The knock on the door was faint at first, just enough to raise Billy Bradley from the depths of sleep. His short blond hair was just a tuft above the covers and his still-socked feet hung outside the blanket near the bottom of the bed. He slowly peeled back the sheets and opened one eye. Billy peered around the dimness of his room. There were all his familiar posters covering almost every inch of available wall space; Colorado Rockies baseball, Jeter and the Yankees, Roy still guarding the net for the Avalanche, several contemporary music heroes, pouting and posing with their hands held high in the air. Sign of the devil dude.
The rest of the holes were plugged with pages torn from Fangora magazines including several from the Saw series. Pictures of a more risqué nature were still hidden from sight- out of sight from his father- tucked beneath the mattress of his bed. On the floor his games were scattered next to a tangled ganglia of a controller module and an X-Box with an umbilical leading to a small television. Pages of drawings lay in a slow mass exodus from a computer desk in the corner as if they had been privy to a small explosion. Billy’s trophies for swimming, Little League and track, rose like gleaming golden spires, crowning the fortress of his dresser that coughed clothes from many an open drawer. The rest of his clothing lay scattered in the organized chaos of the bedroom decor.
Billy took great pride in his accomplishments in the sporting world and the dresser top seemed to be the only place in the room, immune from mess. He also didn’t mind one bit when his teammates bestowed the nickname “Rabbit”, on him due to his explosive speed. The coach of the Martin City Boulders, high school football team was already rubbing his hands with glee at the prospect of Rabbit joining his team in a few years.
The rap came louder this time.
“Go away!” Billy shouted and pulled the covers over his head again. “I’m trying to sleep.”
The door opened with a creak. “It’s 12:30 Rabbit. Come on, get up!” came the familiar voice of his friend Jeffery Squire. “You can’t sleep all summer. School starts in a couple more weeks. You’re wasting precious summer juice.”
Rabbit again lowered the covers to see Jeffery’s disembodied, freckled face hover between the door and the frame. Even his mop of reddish hair couldn’t hide his playful disposition. His cheeks were alive with a fiery glow and as always, he seemed slightly out of breath.
“I said I’m trying to sleep!” Rabbit said, as he tossed a jock-strap in Jeffery’s direction. It had been lying dormant on the pillow next to him until needed as weaponry. It missed the mark.
“Gross!” Jeffery said, but he’d been thankful it hadn’t been the chess pieces Rabbit threw at him last week. Queen to Jeffery’s head. Checkmate!
“Who let you in?”
“Who do you think?...Your Dad. Actually I think his words were, ‘thank God you’re here Jeffery get my Son’s lazy ass out of bed will ya’.” Jeffery tried hard to do his best grown-up voice, but like the jock-strap, he too missed the mark.
Rabbit chuckled. “He didn’t say that to you.”
“Not in those words. No, but-”
“-Jeffery, It’s raining I want to sleep.”
“It was raining, but now it’s not. Besides, Old Man Vilgrain left his Backhoe out again. This time it’s by the road. Let’s go play on it.”
Billy had to admit, the offer was enticing. Old Man Vilgrain lived on the acreage at the end of the lane on the other side of the Madison’s. He’d had a landscaping company up until his wife left him and then he’d been lost to the bottle sitting for hours in his house with nothing but the TV flashing like far off lightning. Some nights, when the liquor had taken control, he`d drive drunk in his Backhoe across the fields ripping through his wife’s former gardens. He could be seen in the wee hours of the morning, cursing and howling in his usual dirty undershirt, his balding cranium snapping back and forth as he ploughed over yet another row of imaginary bushes. Man, if he left the Backhoe out on the fringe near the lane he must have really tied one on last night. He’d most definitely still be punching Z’s. There’s no way we'd be caught this time.
Jeffery and Rabbit were forever trespassing and causing the man grief. There was always a certain thrill of tempting fate and the buckshot, as well as the satisfaction of pulling pranks and getting away with it. Rabbit, besides his athletic prowess, had a knack for sensing when it was time to pull out and they always seemed to elude trouble....except for the last time.
It had been dusk and Old Man Vilgrain had started his routine of cracking open the Jack Daniels in front of the tube. The boys could see the flickering of light from within as if Vilgrain were a master-welder, building some artistic monstasity. Carefully they had crept up to the man’s front porch and around to the side door. The mission for the night was to sneak in, raid Vilgrain’s fridge, maybe some booze and let the man think he was going out of his freakin’ mind. They had a hiding place just beyond the tree line where they had, what they called, their safe house. It was just a small gully under a tree up-rooted by a storm that they had fortified with leaves and branches, but it sufficed when the situation got too hot. As a back-up, Rabbit had brought a cherry-bomb he felt would provide sufficient cover while they made their getaway in a cloud of smoke.
