“How’s the view, Haynes?”
A starburst of pain shoots through my skull as Chris Addison laughs with righteous malice, grinding my face into the ice plant near the edge of the cliff. Cars zip by on Coast Highway far below, with the ocean glittering beyond, but the plants’ scent mixes with the smell of my own bleeding nose, and it’s overpowering enough to make my head recoil off the ground.
“Comedown…hereand…seefor…yourself,” I spit in heaves, flecks of clumpy sandstone clinging to my bloody lips. My head is spinning from the initial hit, and my body is beginning to drift into numbness from repeated blows.
Soundtrack (mp3): ‘Immortals On the Loose’ by Low Tide
“I don’t think so,” Chris sneers, stomping his foot down between my shoulder blades so hard that a low scream escapes through my gritted teeth. I try to turn over but one of his brothers is holding me down. “Chicken…shit…bastards!” My voice gets twisted up a few notes by the pain. “Gonna toss…meover…orwhat?”
Chris pulls my head up by the hair and forces me to stare into his flickering Aryan-blue eyes. “And get it over with so fast? You kidding, Haynes? No way, dude. You’re gonna suffer for what you’ve done.” His brother Kyle starts laughing too, and shifts position on top of me to twist my left arm backwards and higher up my spine. “Hell yeah, Derek. You’re gonna pay, man.” He kicks me in the stomach for the third time in five minutes and I moan in agony as my guts buckle with a jolt.
Lisa’s voice reaches around the wall of neanderthal violence and filters into my one exposed ear. “Guys, stop. Come on. Stop.” She chides her cousins with laconic annoyance, like she’s more concerned about them being busted than me ending up in the hospital. “Oh, we will,” says a calm voice, from somewhere near Lisa. That must be Justin, the one who’s holding her. “We will. We’re just gonna take the clinic fee outta Derek’s hide, aren’t we bro?”
“Fuck yes,” says Chris, slamming my face back into the dirt-strewn turf. “With interest, man.” He pulls me back by the hair again and tries to force another face-plant, but a spasm of vicious fury rips through me and I start thrashing around like a rabid coyote, screaming “Get… off…. mother… fuckers!”
Kyle’s thrown back against the bench, and I can hear him gasping as his body makes contact. I shoot out my free left arm at Chris, taking his right leg just below the groin. He staggers back and I try to drag myself away from the cliff’s edge. Retaliation stops there, though; what isn’t totally numb aches all over, especially the three-day-old throbbing growth on the back of my skull. I try to stand and get halfway up but everything sways with sickening chaos, so I stay seated about six feet from gravitational oblivion.
Windows and doors slam from far away, and angry, wordless shouts trickle in from the homes bounding the park. I register faintly that at least they’re gonna be caught, that some avenging Neighborhood Watch angel will descend on these yuppie thugs and drag them away to an ignominious fate of police brutality and ninth-circle prison hell.
“Get that one! Hold him back!” Two sets of powerful arms lock around my fragile being, as if they thought I could still move under my own power. Another man’s voice I don’t know eggs them on. “Yeah, he’s the one! He went after the girl!” Oh Christ. No yuppie-punting today. “Hell yes he did,” says Chris, his voice fading into the onslaught of offended taxpayers. “He assaulted our cousin, man.” The scum better not be running. They really are untouchable, those slimy-assed Ken dolls.
“It’s true! It’s true!” shrieks a woman’s voice, straining above the cresting hubub of onlookers surrounding us. “It’s true! I saw it all from my study! The young lady tried to run toward…toward these boys here…and then this one…” Her litany of my alleged crimes is soon drowned in the rising tide of feral suburban outrage, incensed at the disturbance of their sacred weekend.
A shadow crosses my condensed field of vision and a tanned thirtysomething man in a faded aloha shirt squats down in front of me. I don’t know him, but his piercing eyes seem to peer at me with genuine concern. “You okay, kid? What happened? Didn’t really hit that girl, did you?” He looks up to my right at one of the angry dads restraining me as sirens wail in the distance. “Steve, come on, loosen him up some.” Now back at me. “Those three pounded him into hamburger.”
“Didn’ hitter.” The words dribble out of my mouth, sprinkled in nutritious iron. “Didn’ even try.” I jerk my head toward the loudest wailing accusers. “Lady’s seein’ things.” I hoark a tooth onto the gorgeous green grass.
“I know what I saw, young man!” yells Indignant Lady, but her voice is shoved aside again, this time by the approaching sirens. God, I hope it’s an ambulance and not the cops. The simmering outrage of the moneyed mob around me is threatening to boil over, but Aloha Man stops it cold with one sentence that sends my feeble hopes into a brief death spiral.
“Folks, please, calm down. I’m a police officer.” Maybe he flashes a badge or something, I can’t see, but it does the trick, and the frothing citizens grumble as they defer to The Law, cut off before they can really get going. “Now please, give the kid some air. Let that stretcher through, ma’am.” Stretcher? The abyss begins to fall away. “And someone track down those other four; I don’t see them but they can’t be too far away.” Uh-oh.
I feel the muscle beach arms loosen their python hold, replaced by those of the expert professionals. They tilt me back onto the grass, count off, and hoist me sideways to the stretcher. It begins to move toward the salvation of the ambulance, and Aloha Man is keeping pace over on the left, matching the paramedics’ every step. I hear his friends, the ones who were holding me, call after him.”Jim, Jim! Hey man, where do you think you’re going? You said you were off-duty for the rest of the day!”
“Not anymore,” he hollers back. “This kid’s my next case.” I glance at Jim the Aloha Cop and his eyes are gleaming as he tries to hold back a smile. What? That can’t be right. I struggle to stay conscious and think to myself that this guy must really love what he does. We all jumble into the ambulance and I try to get a glimpse of the dispersing crowd outside, but I don’t see the people I’m looking for.
The interrogation starts as soon as the doors shut us in. “What’s your name, kid?” I’m too defeated to think before answering, and drone it out. “Derek. I mean David. Haynes.” His eyebrows arch in benevolent semi-belief. “Well, you’re welcome, then, ‘Derek-I-mean-David’ Haynes. I’m Detective Jim Kelley. No ‘I-mean’ necessary. So, which one is it?”
“Derek.” Then the other thing registers. “Welcome for what?”
“Keeping you out of a squad car, kid. Making sure you make it to San Clemente Hospital in a cushy ride like this one.” He slaps the van’s wall. I take a deep, rattling breath and close my eyes, trying to shut out the pain, which is rushing back through the crumbling dam of numbness. The headache is raging, and maybe the detective notices because he lets up a little.
“Sorry Derek. Don’t mean to get too into it before you’re all stitched up. One more thing, though. Where’d they run off to? Any ideas?” He asks like he already knows the answer, so I shake my head weakly. “No.” For all I know, Lisa and the Addison brothers are completely out of reach, vanished immortals on the loose in the endless maze of bungalow-mansions.
The ambulance takes a turn too fast and I feel sick, thinking of my mother for the first time in all this, but thinking better of mentioning that. The detective is unfazed by the bumpy ride. “No? Well, I think we’ll be able to track them down pretty quick. Your girlfriend for sure. It’ll just take one call, and I can make that from the hospital.”
I squint in confusion- how does he know this?- so he elaborates. “My guess is they ain’t taking her back to rehab. What do you think?” Aloha Jim grins at my stunned, gaping surprise. “Don’t worry, Derek,” he says evenly, “you seem like a tough kid. You’ll be fine. Besides, I think can scare up some fraternal outrage of my own.” His lip curls into a satisfied smirk, and that’s the last thing I see before passing out.