Friday, July 20, 2012

Ignition

Sylvia Embleton sees a lot from her French window. She’s been an invalid for some time, and the window and TV are the closest thing to company that she gets these days. Her carers position her chair so that she can watch the goings on in the street and access her LCD TV without having to move. She’s discreetly hidden behind the veil of a sheer curtain. She knows these boys sitting across the street, idling their time on the wall next to the bus shelter. They're the same ones who graffiti'd the shelter and then her front door after she'd called the police. They'd got off Scott free with little more than a warning. However the repercussions for poor old Sylvia were frightening. She won't be game to do that in a hurry again. They harassed her for days, throwing eggs and empty spray cans at her window as she hid unseen behind the curtain. Three days later her beloved cat disappeared and she’s had suspicions that they were the culprits ever since. They can no longer see her, but she watches them. There's little that goes unnoticed by Sylvia. Time is her friend and street gazing the respite between soap operas. She was tempted to call the police again that night as she saw a hooded boy hacking at the base of a loose stop sign. Little evades her sharp gaze. The body’s weak but the mind is active and her vision acute. Only the fear of repercussion prevented her, “The RMS will replace it in the morning…” she convinced herself.

Mitch Bowes was never a 'sensible' boy and his penchant for the practical joke born of an indulgent father and trickster, further perpetuated by admiring glances and giggles from onlooking mates. An attention seeker, Mitch had long moved beyond setting fire to turd-filled brown bags and had graduated beyond putting laxatives in his teacher's mocha.

These days his immature brain gets its jollies off in far more dangerous ways. But like most 15 year old males, his brain isn't wired for consequences, just showing off. The other boy sitting with Bowes on the wall is Jonathon Finch. His affection for Bowes has been waning for some time but as his enabler and follower, he panders to the petulant prankster's whims. Some of the pranks they've been responsible for had them rolling on the ground in hysterics and tearing up. Others had Finch's heart in his throat as he came dangerously close to causing bodily harm. Oddly it wasn't the fear of being caught, it was the pure adrenalin of coming close to beating Bowes at his own game; taking control...being the king pin prankster, not just emulating one.

Like the time they'd bottle-bombed a whole cul de sac of mailboxes. Bombing 11 mailboxes had been an ambitious challenge and by the time the last went off, there were people chasing both boys down the street. Only the last explosion and the shards of glass showering down on the pyjama-clad angry mob, halted their pursuit. Then there was the time that Bowes talked Finch into prank-calling the police saying he was hiding in a cupboard at Denny's because there was someone robbing the register. Bowes had neglected to tell him to keep the call under 2 minutes and it was traced. Man he'd slid halfway down that slippery slope when his old man found out. Grounded for three weeks and the X-Box sold on e-Bay. Still, he got off with a warning and the adrenalin fuelled a need to do something even more reckless.

By far the worst, the most dangerous, and the most thrilling was when Finch finally had the balls to take the lead, as both of them armed themselves with rocks and hurled the missiles onto passing cars below the overpass. Bowes always being careful to strike the roof or trunk, Finch aiming directly at the windscreen. He'd hit his target more than once and watched cars careen to the hard shoulder, and giggled and whooped victoriously as bloodied and mesmerised drivers exited their vehicles and examined the damage. He’d been fuelled by the report of one poor woman who was hit months ago in a similar incident, now resigned to a wheelchair and feeding tube. Yeh, that shit’s exciting. That shit really is the bomb.

The two are sitting on the wall at the crossing of 5th and Mapex watching traffic and brainstorming the next prank to relieve their truant boredom. “We could go shoplift Flanagans. There's only that dumb girl behind the counter, she don't know shit. You could crack on to her and I'll pocket ...well ...what should I pocket?"

Finch’s enthusiasm is feigned. Bowes sideswipes Finch’s head, "Lame, dumbass...what'll you nick? Muesli bars? All the good stuff's behind the counter and I’m not in the mood for a felony.”

Finch stands corrected but his feelings, and the side of his head is hurt, "Yeh well not as lame as ordering concrete for old man Corelli's driveway...that backfired didn't it ...the guy wouldn't pour it 'cos there was no formwork. Nice work genie-arse!"

Another thump hits an already bruised arm and Finch is becoming more than defensive. "I am a fuckin' genius you dick. How about the time..."

