I had forgotten to turn the volume down on the ringer and the telephone was sitting on the coffee table, next to my ear. When it rang, I catapulted myself off the couch onto the coffee table and bounced onto the floor, pulling the phone with me, by the cord. I picked it up off the floor and growled into the receiver,
“Brad? ” I climbed back onto the couch, feeling my ribs for sore spots.
“God dammit,” I said.
The voice asked, nervously.
“Nothing. ” I rubbed the back of my arm where it had struck the edge of the table, and asked, “What’s up?”
“I’ve got a problem,” the voice said.
“What is it?”
The room was illuminated by the cold light from a row of electric lights shining through the kitchen window. It was about two in the morning, January 29, 1967. I remember the date because it was exactly one week after the protest march at St Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. The protest against Cardinal Spellman for calling the Vietnam war “Christ’s war.”
I had fallen asleep on the couch reading John Kelly’s book, Topology, and the book was lying in a splayed V on the white rug at my feet.
“I need someone to take some girls off my hands.”
I couldn’t think of anything to say.
He asked, “Do you think you could help me out?” His tone of voice reminded me that he had pulled me out of some tight spots when we were kids.
“So what time is it?” I asked, holding my watch up to the light.
“It’s closing time.” His voice rose in irritation. “When I get off work, remember?”
“How am I supposed to know you just got off work?”
I massaged my elbow. “Why is having too many girls a problem for you? Run it by me.” He worked as a guard at Frenchy’s Discotheque in Hayward and one of his jobs was to patrol the side entrances to make sure underage girls didn’t sneak in.
He said, “You’ve got to see them to believe them.”
“Sure, Lyle, and they’re sixteen years old.”
“Aw shit, Brad. You’ve always been a party pooper.”
I hadn’t heard that expression since we were kids.
“I know some other guys who would jump at the chance....”
“At two in the morning?” I leaned over and picked up the topology book. I smoothed its pages and put it on the coffee table. “How many are there?”
“How old are they?”
“How should I know?”
“It's your job to know.”
I asked a rhetorical question, “You want to bring em’ over to my place?”
His wife was a Mexican-American woman who had converted from Catholicism to Jehovah’s Witness. I remembered looking into her passionate brown eyes one morning as she told me she would cut his balls off if she found him with another woman. We were sitting on their double bed and one of my hands rested on her shoulder. As I looked down at her seven months pregnant, distended stomach, her one-year old shrieked and jumped up and down in his crib like a monkey trying to get out of a cage. The two-year old fought with the three-year old over a toy on the floor. Lyle had been out all night again and she didn't hear them.
He said, “No. We can fuck them at their house.”
“Are you kidding? Where are their parents?”
“Aw shit, Brad.” He held the phone away from his mouth and wheezed. He brought the phone back to his mouth and said, “They don’t care. It’s just the mother and the aunt.” He pronounced “aunt” like “taunt.” “Their mothers are both whores man. They don’t give a damn.”
“Where are you?” I asked.
“Do you want to do it or not?”
“Maybe. Where are you?”
“I’m parked above the College parking lot, about a mile from their house. You know, where the pay phone is, on the corner of Highland and Copeland.”
“Yeah, I know where it is.”
He said, “We’ll wait for you.”
I looked at my watch again. It was almost 2:30. I said, “I’ll be there in a few minutes.”
I followed his Chevy Impala in my red Volkswagen beetle. I turned the radio to KFRC and drove along the long, winding road into the hills above Hayward State, accompanied by the music of “Yellow Submarine.” I resisted the urge to light up a joint. The fog was thick, and foliage from trees and shrubbery reached out and touched our cars as we moved in the darkness. Light came from scattered cottages and farmhouses and from our fog lights that spattered their muted light against billowing wisps of fog. I followed him so closely that our bumpers nearly touched and my fog lights illuminated the backs of four heads moving up and down when his Impala bounced in the road.
We drove past my girlfriend’s rented cottage on the right and I slouched down in the seat.
