So Cal Summer 69

by Flip McHooter

Chapter 23

Jake, Lisa, Coop and I all charged up the hill towards the smashing sound that we just heard. When we got to the crest of our street, we spotted the rusty gold van that Jake was talking about earlier, the one with the shiny Unicorn painted on its side. Broken glass was piled up on the pavement like little sparkly pyramids, all around the tires. I didn't see anyone lurking around and couldn't for the life of me figure out who the heck would do such a crazy thing like this and bust up someone's groovy van.

I had seen a bumper sticker one time that read, if this van's a-rockin', don't come a-knockin'. Could this be the downside of that? Maybe somebody who was pissed off at the owner of the van was gonna get even. Maybe some dude was in there with some other dude's chick. Or some dude with another dude's dude. Huh? Who knew? There didn't seem to be anyone around up here, and we couldn't hear or see anything from inside the van, so I was about to suggest we head back to the party, when all of a sudden, we heard the squealing tires of a car fishtailing down the street.

"Shit. What the fuck is going on now?" Jake asked. "I can't believe this is happening in front of our houses. We better find out what's going on before someone calls the fuzz."

"Like you say, Roger that, Bucky." I signaled to Jake to follow me while Cooper and Lisa went around the other side of the van. We weren't so scared now, since whoever had busted out the windows took off smokin' down the street. I think we were more curious than anything else. We had crossed the road and were about to step up onto the curb when there was a loud bang, like the sound of metal falling, this time much closer to us.

The noise made me stop before I jumped up on the curb. I peeked around the back of another parked car. I saw a big, burly guy dressed in baggy, filthy, gross looking dark clothes, using the toe of his beat-up shoe to roll around some type of metal bar or pipe. He looked up when he noticed me come around the side of the car, locked eyes on me like he knew who I was. That made me feel creeped out. So creepy in fact, that I wanted to run away, but it was up to us to try and stop this wacko. It occurred to me that if this was the guy busting out the windows, then who the hell took off screeching down the street and what were they doing?

"Hey, you. Stop it!" Jake yelled from beside me, up towards the nasty-looking crazy dude, scaring the crap out of me.

The weird guy spun his massive body around but kept glaring right at me, ignoring Jake, for a minute, straight on, not quite sure what to do next. Looking at him, I couldn't believe how big and dirty he was. He seemed like a giant. Finally, breaking eye contact with me, the crazy dude

reached down and picked up his weapon, the rusty old pipe off the sidewalk, fast and stealthy like a panther.

"What's he doing?" Jake asked me.

"I'm not sure," I said. "But I'm starting to get worried."

"I think he's the weird guy I thought was Red Crow, but now I think he's also the guy we saw late at night under our treehouse a couple of weeks ago. The guy we call the Dark Man. At least, I'm pretty sure it could be him."

"Well, he certainly isn't Red Crow, that's for sure. But he could be the Dark Man, I guess," I said. "He looks kinda like him now that I think about it."

"Has he said anything to you? What are we going to do?" Jake asked. "We can't let him bust up all of the cars out here on the street."

"Yeah, but someone could get hurt," I said. "Better the cars than us. But you know, I'm not sure he's the one doing this to the cars. He was looking at the pipe on the sidewalk when I first saw him, but now he picked it up. I'm not sure, but I think whoever did this took off in that car we heard."

"You think?" asked Jake. "They sure took off mighty fast."

About that time, some of the neighbors started to stick their heads out the front doors and windows of their houses, looky-loos, and busybodies trying to figure out what all the noise was about. The Dark Man was starting to bounce around now, up on his toes and glaring at all of the people staring at him. I think it made him even more nervous, or maybe even angry because he started to bounce up and down on his feet fast like he was dancing to some strange music playing inside his head.

Lisa and Cooper had climbed up on the sidewalk, but down on the other side of the Dark Man and opposite us. After a minute, Coop started to slowly creep up to get closer to him, I guess to try and tackle him or take the bar away or something. I think he might have thought the Dark Man was the one busting out the windows. I wished he wouldn't do that because Coop was the skinniest one out of all of us. But I had to give him points for bravery. Maybe he was trying to impress Lisa with his lifeguard training. When I saw what he was doing, and even though I thought this was a terrible idea, I decided to try and keep the Dark Man looking in our direction while Coop crept up behind him. I shouted, "Hey! Do you know who did this?"

