. The warm water and soap had melted away the caked on mud from my hands, exposing a wide, deep gash that ran from the tip of my right index finger, down all three joints, then across the fleshy part of my palm and ending with a tear about an inch long across my right wrist. The sink was half full and a dark crimson. The vine I’d grabbed on to had been barbed wire and the mud had temporarily sealed the blood in.
I’d been right, of course. High school had barely begun and we two best friends began drifting apart. Ironically, it was the heavy bandages on my right hand and the thirty-five stiches they protected--I’d worn the tightly bound tape and gauze dressing like a badge of honor to our very first day at Hayward High School—that jump-started my social career, such as it was. I had instant street cred. Everyone, including my teachers, knew the story of the cove by the end of the week. By our senior year Brooks and I nodded when we passed in the hallways. That was pretty much it. Then, nearly twenty years later, with just a simple phone call that began, ‘Hey, so what’s up with you’, we were back in the middle of one another’s lives, almost as though we’d never left, and that’s where we remain.
“Sure I know who you are. Of course I do. He told me that whole damn story about when you was kids and he fell down that mountain,” It’s Melody and she talking to someone who at first I don’t recognize through mostly closed eyes.
“He told you the Cove story?”
“Yes he did, and I got to say you two boys were ‘bout as crazy as they come.”
“Yes, we were,” says Brooksie as my eyes flutter open and I focus on my friend’s face, “yes we were.”
Copyright © 2002 California
Bluegrass Association. All rights reserved.
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