Kraushaar Ford occupied a half block on Michigan Blvd. in Waukesha. It was 11:00 am on a bright Thursday morning in September when Josh kicked out his Harley on the wide concrete apron outside the showroom. Kraushaar Ford was a long, low, gleaming white building with a hint of art deco, a glimpse of the future from a Fifties-era Mechanix Illustrated.
Josh entered the chill interior. It smelled pleasantly of coffee and lemons. A Shelby Mustang sat on the spotless black and white tile floor, presenting its shark-like grin to the public. A young salesman, dapper in a gray suit, headed Josh’s way with a smile plastered across his chin, not unlike the Mustang. At a trim five eleven, wearing a tank top that revealed fully tatted arms and shoulders, Josh looked like a biker.
“How are you today?” the salesman sang. “That’s a nice Harley. That’s not stock, is it?”
Josh smiled. “No way. I’m here to see Mr. Kraushaar.”
“Do you have an appointment?”
Kraushaar cruised their way causing the salesman to back off. Kraushaar was a florid fifty-something, former Green Bay linebacker, silver pompadour, Hawaiian shirt, dark blue with stars, palm trees, and waves, that hung outside his khakis concealing the growing paunch of an aging athlete.
“Josh, how are ya? Come in my office. You want something? Coffee? Soda?”
Josh followed Kraushaar back toward a series of offices with windows overlooking the showroom.
“Coffee would be good.”
Jerry paused to snap his fingers at a good-looking brunette behind the Customer Service desk. “Billie, honey, would you bring us a couple of coffees?”
“Certainly, Jerry.”
Josh sat on a leather sofa beneath a framed print of the new GT. Kraushaar sat in a high-zoot black mesh office chair, leaned back with his hands behind his head. One wall was covered with certificates, plaques and pictures. United Way, Salvation Army, Realities For Children. Pictures of Kraushaar with the President, Jay Leno, Dale Earnhardt Jr., the mayor, the governor.
“You got any kids?”
“No sir,” Josh said.
“My daughter Brandy is seventeen going on twenty-five. She wants to see that Cretacious show at Summerfest Sunday. I know she smokes pot and I think she’s even tried a little coke. Is it my fault? Who knows. I smoked pot. I snorted coke. But not since I’ve had her. I’ve tried to be a good father but man, it’s rough.”
“Where’s her mother?” Josh said.
“Shacked up with some boozer. Crystal and I divorced ten years ago. She gets a nice monthly check and she doesn’t try to contact me. That’s our deal. She could be back hooking for all I know. I don’t always have the best taste in women.”
“I know how you feel,” Josh said.
Billie entered with a tray containing mugs, a tureen, cups of half and half, and sugar. She wore a tight green dress that stretched across her butt when she set it down.
“Thank you, Billie.”
Josh watched her go.
“Does her mother have any interest in Brandy?” Josh said.
“About twice a year she makes a little time. Birthday. Christmas. I got custody. Crystal’s probably still snorting, far as I know.”
“You want me to take her to the show and bring her home safely.”
“Exactly. It’s worth five grand to me.”
Josh nodded. “That’s doable.”
“Well there’s something else. She was seeing this thug. Rick Roloff. Claims he’s training for the UFC. I hired an investigator to look into it and this Roloff is bad news. He served time for aggravated assault. He’s shacked up with some other goons on the near west side. Team Anguish, they call themselves.”
“I served time,” Josh said.
“I know that. But you’re not the same man as you were fifteen years ago, am I right?”
“I’ve changed.”
“Here’s the report she prepared.” Kraushaar slid a manila envelope across the top of his desk.
Josh emptied the contents and picked up a mug shot of a defiant young man with one of those bony hillbilly heads, jug ears, black unibrow crawling across his forehead beneath shaved bristle.
“He looks inbred,” Kraushaar said.
“May I keep this?”
“It’s all yours. Come to my house at six p.m. Sunday. I will provide a vehicle. Cretaceous goes on at eight.”
“I know Wes Magnum.”
“Excuse me?”
“Lead singer for Cretacious. I met him last year. I can get backstage passes if you like.”
Kraushaar goggled. “Are you serious?”
“It’s not a problem. You can tell your daughter that as long as she behaves herself, she can meet the man.”
“Wow. That’s fantastic. She’d love that. I’d go myself but I have something else going on. I’ll give you 2500 when you come over, and 2500 when you bring her back safe.”
“That’s not necessary, Mr. Kraushaar. I can bill you.”
“Oh please. And call me Jerry.”
It rained on Saturday but Sunday dawned bright and cheery. Josh had been to Summerfest many times with the Bedouins, but not since prison. He worked most weekends bouncing at the Dew Dropp Inn and the Pyramid. Josh took 90 east, turning off at Delafield, a bedroom and recreational community thirty miles west of Milwaukee. Kraushaar lived in a fifties-modern stone rambler with a four car garage on two wooded acres. Josh rode his bike up to the front door and kicked out on the brick turn-around. The air smelled exquisite from yesterday’s rain.
The doorbell chimed and seconds later Josh heard footsteps on a hardwood floor. The door swung inward. Brandy was taller than Josh had expected, wearing tight jeans and a Cry! T-shirt over pert breasts, wide-set brown eyes regarding him with bemusement and a trace of surprise, mouth open like a saber-jet.
