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The Crestwood Wars: Parts 1 - 3.

by Thomas P. Straw
  

Part 1: The Artist and the Soldier.

Once again, it was well past nightfall, and two young boys were waging war on their quiet subdivision. In an "innocent" lie typical of good vandals, they had told their parents they were going to blow off some time by walking to the Dairy Mart located at the precipice of their development. This 24-hour convenience store was the only place they could conceivably walk to; more desirable destinations like the Farrel town shopping mall or the McDonald’s were the domain only of those teenagers privileged enough to possess driver’s licenses. Although they were both sixteen years old, driving was an exclusive club to which the boys did not yet belong, and their respective parents were keen chauffeurs only for those activities related to school or sports.

At one time, treks to Dairy Mart had offered them a legitimate pastime, but overpriced candy bars and soft drinks lost their appeal after the first hundred or so visits, especially since their income was limited. Both dreamed of a time, tantalizingly near in the horizon, when driver’s licenses would liberate them from captivity and monotony, like laminated keys to the kingdom. In the meantime, they improvised more creative amusements. Most nights, they departed from their “Dairy Mart” trek at a predetermined spot in the neighborhood and dutifully, joyously, raged their battles within the boundaries given them.

As usual, Steve Kirk was decked out in full vandalizing regalia. He was the one who really looked at it all as some kind of war. A mask of deep black charcoal was spread on his face, outlining and intensifying his hazel eyes. A plain black T-shirt was tucked into a baggy pair of camouflage pants, and the pants narrowed down into what Steve called his "little babies": his pride and joy and most beloved weapon of choice, combat boots. Having something that was purchased at the local Army Surplus Store really seemed to create a spiritual bond between Steve and all his exalted freedom fighters of the past, the “honest-to-goodness” American men who had marched home victoriously from World Wars I and II, fresh from slaying legions of democracy-scorners while wearing exactly the same black foot attire. He swore on his own mother's honor that he could run more swiftly and comfortably in those than in a pair of the most expensive Nikes, and quite simply, he loved those boots more than Dorian Gray loved his own reflection. He cleaned them. He shined them. And above all, they had blown in more front doors and mutilated more aluminum sidings than most tornadoes.

Steve was a short kid, with wavy, sandy-blonde hair cut short. He normally wore thin, square, gold-frame glasses, but never when vandalizing. His black T-shirt, dark green camouflage pants, and heavy combat boots were indicative of a personality that actively fought against any immediate reactions one might have to his unassuming, almost frail physical stature. He may have been small, but he was always the boss—and rightly so in most circumstances. What some people criticized in him as a lack of imagination he made up for with an unflagging even-headedness and ability to analyze the intricacies of nearly every tight situation. He knew exactly what to do when an irate neighbor (who'd just been wakened to the sound of a shattering window) was pursuing you on one side, and an angry driver (who'd just turned the corner and ran into your trash can barricade over on Cherokee) was coming for you from another, but who continually found himself perplexed in places like his English class, where he might be asked a question about the symbolism in a Shakespearean sonnet. Steve had seen every episode of the television show Combat and every movie in the James Bond canon, but still couldn't stomach two pages of a Batman comic book because it was "too unrealistic" (this was always a source of light-hearted contention between him and Tom).

Tom Hewson, his long-time friend and willing accomplice, was a lot different in both appearance and attitude. He was tall and lean, with the stretchy kind of muscular frame seen on many baseball players, and he indeed played high school and American Legion baseball during the summer and fall, along with basketball in the winter. Although he conquered both activities with ease and accolades, they often seemed too bothersome and time-consuming for him. This wasn't because of laziness, but more because painting, writing, or a good Robert Parker or Harlan Ellison book always offered a more meaningful escape and diversion.

Tom’s medium length, lion's mane black hair, solid green eyes, and quiet self-assurance had won him a definite popularity with girls during his inaugural years in puberty. Until recently, he had reacted to this popularity with a mild interest at best. There was a romantic, and also somewhat more serious, side to Tom which made him yearn for more lasting, and in his eyes, more meaningful contact with other people. Earlier that summer, however, he met a beautiful foreign exchange student from Spain named Carmen Elvira Aguilera at one of his American Legion games. Until that baseball game in June, Tom had never met a girl who could capture his imagination along with his physical attraction. But when the anvil fell, he was completely crushed. At the age of sixteen, Thomas Henry Hewson was convinced that Carmen Elvira Aguilera from Granada, Spain, was the love of his life, though he had known her less than three months. He had already begun the meticulous process of trying to convince her that she felt the same, with some awkward results, but some promising moments, too.

