All the rage, p.12
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       All the Rage, p.12

           T. M. Frazier
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  of spray paint and graffiti the entire thing. I’d make one of your teeth black, I’d make the dimple into a huge mole, and I’d give you an eye patch.” I covered my eye with my hand to demonstrate. “You would be a giant, ridiculous, smiling pirate.”

  I thought he’d laugh but instead Nolan stopped and pulled me close to him. With a very serious face, he reached out and pushed a stray hair behind my ear. “Rage, the hockey thing probably won’t ever happen for me. I know that, but I’m gonna try again anyway. You have to promise me something, though.”

  “What’s that?” I asked, craning my neck to better see his face.

  “You have to promise me that if by some miracle I do get drafted some day, and you really do see this ugly mug on a billboard somewhere, that you will make good on your promise to make me into a pirate,” Nolan said, stepping away from me, the breeze taking the place of his large body spreading coolness where his heat had just been.

  “Consider it done,” I agreed. We resumed our walk. A part of me really hoped his hockey dreams would come true some day.

  But he doesn’t have a someday, I reminded myself.

  “Why did you suddenly get so quiet?” Nolan asked.

  “Just wondering where you’re taking me.”

  “Our first stop is right here,” he said, pointing up the beach.

  I looked to where he was pointing, but in the dark all I could see were shadows of the buildings lining the beach and lights from the occasional window. “I don’t see anything,” I said. He pulled me away from the water’s edge to where four wooden stakes were hammered into the sand. Yellow tape connected them at the top, roping off the small area. In the middle of the stakes, in the sand…was nothing.

  Nolan crouched down with his injured leg stretched out in front of him, looking over the empty patch of sand. “I don’t get it,” I whispered.

  “Why are you whispering?” Nolan asked in a regular tone.

  I knelt down next to him and continued to whisper. “I don’t know. This kind of just seemed like a whispering situation.”

  “Voices don’t bother them, although it would bother the mama if she was trying to nest, but the eggs have already been laid.” Nolan reached into his pocket for his phone and clicked on the flashlight app. He held the light up to a rectangular yellow sign tacked to one of the wooden stakes.

  DO NOT DISTURB

  SEA TURTLE NEST

  VIOLATORS SUBJECT TO

  FINES AND/OR

  IMPRISONMENT

  “Sea turtles…” I breathed, finally understanding what I was looking at.

  Nolan stood back up and I followed. We both stared down into the middle of the nest, which looked no different than any other patch of sand on the beach. Nolan glanced up the beach, toward the few lights still on at even though it was only barely 8 p.m. “Honestly, I was surprised the mama even nested here this season with all the construction and people around. Doesn’t take much to spook them.”

  “They get scared?” I asked, circling the stakes as if I could somehow see into the nest from a better angle.

  Nolan followed close behind and explained, “Yeah, people want to take pictures of them coming up to shore, or kids want to hop over them and touch their shells. Even a few forgotten beach chairs in their way could make them turn tail and run. The circumstances have to be damn near perfect for them to make their nest and lay their eggs.” He leaned over me, his chin resting on the space between my shoulder and neck. I pretended to be unaffected when his lips brushed across my skin as he spoke. He pointed into the sand. “That must have been one determined turtle to nest in all this,” he said, standing back up straight and jerking his chin up toward the high-rise hotel under construction behind us. A tall, dark grey shadow with two cranes at least fifteen stories high standing still on either side of the building like two sleeping brontosauruses. “When faced with all this, she still chose to stay. Must have nested here before. Or been born here. This might be home to her. Brave turtle.”

  “Brave?” I asked, “Maybe just stupid.”

  “Stupid? How so?”

  “She could have gotten hurt. Her eggs could all be crushed or ruined by humans. By laying her eggs here with all this crap going on, it’s a risk, but she did it anyway. Maybe she should have just run.” I crouched down again, staring off into the sand, not sure if I was still talking about the turtles, or me. “Maybe sometimes running is the better option than staying, even if she thinks this place is her home.”

  “Rage?” Nolan asked. I stood and brushed the sand off my knees. “You okay?”

  “Yeah, of course. I’m good,” I assured him, looking away so he wouldn’t read my face. I changed the subject. “When do they hatch?”

  “Soon. Couple weeks at most. They usually stay under the sand for about two months before hatching. Only one out of a thousand make it to adulthood, though.”

  “Holy shit. Then why bother trying?” I asked, thinking the statistic seemed impossibly low.

  “ ’Cause, it’s worth it,” Nolan said. “These eggs are her family. Family is always worth it. Family is everything,” he said.

  I opened my mouth to respond but shut it quickly. I was going to ask him about his parents again. It would have been the perfect opportunity, but I didn’t want to. What if what he told me was what Smoke needed? What if the answer to his question was the beginning of the end?

  I knew that was going to happen—it was inevitable—but I pushed the thought away, not ready to deal with that just yet.

  “Are you sure you’re okay?” Nolan asked again.

  “Of course,” I said, turning around to face him. “Thanks for showing me this.”

  “Rage,” Nolan started, “where is home for you? I haven’t asked because you didn’t want to talk about your parents after I answered your phone and when you came to my house that first day, you didn’t want to tell me your real name, but now I’m curious.”

