Blood spilled on the asphalt of this town long years gone has left a stain, and it’s spreading.
Not that a thing like that matters to teenagers like George, Hector, Paul, and Andy. It’s summer 1983 in a northern California suburb, and these working-class kids have been killing time the usual ways: ducking their parents, tinkering with their bikes, and racing around town getting high and boosting their neighbors’ meds. Just another typical summer break in the burbs. Till Andy’s bike is stolen by the town’s legendary petty hoods, the Arroyo brothers. When the boys break into the Arroyos’ place in search of the bike, they stumble across the brothers’ private industry: a crank lab. Being the kind of kids who rarely know better, they do what comes naturally: they take a stash of crank to sell for quick cash. But doing so they unleash hidden rivalries and crimes, and the dark and secret past of their town and their families.
The spreading stain is drawing local drug lords, crooked cops, hard-riding bikers, and the brutal history of the boys’ fathers in its wake.
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|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
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Piece of Shit Bike
It started with Andy’s piece of shit bike.
—What the fuck were you doing not locking it up?
—I just went in for a second.
—I just went in for a second. How long do you think it takes to steal a bike, dickweed?
—It was right next to the window.
—Yeah, that’ll do it; no one ever steals shit that’s next to a window. Numbnuts.
George is kneeling next to a bucket of water, submerging the half inflated innertube from his bike’s front wheel. He looks once at Paul, then back in the bucket.
—Don’t be such a dick, man, he lost his bike.
Paul picks up a rock from the huge pile that occupies half the driveway. He shakes the rock around in his hand.
—He didn’t lose his bike.
He tosses the rock, bouncing it off Andy’s back.
—He let someone steal it.
Andy feels pressure behind his eyes and fights it. Already cried once coming out of the store and finding the bike gone. Can’t cry again.
He picks up a rock of his own.
—I didn’t let anyone steal it.
He throws the rock at Paul.
—It was stolen.
Paul stays right where he is, the rock skipping across the pavement and into the street without coming near him.
—Yeah, big diff.
George is still shuffling the innertube between his hands, looking for the string of bubbles that will point to the slow leak that’s been plaguing him for days.
—Don’t throw the fucking rocks around, dad’ll have a fit.
Andy kicks at a couple rocks, nudging them back toward the pile. His and George’s dad had them shovel the rocks from the back of his
4 ¥ 4 two weeks ago. This weekend he’ll rent a rototiller and plow up the back lawn and they’ll have to move the rocks a wheelbarrow load at a time to spread over the yard. It’s gonna suck and he’s not even going to pay them. He says they should be thanking him for plowing under the lawn that they hate mowing and weeding.
A line of bubbles shoots to the surface of the water. George covers their source with a fingertip and lifts the tube from the water.
—Hand me that rag.
Andy bends to pick up a scrap of chamois that’s lying next to the toolbox. Paul takes a quick step and places his foot over it.
—George, don’t let this guy help with your bike. He’s bad luck. He touches your bike and it’s gone.
Andy yanks on the rag.
—Get off, dickmo.
Andy pulls harder and Paul lifts his foot and Andy falls back on his ass.
—You’re such a feeb.
George holds out his hand.
—Give me the rag.
Andy throws the rag at him.
Some big brother. Think he could take his side against Paul just once. Just today. Fucking bike. Still can’t believe he was so stupid not to lock it up.
George lifts his finger from the puncture in the tube and starts drying the rubber around it.
—Did you see who took it?
Andy gets off his ass, takes the puncture kit from the toolbox and pops the shiny tin lid from the cardboard cylinder.
—No. If I had I would have kicked their ass.
Paul reaches up, grabbing a lower branch of the maple tree alongside the driveway and chinning himself on it.
—Yeah, George, what are you thinking? If he’d seen them he would have kicked their ass. He’s such a badass ass kicker. Asses all over town are afraid of him.
Andy flips him off and hands George the top of the puncture kit.
George drops the rag, takes the lid, and uses its ridged upper surface to score the rubber around the puncture.
Paul hauls himself up onto the branch, hooks his knees around it and dangles upside down, long curls falling over his face.
—Come kick my ass, Andy, I’ll just hang here and you try to kick my ass.
Andy stays where he is, watching George fix the leak, taking the lid back and handing him the metal tube of cement.
