Raphael would get dressed every morning, and ride the subway all by himself to school. He became self-sufficient and enjoyed the classes at his new location. He would study all day and take the rails back home at night.
Occasionally, he would get off at different stops and explore the area for a while, before getting back on his train. In this way, he found his way around the city in a fairly easy manner. Exploring also aided him in picking out likely targets for his 5-finger discounts.
One day, while in gym class, Sammy approached him. He thought a problem may exist because of the past incidences with his old enemy. Raphael received a pleasant surprise when Sammy offered him a handshake.
“Hey Ratface ... er ... I mean Raphael,” Sammy volunteered. “I wanted to apologize for all the shit I gave you before. The teacher told me I need to get with the other kids. If I didn’t I would be thrown out of school again.”
“So ntell me; nwhy do nyou call me names?” Raphael questioned. “I never ncalled nyou names.”
“Oh c’mon man,” Sammy argued. “I only fooled around with you. I didn’t mean nuthin’.”
“So nwhat do nyou nwant?” he challanged, “I’m not nyour nfriend.”
“But I want to be your friend,” Sammy pleaded. “I don’t got any friends here. I promise not to pick on you or threaten you. I only want to be your friend.”
“Where’s nyour nfriend, Mitch?” Raphael wondered, “Don’t nyou talk to him anymore?”
“Mitch is around,” he noted. “Sometimes we meet downtown after school. I’m supposed to meet him tonight if you would like to come with me.”
Raphael thought and decided he might want to go also. He always got with Mitch before and wanted to kill two hours after school. Perhaps Mitch still talked to his cousin Johnny and might relay a message to him.
“I can’t nget around the city too nwell,” Raphael complained. “I’ve only nstarted learning the nroutes on the city lines.”
“Ah hell,” Sammy bragged, “traveling is not a problem. I’m an expert at city streets. We can hang out for a while. Afterward, I can give you directions to get to your house when you want to leave.”
The invitation sounded like an appealing prospect to Raphael. He liked learning about different parts of the city; he had the time and a built-in guide and he would like to perhaps talk to Johnny. He agreed to meet Sammy after school got out and they would ride downtown together.
Raphael’s Art class got out exactly at 3:00 P.M. and he ran down the hallway to the exit. Sammy already waited for him when he got out and they walked down the block to the entrance. They took the same train Raphael used to get home, but this time, they got off on 42nd Street; right in the heart of Manhattan.
“You’re gonna love this Raphael,” Sammy boasted. “I’m meeting my friends down here. Are you still ripping stores off?”
“I nlike to collect things,” Raphael admitted with a smile. “Sure.”
“How about if we start a contest for who can grab the coolest thing without getting caught.”
They stood right in the heart of Midtown Manhattan. A block and a half to the east stood the glimmering stainless steel Chrysler Building. A Block to the west ran Madison Avenue, where all the expensive shops took pride in their location. They walked a short distance to the north and they arrived at Penn Station.
“This is where I usually meet everybody,” Sammy motioned. “Once we decide what we’re gonna do, we can head out from here.”
A group of teenagers meandered around the station as Sammy and Raphael approached them. Raphael assumed them to be older than he because they all smoked cigarettes. Two wore tattoos on their shoulders. A third member of the group sported a leather jacket with zippers on the arms.
“Hey Lamedicks,” Sammy shouted as they approached. “Don’t you got nuthin’ better to do?”
“Check out who’s calling us lame dicks,” a tall skinny kid yelled back. “I get more action than you ever will.”
Sammy shook hands with the boy in the leather jacket and turned to introduce Raphael.
“This is my friend from school, Raphael,” he acknowledged. “This is Zipper and his friend Bozo. And Mack over here with his buddy McPuke. You can always tell when McPuke is around because he doesn’t believe in a personal hygiene.”
“He reminds me of a rat boy,” Zipper mocked. “Does he live in the sewer with you Sammy?”
“Knock the shit off,” Sammy shot back. “Raphael is smarter than any of you guys and he’s a cool dude too.”