“Jerreeee! The bodyguard is here!”
Moments later Kraushaar crossed the flagstone vestibule wearing flip-flops, Bermuda shorts, and an orange and red Hawaiian shirt.
“Brandy, this is Josh Pratt.”
Josh shook Brandy’s limp hand.
“Come out to the garage I’ll show you what you’ll drive.”
“Jerreeee!” Brandy said. “I want to ride on the bike.”
“That’s not advisable, sweetheart,” Kraushaar said.
Josh put his hand up. “Be a lot easier to get in and out on the bike. And we can park a lot closer too.”
Brandy jumped up and down like a puppy. “Puleeeeeze? Come on, Dad. You know what it’s like.”
Kraushaar regarded her dubiously. “Well you’ve got to wear helmets. Let’s see what I’ve got.”
Josh and Brandy followed Kraushaar through the house, the kitchen, out into his massive garage where four bikes occupied one bay. A Fat Bob, an Indian bagger, a Triumph Rocket 3, and a KTM dirt bike.
“I still ride,” Kraushaar said. “I looked into opening a Harley dealership but I couldn’t swing it.” He went to the back wall where a number of helmets occupied cubby-holes in a custom cabinet. He chose a ruby open-face helmet and handed it to Brandy.
“What about Josh?”
Josh hadn’t worn a helmet in years, except in those states where they were required. But he didn’t want Brandy to feel awkward. He found a silver open-faced Bell that fit. He turned to Brandy.
“Are you bringing a purse?”
“I’ve got a backpack.” She walked out through the open garage door and approached his bike. “Wow. What all did you do to this?”
Josh inhaled deeply. “Engine: 88 with oil cooler. Changed the cams to S&S gear drives with 510 lift. Took out the fuel injection and replaced it with an S&S Super E, Yost Power Tube, S&S manifold and Pingle High Flow petcock. S&S Tear Drop air cleaner cover with a K&N filter. Screaming Eagle Hi Performance ignition unit with a 6200 rpm rev limiter. Accell Super Coil, Fire Wire plug wires and spiral wound metal core wires. Accell Platinum tip plugs. Five speed tranny with Barnett kevlar clutch, self-adjusting hydraulic chain tensioner. Screaming Eagle dualies. Progressive springs in front with higher viscosity, Progressives in back. Changed the rear swing arm bushings to “STA BOW” nylon high density. SBS semi-metallic disc brake pads and the brake lines are stainless steel braids. Went to tubeless wheels.”
Brandy stared at him like he was a bug. “Can I sit on it?”
“Knock yourself out.”
Josh followed Kraushaar back into the house and found Brandy’s Hellboy backpack sitting by the door.
Kraushaar went to a wet bar in the sunken living room and poured himself a couple fingers of Scotch.
“Well you know what to do. Call me if there’s any trouble. I won’t be able to sleep until she’s back.”
“What do you do all the other nights?” Josh said.
Kraushaar shrugged. “I’m dealing as best I can. She’s been under strict curfew since I broke it up with the cage fighter last week.”
Brandy was still sitting on Josh’s bike when he came out, gripping the handlebars and making guttural engine noises. Josh held out her backpack.
Brandy glanced at him and down shifted four times, making engine noises in the back of her throat. She stopped, got off the bike, took the backpack and shrugged it on. “Is it true you know Wes Magnum?”
“We got backstage passes,” Josh said, getting on his bike. He straightened and steadied while Brandy got on behind him.
“That is so cool! How do you know him?”
“Ran into him on a case. Keep your hands wrapped around my waist.”
“I know how to ride,” Brandy said. “Rick has a Wide Glide.”
Her skinny arms around his taut midriff, Josh pulled out of Kraushaar’s perfect black driveway and headed toward the lake.
The vision for Summerfest was the brainchild of the late Mayor Henry Maier in the 1960s. Following a visit to Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany, Mayor Maier dreamed of a festival for the people that would revitalize Milwaukee’s downtown and bring the community together. In 1968, the first Summerfest debuted at 35 separate locations throughout the city. (
The 75 acre site was now a permanent installation on Lake Michigan and a much sought-after venue. Everyone from Cream to Tower of Power had played there. Josh had seen Stevie Ray Vaughan and Guns ‘n’ Roses there when he was with the Bedouins. Last year the Rolling Stones had headlined.
Earth, Wind and Fire were the current headliners but Cretaceous had one of the prestige closing slots Sunday night. There were five major stages. Since the heavy metal band had reformed the previous year they’d released an album and toured ceaselessly. Josh joined the shining river of chrome heading east on the Interstate. It became denser as they approached the waterfront and took the National Avenue exit along with thousands of other bikers. Police stood at every intersection directing traffic. Because bikes took up less room and Harley-Davidson called Milwaukee home, there was special parking near the festival grounds. Josh carefully maneuvered past hundreds of parked hogs until a volunteer waved him into a slot next to a Guzzi bagger.
Josh backed his bike up to the concrete curb and kicked out.
It was seven thirty by the time they’d worked their way up to the will-call desk, and Josh got their laminated backstage passes on lanyards. Brandy held hers up, grinning at the EWF logo.
