Episode 4 – The Pipe
Fred wiped away a tear from his face and said, “Shit!”
Two, maybe three F bombs hit us as most of us dumped off our packs except for Roger and scrambled back to the opening of the pipe.
“I knew this was a bad idea,” Roger said.
“Shut up! You lit the stupid flare. How stupid was that?” Dan said as all of us made our way back to the opening.
“How was I supposed to know there’d be so much smoke?”
“Shut up! Stop talking! If Ronnie’s dead it’s your fault!” Gary barked.
“Dead? Holy shit. You think Ronnie’s dead?” Fred asked, “Oh no. His Dad is going to kick all our asses out our mouth.” Both eyes were welling up with tears.
“No one can breathe that shit!” Gary answered. “Could you?” Gary waited for Fred to answer. “That’s right you can’t. Ronnie’s dead and it’s his fault.” he nodded at Roger.
A streetlight on the other side of the street on the corner of Coolidge barely lit the gray concrete opening. We could see a reddish glow far inside the pipe.
The smoke-filled the upper half of the end and was flowing out at a steady rate. We took turns screaming into the darkness.
The echo would return with no sign of our friend.
Gary took charge. “Okay, one of us has to go back inside and get that flare out of there.”
I tilted my helmet like Vic Morrow did in Combat when he was pissed. I had practiced the classic move for a long time, and said, “Uh, you?”
“No way Jose,” Gary said then snapped his fingers and pointed, “Roger. He lit the it didn’t he? Besides, he’s skinny enough to squeeze under the smoke. Take off your pack dillweed.
See that there? Your going to go get that,” he pointed at the red glow, “and bring it back here so we can go in there together when the smoke clears and get Ronnie’s body. Drop your pack, Private.”
“Yeah, dumbo,” Zeno said as he stepped closer and put his face almost touching Roger’s face. “A flare? Really?”
Roger pushed Zeno away causing him to fall backward against the dirt side of the giant ditch. “You go get him, Zeno. Your just as skinny as me and you have the stupid Medic helmet. Ronnie needs a Medic, not me.” The straps of his pack slipped off of his shoulders letting the pack fall to the ground.
Zeno’s helmet had fallen off. He stood up and brushed his pants. I knew what that meant as I’d seen it many times. Zeno brushing of the dirt on his pants was similar to a bull pawing at the ground. The charge was about to happen and the capeless Toreador was Roger. Roger knew too what was coming.
“Stop!” I yelled. “We gotta get Ronnie first then you two can duke it out. Who’s going in. One of you has to.”
“Look the glow is getting dimmer,” one of us noticed.
“It’s going out! Get ready to go Rog!” Gary stared at Roger with his, ‘I’m going to kick your ass‘ look. “You started it and you’re going to finish it or I’m going to tell everyone you killed Ronnie. Check his pack for more flares.” he ordered then stepped in front of Roger to block him.
Zeno scrambled to Roger’s pack and poured out the contents. “He’s got one more!” Zeno held it up like a trophy.
“Give it to me,” Gary demanded. Zeno handed it over then Gary unzipped the cap. “Here’s what you’re going to do douche bag. You’re going to go get Ronnie and if you even think about turning around before you do, I’ll light this flare in your ass. Got it? Now get in there and bring him back to us. Never leave a man behind. Right?”
“Right,” Roger whimpered his answer.
“Right!” Gary screamed.
“Yes Sir!” Roger yelled back.
Roger stepped closer to the opening, looked inside, looked up at the smoke coming out, looked back at all of us standing in the depression, then turned and jumped up enough to get his stomach inside the pipe. He wiggled his legs until he was all the way inside. The bottom of his boots disappeared in the darkness.
We all watched and listened for what seemed too long as Roger scuffed his way into the terrifying darkness. The noise of him moving began to echo. Roger must almost be there.
“I found it!”
Rogers words came to us clear enough to understand him.
“Ronnie?” Gary screamed.
“No. I found the flare. It’s out!”
All of us looked at each other trying to understand Roger’s comment. “He’s your buddy,” Zeno said to me sarcastically.
Gary stood at the opening with both hands gripping the bottom of the pipe. “Find Ronnie!” he screamed as loud as he could. He turned his head toward us and said in a low voice, “Boy, he’s one dumbo.”
