“I could too! Especially if they deserved it!” That was me telling Tom, Adrian and Luka that I had as much chance to win the bet as they did.
“You would not, you don’t have the guts,” Luka blurted out, all mean-like with her red-streaked hair and black nail polish. Tom just smiled; that smug look had bothered me before. When we were younger, at Morton Elementary, he used to tell me that I had the guts of a rabbit.
It was about 4:15, we’d just left Wilson’s house, after getting high in his basement. Wilson’s mom didn’t like us up there so when we did show up, we just headed for his basement before she started to bitch at us. She didn’t like any of the kids that lived past Mason Street, thought we were “thugs,” which we kinda were. Now, high as shit on his Dad’s weed, we were walking towards the 7-Eleven on Bishop; Luka would flirt with the counter guy, a pasty-white college nerd who ogled her breasts while we’d steal beer and Gatoraids behind him. It was so easy!
So anyway, back to the bet. That morning, after that retarded gym class, Tom proposed the most awesome bet we’d heard yet: “do any of you fucks have the nerve to kill someone, to just ‘off’ them for no reason at all?” Before you knew it, all three of us took him up on his bet, although, to be truthful, we looked a little uneasy when we said it. Tom was a bit of a psycho, he got that from his Dad I once heard a teacher say. Adrian was such a pothead none of us thought he’d ever stitch the idea together into a plan. Luka, well she was the surprise element I figured. Maybe could, maybe not. She gets scary when anyone messes with her, but she’s a girl! Girls don’t do that, except on those NCIS shows my Dad watches when he isn’t drunk. I didn’t really think she could do it either, although she whipped the crap outa that janitor guy who tried to touch her tits last year.
And that left me. Could I do it? Could I plan something like that? I had to put that thought aside as we slid through the battered door. It had been robbed last week and I guess the mighty 7-Eleven Corporation still hadn’t bothered to repair it. Maybe this neighborhood didn’t count in their plans for convenience store domination. Luka shot us a glance as she moved up to the counter, pulling her tank top down, squeezing the cheap pink fabric just a little tighter over her breasts. We pretended to look at the magazines, then the chips, giving her time to get the counter-nerd’s rapt attention. We were getting better at this – seven minutes later, outside the back of the store, we’d each lifted a Miller Light; Adrian had even managed to grab two Gatoraids.
“This stays between us, nobody finds out,” Tom said, between pulls on his beer.
“Adrian, you can’t start blabbing about this when you’re high,” Luka said. We all knew, but especially her, how he’d spill his guts when he got high. He was the weak link. Tom took his empty beer bottle and broke it on a dumpster. Taking a shard of cheap brown glass, he said, “Here, if you’re in on the bet, cut your finger – it’s blood-bond time.” All of us did it, although it took Adrian and I just a little longer to run the jagged edge over our fingers. Adrian was probably unsure if he could do it, I was just scared of blood. I always had been. “How you gonna kill someone if you’re scared of blood,” I thought to myself. I guess my expression looked weird because Luka sure noticed it.
“You’re in now, scaredy pants, you can’t chicken out,” she said, revulsion dripping from each spit out word.
We all went home after that. We didn’t even talk about it the next day. Or the day after. I started to wonder if this was another one of Tom’s bets that we’d all forget. Like the one about Ms. Krone, the sexy Spanish teacher. Even Tom pussied out on that one! We all went home Friday afternoon, promising to get together over the weekend but mostly knowing that we’d be stuck at home taking care of brothers and sisters and shit like that.
I was watching TV Sunday night with my grandma, almost dozing off, when my head jerked to attention. “A youth was shot tonight during a robbery attempt on 3rd Avenue, in the Alton neighborhood,” the newscaster said excitedly. “The young man, described as being between 13 and 16 years of age, with unkempt blond hair, escaped through a window at the rear of the house. Blood, assumed to be that of the attempted robber, was left at the scene.” The newscaster, new to the channel and therefore new to Richmond’s crime, was really getting into it. “Mr. and Mrs. Robson, the elderly couple residing in the house, said that he was armed with a long knife, which he jabbed back and forth, demanding money and/or prescription drugs. Mr. Robson reported that he thought he shot him in the torso with the WWII gun he kept loaded in his desk.”
Sitting there, I had a feeling in my gut that it might've been Tom!
Nobody saw Tom in school that Monday. He often skipped, but not on Mondays much as he liked the Mexican girl in his Monday study hall. “Did you hear about the attempted robbery in Alton yesterday? It sounded like somethin’ Tom would do,” I said to Adrian between class.
“Naw, I don’t think so, he’s probably just high or drunk,” Adrian mumbled, his eyes darting nervously about. We didn’t speak of it after that. When I got home I got to thinking how it coulda been Tom. Where was he? Did the bullet kill him? I’d never had a dead friend before, except for that kid in 2nd grade, so I was kinda excited. He wasn’t home, I found that out with a telephone call. Not that his mother seemed very concerned about the whereabouts of her truant son, but whatever.
