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July 15, 2024

Heaven’s Devils: Saturday Night, 1965

By Peter Barbour

Nick jumped from the landing into the darkness and headed to the fence that surrounded the yard. I followed, hitting the ground running. Halfway to safety, the lights came on. Night no longer shrouded me.

A policeman shouted, “Stop, or I’ll shoot!”

My momentum carried me forward. Do I make a heroic dash for freedom or stop as ordered? Time slowed. He wouldn’t shoot, would he? If I surrender, there’s the humiliation of being caught, a confrontation with the police, and then with my mother.

I surveyed the wall ahead of me, four steps behind Nick. Can I make it, just six yards away? I’ll be safe on the other side. Lit up, I’m an easy target. If the cop kills me, how will I explain that to my mother? If he just wounds me, and I live, my mother will kill me.

I stopped and threw my hands up above my head. “Don’t shoot!” I shouted. “Don’t shoot.”

The officer fired.

At the pistol’s report, Nick launched himself over the wall clearing the obstruction by two feet. I stood in the middle of the yard. My arms dropped. I clutched my chest. I heard nothing and felt nothing, not even pain.

3 hours earlier:

I sat on the stoop in front of our apartment building waiting for Nick. As the evening twilight evolved into night, the cool crisp October air bathed me. I thought about school, the football team, how, where, and if college would be a reality for me. My sister and I lived with our mom. Our father had abandoned us years before. Once he was gone, I had to grow up fast. Nevertheless, my home was safe and secure, and I had my friends.

My friends, I wasn’t always enthusiastic about what we might be doing on a given night. Fun often involved walking a thin line between right and wrong, and sometimes that boundary got crossed. Rearranging lawn ornaments or fishing where you weren’t permitted were pretty benign activities. We didn’t keep the fish. Mom trusted me and always gave me enough leeway to test my judgment with the hope that I would make prudent choices.

When we parted, Mom always left me with a simple parting request, “Remember Joseph, don’t jump off the roof, just because everyone else is.”

“Of course not,” I responded.

When I was with my friends, my opinion was the voice of reason. Don referred to me, as the “fun police.” Nick called me, “mother.” However, when my pals hung out with Tony, common sense was abandoned; and only following was employed. I had to choose to go along with the majority or leave, which was the same as saying, be with my buddies or desert them. Although they never seemed to appreciate my unsolicited advice, I felt compelled to provide it.

Nick pulled up on time in his mother’s Ford Galaxy convertible. Don sat up front. Pat and Mega Mike rode in the back. I squeezed in between them.

Heaven’s Devils:

We headed to the meeting place, headquarters, a parking area behind the Manoa shopping center. This was the staging site from where we would deploy to cruise the local teen hangouts looking for action. We hung out at the periphery of the lot, opposite the loading docks and tractor-trailers, out of sight of the shoppers, under a row of lamps that cast a dull yellow light.

The jocks all wore the same things, jeans, white socks, Converse sneakers, a bleeding Madras shirt, and our high school letter jackets, rank defined by the number of letters and sports displayed on the jacket. Others dressed in all black, slacks, tee shirts, and socks, the uniform of the bad boys. We all milled about the cars listening to the car radios.

Tony, “The Boss,” was the de facto leader of the gang. That started as a joke. Tony raced to the front of a procession and pretended to lead it in whichever direction it already intended to go. His posse cheered. Initially, everyone laughed when he appeared to direct us. Not me, especially when people began to indulge Tony by permitting him to determine where we went and what we did.

Tony, a black socks bad boy, named the crew Heaven’s Devils, a play-on-words, meant to mirror a real motorcycle gang, the Hell’s Angels. None of the guys even owned a motorcycle, and any swagger this group of teenage boys had in this peaceful upscale suburban neighborhood was imagined. Tony printed membership cards in the school’s print shop and handed them out to each member making involvement in the “club” official.

Nick turned his car into the parking lot and parked next to Tony.

“Yo, Nick! What’s happening?” Tony called and proceeded to acknowledge Don, Pat, and Mega Mike, but not me.

“Not much,” Nick responded with a wave. “Boss, what’s your agenda?”

Tony glanced over at Greg. “Have you heard any prospects for tonight?” Greg acted as Tony’s enforcer and protector, a six-foot-two-inch lineman from the football team, and Tony’s right-hand man. Greg was not quick-witted or creative, but his size contrasted well with Tony’s short stature. Greg’s mere presence added credence to Tony’s position as leader. Greg wore black socks although he was a jock but still displayed his letter jacket with pride.

“I don’t know,” Greg responded. “You gotta ask Robby.”

Robby also donned black socks even though he was a member of the football team. Brighter and cleverer than Greg or Tony, he enjoyed indulging the boss. He thought the whole Heaven’s Devils thing was BS. His forte was to manipulate Tony into doing nonsensical, inappropriate things.