They entered the festival grounds through a turnstile joining tens of thousands of others congregating toward one of the five stages. Brandy consulted a program.
“Oh! The Bessemers are playing on stage three!”
“What time?”
“They started ten minutes ago. Can we go? Puleeeeze?”
Josh consulted his program. Cretaceous was due to go on in fifteen minutes at the other end of the fairgrounds. “Not if you want to see Cretaceous. They’ll have started by the time we get there.”
She seized his hand and pulled him toward the stage. “Let’s go!”
His first impulse was to jerk back his hand. She was a child. On the other hand, the crowd was a dense, living thing. A bearded hippy in a Grateful Dead T-shirt and his fat hippy earth mother wife in a shapeless flowing dress glared at them in disapproval. Josh saw other bikers with equally young dates.
They snaked through the crowd. Josh looked for patches: Sons of Silence, Mongols, Hells Angels, Mastodons. Clusters of hoodies slunk by, their pants around their knees. Ambient noise approached the business end of a 747. The mob around Stage Five was nearly impenetrable. They worked their way around the fringes until they came to a security gate manned by a volunteer in a Summerfest T-shirt. They showed him their passes and he waved them into a backstage area with trampled grass and a picked-over buffet table consisting mostly of crumbs and guacamole smears.
An off-duty cop lowered the velvet rope leading to the celebrity corral. Josh and Brandy joined dozens of other camp followers, techs and friends of the band on the deck behind the stage. The cluster was particularly dense surrounding Magnum himself, a silver-haired man in his 70s. A year earlier Josh had agreed to help one of Magnum’s old flames and the mother of Magnum’s girl, Marissa, prove that the song “Marissa” belonged to her. At the time, Magnum was assumed dead in a club fire in Denver. Magnum had faked his death, had a sex change operation, and had been living in obscurity since then as den mother to a bunch of marijuana growers.
Josh caused Wes to come forward, admit his deception, and declare the song Marissa’s. Brandy wormed her way through the scrum, no longer holding onto Josh. Magnum’s eyes swept over him, then swept back.
“Josh!” Magnum said, holding out his hand. The crowd parted like the Red Sea. Brandy’s jaw bounced off the floor as Magnum embraced Josh in a bear hug. Josh waved her forward.
“Got a fan of yours, Wes. This is Brandy Kraushaar.”
Brandy approached with that saber jet face. “Wes Magnum! I can’t believe I’m actually talking to you!”
“H’old are ya, honey? You weren’t even born when I pulled my disappearing act.”
“My old man turned me on to your music. He’s pretty cool in some ways. In other ways, not so much!”
A tech in a Cretacious T-shirt slithered up. “Five minutes, Mr. Magnum!”
Magnum grabbed Josh’s hand. “Stick around after the show. We’re havin’ a little party at the Pfister. Of course these days, me partyin’ is mostly sipping Geritol and tea.”
Josh and Brandy watched Magnum slip into performance mode.
“You want to watch from up here, or down front?” Josh said. “There’s a little VIP area we can get into.”
Brandy grabbed his hand and pulled him with surprising force toward the stair. “Down front!”
Power chords rippled through the crowd as Cretacious broke into “Born To Be Wild.” Josh and Brandy eased along the protected front of the stage and slipped into the cordoned-off VIP area which held several rows of folding chairs. Josh sat in the front row while Brandy stood directly in front of the stage staring up, rapt. There were three original members but the drummer and lead guitarist were kids. The lead guitarist, with his wild mane of black hair and Nudie-boots, grabbed Brandy’s attention. She did everything but toss him her phone number. The guitarist winked at her, duck-walked to the edge of the stage and played to her.
The band blazed through a 45 minute set ending with “Marissa.” Josh stood on his chair and looked all around hoping to spot the eponymous ex but she was nowhere to be seen. Josh wasn’t surprised. Marissa and her daughter Melonie were fringe-dwellers, barely hanging onto society’s hem.
“Folks!” Magnum boomed. “We’re going to take a short break and we’ll be right back!”
Brandy whirled toward Josh, hands clutched in front of her, face red with delight. She reached into her backpack and pulled out pack of American Spirits, sticking one in her mouth. She stood in front of Josh with the cig dangling, hands on hips.
Josh opened his hands. “I don’t have a lighter.”
Brandy rolled her eyes, grunted, and reached into her tight jeans for a Bic. She lit the fag, inhaled deeply and let it out through her nose. She pulled the rumpled program from her hip pocket. “Ooh. The Violent Femmes are at Stage One. Let’s go!’
“Don’t you want to hear the rest of Cretaceous?” Josh said.
“I’ve heard enough. They’re great, but they can be a little overpowering.”
“You lead the way.”
She reached for his hand. He reluctantly let her pull him through the crowd.
“What’s the matter, Josh? Don’t you like me?”
“I like you just fine. Your father hired me to make sure you got home safe.”
She let go his hand like garbage and headed toward a wall of green porta-potties set up against a hurricane fence, long lines extending backward from each.
Josh sat on a picnic table and watched as the lines inched forward. He pulled out his phone and checked his messages. He went on Facebook and posted a picture of Magnum. One of his friends had posted a chili recipe. Another friend disputed the use of tomatoes. Within twelve posts it degenerated into Fuck You and No! Fuck You! When Josh looked up Brandy was nowhere in sight.
