28) FIRE IN THE HOLE
For the next week, things seemed mundane. Raul went to work; Natasha fixed the dinners; Sylvia went to work and Raphael/Ratso made stops on Wednesday and Friday to be with his friends. He learned a new talent from his associate, Bozo. He learned how to make a Molotov cocktail.
“You don’t want to fill the bottle all the way up,” Bozo explained “You want the gas fumes to block the gasoline from soaking the rag when you toss the bottle.”
“Is the nrag on the top nlike a fuse?” Ratso asked.
“Kinda,” Bozo affirmed, “but you want to light the rag and throw because if the flames hit the gasoline, the bottle will explode. You don’t want to be holding the cocktail in your hand. Besides, throwing immediately gives you time to run away from the area. Getting caught would be no fun.”
Throwing a Molotov cocktail in midtown Manhattan constituted insanity. Too many people hung around during the day and you couldn’t envision the flames because of low contrast. Everybody agreed lighting up something would work better at night.
“I can’t nstay out late,” Ratso complained. “I need to be nhome by 5:00 o’clock before nmy parents get home.”
“Didn’t you recently get done saying,” Sammy remarked,” you got into a fight with your parents?”
Ratso thought about his last altercation and nodded ‘Yes’. Life’s been a real battle around the house lately. Raul uses the ‘F’ word more than usual and Sylvia always wears a frown on her face. Sometimes while in his room, he can hear them yelling in the kitchen.
“Well, need I say more?” Sammy chortled. “The end of all your problems is right here. Hang out with us for a little while at night. You can always go home before the night gets too late. But we can go all over the city for our little tricks and nobody will suspect us because we don’t live in those neighborhoods. We might go to Brooklyn or Bronx; anywhere.”
Sammy’s idea certainly sounded like a fun time to Ratso. He received no REAL independence and he thought time had come for him to get appreciation for his guts. Being almost 11 years old, he deserved a little respect. He decided to go against his parents wishes and stay out past his curfew.
All five ; Ratso, Bozo, Zipper McPuke and Sammy, took the subway up to the Bronx section and snoop around . Zipper and Ratso appeared to be twins in their almost matching leather coats.
The Park Avenue subway line took them to 161st Street in the Morrisania section. On arrival, Bozo searched the garbage cans and dumpsters for two glass bottles or jars with open tops. He found two old Pepsi bottles perfect for his needs and he each stuffed them in his waistband. He also took an old, dirty, discarded t-shirt to be used for fuse material.
Sammy, in the meantime, searched for a car in an alley or tucked away some other place. If he got lucky, the keys would be in the ignition, but if not, any car would do. About a block from the subway exit, on Cortlandt Avenue, a car sat parked along the curb way.
He tried the door and the car opened up. He pulled down the driver’s side visor and unbelievably, a key ring dropped down into his lap. Sammy wore a huge grin on his face as he pocketed the key ring. He ran back to meet his pals at the subway exit.
“Hey,” he shouted, “come and check out what I found.”
“Whatcha got Sammy?” Bozo chirped.
“We got wheels tonight,” Sammy bragged. “I found an old Buick right around the corner.”
“Are nyou going to nsteal the car?” Raphael questioned.
“Nah,” Sammy huffed. “The car is a piece of crap. We only want to help the owner out by taking a joy ride and letting his insurance company worry about the rest. Where do you want to go?”
They all stood throwing out their suggestions on where to go. Bozo suggested they go up to Harlem and set a building on fire. He showed them the Pepsi bottles he found and the making a couple o ‘Cocktails’ would be easy.
McPuke wanted them to hide out on the corner and grab purses. Zipper, as usual, wanted to find a lone ‘chicky’ and play ‘hide the weenie’ with her.
“I’ve never grabbed a black chick before,” he admitted. “How about we go to Harlem, get our nuts off and still go and set some fires.” The arguing continued until Sammy took charge.
“Let’s not press our luck too much,” Sammy commanded. “Boosting a car and tossing a few cocktails would be cool. I don’t think we would encounter any problems getting away either. Grabbing a chick is pushing the limits too much in my mind. Let’s be safe, not sorry.”
Ratso didn’t join the conversation because of tonight being all new to him. His happiness came purely from being out and about; and breaking the rules in his own way.
“Can nyou drive?” he badgered Sammy.
“Yea,” he boasted, “of course I can drive. The car is an automatic.
By now, the sun disappeared and night crept up upon them. The neighborhood seemed different than the midtown area. Houses was spread out more, and less traffic on the streets made the night quieter.
