Please DON'T BE WAITING FOR ME

THE DEFIANT NEW THRILLER FROM TODD STADTMAN

CHAPTER 27

 

Bridge spent most of the bus ride asleep with her head on Scott's shoulder. To his credit, he knew that he was falling in love with her. Yet he wondered if this was just a product of their present circumstances; if, amid all this brutality and horror, his heart was reaching out for tenderness and finding it in the nearest available place. Or perhaps he had loved her all along.

   In light of what had happened to Nadya, it seemed like a very risky and foolish time for such feelings. Does anybody really recover from the type of loss that Benny had suffered? His dad was having a hard enough time, and he was only divorced. Benny had had the love of his life torn from him in the cruelest manner imaginable.

   Finally the bus wheezed to a halt.  After making their way out of the Terminal’s subterranean depths, they emerged onto First Street and were surprised to see a small crowd of punks on the sidewalk outside the Fun Terminal. Apparently, a party at the Mutant's loft was winding down and the last stragglers were lingering outside trying to figure out what to make of the rest of the night/early morning. Recognizing some familiar faces, Scott and Bridge made their way over. One girl mentioned an afterhours show at a storefront over on Valencia and 21st.

   "What do you think?" asked Bridge. "Sleepy?"

   "I laugh in the face of sleep," he replied.

   A punk named Hank Schizo, who drove in from Hayward for shows, offered some of them a ride over in his car. Scott knew that, as far as Hank was concerned, he was just Bridge's "plus one", but tonight he didn't mind.

   Going to shows in the Mission was always a dicey proposition due to the Cholos, who resented the incursion of these bizarre looking white people into their traditionally Hispanic neighborhood. Fortunately, it being nearly three am, the streets were empty enough for them to enter the space without being hassled.

   Once inside, they saw a white piece of paper with an arrow drawn on it in marker posted inside the doorway. This pointed the way to a downward leading staircase on the other end of the otherwise barren room. At the bottom of the stairs, a girl collected their three dollars each and placed it in a shoe box. It all reminded Scott of one of those old Our Gang comedies where they put on a show in the barn.

   The room, in accordance with tradition, was another fire marshal's nightmare; a small, windowless basement with a solid clot of kids all the way from the front of the stage to the back wall and a tiny, makeshift bar in the corner. Scott and Bridge clung to the wall and made their way along the crowd's edge. The stage was nothing more than a taped off area on the floor. On it, No Alternative was ripping through "I Hate the Government," their pompadoured singer, Johnny Genocide, a man whose personal style could only be described as "punkabilly," snarling into the microphone.

   After finding a decent vantage point, Scott alternated between watching the band and scanning the crowd, looking for friends and wanting to see if any bold fashion choices were being made. Finally his eyes caught on a hulking figure at the far corner of the room.

   “Bridge, look,” he said urgently, motioning his head in the figure’s direction. “That’s the guy Benny stole the drugs from.”

   “Oh shit!” Bridge exclaimed, seeing Trogg. She ducked instinctively.

   The idiot logic of the situation immediately dawned on Scott. What better place to find a speed dealer than at an afterhours show?

   “When he leaves, I want to follow him.”

   “Seriously, Scott?”

   “Relax. We’ll just follow him. I want to see where he’s staying. I’m sure he’s moved on from the Golden Eagle since I met with him.”

   She let out a dramatic sigh. “You sure know how to show a girl a good time.”

   “Right. It will be romantic. You’ll see.”

   Luckily for them, Trogg was doing very good business that night, because he was too distracted by the steady flow of customer to see them occasionally peering over at him from across the room. For Scott, it was perversely interesting to see the intricate sleight-of-hand that went into the hand off of cash for pills; you wouldn’t even notice it if you didn’t already know what was going on. Of course, while this was a long practiced trick of the trade for Trogg, his customers couldn’t always be counted on to be so discreet. One girl who approached him waving a wad of cash was turned away.

   It was also interesting to see just who was lining up for Trogg’s wares. Contrary to what you might expect, a lot of them were the relatively clean cut suburban new wavers. Scott wondered if it was perhaps considered a necessary accoutrement of their punk night out—like eating chop suey in Chinatown—or if it was just that they needed the extra pep to make the drive back to Walnut Creek.

   The band that went on after No Alternative was pretty shambolic, and the crowd began to thin as a result. A law of diminishing returns tended to apply to the level of musical talent at these afterhours shows as it got further into the morning hours. When the audience grew sparse enough that they were at risk of being seen by Trogg, they made their way up the stairs and out on to the street to await his exit.

   A couple cabdrivers, seeing the emerging crowd as an opportunity to pick up an end-of-shift fare, had pulled their cabs up out front. After what seemed like hours, Trogg lumbered out and got into one. When Hank Schizo just happened to follow him out of the club, Scott nearly tackled him, getting a tight grip on his sleeve.