He watched someone exit the porta-potty for which she’d been standing in line. Josh let out a big sigh. He activated the tracking app for the transmitter he’d placed in Brandy’s backpack. The screen showed a map of the festival grounds with a red dot marking Brandy. She’d veered away from the Violent Femmes toward a section of the park devoted to picnic tables. He stood, stretched, and ambled toward the picnic area gazing at his phone like so many around him.
Josh walked between a row of vendors to the picnic park, a half acre surrounded by trees. Every table was taken, the place a riot of family and group activity. Through the trees Josh saw some boys tossing a Frisbee. He looked at his device, looked up, and spotted Brandy about 150 feet away locked in a clinch with Rick Roloff. Roloff wore a white wife beater the better to show off his inked-out gunboats and the gold chains around his neck. He looked to be a light heavyweight.
Of course they’d hooked up. Of course! What was Kraushaar going to do? Take her phone away? The lovers sucked face. Josh stood five feet away waiting for them to unlock.
Brandy did a double take. “Fuck! It’s the bodyguard.”
Roloff let her go and turned with a sneer. He had two inches and thirty pounds. “This is the guy?”
“That’s the guy,” Brandy said.
“You got to be shitting me.”
“This girl is underage. Do you want me to call a cop?”
Rick stepped up. “Do you need to call a cop?”
Josh pivoted and drove his right hand deep into Rick’s sternum. Rick’s eyes bulged and he fell to the ground coughing and gasping for breath. Josh grabbed Brandy by the arm and pulled her with him.
She struggled and tried to kick. “You fucker! I’ll scream! HELP! HELP! I’M BEING ABDUCTED!”
A number of people turned toward her in alarm. Some of the men stepped into Josh’s path. A big guy with blond hair got in Josh’s face. “What’s the story?”
Josh looked him straight in the eye. “Sir, the young lady’s father hired me to make sure she didn’t run off.
I’m a private investigator from Madison.”
The man stepped back, suddenly unsure.
“THAT’S A LIE!” Brandy screamed. “He’s trying to abduct me.”
“Sir, I will be happy to wait here while you call a policeman.”
The sun set. A half dozen men surrounded them, their girlfriends and wives hovering in an outer perimeter. Nobody made any threats, and Josh didn’t try to leave. Five minutes later a Milwaukee PD came up. He was medium build, black with a mustache. His name tag said Thigpen.
“What’s going on?”
“Officer, the young lady’s father hired me to escort her to and from Summerfest.”
By this time Brandy had clammed up, crossed her arms and rolled her eyes.
“May I see some identification?”
Josh forked over his driver’s license and PI license. Thigpen examined them closely.
“Officer, this is Brandy Kraushaar. Her father is Jerry Kraushaar.”
“Do you have Mr. Kraushaar’s phone number?”
Josh pulled out his phone, looked it up, and showed it to Thigpen.
“Just wait here a minute, sir,” Thigpen said. He walked a few feet away and spoke into his phone, returning five minutes later. He handed Josh his licenses back.
“Just spoke with Mr. Kraushaar. Do you need any help?”
“No thank you, officer.” He turned to Brandy. “You don’t want Jerry to talk to Officer Thigpen, do you?”
Brandy looked away and stuck out her lip. Josh steered her toward the parking lot. She shrugged loose of his grip.
“You don’t have to drag me! I won’t run away.”
“That’s good because I can run faster than you.”
“How do you know? I lettered in track. I ran the 100 meter in 12 seconds.”
Josh gave her a face. She strode off with Josh a step behind. By now it was dark, and people were leaving the park, lit by the omnipresent sodium lamps. The lot where Josh left his bike was a sea of Harleys with everything else thrown in, clusters everywhere, groups standing and sitting around their rides, revving up and pulling out. Brandy paused at the edge of the lot and Josh took the lead, grabbing her hand. A cluster of bikers in denim and leather jackets stood next to his bike looking at a program. As Josh reached his bike, an arm like a bridge cable went around his neck and tilted him back. Josh immediately jammed his head back hoping to butt his antagonist as one of the bikers turned around and he saw that it was Rick.
Rick grinned and slammed his fist into Josh’s gut. Josh went down. Someone kicked him in the side, that same damn rib he always broke, lifting him off the cement while the others gathered around raining blows. Someone cracked him with a bottle. His phone rang. He ignored it. The storm intensified and for an instant there was only the sensation of pain and the dull, pounding rhythm of blows landing. Then the figures scuttled away leaving Josh writhing in pain.
A pair of black leather boots loomed. Josh stared at them in agony. A man squatted. His face was old and seamed with an extravagant white handlebar mustache.
“You all right there son?”
Josh sat up and felt himself. His ribs ached but they weren’t broken. A sizable lump formed over his left eye. “I think so. Did you see what happened to the girl?”
The old dude extended a hand and helped Josh to his feet. “They went that away,” he said, pointing.
Josh heard a number of motorcycles revving through the exit. Brandy must have worked out a back-up plan.
Two cops approached. “What’s going on?” said the tall black one with a mustache.
“Heard there was a fight,” said the shorter Hispanic one with a mustache.
Josh showed them his ID and his license. “Some goons jumped me. It’s no biggie, officers. Thank you for your concern.”
