Patrolman DiNizzio sat in his car next to the pay phone, as he did most nights, discussing his next rendezvous with his girlfriend (something Mrs. DiNizzio didn’t know anything about) when the call came in on the police radio. Once again, someone had set off the alarm at the elementary school. That was the third night in a week, and DiNizzio was getting annoyed.
He fumbled with the change in his hand, dropping a few dimes on the floor, as he turned his cherry strobe lights on and put the deep blue Crown Victoria in gear. Racing down Bridge Avenue, one of the few main roads in Paxton, DiNizzio’s adrenaline started to flow, and his already high blood pressure elevated ever so slightly. He loved being able to speed, especially since very few calls came in during his night patrols. Paxton measured two miles in any direction and never took long to get through, even if you hit both traffic lights.
As DiNizzio turned the corner and his car quickly descended the hill that dead-ended into Mount Rose Elementary School’s parking lot. He knew right away it was probably some punk kids again – the single-story brick building was not on fire nor was there an alien space ship sitting on the roof. After surveying the building, DiNizzio turned his attention to the trees across the short field and drove over the grass to the edge of the woods – the same grass field where his son would often play touch football with his friends.
Frank sat low in the ditch as the spotlight panned the wooded tract, heating the cool night air. He wasn’t too worried. He knew the woods and trails better than anyone, plus he was dressed in all black. He knew he couldn’t be seen from where he was, and as long as he didn’t breathe heavily, even his breath, visible in the cold, would go unnoticed. He was dug in pretty well to the side of the ditch that went down a few feet to the dry brook. In fact, the brook was almost always dry, except during and immediately after a long storm. This made it perfect for riding dirt bikes in, and hiding from the cops, which Frank happened to be doing at that moment.
Frank and Bigs, aptly nicknamed for his large head, though he always bragged it referred to another body part, sat ready in the ditch. They each held a metal pipe that measured about two and a half feet in length. They slid bottle rockets into their makeshift launchers so that the sticks went into the pipe, leaving the fuses accessible and ready to light. Billy and Slow Steve, who got his name for his inability to add three single digit numbers together, though he swore it was because he didn’t make the track team, held their lighters at the ready.
They waited until DiNizzio made the turn onto the grass, then lit both wicks. Within seconds, the miniature missiles shot out, heading for their target, one hitting the windshield and the other sailing over the roof. They had a second rocket in each pipe before the first set exploded. The second set hit the side door and skimmed off the hood. It took DiNizzio a total of one second to react, pull the wheel and head toward the woods. Bigs got off one more that exploded right in front of the car.
DiNizzio called into the station for backup and had two cars sent to the other end of the woods. One car would go to Crownhill Avenue, and the other to a side street, which also happened to be where DiNizzio lived, a street which dead-ended into the woods. He figured if he didn’t get them coming out this way, then that would be where they would run.
The boys took off, back into the woods. Frank ran at top speed and had no idea if he was being chased or not. The police car could have driven up to the woods, but not very much further. Frank wondered if the officer would be brazen enough to chase them on foot in the pitch-black night. Frank wasn’t chancing it—he kept running. For a while, Frank was right behind Bigs, slopping through mud pits and puddles, tearing through sticker bushes. Eventually, he split from Bigs and just headed deeper into the woods. Frank never ran so hard in his life. He knew how to run in the dark woods without tripping, and how to keep limbs out of his face. He did not run along any of the many trails; he preferred to go straight through the brush, a skill Frank had perfected over time, and if DiNizzio were indeed chasing him, he would have to work for it.
Up ahead and to the right, the woods met the dead-end street. Frank figured that would be the easiest way out. It was also the most likely place another cop would be sitting. He slowed his run and looked back. There was no one in sight. DiNizzio had either stayed back at the entrance or chased one of the others. Frank slowly moved closer to the dead-end to get a look, and sure enough, there was a cop car idling there.
Frank could see his house from where he stood. He stayed where he was, about forty yards from the car. Then he saw a light in the woods. It had to be DiNizzio’s flashlight. He was about twenty yards away. Even so, Frank was behind two trees, and from that direction, he felt confident the light would not hit him. He stood frozen, trying to calm his breath. Luckily, it was a very dark night with no moon, and the closest streetlight did not even begin to penetrate the woods. The odds were in Frank’s favor. He was sure that he still had a good chance of outrunning the DiNizzio, as long as he remained in the woods and stayed in the dense brush, which would significantly discourage this small Midwest-town-cop from following. Frank wasn’t going to move unless he had to. After a few tense minutes, the light began to recede, shifting in small movements down the trail toward the second police car. A moment later, Frank heard the car door shut—now he would just have to wait him out.