  “It’s not important.”

  “I find that hard to believe.”

  I offered him what I could. “Rage is my real name. The one I was given when I was born really isn’t important because my parents are the only ones currently in my life who even know that name, and most of the time, they call me some Flemish nickname anyway. I left home a long time ago, and besides daily phone calls, I haven’t seen my parents since then. Their house never felt like home to me and, it wasn’t because of them. They’re great. They’ve always meant well, their lives and the life they wanted for me just wasn’t…it just wasn’t.”

  “So you don’t have a home? You just wonder around?” Nolan asked.

  “Sort of,” I admitted. “I have a friend. No, more like a teacher. I stay at his place when I’m in town, but my lack of sleeping weirds him out so I don’t go there too often.”

  Nolan’s entire demeanor stiffened. “I thought you said Cody was your only friend? Is this other guy your boyfriend?”

  “No! He’s not. He’s like a teacher, sort of. He’s always got a different girl over. And stop with all the questions, I’ve never had a boyfriend!” I yelled, flooded by instant regret the second the words left my mouth.

  “You haven’t?” Nolan asked, sounding amused. The dimple reappeared.

  “No, I’m too busy traipsing about, taking up with my different boyfriends around the state,” I said, sarcastically, with a dramatic wave of my hands.

  “Very cute. But seriously, how is that safe? Being alone out there? There are a lot of bad people out there in the world, Rage.”

  Yeah, and I’m one of them.

  “It’s a lot safer than you would think,” I said, turning back to the turtles, ready for the conversation to be over. Nolan reluctantly took the hint.

  “In a couple of weeks we can come back to see if they’ve hatched yet. If we’re lucky, maybe we can watch it happen,” he said.

  “I’d like that,” I said, because I would. I really wanted to witness them crawling out to sea. For once I let myself have that fantasy and in a mat
ter of seconds I’d convinced myself that it was all true. That I would be back to see the turtles hatch.

  Nolan grabbed my hand, this time I followed him toward the street. Once on the empty sidewalk, his walk was straighter, his limp barely noticeable. The street was empty except for a lone car or truck passing every few moments. We walked in comfortable silence until we came up to a tiny stucco building no bigger than a shed. “What is this place?” I asked as Nolan held open the door for me.

  “This place has the best empanadas in town,” Nolan announced opening the glass door to the tiny cafe. A bell rang overhead. The smell of chilies and bread took up every inch of the place. Steam rose from pots in the open kitchen, which only had two burners and a swinging door, concealing a back room where more steam was coming from what I assumed were even more pots.

  “Goon! Where the fuck you been bro?” a short, dark-skinned man with a mustache shouted from behind a high glass counter.

  Goon?

  “Pinto! My man! Good to see you. It’s been way too long,” Nolan said and the two guys exchanged as much of a bro hug as they could with the glass counter separating them, clasping their hands together and patting each other’s shoulders.

  “I heard about the leg, man. That sucks, bro. We’ve all been routing for you back home,” Pinto said. “Oh, and that fucking cunt Jessica. I knew she was a fucking cunt though, brother, because my girl Maria saw her playing Chinese finger cuffs with Tico and his…”

  It wasn’t hard to figure out that Jessica was the fuck buddy.

  I cleared my throat.

  “And who might this be?” Pinto asked, his eyes darting to me.

  “This is Rage,” Nolan said, introducing me. “Rage, this old son of a bitch is Pinto. Pinto makes the best empanadas in all of Southwest Florida. I graduated with his brother.”

  Pinto put his hand over his heart. “Very nice to meet you, Rage. I’d thank Goon here for his compliment, but that shit be true, yo. Although, my abuelita might argue with you, because it’s her recipe. So in case she’s looking down from heaven, we’ll just they’re the best in the entire world,” he said. He turned to Nolan and smacked his shoulder. “And I’m two years older than you, homie. So cut the old shit.”

  Nolan playfully punched him back.

  “You hit like a fucking girl. You two hitting up Bunch Beach tonight? Heard they got the pulls going on. Scotty’s out there with the ‘Yota. Can you believe he still has that piece of shit running? You should go check it out.”

  “People still partying out there?” Nolan asked.

  “Yeah man. You should go say hey. Sure there are some katz out there who would love to say hi to the Nolan Archer.”

  “Fuck you, man,” Nolan said with a laugh.

  Pinto grabbed two Coronas out of a refrigerator with a glass front and a PEPSI logo over the top. He tossed them to Nolan then pointed to one of only two tables in the place. “Why don’t you two take a seat and I’ll bring you out something special,” he said, rubbing his palms together as if he was formulating a plan. Dozens of colorful tattoos decorated the backs of his knuckles as Nolan led me over to the yellow, plastic table by the large front window. He used the concrete windowsill on the sidewall to remove the caps from our beers like he’d done it a million times before. He handed me one.

  “Goon?” I asked, cocking an eyebrow.

  “Hockey thing,” Nolan explained. “I’ll be right back. I’m gonna hit the little boys’ room.”