“Do you want to press charges or file a report?” Officer Ramirez said.
“No, I think I’ll just go home.”
“Good,” Ramirez said. The cops turned and walked away and soon disappeared into the crowds.
Josh wanted a shot, a beer, and a hot bath. But the night was young and he had to find Brandy and take her home. Josh bungeed the two helmets to the pillion, got on the bike, and checked his tracker. It showed the red dot heading west on the Interstate. Josh switched the program from his phone to a screen on the bike, installed by Randall Kleiser.
He checked his phone. Kraushaar. He turned his phone off.
Josh popped two ibuprofen from the bottle in his tank bag, thumbed the snarley into life and headed west. The red dot veered north on Racine, into a mixed-use neighborhood of crummy clapboard houses and light industrial. Power and phone cables crisscrossed over the street, alive with low-riders, bikers and rolling boom-boxes. Bass emanated from the core of the earth, affecting all who walked.
Josh hadn’t seen a cop since turning north. When the red dot stopped, so did he, four blocks away. There was a roadhouse across the street, Lucky Sue’s, with a dozen choppers parked out front. Josh waited for traffic, did a U-turn, and backed his bike between two choppers. “Los Bros Diaz” was painted in stylized script on three of the choppers.
The interior smelled of beer, peanuts, sawdust and reefer, a dim, long room with two pool tables in the back and several flat screen TVs broadcasting a Brewer’s game. A half dozen patrons turned to give him the once over, most of them wearing colors, tatted to the max, lots of facial hair.
Josh wore no colors but was obviously a biker. He was one of a handful of gringos. He sat at the bar and ordered a Bud. The bartender looked like a squat Mayan sculpture with massive arms and a black mustache. He set the mug on the bar in front of Josh.
“Two bucks.”
Josh forked it over and sipped his beer. He didn’t have to wait long. One of Los Bros Diaz detached himself from the end of the bar, ambled over and sat next to Josh. He was a thin, wiry dude with a long ponytail of black hair and a mustache.
“You ride?”
“What you ride?”
“Modified Road King.”
“What mods?”
Josh inhaled deeply. “Engine: 88 with oil cooler. Changed the cams to S&S gear drives with 510 lift. Took out the fuel injection and replaced it with an S&S Super E, Yost Power Tube, S&S manifold and Pingle High Flow petcock. S&S Tear Drop air cleaner cover with a K&N filter. Screaming Eagle Hi Performance ignition unit with a 6200 rpm rev limiter. Accell Super Coil, Fire Wire plug wires and spiral wound metal core wires. Accell Platinum tip plugs. Five speed tranny with Barnett kevlar clutch, self-adjusting hydraulic chain tensioner. Screaming Eagle dualies. Progressive springs in front with higher viscosity, Progressives in back. Changed the rear swing arm bushings to “STA BOW” nylon high density. SBS semi-metallic disc brake pads and the brake lines are stainless steel braids. Went to tubeless wheels.”
“Lemme see.”
Josh got up, took his beer and led the way out front. The Bro followed along with dos bros.
Josh gestured to his bike. Los Bros Diaz oohed and ahed.
“Suavecito,” one said.
Ponytail stuck out a fist. “Manny Diaz.”
They bumped fists. “Josh Pratt.”
“Hey,” Josh said. “Anybody hear of Team Anguish? Some MMA wannabes around here?”
“Those fuckers,” Manny said. “They think they’re some kinda bad muthafuckas. Come in here on a Saturday night getting in people’s faces.”
“Put Robles in the hospital,” a bro said. “Fucked him up real bad.”
“We had a fuckin’ riot. Had to chase ’em outta here with pool cues, no shit. But they don’t come back no more.”
“You know where they’re at?” Josh said.
Manny shrugged. “No se. Fuck ’em.”
Josh thanked them and got on his ride. The red dot showed an address on Franklin Street four blocks down. He turned off the electronics and walked. Josh cut over to Byerson, which ran east/west, and would bring him to Franklin. He walked by a house, porch loaded with homies, boom box blasting Fetti Wap, clouds of marijuana drifting into the street. He glanced to his right.
“What you lookin’ at, faggot?” one of them said.
Josh put his head down and walked on.
“That’s right. Run like a little bitch.”
Laughing and high fives.
Milwaukee was the most segregated city in the United States.
Josh paused at the corner of Byerson and Franklin. He didn’t need to check his phone. The Team Anguish house was obvious by the six choppers parked in the driveway and on the front yard. Directly across the street from Team Anguish, to Josh’s right, the second house from the corner was a late night drug market with cars pulling in and leaving, a half dozen people on the front porch doing business and passing pipes.
Across the street on the opposite corner, a slight figure in sweats and hoodie slouched against a street lamp that cast no light. None of the street lights worked. They’d all been shot. Some kids went by on low-rider bicycles and skateboards talking loudly. A low-rider slouched by and pulled into the drug market.
Josh crossed the street. The woman shifted. As he approached he saw that she was youngish, wore horn-rimmed glasses, and had a tight ‘fro. Josh stood with hands in pockets.
“What is that, an open-air drug market?”
The woman glanced at him sharply. “Why don’t you go over there and find out?”
“No thanks,” Josh said. “Aren’t there any cops around?”