As far as vandalism went, fairly dark clothing and a quiet pair of sneakers was all the get-up necessary for Tom, who laughingly described their pranks as a "post-modern, new-age form of artistic expression" rather than some boring and brutish "war." They weren't mere soldiers, tiny pawns in their superiors' game of chess. Not at all—in their neighborhood, they were their own men; they were artists, who left an inimitable and brutally expensive signature on every house or item of Crestwood property they hit. But being less serious than Steve also meant having a little more reserve, and sometimes even some sympathy. At times, Tom could be extremely cautious, which certainly wasn't always bad; he could serve as a much-needed voice of reason when Steve was ridiculously gung-ho. At other times, however, Steve's sheer enthusiasm and love of danger would lure a tentative Tom into embarking on a risky adventure that he might not have the guts or even the desire to do normally. In short, Steve had the ability to bring something aggressive out in the sometimes passive Tom. He could make him cut loose and be a kid every once in a while, instead of, as Steve complained, "sitting around all day and thinking about so many damn things."

Officially, they called themselves the Capitalist Vandals’ Club, or CVC, and they made quite a team. And they had never been caught.

"And don't ever intend to!" Steve would always chuckle to his friend after a good hit. “They shouldn’t even try.”

"Of course not!" Tom would join, in the heat of excitement. "How can two straight-laced, All-American capitalists get caught? For Christ's holy sake, we're supporting the artistic endeavors of the United States of America by doing what we're doing! I'd say it's about time we got that NEA grant, how about you?"

"Not only that, but a nice, long letter of thanks from window companies, aluminum siding businesses, car repair shops, paint companies—all of them! As far as I'm concerned, we're one of the greatest supporters of American business anyone could think of. Do you know what would happen if American business went kaput?" He'd phrase these last words in the form of a statement rather than a question, mostly because he always answered it himself anyway: "We'd have to go commie," he'd whisper morbidly, jokingly stating what probably was a remote but real fear of his.

"So, you see, no matter how you look at it, we're doing them a favor," Tom would proclaim, once and for all.

Virtually no one in the neighborhood, barring their parents, were spared the agony of their "favors." Some got it less, and some got it more, but virtually no one escaped. That was simply the rule of thumb, the law of their Vandal Land. But for whatever reason, there was one particular person who took it on the chin more often than Gerry Cooney. He got it more often than anyone when Steve and Tom waged their war and created their art. They saved the "special" things for him. They always inflicted the most damage, both financially and egotistically, on him. For he, like no other victim in the subdivision, "deserved it."

His name was Bill Greenleaf, a mailman who resided at 4245 Iroquois Lane, the very street on which the two boys lived.

Now, after a long night of "little" hits, or “pcc’s,” they were on their way to Greenleaf's home for the “granddaddy”—the last and biggest hit of the evening, the coup de grace. Their hearts raced with excitement and with preliminary, obligatory pangs of fear. This was a very special hit, almost a ceremonial occasion. On Monday, school would resume, marking the start of Fall and the end of another vandalizing season. They might do a hit here and there before the heavy snows started to fall, as boredom and other circumstances dictated, but for the most part, they were finished with “granddaddy” gestures until the following summer. As was their custom, they wanted to “go out with a bang.”

Therefore, they had been planning this hit for quite some time.
  

Part 2: The Enemy and Fool.

Bill Greenleaf was no stranger to pranks. He had fallen victim to them countless times over the last four years or so, but had no way of catching the vandals or of proving who they were in any conclusive way. The cops were certainly no help; he'd called them many times, but all they ever did was come over, fill out their senseless forms, and promise to beef up car patrols in the area because others, and not just he, had complained about the prevalence of vandalism in Crestwood. In a way, Greenleaf supposed that he understood. What really could they do about it from the inside of a patrol car, which could fall victim to an errant rock or apple just as easily as a house (if not more easily)? And no car could chase anyone through a back yard.

The city of Farrel was growing bigger every day. Ballooning, in fact. What was once an essentially rural, Western Reserve area of Northeast Ohio, just south of Cleveland, with a population of about 10,000 in 1970, had swelled to a suburb of nearly 40,000 by the mid-1980s. When Bill Greenleaf bought his house in 1973, it was part of a Ryan Home development, Crestwood Estates, which boasted in its sales literature of being the essence of “contemporary” and “state of the art.” Not even fifteen years later, co-workers regularly called the Crestwood subdivision the “old section” of town.