He pulled the 1958, brown and white Chevy into a long gravel driveway that cut away from the road, about 200 yards up the road from my girlfriend’s cottage. The driveway climbed towards a large, white, two-story wood-frame house. There was a large white barn off to the side, and a long, white, wooden railing in front of the house. All of the lights were out.
Lyle got out of the car. He was wearing his guard uniform and his .38 service revolver was still strapped around his waist. I rolled down the window as he walked towards my car. A dark-haired girl pressed her face against the passenger window and grinned a toothy smile into the darkness. She turned and said something to the two girls in the back seat.
“I see you made it,” Lyle said.
“Where are their fathers?”
“I told you already man, they don’t have no fathers.”
I looked up at the white façade. “Are you going to take them in there?”
“Are you kidding?” He talked in a rasping whisper. “And wake up their mothers? Come on. Lock your car and get into the back seat of the Impala. And keep your voice down.”
He turned around, put his left palm on the roof of his car, bent down and peered in at the girls in the back seat. The one nearest the window waved past him, to me. I waved and got out of my car. My rib cage shook from the cold.
There were two girls in the back seat and I sat between them. The girl in the front seat turned around to get a good look at me. Her long, straight black hair fell onto her bare shoulders. She was wearing a red tank top covered with sequins. Her bangs fell down over her eyebrows, and her eyes were dark with large, false eyelashes and too much mascara. She was about 17.
“I’m Francine,” she said, and turned to look at Lyle who was sitting behind the steering wheel, staring out of the windshield. She said to Lyle's profile, “I like him. He’s cute.”
He said, “You can look at him but that’s all. I’m not sharing you with no one tonight.” He looked at me menacingly, from the rear view mirror. The light of a single, uncovered electric bulb lit up his face so that I could see the whites of his eyes.
I glanced at the girl sitting on my left, and she stared back with glittering blue eyes. She was a little doll, very young and I remembered the lines from Mick Jagger’s Stray Cat Blues,
I can see that you’re just fifteen years old
But I don’t want to see your I.D.
You look so lonesome and you’re so far from home
It’s no hanging matter, it’s no capital crime.
She had short blonde hair, which was full of recalcitrant curls, and her skin was the color of Muscat wine. She was wearing a black mini skirt and a beige tank top. She didn’t need to wear makeup, and she wasn’t wearing any. I turned to the girl on my right, and she smiled up at me. Her hair was thick and light brown and her skin was very white. I turned back to the blonde and she smiled and looked at Lyle.
He said, “His name is Brad..." He gave me a malicious look, as if he were about to tell her my last name.
I stared at him menacingly. He giggled his high pitched laugh and shook his head back and forth.
“My name’s Betty,” she said.
I looked to my right. “Roxanne,” the other girl’s voice said.
“Where are your fathers?” They looked at Lyle in one movement of their heads. He turned around and stared at me, mouth open.
I said, “Well then, where are your mothers?”
“I already told you Brad. They’re asleep. Don’t worry about their mothers.”
I said with my eyes, glancing first to the right and then to the left, “This is jail bait my friend.”
He turned around and gripped the steering wheel with so much force that his knuckles turned white. Then his grip relaxed and his shoulders sagged, as if he were giving up on me. Francine was looking into my eyes and when she felt the tension leaving Lyle's body, she broke out into a broad smile and said without moving her eyes from mine, “He’s funny.”
I said, “You’re cute.” She smiled. Her lipstick was shiny and it stained her teeth. Lyle caught my eyes in the rearview mirror and he asked, without turning around, “Are you going to pull yourself together?”
“I’m fine,” I said, nonchalantly.
He said, “You can have em both if you want. They’re twins.” He reached over and drew Francine towards him, and gave her a long, ostentatious kiss.
I felt the gold-skin girl’s eyes on me and I turned towards her sister, Roxanne. The corners of her blue eyes crinkled into a smile that seemed to say, “You can’t think of anything I haven’t done.”
I said, “You don’t look like twins to me.” Her hair was dark brown and her skin was very light.
“We are.” Roxanne said.
I turned back to Betty, the girl on my left. She was looking down and her honey blond hair fell over her eyes. She looked up suddenly and her mouth was open. I leaned over and gave her a lingering, chaste kiss and when our lips parted, she stared into the darkness, triumphantly.
