Remembering Jack

Remembering Jack

A Story by Ron Sanders

growing pains


            I’ll never forget the day I met Jack.

            Who wouldn’t remember a scene like that­--stretched out flat on my back with Nick Kirby straddling me, kicking my a*s to Timbuktu and back in front of everybody who was anybody, smack dab in the center of Kennedy High’s main hall.

            I didn’t really have it coming, of course--everybody knew that; Nick was just whaling on me because I was available, because I was a geek, because he needed the exercise. It was nothing personal:  Nick regularly kicked the crap out of lots of losers.

            I know I was receptive; I had this flip-flop image of lockers to my left and lookyloos to my right, as my spewing tetherball of a head was fisted side to side. I don’t recall feeling any real pain. I guess I was in that what-who-why state of shock that the self-preservation instinct throws into gear in case we jerkoffs and nerds don’t possess the good sense to stay down until the storm’s over.

            And then, for no observable reason, the barrage just stopped.

            I know I didn’t say uncle; my lips were too swollen to do anything but serve as punching bags for Nick’s knuckles. The knees came off my arms and Nick’s body lifted like a flying saucer firing its null-gravs.

            That new kid--the sullen, sweatshirted loner who avoided the in crowd and geeks alike, who glared his way through P.E., who always sat at the back of class--was holding Nick upright by the collar, and he was twisting that collar deliberately while the rigid fingers of his other hand slowly balled into a fist. I probably had a better look at his face than anyone other than Nick, who was clearly distracted, and I think the best word I can come up with for that expression is--wow.

            “Don’t,” the new kid grated, and smashed Nick’s face into a closed locker door, “pick,” and another smash, harder, “on . . . lit . . . tle . . . GUYS!” Those last four syllables were accompanied by thrusts of increasing ferocity. Nick’s face had crashed six terrible times into the sharp steel gills that serve as air vents on these oblong hall lockers. When his face peeled away, it looked more like a package of fresh gutted catfish than the old Nick we all knew and loved.

            The new kid picked me up and dusted me off. His eyes were clouding embers. “If he picks on you again, I want to know all about it.” He turned to the gaping kids. “This is my friend. Anybody f***s with him f***s with me.”

            And with that he was gone.



            When the monitor ushered me into the Principal’s office, I just knew something big was up. First off, hall fights always go to the Vice Principal. Second, the new kid was seated outside the office, scrunched between a cop in uniform and a man in a brown suit. But the kicker was finding my parents sitting across the desk from the Principal, with a starched white nurse standing by the window.

            The Principal was in no mood for introductions. “Sit down.” But my parents didn’t miss a beat.

            “My baby!” Mom cried when she saw my used mattress of a face. Dad beat her to the punch. He rose half-out of his chair and showed a threatening fist.

            “What did I tell you about violence!”

            “Stop!” The Principal’s bark was the crack of a whip. My parents snapped to as if they, not Yours Truly, had been yanked out of class to see the Big P. “I’ve had enough of this matter. I intend to wrap it up by lunch.” He glanced at the wall clock. “That gives us exactly fourteen minutes.” He showed me the Official Eye. “Michael Parkson. I’ve heard the other involved parties. Nicolas Kirby is presently in hospital, recovering from massive facial lacerations. Although he is young and healthy, it is likely he will be severely disfigured for life. All witnesses to this travesty are playing dumb; I am convinced there’s a tacit understanding--a pact of silence enforced by peer pressure. Considering young Kirby’s record of campus fisticuffs, I’m assuming he’s at least partly responsible, and while he has implicated recent enrollee Jack Barrett, there are presently no remaining viable eyewitnesses. There is only yourself. Now,” the Principal clenched his folded hands, “Barrett, raised in a succession of orphanages, was transferred to this high school from State detention through a new outreach program. He has an extensive history of incarceration in numerous juvenile halls, and of savage reprisals in each. I argued like a lunatic against his enrollment, but there are,” and he spread and reclenched his hands, “various School Department loopholes.” He leaned back in his chair. “Young Parkson. This is a very serious matter. While I appreciate your position, I do not like liars. I want you to tell me what you saw, and I don’t want any waffling. My hands are tied without a sworn witness. But if you finger Barrett he will be expelled and, I’m certain, returned to the State’s care after facing a police investigation and mandatory psychotherapy. You won’t have to worry about retaliation, if that’s an issue. We’ll place this whole thing in the Department’s lap and wash our hands of it.” He looked back up. “You now have seven minutes.”

            “Boy . . .” Dad grated under his breath. “I had to call off sick because of this. If you make my day any tougher . . .”

            Mister Parkson,” the Principal hissed.

            “I told you,” Mom wept, “you don’t need to fight, sweetheart. You talk to your mother. Talk to Mom.”

