The neighborhood of Rabbit Creek lies along the southern outskirts of Anchorage, Alaska. It incorporates the southern end of Anchorage’s Hillside district, in the Chugach Foothills, and runs downhill to the Old Seward Highway. Rabbit Creek itself begins at Rabbit Lake, a body of water at the feet of the Suicide Peaks, twin glacial-carved pyramids that are visible from anywhere in South Anchorage. From Rabbit Lake, the creek meanders down a gently sloping valley, then weaves between DeArmoun and Rabbit Creek roads, before running into Potter Marsh, a body separated from Turnagain Arm of Cook Inlet by the New Seward Highway. Anything from the south side of DeArmoun is generally thought of as “Rabbit Creek”, although I lived on the North side and could almost throw a rock into the creek from my front yard.
In the 1940s through the 1960s, this area was sparsely populated, its primary denizens being homesteaders, social misfits, and people wanting cheap land in decent-sized plots, upon which to build homes and raise families. My father was in the latter group.
The North Slope oil boom began in the 1970s, flooding the state with money, industry, and people. By the 1980s having a house on the Hillside had become a status symbol, which changed the class and social structure of the sprawling neighborhood, as well as causing it to become overbuilt. Old homesteads were divided into smaller plots, which sold for exorbitant sums, and seemingly overnight the picturesque Hillside neighborhood became studded with massive new homes, each with a west-facing wall of glass to take in the sunsets and mountain vistas across Cook Inlet.
I’ve said many times that if I could choose one decade to relive, it’d be the 1970s. There were perhaps a quarter of the people living in South Anchorage as there are now, and the Rabbit Creek neighborhood was primarily woodland, with the occasional former farmstead being used to board horses, or waiting to be sold to real estate developers. This is where we played, fished, camped overnight, rode dirt bikes and snow machines, and built tree forts. This is where my friends Scott, Gib, and I smoked sneaked cigarettes, before riding our bikes down to the Abbott-O-Rabbit baseball fields, which bordered my grandparents’ former homestead. This was where we tried cannabis for the first time, and where coming of age rode the tail end of the sexual revolution, before the AIDS pandemic changed everyone’s approach to physical intimacy forever. This is the period when the main body of music referred to as “Classic Rock” was new, and which we listened to on small transistor radios that accompanied us everywhere. The music that is the deepest part of the soundtrack of my life, and that evokes the most nostalgia and fond memories (this period also overlapped with the disco era, and a bit of that seeped into my soundtrack as well).
Although this description might lead one to think of this time in this place as an era of carefree innocence, in middle age I’ve had to confront the fact that there was a darker, far from innocent side of my youth. Having lived with generalized anxiety disorder my entire adult life, through therapy, I’ve only recently began to understand the trauma many of us experienced, and that not everyone survived. After returning to my family home several years ago, I found it depressing to walk through the old neighborhood across the street. Through older eyes and the wisdom that comes with experience, I now have a better understanding how much of what we experienced was genuinely life-altering, and how that influences everything from the way we interact with others to the disproportionately high number of suicides among my peers that followed years after the fact.
The neighborhood is a full-on suburb now, with much of the woodland gone. Older homes evoke memories of friends long since moved away, or tragedy that tore families apart, and some have been demolished entirely. It’s a bittersweet stroll wherein fond memories are overshadowed by heartache and loss, and newly discovered information leads one’s mind down rabbit holes of what might have been. Old wounds are reopened, and this is how we are haunted.
The Anchorage of the 1970s was much more rough-and-tumble than today, although, being immersed in it, we didn’t really think of it that way, as the underworld side primarily affected those who were active participants. It’s only through the lens of history that we can look back, catalog events, and understand how lucky we must’ve been to make it through. The pipeline boom flooded the city with transient construction workers, as well as the tertiary industries catering to oilfield companies, employees, and their families. Cops and judges were dirty, drugs and prostitution flowed freely, and in the underground trades, deals gone fatally awry seemed to be a daily occurrence. The local outlaw motorcycle club beefed with bar and strip club owners for a slice of the vice pie, and the unnamed local mob, a loosely-formed coalition of shady business owners, established themselves as a force not to be crossed. It seems now as if every successful real estate developer of the era had their fingers in multiple ventures, some above board and some below, and frequently operated even their “legal” businesses outside the law. “After hours” gambling clubs were run from old houses in shady neighborhoods, and shootouts frequently occurred outside these establishments (some of the most vicious bouncers ever to grace the city kept the guns from coming inside the premises, but everyone who showed up kept something in their vehicles). At least two notorious serial killers were operating concurrently in this boom-town atmosphere with a police force not yet comprehensive enough to cover all of the new ground.