On the surface, it seemed absurd, but in reality, it was the truth. Every section of housing surrounding Crestwood in a five-mile circle was newer than the housing immediately bordering it. All were Ryan Homes, or at least similarly planned and templated. The houses in Crestwood came in only eight styles that the sales brochure trumpeted as “modern in their amenities yet traditional in design.”

Much to his pride, Bill Greenleaf’s was model #4, the biggest available two-story in the plan, the “contemporary Western Reserve.” It hardly mattered that the house looked nothing like a true Western Reserve cottage house; the truth was, Greenleaf wasn’t entirely sure what constituted “Western Reserve” architecture, and didn’t much care. The important features were these: a two-car garage, air conditioning, and a big lawn. Those were precisely the “modern amenities” he was looking for at the time.

Iroquois Lane once dead-ended into three and a half acres of woods. Those acres had now been shaved to just under one (new condos on the far end, a small park consisting of four swings and a jungle gym at the Iroquois entrance). Greenleaf had heard some murmuring that the remaining woods were earmarked for further development, probably condos, and figured it was simply a matter of time. The area had two grade schools in 1973; the number was now at six, with two more under construction.

Both infrastructure and public safety were now scurrying to keep up with all the growth. The Farrel police couldn't spare the manpower of having anyone patrol the subdivision on foot. The very idea of a policeman on foot made one officer laugh out loud a year or so ago, when Greenleaf suggested it (that time after a broken garage window). Besides, in the overall picture, the vandalism problem really wasn't that serious from the police’s perspective—he, Bill Greenleaf, was the only one getting it with any consistency, for reasons he couldn't even begin to fathom. He knew that the only way the cops could ever do anything about this is if he caught the group of pranksters himself (he was convinced that it was just one group of kids responsible), toted them under his arms by the seat of their pants, and carried them, kicking and screaming, to the police station. It was a delicious thought, but his inability even to catch a glimpse of these kids had left a taste in his mouth that was more than sour.

In many respects, it was like trying to guard against some randomly recurring storm: you knew damn well it was going to come, and hit hard, but it never actually did until the moment you eased up and let your guard down. Sometimes, after particularly cruel or damaging incidents, he'd stay up entire weekend nights and look out for his phantom antagonists, often dozing off in his chair by the living room window at three or four in the morning, empty coffee pot at his feet and odd, caffeine-induced nightmares spinning about in his brain. But sure enough, once all the waiting and watching became too tiresome and seemingly futile, once he was convinced that the pranksters' strange satisfactions had finally been met, they would . . . well . . . come back. Just as swiftly, unexpectedly, and expensively as every time before, they would come back.

Greenleaf worked very long days as a mailman, and on the weekends, he enjoyed the visits he frequently got from Steve Kirk and his "nice friend," Tom Hewson, from down the street. They liked to play basketball with him at the hoop that stood in his driveway, and they sometimes even volunteered to help him out with his lawn work, always flatly refusing payment at first, but then relenting to a “reduced rate.” He had scarcely thought of them as anything other than "good kids." Sometimes, on hot summer days, after a long afternoon of shooting baskets under a blaring sun, he would give them each a Coors beer and invite them onto his cool back patio to enjoy some drink, talk, and shade.

Greenleaf never seemed to realize that Tom and Steve thought of him as an utterly silly man. Greenleaf also never seemed to realize that Steve and Tom sarcastically poked fun at him, right under his nose. It only weakly went both ways: Greenleaf subtly patronized them, without even really knowing he was doing it, and apparently never picking up on the fact that his young friends were more viciously and deliberately returning the favor.

Frequently, he would stumble onto his back patio, quite light-headed from the three beers he'd consumed over the course of an entire afternoon, and bellow: "Well, you two boys better not go home and tell mommy and daddy that I've been feeding you beer. I have a reputation of responsibility to uphold around the subdivision, right? Well, don't answer that . . . huh-uh! Just promise me you'll walk to Dairy Mart before going home to pick up a pack of gum. That'll get the smell off your breath, you know. It'll also give you some time to dissipate any fog you might have in your heads. You guys haven't been drinking for as long as I have, so I understand if your noggins might be doing some serious 360s! Speaking of which," he'd spout, his baby-face cheeks aglow with his new train of thought, "either of you two guys ever see The Exorcist?"