Unfortunately, that was entirely the wrong thing to do, because from behind his gloomy dark and scary eyes, he gave me one of the craziest looks I'd ever seen in my life. Shit, his eyes looked like walking death! It was like seeing into someone who was already dead. Holy crap, Batman, this dude's a zombie, and he wants to eat our flesh! Then he started to charge me. Shit. Coop was coming up from behind him, grabbing for the back of his raggedy coat to try and stop him before he got to me. But that didn't work out too well, because his clothes were so old and fragile that the piece Coop was holding ripped off in his hand, leaving him with a handful of rotting, stinking rags.

It only slowed down the Dark Man's run towards me by a fraction. I don't think he even realized that Coop was behind him because he was so focused on me. I don't know why, but I had the feeling that he was only after one person. And that person was me! He was maybe half a car length away from Jake and me now, so I closed my eyes, curled up in a ball, and waited for the worst to happen. In that split second, I knew I was a goner.

Jake told me later that Cooper tried again to reach out and grab the Dark Man with his other hand. Luckily, for me at least, when he did that, it made the Dark Man spin around, and then, in the deepest and scariest tone, he yelled, "Don't fuck with my antenna, you good for nothing son of a bitch!" I opened my eyes just in time to see him slam the bar straight down onto the side of Coop's leg. Oh, fuck!

Coop screamed out in pain and terror and fell down on the sidewalk. He was clutching his shin and rocking back and forth. He was whimpering and shaking as blood was leaking through his fingers and dripping down on the sidewalk. Jake was thinking fast, and ran the other way around the car, up behind Coop, and grabbed him by the arms, pulling him back to safety behind the parked car before the Dark Man could strike another blow. Who knew what this guy was capable of doing? Shit, how are we going to stop this? Man, I sure hope he wasn't hurt too badly, I thought to myself. Damn, that could have been me.

But then I had another thought. Jake's over there with Coop and Lisa, and now I'm all alone over here. Shit. Now I'm a total goner. The second that thought went through my head, the Dark Man stopped dead in his tracks and started looking back and forth at all four of us. First up at me, and then he'd turn his head and look at the three of them. He seemed to be trying to figure us out or something, or who he wanted to kill first.

While the Dark Man stood and looked at me, the three of them took the opportunity to take a few steps backward and try to regroup and rethink their strategy and to check on Coop to see how injured he was. I didn't know what to do. I wanted to run but felt frozen in place. The Dark Man was starting to gasp hard, his nostrils flaring like crazy, snot running down his face and off his chin. His head was rocking back and forth fast now, almost like it was going to snap off. His dirty, stringy hair hanging down the back of his head reminded me of a caged bull wearing a cheesy Eva Gabor wig, who was about to break out and go ballistic and gore someone. I was thankful he wasn't staring at me anymore.

Regrettably, the wind had changed, and it was blowing up the hill towards me. That was bad because this guy was disgustingly rank and his stench made me want to puke. But even with his ratty clothes and weird behavior, and that God-awful smell, I felt a little bit of compassion for him. Just a tiny little bit. I don't know why it bugged the hell out of me, but it did. I was pretty sure that Jake was right. This had to be the Dark Man that we had seen under our treehouse. I wondered if he'd been watching the two of us all along.

I was petrified, and my adrenaline was way off the charts because I wasn't sure what we should do. How were we going to stop him without another one of us getting hurt? While I was thinking about that, something happened that was strange, and surprised the hell out of all of us standing there.

I'm not a little guy, but not all that big, either. Maybe a hundred and forty pounds on a good day fresh out of the pool, and mostly muscle from all the swimming I do. The Dark Man dropped the pipe on the sidewalk with a loud clang, crouched down like he was playing defense like one of the Fearsome Foursome guys from the L.A. Rams. He charged up the sidewalk so fast I didn't have time to do anything but stand up and try to defend myself. He was so much bigger and taller than me. He scooped me up like a burlap sack of Idaho potatoes, threw me over his shoulder and started running up the street. I was so shocked, and scared, that I couldn't do anything. He smelled so bad it was starting to make me want to puke again. I guess the only good thing was I didn't piss my shorts.

He was moving so fast that I barely had a chance to lift my head off of his shoulder and take a quick look back down the street to see my friends, who were paralyzed by fear and couldn't react. They looked at me with terror in their eyes, mouths hanging wide open, in total shock. I had a quick realization that I might never see them again. I'd really miss Jake, and suddenly I felt sad. And terrified. This was way scarier than when my parents took us to the county fair when I was six, and they let a bunch of college students take me through the fun house.

We were flying up the street, the Dark Man totally in control while I bounced around on his smelly shoulder. He didn't even seem winded. I was about two-and-a-half houses away when I took another look and could barely make out Jake, Coop and Lisa start to take off after us. Unfortunately, right then, the first squad car pulled up to a screeching halt, cutting them off. Chasing the Dark Man carrying me was out of the question for now.