Now considered a “small big city,” Anchorage is still small town among the core of old-timers, and there’s one degree of separation from anyone. When meeting someone new a good ice-breaking game to play is “Okay, who do we know in common?” Because I promise it’ll be several people. Reading accounts of old crimes in news stories, remembering when they happened, and realizing how close we were to them is very sobering, and begins to put long-held trauma into perspective.
I wanted this story to capture the twilight between innocence and the darkness that reality can become; the precarious tightrope between halcyonic idyll and a waking nightmare. I can’t think of a more fitting backdrop than my community during my formative years. This is a work of fiction, based on actual events and people. One could consider it a ghost story, in the same manner in which good science fiction should encapsulate a high degree of possibility. Names have been changed out of respect for the dead and their families, or to protect the privacy of those who are still living. Dates have been altered and events and persons are sometimes combined into a composite format in order to follow a cohesive storyline rather than as a chronology of unrelated situations. Entirely fictitious characters and events have also been added. But the core events written herein actually happened, either to myself or to people with whom I was closely associated, between the years 1976 and 1980.
February 12, 2022, Knik, Alaska.
For Bruce, Shelley, and the other kids who didn’t make it.
Wil Delsin woke with a start. Having only recently stopped wetting the bed at twelve years old, sudden panic was still his customary mode of waking. After years of embarrassment and inconvenience, he’d subconsciously programed himself to come to at the moment of letting loose, usually during a dream that involved urinating, or some form of flowing water. A quick check of the dry sheets brought relief, so he ignored the need to pee and closed his eyes to relax a while longer, enjoying the red and orange patterns that the sun, already high in the sky and pouring through his window at 7:00 am, left dancing across the inside of his eyelids. Through his partially-opened window, the sound of vehicles downshifting on the steep curve in DeArmoun Road let him know the day was already in full-swing.
The first day of summer break is magical for any kid, but for school-aged children in the land of brief summers marked with extra-long daylight hours it’s particularly delicious. For a good part of June and July, it never really gets dark at night, and those ethereal, dusky hours are too attractive for youngsters not to sneak out, get up to no good, and try to avoid getting caught. Aside from the fresh air it provided, the sounds of the Alaskan summer nights were the other reason he liked to sleep with his window open a crack. The hoots of Great Horned, Gray, and Snowy owls would give way to the chirps of chickadees by the early morning hours, starting of sporadically and growing progressively more active as the sun got brighter.
This undercurrent of excitement was one of the thoughts running through Wil’s head as he slowly awakened. The other thought was the relief that he had a three-month reprieve from the prison that was school, and specifically the disappointment that had been seventh grade. He’d been looking forward to a fresh start in a bigger school, attending school with his best friend Bryce, who was a year older, and the possibility of making new friends. School so far had been his most oppressive life experience. While intelligent, he’d been a poor student. Adding to this was the fact that, being emotionally behind the curve, and lacking social skills and impulse control, he’d managed to alienate himself from the majority of his classmates. He was, for all intents and purposes, the “weird kid,” although he was mostly oblivious to this. This had been sealed in his last year at Rabbit Creek Elementary, with the shame of losing a playground fight to another boy. In a larger school he thought he’d have the opportunity to reestablish some credibility and make better first impressions. Unfortunately, as his English teacher Mr. Holcomb put it, “Wherever you go, there you are.” It took a while for the meaning of this cryptic advice to set in, but when it did it was sobering. He was stuck with himself. Unable to escape from the pile of hormones, nerdiness, and awkwardness that was himself, he instead opted for the safety of disappearing into the woodwork of secondary school culture. The three thousand-plus student combination complex of seventh through twelve graders that was Hanshew Junior High and Robert Service High School offered as much anonymity as he wanted. He found another avenue of escape in the journal Mr. Holcomb had encouraged him to keep. While other seventh graders groaned when assigned the task, Wil looked forward to journaling time in third period, often even staying into lunch, the ulnar edges of his left palm, little and ring fingers smeared with ink as he dragged his pen across pages leaving mundane observations, poetry, and short stories in its wake. The smearing of ink and graphite that none of his classmates seemed to experience, was the result of being left-handed in a world where writing goes from left to right. Lefties push their hand through what they’ve just written, whereas right-handed folks are leaving their writing behind. The constant ink smears and callus on the last joint of his middle finger did nothing to increase his social standing.