As they stood pondering what to do, a gang of four teens came up the stairs from the subway and approached them. These guys came across as being mean and all carried little baseball bats in their hands.
“What are you punks doin’ here,” the leader demanded.
“Nothin,” Sammy whimpered. “We’re lost and thinking about where we are.”
“Where you are punk,” the leader barked, “is on our turf. We are the Home Runners and we don’t take highly to turf invaders. Now get the fuck out of here.”
No argument, no discussion, and no hesitation came by the five from Manhattan. They followed Sammy’s lead and ran down the block and around the corner to Cortlandt Ave. Sammy pointed to the Buick still parked and they all piled into the front and rear seats.
“I’m not taking any shit from those assholes,” Sammy claimed.
“Let’s get out of here man,” Bozo pled. “We don’t need trouble from them guys.”
“Don’t worry,” Sammy shot back. “There won’t be any trouble ... at least for us.”
He put the key in the ignition and started the car. The big block engine roared as he slammed the shifter into drive and tromped on the gas pedal. The tires spun and the car jetted away from the curb and down the street. He made a right turn on 162nd Street and slowed down as if he hunted for something.
“What are you scoping out,” McPuke sputtered.
“I’m looking for those guys,” Sammy reported. “We’re in a car now and they won’t recognize us.”
“What do nyou nwant with nthem?” Raphael burst in.
“Watch, and learn,” he responded.
As Sammy made another right hand turn, he spied the four punks crossing at the corner of Cortlandt Avenue and 161st Street. As they entered the intersection, Sammy gunned the engine and drove straight into them.
Like a set of bowling pins, he hit all four with the car. The speed of the car was relatively slow, but the element of surprise caught them before they jumped out of the way.
The boys heard a rubbery sound coming from underneath the car. Sammy kept the gas on as the car screamed down 161st Street and made a left on Park Avenue.
“What the fuck man,” McPuke shrieked from the back seat. You hit those guys.”
“Nah,” Sammy corrected, “I only reached out and touched someone. They probably will think again before giving anybody any shit ... at least not me.”
“Should we go back and see if they are all right?” Zipper queried.
“Hell no,” Sammy commented. “Let’s go to Harlem and light something up.”
The rest of the car took on a quiet mood as they made their way south to the Harlem neighborhood. Everyone thought Sammy burned with a short fuse, but this act showed something different. He deliberately ran over those four teens and didn’t even think twice about the consequences. This hard reality showed Sammy to be crazy and not someone to mess with.
“Got any lighter fluid Bozo?” Sammy inquired.
“No,” he confessed. “only the bottles and a rag for the end top.”
“Why can’t nwe use gasoline?” Ratso wondered.
“Hey,” Sammy congratulated, “he’s right. We got to siphon some from the tank.”
Sammy pulled the car into an alley off 124th Street and shut the car off. He jumped out and went to the back of the car while the others milled around. He peered into the filler cap trying to rationalize how to get gas OUT of the tank.
He couldn’t figure out an easy way to do this because of not having a way to siphon gas without a hose. He climbed back into the drivers’ seat and stared off into the night. He told the others the problem and asked if anyone might offer a suggestion.
“Why don’t you punch a hole in the tank,” Zipper suggested. “We’re going to dump this car anyway.”
Zipper’s suggestion seemed to be a pretty good idea. Sammy immediately opened the glove compartment looking for something strong enough to rip through the strong metal. He found a fairly hefty Phillips Head screwdriver, a pair of wire cutters and a Crescent Wrench.
“Do you think any of this shit will work?” he quizzed the guys.
“What if you work on the seam around the edges?” McPuke added. “I’m not sure if working the edge would do any good. The metal seems pretty thick.”
“Why not ncut the ngas line?” Ratso interjected.
“Man,” Sammy complimented, “you are a genius. Why didn’t I think of that?”
Sammy went back out and crawled under the car looking for the gas line. Everybody else got out of the car to check out what he attempted to do. He found the line quickly on the right side near the bottom section. He put the wire cutters on the rubber coated tube. With much effort and the see-sawing motion of the cutters, the line snapped free and gas dribbled out of the line.
“Give me the bottles,” he yelled out.
Bozo handed him the empty Pepsi bottles and Sammy filled them both up to the top and handed them back. Bozo poured a little gas out of each bottle and tore two pieces of the t-shirt off. He stuffed them in the necks and smiled as he handed them to Sammy.
“These should work well,” he beamed. “Now we got to decide who we’re gonna hit.”