            “Mrs. Parkson!”

            “I’m sorry,” I bubbled, tears welling at the lids. It’s like I could feel Jack’s ear just outside the door, straining to catch every syllable. “I’m sorry! I didn’t see anything. Look at my face, look at my eyes! Does it look like I was taking notes?”

            “Don’t be a wise-a*s,” Dad snarled. “Answer the man’s question.”

            “No!” I screamed, and now I was weeping freely. “I didn’t see anything. I was totally out of it. I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I didn’t see anything!”

            The Principal slapped his palms on the desk. “Take as many days off as necessary. Don’t come back to class without first checking in at the nurse’s office. Speaking of which, Michael, you have an appointment right now. Nurse Taine, escort the boy.” He jabbed the intercom’s button. “Miss Dowdie, ring the damned lunch bell! Mr. and Mrs. Parkson, go home. You’re excused.”



            Imagine my surprise when I left the nurse’s office and ran into Jack Barrett standing in the hall. He put his big arm over my shoulders and led me to the Electrical room doorway. There were tall ranks of those ubiquitous gray lockers to either side, so it’s not like we were actually all that visible. I mean, I desperately wanted to be seen hanging with a non-nerd, and Jack was anything but a nerd, but at the same time I was put off by the idea of being caught with a guy’s arm around me, if you get my drift.

            “That was really cool what you told the Principal,” Jack said. He crushed me against his chest. Now, Jack was a pretty big dude. He probably stood six-five, which only gave him like a foot and a half over me, but he was as thick and tough as an oak. “I could’ve been carted back to reform school, or worse, but you saved my a*s.” He squeezed so hard I was in real danger of losing my wind.

            “And you saved mine,” I gasped. “I guess that makes us even.”

            Jack appeared to be considering the laws of equity while he went on clutching me there, tighter and tighter. Maybe he didn’t realize he was killing me; I mean, compared to him I was a petite Japanese schoolgirl. My shoulder was already deeply bruised, in the shape of a huge palm and five broad fingers. I was all caved in.

            “Nobody ever stood by me like that before.” Jack looked squarely in my flickering eyes. “I never had a real friend.” Just saying that made him swell with camaraderie, and Jack really laid that squeeze on.

            See, I know you guys are gonna think I’m bullshitting you here, but me and Jack stood there like that for the better part of an hour; discussing the pros and cons of friendship, debating simple headlocks vs. full nelsons. I lost all sensation on my left side, and a healthy chunk of bladder control. The hallway approached and receded, the overhead lights brightened and dimmed. But the really weird thing is that ninety percent of that conversation took place in the first five minutes. The rest of the time we just stood there in dead silence; a solid yacht of a guy with a trembling bird s**t trim. Scads of people passed by during that near-hour. Teachers glanced over oddly, but the kids all seemed to look away. Even that hot little Marcia Tenders walked past, and I got the feeling she was really impressed. Finally I looked cool.

            Eventually we moved on down the hall and out onto the front steps. Jack was holding me up now, though I don’t think he realized it. He sat me down on a planter ledge and I kind of folded into the impatiens.

            “We should celebrate,” he said. “What’s your drink?”

            The blood was returning to my arm. I swear I heard my heart kick. I was just beginning to breathe again when the full import of Jack’s words struck me like a fist.

            Wow. I was being invited to party with a Somebody.

            “Oh,” I gasped vaguely. “Beer’s good, I guess. What do you like?”

            Jack laughed. “Come on.”

            “My name’s Mikey,” I ventured. “Michael, actually. Or Mike’s best. Straight-Up Mike; that’s what they call me. You know, like a standup guy.”

            “Let’s go.”

            We worked down the steps and across the grass to the sidewalk. There were lots of kids hanging out, mostly the cool crowd, and I just know I was scoring Seen-With Points left and right. Even that fox Candy Wille walked by us and--I know you guys won’t believe this, but she actually smiled at me and took a deep breath to draw my attention to her yum-yums. Like every eye in the crowd wasn’t already glued on ’em. I was in emergency room heaven, man.

            Me and my buddy swaggered up to the corner. I was about to push the walk button when I caught myself. Me and Jack strutted across the street against the light, while traffic was forced to a halt and everybody who was anybody looked on respectfully. And I took my sweet time crossing, you dig?

            We grooved on up to Larry’s Liquor. The clerk watched grimly as Jack ran his eye over the bottles. He was a speckled old man, with a melting face and dour expression. The floor plan allowed customers to personally attain liquor and place it on the counter, so the clerk had developed a jaded and wary eye. Jack plucked out a fifth of Jack Daniels and grinned. “Named after me,” he said. He grabbed a glass liter bottle of Margarita mix and set both items next to the register.