The phone in the entryway began to ring. He ignored it. Kara or Garrett could get it. The phone continued to ring. Everyone was pretending not to hear it. Twenty rings in, that had to be Mom. The longer it rang the angrier she’d be when it was finally answered. Just as he was about to crack and deal with the angry voice on the other end of the line, he heard Kara rustle from her bed in the next room and run down the bare plywood floor of the hallway to answer. Naturally. The good child. Garrett would never have risen to the occasion; being the youngest he seemed perpetually absolved of all responsibility and consequences. Wil listened as his older sister answered affirmatively to instructions for chore assignments. Just because school was out didn’t mean the Delsin kids were on vacation.
Kara flung the door of Wil’s bedroom open, cutting the last thread of his morning reverie. “Mom says to get up. You need to pick up the dog poop and mow the lawn.” “It’s not even my damn dog!” He protested. Kara shrugged condescendingly. “She’s everybody’s dog, you need to do your part.” As usual, she was parroting ethics ingrained by their mother. “Well I never asked for her!” Kara was already on her way down the hall again. Momentarily, loud piano music and over-the-top singing began obnoxiously filling the house. Kara, having inherited their mom’s propensity for control, was good at following orders. Particularly if it happened to annoy Wil. Often she would recruit Garrett, the youngest, to torment the middle child under the aegis of doing their mother’s will.
He grudgingly rolled his skinny frame out of bed, and made his way to the bathroom where he emptied his bladder. He’d been holding it since he woke, somehow ignoring the urge while he enjoyed the last several minutes in bed. “I hope you lifted the seat!” Kara yelled from the living room. “Duh! But I dropped it midstream just for you” he retorted. “Whoops!” “I have to clean the bathrooms today!” she screamed. “Well now you know how I feel about your goddamn dog!” Garrett was standing in his pajamas rubbing his eyes when Will exited the bathroom. “Don’t say ‘goddamn” he chided, “Mom says you’ll go to Hell for that.” Wil planted his palm over Garrett’s face and shoved him back into his room. “I’m tellin’ Mom when she gets home!” “Whatever, ya little turd.”
He made his way along the bare plywood floor until he reached the two steps that descended onto the linoleum of the entryway and kitchen. Kara was busy poring over a book of sheet music in front of her on the piano as she munched a slice of toast with strawberry jam. He grabbed a bowl from the cabinet and filled it from a box of Life cereal. Mona Delsin didn’t buy “junk food” cereal, but hadn’t caught on that the little squares of Life were loaded with sugar on the inside. Thus, it was Wil’s favorite cereal in the house (on the rare occasions he got to spend the night at Bryce’s house, he got to eat the good stuff, usually Cap’n Crunch). He took the plastic pitcher from the fridge and poured the two ounces of milk that Kara had left into his bowl. There was still half a box of Milkman envelopes left, so he tore one open and dumped it in, added the appropriate amount of water, and began to whisk furiously with a potato masher. It’d be lukewarm, but at least it wouldn’t have any lumps.
As he sat at the table absentmindedly enjoying his bowl of deceptively sweetened cereal, he read the twin-spread funnies page in the Anchorage Daily News that his father had left open after breakfast. The last remnants of grogginess were gone, and with the tip of his middle finger he extracted a nugget of crust from the inside corner of his right eye and flicked it into oblivion. No one had bothered to mix a pitcher of Minute Maid, and he didn’t feel like mashing up the gooey lump of concentrate. So cereal was it.