   “Hank, I need you to follow that cab for me,” he commanded, wild eyed enough that you might think he’d sampled some of Trogg’s product.  Hank tried to wriggle out of his grasp.

   “What are you? Freaking Baretta, dude?” he whined, finally wresting free. “No!”

   “Oh, come on, Hank,” cooed Bridge, taking his arm. “We’ll totally make it up to you.”

   “God dammit!” Hank stomped, cursing his own weak will as much as anything. “Come on, then.”

   Hank was even less happy when Scott insisted that they run to his car a block away, and full on panicked when he caught a glimpse of who was in the back of the cab.

   “Dude, that’s Trogg! Freaking, Trogg, Man! You don’t want to know what he’ll do to us if he catches us following him.”

   “All the more reason for you to lay back so he doesn’t see us,” said Scott.

   Hank kept a distance of about five car lengths between them and the cab the whole way. Fortunately, the route the driver was taking was fairly straightforward, with very few twists and turns, and stuck for the most part to major thoroughfares, so it was relatively easy for Hank to keep up the appearance that he was just another motorist who happened to be following the exact same course. All the same, the three of them maintained a tense silence throughout the drive, as if Trogg would be able to hear them speak from a distance of almost a city block.

   After leaving the club, the cab had cut down from Valencia and then headed back up South Van Ness toward Market. After crossing Market, it continued up Van Ness proper. It was a route that afforded them a fairly thorough overview of the city’s walking wounded, from the hunched shopping cart pushers, to the corpse-like doorway crouchers, to the crazies who screamed their madness into the emptiness of the early morning streets.

   Finally the cab took a right on Pacific, then a left on Polk Street. Hank’s car hit a red light at the corner of Pacific and Polk, and the three of them watched as the cab pulled to a stop in front of the Broadway Hotel.

   “This is good, Hank,” Scott said. “You can let us off here. We should walk the rest of the way.”

   “Are you sure?” Hank keened, at once worried for them and at the same time very anxious to get the hell out of there.

   “It’s fine,” said Bridge, pecking his cheek as she hopped from the car.

   Scott led Bridge very slowly up the block, making sure to stay in the shadows cast by the awnings of the stores that lined it, watching all the while as Trogg fumbled with his keys and entered the Broadway. Finally he brought them to a stop behind a bus shelter at the corner of Polk and Broadway.

   “What are we going to do now?” she asked.

   “We’re going to watch. I want to see what room he’s in. He’ll turn on the light.”

   “What are you, the third Hardy Boy?” she almost shouted.

   Scott put a finger to his lips. “Yes. Spike Hardy. The black sheep of the Hardy family, albeit the most handsome.”

   The Broadway Hotel was a large SRO (“Single Room Occupancy”) that took up about a half a block of Polk Street between Pacific and Broadway. Many punks had crashed there over the years, sharing the place with a host of vagrants, burn outs, addicts, and just plain down-and-outers. It had a reputation for being filthy and crime ridden. Still, the rates were marvelous.

   After a couple minutes, a light did indeed go on in a window about two down from the Broadway side of the second floor. They were then surprised to see Trogg himself open that window and poke his large round head out, looking back down Polk in the direction of the Bay. He then closed the window and taped a blank piece of paper to the pane.

   “He’s waiting for somebody,” Scott whispered. “That’s a signal.”

   “Neat,” Bridge said. “Can we leave now?”

   “No, I want to see.”

   Bridge exhaled deeply, her breath forming clouds in the cold morning air. It was quiet. So quiet that Scott started at the sound of a pair of motorcycles revving in the distance. Then he realized that the sound was rapidly getting closer.

   “Bridge, run!”

   Scott grabbed her hand and lead her out into the middle of Polk Street, which was a mistake. Almost immediately they were caught in the headlights of a trio of motorcycles that had swerved into their path and squealed to a halt in front of them. Scott could count them by their head lamps, which were so bright that he couldn’t make out the drivers. Then one of them spoke.

   “Well look at here. I must have been a very, very good boy.”

   It was Ray.

   “Hey punky punk, looks like you got a girlfriend after all. Looks mighty tasty.”

   The three of them revved their engines, producing a roar so loud that Bridge covered her ears and began to edge back toward the bus shelter.

   “Oh, is that too loud for you, Sweetie?” Called Ray, revving again. “I am truly sorry. I really am.” Scott heard the other two laughing.

   Scott realized that they were going to die. And with that realization came a deep awareness of the meaning of the term “desperate measures”. Whatever he did next could have no meaning, or it could be the most meaningful thing of all. Whatever it was, it certainly didn’t have to make sense.

   With that in mind, Scott turned and walked back toward the sidewalk in a manner both deliberate and casual.

   “Hey, what are you doing punky boy?” Ray taunted, an edge of confusion creeping into his voice. This was a man who was used to people being paralyzed with fear before him.