I put my arm around Roxanne’s shoulder and her large breasts jiggled under her sheer blouse. Betty snuggled her small breasts against my shoulder and I put my other arm around her.
I asked Roxanne, “Fraternal?”
“What?” She shook her thick brown locks as if she were trying to shake out the definition of the word "Fraternal."
“Who’s the oldest?”
Roxanne looked across at Betty and said, “I came out first. I’m the oldest.” She smiled a superior smile and I leaned over and gave her a congratulatory kiss on the lips. Her large breasts pressed against me and seemed incongruous with her childlike face. I turned towards her golden haired sister and was startled by her bold and yet defenseless child-woman eyes. I leaned towards her and kissed her again, and her breathing came faster. I looked up to see Lyle and Francine staring at us silently, with open mouths. I whispered loudly, “I can tell you one thing, I’m not going to do anything with you in the car.”
“Hell, we weren’t paying any attention to you,” Lyle said. “Were we?” He grabbed Francine’s long black hair into his fist and bunched it tightly behind her head. He squeezed hard and she yelped in pain.
“Lyle,” I said. “Cut it out.”
He let her hair fall from his hand. He said in a loud voice, “Keep your voice down, man.”
I looked up at the white house and whispered in a harsh rasp, “Keep your own voice down.”
He locked his hands together, reached them over Francine’s head and placed them behind her neck. He pulled her mouth to his and kissed her.
I said, “We need privacy.”
They broke apart. Francine looked disappointed. He whispered loudly into her ear, “Do you want to go to the room by the kitchen?”
“Sure,” she said, out loud.
“OK.” He said, to me. “We’ll be back in about half an hour.”
I peered up at the house. “What should I do if someone comes out?”
“No one is going to come out. Just keep quiet and don’t turn on any lights.”
They got out of the car and disappeared into the fog.
I turned to Roxanne. "How old are you? Both of you?"
“Sixteen.” She stared at her fingernail polish in the darkness. Her large breasts rose and fell rhythmically. Her sister looked out the car window into the darkness. Roxanne looked up and shook her dark brown hair again and a Mona Lisa smile played about her lips.
I turned to Betty. Her head was turned away into the darkness. Her satin skin reeked of cheap perfume. I kissed her neck. She turned around and looked up at me with parted lips and dancing blue eyes. I kissed her on the lips. Immediately, I turned and kissed Roxanne. Betty’s warm hand tugged at my shoulder and I turned and gave her another long kiss.
“Kiss each other.” They leaned across my body and kissed each other, demurely, on the lips. “Do it again. But get into it more.” They kissed long and deeply, their faces a few inches from mine.
They returned to their positions at my side and I nuzzled against Roxanne. “I can’t decide." I turned back to Betty. She had pulled her mini skirt far up on her golden, hairless thighs and was staring up at me lasciviously. She said, without moving her eyes, “He’s mine.”
I felt Roxanne moving away. I looked around to see her next to the door with her hand on the handle. She looked at me for a long moment. She whispered, “Goodbye” and disappeared into the darkness.
Betty's eyes were liquid and cat-like. I massaged her thigh. “I won’t fuck you until you tell me how old you are.”
A fearful look came into her face.
“Tell me the truth.”
She was silent. I leaned over and kissed her smooth, pudgy cheek affectionately. She looked down at my erection. “Thirteen.” Her bones sagged and her fingers fidgeted with something in her lap.
The liquid eyes met mine again. I helped pull her tank top over her head. Her pretty breasts were small and firm, and the purple-brown nipples were erect. I sucked them until her breath came fast, rhythmic and shallow and her heart thumped loudly against her ribs.
She pulled her mini skirt up over wide hips and bunched it around a tiny waist, revealing a thick bush and a fine line of hair that mounted to her belly button. I pulled my sport shirt over my head and pushed my pants down until they were against my shoes.