Rolls of flab clung to his arms and legs and wobbled humorously as he moved and talked. His thin, dirty-blonde hair, though receding quickly, had tight, baby-like curls. He continually squinted through thin, gold, wire-frame glasses (much like the ones Steve had), and they stubbornly slid down his face no matter what he was doing. Although he certainly was a "silly" person in both appearance and disposition, Steve thought him too utterly witless even to be a good ham. Accordingly, he had concocted the nickname "Chilly Willy" for him, the "Chilly" part being a mixture of his principle two attributes (silly and chubby) and the "Willy" a derisive version of his full first name. Greenleaf had mentioned in passing once that he abhorred being addressed as "William.”

Chilly Willy boasted—even what you might say "lectured"—endlessly about being a Korean War veteran. This fact didn't roust much respect out of the two boys. First off, Tom's interests did lean more toward sports, reading, writing, and painting pictures of comic book characters and pro athletes. And lately, of course, there was Carmen. Steve, though totally infatuated with the American military and the wars they wage, and perfectly willing to listen to and interact with Greenleaf when he went off on one of his "forgotten war" tangents, still couldn't find anything favorable to say about a veteran of the first police action that the God-fearing Americans actually hadn't won. The truth was, he commonly held up Greenleaf as an A-1 reason why they hadn't. Both Steve and Tom were fairly certain that he'd never heard a shot fired in anger during his entire stay in the service, and believed that the war had done just two things for him: land him his ho-hum job at the post office, and secure him another belligerent nickname courtesy of the "nice kids" down the street: Corporal Fudgepacker.

That night, the Corporal was undoubtedly half-asleep in front of his television set, an evening of casualties strewn about the floor underneath his green reclining chair—casualties commonly known as empty pop cans and ravaged 5th Avenue candy bar wrappers.

Outside, Steve and Tom crouched down in his side yard, surveying the area and giggling madly.
  

Part 3: Front Door Offensive.

You always had to watch for joggers. And for dog-walkers. No matter how late it was, it seemed that the people in the Crestwood subdivision had their own set times for when they wanted to burn off that extra piece of chocolate cake or take a walk with poodle Mimi with the screaming bowels. Tom thought the dog-walkers were more understandable. Even though Shawnee, Cherokee, and Iroquois all dead-ended into the small woods at the north end of the subdivision, providing a would-be perfect bathroom for any pet, it was usually all-too futile to try and ask your dog to wait just one more minute to do what its body had been pleading and hollering to do for several hours. To avoid the embarrassment, and, indeed, the danger of having your dog do a number two on the golf-course lawn of some shotgun-toting suburbanite, most pet owners (at least those without pooper scoopers) chose to walk at rather strange hours. Thus, any “accidents” that might happen would be conveniently untraceable gifts for any hot-tempered neighbors.

Because Tom was generally too nervous and excited even to think of watching out for these people, he was glad to have a partner with an eye, ear, and memory for the smallest details. This was another way in which the boys' talents complemented one another: “Picasso” Tom's expansive imagination would come up with a wild idea, and “Captain Kirk” Steve's patience and coolness paved it into a reality. Even when Tom made a special effort to be as attentive as Steve, it never worked because he found himself jumping and running at the sound of a leaf crackling under his shoe. With Steve, he knew he could relax and concentrate on the task at hand while his friend, through unbending calm and sharp senses, could play the perfect sentinel through his eyes, ears, and nose. No matter how "out there" Tom got mentally, Steve never failed to warn him of incoming danger, and more importantly, he had never been wrong or guilty of "jumping the gun."

He was doing it again now. He was just in front of Tom, down on all fours, and shrouding the left side of his body wih the corner bushes of Greenleaf's house. He stretched his head forward and stared to his right, the upper part of Iroquois, as if he were scanning the open waters of Loch Ness for a glimpse of the monster. Just behind and a little to the right of him, Tom was still trying to stifle his laughter, and his attempts yielded a sound not unlike someone trying to hawker discreetly. Steve slowly raised his right hand in annoyance and then began waving it, as if swatting at mosquitoes. Eventually, he snapped his head around and hissed: "Shut the Hell up, would ya? You wanna be calling our parents from the jail cell at City Hall? Huh? Just shut the Hell UP!"