            The old clerk wagged his head. “I’ll be wanting to see some I.D.”

            “In my other pants,” Jack said pleasantly.

            There was a long icy minute where the two traded stares. Finally the old man said, “That’ll be forty dollars, even.”

            “Where’d I say my I.D. was?”

            The clerk cocked his head and studied Jack out of one eye. “You said it was in your other pants.”

            “And where do guys keep their I.D.?”

            “Generally in a wallet.”

            “And where do they keep their money?”

            The clerk raised his chin irritably. “If they’re normal, in their wallets, too.”

            “So where would that put my goddamned money?” Jack demanded.

            The clerk glared.

            “In my other f*****g pants!” Jack spat, and smashed the Margarita bottle over his head.

            Jesus. I’ve always been an anti-establishment sort of cat, everybody knows that, but all of a sudden I was accomplice to both robbery and assault and battery. Or whatever they call it:  that in-the-commission-of-a-crime thing. Jack snatched the liquor bottle’s neck in one hand and my girlie little bicep in the other. “The back door,” he panted. “Never go out the front.” He dragged me to the back door, kicked off the alarm, and hauled me out into the alley.

            We sank down the wall. Jack spun off the cap, took a manly swallow, and handed me the bottle. “Here.”

            First off, you guys, I want you to know I wasn’t a hard drinker back then; just the smell of that stuff made me start to puke. But I was a fugitive now, on the run with my partner in crime, and Jack just wasn’t the kind of guy you say no to. And, Lord knows, I really needed that drink.

            I got down a few sips. Jack yanked the bottle out of my hand, gulped some more, and wiped his mouth with a sleeve. “We’ve got to get out of here.”

            I was shaking like a Subaru, but I couldn’t break down, man; not right there, not in front of Jack. We snuck down the alley to the street.

            “Stand tall,” he said. “Act totally nonchalant, okay? Nobody knows s**t yet.” He took a drink.

            I reached up a shaky hand, and he handed over the bottle. I swallowed deeply this time. “What if he’s dead?” I had to fight back the sobs.

            Jack shrugged. “That’ll give us more time.” He snatched the bottle and really knocked it back. I watched his Adam’s apple bobbing, amazed. His eyes weren’t cinched; rather, he was searching the clouds with a perfectly clear, perfectly direct and unblinking gaze. “We’ll get nowhere on foot; we need some wheels.” And just like that his mind was made up. “Pretend you’re sick.”


            “Just act sick.” I stared at him blankly. “Christ,” he said, and punched me right in the gut.

            I never saw it coming. And “punched” might be too soft a word. I was doubled over; but I mean right in half--my forehead scraped the sidewalk. I flashed everything:  the booze, my remaining breath, yesterday’s breakfast, and collapsed into a pathetic fetal ball. Jack scooped me up and waved down a car.

            “Get us to a hospital fast.”

            The driver’s eyes were all over the place. He was a middle-aged milquetoast who looked like he was in cardiac arrest. The car was a light blue station wagon. The driver’s window was down only a crack. That’s all I could make out while peeking between my knees.

            “Maybe you should call an ambulance.”

            “There’s no time,” Jack said. “He’s dying. Look at him.”

            “But what hap--”       

            “Open the door, damn you! He’s dying!”

            The driver shakily reached back and unlocked the rear door. Jack chucked me in like a bag of dirty laundry, hopped in the back and over the front seat. “Get out.”

            The driver seemed about to break into tears, but Jack ran his arms around him, unlocked the door with one hand, lifted the latch with the other. “Get out.” The driver threw his arms over his face. “God damn you,” Jack said, and kicked the door open and the driver out. He closed the rear and front doors, threw the car in gear and took off. “You did good,” he said.

            I forced a sitting slump and rolled my head deliriously. “Where’re--where’re we going?”

            “Not far,” Jack said, punching the dash. “This f****r’s on fumes.”

            “Maybe we--” I managed, “--maybe we--”

            He tore into the first available gas station. “Stay here.” I was able to raise my head, just in time to see him flipping around the OPEN sign on the front glass door. In a minute he came out with his arms full of chips and jerky. He tossed it all in, along with handfuls of tens, twenties, and fifties. “You’re in charge of cash,” he said, and bent to fill the tank.

            I threw up again and again; I don’t know how many times, mostly out the window. The next thing I knew I was sitting up front, it was dusk, and we were on the freeway, driving way too fast and changing lanes unnecessarily.

            “Jack . . .” I hacked, “Jack, maybe we could drive a little slower and not look so suspicious, you think?”

            He sneered. “That’s gonna fool that helicopter, huh? We’ll just blend right in, is that it?”

            “Heli--” I looked in the side-view mirror and broke right into tears. “Oh my God, Jack, they’re almost on top of us. It’s over, man, it’s over.”