His sentence cut from his lips by another put down from Bowes who’s growing tired of Finch’s whining. ".and...don't fuckin' tell me who's the brains in this outfit Finch. You're a pawn in my game. It's me, I’m the genius in this outfit and always have been. You're just the minion doing my bidding. Peon."

Bowes is aware that the once doting follower is fast becoming the leader and risk-taker. He's threatened by the slow coup and resents Finch's rise from meek to menacing. Finch on the other hand has been seething inside. His partner in crime is irritating him beyond belief and the resentment has been burning him up for a long, long, time. What was an ember of distaste is fast becoming a wildfire of revenge and the cogs begin turning in Finch’s mind.

Before another backhand can be delivered, there's the screech of tyres and the dull thud of a slow collision at the cross street that has both boys springing to their feet. An irate delivery man inspects the ding in the back of his van as an apologetic woman frantically checks the small child in the back of a Ford Fiesta. The dingle is fixed amicably as the two concurrently check damage, exchange details and move the still drivable vehicles to the side of the road.

  "...went through the stop sign I reckon," murmurs Finch.

"Well thank you captain-fuckin’-obvious. Let's get outta here, there's nothin' goin' on. Wanna hit X-Box and rape zombies?" Bowes dismounts from the wall assuming Finch will be in tow.

Finch has had enough of the berating and thumping and is still rubbing his arm. Bowes takes all the credit for their pranks and frankly, most of their menacing acts in the past have been his idea, but largely executed by Finch. Bowes likes to keep his hands and nose clean since he was caught circulating nude pictures of Melanie Rice from school. That little contretemps and subsequent police warning made him leery and so Finch had become the fall guy in Bowes’ eyes, the perpetrator, the one to take the greater risks.

"Nah man. I'm gonna head. I'll catch you tomorrow." Each boy heads off in opposite directions. Only one hangs out of sight. The flames have fuelled an idea. It's a good idea, a dangerous idea but it's now exploding inside his head and sliding down the embankment of thought. Plans are afoot. Bowes, the knob, has left his hoodie and baseball cap on the wall as Finch returns to souvenir the garb.

“Perfect!” He mumbles and rolls the sweater and hat, tucking it underneath his skinny arm, “You’ll come in handy mutha fucka!”

It's late and the intersection is quiet, poorly lit in this part of the suburb. One of the stop signs is dangerously loose after the collision the day before and easily wheedled out of its concrete mooring. The other, on the opposite corner of Mapex Street, needs a little work but nobody sees him beavering in the dark with little more than a tyre jack. They're old, they've been in the ground for over 20 years and chipping at the base of the pole soon renders the second sign loose enough to pull from its moorings. Damn it'll be fun watching the cars speed through thinking they have right of way. Finch imagines the scenes of carnage, Grand Theft Auto style skids and slides, entertainment for a bored vandals, sitting on the wall at a safe distance and admiring their handiwork. This is gonna be the best prank....ever, and the best revenge.

***

Doris Beecham is thrilled. At 78, she's requalified for her Driver’s License, as is the requirement every three years. She's a capable driver and knows her limits. She never drives at night, always adheres to the speed limit and avoids the freeway. The ex-University Lecturer has a sharp mind and a great wit, faculties that she's proud of as she frequently beats ex-students in complex Sudoku matches or the fine art of chess. Her slender frame is in pretty good shape for her age.

Her 70-year-old younger sister Maria, is not so fit and puts on a brave face as arthritic bones fold into the passenger seat. "God Doris, this used to be so easy! Takes me ages to get comfortable these days."

Doris smiles and takes her sister's cane as the less able woman lowers herself with a wince into the Camry's front seat, before lithe Doris herself slips easily into the driver's side.

"I'm really looking forward to this aren’t you?" A little shopping, a little lunch then a movie...quite the old girl's day out wouldn't you say?" Maria fondles the tickets for a matinee performance in her hands, "Pass the mints Dor?" She takes a cool mint from the pack as Doris pulls cautiously from the curb and glides into the street, heading towards the remodelled intersection.

Davis Bryant is in a hurry. His delivery is precious and someone at Peakhurst Hospital is waiting for the delicate cargo in his care. He takes his job seriously and pathology delivery is something he's proud to do, much better than his old courier job. He feels a sense of contribution and care. The undersized van with "Emergency Blood Delivery" emblazoned on the rear window commands respect and he's earned it. But today, he’s driving a little fast and the radio is a little too loud. He’s a man on a mission with self-imposed peripheral vision.

