|Publisher:||Open Road Integrated Media LLC|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.00(d)|
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By Ray Garton
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1988 Ray Garton
All rights reserved.
As daylight faded over the muggy San Fernando Valley the dirty brown of the smog in the sky was deceptively hidden by the soft blood-blister pastels of sunset.
It had been one of the hottest and most humid summers in recent memory. Temperatures and humidity levels reached record highs in the Valley, and Los Angeles residents, normally willing to venture over the hill for one reason or another, took to avoiding the Valley completely.
Three deaths were blamed on the heat: two elderly patients in a small Canoga Park nursing home in which the air conditioner had broken down, and a postman in Sherman Oaks who had been less than a week short of retirement.
The bright, stylish clothes of Valley teenagers, usually spotless and perfectly in place, wrinkled easily and were blotched with perspiration as the kids paraded through the malls and up and down the boulevards. The most-voiced complaints among teenage girls that summer concerned the damage done to their hair and makeup by the insufferable humidity.
Cars overheated on short trips to the market, and fast food drive-up windows attracted interminably long lines of afternoon drivers in need of a cold drink.
Those without air conditioners sacrificed a few nights out each month so they could afford to rent them; those with air conditioners did the same so they could afford to repair them when they burned out from overuse.
Two women were arrested for tearing each other's clothes off in a fight over who was first in line at the Frostee Freeze on Lankershim Boulevard.
A widower in Sylmar came home from work one afternoon in July to find that his fifteen-year-old daughter had baked some cookies, raising the temperature in the apartment; he caved in her forehead with a rolling pin.
Children did not go out to play in the afternoon, and dogs did not chase cars.
Sirens were the carols of the season day and night.
But the long summer was nearing its close.
It would end officially after the Labor Day weekend when school began and department store windows displayed their new lines of fall clothing.
On this Saturday evening, as shadows lengthened and the smog slowly lost its facade, clouds began to roll in. There were only a few at first, separated by large patches of gray-blue sky, but they were fat with dark undersides. As they crept over the Valley, low and sluggish, they gathered together, slowly closing the spaces between them.
Deejays on local radio stations announced the unexpected cover of clouds over the Valley with a fanfare one might expect to accompany the arrival of royalty; they played songs about rain and dusted off their sound-effects records to play the rumbling of thunder and the spattering of rain.
As the night darkened and the cloud cover thickened, acne-prone young people began to cruise the boulevard with rain songs pounding from their car stereos.
Nightclubs that catered exclusively to teenagers geared up for a night of heavy traffic, knowing that the last Saturday night before the beginning of a new school year—especially if it cooled off and rained—would be a busy one.
The fat, dark clouds blocked the starlight and glowed with soft swirls of color from the lights of the Valley. They stopped their crawl across the sky and remained, hovering over the Valley like an enormous, fragmented, cottony ghost.
But it did not rain....CHAPTER 2
Jeff Carr blanched at the heat when he stepped out of the Studio City Theater on Ventura Boulevard. The moist air clung to his flesh like honey.
The movie was not over, but he didn't care how it ended. He hadn't really wanted to see it; he'd just come along with the others because his sister Mallory had picked it, and he wanted Mallory to enjoy herself tonight.
To the left of the theater entrance was a small group of conservatively dressed teenagers. The boys wore ties and dress shirts with the sleeves rolled up and dark slacks with perfect creases down the legs. All the girls wore knee-length skirts and loose-fitting tops, some with buttons down the front, fastened all the way up to the throat. Each of the eight group members carried a stack of pamphlets and wore a button with calvary youth printed below a stylized cross. They were all smiling pleasantly.
Standing in the middle of the group was a wiry blond man in his fifties. He wore a dark suit, and there were sweat stains on the collar of his white shirt. Beneath the light of the marquee his cheeks looked hollow, and below his brows were deep caves of shadow. He carried a Bible under his left arm and he smiled at Jeff with a birdlike tilt of his head.
Jeff turned away from him. He'd seen them before, the Calvary Youth. They waited outside theaters and nightclubs, places where high school students gathered, dressed like Sunday school teachers, trying to recruit a few more souls for the Lord's work.
He walked to the curb and slipped his fingers into the back pockets of his baggy white pants, watching the traffic. The boulevard was backed up from the intersection of Ventura and Laurel Canyon, and the smell of exhaust was heavy in the air. Music blasted from open car windows and clashed, sounding like construction work. Looking up past the lights of the street, Jeff saw that the clouds that had rolled in earlier were still there.
"Some clouds," he muttered disgustedly, turning away from the street.
He looked back at the line of cars and saw Larry Caine standing up in the back seat of a red Rabbit convertible, waving a hand over his blond head. He wore a yellow muscle shirt that showed his hard, tanned arms. There was one other guy in the car and a bunch of girls. Figured.