“I heard there’s a party at Kenny Q’s. Probably won’t be any alcohol,” Robby replied. “But I don’t think there will be any parents.”

“No parents?” Tony asked for confirmation as he appeared to mull over the prospects. “I don’t know. Are there other options?

“I know of two other parties, but none sound as promising as this one. Kenny won’t stop us from coming into the house. No parents. Sounds like a sure thing,” Robby said.

“You’re the boss,” Greg reminded Tony as if Tony needed reminding.

Tony addressed Nick and Don, “What’s your pleasure?”

Tony admired and respected Nick and Don; both were jocks, and each had charisma. Tony had little fondness for me and made that obvious. I didn’t hide the fact that I neither embraced the concept of Heaven’s Devils nor the boss. I bucked Tony’s authority, real or fictional, and he did not appreciate that. Everyone loved Mega Mike, a guard on the football team. Pat, our end, decided he’d rather be with his girlfriend, Z, and headed on foot to her house. I considered joining him but didn’t want to be a third wheel.

I remained concerned that traveling with the gang might turn out bad given a plan to crash a party but chose not to show my angst. In the end, I stayed, unwilling to abandon my friends, and rationalized staying by thinking that I could observe and not participate.

Tony, Robby, Nick, and Don discussed the options for the evening. All agreed that the gathering at Kenny Q’s held the best prospect, even without beer.

Tony jumped onto the hood of Nick’s car, raised his arms, and called for everyone’s attention.

“Party time at Kenny Q’s house! Follow us,” he shouted.

Everyone got into their cars. The sound of revving engines reverberated through the parking lot. The boss sat shotgun as Greg pulled out first. Nick followed. Seven vehicles trailed Nick forming a caravan that proceeded through the town, toward its center and Kenny Q’s home.

In the neighborhood, trees lining the narrow streets had shed their leaves. The procession arrived at its destination. The evening’s peace was disturbed by the sounds of opening and closing car doors and sneaky malicious laughter in anticipation of mischief to be had at poor Kenny Q’s expense.

The Party at Kenny Q’s:

Tony stood at the head of the walk to Kenny’s front door. He turned and addressed his minions in a loud stage whisper.

“Does anybody know Kenny?”

Mega Mike responded, “Yeah, He’s in my math class.”

“Good,” said Tony. “Invite yourself in along with some of your friends.”

Mega Mike walked up to the porch. The group filled in behind him as he approached the door and knocked. A girl in a turtleneck sweater, a plaid skirt that ended at her knees, knee socks, and penny loafers answered the door.

“Uh, Kenny, there’s some guys here,” she called, then turned to Mega Mike. “I didn’t know you were invited.”

“Sure, we were,” Mega Mike replied with a big smile on his perfectly round face, and he stepped into the house. Kenny emerged from the next room. Mike waved to him with an impish, innocent, friendly, disarming expression on his face.

“Hi, Kenny,” Mega Mike said.

Kenny smiled back and exchanged the salutation.

Kenny’s face paled as the rest of the troop filed in. As they passed, each said a cheerful hello and patted him. In return, Kenny offered a soft reply. I thought he was going to be sick. His mouth turned down, and perspiration appeared on his brow.

“But, but you, you all can’t stay,” Kenny said over and over as he shifted his weight from his left foot to his right.

I saw the fear in Kenny’s eyes, and, for me, our prank lost a bit of its humor.

After entering the house, I explored the layout in case we needed to depart abruptly. Kenny Q’s home was not very large. The addition of more than thirty people made it crowded. The main floor of the house contained a living room, entered from the front door. The dining room followed and led to the kitchen and a family room off to the left. There was a door from the kitchen to the garage through a utility room, that held a pantry. The family room exited to the backyard. I felt better once acclimated, but still ill at ease in anticipation of what might unfold.

With the arrival of Heaven’s Devils, the party spread throughout the downstairs. Kenny scurried about, arms waving, trying to maintain order. Some of the gang settled into flirting with the girls and dancing. I observed Tony attached to Kenny, with his arm around Kenny’s shoulder, speaking to him as if he were Kenny’s best friend.

Nick, Don, Mega Mike, and I headed to the kitchen to forage for food. As we passed through the dining room, Mega Mike stopped in front of bowls of popcorn, pretzels, chips, and cheese dip. He sat at the table grabbing fists full of the treats. His hands moved from containers to his mouth in rapid cadence as he stuffed and chewed. Nick and Don stood over Mega Mike marveling at the efficiency with which he ate. I took a seat next to him.

“Mike, you must be starved. I bet you haven’t eaten for at least two hours?” I said, my comment laced with sarcasm.