Lucinda Sims is late for work and the kids aren't cooperating. Her voice resembles that of a Banshee as she shouts orders at them. "Jenny get your shoes on, you'll be late for school! And Michael, where's your lunch. It should be in your bag. Hurry up you two...get a wiggle on!"

There's been a teacher's strike and the kids are starting later than usual, it's given them cause to dawdle, and Lucinda cause to fret since her boss is less than understanding when it comes to family matters interrupting her work day. The man can be an asshole when she takes time off to nurse sick kids or attend school functions. His attitude adding to the panic of the morning.

“Get in the car, both of you! Stop mucking about!" She can feel her blood pressure rising and the discomfort of an elevated heart rate as she slams the front door and scrambles to the car, throwing her arm into her coat sleeve, her bag slipping from her shoulder to her elbow and spilling its contents on the driveway. "Shit!" she exclaims as she scrambles to find her keys among the spillage of cosmetics, bills and scattered coins. “Just another fucking day at the office.” She mumbles out of earshot of the squealing kids, now struggling with their seatbelts.

***

Finch has uncharacteristically not told his 'mate' about the prank he's planned, and sits wrapped in an oversized hoodie on the brick wall outside number 28 Fifth Avenue. His face obscured by a baseball cap beneath the gangsta hood. Neither of which belong to him nor have been missed by his adversary. Adjacent to him is a bus shelter, now empty from the morning rush. To anyone passing by he's an invisible punk waiting for public transport. He' noisily slurps a "V" from a can although he really doesn't need the adrenalin. He becomes mildly annoyed when the 'bum fluff'' he refers to as a ‘moustache’ is momentarily pinched by the half retracted ring pul .

"Motha fucka!" he exclaims while wiping his top lip with his sleeve.

He's sure this is going to be ‘the day’, he's sure there's gonna be fireworks and a conflagration, a shitstorm at speed, and he wants to be there when it happens. He wants Bowes to know that he's capable of planning something on his own. He wants to knock the punk off his perch and soar like the vandalistic eagle he can be. He wants Bowes to pay for the pushing and prodding and overconfidence. Today Bowes is going down with the rest of them. It’s all downhill from here.

Maria begins to cough, a Kool Mint momentarily lodging in her throat.

"You alright there old thing?" Doris asks her sister, looking momentarily sideways before bringing her spectacled sight back to the intersection.

It's too late to prevent ploughing into a small blood delivery van and a speeding four-wheel drive. It's a blindside, a king hit, as metal twists and windscreens shatter, the SUV being the largest vehicle ploughing hard into both other cars. The cacophony accentuated by the screeching of tyres from vehicles behind the three-way collision drawing to a halt or swerving to avoid the fray.

Neighbours begin to run forward down their front paths as steam rises from overheating radiators. Lucinda, blood streaming from her nose and eye manages to release the door and checks on the children in the back. The blood delivery van is leaking petrol and two old ladies are slumped unconscious, pinned by the crushed dashboard.

All were oblivious to the removal of two stop signs. Finch lights a cigarette. He doesn't smoke but in the melee nobody notices, nobody cares. Pedestrians, concerned drivers, victims alike are too distracted with their mini Armageddon to notice as sly smile in a grey hoodie lobs a lit Zippo into the pooling fuel and watches blue meld with orange before a plume of black smoke finishes what he began.

As he slinks away from the encroaching sirens, the screams fade. He's now the mastermind. He is the prankster, he is the genius. He cocks the peak of his baseball cap sideways and removes the hood. He divests the sweater and shoves it and the cap into a Sulo bin waiting for tomorrow’s garbage pick-up. He is unaware of the curtain being pulled aside in one of the houses he's passing, now wearing his own clothes. He's walking adrenalin and confidence, no longer living in Bowe's shadow. Bowes will get the blame. The adolescent mind and its ignorance of consequence fired by ego. And if anyone saw anything...It's Bowes hoodie and hat that they'll notice. He's pulled off the best of pranks.

Nobody knows, nobody saw, nobody to tell....except the woman in number 25 dialling 911....she saw it all from a small pane of glass, through her French windows between episodes of The Bold and The Beautiful.