He’s imagining picking up the hammer from the toolbox and swinging it at Paul’s face. He’s picturing finding whoever stole his bike and stabbing them in the throat with a screwdriver.
Paul puts one arm behind his back.
—C’mon, man, one handed and upside down! You gotta be able to kick my ass.
George rubs the cement over the puncture.
Paul puts his other arm behind him.
—No hands. No hands. It’s never gonna get easier than this, man. C’mon and take a shot. You know you want to. Remember that time I pantsed you on the quad? Here’s your chance to get back at me.
Andy remembers. First day of his freshman year, bad enough that he’d been skipped a year to start high school early, but there was Paul, greeting him by running up and yanking his hand me down bell bottoms to his ankles while the entire student body was crisscrossing the quad on their way to homeroom.
He pictures standing in the middle of that quad with a machine gun in his hands, pulling the trigger and turning in slow circles until he is all alone and it is quiet.
He shakes his head sharply, trying to jar the image loose. He fails.
He takes the cement back from George, caps it and drops it in the kit, chews the inside of his cheek.
Paul swings himself back and forth a few times.
—What’s the matter, spaz? Looks like you’re getting twitchy over there. You gonna freak out and start throwing things again?
George picks up one of the rocks, cups it like a marble and flicks it at Paul, bouncing it off his forehead.
—You’re off the hook, Andy, your bro’s fighting your battles again.
George sets the innertube aside, carefully draping it on the frame of his upside down bike. Andy hands him a large piece of patch and a small pair of scissors.
George clips a small square from the patch.
—I ain’t sticking up for the puss, dickhead. I’m just sick of hearing your shit. Our dad’s gonna unload on him tonight and I’m gonna have to listen it.
George squares his shoulders and lowers his voice.
—Opportunity, boys, that’s what a thief looks for. Turn your back for a second, your property will be gone. Always lock up your bike. It’s not just a toy, it’s a responsibility.
Paul rubs the spot where the rock tagged him.
George peels away the bright blue backing from the patch, careful not to touch the sticky underside, and picks up the innertube. Pressing the patch over the hole, using his thumbs to smooth away any air bubbles trapped under it, he looks at Andy.
—What’re you gonna tell him?
Andy stares at the patch, the violence in his head finally fading as he draws blood from his cheek. Why does he have to think about that kind of shit? It’s not like he’s like Paul. Paul likes to fight. But fighting sucks. Getting punched sucks. And hurting someone else, that almost sucks worse.
George kicks him in the shin.
—Dude, what are you gonna tell dad?
Paul unclamps his legs and tumbles to the ground, bracing with his arms as he lands.
Andy flips him off.
—Nice move, grace.
Paul doesn’t move, just lays there with his eyes closed, his face suddenly pale and sweaty, skin drawn tight over his forehead.
George is focused on the tire and doesn’t notice.
Paul doesn’t move, just breathes deeply.
Andy steps closer.
Paul opens his eyes, wipes the sweat from his face. He sits up slowly.
—I’m fucking fine. You’re the one with problems. Better tell your dad you locked it up.
Andy bends to pick up the patch backing that George discarded.
—He won’t believe someone could steal it from in front of the store if it was locked up.
—Tell him you had the wheel locked to the frame, but not locked up to anything. Someone could have tossed it in the back of a truck. He’ll buy that.
—Whatever. I’m still gonna have to walk everywhere.
A car swings around the corner, a ’78 Firebird T-top, “Another Brick in the Wall Part II” blaring from the stereo.
Paul watches it all the way to the end of the street.
—Wouldn’t have to walk if we had a fucking car.
—Yeah, that would be sweet.
Paul reaches out and slaps the back of his head.
Andy does nothing, atoning for the imaginary hammer he smashed into Paul’s face.
Hector barrels up the driveway.
He skids to a stop, leaving a streak of black rubber on the pavement, his front wheel scrunching into the rock pile.
—Hey, Andy, what’s up with your bike? I just saw one of the Arroyos riding it around.
They all look at him.
Paul hawks and spits.
He sticks a finger in Hector’s face.
—You fucking sure?
Hector knocks the finger away.
—Yeah, asshole, I’m fucking sure. We may all look alike to you, but I can tell my Mexicans apart.
Paul picks up a rock.
He heaves the rock, sending it far down the street in the same direction as the Firebird.