The voice echoed in the distance, “I can hear you.”
“Stop talking and find Ronnie!”
Roger slowly inched his way further into the ultimate blackness by feel only. His knees were beginning to hurt. The smell of the flare was still in his nose and caused him to sneeze. He sneezed three times and then saw the light. A dim but definite light ahead of him about a hundred yards or so.
Twenty-five yards nearer the light Roger instantly knew what it was. The other end of the pipe was right in front of him now. Roger hurried to the opening.
Another street lamp helped light up the giant dirt pile from the digging with a dull yellow glow. Roger’s left hand grasped the concrete edge as he peered slowly at the the wall of earth in front of him.
“Is that a fence?” he said aloud in a surprised tone. The chain-link fence was twenty feet ahead of him and was at least eight-feet tall. The metal wire circled around to both his left and his right. He leaned out further, turning his head as far back as he could to see where the fence ended. The fence went above his head both ways and over then disappeared.
‘Why a fence?’ he asked himself.
He scanned the side of the pile and slowly lowered his eyes. Below him several feet was a large black circle. He tried to focus on the dark abyss.
“That’s a hole,” he said whispered. Roger snarfed up a loogee and spat it into the darkness.
“One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi,” Roger counted. Then, ‘Splat’. “Holy hole in a donut!” he spurted. Roger loved the famous Robin’s exclamation to Batman. “That’s deep!” Roger liked donuts too.
He held onto the front brim of his helmet and turned his head then yelled, “I found him! I found him!”
We were talking about how we were going to bury Ronnie and how much it would cost. Zeno was just finishing his sentence, “I still have some of the quarters from the mexican joint we,” when they heard Roger.
“Hold on,” Gary raised his finger. “What?” Gary screamed.
A few seconds later Roger answered back, “I!” he paused and took in a deep breath, “found!” he took in another and screamed as loud as he could, “Ronnie!”
Gary looked at Fred, “See, just like I said. Ronnie’s as dead as a beaver hat.”
I sneered at Gary with one eye partially shut as I tilted back my helmet, “Enough with the John Wayne crap, okay? If you say that ever again,” I paused because there wasn’t a threat I could make that I could back up.
“What, you gonna run me over with your Huffy? Beaver hat, beaver hat, beaver hat,” Gary taunted.
Zeno stepped forward toward the pipe, “Stop. Listen.”
Everyone turned their head sideways and put an ear toward the shuffling sound.
“Roger’s dragging his body back. Listen. Doesn’t that sound like a body being dragged? Listen, you can hear his feet being dragged. Roger has him by his hair and he’s dragging him. Just like a Caveman does,” Dan announced through his blackened lips. He had been quiet almost the whole time until now.
“Ronnie doesn’t have hair like that, weirdo.”
“I forgot. Maybe he’s got him around the neck and rescuing him like the lifeguards do at Nelson’s Pool,” Dan couldn’t stop himself, “Maybe he’s bringing just his pack back and left his body there to rot.”
“Shhh, he’s close. Is Ronnie with you,” Zeno screamed.
Roger’s head appeared suddenly from the black, “No!” Stop screaming so loud! My ears hurt now.” Roger pushed forward so most of him was out of the pipe.
“Did you find his lifeless stiff body?” Gary asked.
“No,” Roger answered quickly. “But I know where he is. C’mon, help me out of here and I’l tell you guys.”
Gary and Zeno grabbed Roger under the arms and supporting him out of the opening then lowering him to his feet.
“Where’s Ronnie?” Gary asked again.
Fred whimpered, “I can’t believe he’s gone. He was so young and had so much ahead of him. He wanted to be a mechanic.”
“Shut up!” Gary reprimanded. “Where?”
“The other end is either on the other side of Camelback or it’s on this side. There’s a huge fence around where he’s at and there’s a huge deep hole there. Ronnie went headfirst into the hole. He’s down there, probably knocked out cuz he’s not in the pipe.”
Leaving our packs we scrambled up the dirt except Roger. He looked down at his boots and saw the last flare that Gary was going to shove up his butt.
“Hey guys!” Roger yelled. Everyone had already clambered over the pile and was running as hard as they could north to Camelback Road. He bent down and picked up the flare, “you’re gonna need this.” Roger shrugged his shoulders. He huffed impatiently as he climbed up the dirt hill and started running too toward his friends already two blocks ahead.
