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George Pollock

State Kid
Issue 14
Fight of the Night Riders

Outside the Stojak place just after dark on a still mid-summer night, Billy sat on his
Silver Streak at the scene of his most terrifying moments -- and watched.
He had fallen into the habit of cruising by the Stojaks' as a sort of late-night diversion. He
would watch a while, then leave. What drew him there, he had no idea because nothing
ever happened. He was always sorry that he had come.
This night, like every other night, he watched Mr. Stojak drink beer and flip TV channels,
while Mrs. Stojak and Frank Jr. sat watching whatever program he put on. As usual, Joy
was at the dining room table doing homework. Billy had never seen her join the others in
the living room, which struck him as odd.
Turning his bike to leave, and vowing never to come back, Billy took a last look. He saw
Mrs. Stojak get up and join Joy in the dining room. He watched. The two whispered up
close. Joy got up abruptly, shaking her head and waving her arms -- and Mrs. Stojak took
her in her arms.
With Billy taking it all in, Mr. Stojak rushed into the dining room and tried to pull his
wife and daughter apart. Mrs. Stojak resisted -- and Mr.Stojak slapped her face. Joy
screamed, her voice piercing the night like a siren blast. Billy stared goggle-eyed, certain
he was hallucinating. Joy burst out the back door, with her father after her.
They were coming straight at him.
Mr. Stojak grabbed Joy, but she fought back.
“No, no -- NO!” she cried.
Lights went on at neighboring houses.
“Shut up, shut up,” Mr. Stojak yelled. With the back of his hand, he sent Joy to the
ground.
Billy got off his bike and charged. He tackled Mr. Stojak and the two tumbled to the
ground.
“Run!” Billy shouted. “Run!”
“You!”Joy said.
“You!” Mr. Stojak said, jumping up and grabbing Billy by the neck.
“Run, Joy, run,” Billy yelled.
Mr. Stojak clamped a powerful hand on Billy's throat, nearly lifting him off the ground.
Billy punched wildly but, denied leverage by an iron grip, all he hit was air.
Mr. Stojak laughed. “Nice of you to visit, you little punk.”
Stupid! Billy thought. Stupid! Struggling, gasping, Billy felt himself getting airy, drifting.
Thunk. Mr. Stojak's hand fell away and Billy and Mr. Stojak were back on the ground.
Rubbing his neck, Billy looked up and saw Joy standing over her motionless father; she
was holding a sturdy cut of firewood in both hands.
“Oh, my God,” she said, throwing her club to the ground. “What have I done? What have
I done?”
“You have to run now!” said Billy, heading for his bike.
She stood there, hands to her mouth, shaking convulsively. Moaning, Mr. Stojak stirred.
Billy ran to Joy, grabbled her by the hand, and pulled her with him. Propping her up on
the handlebars, he pedaled for all he was worth -- and barely eluded a lunge by a revived
Mr. Stojak, who was left sprawled in the road shaking his fist and profaning the Lord,
Billy Stone, and a slew of others working against him.
***
Billy didn't stop pumping as fast as he could until the night riders reached the remote dirt
road leading to Mr. Caulfield's place some seven miles away. Dismounting, Billy flopped
to the ground and lay on his back soaked with sweat and snorting like a winded
racehorse. In the glow of a ghostly white moon, Joy sat beside him bleating like a
panicked fawn separated from its mother.
“What did I do? What did I do?”
After a while, Joy's whimpering tapered off. Billy caught his breath. Sitting side by side
on a lonely dirt road, they looked up at the moon saying nothing. They listened to the
groans of great trees and the gentle rustling of leaves -- and to their own troubled
breathing. Billy finally said, “They say moonlight is nature's way of leaving the lights on
so farmers can see to get their crops in.”
Joy sniffled, brushing back her windblown hair.
“The stars are beautiful,” Billy said. “I read once that they're made out of junk gas and
dust recycled from old planets. Hard to believe.”
Joy said nothing.
“Got a hearing problem?”
“This is unreal. You were never in California. You were here all the time.”
“Exactly what the police are saying right now. Except that now the charges against me
include kidnapping by time you and your father get finished. But you know the truth,
don't you, Joy?” She looked down. “Why didn't you just tell the truth, Joy? Do you
realize they are trying to throw me in prison because you and your father told vicious,
rotten lies about me? Why? I want an answer.”
“I was afraid. I was afraid, all right? You saw tonight. I was afraid, afraid.” And then she
started crying all over again.
“Yes, I did see,” he said softly, “and I don't blame you for being afraid. I was afraid. He
would have wrung my neck if you didn't bop him one.”
“Are you okay?”
“Oh, I'm fine. I'll just go to prison for life, that's all. No big deal.”
“The streets will be a lot safer.”
“Hey, you're right. I never thought of it that way. If I'm in prison, society would be safe!
I'm turning myself in!”