Wanting to get his chores out of the way as soon as possible, so that he’d have some free time with Bryce before baseball practice, he threw on his faded H.A.S.H. jeans from the day before and grabbed a clean T-shirt from his army surplus dresser. His blue and white Nikes were in the entryway, where he sat in the heavy wooden chair, also army surplus, to put them on. Then he exited into the bright sunlight. The constant chorus of chickadees was in full swing, and a pair of robins were hopping around, gathering bugs and seeds from the lawn. He took in the smells of damp, sun-warmed freshness as he walked down the gravel driveway to the World War Two era quonset hut that served as a storage shed and his dad’s workshop. Just inside the door, stacked along the front wall, were an array of landscaping tools; shovels, leaf and dirt rakes, pitchforks, and pruning saws and shears. Using a croquet mallet to brush away the thick, dusty spider webs, he selected a heavy square-nosed shovel for his task. There was a week’s worth of fecal matter left on the lawn by Augustine, the Delsin’s pretentiously-named Shetland Sheepdog. Of course no one else had bothered to clean up after her since the initial spring rake and burn, wherein a full winter’s worth had been raked up. Fortunately Shelties are small dogs. After carefully scooping up all of the offensive matter, he hurled it into the brush that grew in the drainage ditch between DeArmoun Road and the Delsin’s property.
After putting the shovel back, he rolled out the orange Craftsman mower, and after what seemed like hundreds of exhausting pulls on the fraying starter cord, it sputtered to life. It was easy getting into the groove of cutting a pattern of swaths through the grass, but as the grass was a couple inches too long, his groove had to be frequently interrupted to empty the cuttings bag and use his hands to scoop the accumulated green mulch from the underside of the blade housing. All in all, it wasn’t a horrible task, even though the lawn on the Delsin’s two-and a half acres was one of the largest in the neighborhood. Two hours later he was finished. Sweating and covered in grass stains, he shook the clippings off of his pant legs and Nikes and stepped into the house.
Kara was still practicing piano. At least she was good at it. Will had never been interested in piano, and after two years his parents agreed that continuing to pay for his lessons was a waste of money. Also unlike Wil, Kara was an exceptional student. This confounded their parents and teachers alike, as when Wil was five years old and Kara six, he had tested higher than her on the IQ tests that were required prior to beginning elementary school. In fact, Kara was just very pragmatic, one of several traits she shared with Mona. She was also very attuned to staying in Mona’s good graces by fulfilling all expectations. Wil was unintentionally obstinate in every way and only interested in following his own path.
Garrett, having made his half-ass stab at the minimal kitchen chores assigned to him, had already headed back to the opposite end of McDowel Lane to a friend’s house. Wil looked at the few greasy dishes sitting in the drying rack that had been “washed,” and felt irritation at the idea that even if any consequences were meted out for such subpar performance, they’d pale in comparison to what he’d suffer had he left the task so poorly done. He’d also very likely have to redo the dishes when Mona got home, which was often the disadvantage of being able to perform a loathed task well. “When I get out of here I’m never gonna let anyone know I’m good at cleaning” he thought to himself.
Dashing up the hallway to his room, he reached into the top drawer of his tiny desk and withdrew a dog-eared pocket notebook, already half-full and molded into a contour from back-pocket carry. He shoved it into the pocket with the embroidered “H.A.S.H” star logo. His journal at this point wasn’t a single spiral notebook, but had become a series of volumes. The function of the smaller ones was for portability, so that he could write down thoughts as they came to him, and then transfer them to one of the larger notebooks later. From the same drawer he selected his Fisher space pen, a short, streamlined, ballpoint torpedo with a removable cap, that had been developed for NASA. Pete, noticing his son’s burgeoning interest in writing, had bought one of the pens for each of the Delsin kids’ stockings the previous Christmas, and it quickly became Wil’s weapon of choice, as it easily rode alongside a small notebook without protruding from his pocket.