"Where is everybody?" Larry asked.
Jeff gestured over his shoulder toward the theater.
"Your sister, too?"
"I thought she was going out with Kevin tonight."
"He stood her up."
"Yeah?" Larry flashed a pleased, straight-toothed grin. Jeff hated him, knowing what was going on behind those bright blue eyes. The light at the intersection changed, and the cars began to move. Nodding, Larry said, "Well, bring her over to Fantazm later and we'll show her a good time." He waved again, then sat down as the car moved on, putting his arm around one of the girls.
Jeff walked away from the curb and leaned against the wall of the theater.
Larry Caine had been after Mallory for months, but she wasn't interested—something Larry found rather confusing, Jeff was sure. Mallory had been seeing Kevin Donahue for the last month or so, probably a source of further confusion for Larry. Why would Mallory ignore the sun-bronzed physique and movie-star smile of Larry Caine in favor of a scrawny, sneering punk like Kevin Donahue?
Jeff didn't know the answer to that question either, but as much as he despised Larry, and as much as he enjoyed seeing the puzzlement in Larry's eyes each time Mallory turned away from him, he would rather have his younger sister spend time with him instead of someone like Donahue.
Normally, Larry would not take such rejection quietly, without performing what he seemed to consider some sort of mating dance. He and his grunting entourage of bench pressers would begin to frequent places where Donahue hung out. They would talk to one another in booming voices, making sure Donahue could hear them as they made profane remarks about his clothes or his jewelry or his black scraggly hair that sometimes shone with a hint of grease when he went a few days without bathing. If that got no reaction, they would direct their insults to Donahue until he made a move. Then they would probably take him outside and beat him senseless. That's what they would normally do. But they didn't.
Because they were afraid. And with good reason.
Kevin Donahue and his friends would fight back without hesitation. They wouldn't use their fists because, like Donahue, most of them were very skinny and rather pale. They would use knives and clubs and—Jeff wasn't positive, but he suspected—guns.
Larry Cairte was not smart by most standards, but he wasn't stupid; Jeff was sure he was willing to let a girl, maybe even a couple girls, slip through his fingers to avoid that kind of trouble.
Mallory was fifteen, a year younger than Jeff, and Donahue was her first real boyfriend. She'd dated a guy named Rich for a couple weeks the previous spring, but she hadn't slept with him. Jeff knew it was different with Donahue. Mallory had not actually told him, but he could tell.
Their mother knew Mallory was seeing Donahue, but she didn't know anything about what kind of guy he was, nor did she know how serious it had become. She and Mallory weren't talking much these days—their conversations had been fluctuating between flat, polite exchanges and icy periods of silence, occasionally punctuated with a brief time of reconciliation, ever since Dad had left two years ago—and Jeff didn't think it was his place to tell her anything.
"Don't worry about it," Mom had told him over breakfast when he had skirted the subject of Mallory and Donahue a few days earlier. "She'll get tired of that crowd and find another one. I swear," she'd said, ruffling his hair and giving him a smile that seemed wearier than it had two years ago, "you almost sound jealous of your little sister!"
No, Jeff told himself, flattening his palms against the warm cement wall behind him, not jealous, really. Just ... worried.
But he knew better.
When Donahue had stood Mallory up earlier that evening, Jeff had decided to get her out of the apartment, cheer her up a little, and, if he thought it was appropriate, maybe talk with her about Donahue. He didn't want to sound naggy about it, but it probably wouldn't hurt to drop a few words of caution.
He knew what her reaction would be. She would smile softly, put her hand on his, and say something like, "My knight in shining armor. Are you going to follow me through life, fighting for my honor?"
Jeff fidgeted against the wall, looking down at the sidewalk. He wasn't about to fight for anything. He was far from the fighting type. His arms and legs were long and skinny. He had never been any good in sports, mostly because he had never been interested in them—something his father had always resented. Jeff was all too aware of the fact that what he lacked in build he did not make up for in looks. He had straight, light brown hair and a few freckles on his cheeks; he wore tan tortoise-shell-framed glasses for his astigmatism, and, worst of all, he had crooked teeth.
"Even if we had enough money to afford braces for your teeth," his father had told him a few years ago, "there are plenty more important things to spend it on." He'd said it in that clipped way he had of making everything sound trivial and annoying. "It'd be cheaper if you just didn't smile as much."
Jeff lifted his head and watched a laughing couple walk by, noticing how the girl's body moved in sync with the guy's, the way they touched one another at just the right times and in the right places with no clumsy fumbling or bumping. The guy slipped his arm around her waist as he leaned over to say something, and she propped her elbow on his shoulder for a moment, listening; she tossed her head back and laughed, they parted a moment, then she slid her hand beneath his shirttails and tucked her fingers into his back pocket.