“And I could testify against you.”
“That's not funny. Listen, we can't just sit here. What do you say I go my way, you go
your way? Okay? So why don't you head back home?”
“Are you crazy? No!”
“Okay, okay. Any relatives you can go to?”
“None that wouldn't call my father.”
“Well, Joy, we have to do something with you. Do you want me to drop you off
somewhere?”
“No.”
“Well, you can't stay with me, Joy. I'm a fugitive, for God's sake. How about if I just
leave you right here? I have to go -- now.”
“Please don't leave me alone.”
Billy heaved a huge sigh. “Oh, great. I can see it now. I take you with me and you tell
them I dragged you off by the hair.”
“Kicking and screaming.”
“Let's go.”
As they saddled up, Joy said, “Do you, like, have a destination?”
“A friend's house. Do I have to blindfold you or can you keep your mouth shut?”
Bouncing on her handlebar perch, Joy turned around with her mouth zipped shut.
“MMMMMMMMM,” she mimed.
“God help me,” Billy said.
***
Soon they were knocking on Mr. Caulfield's door. He opened it and, seeing two young
ne'er-do-wells standing there, said, “Do I sense something amiss?”
“Mr. Caulfield, you don't miss a thing,” Billy said. “This is Joy Stojak and we're in big,
big trouble.”
“I'm sure you are. Come in.”
With Joy sitting quietly, Billy spilled out the whole story.
“Which means that the heat is on full blast,” Mr. Caulfield said calmly. “However, the
police have no reason to know that you are here -- assuming you weren't followed. Also,
if and when they suspect you are here, they will have to get search warrants. That buys us
time. I think we'll be all right for the time being.” He looked at Joy. “I guess you know,
young miss, that Billy here is in a mess of trouble and it's all about you. Did he mistreat
you or harm you in any way?”
Joy recoiled from the direct question. “No. Never.”
Billy glared at the old man.
“I wanted to hear it from her,” Mr. Caulfield said.
“Which is another way of calling me a liar. Mr. Caulfied, you owe me an apology.”
Joy shifted in her seat. She didn't know what to make of a boy talking to an adult man
like that and the man not immediately smacking him one. Mr. Caulfield stroked his gray-
bearded chin. He gazed up at the ceiling. He folded his arms with finality.
“You're right, Billy,” he said. “I had no right to say that. I'm sorry.”
“I forgive you,” Billy said.
Looking at Joy, Mr. Caulfield said, “I also apologize to you, Joy. Normally I am much
better behaved. Will you forgive me, Joy?”
“Sure... sure... of course ... I mean ... of course, I forgive you. Just don't do it again.”
Billy and Mr. Caulfield roared with delight. To her surprise, Joy joined in. It seemed that
Joy Stojak had a sense of humor she never knew she had, it having inexplicably surfaced
on the very night that she had run off into the night with a notorious juvenile criminal.
Mr. Caulfield said, “Suggestion. The two of you go get cleaned up and I'll get us some
food. Then, we can let what's out there stay out there and, as if it is to be our last night on
earth, we can eat, talk, and make merry, until our eyes close and we drift off to blessed
repose. In the process, if the spirit so moves us, we can decide what to do about this
unfortunate mess.”
“No discussion needed,” Billy said. “I agree.”
“Joy?”
“I don't have any clothes.”
Mr. Caulfield said, “Not to worry. We'll get you some clothes, so long as you don't mind
that they are boy's.”
“Boy's? I'm not going to wear boy's clothes. That's ... that's weird.”
“Why? In Shakespeare's time, it was quite respectable for girls to dress like boys, though,
I must admit, for a terrible reason. It was thought that girls should not do certain things,
such as act on a stage. In order for them to take part in life, girls often dressed as boys. In
this house, however, you can wear anything you want, but it so happens that all we have
are boy's clothes. And, unlike in Shakespeare's time, we are honored to offer you an equal
place at the table and an equal voice in our discussion.”
Billy said, “Joy, he's offering something good, trust me.”
“Okay.”
Billy showed her to the bathroom and let her select an outfit from his new wardrobe. She
came out looking like one well-appointed guy, but one whose clothes were filled out in
the wrong places. Billy's outfit had no such problems. Joy said, “Billy, you look
fabulous!”
He turned his nose up. “Rags, nothing but rags. I'm going to burn them tomorrow. In case
you're wondering, you don't look like a guy.”
Mr. Caulfield cooked hot dogs, which Joy said her father called tube steaks, and the three
spent the rest of the evening telling stories, laughing, and carrying on. As they did, the
problems outside got smaller and smaller and the little stone house got bigger and bigger
until it seemed to be the size of the whole world.
***
“Time for entertainment,” Mr. Caulfield announced. “And if there be no objection, I shall
entertain first.”
He went into the bedroom and came out with a guitar and wearing an Elvis Presley mask.