Heading back down the stairs, he grabbed his maroon ball cap from the coat stand in the entryway. “Abbot-O-Rabbit Little League” in stitching across its front. Last year’s hat, it was perfectly broken in with the inside band stained by sweat and dirt, and fit naturally onto his head. Walking down the stairs into the garage, he retrieved his silver, ten-speed Schwinn Varsity from its spot leaning against the rough inside of the timber wall. He looped the strap of a small green transistor radio over the ram’s horn handlebars, hauled it outside, and straddled it. The custom for boys wearing wide-leg bellbottoms like H.A.S.H. and other brands was to get them extra long and fold the hems a couple times into two inch cuffs. As you grew you could unfold the first layer, but the lower edge of the second fold would eventually abrade against the grounds and floors they were dragged across, until they were detaching and hanging by threads, at which point they were either torn or cut off, leaving a uniform frayed and faded hem, as well as a telltale faded line from the original cuff a couple inches above. As Wil had grown since receiving his single coveted pair at Christmas, the well-earned fray was now almost a half-inch too high. If he kept them much longer he ran the risk of being mocked for wearing “high-waters,” so he’d have to cut them off into shorts soon. Still plenty of extra flare in the way for the time being, so he carefully tucked his right pant leg into his tube sock to keep it out of his bike chain. There were already greasy, uniform sets of parallel black dash marks from when he’d forgotten to take this precaution and got his bellbottom jammed in the sprocket.
After launching out of the driveway, he began coasting down the shared gravel lane that intersected at DeArmoun. He spotted a familiar figure at the corner; a tall, lean young man with long dark hair having a smoke while resting sideways across the seat of a raked-out Harley Shovelhead chopper. The denim cutoff vest he was wearing over a red flannel shirt had a familiar patch in the center; a horned human skeleton, comically straddling a huge anchor, emerging from parting waves. With one hand, the laughing skeleton swung the anchor chain like a lariat. “TIDERUNNERS” read the rocker across the top, with a square “MC” patch to the right of the waves and anchor, and “ANCHORAGE” underneath.
Billly “Storm” Dillencourt was a local legend. Older brother by many years to Wil’s best friend Bryce, he’d been a star baseball player and wrestler for Dimond High School. The Dillencourt’s father, Duane, had been a merchant seaman during World War Two. After the war, he linked up with several veteran friends, some of whom would become part of the core of the west coast outlaw motorcycle movement. At the time, if you couldn’t afford a Harley Davidson or an Indian, you rode either a Triumph or B.S.A. Duane rode a bobbed version of the latter. Eventually he headed north with his young family and left the outlaw life behind. He began fishing at a set net site, and was eventually able to purchase a small trawler. Then another. He kept the bobber however, and when Billy was sixteen, he got it running again and started riding it to and from school, and around town. Once he skipped school and rode it to Homer and back, six hours each way. After high school, with the Vietnam War in full swing, Billy enlisted in the Marine Corps. After his first tour he volunteered for a second, and had been decorated for valor as well as receiving a Purple Heart. Then the United States’ involvement in the conflict ended, and Billy came home.
He found some success commercial fishing with Duane for a while, and even earned his six-pack license to captain a charter boat. This was where he’d earned the nickname “Storm,” for his reputation of remaining calm in the middle of one. Strangers who heard him referred to by this monicker would take a look at him and might assume he was a known brawler with a short fuse, but anyone who took the time to get to know him found a man with a calm demeanor, and a cool, calculated approach to adversity. Ultimately however, the sea wasn’t where he wanted to make his living. He also missed the camaraderie he’d found in the Marine Corps. After dusting off the venerable B.S.A., he began riding with some friends. Before long he was a “hang around” with the Tiderunners motorcycle club, the area’s only outlaw MC. When he was invited to prospect, the TMC had a strict “American only” policy regarding motorcycles. Only Harleys and Indians were allowed, and nobody rode an Indian. And so, the cherished English bobber would eventually have to return to Duane’s garage before Billy could be considered for full membership.