I looked out of the window and said, “I want to make sure no one is watching,” but I wanted her to see the strength of my naked body. I wanted her to tell me that she had changed her mind, that she was afraid. I wanted to give her the chance to run. I looked back, and studied her face for a hint of refusal. Her arms reached out to me. I said, “Are you sure?”
I became lost in her muted, ecstatic cries. She was as old as woman and the wiles of her body transformed my thrusting into giving and loving, and it seemed as if my shuddering would take everything from me and draw itself into her body. My orgasm went on and on and finally, mercifully, transformed itself into laughter and was over.
Her hair was damp, and her body glistened in the moonlight. She looked up at me with innocent pride. I said, “You look like one of those angels in the paintings of Botticelli.”
I kissed her neck, behind a very small, well-formed ear. We lay silent for a few minutes.
“I’m not an angel,” she said.
I asked, “What happened to you anyway? I thought you died and went to heaven.”
“I don’t know,” she answered in a tiny voice. She lay in my arms like a small child. I waited. She said, daringly almost defiantly, “I love you.”
I was silent.
She took a short breath that was like a sigh. “The other guys just went in and out…"
I kissed her cheek again. After a long silence I said, “I love you too.”
Her voice was a child’s voice, “Nothin ever happened to me like that before.”
She lay in my arms. We were nearly naked. I cast a wary look at the large, white façade in the windshield. “We’d better get dressed,” I whispered.
Within a few moments, we were dressed again, sitting together, awkwardly, as if awaiting the dawn. I asked, “What do you use for birth control?”
“Are you too young to get pregnant?”
“I had two miscarriages already.”
“I thought you were only thirteen.”
“I’ll be fourteen in two weeks.”
“I don’t know. I was stickin out with the last one.” She held her hand out in front of her stomach, “It just dropped out. I couldn’t hold neither one of em.”
“Maybe you ought to protect yourself better.”
She looked up at me with uncomprehending eyes.
“So you won’t get pregnant.”
“I want to get pregnant.”
A fire of emotion was in my guts.
“Why do you want to get pregnant?”
“So I can get out of school.”
I tried to control my emotions. “But you’re only thirteen!”
She was silent, tense. I moved my fingers through her hair. I said, “Don’t worry, it’s all right.”
Her body relaxed. I asked, “Why don’t you like school?”
“I don’t know. I don’t like the teachers. I just want to be out of there. It feels like prison.”
I wanted to take her to my apartment and make love to her again but I was afraid. I looked out the window at my Volkswagen and felt in my pocket for the keys. She said. “You were different.”
“So were you.”
She was silent.
I asked, “How was I different?”
“I didn’t feel nothing with the other guys.”
I didn’t say anything.
“I mean I didn’t feel that.”
I said, “You had an orgasm. ”
I looked down at her doll face. I said, “It was the strongest one I’ve ever had. I thought I would wake the dead. Or at least, your mother.”
She looked up at me innocently again, waiting for me to continue. I said, “You may never have another one that strong again. Or at least for a long time. You’ll look for ways to get another one like tonight.” I looked down at her. She was staring at her lap. “Do you understand?”
“No.” She didn’t look up. Her brow wrinkled, as if she were making a very great effort to think. She said, slowly, almost to herself, “It was a baby coming into me and you put in there, good, and it won’t fall out this time because it went in all the way.”
She smiled to herself and seemed pleased. But she didn’t look up, and her eyebrows knit themselves together again. Still staring at her lap she said, “My body just kinda pushed me outa the way, and swallowed it.” She paused, again, and looked into herself and her face was tense and serious. After a few moments she said, again without looking at me, as if she were talking to herself and I just happened to be there, eavesdropping, “You only get a few babies, two or three. Oh sure, Niggers and Mexicans and those, like people, they get hundreds of babies. But we,” and she looked up at me for the first time, “we get only a few. Everyone knows that.” Her eyes looked for confirmation and there was a hopeful look on her face.
I started to say something but I caught myself. A long silence grew between us. She said, “He wasn’t lying.”
“Him.” She nodded towards the darkness, where Lyle and Francine had gone. I looked into the fog and saw a man in uniform walking towards us. His .38 was still strapped around his waist. He motioned me to roll down the window. He said, “We’ve got to get out of here. It’s almost 4 in the morning.”