Joy squealed. Billy laughed.
“Thank you, thank you,” Mr. Caulfield said in his best Elvis Presley voice. “Now I wanna
sing you a little ole song from back home in Tennessee.” He launched into a spirited
impression of Elvis Presley singing “Hound Dog,” complete with hip gyrations. At one
point, he lifted the mask to demonstrate the patented Elvis upper lip quiver. He ended
with a series of Elvis hip throws, which drew whistles and cheers from the audience.
“I will entertain next,” Billy said, rising. “I will present a poem, created before your very
eyes. Behold a genius at work.” He closed his eyes and went into a trance-like state.
Then, slowly, manufacturing tension, he said the first two lines of a poem:
RHYME, REASON, RITHMETIC.
WHAT RELATES THESE THREE?
“I am half way home. I need two lines to complete the work of genius.”
Billy stretched his arms above his head as if calling to the Almighty for a vision. He
didn't move. He didn't move. He still didn't move. Mr. Caulfield and Joy mulled over the
question that had been put to them. Mr. Caulfield went for paper and a couple of pencils.
He and Joy scribbled away while Billy stood beseeching inspiration from the Heavens
and his now furiously thinking audience.
They shoved papers at him. With one hand, he took each paper, glanced at it-- and tossed
it over his shoulder, keeping the other hand profoundly to his forehead. They scribbled;
he tossed. Soon the floor was littered with papers.
“I have it,” Billy finally said. “The poem is finished and I shall now recite it for you in
full.”
Mr. Caulfield and Joy leaned forward. Billy paused for dramatic effect, then intoned:
RHYME, REASON, RITHMETIC.
WHAT RELATES THESE THREE?
FOR SIMPLE SOULS, R, R, and R.
BUT FOR WE HERE--RAPTURE!
Mr. Caulfield and Joy clapped and hooted. Billy bowed extravagantly from the waist and
sat down.
“You stole the third line from me,” Mr. Caulfield said.
“Stole? You threw lines hopelessly into the air. One had promise in the right hands. You
were a minor inspiration.”
“You are a literary thief,” Mr. Caulfield said.
Mr. Caulfield looked at Joy. “Me? Oh no, I'm strictly a no-talent girl. I don't sing, dance,
recite poems or do impressions.”
Mr. Caulfield said, “Ah, that is exactly the point. Why should the exquisite pleasure of an
audience, which we all crave, be reserved for the talented? Everybody needs and deserves
an audience.”
“I can't do anything.”
“Excellent. Exactly the desired qualification for an after-dinner entertainer in this humble
abode. As you have seen, I can't sing and Billy can't write poetry. I suspect that you can't
do a lot of things.”
Mr. Caulfield looked alarmed. He put a finger to his mouth and whispered, “Joy, don't
move. Just behind you. Oh my God!” Joy's face turned to open-mouthed fright. “Oh,
gross,” Mr. Caulfield said. “A big fat flying beetle just flew into your mouth. Don't
swallow!”
Joy jumped to her feet and tried mightily to spit out the beetle. Mr. Caulfield laughed.
“Why, Miss Stojak, you have such a wonderfully expressive face. Won't you please
continue?”
And so she did, beginning with a look of profound relief that it was all a big joke. Billy
and Mr. Caulfield shouted rapid-fire situations; Joy responded with ever more animated
faces and gestures. She made her lips, eyes, nose, mouth, eyebrows, forehead, hands,
arms, and feet do tricks they had never done before. Her audience called for more.
“Brava,” said Mr. Caulfield.
“Brava,” said Billy.
Joy concluded her performance smiling, blowing kisses, and curtseying like a seasoned
Broadway performer, and one certain that the audience had loved her -- and they had.
***
So the evening had gone, getting sillier and sillier. In between paroxysms of laughter,
they managed a few sober moments to discuss “the situation.” It was agreed that Joy
would hide out at Mr. Caulfield's for a day or two while Mr. Caulfield made quiet
inquiries about placing her in a safe house for battered youngsters. Mr. Caulfield would
then drive Billy to his cottage on a lake in New Hampshire where he could lie low for a
while.
Before turning in -- Mr. Caulfield on the couch, Joy taking over the big bedroom, and
Billy in the little bedroom -- all agreed that it was a good basic plan; details could be
added in the morning.
As good nights were said, all appearances were those of a happy family, blessed in good
fortune and without a serious problem in the world -- even though the three had a shared
history of exactly four hours. It was to be Joy's first night away from her parents ever; yet
she felt safe and at peace and she was asleep in seconds.
The blessed repose Mr. Caulfield had spoken of soon settled over the three occupants of
the little stone house. Their hours-old association had fallen into a remarkable tranquility,
considering the motley cast: a wayward old man, a fugitive boy, and a young girl flown
from the parental nest.
But tomorrow would come, bringing -- well, let's let them be at peace for now.