At the same time, I remember hearing, "It's the fucking pigs," shouted out by one of the hippies from across the street at Colt's party, and then, "Let's get outta here!"

The amazing thing was, the Dark Man knew exactly where to run. Like the beat of black wings, he ran past Jake and Lisa's house, past my house, and up to our garage, where he made a hard left and slipped silently through the side gate, past the Austin-Healey as we disappeared into the backyard. Once we were back there, he dropped me off under the treehouse. The Dark Man was just standing there, staring at me, sizing me up while I stood there shaking, trying to figure out how I was going to get out of this freakin' mess. Surely the cops and Jake would run up here any second and save me.

We stared at each other for a long minute before he said, "You. You're young. You're a boy-man now." I couldn't believe that he wasn't even out of breath.

"Almost sixteen," I croaked. Man, I reeked of this guy's stench.

"I didn't do that to those cars. I've been trying to protect you and your boy. Whey-o."

Huh? My boy? Whey-o? I cleared my throat and said, "I didn't think that you did that, but why did you hit Cooper?" I asked. "He wasn't going to hurt you. Was it the guys in that other car?"

"I had to. They were rappin' the fat scat. I had to get you alone. Whey-o. I've been trying for days now, but you always have the boy around. They want to harm him. I know. I've heard. But I can't tell him. It would collapse the regularity. You're walking satellites. Only you can help. There's my ship. It's getting closer so I can go home."

"What?" I said. "Why? How do you know all of this?" What the hell? How does this guy know us?

"Quickly, they're coming. The man in the sky comes to me in my head. He lives in the clouds. Whey-o. He wants me to watch over you and your boy. I see things. Hear things. Bad things. Pieces of strings. You're a special case, from a secret place, way over there. That boy, he loves you more than you can ever know, ever know," the Dark Man said sadly. "Whey-o."

"What can we do? Who is after him?" Oh man, this was too much.

"I tried. When you see him, tell him I'm trying. I put the snake on his door like the black-haired man in the clouds said. That helped some, but it wasn't enough. No. Not enough. You have to watch out. Never be apart, never. I will watch too. Make mine a ninety-nine. Remember, I hear things, and I see things. I'm getting closer to my home. I'm not going to hurt you," he said. "Whey-o."

"But who? What have you seen?" I asked. I couldn't tell if he was serious, crazy, or just hearing voices inside his head telling him what to do. "Why did you pick me?"

"Men in cars. Men in suits. Men in car suits. Bad men tried to wreck van. That's all I can say. I have to go now. Whey-o. They're coming for you, yeah, they're coming for you." We could hear the yelling and shouting from the front yard starting to get closer.

"Please, what can we do?" I pleaded with him.

"They're coming for you, yeah, they're coming for you. Leave me cigarettes, whey-o," he said, "and some sticks with red-hots. I like those," he spun around and ran for the deer trail behind the treehouse. There were so many questions I wanted to ask him, but he was out of view now, disappearing into the brush. The last thing I heard him say was "You and boy, you're walking satellites. Whey-o."

Seconds later, the first two cops on the scene busted through the gate next to the garage, guns drawn and pointed at me. Instinctively, I raised my arms up like I was the one in trouble. Fuck! Now what? I didn't do shit.

"Where'd he go?" a tall, skinny cop shouted to me. He looked like he'd shoot first and ask questions later.

"Um, I don't know. He just disappeared," I said, turning around and pointing to the brush. "That way. He carried me back here and talked for a second and then just vanished into thin air." I was conflicted. The Dark Man had taken me from out in front against my will and scared the crap out of me with his warnings. He talked funny, but my gut told me he was safe and didn't want to hurt me, and strangely enough, was actually trying to protect Jake and me for some reason.

"He couldn't have just disappeared. Where did he go, Goddammit? Is he in the pool house? What's up there? Tell us kid, now. And don't fucking lie!" the other cop said, pointing to the treehouse. They were getting impatient, but this one had a serious rotten attitude, and I instantly didn't like him. He was kinda porky and didn't look much like a cop, on closer inspection. So I slowed down, because he seemed rogue and for some reason, I didn't want the Dark Man to get hurt.

"I said I don't know. I turned around, and he was gone. I think he's a hobo or something and might be a little off in the head." Before the tubby cop could say anything else to me, two more cops came around the back of the garage and motioned for me to come over and stand behind them. They didn't have their guns drawn but did have one hand on their holsters. Everybody around town knew that the Pasadena cops didn't take shit from anybody, mentally ill or otherwise, and weren't known for playing all that nice, either. No matter who you were, it all started and ended on their watch. I was really starting to get worried about what was going to happen next. I didn't want to see the Dark Man get hurt.