I said, “OK.”
He asked, “Was she any good?”
I turned to her and whispered into her ear, “If she was 18, I would take her to Nevada and marry her.”
She was staring into her lap and I didn’t see her tears at first. I heard Lyle’s voice coming through the window, from behind my head, “Did he satisfy you?”
Her voice rose from the silence and a polite “Yes” wavered in the air.
I looked up at him and he was smiling and looking into himself. He said, unseeing, “I was beginning to worry about you, Bradford.”
“What do you mean?”
“Those crazy women you run around with.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Like Margaret. You couldn’t come for two months with that bitch, and she made your finger sore, fingerfucking her so much.”
I growled into the darkness, “Shut up.”
“And Anne don’t know if she’s comin or goin,” He said and giggled his high pitched laugh. He stood only 5’10” but his body was a trim, muscular 185 pounds.
“Don’t talk so loud...” I whispered loudly, looking up at the white facade. I rasped, “Let’s get out of here.” I whispered to Betty, “Tell me your phone number.”
She said, out loud, “I don’t have no paper or pencil.”
Lyle said, “He don’t need no paper. This guy is a mathematical genius, like I told you. He could remember a hundred telephone numbers if he wanted to.”
I shrugged my shoulders.
I got out of the car. She said the numbers slowly. Lyle said, “I’ll meet you down at Mel’s.”
We sat at the counter, each staring into a cup of coffee.
“You are so funny with women, Brad. It’s hard to believe because you’re a genius in everything else.” He looked at my profile and added. “You may be a genius, but in the real world, you don't know how to tie your own shoes.”
“They can send you away for a long time for fucking 13 year olds, Lyle. That wasn’t very smart either.”
“I fuck an underage girl every night, man. If ten was gonna get me twenty I’d be in jail until the year 2020.”
“What about Luisa?”
He put his hand on his gun. He said, “Fuck Luisa. What she don’t know won’t hurt her.”
“Take your hand off your gun.”
Self-consciously, he moved his hand back onto the counter.
“Remember Valerie?” I said.
“The summer of 1958. We used to see her at her aunt’s house. She was on vacation, visiting her aunt. From LA.”
He looked puzzled.
“Johnson and Holzman used to go with us sometimes. Don’t you remember the front porch.”
His eyes lit up.
I confessed, “I was too shy to go see her by myself. I took you with me a few times but I saw her almost every day that summer until she went back to LA. Remember, she taught us to use the word, “tough.” Everything was “tough” in LA in 1958.
“What makes you think of that?”
“We were 13.”
“That was nine years ago. I can’t remember what she looked like.”
“She looked like Betty.”
He stared out the window, impatiently, into the blackness.
I said, “I wanted to get into her pants so bad I couldn’t stand it. But I wouldn’t have known what to do if I had.”
He was silent and there was a bored look on his face.
“You can have Betty and her sister whenever you want. They do it together too. Call her.” he said, distractedly.
I said, “You set me up, didn’t you? She wanted to get pregnant and you thought I would make a good stud.”
His face came to life. There was a defensive, self-righteous tone in his voice. “You said you don’t believe in marriage and you were the best athlete at Piedmont High School. Maybe you should have a kid.”
“And if she finds I’m Rhonda Bradford’s son, what do you think will happen?”
“She don’t know who Rhonda Bradford is.”
“Rhonda Bradford is famous. At least her mother will know who she is.”
“Man are we friends or what?” He put his hand on his gun again.
“Would you please take your hand off that goddamned gun? We aren’t kids anymore.”
He moved his hand back to the counter top again. “The only thing women need us for is to fuck em, and to make babies.” He looked out the window into the darkness again.
I said, “I’m thinking of moving out of Hayward anyway.”
“I don’t know why you quit.”
“I’m thinking of getting a degree in Philosophy this time. I’m sick of mathematics and Hayward.”
“Philosophy! Don’t two and two equal four no more?” He giggled his high pitched laugh again. I drank from my coffee cup.