The charcoal on his face and the mad gleam in his eyes reminded Tom of the way Martin Sheen looked at the end of Apocalypse Now. This image tickled out another bit of laughter, but he managed to stifle himself by the time Steve craned his head back around to stare off down the street again, hand still poised in the air.

About fifteen seconds passed.

There was nothing. They were alone under the stars of a bright August night, and the only eye upon them was the large half-moon hanging high in the navy blue sky.

Steve turned back around. Tom could see every muscle in his body relax, and the glazed intensity in his eyes had been switched off as if by command. Now he looked at Tom as if he were studying him.

"Alright, Tom, do you want me to do it or you?"

As usual, Tom sensed that the question was basically a rhetorical one. "Doesn't really matter, I guess . . . you know. We gotta go up together, so it doesn't really matter."

"Yeah, right. Well, you're carrying it, so you may as well do the dirty work. But I'll go up with you, of course. I'll be the messenger, if you know what I mean." He paused, and looked down with a smile at his combat boots, his beloved Little Babies. That Martin Sheen look in his eyes was slowly returning. He gave the area another brief scan and turned back to his friend.

"Remember, Tom, if we get caught, we get caught together."

"Yeah, together," Tom replied, and they shook hands in the way only they knew how.

In slightly stooped positions, they crept along the front of the house, parallel to the line of bushes hugging Greenleaf's porch. The porch light was on, and any neighbor from across the street, including Steve's own parents, who happened to be looking out a front or side window could easily have seen them. Fortunately for them, late-night window-gazing was not a Crestwood tradition, nor was porch-sitting, at any time of day or night. Ryan homes simply were not designed to accommodate these things very comfortably. All focus, all activity, was geared inward, toward telephones, video games, and television sets. This played perfectly into the two vandals’ hands.

Tom was still giggling under his breath. Steve couldn't help but laugh now quietly himself. They stepped side by side onto the porch and stood in front of the new storm door that preceded Greenleaf's blue front one. Two small windows bookended them, revealing a fully lit front hall. They could see the television casting shadows on the far wall of his family room, occasionally revealing a spot of the extraordinarily messy floor. Greenleaf was probably in the kitchen, fetching his six hundred and fourteenth midnight snack now that the Tonight Show had started.

They both looked down at what was on the cardboard slab that Tom was carrying, and their noses curled in disgust.

The moment had come. Tom raised the cardboard like a rifleman hoisting his gun in a firing squad. Through his stifled giggling, he whispered: "Happy hosing, Corporal Fudgepacker." He spread the lump all over the front screen window. Then, he stuck the cardboard to the middle portion of the door, where there was nothing but clear glass.

He stepped backward, waiting out that impossibly long moment before Steve rang the Doorbells of Doom, and they could both run. He had already started laughing when he glanced into the left side window, but quickly stopped when he realized who he saw.

It was Bill Greenleaf.

Thank God, he was not on just the other side of the door. He was a good fifteen feet away from them and was indeed taking a slow trudge into the kitchen, staring straight into the entrance as if sleep walking or hypnotized. If he chose to take a sharp look to his left, he would be peering into the guilty and wide-eyed face of Tom.

There was no warning or stopping Steve. Tom had realized the proximity of the enemy in something well under a panic-inducing second. By the time his eyes were back on Steve, he saw that his friend's right leg was halfway through its motion.

Steve smashed the aluminum siding by the side of the door like a field goal kicker with the Super Bowl hanging in the balance. A resounding BOOM! seared into the quiet night as they scrambled off the porch, darting across the front lawn and into the darkness.

Just as Tom knew he would be, Greenleaf was there in seconds. He opened the main door quickly, not knowing what to expect this time. If he fixed his gaze only slightly beyond the storm door, he would see the two of them scurrying just out of vision; however, what had been left behind was carefully designed to catch his eye and stop him.

Greenleaf’s nose wrinkled in the same way that the two boys' had moments before. His eyes rolled and squinted in repulsion.

He stepped back and screamed.

"OH MY GOD WOULD YOU LOOK AT THIS JESUS FUCKING CHRIST I'LL KILL THOSE BASTARDS I'LL FUCKING KILL THEM!!"

His voice echoed into the night even louder than the sound of a combat boot against aluminum siding.

Now across the street, in the dark side yard of a friendly neighbor, Tom and Steve had to slow momentarily and hold their shaking bellies. They were laughing so hard they could hardly breathe, Greenleaf's tantrum had amused them so much. But in another moment they were off and running again, knowing that their victim could have decided to pursue. Too out of breath to speak, they merely glanced at each other and knew where they were going.