            “Bullshit. I filled the tank.”

            Then it was dark, and we were rolling in and out of a spotlight while Highway Patrol covered our front and rear. I could see black marshy fields along the freeway’s sides, but we were moving way too fast to make out details. Another helicopter was pacing us off to my right, and a pair of sirens were clearing the station wagon a path. What’s the name of those things they lay down to puncture your tires? You know, so they can bring a chase to a close . . .

            Spike strips, that’s it. Well, when we hit, the car didn’t spin out, it just kept going sideways, across three lanes, a turnout, and twenty feet of open space before taking out a couple of small trees and landing belly-up in an old culvert.

            Once again it was Jack to the rescue. He pulled my semi-conscious a*s out the window and dragged me through the scrub and down a little gulch. Half a dozen Highway Patrol cars were lining the embankment when I opened my eyes, and one helicopter was hovering over the station wagon while the other swept an area three hundred yards away. And I was all gnarled up in Jack’s bearhug of an embrace, and in more pain than I’ve ever imagined. “Jack . . .” I said, “Jack, I think my neck’s broken.”

            “That’s all right, little friend,” he whispered, and almost crushed my spine. “It’s okay, it’s okay.” He reached into his left front pocket and I heard the click of a switchblade.

            There was the frantic whine of a police dog, very close. Half a dozen flashlight beams tore all around us. Jack swung behind me and threw an arm round my neck. All I could see was a faceful of flashlight beams.

            “Stay where you are!” came a voice. At the same time one of the helicopters veered and hit us with its spotlight. I don’t know if any of you guys have ever been in one of those things, but it’s like a trillion candlepower, or whatever they call it. I mean bright white.

            “Back off!” Jack shouted. “I’ll cut his f*****g throat; I swear I will.” He took a handful of hair and yanked back my head so that his lips were right up against my ear, then pushed the blade into my skin until blood trickled down my throat. “Act scared!” he whispered.

            No problem. I wailed like a weenie, you guys. I cried out to Mother, to God, and to Jack himself, in that order. But not to the cops, man, no way. I’d never turn on a pal.

            “Put down the knife and release the prisoner.”

            “F**k you!”

            “Lay down your weapon!”

            “F**k you!”

            There’s this thing they do with light. Even though it was so bright that everybody in that sea of white would have been visible from space, those state-of-the-art flashlights had us so dazzled it was impossible to see the cops, the dogs, or the special agent with his rifle trained right between Jack’s eyes and not six inches from my left ear. When the shot came it was just one more element of the kaleidoscopic panoply, and I wouldn’t have put two and two together if not for the thunk, jerk, and splatter. You know how they say a bullet makes a small hole going in and a big one coming out? Well, they don’t tell you that you can look right through that little hole and see cerebrum souffl". The whole back of Jack’s head had been blown off, and the original contents were clinging to my shirt, face, and hair.

            Most of the uniforms did a compound swan dive onto what was left of Jack. A pair of cops rushed in to take me down, but one was forced to restrain the German Shepherd from finishing the job on my throat, so the lone cop twisted back my arm until I screamed like a Camp Fire Girl, while he used his other hand to crush my head into the dirt. His knee was in the small of my back, and he was applying the whole weight of his body. I felt the cuffs go on, saw the Shepherd slobbering six inches from my face, and heard that awful voice drilling straight through my eardrum--

            “You have the right to remain silent.”




            Anyway, that’s how the whole thing went down. Since I was just sixteen at the time, I only had to do two years in juvenile hall, and then the P.D. successfully argued that I’d been acting out of fear for my own safety. Given Jack’s gnarly history, everybody agreed probation was the best adult option.

            Don’t you just know I was a popular dog in juvie--that high-speed chase was major news, man, and the arrest was broadcast gazillions of times. The dudes all knew me before I was even processed! There weren’t any girls to hang with, of course, but I made friends in the cells, in the dayroom, even in the showers. Straight-Up Mike, they called me.

            Yeah, yeah. Those were the days. You guys can think I’m bullshitting you all you want, but me and Jack were buds to the max, dude, and I’ve got the scars to prove it. So go ahead and walk away; out of this bar, out of my life, just like everybody else. I don’t need you, I don’t need anybody, ’cause I’ve got my memories, man, and I’ll always remember Jack.


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© 2010 Ron Sanders

Author's Note

Ron Sanders
Em dashes removed by this program. Sorry. Pardon my dust anyway.

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Added on October 16, 2010
Last Updated on December 10, 2010
Tags: adventure, teenagers, bullies, justice, story, like comma Luke Skywalker comma


Ron Sanders
Ron Sanders

Marina del Rey, CA

L.A.-based novelist, illustrator, poet, short story writer. more..

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