Mega Mike glared at me, cheese dip dripped off his cheek, popcorn rested on his chin and chest, and another fistful of pretzels headed mouth ward, as he continued to chew the last entry. He paused.

“Right, always hungry, and this isn’t cutting it.”

“Maybe we should check out the fridge?” Don suggested with a chuckle.

“Maybe, we should think about leaving,” I said, wondering if things would be getting out of control.

A mischievous grin crept over Mega Mike’s face. Without another word, he stood and marched into the kitchen. Nick, Don, and I followed as I struggled to get Nick and Don’s attention. Mega Mike went straight to the pantry. He discovered a box of chocolate chip cookies. He opened the carton and consumed its contents.

Don and Nick sat down at the kitchen table and watched Mega Mike with intense fascination. I joined them, my forehead furrowed, my muscles taught. What was Mega Mike going to do next?

Mega Mike looked forlorn.

Robby and Greg entered.

“Mike, what’s the matter?” Robby asked. “Are you sad?”

“Thirsty,” Mega Mike replied.

Robby found a bottle of apple cider in the refrigerator and put it in front of Mega Mike. I went to the cupboard, got a glass, and placed it by the jug, a subtle gesture hoping to discourage Mega Mike from drinking from of the container. Greg seemed puzzled.

“Really, Joe, why dirty glasses?” Greg said with disdain and took the bottle, drank from it, and then passed it to Mega Mike. Now, my premonition bordered on fruition. We were on the verge of chaos. I wanted to leave, but chose to stay, observe, and not participate; besides, a part of me found the unfolding spectacle funny in a dark way.

Greg and Mega Mike revisited the pantry. This time they returned with crackers and a jar of peanut butter. Robby, seeing that, brought back jelly, soda, and a loaf of bread. They consumed that, and Mega Mike was up again. This time he emerged from the storeroom with boxes of Cornflakes and Cheerios. Robby procured bowls and spoons, and Greg got the milk.

Robby reported that he discovered two dozen eggs, a pound of bacon, as well as sausage links. Robby became the designated chef, and Greg his assistant.

The smell of frying bacon, eggs, and sausage wafted through the house. Like bees to honey, others began to join them. Once breakfast was consumed, they moved on to lunch. Another loaf of bread, rolls, lunchmeat, and cheese found their way from the pantry and the refrigerator to their bellies. They metamorphosed into a pack of locusts, frenzied sharks, as they ate and ate.

The boys drank all the milk and the juices. They boiled water for tea, coffee, and hot cocoa. Don, Nick, and I watched the exhibition of consumption around us. I assumed innocence as only an observer. I hadn’t participated after all, but I wondered if I was still culpable. Even Nick, who loved a little mischief, tensed his jaw. Things had gotten way out of hand.

“I didn’t think Mega Mike would have taken my suggestion to check out the refrigerator with such commitment,” Don said, his voice stressed.

“Nothing is left worth eating,” Robby announced. “Well, big fella, I hope you’ve had enough?”

Mega Mike swallowed his last mouthful of food and stared away with a sad expression, his massive body spreading over his seat. He emitted a long loud eructation and smiled.

“Still hungry.”

“Robby,” Greg said. “Mike’s still hungry. Isn’t there anything in the fridge?”

“Only fruit and vegetables.” He called back. Then from behind his back, he pulled a five-pound roast.

“I found this little puppy in the freezer. It’s still frozen. Maybe someone knows how to defrost it.”

Greg laughed so hard he almost fell as he tried to explain his method of defrosting the meat. Kenny burst into the room.

“What is going on here?!” He cried, his eyes bugging out of their sockets. He stood amidst empty boxes and wrappers strewn across the counter, table, and floor. His face had turned a deep red.

“Hey, Kenny, great party!” Greg shouted and gave him a thumbs up. Kenny spun around. With a scowl on his face, and his hands balled into fists, he stormed out of the kitchen muttering something about getting help.

Greg took the roast from Robby, got a pot from a cabinet, filled it with hot water, and placed the roast in it.

“There, that shouldn’t take long,” Greg said.

“Not more than two or three days,” I said with condescension, mixed with the mounting sense of doom brought by Kenny’s expression of frustration and distress.

Robby returned to the pantry and came back with onions and potatoes to roast with the meat. Mike sat at the table, grinning as he watched the preparations.

“Ah, real food,” Mike muttered.

After some further debate, Robby and Greg agreed that the pot of hot water would be as good as just cooking the meat as it was. They placed the roast and vegetables on a pan and salted and peppered everything. They debated about an appropriate temperature at which to cook it.

“The meat is frozen: therefore, the hotter the better,” Robby declared. He was about to put the preparation into the oven when Tony exploded into the room.

“What have you guys done?!” Tony shouted. “Kenny is beside himself. He says he’s going to call the police.”

