panel1 panel2 Dr. Doom



The Razor's cat-and-mouse game continued for the next year-and-a-half, grinding down any meager self-worth or confidence I had imagined about myself. I viewed it as my problem, refusing to take it to school authorities (the beatings took place off school property, anyway). I wasn't a kid anymore and needed to solve my own difficulties. My family never spoke of the trials of teen life; they were too busy with their own screaming matches to notice. When my father saw my bruises or torn clothing, he'd shout, "What the hell's the matter with you; didn't I tell you to stay away from those hooligans?"

Although they could generally hold their own, the Spartans were not experienced streetfighters. Even Bix was no match for the Razors. When we could walk home together, we were usually left alone. I knew the beatings might end when I "begged" and accepted the repulsion of failure, submission, and defeat. My life had been nothing but leftovers, and I found the idea of giving up my spirit, the only thing that was really mine, terrifying. How many beatings, I wondered, could I take before I submitted to scum? Was this the price of becoming a man? I was afraid to learn the answer.

Because the Razors worked in a pack, I knew I could never outfight them. But I tried. I bought a thick leather belt with a big, brass buckle at a Salvation Army shop, and, at our next bout, used it like a mace. I got close enough to Freddie the Fireman to catch him in the face, the strap wrapping around his head and the buckle smashing into his temple close to his right eye. Blood gushed beautifully from the wound. I knew I'd pay for it next time, but now was all that counted. Metz grabbed at me, but I whipped the belt painfully across the knuckles of his right hand. The Pope backed off, taking no chances with his Roman features.

It was a temporary standoff that escalated the game. Soon everyone carried weapons, even the Spartans, who were pulled into the war with other neighborhood gangs. I carried a knife that had a button in the handle which manually pushed the blade out the knife's front, like a stiletto. I soon replaced it with a long, thin pocket knife I rigged with a bent straight pin under the closed blade. By dragging the knife against my leg, the pin would catch on my jeans, causing the blade to snap open instantly. It was soon replaced with a switchblade that opened to thirteen inches. I kept it with me day and night, even slept with it.

I finally admitted to my fear, yet feared the knowledge of being a coward even more. I fought the engulfing panic trying to gain some measure of control, but knew few safe moments on either side of the bridge because of the demons that licked my spine, waking or sleeping.

My youngest brother was born when I was 14, severing even the minimal interaction between me and my parents. I began withdrawing into paranoid seclusion, trying to shut out the anger that dominated my life, a kind that I had never experienced before. As angry as I was at the Razors, I was angrier at myself for being incapable of stopping them. I dreamed of slaughtering them, of the joy of being drenched in their blood. Controlling my fury became a primal effort and set a pattern for the rest of my life.

The fights became more violent. To protect myself, I wore a heavy leather jacket that buffered scrapes and scratches. I wore gloves to protect my hands and was traumatized by even the smallest cut on them.

Sometimes I'd skip lunch and use the money to take a bus across the bridge, bypassing the Razor's ambush. Sometimes I'd pick a vantage point where I'd watch them at the foot of the bridge, unseen at a distance--and wait, sometimes for hours, until they'd tire and leave. Sometimes, they'd waylay me between school and the bridge, initiating ferocious chases through alleyways, hiding under porches, escaping beneath trucks, scrambling over garages.

Clutching lengths of pipes or socks filled with buckshot, they'd pursue me through neighborhood yards and streets, sometimes in pelting rainstorms or thick snow. Eventually, I became better at eluding them and striking back, but knew I could never beat them--not at their game, not on their terms. In desperation, I withdrew deeper, trying to escape the brutality, yet becoming part of it more each day.

Slowly, I realized that I could not continue nor could I admit I was chicken by begging them to stop. No one, even school authorities, could break up the Razors. They were too wary to be caught on the premesis and too sadistic off it to fear reprisals.

Then, Freddie Flames made the mistake of running over a girl with a motorcycle when she rejected his sexual advances. He was locked up. The Pope also had a mishap that took him out of the picture, when a beaker of sulphuric acid dropped on him from inside his locker, burning his clothes and skin, mostly from the waist down. How it got there no one could guess, and it was finally determined that he had stolen it from science class--although he insisted otherwise. He was hospitalized during the early healing process.

The same week Metz was surprised to see me walking in the open after school, heading directly for the bridge where many of the beatings occurred. He followed me to the intersection, then sprinted ahead to cut me off from the bridge's access. He was delighted when I ran alongside the structure to get away, heading for the shadowed arch under the bridge that was usually deserted.

I cut through the underpass, climbed over the guard rail, continued down the embankment to escape my pursuer, who had slowed his pace, knowing the river was a dead end--unless I planned to swim across. Metz chuckled, jumped the barrier, ambled downhill, closing the distance between us, cutting off either side as I shifted right or left.

Then, I stopped and turned around, stood still. Metz was puzzled, but continued until he was about eight feet away. "This time, you're gonna beg real good or I'll drown you in the river like the little, fuckin' rat you are!" He shuffled closer, bristling with the blood lust of his capture, pumped with adrenaline at the thought of administering a slaughter without witnesses, at punishing prey that had eluded him and his gang too many times. He grinned, reached into a pocket.

I raised my arm, something dark gripped in my hand. Metz recognized it immediately: A pistol, more precisely, a zip gun. I'd read about them in the newspaper: big-city kids constructed them as gang weapons. I made mine in metal shop, milling out a short, steel bar to accept a .22 bullet and fitted to the framework of a toy Colt automatic with a cut-down barrel. It took two days. The hammer was held in place by thick rubberbands, which when pulled back and released, would fire the cartridge.

"Not today, you ugly bastard!"

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