"Stay behind us, son," one of the new cops said. Apparently, he was the cop in charge now, the big cheese, but seemed smarter than the other ones. "Jackson, look up in that treehouse. Murph, go look in the pool house."

The cop called Jackson, the chubby one with the stinky attitude, slowly climbed up the tree and in through the trap door. He was so fat that he really struggled up the branches, let alone get inside. I was afraid he was gonna get stuck in there and never get down, and then what would we do? We couldn't have Poppin' Fresh blocking the door to our sex palace forever.

Luckily, all he did was prop open the door and look around, squeezed his fat, greasy gut back out and climbed down the branches, huffing and puffing. "It stinks up there. What do you do in there? Holy shit. It smells like butt," he said, as he practically fell to the ground. I thought I heard him say 'faggots' under his breath but I couldn't be sure. Thank goodness he didn't do a thorough search up there, or I'd have a lot of explaining to do. I couldn't imagine how I'd account for the grass and the vibrator that Lisa had given us I'd stashed away in my old cigar box. Just then, the cop in the pool house came back out and indicated all clear.

"You two go back in the front yard and wait for the Sergeant," the new cop in charge said. I got the feeling he didn't care much for Fat Jackson.

The five of us went out around the garage and down the sidewalk to find a growing crowd of neighbors, cops, and hippies streaming up from Coop and Colt's party. Jake ran up and asked if I was okay, and I gave him a smile and told him I was all right. He let out a deep breath, and for a minute I thought he was gonna give me a big kiss right in front of everybody. Instead, he shined me his big goofy smile and laughed, "Dude, you reek!" Man, I really loved that guy.

One of the cops went to check on Cooper's injury, and a new cop came over to me to find out what had happened. I guess he was taking over now, because he looked like a Marine Drill Sergeant, sorta like Sergeant Carter on Gomer Pyle, but not as obnoxious. My folks had finally heard all of the commotion going on outside, because right about then, I noticed that my dad had made his way through the crowd and was standing next to me, listening while I gave the Sergeant my side of the story

A couple more cop cars came up our street, sirens blazing and narrowly missing mowing down a large group of hippies. More and more people from the party had started to filter out to see what was going on. The cops were outnumbered by the growing crowd, and after having a little pow-wow amongst themselves, they came back and said that they were going to break up the party first and get more cops to do a full canvas of the neighborhood in a few minutes. They didn't want any crap from the hippies and thought that the guy they were chasing was probably pretty dangerous and needed to be sent to Camarillo State Mental Hospital to be locked up and sedated. They didn't want him to hurt anybody else or even hurt himself.

They had to do it this way because there were far too many people in the way now, standing on the curb and threatening to spill over into the street and cause a scene. Some people were even standing on their cars to get a better look! It was truly a wild scene. The hippies and partygoers outnumbered the cops at least ten-to-one, maybe more, and the cops were getting seriously agitated. One of the hippie chicks raised her arm and fist to show off her hairy pit. Then she went one step further and flashed her big, saggy tit at them. Yuck and double yuck. More of the hippies were yelling Pig and Fuzz at them and telling them to get lost. This was the craziest scene that I had ever seen in my life, and it was right here in front of my house! I recognized a reporter with a cameraman from the Pasadena Star-News in the crowd. I was expecting all hell to break loose any second and then we'd have a full-scale hippie vs. cop riot on our hands.

Fortunately, Cooper's injury turned out to be minor. He suffered a gash on his leg that would heal fine, although he might have a scar. Lisa was all over him, making sure he was all right. Coop and Lisa decided to head back to Coop's house to help the partygoers get moving and go home before the shit hit the fan. Once they left, Jake, my dad and I stood around wondering how they were going to find this guy behind our house, and we worried that he'd get hurt if he didn't give up. Our mom's, the Lulu's, were camped out on our front steps smoking cigarettes right and left, while Jordy and Chris were running around on the front lawn, playing cops and robbers with Sloan. At least they weren't calling each other Pigs.

Time was flying, and it was around seven-thirty or a quarter to eight, but we still had enough light for another hour and a half. After that, it would be too dark to go through the scrub growing on the foothills to find this guy safely. Many of the partygoers had left by now and the Ramrods, with some help from a few of the stragglers, were starting to load their instruments into a big panel van. A cute skinny dude with long hair was yelling at someone to be careful with his bass, or he'd kick their ass.