Later, while halfheartedly looking over my Spanish homework, it occurred to me where Tom might be. Where he might be hiding out. I’d have to, I just wouldn’t be able to avoid it, go there and check it out. When? Tonight? Tomorrow morning?
I was too lazy to go tonight. So, it would be tomorrow, real early maybe. Before school. If I was late, who cared? I’d just miss Biology with that fag teacher. I turned in early that night. Just sat in the dark thinkin’ about this Tom stuff.
Next morning I got up early. I hadn’t gotten up this early since my grandfather’s funeral two years ago. I even got up before my parents, which helped my plan a lot. Tom lived on Bellevue, a shitty depressing street, but I didn’t think he’d be there. No, I thought I knew where he’d go if he was in real trouble, the bleeding torso kind of trouble. See, Tom’s grandmother lived on Tipton, in an old depressing house. That depressing house had one thing that Tom might've thought important: it had a hidden room in the basement. A really cool room, I hadn’t been there in years, probably since elementary school. But I remembered that room. It had two sinks and some cool metal stuff, it also had a little cot in the corner. A perfect hiding place since the basement had its own entrance, like that crummy black-and-white farmhouse in the Oz movie.
Tom wasn’t worried about tornados though, not if he was hurt. I started to speed up the more I thought about this. By the time I got to Tipton, I was almost running. The dawn was just rising over the horizon by this time, so I didn’t feel self-conscious. Nobody noticed me. I quickly crossed that row of lindens behind her yard to the basement door, like a spy.
It was open! I fumbled around looking for a light switch. There! The basement was smaller than I remembered, but just as gloomy. In the far corner, behind the furnace, was a small door, almost unnoticeable. I pulled on the door, it was stiff and noisy. Inside, on the cement floor, lay Tom, his shirt half red, half white. His eyes were open, his hair a mess, his face dirty and slightly sunken. Yeah, those eyes were open, but I didn’t think he was seeing anything right now. He seemed smaller, it was as if he’d lost 20 pounds. I tried his pulse, like I saw them do on TV shows. It took a while, but I heard a faint beat. His moan scared the shit out of me.
He looked at me and I thought he recognized me. What was I going to do? He was so weak now. I had to fix it. Everybody, including me, had to get what we deserved. I wanted to win that bet, I wanted Tom to not get caught. I grabbed his cheek, sweaty now, and turned his head to the side. I grabbed the big brick I’d seen in the sink and, after a deep breath, swung the brick across his forehead. It was hard to hold that brick so I missed my original target. The cut was big, I could see his skull bone through all the red. It was the fresh blood that came out of his head that made me sick. I turned and puked into the sink.
No, I can’t. I can’t do it.
Suddenly, I had an idea. A really crazy one. “Tom, are you okay? Are you in a lot of pain?” I really needed to know. His whispered reply told me what to do. I got him water, a fresh bandage, and told him I’d be right back. I ran, I really ran, back to my grandma’s house. Second floor, blue bathroom, medicine chest full of pills. My grandma was a late sleeper, so I wasn’t too worried about her finding me in her bathroom. I searched the bottle’s labels, anxiety making me nauseous. Barbiturates! I thought that might be pills I was looking for. Down the stairs, one stop in the kitchen, then out the door, two blocks down the street before I knew it. I stumbled into the basement, rolling down half a flight of old stairs. The bottle! It tumbled out of my hand just as I thought of it. It rolled under an old dresser, piles of old newspapers covered in mouse shit littered the area. There! I stretched as far as my arm would go to reach the bottle.
Inside, Tom looked a little better than he had the first time I saw him. I propped his head, gave him the remainder of the stale water from the sink. “Dude, help me! My head, it really hurts!” he pleaded with me, confusion in his eyes.
“Tom, listen, they’ll find you soon. They’re searching the neighborhood already,” I held his head as I told this lie. “There’s no way out, just take these!”
“What are these,” he mumbled, panic replacing the confusion in his eyes.
“They’re sleeping pills, if you take these they won’t put you in prison for offing that old couple.” Another lie.
“I didn’t kill them, um, did I?” Good, he wasn’t sure. I might get away with this after all. “These’ll take away the pain too, and the bleeding.” I was getting good at lying to him. “It’s the only way, you gotta trust me!”
“I need some food man, I’m real hungry.”
“I’ll get you some from the corner market, just take these first.”
“Thanks, man. There’s a lot of them isn’t there?”
“I’m your friend, I just wanna help. Here, let me get you some more water to wash these pills down. No, dude, take all of them.” I should study nursing ‘cuz I had this routine down. “Lay back, rest your head,” I replied softly, rubbing his hair off his sweaty, dirty forehead. After ten long minutes of me staring at the roach-filled light above us, just waiting, I took the saran wrap I’d lifted from grandma’s kitchen drawer and, holding Tom’s head gently, wrapped it around and around his head. Now swathed like a mummy, he looked weird and funny at the same time. I stifled a laugh just looking at him wrapped up like a new toy. There was a brief moment, I think, when he opened his eyes, fear and shock coloring his irises, but then he relaxed. I waited five minutes and then prodded him. He was out. He was gone. I’d won the bet.
Finally, I’d won one of Tom’s bets.