The woman barked mirthlessly. “You’re not from around here, are you?”
“Madison,” Josh said. “Came up for Summerfest.”
“What you doin’ here, white boy? This ain’t Summerfest.”
Josh handed her his card. “I’m on a job.”
She looked it over and handed it back. “What kinda job?”
“See that house with the Harleys? You know those guys?”
“Buncha redneck motherfuckers like to beat people up. No offense. Even the Beat Roys leave ’em alone.”
“Who the Beat Roys?”
“Local gang. They’re with the Chicago Crips.”
“I’m Josh Pratt.”
The woman looked at him. “Joan Price. Just got out of the army.” She nodded across the street. “My little brother’s over there. Wants to bang. I’m tryin’ to figure a way to get him out.”
“How old is he?”
“Twenty. I told him to enlist but he thinks he can do better on the street. But you didn’t answer my question.”
“Well you’re not the client, but I’ll tell you. They have an underage girl in there. I was supposed to see her home but her thug boyfriend and his pals got the jump on me. Now I’m trying to figure how to get her out without getting killed.”
“You got a piece?” Joan said.
“Nope. I’m an ex-con. Not sposed to.”
Joan lifted the lip of her oversized sweatshirt revealing the butt of an automatic. “I know what I’m doing. Served two tours in the sand.”
“What branch?”
“Army. I told that fool he ought to enlist. I’ve only been back a week. Soon’s I got in my momma asked me to go find my fool brother and bring him home. Sounds simple, huh? I go over there and he’ll say, ‘Sis! What are you doing here? This is my sister, just got out of the army.’ Someone will offer me a crack pipe. I don’t do that shit. I’m just working up the courage.”
“The courage to do what?”
“Go in there and get him out.”
“Are they packing?” Josh said.
Joan looked at him funny. “What do you think?”
“Maybe we can help each other. You live around here?”
“Couple blocks.”
“Let’s go to your place.”
They walked around the corner and up the street behind Team Anguish. Several houses in the middle of the block were boarded up, surrounded with hurricane fencing and marked with NO TRESPASSING signs. Josh paused at a listing gray cottage.
“This is directly behind the fight house,” he said.
“Rat’s gotta live someplace too,” Joan said.
Joan’s crib was ground floor in an old three-story red brick building that had once housed brewery workers. As she unlocked her deadbolts, bass thumped from above. The living room featured burgundy shag rugs on hardwood, faux zebra-striped sofa and chair, and a framed Abdul Mati Klarwein over the sofa. It was scrupulously clean. Joan pushed a button on the gleaming stereo and Graham Central Station purred. The place smelled of cornbread and patchouli.
“You want some cornbread and coffee?”
“Sure. Cream and sugar.”
Josh sat on the sofa willing his muscles to relax, riding the bass, gazing at the wall. Framed black and whites of Joan with her platoon in the sand. Color photo of her in uniform proudly accepting a medal from a white-haired general. A faded photo of a little Joan pushing her little brother in one of those plastic Flintstone cars.
Joan came back with a tray with cornbread, coffee, cream and sugar. She set it on the table in front of the sofa and sat in the zebra-striped chair.
“What’s the plan?”
“Do the white boys and the crack house ever get in a beef?”
“They don’t like each other, if that’s what you mean. I think one of those white boys may have put Chico on his ass a couple times. Chico’s a bad motherfucker. Runs that crack house like a military operation. Used to be in the military, for all the wrong reasons. Got his start smuggling a hundred pounds of H into the country.”
“I need a distraction to get my girl out. You need a distraction to get your brother out. What’s his name?”
“Dayshaun. They named me Airwrecka but I had it legally changed. What the fuck, Airwrecka. My momma has no more sense than a crack house rat. What’s the plan?”
“I throw a rock through the crack house window and shout, ‘ALL YOU NIGGERS GOT TO GO!’ I run into Team Anguish’s house. In the imbroglio, we each grab our respective subjects and boogie.”
Joan looked dubious. “That’s your plan?”
“It’s not perfect. Got a hoodie I can borrow?”
“Hide my face.”
Joan got up, went into one of the bedrooms and returned with a gray pullover and body armor which she dumped in Josh’s lap. Josh picked up the body armor–a vest with a series of hinged plates front and rear.
“I kept that,” Joan said.
Josh stood, buckled on the body armor and slipped into the XXL hoodie which turned him into a shapeless lump. “Anybody shoots, call the cops.”
“I’ll call ’em, but they don’t like to come out here,” Joan said.
As they departed, Joan locked two deadbolts. In their oversize hoodies they ambled up the street. An ’88 LeSabre with iridescent pearl paint riding on 25″ rims rolled by thumping. Two kids skated by in the opposite direction. A man and a woman screamed at one another from their sagging front porch.
“I told you not to bring that no-account nigger ’round here!”
“This is my house, bitch! I pay the rent!”
An old guy in a pea coat and watch cap leaned against the lamppost where Josh had found Joan. Joan put an arm around his shoulder.
“You okay, Casey? You need help gettin’ home?”
He turned and grinned, teeth like the crack of dawn. “I’ll make it, sweetie-pie. Thanks for axin’.”
They watched him shuffle off down the sidewalk.