More cops had shown up and were getting into formation in front of our house to start the search. There must be at least twenty-five or thirty cops standing around now, looking at the hippies and partygoers as they slowly left. Police cars were everywhere. Every once in a while, a hippy on the sidewalk would yell at them or flip them the bird. Some of the bolder guys would grab their balls and jiggle 'em at the cops, egging them on. The cops shrugged this off, but you could tell they were starting to get steamed, especially Fat Jackson, as we were calling him. Jake and I laughed when we saw his ears starting to burn.

Everybody was thinking that the Dark Man had to be hiding out behind our house up in the scrub somewhere because we had that old deer trail that Jake and I used for our nude hikes up to the big rock outcropping where we'd stop and have our sexy fun. Now that I thought about it, I was

beginning to wonder if the Dark Man watched me and Jake get sexy on that rock we'd fool around on. Plus, the trail continued on up to the old water pump building that Jake had been bugging me to take him to. It would have been easy for the Dark Man to run up there to hide out. If he was all the way up there, it was going to be both challenging and dangerous to bring him back down without somebody getting hurt. The trail was steep and narrow, and one wrong move could put you in a world of hurt.

The cops had called the Sheriff's Department and requested the search and rescue helicopter to be sent out from the Lamanda Park Station, to fly over the foothills behind our house to see if they could spot the wacky dude from the air before it got too dark. It showed up a few minutes later, thumping and groaning, and did three or four quick, low flybys, and radioed in they didn't see anything unusual. The green and silver Sikorsky Sea King (the same helicopter Tricky-Dick flew in) was no stranger to our neighborhood, its loud blades breaking our usual peacefulness when they had to scout for an injured hiker or look for a brush fire. This time they must have had another call that was more important, probably a gang shooting in Altadena because they didn't stay flying over us for very long. That was a good thing because when it was flying low, the noise from the blades was so loud it was mind-numbing.

Finally, the time had come, and the real action was about to begin. The Sergeant told my dad he wanted Jake and me to come along with them since we knew what the guy looked like, and because we knew the area and trail. Dad wasn't too happy about that and insisted that he be allowed to go along too. My dad was adamant about that and said if he didn't go, then neither could Jake or me. The Sergeant was reluctant about letting another civilian go along, but when he found out that my dad was a former MP, the Sergeant consented against his better wishes.

The Sergeant had me and Jake lead the group with two sharpshooters in front of us, and a fair number of cops, maybe a dozen or more, trailing right behind my dad and the Sergeant. They weren't taking any chances with this guy, and I felt a lot better with them on our side, but still, I didn't want the Dark Man to get hurt. Secretly, I was hoping he was going to get away. We started out going up the street and searching all around our backyard and behind the garage. One of the cops even climbed up into our treehouse again for another quick look around. This guy was younger, probably a rookie, because he was skinnier and he made it up and down in a matter of seconds. If he noticed the smell of sex and grass, he didn't make a comment, but I'm pretty sure he did because he looked like he was sporting a big banana in his pants when he climbed back down. He caught my eye and grinned slyly at me. Shit, busted for sure.

We headed up the trail that started past the big old oak tree, right next to where we buried the snake yesterday. Jake and I went second, right behind by the two sharpshooters, my dad, the Sergeant and the rest of the fuzz walking single file up the narrow path. It would have felt like scout camp, except this was far more dangerous. The temperature was cooler outside now, so we made good time climbing up the steep trail. This gang of guys made a lot of noise, and I'm certain that if the Dark Man heard us coming, he'd be long gone by now.

We made it to the rock outcropping that Jake and I had hiked to so many times before, in record time. There was no way to know for sure if the Dark Man had come up here or not because everything looked the same to me. We stopped for a second to catch our breath at the big rock. Most of the cop's seemed to be in good shape, except for two stragglers that were bringing up the rear. They were huffing and puffing, and I guess they were late because they must have stopped for donuts at the Winchell's in Temple City or something. I suppose they gave the leftovers to that cop named Jackson who almost got stuck up in the treehouse trap door. The Sergeant came up to me and asked us how much farther the pump house was up the trail, and what it was like up there. While I hadn't been up there for a few months, I told him everything that I remembered.

"You always wanted to know what was at the end of the trail, so now you're gonna find out, man," I whispered to Jake after the Sergeant left.

"Yeah, but I didn't want to find out like this. Shoot, this is freakin' crazy. I hope the Dark Man is going to be all right. Do you think he's still up here?" Jake asked quietly.

"I don't know. I hope not. I don't want to see him get hurt."

"Me too," Jake agreed.