Raphael was put off by the name calling until he realized everybody used a strange name. He assumed Zipper not to be his real name and Bozo and McPuke didn’t sound real either. Having a made-up name would be cool.
“Where do you live, Ratboy ... I mean Raphael,” Bozo queried.
“I nlive near 2nd Avenue on the lower East nside,” he replied. “I nlive in a Brownstone townhouse.”
“What’s with his mouth,” McPuke pointed out. “He sounds like he’s underwater.”
“It’s my cleft palate,” Raphael muttered. “My nparents are going to nhave me nget surgery nwhen I get older.”
“How about if you lost weight,” Bozo snarled back, “your mouth might work right.”
“I said KNOCK YOUR SHIT OFF,” Sammy screamed. “He’s my friend and anyone who wants to mock him, can deal with me.”
Raphael didn’t like all these negative comments, but he was happy because Sammy defended him against the other boys. He hoped when they got used to him, they wouldn’t tease him so much. Or better yet, he would learn how to tease them back.
“What are we doin’ today,” Sammy speculated, “Anybody got any ideas?”
“Let’s go up on Madison Ave and try to grab a purse,” McPuke offered. “Perhaps we might get enough money to go to Six Flags Amusement Park.”
“Nah,” Sammy disagreed, “we don’t have enough time for doin’ Six Flags today. Raphael’s got to be back home by 5 o’clock and I don’t feel like waiting around for some old lady to come by.”
“Let’s ask the rookie,” Zipper suggested. “What would you like to do Ratboy?”
“Ratso,” Raphael nodded. “Call me Ratso.”
“Hey,” Zipper beamed, “what a cool handle ... Ratso, Fatso.”
Sammy grabbed Zipper by the throat and asked him ‘What did I tell you’? Raphael grabbed Sammy by the arm and pulled him away from his latest victim.
“Hey, I’m fine, Sammy,” he responded, “He ncan ncall me nthat. I kinda nlike nthe name ’cause of nrhyming.”
Sammy showed a little surprised at Raphael’s ... er ... Ratso’s actions. He seemed ready to throttle Zipper for his comments, but Ratso stopped him. Apparently the name, which started out to be a mock, would be permanent. From now on, Ratso would be part of their gang.
“Let’s go boost a car,” Mack put in. “I remember seeing a lot over on 43rd Street where they store the cars people drive in from Jersey.”
“How about if we get a bitch and show her some fun,” Zipper interjected. “I’d like to try some of this rich pussy.”
“There you go again,” Sammy laughed, “thinking with your dick again.”
“Let’s burn something up and get a laugh as the people run around.” Bozo chimed in. “I got some lighter fluid with me and we can set a trash can on fire, or something.”
“Let’s ask our new member,” Sammy proposed “Ratso, what would you like to do?”
“I’m not nsure,” he pondered. “Burning nsomething up nsounds nfun. Or how about njust breaking some nwindows.”
“We are going to need a plan,” Zipper warned. “We almost got caught the last time we did something.”
“Yea,” McPuke agreed, “when we robbed the street vendor on Broadway, only to get $ 35 bucks.”
“Hey,” Bozo broke in, “I got a plan. Check out the lady’s boutique across the street called ‘Pink Slip’. They sell all these woman’s undergarments and the place is always busy. Right out front on the corner, is a city trash barrel. Setting the barrel on fire would cause the fire alarm to go off. We might catch broads running naked down 42nd Street.”
Everybody laughed at seeing naked woman running in public. And the idea especially appealed to McPuke and Zipper, the lady’s man. Ratso laughed too because he realized confusion would be all around. He remembered when he and Johnny used to do things in his old school, to cause confusion.
“Where’s Mitch today,” Ratso quizzed, “I thought nyou said he hung out nwith you guys.”
“He got a week of detention at school,” McPuke stated. “I talked to him yesterday and he said he got caught spying on girls in the bathroom at school.”