“Casey was in the first Gulf War. He’s been waitin’ on the VA for six months for an appointment.”
“He should go to the emergency room,” Josh said.
“Maybe so. Maybe so. But they’ll come after you. The ER, I mean. They got to get paid.”
Competing bass lines emanated from the crack house and Team Anguish. Anguish rocked Angel City. Crack House blasted Li’l Wayne. Josh and Joan faded into the shadows, hands in pockets. They looked at each other. Josh shrugged, stooped, picked up a half brick from the gutter and headed across the street.
Two dudes on the porch ignored him as they jabbered at each other, until he stood in the middle of the yard jiggling the brick in his hand. A sepulchral voice issued.
“Fuck you want?”
Josh hurled the brick at the smeared picture window, through which pale light filtered around drawn blinds. The brick smashed through the glass with a rifle shot and seconds later, Li’l Wayne ceased to bray.
“What the fuck?” issued from inside.
He sauntered across the street leaving a stunned silence in his wake. The dudes on the porch scrambled so hard they ran into each other coming down the steps like the Three Stooges. Josh put his head down and ran. A shot sipped by his ear and slammed into Team Anguish. Josh took the three steps in one leap and kicked in the door. Freight train comin’ through. He ran straight through the house past the stunned faces of two thugs he’d seen at the lakefront, two skinny chicks, straight out the back door, and leaped the fence separating Team Anguish from its back door neighbor.
The abandoned house was dark, quiet, its windows filled with plywood. Josh crouched behind the fence listening to shouts and exhortations and gunfire. He stared over the fence, seeing no one in Team Anguish’s back windows. Boosting himself back over the fence, he crept around the side of the house and peered from ungroomed shrubs.
Men fought in the streets. It was difficult to tell who was who because they were similarly dressed and fought in darkness. Another shot. One of the white boys turned from the melee clutching his stomach. Josh looked across the street and saw two shadowy figures exit the back yard through a gate. Joan had her brother in an iron grip as she marched the big stooge down the block.
Josh crept to where he could see the Team porch. Two girls in panties and tops stood at the rail with drinks in hands like they were at a show. Josh ran around back, entered through the kitchen door, raced through the house, up the stairs to the back bedroom and stepped inside. Brandy sat on the edge of the bed pulling on her jeans. She looked up, her mouth an ‘O.’
“Let’s go. You’re late. Your dad is gonna be pissed.”
She rose and thrust herself into him, grinding her pelvis into his. “Fuck me, Josh. It’s you I really want. It was meant to be. We have the same tattoo!”
Josh thrust her harshly back on the bed. He grabbed Brandy by the wrist. “Stop screwing around.”
“RAPE!” Brandy shrieked at the top of her lungs, drowning out the sound of approaching feet.
Josh felt the force and half turned as a fist smashed into his temple driving him to the ground. Roloff’s kick lifted him off the hardwood floor. That same damned rib! Couldn’t they pick another spot?
Josh turned on his side and hooked Roloff’s leg with one foot, kicking him backwards with another. Roloff went down hard. Josh was on him like a mad dog, clambering over Roloff’s legs and raining down hard blows with his elbows. Crazy shadows danced. A spontaneous eruption impacted the back of Josh’s head and he rolled to the side. A panting Brandy stood over him holding a shattered porcelain lamp. The bare bulb glowed. Roloff slammed a knee onto Josh’s gut, grabbed the broken lamp from Brandy. As Roloff swung it he pulled the cord. Josh scrambled backwards, his arm going under the bed and closing around the hasp of a baseball bat. Seizing it like a bo, he rammed it into Roloff’s groin, causing the fighter to moan and pull back. Josh scrambled to his feet and kicked Roloff, who was bent over, in the sternum.
Shots and shouts from out front. The faint wail of sirens growing louder. Josh clamped his hand around Brandy’s wrist, thumb and fingers meeting She barely had time to grab her backpack as he pulled her down the hall, down the stairs, through the house, out the back door to the fence and threw her over.
“Ow!” Brandy moaned as she landed on the weedy lawn.
Josh followed her instantly. “Are you going to cooperate?”
“Fuck no! HELP! RAPE!”
Josh clipped her on the point of her pretty little chin. She staggered backwards and landed on her ass.
“You hit me,” she said with awe, touching her face.
“That’s right. And I’ll hit you again if you give me any more shit. Get up.”
He put out his hand. She took it. They crept through the abandoned property, across the street and down two blocks to Joan’s house. Joan opened the door immediately.
“Get in here.”
Josh and Brandy followed her into the living room where Dayshaun sulked on the sofa. He was a big boy, six four at least with enormous hands, but his demeanor was that of a child.
“How’s your bro?”
“Fucked up as usual, but he’ll get over it. Ain’t that right Dayshaun?”
The man/boy curled up into himself. Joan poked him with the toe of her Nikes.
“Ain’t that right?”
Dayshaun shifted. “Yeah, yeah. Ahmina get straight.”
Joan folded her arms. “Why you bring this white girl here?”
“No way am I gonna drag her eight blocks to my bike. You got a car?”
“Hells yeah, I got a car. Whatchoo want with it?”
“If you’ll drive Brandy and me back to the client’s place, I’ll give you $500.”
Brandy pulled back like a cautious pigeon. “For real?”