Then Frank heard footsteps on the leaves, and turned to look. It was Slow Steve.
“Shhh,” said Frank, as low as he could. Slow Steve saw him, and Frank motioned to the street where the cop car still idled. Slow Steve stopped, crouched down, and didn’t move a muscle. Frank could see his breath as he panted on one knee. Frank stood as still as the tree he was leaning on. The woods were silent and cold. The only noise was the steady idle of the police cruiser. He wondered where Billy and Bigs ended up. No noise was a good sign. We can’t get caught, he thought, not tonight. He was supposed to be at the movies watching some far-fetched, explosion packed flick, with plenty of tits—at least that’s what he told his parents, minus the tits part.
It took about fifteen minutes, but finally, the cop put the car in gear, and rolled away. Slow Steve inched forward and approached Frank. Once they felt it was safe, they headed out of the woods, down the dead-end road, and past several houses before arriving in Frank’s backyard.
“Holy shit,” said Steve, “that was close.”
“Yeah, sure was. I wonder where the others are. We’ll give it a few and then head down to the mushroom. Did you see anything?”
“No idea,” Slow Steve replied. “I ran further down the brook and jumped back in the ditch and hid in there. I stayed low for a while, and when I finally came up, I saw nothing. Didn’t want to head back to the school, so I figured I’d head up to the dead end.”
“Smart move. I was running with Tom until we got separated.”
“Let’s go see if they’re at the mushroom,” said Slow Steve.
“Not yet. Let’s make sure there aren’t any cops roaming the streets.”
They sat in the dark for a while as the red glow of a cigarette tip passed back and forth between them. Frank stamped it out, and then he and Slow Steve headed cautiously down the road.
The mushroom was a large bulbous rock located about 30 yards into the woods near Mount Rose Elementary School. The mushroom was in a small clearing where Frank and the others would meet. Sure enough, when they arrived, Bigs and Billy were waiting for them.
“Frank, over here.”
“Coming,” said Frank as he made his way through the entrance to the woods, glancing around first, mostly out of habit. The entrance was naturally camouflaged with low hanging branches. Once they had all gathered at the mushroom, some high-fiving and old cop jokes ensued. The four of them had been friends since elementary school recess. That’s where Frank, Billy, and Bigs first met, and they were plotting trouble from day one. Slow Steve, Bigs’ younger brother by two years, joined them once he was “old enough” to hang out with the big kids. They formed a bond over years of suburban boredom, fused with the glue of imagination, revolution, and pure chaos. They were middle-class in a middle-of-nowhere neighborhood, wanting for nothing but to quench a youthful thirst for discovery.
The woods surrounded the school grounds on all sides, except the two entrances. On the side where the mushroom was, the woods extended up the mountain that made up about half the town of Paxton (the other half was in the valley and on the banks of the river where the bridges led to Quapaw, a whistle-stop mirror image of Paxton with the same types of homes and shops and children and parents and teachers and most importantly, police officers). At the top of the mountain, where the woods ended, was Crownhill Avenue, which sat pretty much at the peak of the town. To get to Crownhill Avenue, from the mushroom and up the incline, would take about 30 minutes walking – much faster running from the cops in the dark.
The mushroom was adjacent to two fallen logs, perfect for sitting, smoking, and occasionally sharing pilfered beer. The logs were the headquarters to various plots and plans, everything from how to get the aforementioned alcohol to ridding the planet of its evils, and of course to concoct new ways to disrupt the quiet bedroom community and its police force.
“I’m freezing,” Slow Steve said. “Can we start a fire?”
“Are you crazy?” Bigs replied. “You want the cops to come back with the entire fire department? If we get caught, Frank will never hear the end of it.”
“Yeah, Slow Steve!” added Billy. “What are you, slow?”
They all started laughing, except Slow Steve who never found it funny when they made fun of him.
“Well, I’m cold,” Slow Steve said, trying to cover his embarrassment. “I’m going home.”
“I better get going too,” Bigs said.
The four said their goodbyes and walked home.
In the morning, Frank plopped himself into a ladder-back chair at the breakfast table. His father handed him a gallon of milk, which Frank sloppily poured over his cereal. His mother stood at the sink washing the pan she had just used to make her husband his morning eggs.
“Anything exciting happen on your shift last night?” she asked her husband.
“Just some punk kids shooting off bottle rockets down at Mount Rose’s,” he replied.
“Did you catch them?” Frank asked.
“Not this time.”
The phone rang, and a heaviness fell on the room. Frank’s mother walked over to it and picked up the receiver, “Hello, DiNizzio residence. Hello? Is anyone there?”
After a moment, she placed the phone back into the cradle, and with visible unease, walked back to the sink.
Frank’s father sat in silence and sipped his coffee.