It couldn’t be better. Sweet enough it was one of the Arroyos that stole Andy’s bike, better yet that it was Timo.
That shit that happened when they played city league soccer, the year they were under twelves, Paul still thinks about that shit. Just about every day.
It’s a City finals match and Paul’s playing fullback, Timo is a forward on the other team. In a scrum down by Paul’s goal, everyone going up for a header, Timo flails his elbow into Paul’s face, sending him to the sideline with a split lip and a bloody nose. In the second half, cotton stuffed in his nostrils, Paul catches a deflection on his instep, traps the ball beneath his foot, waits for Timo to charge him, and drills the ball right into his gut. Timo goes down on top of the ball and before the whistle can sound Paul is kicking Timo in the crotch, not even trying to look like he’s going for the ball. Redcarded, he argues that Timo was wearing a cup so no big deal, then walks from the field, screaming an endless string of fuck you’s at the refs.
On his way home a gold flaked lowrider Impala rolls up next to him, Timo and his big brothers Fernando and Ramon get out. Ramon has a switchblade. Shit, they all have switchblades, but Ramon, he holds the point of his to Paul’s throat and tells him to take his cup off. Paul doesn’t think they’ll stab him, but that doesn’t keep him from getting scared. His face goes red and tears run down his cheeks. The Arroyo boys say something about what a puta he is, the only Spanish Paul knows. Once his cup is out, two of them hold him upright while Timo sets up for a penalty kick from five yards away and pounds an Official Primera League futbol into his nuts. Paul goes down and coughs up the orange slices he ate at halftime.
Wasn’t till that evening that George and Hector found him at the firebreak at the edge of their housing tract. Drunk on the three sixteen ouncers he’d grabbed from the fridge, head spinning from the smokes he’d bummed off a high school kid, telling George and Hector that Timo is dead. He’s gonna kill that little fucking faggot. He tells them all the way home.
He doesn’t tell them that he cried. And he doesn’t tell them why he cried.
He doesn’t tell them that reaching to pull his cup out of his athletic supporter, being told to put his hand down his shorts like that, made him think of his father.
—I’m gonna kill that fucking faggot.
George is sitting on the ground, turning his bike’s front wheel in his lap, tucking the innertube back up inside the tire.
—Where’d you see him?
Hector is picking up tools.
—Over by their house.
—Was he fucking around or headed home?
—He was headed toward Fernando’s pad.
George is using a screwdriver to flip the edge of the tire back inside the wheel rim. He stops.
George goes back to work.
Paul is on his bike. He’s already ridden it to the corner and back twice, Andy trailing him on foot both ways, saying nothing.
—So fucking what, he’s going to his brother’s; I’m still gonna kill him.
Hector shakes his head.
—Fine, man, go pedal over there and kill him. Not like Fernando won’t be home. Not like Ramon didn’t get out of Santa Rita last month. You see him since he got out?
—Looks like all he did in there was eat and pump iron.
Paul limps his wrist.
—And take it in the ass.
Hector turns away.
—I’m just saying, you know, you don’t want to mess with Fernando and Ramon.
George has slipped the wheel back onto his bike’s front forks. With a crescent wrench he gradually tightens the nuts on either side of the wheel, giving it a spin after each turn of the wrench to be certain that it stays true.
—When’d Timo move out of his folks’?
Hector has pulled out a nearly full pack of Marlboro Reds. He takes one for himself and hands the pack around.
—Don’t know. My sister says he got in a fight with his mom and hit her in the stomach and his dad threw him out. Like, dragged him out the front door and threw him and a bunch of his shit on the lawn. So now he’s at Fernando’s.
The others are quiet as they each take a smoke from the pack.
George takes out a Bic sheathed in the stainless steel and turquoise case he bought at the Devil’s Workshop head shop last summer. They all bum a light.
Hector takes the pack back and looks at Paul.
—And that’s all. He’s over there with his brothers. You ride over there and fuck him up, they’re gonna kill you.
Paul bites the filter of his cigarette and gets back on his bike.
—Fuck ’em. I’ll fucking kill those faggots if they let me take ’em one on one. Only way they can take me is if they gang up.
—Well, shit, man, that’s what they fucking do.
George gives the wheel a final spin and packs the last of his tools away.
—Doesn’t matter what they do. We got to go over there. They got Andy’s bike.
And that’s when they look around and realize that Andy’s gone.