“I do what I say I’m gonna do.”
“Show me your money.”
Josh pulled out his wallet and counted out five C notes.
Joan grinned lop-sidedly. “Y’know, you’re right! Dayshaun, you’re comin’ too.”
“Why do I have to go?” Dayshaun whined.
“Because I can’t trust you not to go out looking for some more goddamn crack, that’s why.”
Joan double-locked her front door and added a steel brace. They went out through the back of the shotgun shack, two deadbolts, to a separate, listing, single-car garage. Joan unlocked the garage door and lifted it up by hand revealing the snout of an old Mercedes sedan. She got behind the wheel. The starter cranked. She pumped the gas and scrunched her face. The old Mercedes belched to life with a thick gray cloud from which it emerged like the opening shot of Taxi Driver.
Josh lowered the garage door and heard it click. The right passenger window rolled down with a faint whirr. “Well?”
Josh got the shotgun seat. There was plenty of room in the backseat to accommodate the lanky Dayshaun, who slumped in one corner with a sneaker on the center console. Brandy sat sullenly looking out the window.
Joan drove north. “Where we going?”
“Delafield. Get on I-90 going west.”
Joan lifted her right pinkie where she clutched the wheel. “You sure they won’t shoot a sister?”
“I’ll vouch for you.”
They rode in silence for several blocks. Joan turned onto Blunt St. and headed south until they came to the interstate hook-up. She pulled onto the Interstate and accelerated to match the flow.
Joan turned on the radio. Donna Summer singing “Looking Up.”
“This is your classic soul station,” Joan said. “WSOL, yessir. They don’t play no rap, no country and blues, no young white girls that look like boys.”
“Amen,” Josh said.
“You dig Donna Summer?”
“That record in particular. It was produced by Georgio Moroder. It’s her best album.”
Joan looked over. “You’re an interesting man.”
Josh looked backwards and lunged, galvanized like a frog leg, seizing Brandy’s phone, half hidden in her backpack where she’d been texting. He looked at the text.
“In a black Mercedes sedan heading west on I-90.”
“Fuck,” Josh said twisting around in the seat and looking anxiously through the back light.
“What?” Joan said.
“Brandy texted her boyfriend. Fuck it. He’s not going anywhere. The cops probably have him cuffed on the sidewalk by now.”
Josh turned around again and peered through the backlight. Two, no three single headlight vehicles were coming up fast, splitting lanes. Josh glanced at the speedo. They were already doing seventy.
“Take the next exit,” he said. “Here they come.”
“Here who come?” Joan said looking anxiously in the rear view.
“Brandy’s idiot boyfriend and his pals. I don’t know what they think they’re gonna do. We’re in a car. “
Joan turned right onto Watertown Road. The headlamps followed. Someone stood behind the rider and squeezed off three shots that kerranged off the pavement. The big sedan wobbled, flipped rubber, and skidded off the road into a grassy ditch, coming to an abrupt halt with its fender against a rock, driver’s door sealed shut by a berm. Airbags deployed, pinning Josh and Joan to their seats. Josh took out his pen knife and slashed the bags. Four bikes turned into the Park and Ride a hundred feet down and kicked out.
Josh saw the shooter was one of the girls on the porch.
“Give me your gun!” he said, scrambling out the door.
“I left it at home.”
“Pop the trunk. Keep Brandy in the car.”
Josh lifted the lid and grabbed the tire iron as the four bikers descended the grassy slope toward him. The girl stayed on top. The four goons wore hoodies: TapOut, Dethrone, Affliction, Rumblewear.
Josh hefted the tire iron. “Boys, you shoot me you’re gonna have to shoot the witnesses in the car.”
Roloff handed his auto to the goon on his right. “Hold this for me.”
Josh dropped the tire iron as Roloff strode to within striking range. They circled Roloff tried a leg kick.
Josh checked it.
Joan crawled out the passenger side and held up her phone. “I just called the police. Now I’m filming.”
With superb timing Roloff darted forward and kicked Josh in the gut, bending him forward. Josh instinctively smashed his elbow down as Roloff closed, striking the fighter on the cheek. Josh grabbed Roloff by the neck and threw a hard knee into his ribs, hooked Roloff’s leg and put him down. Josh landed on the Team Anguish leader, his knee in Roloff’s gut. Roloff groaned.
A pistol shot cracked the sky. Josh looked up. The thug pointed the gun.
“Get up or omma fuck you up, man.”
Two shots erupted from behind Josh and the grass jerked at the thug’s feet. Josh turned. Dayshaun stood beside the car in a shooter’s crouch holding an automatic trained on the thug. Joan stared at him open-mouthed.
“All you crackers need to leave. Right now.”
Roloff got an elbow under him and got to his feet holding his gut.
“Let’s go,” he said.
Halfway up the hill he turned around and pointed. “See you later.”
They waited until the vee-twin roar faded into the distance. Joan rounded on Dayshaun.
“Are you crazy! Where’d you get that gun?”
“I was sitting on the sofa at Chico’s and I feel sumpin’ pokin’ me in the ass. I reach down and there it was. Maybe it a good thing I got, huh?”
Joan looked from Dayshaun to Josh and back again.
“Get in the car,” she said.
Twenty minutes later they turned in at Kaushaar’s place.
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