This next part of the trail was much narrower and full of slippery, sandy switchbacks. The side was so steep and rocky that very few bushes or trees were able to grow there. The farther you hiked up, the deeper the canyon became. The other side of the trail was almost vertical, and the loose rocks would fall down on the path while you were hiking, almost like they were daring you to move forward. You had to be real alert on this part of the trail because the sand and dirt was slippery and made it easy to fall flat on your ass, or worse.

I told the Sergeant that the pump house sat in a wide clearing, sort of sticking out on a point by itself, with a small dirt area surrounding it. I went on to describe the building and told him that broken, rusty pipes stuck out the back and went straight up a narrow canyon to the north, held up by wires screwed deep into the rock walls. How they got there is anybody's guess, probably by old timers on a bunch of old naggy burros. There were plenty of places for someone to hide back there, although that side of the mountain was so steep and rocky that it was almost impossible to get back in there safely. I had tried a couple of times but chickened out. Maybe with Jake, we could explore it together sometime.

The pump house itself was maybe twelve feet tall and about sixteen feet square, basically a white, cement cube. There was an opening on the trail side of the cement building that used to have an old steel door, but it was long gone now. The building sat forlornly in the dirt, and except for the door, there wasn't any other way to get in or out. The roof was flat and also made of poured cement, like the rest of the old building.

I remembered one time my dad had hoisted me up on the roof when he took me on a hike up here. The view was bitchin from up there, looking out all over the wide valley down below. The steep canyon fell away on three of the four sloping and rocky sides. The first time I saw it I thought you could see for freakin' ever.

Inside, there wasn't anything I could remember except dirt and rocks that crunched under your feet, and some old pieces of rusty machinery off to the side. The Sergeant decided that he didn't want us in the lead anymore because it was too dangerous, and instead, we were to follow him and two more cops. That left my dad with the rest of the donut eaters in the back. That was probably a good idea and made me feel a little safer. If the Dark Man got shot, I didn't want to see it.

The next ten minutes were quiet as we trudged up the second half of the trail. We still had enough daylight, but the sun was low on the horizon and shined bright in our eyes. Most of the cops around us were in good enough shape, and the dusty trail seemed to be clear of any rocks or debris allowing us to advance quite rapidly. Actually, the trail looked like it had been used quite a bit recently and cleared of rubble, which I thought was weird. I was almost sure that the Dark Man was living up here and he'd come down the trail to the rock outcropping to watch Jake and me get sexy with each other. Freaky.

Every so often, we would hear a noise like a rabbit or a squirrel or something small scurrying away, or a branch snap, and everybody would stop and look around. Our nerves were starting to freak us out, and you could see beads of sweat starting to break out on the cop's foreheads. Finally, we came to the last switchback before we reached the pump house, maybe twenty-five feet from the open door. The cops in the lead signaled for us to stop, and the two sharpshooters quietly headed closer up to the old dilapidated building.

We could see them clearly ahead of us as they surveyed the area, pointing their big shiny guns this way and that. One of the guys shouted out to anyone inside to "Show yourselves or pay the fucking consequences." They didn't get a response, of course, but the mountain went eerily still. The crickets, birds, and even the planes flying overhead were completely quiet like they knew what was going to happen next and they had silently slipped away.

One of the cops turned around and gave a shorthand signal to the other guys behind us. Three more cops quietly circled the small building and drew their service revolvers, as well. This was totally exciting, and I quickly looked over at Jake, who was standing next to me, bug-eyed and open-mouthed, his tongue sticking out a little.

I noticed that the weather had suddenly changed, too. Low, moist clouds coming in off the ocean to the west mixed with a hot and dry wind out of the desert. The old-timers called this earthquake weather when the two fronts collided. If it was or wasn't, it didn't matter now, but it seemed appropriate for the scary situation we were in.

Like I said, Pasadena cops don't fool around, and this event was no exception. The two guys with the long guns got on either side of the wide opening, getting ready to storm the small room. They double and triple checked that a round was chambered, then adjusted the strap around their shoulders one last time. I had never seen a gun like that up close, and it looked huge and dangerous, especially at go time.

For so many people up here on this small patch of the mountain, it sure was disconcertingly quiet. Just when I was beginning to think the Dark Man wasn't up here, I thought I saw a shadow move across the door. But I must have been trippin' because it happened so fast and nobody else seemed to notice it.

The two cops sent some more signals to each other to tell them who was going to go in the door first. The cop on the right tugged at his ear for good luck, and I knew this was it. The hairs on my arms were standing up, and I had goose-bumps all over my body.