It amazed Jeff the way most people were able to be couples so well, as if they had practiced a lot or taken a course. Maybe they were teaching that over at Northridge now. Summer classes. Introductory Being Together—Learn to move right and look good as a couple. You can't be it if you can't do it!
Jeff tried to force a smile, but the thought just didn't seem funny.
"When're you gonna get yourself a girlfriend, Jeffy?" Brad Kreisler had asked him a few days ago, thumbing through a Playboy at the Van Nuys newsstand.
"I check the papers every day for sales," Jeff replied, scanning the shelves of magazines.
"Well, pretty soon people are gonna start thinking you're a floater. You want people to think you're a floater, Jeffy?"
Jeff hated being called "Jeffy." "You know it's what I live for, Brad."
"Smartass," Brad laughed. "What about that girl who works at the Cookie Jar? In the Galleria. Lily something? You two seem to get along. Why don't you go for it?"
Jeff said nothing.
"Well, you know, if you keep hanging around with your sister"—Brad replaced the magazine and held out a hand, palm down, tilting it back and forth—"people are gonna think something funny's going on."
If you keep hanging around with your sister ... keep hanging around with your sister ... hanging around with your—
The theater doors opened, and the crowd spilled out onto the sidewalk, most of them grumbling about the movie. As Jeff stepped away from the wall he heard Brad Kreisler's voice rise above the others.
"Whatta shitty movie!" he barked, taking his pack of Yves St. Laurents from one of the big pockets of his blue shorts and lighting up. "And where's the fuckin' rain? I thought it was gonna rain!"
"I wanna go back to Oregon," Bobbi Cheever whined, brushing plump fingers through her short, orange-tinted hair as she shouldered through the crowd. "It's cooler, and I think the movies are better."
"Yeah," Nick Frazier said, a step behind her, "but you'd have to stop shaving your legs again."
"Fuck off and die, Nick!" she snapped.
They had been fighting all week, and Jeff figured they would break up before school started on Tuesday.
"Where's Mallory and Tina?" Jeff asked.
Brad jerked his head back toward the theater, tossing his red curls, and said, "Bathroom."
The sidewalk became congested as the theater emptied, and the Bible-carrying man in the suit stepped forward. Still smiling, he gently touched his fingertips to the perfectly straight part in his hair and said loudly, "Friends, just as this long and miserable summer is coming to an end, so is the long and miserable existence of this sin-sick planet. Every headline and every newscast is a road sign, and our journey is almost over. Our Lord Jesus Christ is preparing for His return, and He wants all of us to be ready, friends, all of us."
A boy in bermuda shorts and a torn T-shirt shouted over his shoulder as he walked away from the theater, "I'm not your fucking friend!"
Jeff glanced at the preacher; the man blinked as perspiration trickled down his forehead, but his smile did not waver.
"My name is Reverend James Bainbridge," he went on, holding up his Bible, "and these young people are the Calvary Youth. They have been set free by the Truth, friends—free of the addiction to drugs, free of the deceptive promise of sex and the seductive beat of rock and roll. They've brought that Truth to you tonight."
He nodded without turning from the crowd, and, in unison, the Calvary Youth stripped the rubber bands from their stacks and began passing out the pamphlets. Most of the crowd ignored them.
A small hand came to rest on Jeff's shoulder, and he turned to Mallory. "I think I'd like to go home now, Jeff," she said quietly, the glaring light from above softened as it was reflected in her golden hair.
"Why don't you come down to Tiny's with us for a bite to eat?" he said. "You haven't eaten anything all day."
"I don't think so." She had a tight look around her brown eyes, as if there were a pebble in her shoe or something. That look always made Jeff want to take her hand.
"C'mon, just for a while. Then, if you want to go, I'll take you home."
She shrugged indifferently.
Tina Shephard came out behind Mallory and went to Brad's side, snaking a thin arm around his waist.
"We going to Tiny's?" she asked.
"Yeah," Jeff said, putting his hand on the back of Mallory's neck and squeezing encouragingly.
" ... don't have much time," Reverend Bainbridge said, his voice fuller than before, the Bible held high over his head. "The Bible says He will come like a thief in the night, and our world is now in its darkest night! Just look around you, friends, and what do you see?"
"Nocturnal emissionaries!" Someone laughed.
Brad took Tina's hand, and they led the way down the walk to Tiny Naylor's. Bobbi and Nick walked with a couple feet of cold space between them.
"I really don't want to stay very long," Mallory said. "If you want, I can walk home."
Excerpted from Crucifax by Ray Garton. Copyright © 1988 Ray Garton. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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