Everything had gone according to plan. Vilgrain’s side door was always unlocked and the boys crept in without a sound. They heard him in the other room watching some sort of reality show and periodically yelling slut and other obscenities at the television.
It was hard to contain their snickering and their nervousness. As usual Rabbit took the point position in their prank campaign, crawling on all fours- commando-style, and slowly opened the fridge door. He began passing food to Jeffery who stowed it in the burlap sack they had brought with them. The boys worked quickly to accomplish their task of, what they thought, the ultimate practical joke.
Jeffery whispered, “Holy, Rabbit, we’ve got a lot of stuff. Let’s go.”
“Just a few more things, “Rabbit said, as he laid his hands on a couple of bottles of beer and a jar of pickles. He passed the beer to Jeffery and rolled the pickles. Jeffery wasn’t expecting the rapid pass and the jar rolled by him and smacked into the stove with a clang, but remained unbroken.
The boys paused, breathless and frozen, gazing wild-eyed at one another, but heard no stirring from Vilgrain in the other room. They waited, but still nothing. The blaring volume continued with the occasional grumbling remark from the man.
Rabbit let a sigh of relief escape his lips. “That was close. Let’s get...”
The fridge door slammed shut. Old Man Vilgrain towered above them both, a shotgun in his hands. “What the fuck are you doing?!!”
Collectively the boys screamed and scampered out the side door leaving their food booty behind. Vilgrain lumbered forward in a drunken stagger crashing open the side door, his features dim in the growing shadows. “I’ll show you what I do to weasels when I catch them in my kitchen!” He screamed. He raised his unsteady hand and fired at the boys as they ran. Jeffery, puffing laboriously, ran as fast as his legs would carry him and Rabbit passed him easily and sped for the woods. Vilgrain had also started to run, shotgun in hand, at an alarming speed. “Weasels! Weasels!” he yelled.
In no time Rabbit reached the tree line and turned to see Jeffery running out of gas only halfway to the forest edge as Vilgrain gained on him.
“Run! Run god damn it!”
Vilgrain pounced forward and tackled the boy to the ground with an audible grunt. Roughly he pulled a now weeping Jeffery to his feet and pointed the shotgun at the boy. “Listen here!” Vigrain shouted to the woods. “You better come out, or I’m going to give your friend a new asshole to shit out of. Let`s just say he`ll be wiping from both ends.”
Jeffery whimpered, “Help me Rabbit! Please!”
Frightened, but unable to leave Jeffery behind, Rabbit walked slowly from the woods. His legs felt weighted, but he forced himself to walk toward Vilgrain and his hostage. “Don’t hurt him Mr. Vilgrain. We didn’t mean no harm.”
Behind his back, Rabbit fiddled with one of his Dad’s lighters trying to ignite the smoke bomb. Soon as I’m close enough, I’ll toss this at his feet, he’ll let go of Jeffery and we’ll both be gone. Old Man Vilgrain won’t know what hit his drunken ass.
As he came closer he could hear the wick catch and start to sizzle. Rabbit began to take wider strides until he was almost next to his adversary. “Ah-ha!” He tossed the cherry bomb down at the feet of Old Man Vilgrain. The three looked down at the flaming projectile as it sputtered and fizzled out. Vilgrain grabbed hold of Rabbit’s collar an escorted the boys back to his house. “You’re Richard Bradley’s boy aren’t ya?”
“Yes sir,” Rabbit said.
“I don’t believe your father will be too please with your antics this evening. In fact, I’m going to recommend your parents give you both a good beating.”
The beating hadn’t come, but a two week grounding had resulted in the loss of, as Jeffery put it, “the precious summer juice.” Not that Rabbit suffered from his solitude. He could get out of the house if had wanted to. Many nights he had met up with Jeffery when his father had thought he’d been in bed. It was as simple as climbing into the attic through the trap door in his closet, then out the far window vent on to the roof of the back porch and then down the trellis to pay-dirt.
“So what do you say Rabbit, we going to go get even with Old Man Vilgrain, or not?”
“Alright, alright!” Rabbit said kicking off the covers and popping out of bed.