“Fucking idiot,” Sammy sniffed. “He always called me the dummy and he’s the one who gets caught.”
The gang of wanna-be thugs put their heads together, deep in thought. They tried to formulate a plan on how to ignite the trash can, but still stay in the area to witness the excitement. Mack, once again, suggested they boost a car because they would conveniently possess a get-away vehicle.
“If we boosted a car,” he recounted, “parking on the street and watching the action would be a snap. Afterward, we’d give Ratso a ride home.”
“Yea, and if we snagged a bitch,” Zipper chirped in, “we could take her anywhere with us.”
Sammy, the self-appointed leader liked all the input he got from his pals but didn’t want things to get too complicated now. He wanted to keep the plan simple until he made time for more ‘precision’ in the execution.
“Here’s what we’ll do,” Sammy affirmed with conviction. A vendor has a store on 41st Street selling those cheap rubber clothes from China. They got a display of boots out front and only put one boot on the rack. I guess they want nobody getting a free pair of cheap boots. We’ll go over, rip off a boot and come back here. Bozo can use his lighter fluid to fill up, light and toss the boot inside the can at the store. Afterward, he can dash back over here and we will all go hang on the corner to monitor what happens.”
“Why am I elected to set the thing on fire?” Bozo moaned.
“Because you thought up the idea,” Sammy snapped, “and you can run the fastest. Take your shirt off first and only wear your t-shirt. When you come back over here, you can put your shirt back on and nobody can ID you.”
Everybody agreed Sammy’s plan seemed workable. A coffee shop stood across the street from the store where they would congregate and enjoy the mayhem about to unfold. All six headed down Park Avenue until getting to 41st Street. McPuke snapped up a single, cheap Chinese boot from the rack and came back to Penn Station. Bozo took off his shirt and ran across the street to the ‘Pink Slip’ while the other five slowly wandered around at the station.
When Bozo got to the receptacle, he peeked inside and saw a myriad of discarded soda cups, paper plates, newspapers and other junk inside the can. He sprayed the inside and outside of the boot with lighter fluid and put the empty bottle inside.
With the click of a Bic lighter, he torched the cheap shoe, replaced the cover and dashed across the street to meet with his friends. He pulled his shirt on and the six dedicated miscreants casually walked over to the coffee shop; to bear witness to the fruits of their effort.
As they sat monitoring, the people passing by the store barely caught sight of the faint wisps of smoke coming from the plastic can. With a muffled sound, they heard a ‘whoomph’ as the top of the can blew off; exposing a roaring fire inside.
Thick black smoke filled the air, choking anyone in close range. The fire alarm above the door at the entrance bleated short bursts of a horn with an alternating siren sound.
A man walking his dog down the street received an attack from a flaming piece of newspaper. Burning debris had floated out of the can and landed on his shoulder. The ‘Pink Lady’ burst open and two scantily dressed women emerged looking embarrassed.
In the distance, the scream of fire trucks signaled to the boys it was time to get out while the getting was good arrived. Not one of them said a word, as they sauntered out of the coffee shop, finally stopping at the stairway leading to the subway.
“Talk about seeing a show,” Sammy chuckled, “Did you break out laughing when the old coot caught fire?”
“How about them bitches in the bras?” remarked Zipper.
Round and round the comments flew and everyone enjoyed a good laugh. Ratso laughed, but also became concerned about the time. He wanted to make sure he returned home before his mother arrived.
“I need to go now,” he announced, “the train line will take nme 15 minutes to get to nmy stop. I don’t want to be late.”
“Hey, man,” Zipper complimented, “what a dyno-mite time. Come back again when you can stay longer.”
Raphael/Ratso left and went down the entrance to get on his train. Today would go into the record books as one of his most exciting days in a long time. He didn’t get to see his cousin, but he planned on meeting these guys again. He hoped Mitch or Johnny would join them the next time. He found out McPuke hung around Mitch and also knew his cousin. He wanted to investigate this relationship deeper when they met again.
For now, being within in a circle of friends made him happy.