Things started to happen so fast, it was hard to tell what order they took place. One of the sharpshooters moved like he was about to go in the door to the pump house, but before he could do that, there was an ear-piercing howl made even louder by the weird acoustics of the empty, cement room. I don't think that it was a word, actually, but it was strong enough to get everybody's attention and make us freeze in place. The cops around us signaled for us to get down on the ground while they did the same, quickly drawing out their service revolvers and pointing them out in front of them. Shit, it looked like we were about to take out the Vietcong. They weren't sure what was coming at them, man or animal, but whatever it was, they were ready. The two guys at the door hesitated for a second, and I guess that was their big mistake.

We were still flat on the dirt with only our heads raised. I suppose they figured that the Dark Man was inside the building, hunkered down in a dusty corner like a caged bear. But he wasn't!

It turned out to be a nursing coyote trying to protect her band of little pups. Poor thing was just doing her duty, and when she saw an opening, she took it. Catching everybody by surprise, she jumped up and bolted out the door, up through the air and straight onto the waiting cops. She knocked both of them to the ground with a giant thud that was so hard, little rocks came loose and rained down the side of the sandy cliff, showering all of us with gravel and dust. I covered my head with my hands, by instinct, but kept my eyes squinted to see what was going to happen next.

The cop on the mountainside of the trail that the coyote fell on was so startled and winded, he unwittingly squeezed out a single shot that ricocheted off the steep canyon wall, and a millisecond later, hurt our ears. Rolling around with the angry and scared coyote made him lose his grasp on the gun, and it landed in the dirt. He kept trying to reach out to grab it, but every time he did, it was just millimeters out of his grasp. Unfortunately for the cop, he didn't get to it in time.

While he was trying to get to the gun and fire off a round into the coyote, one of the other cops behind me jumped up and tried to tackle the coyote off of the downed sharpshooter. It was Fat Jackson, of course, trying to be a hero. As the chubby cop awkwardly wrestled with the

big animal, the second sharpshooter scooted out from under them and reached out for his gun, finally grabbing it. On his knees and not taking the time to line up his shot correctly, the first bullet went wide, ricocheted off the steel door frame of the pump house and whistled mere centimeters over our heads and down the canyon below.

I instinctively pushed my face in the gravel, not that it would have done any good at that point. Unfortunately, the loud noise made the coyote go apeshit ballistic, and she sunk her teeth deeply into Fat Jackson's crotch, coming away with ripped uniform and pieces of flesh.

Poor Jackson let out an agonizing scream that I imagined was heard all the way down the trail, and maybe even all the way to my house. It caused all of us to wince and cringe. Why the other cops hadn't taken a shot at the animal by now, I couldn't say. They must have been squeezing their nuts between their legs in sympathy, or they didn't want to risk hitting Fat Jackson with a bullet. Only the second sharpshooter was unfazed, and he was able to roll over and shoot off two more rounds, hitting the coyote in the head and hindquarters in two rapid bursts. Unfortunately for Fat Jackson, before the coyote died, she took one last hard chomp on his privates, nicking an artery or something and causing blood to start squirting out between his legs. It was both terrifying and gruesome.

Nobody could have ever imagined this grossly horrific scene, and I think we were all in total shock. Fat Jackson sat there for a second or two, still on top of the downed coyote, weighing his options, while blood continued squirting out of the zipper area of his blood-soaked dark blue uniform, pooling on the upper part of the dead coyote's brown fur.

For an instant, he looked up from his crotch, straight at me, pale and terrified. I could swear he recognized me when he gave me a menacing look. He mouthed the word "Why?" and I got the distinct impression he was blaming me for his predicament. He looked away, off into the distance down the valley below. Blood was still squirting out now, and the sight of it made me queasy. Sensing that this was an enormous fuckup, he stood up, barely, and I could see that half his business had been chomped off. I couldn't believe it! He wobbled around a little and then awkwardly tripped over the downed coyote.

He didn't fall, exactly, but took two faltering steps backward toward the ledge, waving his arms for balance, looking for some help from somebody, anybody. His feet couldn't find purchase, and his shoes slipped in the sand, and then, amazingly, an instant later he disappeared over the edge of the trail and down into the canyon below.

It happened so fast and was so gruesome that everybody was freaked out, and none of the cops had any time to react. When everybody finally got it together, we stood up and raced over to the ledge, peering over it and looking down into the steep chasm below hoping he was okay. Even though the sun had just slid behind the ridgeline and the shadows were long, we could easily see the outline of Jackson's body sprawled out on the sandy floor of the deep canyon below, easily three or four hundred feet down. His arms and legs were all akimbo, and little rocks and gravel were still raining down on top of him and pooling on his body.