After several months as a prospect, Billy and another prospect friend, Delmer Fowler, stopped in at the secluded Cache Club near the remote west end of Dimond Boulevard to have a couple beers and a few games of pool. It was immediately apparent that counter-culture types weren’t part of the usual crowd at the bar, which was a mostly older, conservative clientele. World War Two and Korean War veterans, Firemen, blue-collar working stiffs, and off-duty APD cops. Billy had felt the unwelcoming stares the moment they’d walked through the door, but wasn’t one to back down from intimidation. A group of six boisterous fellows came into the club and greeted all the regulars. Clean-cut and brawny, Billy quickly pegged them as off-duty APD cops. He could feel the menacing looks being shot his way, and muttered to Delmer that it might be a good time to leave. As they made their way toward the door, the fattest cop in the group made some comment about “long-haired scooter trash,” Billy made a retort about the cop’s mother riding “bitch”, and a very one-sided brawl ensued, emptying the bar into the parking lot. Impossibly outnumbered, Billy and Delmer were overwhelmed and beaten senseless, then tossed into the trunk of a Cadillac and hogtied with belts. The off-duty cops drove them forty miles Portage Valley, beat on them some more, and dragged them off the road, dumping them into the dry bed of one of the glacial tributaries that flowed into Portage Creek. After a while, Billy revived somewhat, managed to cut his restraints on the broken edge of a large rock, and crawled out to the road with a concussion, six broken ribs, and a lot of bloody lacerations and swelling. Some hippie kids who’d been camping nearby spotted him while heading out in their Volkswagen Microbus on a beer run. They found Delmer and carried him into the bus, and drove both of them back to Providence Hospital in Anchorage. Delmer was in a coma for nearly a month, and never did fully recover from his head injury. He would die almost two years later from an overdose of his pain medication and whiskey.
As Billy healed, he heard the news that the two prospects’ bikes had been found in a sand pit not far from the Cache Club, having been worked over with what looked like a sledge hammer and a hacksaw. Friends had hoisted what was left of the B.S.A. into the back of a pickup, and it was now sitting on the workbench of the one-car garage in Billy’s Spenard Rental. A friend who was a full-patch TMC member managed to find a ’66 Shovelhead at a good price as it needed some work, after the original owner had laid it down pretty hard a few years prior. They stretched out the frame in a dramatic rake, added long forks, shotgun pipes and a sissy bar, lowered the suspension, and did some milling magic to the heads that dramatically increased horsepower and torque. They stripped off everything Billy didn’t think was necessary, and another friend at a body shop gave it a red, orange, and yellow flamed-out paint job. Billy now had a true, club-ready biker’s bike. Some would even call it a “righteous scooter.”
Two months after the beatdown, Billy drove to the Cache Club in his rust-red ‘60 Ford pickup near closing time, and staked out a corner of the parking lot. After watching people slowly trickle out in couples or as individuals, he spotted one group who he recognized as four of his six original assailants. As they joked and laughed loudly while making their way to a couple parked sedans, Billy got out of his pickup, his hair tucked into a baseball cap, armed with a cocked-and-locked Colt 1911 in his waistband, and a huge padlock that he’d used to secure his B.S.A., a red bandana knotted through the shackle and wrapped around his hand. He casually walked up behind the group and waylaid them with the padlock, leaving all four unconscious and sending two to the hospital. One of the cops was carrying a J-frame .38 in an ankle holster, and Billy took it as a trophy. No one ever said a thing, cops or regulars. Nothing was ever investigated, nor were any charges ever filed. Everyone knew they’d crossed the line of acceptable police brutality, even for those early Trans-Alaska Pipeline years, and were lucky to have gotten off so easily with merely lumps, stitches, and a night in the hospital for a couple of them. Billy could’ve easily killed all of them. In the aftermath of the 1964 Good Friday earthquake, a number of APD cops who were supposed to be securing properties were actually discovered to be participating in the looting. One of them ended up getting shot by a storekeeper who didn’t have a clear view of who was robbing his shop. The wounded and disgraced officer was fired, and now worked security at National Bank of Alaska, where he was easily identified by the limp that had resulted from his gunshot wound. After that shameful event, APD had made an effort to reform their ranks at the demands of an angry mayor and citizenry, so when officers did occasionally deviate from the straight and narrow, no one on that side of the thin blue line wanted any attention drawn to the matter. At the next TMC meeting, Billy was officially patched in.
All that chrome and flaming paint that Billy was now leaning against was the most beautiful thing Will had ever seen. Which was fitting, as Billy Dillencourt was officially the coolest and most badass person he’d ever seen. As the wheels of his Schwinn crunched over gravel, Billy’s head turned Wil’s direction, the sunlight catching his mirrored aviator shades. “How’s it goin’, Willy?” He greeted him. “Hey, Billy. And uh, it’s just Wil now.” “Yeah? Got hair on your balls yet?” Wil looked irritated, but said nothing. Billy took a drag off his Marlboro. “That’s what I thought. We’re both Williams, right? If I had to deal with it you gotta deal with it. When you can buy me a beer I’ll call ya whatever you want.”