When Roger got there we all were up clenching the wire fence screaming Ronnie’s name at the same time into the hole.
I looked at Fred, “Can I have his Stingray?”
Fred screamed, “Ronnie!” so hard his fat feet came off the ground. He looked calmly at me, “Yes you can. We can paint it at my house whatever color you want. I like Candy Apple Red.”
“So do I,” I answered then screamed, “Ronnie!” again.
“It’s too dark, guys. That’s why I brought this,” Roger said holding the unspent flare in his hand.
“Spark it,” Gary ordered.
Roger struck the cap of the flare against the starter three times then the flare ignited. He held it until the spurting fire lit up the entire ditch then raised it up to light up the hole.
“It’s still too dark. I can’t see down in it.”
Everyone pushed hard against the fence that was keeping us from seeing our fallen friend. Gary pushed harder. “I can’t see shit. It’s way too dark.”
“Here,” Roger said. He started to throw the flare over the fence and into the hole.
Gary, Zeno and I, at the exact same time yelled, “No!”
“Hex hex,” Gary beat us to the announcement. Now he had won and was allowed to punch both of us in the arm as hard as he could because we said a word at the same time. Gary always left a bruise behind after he collected his debt.
“Why not? He’s already a stiffy.”
“Cuz he’s in there ya dope. Would if he’s still alive. You gonna try to kill him twice penis lips?” Gary reached at to Roger, “Give me that.”
They exchanged the sputtering flame carefully. Gary held the flare as close to the fence as possible hoping the red glow would light up the bottom.
“Man, that is deep,” Gary said as he shook his head.
“Tell me about it. I hocked up a good one and laid it right down the center and it took three or four seconds to hit bottom. That’s super deep.”
Everyone turned toward him, “You spit on Ronnie?” Gary beat us again to the simultaneous punch award, “Hex hex.” Now he has two.
I pre-rubbed the spot where my arm would ache in the next few days.
Suddenly from behind and above us a light shined casting our shadows onto the dirt. I squinted at the light and was not able to make out the figure.
“Cops,” Zeno whispered. “Do the crime, do the time. Roger’s going to the pen.”
Fred wiped his nose on his sleeve, “Oh no.”
“Hey guys. Stingrays rule,” a familiar voice from behind the light said.
Everyone turned with their backs against the fence. We looked up at the figure standing as if he was King of the Hill. Gary tossed the almost done flare backward over the fence and into the hole. The hole lit up with an eerie red glow as smoke poured up and out into the dark night. Zeno wiped at his pants staring to his left at Roger. He made a grunting sound.
“How’d you get out of this hole?” one of us asked.
“I was never in there. The pipe has a another get-out right where the flare was and when stupid,” he pointed the light at Roger, “lit Godzilla, I was right there so I went that way instead of I guess, this way. It comes out in the field behind Yellow Front just like this except there ain’t a big hole there. Then I ran home. I came back and saw your packs. That’s when I saw you guys light that flare over here.”
“You ran home?” I asked.
“Yeah, I ran home?”
“To get,” Ronnie raised the silver-colored metal light with a red end where the batteries go in while holding onto his helmet with his other hand, “new batteries. I got them out of Dad’s shed. I even got extras.”
“We thought you was dead. Fred even cried.”
Fred snipped, “I didn’t cry. I told you guys he wasn’t dead. Told you so.”
“Shut up Fred,” I said.
Fred looked at me. “Me? You were the one who already traded your Huffy for Ronnie’s bike if he was dead.”
Ronnie shined the light on each of us. We were covered in dirt, our knees showed signs of bleeding through our jeans. Dan’s makeup had moved onto his shirt’s collar. Ronnie took off his helmet and held it against his chest.
He shook the light making the batteries clack together. He then scoured the landscape of the dig with the bright beam stopping with it shining into the hole where his body would have laid.
The flare sputtered and went out. He raised the light to the entrance of the pipe behind the fenced area and nodded in the direction. We all turned our heads as if the feared pipe was calling for us. Ronnie’s excited voice broke the silence.
“We’re going to do it again, right?”
“The best part of life starts at the top of the stretch.” The WiseGuy