Six.

Duke

I met Crazy Joe through Gina. She used to fuck Duke back in junior high. In fact, he took her cherry. Duke was twenty. He and Lenny, his older brother, were the coolest dudes in Parkville, and probably most of Baltimore. Real badasses. They rode bikes, did drugs and packed guns. They took shit from no one. When their parents died and they got the house the neighbors all vowed secretly to get them kicked out. Wasn’t much of a secret though, and it only antagonized them, which sucked for the neighbors. Duke was cool if you didn’t get on his bad side. But the neighbors were.

Duke drove a tow truck, had wild black hair, and a Harley that never ran. He was short and stocky and wore grimy jeans with old t-shirts. The only time he dressed up was for court. He’d pull his hair into a ponytail, trim his beard, and put on glasses to look less threatening. Duke went to court so often he started representing himself. Unable to afford the fines and the lawyers, he cut out the middleman. Often he went to jail for a while, but more often he was home the same day, owing a deeper debt to society.

Duke kept a Colt under his truck seat and dated loud, crazy women. He joked that the gun was for them, for when they got out of hand. He’d point his finger, squeeze the trigger, say “Click,” and then wink. Then he’d give you a real crazy look so you couldn’t tell if he was joking or not. And judging by the women he dated, you couldn’t be sure: the kind of women who got drunk and stood in front of his house screaming to him at three in the morning, looking for love after the bars closed. They vowed to scream until he answered but he never did. Sometimes Lenny would. And the women would be too drunk to notice or too drunk to care. If no one answered, they would curse and throw rocks at the house until the cops came.

We lived a couple of doors down from Duke. My parents were the only neighbors nice to him, so he told Mom he’d look after me. Whether that comforted her or not, when I was eight I started hanging out with bikers. Usually we just sat on the front hill. They drank whiskey, raced motorcycles up the street, and talked about their conditions of probation. They badmouthed the cops and the criminal justice system in general. But they weren’t the type who cried, “Innocent.” Hell no, they were guilty. “Guilty as Hell and proud of it.” They just hated the law, hated anything that blocked having fun. They shared stories about police brutality, about cops stealing their stash, about girlfriends blowing cops to get out of trouble.

Even at eight I knew most of it was bullshit. But it was true enough that they were always broke from paying court fees and bail, feeding a vicious cycle that frustrated the neighbors. Every time they got arrested, they came home broke. Since they couldn’t afford to go anywhere, everyone came to them. Sometimes there’d be eight or ten dudes on the hill drinking shots and talking shit.

Duke’s friend, Russell, had a wild black snake. He caught it at Loch Raven Dam and carried it in a cloth bag. Whenever he took it out it bit him and tried to get away. He would chase it around, trying to grab it by the head before it got into the bushes. Since he was always high on Angel Dust, his coordination sucked, and he would usually get bitten again before he caught it. The whole scene was pretty funny to watch. Once he grabbed it the snake chilled out. But until then, it was pretty intense.

The first time he brought the snake he was really stoned. He asked me to grab him a beer out of the bag. I reached in and got bit twice before I could get my hand out. At first I didn’t understand what happened. I thought I cut my hand on a beer tab. But when Russell started laughing and rolling around on the hill I realized it was some kind of joke. Then I really freaked out when I saw the bag moving.

Everyone laughed, but Duke got pissed. He thought it was funny, but he didn’t like anyone picking on me. “Dude,” he said, as he tried to cut his laughing short, “take it easy on him.” Russell stopped laughing and looked at me holding my hand and staring at the mysterious moving bag.

“Yeah, yeah. You’re right,” He punched me lightly on the shoulder and said, “Sorry kid.” I looked into his glazed eyes and he smiled at me. I was surprised at how white his teeth were, except for the one that was missing, which he said a cop knocked out but Lenny said it was his ex-girlfriend.

Russell and Lenny were always at each other. They bragged about who could fight better and who was a better lover, the winner decided by who dated the nastiest woman, which always led to a game of “Nastiest Date One-upmanship.” They went into graphic detail about how each woman sucked cock, or took it up the ass, or liked two guys at once. They were all lies, and the tales got taller until they got ridiculous. And then it just got obvious that they were quoting plots from pornos.

And once that got tired, they turned to Toni Hall, a Strawberry blond from Dundalk with green eyes and fake tits, a self-professed “Skank,” even had a halter top that said it in Day-Glo pink, with sparkles. She wore it to concerts, hoping to get backstage to a rock star. Usually, she just got to the roadies. One of which gave her crabs, which she gave to Russell and Lenny, which they had to shave their heads to get rid of. A week later, Duke had them too.  Every time they told the story they looked at each other, pointed their fingers and laughed about how funny they looked with freshly shaven heads.

When they were bald it was hard to tell Duke and Lenny apart, except that Lenny was taller and seemed mellower. Duke was emotional and hot blooded; Lenny, cold and calculating. Lenny also seemed more grounded. Though only two years older than Duke, he sometimes tried to play Dad. It was Lenny who paid the electric bill, when there was money to pay it. And Lenny was probably Mom too. I used to imagine him in the kitchen baking cookies, a checked apron covering his big biker gut. And he used to nag Duke about not missing court dates. I remember him once yelling out the door at Duke getting in his tow truck, not to forget to stop for milk on his way home. But don’t get me wrong, Lenny was crazy too. He started the shotgun contests.

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