“If he gets any taller he’s gonna be buyin’ me a beer first!” They both turned at the sound of the lilting female voice as Cheri Kavanaugh casually strolled down the lane. “Hey, handsome” she greeted. “Mornin’, babe” Billy replied. “Not you, asshole; I was talkin’ to Willy!” Billy laughed, Wil smiled awkwardly and blushed. “Haven’t ya heard, babe? It’s just Wil now. Little Willy’s all grown up.” Cheri had been the babysitter for the Delsin kids when Wil was younger. Then one night while she was sitting, she’d had a boyfriend drop by; a particularly shady kid named Ritchie. When Pete and Mona Delsin came home earlier than expected, they found the children asleep on the living room floor, and Cheri and Ritchie in their bed.
“Awww, nooo; he’s always gonna be my widdle Willy!” Cheri teased as she aggressively pinched his cheek and tousled his mop of wavy reddish brown hair. “Oh shit! I can still do this, right!? Or are you too big now, ‘Wil?” He pushed her hand away, and said “How’d you like it if I did that to your hair!?” while reaching for her head. She intercepted and playfully restrained both of his arms pulling him into a hug, “I’m about to ride into town on the back of a bike, what do I care? I got hair spray in my purse!” She pulled him in tighter from behind and kissed the top of his head, her perfume nearly overpowering him. If it was possible to blush harder, Wil did. Cheri knew that neighborhood kids teased Wil about having a crush on her, and she played that angle to entertain herself at his expense. Wil did in fact like her, loved her even. Just not in any romantic sense. While crushes on girls had become the talk of boys in his age, Wil just wasn’t feeling it. He’d play along when other guys talked about who they wanted to “go with,” or make out with, or screw. Naturally the majority of them weren’t doing any of these things, so Wil’s lack of action with the opposite sex hadn’t drawn any particular attention.
Billy was clearly amused by Wil’s discomfort. “Whatcha up to today, little man; hangin’ with my bro’?” Cheri released him. “Sure am, headed over there right now.” Billy nodded, threw one leg over the saddle, and held the chopper steady as Cheri climbed on behind him. As he did so, Wil caught a momentary glimpse of the butt of the legendary .38 protruding from his waistband just above his right hip. Just behind, in the position Billy referred to as “Four O’Clock,” a short-bladed hunting knife hung in its sheath from his heavily-tooled belt. “Cool, tell him I said ‘hi’ and I’ll see him at the game Thursday. Don’t tell my mom I was here; if she finds out I didn’t stop by I’ll never hear the end of it.” He took the cigarette out of his mouth and flicked it expertly, in a long arc into the ditch. “What’re you gonna give me not to tell her?” Wil challenged. “I’ll give you a kick in your little baby balls if you do, how’s that.” Cheri, looking faux appalled, giggled and slapped Billy playfully on his shoulder. Billy kicked over the big chopper and its throaty rumble filled the neighborhood, “See ya round, Willy!” he enunciated the childhood name mockingly. Wil flipped them both a bird with each hand as the Harley peeled out in a cloud of rubber smoke and exhaust. He watched them disappear down DeArmoun, the accelerating rumble of the big engine still almost ear-splittingly loud a quarter mile away.
After the babysitting scandal, The Kavanaughs were off-limits to the Delsin kids. Mona referred to the two sisters as “bad kids” who they were to have nothing to do with. Which was challenging, as they always had to share the lane that ran alongside the Delsin property. Aside from that, Cheri, was always nice to Wil. The younger sister, Violet, was not. When Wil was five, Violet had led him into the wooded lot behind his house. She pointed to a devil’s club bush that was growing, and informed him that “The devil made that!” She then abandoned him, leaving him in a panic. When he made it out of the woods and identified the compacted dirt and gravel of McDowel Lane, he cried tears of fear and relief as he ran home. Another time she’d pushed him down while a group of older kids chased and then surrounded him at her request when he got off the school bus. She felt that he’d gotten mouthy with her earlier at school. But Cheri had always been kind, although prone to associate with less than savory people. He couldn’t have identified Mr. and Mrs. Kavanaugh if he saw them. If they ever left the house, it must have been at night.