  While Nolan was gone, Pinto came and set down two white, Styrofoam plates overflowing with an assortment of amazing smelling food. Not only did they have a golden brown empanada on each one but also some sort of delicious looking shredded pork, and what looked like little fried rounds of banana. “Wow, this looks great,” I said, picking up my plastic fork and digging into the food, which tasted even better than it smelled.

  “Holy shit. Who needs fucking compliments? All I gotta do is stand here and watch you eat. That’s compliment enough,” Pinto said, flashing a smile. It wasn’t until he raised his hand to wipe his face that I noticed the skull tattoo over his middle knuckle on his right hand. One I’ve seen many times before.

  Beach Bastard familiar.

  Fuck.

  “Does he know who you are?” Pinto asked in a threatening whisper, leaning in close with one hand on the back of my chair.

  I scooped another mouthful of pork into my mouth. “What’s the seasoning in this? It’s fantastic,” I said through my food. “I mean the cilantro I’ve already figured out. That was the easy one. There’s something else, though, I can’t quite pin-point.”

  “Are you after him, or you fucking him?” Pinto asked, snatching the fork from my hand and plopping it down onto the middle of my plate. He got right up in my face. “Or maybe both?” The fire in my spine started to burn the second he touched my fucking fork.

  “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I deadpanned.

  “I caught a glimpse of your tattoo. I know it’s you. I used to run cleanup for the Bastards back in the day. That tattoo was described by a dying man or two left in the wake of the shit I had to take care of because of something you did,” Pinto said, leaning in even closer. “Thought they were delirious. Thought it was all a myth that a girl could cause so much damage. They call you the Angel of Death. Didn’t think you were real until you walked into my place just now.”

  “Step back, or you’re gonna learn firsthand why they call me that,” I warned. I was familiar with the moniker. The complete lack of creativity or originality of the nickname was the only thing that bothered me about it.

  Pinto ignored my warning, placing a hand on the back of my chair. “You listen up, bitch. That kid’s my friend. Has been since we were in fucking diapers. Anything happens to him and I’ll call my fucking brother. He’s a Bastard, and he’ll be coming for you. Him and his whole fucking club.”

  I faked a yawn, his threat just as boring and unoriginal as ‘Angel of Death’.

  I pushed away his hand and picked up my fork again. With Pinto watching that hand, I grabbed a handful of Pinto’s balls with the other and squeezed, the veins in my forearms flexing and straining with my the tightness of my grip. He yelped and tried to step back. I only squeezed harder.

  I cut off the corner of the empanada and took a huge bite. “Mmmmm, these really are good,” I said in a normal volume before lowering my voice. “Listen motherfucker, I’ll do what I need to do, just like you’ll do what you need to do,” I said between chews. “You step in my business, though, and I’ll not only cut out your balls and feed them to you, I’ll burn this shit hole to the ground. Then I’ll burn your club to the ground.” I looked him square in the eye where tears had formed in the corners. “I don’t know what you’ve heard about me, or what you think you know, but trust me, whatever you’ve heard is bullshit…I’m much, much worse. If you don’t believe me, I recommend that since you’re a Bastard familiar, that you ask Chop or Bear about me. They’ll tell you I don’t just threaten, I follow through. I kind of hope you fuck up. I’m all too happy to end it all. Your club. Your business. Your brother.” I paused and gave him one last hard squeeze. “You.”

  When the bathroom door opened I released Pinto who immediately stepped back behind the counter. Nolan came out, wiping his hands with paper towel. He crunched it up into a little ball and tossed it into the trash as if he were shooting hoops. “Good, right?” Nolan asked, pointing to my plate.

  “The best,” I said, looking over to Pinto, who scowled before disappearing into the kitchen. He didn’t come out again.

  He didn’t even respond when Nolan called out his good-bye.

  Pussy.

  CHAPTER FIFTEEN

  Rage

  The occasional streetlight did little to break through the darkness, but we didn’t need them to help guide our way because Nolan seemed to know exactly where he was going as he lead me through the night. We walked down the sidewalk in front of the darkened windows of the closed shops and
café’s.

  Nolan tugged on my hand, and I followed him through a narrow alleyway between what looked like two abandoned beach cottages, which were in a lot worse shape than Nolan’s place. Bright red notices with some sort of warning were stapled over each of the windows, which were boarded up. Nolan released me and turned sideways in order to fit through the small opening, grabbing my hand again when he emerged on the other side and pulling me through onto the beach.

  “Where are we?” I asked. What lay before me was not just another place, but another world. In the hundred-foot span between where we just popped out of and the water was a roped off area, a makeshift arena, where two huge lifted trucks with humungous tires were lined up, tailgate to tailgate. A few dozen spectators sat scattered on the connecting dilapidated decks of the two cottages, which I realized was more like a duplex rather than two separate buildings. The spectators talked and refilled their red plastic cups, courtesy of the keg sitting on top of a tire in the sand below, as they waited for whatever was about to happen between the ropes to start.

  Several other vehicles were positioned outside the ropes with on-lookers sitting on the tailgates while others were faced forward, shining their headlights into the little arena. “You just wait. This was one of my favorite things when I was in high school. When I wasn’t playing hockey, I was out here.” He brought me right
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