“I’m not leaving until I get my roast.” Mega Mike said and slapped the table with his hand.

“I think it’s time to leave, now,” Tony said, turned, and headed for the front door.

“Alarmist,” Mega Mike called after him.

Greg always loyal to the boss, followed Tony from the kitchen.

Robby called after them, “We were just hungry.” He slipped into the family room to deflect guilt and put himself in a position to escape should the cops come as threatened. Nick, Don, and I remained seated with Mega Mike.

I pursed my lips. “What if he did call the police, Nick? Let’s get out of here.”

“You always worry, Mother,” Nick said as he peered into the dining room. “We’re just watching. We didn’t do anything wrong.”

“We’re here, Nick, and we shouldn’t be,” I pleaded. I wondered why I was there. Am I on the roof or have I already jumped?

From my vantage point in the kitchen, I watched Tony scurry to the front door in his attempt to flee the scene. Kenny was there ahead of him. The door opened and two policemen stood in the entryway. Tony turned and ran for the back exit yelling.

“It’s the cops!!”

Tony led the charge as the partiers, guests, and crashers, joined the stampede through the living room into the dining room via the kitchen to the family room, and out the door to the back yard. Don, Nick, and I sat at the table with Mega Mike, unmoving, as the procession passed. I watched the panicked exodus as if in a dream; but, as the last person exited, I realized that policemen were in pursuit.

Don, Mega Mike, Nick, and I headed for the back door that led to a small cement landing with no rails, and four steps to the lawn. The backyard was dark. Fifty feet from the house, a six-foot brick privacy fence separated Kenny’s family’s property from their neighbors.

Don sprang to the grass, ran across the lawn, and jumped over the wall. Mega Mike was close behind and, motivated by fear, he propelled his rotund body over the fence with little effort. Nick cleared it by two feet when the cop discharged his weapon.

I stood in the middle of the yard; my back brightly illuminated. I clutched my chest. No blood. I remained upright and relieved as I concluded that the cop must have fired into the air. “I stopped! I stopped! Don’t shoot!” I called without turning around.

The officer was beside me.

“I could have shot you. You shouldn’t have run,” the officer said as he shined a bright oversized flashlight in my face. He noted a bruise around my eye from football earlier in the day. “Nice bruise, kid. How’d you like a matching one on the other side? Why don’t we go back inside and find out what is going on here.”

The policeman escorted me back into the house. My stomach felt empty. My shoulders drooped; I gazed down at the ground. When we re-entered the house, no one else was there. Everyone else had gotten away. My mind raced. What have I done now? Have I jeopardized all my hard work, and violated Mom’s trust?

The officer brought me to Kenny.

“I caught this one running away. Do you know him?” The officer asked Kenny.

Kenny stared at me and, at first, was hesitant to answer. I looked into Kenny’s eyes. I hoped Kenny would not betray me, although I realized Kenny owed me nothing. Maybe Kenny would show me more compassion than I, by association with the gang, had shown him. Even with my lack of participation, I believed I was as guilty as the others, perhaps more so for my inaction. I wished for a reprieve but knew I deserved none. I held my breath as Kenny deliberated.

Kenny glanced at the cop. “Yeah, I know him. He’s okay.”

The officer made a little grimace. He probably didn’t believe Kenny. I tried to figure out how many years I’d be going to jail for party crashing and trashing. I hoped it would be long enough to delay a confrontation with my mother while she was still at the height of her anger. Given Kenny’s response, perhaps, the situation appeared to be less dire.

I continued to look into Kenny’s eyes but with a softened expression.

“Was he invited?” The policeman asked Kenny.

I thought as loud as I could hoping Kenny could hear me. I was? Wasn’t I, Kenny?

Kenny looked from the officer to me and back to the officer. “Yeah, sure,” Kenny said after a pause. I imagined that Kenny may have realized it would have served no purpose to vent his anger on me. He had achieved his goal of getting the bullies out of his house and regaining control of the situation. Besides in showing me this benevolence, I might commit to being his advocate in the future.

The cop scrutinized me again. “Next time, kid, don’t run.”

I thanked the policeman for his advice. He gave Kenny one more frustrated glance and then he and his partner departed.

Once the policemen took off, the Heaven’s Devils, having hidden in the neighborhood, returned to their cars and left. I was sure they were on their way to the local diner to get something to eat. I lingered at the party long enough to thank Kenny for vouching for me, I offered to help clean up.

“Just Leave,” Kenny said. I felt ashamed but grateful for Kenny’s reprieve. I committed to distancing myself from the Heaven’s Devils. Nick, Don, and Mega Mike had taken off with the rest of the crew leaving me without wheels. I decided to head on foot to Z’s house where I hoped to find Pat.

Article © Peter Barbour. All rights reserved.
Published on 2024-06-17
Image(s) are public domain.
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