Wil shot across the road, and onto the oiled gravel of East 140th. He passed the Buchanan house, a cube-like modern affair, where Mrs. Buchanan was tending to her sunflowers. They waved to each other. In their backyard the Buchanans had a small foot bridge over the creek, that passed over a waterfall. They allowed neighborhood kids to fish for trout from it, and it was a pleasant spot to enjoy a grape soda and a sandwich while trying to catch rainbows. He crossed the neighborhood bridge over Rabbit Creek, a construction of large steel culverts covered with timbers and packed earth. Some years, if there’d been a heavy snow season, the creek, usually a shallow babbling brook, would become a raging torrent as warmer weather melted the heavy snowpack in the mountains. Several years prior, this torrent had flooded over the banks of the creek and passed over the bridge, destroying it. Mona had taken toddlers Wil and Kara down to watch the heavy equipment moving what was left of the old logs out of the way before replacing them. She held on to both of their hands and kept well back, but Wil could still clearly recall the awesome power of the raging water. Rolling across the bridge now, gaps had appeared that were large enough to see the clear, shallow water passing underneath, spilling over stones and fallen branches as it exited the culverts. A large flatbed truck drove across. He felt the whole construction bounce and shake, confident that if the water level once again rose that high, this bridge would also be washing away.
The shrubbery along the greenbelt, mostly devils club and cow parsnip, was giving off its characteristic pungent fragrance. Almost skunky, but neither unpleasant nor overpowering. It was a smell he strongly associated with summer. Fresh. The scent of moving water. As East 140th curved into Buffalo, he peddled harder up the slight incline, and into the grid of gravel roads inside of which the Dillencourt house was nestled.
As he crested the hill, an unfamiliar gray El Camino was slowly making its way along Buffalo, its chrome aftermarket exhaust rumbling like a dragster. He watched cautiously as they approached each other from opposite directions, as was his normal practice. Often, neighborhood encounters between younger kids and teenagers didn’t go well for the younger party. As they got close enough that he could see the driver and passenger, he felt his heart sink into his stomach. The driver was Charlie Parks, and his passenger was Dickie Hill. Both older teenagers, still of high school age, but neither was in school. They were known bullies, and also suspected of numerous break-ins around South Anchorage. Why couldn’t Billy and Cheri have hung around two more minutes. No way these two punks would’ve thought of doing anything with Billy sitting right there. Hell, they even knew better than to mess with Cheri. But here he was, on his own, about to face whatever was coming. Both delinquents had their windows rolled down, Thin Lizzy blaring from an 8-track stereo. Charlie’s left elbow was resting on the door, can of Budweiser in hand. Wil sped up slightly while carefully trying to avoid the appearance of taking flight. Nevertheless, he was looking for openings in the brush on his side of the road through which he could make an escape. Charlie didn’t stop the car, which was a good sign. Wil was starting to think this might be a non-event. But nope; just as they passed each other, Charlie made eye contact, shouted “Hey, ya little faggot!” and launched the beer can in Wil’s direction. It only hit him below the knee, and was only partially full. Just enough to splatter some of its sour-smelling contents on his pant leg. Charlie then let out the clutch and hit the gas, pelting Will with gravel before swerving down the hill Wil had just climbed leaving a cloud of gritty dust. “Huh” Wil thought. “Guess that could’ve gone worse. He must have somewhere to be.” Still, as the adrenaline crescendo began to subside, he started to shake, and his fear was replaced by helpless anger. He peddled harder down Shoshoni toward Bryce’s house, imagining all the things he could’ve done had he been older. Bigger. Stronger. Someone like Billy Dillencourt. Either of the Dillencourt brothers for that matter; Bryce was never one to back down from a fight or be intimidated even by adults, although most local bullies didn’t bother him because everyone knew who his brother was.
Wil fought back tears of impotent rage. He couldn’t have Bryce catch him with wet eyes, he already had enough flaws for Bryce to make fun of as it was. A block away he slowed down and dismounted to walk his bike the rest of the way. He wiped his eyes with the inside of his shirt and started to catch his breath.