   There was a free standing trash can by the bus shelter. Scott calmly rested his hands on its rim and hung his head as if in despair. Then he turned quickly and hurled the trash can at them, catching Ray squarely in the chest.

   “Now RUN!” he yelled.

   Engines roared behind them as they raced down Broadway. Ray was screaming “motherfucker!” at the top of his lungs. They made for the Broadway Tunnel, which was foolish. Perhaps some childish part of them saw the tunnel as promising to deliver them, at its end point, into some fresh world where none of this was happening.

   Scott could hear the panic in Bridge’s breath as they took the tunnel, audible even as the roar behind them grew louder. He felt the brace around his ribs constricting his lungs as they struggled for air, the pain in his midsection becoming almost unbearable. Somehow they had gotten a quarter of the way into the tunnel, but the roar was almost upon them.  He heard a lone car speed past; traffic in the tunnel was sparse at this hour, and it was unlikely that any driver on the road, most likely woozy and tired after a night of partying, would stop to get involved, even if they happened to register the insanity that was taking place.

   Suddenly Scott noticed that the roar, which had previously been one unified noise, was now coming from two different places. He looked over his shoulder to see that one of the Angels had jumped his bike onto the walkway and was bearing down on them. They had no choice but to jump the guard rail into the right traffic lane. They hit the asphalt just as a van was barreling toward them. It swerved just in time and continued along its way, the driver leaning on his horn.

Stunned, Scott and Bridge paused for only a second. Ray and the third Angel brought their bikes to a squealing stop on either side of them, blocking their way. Scott could now see that the third biker was Lucky.

   “You’re brave, punker,” hissed Ray, getting off his bike. “I’m glad I wore my special belt for you.”

   Ray removed a heavy chain from around his waist and began twirling it overhead like a lasso. The whooshing sound it made as he spun it faster and faster, being the only sound other than the buzzing of the lights overhead, was highlighted in all its sickening malice by the lonely silence of the tunnel.

   “Speaking of heroes,” Ray continued, breathing heavily with his effort. “Have you ever wondered what happened to your friend Kat?”

   “You should send them a souvenir,” shouted Lucky,

   “I slit her from one end to the other, like a fish, but real slow. By the end of it, she was begging to die.”

   Ray let the chain fly. There was a loud “pop” as it struck Bridge on the elbow, then the sound of her wailing in pain.

   “Don’t you hurt her!” Scott heard himself shout. It was more of a scream, really. He also felt himself advancing inexorably in Ray’s direction.

   “Or you’ll do what exactly?” Ray said, flexing the chain in front of him.

   Scott heard metal scraping on the pavement behind him. He turned to see Lucky dragging a machete along the asphalt, his face twisted in sadistic anticipation.

   “What was that you were saying about how I was going to suffer, kid?”

    Farther away he heard another car approaching. Fast. He hoped that it was in the left lane… and that its driver was drunk.

   Once again, the certainty of death gave the moment a crystalline purity. In the face of annihilation he was as truly alive as he would ever be. And being truly alive meant doing the thing that nobody expected.

   As the car approached within just a few yards, Scott threw himself in its path. The driver reflexively swerved and plowed into the Angels. Lucky took most of the impact, his body flying over the car and landing in a contorted heap behind. Ray was still on his feet, though his bike was trapped halfway beneath the car. As a parting shot, Bridge ran up from behind and delivered a kick to his balls that was expertly calibrated for maximum impact. Leddy and Marisol had obviously followed through on their promise.

   “Why don’t you drown in a bathtub, you smelly piece of crap!” she shouted, her voice alive with something approaching glee. Ray, howling like an animal, crumpled to his knees.

   Again they were running. As they emerged into North Beach, the cheesy neon signage of The Condor Club and Big Al’s greeted them with all the warmth of “Welcome Home” signs. Then the roaring started again. It was just one this time, probably the one that had chased them on the walkway.

   Scott took Bridge’s hand and, again running, led her on to Grant Street. He didn’t know Chinatown well, but he did know that it had a lot of basement level storefronts—concessions to a very small area dense with shops and businesses—in which they could hide.

   15 minutes later, they huddled in a cement alcove just below the sidewalk, in the entryway to a souvenir store, examining one another’s wounds and giving each other comfort as best they could. Bridge’s arm where the chain had hit it was a mess, bloodied and badly bruised.

   “How do you feel?” he whispered.

   “Me hurt,” came her reply. He had forgotten that she did a pretty mean Gorgar.

   “I’m sorry I dragged you into this.”

   She reached up and caressed his face.

   “It’s alright. If you’re going to get yourself killed, I’ll just have to die with you.”

   And it was here, under the gaze of a window full of foo dogs, prosperity cats and jade Buddhas, that he kissed Bridge for the first time. Scott thought to himself that, as far as compensations for a night spent fleeing from homicidal Hells Angels went, you couldn’t do better than this.