Nobody was surprised that he wasn't moving.

"Shit!" was all that the Sergeant said.

"Carson, are you all right?" one of the other cops said to the sharpshooter on the ground.

"Yeah, I'm okay. Just got the wind knocked out of me is all," he said. I think he was in shock seeing his fellow officer die like that. Hell, we all were.

Everybody was quiet now, taking turns to come up and look over the ledge and down at the dead cop. It seemed kinda weird to me that no one seemed surprised that Fat Jackson was dead. I guess they were used to him doing dumbshit stuff like this. I looked over at Jake, and while he seemed okay, I was sure that horrific scene would stay in his mind forever, just like it would for me. It's not every day that you see a cop's dick get chomped off and then fall backwards down a cliff.

After taking a quick look inside the pump house, the Sergeant got on the radio to coordinate the retrieval of Fat Jackson's mangled body. He gathered us around and told us that he and another cop were going to stay up on the bluff to help facilitate the rescue since they had a clear view of the grisly scene below. It would be dark soon, and he wanted everybody off the trail before we wouldn't be able to see and make it back down to the street safely. He didn't want to lose anybody else, and I didn't blame him.

Everybody got together in a straight line and started down the trail. Nobody talked much along the way, and instead, focused on the slippery path in the dim light. Most of the cops had their flashlights on so we could see pretty well, and hopefully, no one would slip and fall. I was following a couple of the cops while Jake and my dad were right behind me. That made me feel better because it was so creepy being up here at night.

It's always faster going downhill, and even though it was almost completely dark, we made it to my backyard in pretty good time. The cops went through the gate and out onto the street. Dad, Jake and I wandered out to the front yard to meet up with everybody on the lawn. They'd all heard the gunshots and were frantic, but were relieved when they found out that we were okay.

Mom came up and gave Dad and me a big hug, slobbering kisses all over us. Jordy was either hanging off of me, or Dad, and wouldn't let either one of us go. Even little Chris gave Jake and me a big hug, while Sloan danced around our heels, sniffing at me trying to figure out why I smelled so bad. Lisa and Coop came up to us, and I was surprised when they both gave me and Jake big hugs and kisses too. They had come back up from Coop's house when they heard the gunshots. I guess they were worried about us up on the hill and were glad we didn't get shot.

Most of the cop cars were starting to leave by now, and the long, white Cadillac ambulance with huge windows and big, domed light bar, was turning around and heading for the canyon to the west of us, Kinneloa Mesa. We could hear the Sheriff's chopper circle towards us off in the distance as it hovered around the canyon, helping to coordinate the rescue team below move Fat Jackson's dead body out.

Eventually, everything started to wind down. The cops took our statements while the reporters tried to talk with us and get some pictures. By then, the neighbors had their fill, and the story had been told and retold a hundred times. Coop took off for home, but only after getting a quick peck on the lips from Lisa. The Miller and Mariano families, plus little Chris and Sloan, all headed inside to try and wind down. It was tough because physically we were beat – emotionally we were still high. Plus, it didn't help that Jordy and Chris had us replay the shooting scene over and over again.

After everybody had been talked out, Jake and I took a quick shower so I could get the Dark Man's stench off me. We headed out to the treehouse to sleep, against our parent's objections. Neither one of us had much to say, and I knew we probably wouldn't sleep very well. We got Sloan up in the treehouse with us, and as I was about to close and bolt the trap door, I thought I saw a glimpse of the Dark Man, standing behind the bushes next to the garage, but I couldn't be certain. I wasn't sure if I should be feeling scared, or safe. We unrolled the cowboy sleeping bags on the shag carpet, stripped off our clothes and crashed. Neither one of us felt like doing anything sexy with each other, especially after everything that we had been through. Sloan felt the need to protect us, and, after a few spins around to find the perfect place, snuggled down between our feet. Jake threw his strong arm over my chest, pulled me tight to him and in seconds he was fast asleep, snoring lightly into my back, totally exhausted.

I stayed awake for a long time, thinking about what the Dark Man had told me. I wondered if I should tell Jake. And if I did, how much? I wondered what was going to happen next. I wondered who was after us, or more specifically, Jake. And why? Why did that dopey cop have to get shot and die? All of these thoughts kept racing around in my head like a slot car on a fast track down at the rec-center. I heard a twig snap down below us, under the treehouse, and instead of being scared, I felt someone was looking out for us. That's when I pulled Jake's arm in tighter around me, and I finally fell asleep.

Whey-o.

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