“The first thing we need to do,” Sammy stated, “is to dust this shit box. Give me the rest of the shirt.”
Bozo handed over the remains of the t-shirt and Sammy knelt to soak up gas from the puddle forming under the car.
“I’m going to toss this and we’ll all run down to the next block and bask in the light of a burning car.” Sammy cheered. “This should be quite a show.”
He borrowed Bozo’s Bic lighter and lit the shirt. He tossed the rag into the gas puddle and the gang of five ran for their lives down the street. An immediate ‘whoomph’ came as the gas ignited, but not much more happened. The puddles glistened quietly while burning under the car.
The boys kept running until they reached an intersection, where they slowed down to a walk. Still nothing happened to the car, other than flames seemed to get higher. The small fire must feed off the gas remaining in the line. They stood watching when all at once one of the tires caught fire.
The flames licked their way up the inside edges of the tire and soon engulfed the entire wheel. Next, the heat from the flames set off an explosion of the gas inside the tank.
The tank went up in flames like a wayward rocket, sounding more like a Howitzer cannon going off. The force of the explosion lifted the car up from the back end, flipping the car over on its top. Now, the entire vehicle blazed in a mass of fire, both the inside outside.
“Wow ... the best one yet,” Bozo cackled with a smile. “We don’t even need these cocktails. I’m happy.”
They all sauntered down the street toward the subway entrance. Everybody grinned like they just won an Olympic medal. As they walked, Bozo brought up the fact of still having two Molotov Cocktails ready to go.
“I don’t want to carry them on the subway,” he declared. “We need to light them off before we head back.”
“Look over at the building across the street.” McPuke pointed out. “Is a bar on the corner a good target?”
Everyone followed McPuke’s gaze across the street, to a little corner tavern called the ‘Bojangle Lounge’. They squinted in the darkness because the corner streetlight failed to illuminate; either being burned out or shot out. Only the ambient light coming from inside the bar helped their vision.
This place seemed like a local hot spot in the neighborhood. Every sometimes, the door would open and the sound of music would pour out; and one or two drunks. They’d stagger up the street, headed for who knows where.
“We can pitch these cocktails and high tail down to the subway,” Bozo chimed in. “No one will ever realize we were here.”
“Hold on,” Zipper cried, “what if some drunken chicky comes out of the bar? Let’s not let any stray pussy get away.”
“Quit thinking with your dick, Zipper,” McPuke growled. “What do you think Sammy?”
“He’s right Zipper. We got plenty of time for chasing split-tail another time. Let’s burn the mutha down.”
“What about the npeople inside,” Ratso worried. “We can’t nlet the people catch on nfire.”
“Don’t worry about any casualties Ratso,” Sammy assured. “We’ll only hit the closed door. The bottles won’t even go inside.”
Bozo and Sammy each took one of the Molotov Cocktails and lit the rag on the top. In unison, they hurled their firebombs towards the door of the café. Both hit together and broke, spilling glass on the sidewalk and instantly catching the door on fire.
As they stood and admired their handiwork, the door opened up from inside and one of the patrons exited. When he reached the edge of the door, his velvet shirt caught fire and engulfed him in flames.
The ‘boys of mayhem’ jumped over the railing and ran down inside. Their train, the Park Avenue wasn’t in the station at the time and they wandered around trying to decide what to do. Sammy finally convinced them they should hop the next train; wherever its destination. At least they could get out of the area.
As they talked, the Pelham Express roared in and stopped at the platform. This train didn’t go directly to their favorite meeting place, but Sammy said he only wanted to get close to home.
They all boarded the subway, the doors closed and moved. Looking at a map on the inside of the car, they realized this train went south. It would take them to Penn Station, in an indirect way, but they would finally arrive.
“Yea,” Sammy agreed. “We lucked out. This goes all the way to Penn Station via Lexington Avenue. The ride might take longer than the Park Avenue express, but we’ll end up at the same place.”
“Anybody got an idea what time it is?” Zipper exclaimed.
“The clock on 124th Street read a little after 9:00 P.M.”
“My parents are ngoing to shit,” Ratso said. “They never let nme stay out this nlate before.”
“Shitting is good for them Ratso,” Sammy laughed “you are showing them who is the boss of your life.”
Ratso smiled at the fact he stayed out late, while having fun doing what he wanted to do. And besides, this weekend started and he didn’t have school tomorrow. He would sleep in late and spend another boring day in the neighborhood. Yes, he enjoyed staying out late.
And he would stay out late again.