Just the chance of someone coming for them—even someone having to overcome an insurmountable head start—filled them with an impossible rush, an incredible sense of thrill. Every peep of the night was amplified and then unified, like the sounds of some animal orchestra. The crickets were roaring; the thud of the two boys' racing footsteps was the beat of a drum and the crash of a cymbal. Owls and other night birds seemed to come alive and call. Steve and Tom breathed like racehorses but knew that their mixture of fear and exhilaration would carry them practically a marathon's space from danger.

By the time they reached their secret hiding place, one of the many they had throughout Crestwood, they knew no one had come after them. But the thought of it was enough. For those few minutes, they had achieved that combined feeling of power and fright that they hoped for every time they went about their damage business.

Their hiding place was a couple streets over from Iroquois, located well behind a house on Shawnee Drive, within the vast expanse of backyards between Cherokee and Shawnee. There was a woodpile that stood about three feet from an old storage shed, and the boys often settled down and hid between the two. The area was surrounded on three sides by tall, thick pine trees and was a good forty yards from that house that owned it and even further from any other. Much to their benefit, all backyards in the subdivision were huge.

Steve had invented a strict protocol to follow when hiding there, one that ensured their safety. They always rested between the shed and the woodpile, but Steve would lie down, facing away from the pile, and Tom would sit up, looking toward it. Each one kept a close eye out in either direction. No one was going to get near them when they were hiding there. Even if by some miracle someone got close to them, they still had their cans of mace.

Indeed, Steve thought of everything.

Tom remembered how they had "shopped around" for spots like these one summer Saturday night, just a few years ago. That night, their spirits, for whatever reason, weren't quite high enough to do any serious hitting. Searching like that on an "off-night" must surely constitute an obsession, but Tom tried to avoid thinking about that now. Seeing Greenleaf through that side window had put him into a drastic state of mind, and he didn’t want to start getting the shakes.

They had both caught their breath sufficiently now and were satisfied that things had cooled down as much as they were going to. There was no sign of flashing lights, or speeding white cars, so Greenleaf had most likely taken his medicine quietly and not called the police. For about fifteen minutes, they exchanged chuckles but actually said very little. Hiding places served another purpose when the hiding was over: they were a kind of staging area where the boys regrouped and decided if they were going to venture out and strike again, or if they were going to pack it all in and call it an evening. Silence always meant exhaustion, satisfaction, or both. Thus, it wasn't long before they stood up, coasted discreetly out into the open of Cherokee Drive, and started taking the quiet road back toward Huron Drive, then Iroquois, then Steve’s house. There, if Steve's parents were in bed (God willing), they'd catch some late night cable TV until it was time for Tom to go home.

Yet unknown even to the ever-attentive Steve, a pair of eyes watched them carefully from about fifty yards behind. These eyes hadn’t seen them in their secret hiding place, nor did they witness first-hand the multiple acts of vandalism Tom and Steve had performed that evening. Still, the person using these eyes had fully expected to see the boys cruising the neighborhood on foot that night; it was just a matter of where, and when.

Although it was a relatively bright night, Tom and Steve’s dark clothes, coupled with fifty or so yards of distance, might have made it difficult for the watcher to identify them. But their observer knew exactly what he was looking for. He knew Steve Kirk and Tom Hewson, and specifically, he knew the way they moved, especially when together: one shadow, so much taller than the other, walking briskly in a manner that was athletic but “jumpy” at the same time, and the other shadow, less athletic in its movement, but also somehow measured, deliberate, calculating.

Their stalker only needed to observe them for as long as it took to verify it was them, and to make sure they were headed home. He followed them to the corner of Cherokee and Huron, staying at the juncture after the boys had taken their left. He then watched them go right onto Iroquois, towards the woods, using the backyards instead of the sidewalk.

That was all he needed to see; he was now 100 percent sure, rather than just 99, that these were his men. When the boys were out of his view, he turned directly around and coasted one block east, over to where he’d parked his car on the northern part of Shawnee Drive. In order for his plan to proceed any further, he definitely needed his car to be a little closer at hand.

Unaware, the two boys said nothing to each other, but Tom’s mind was racing. There were a lot of things he wanted to talk to Steve about. For one, even though Tom had calmed down a lot by now, he was still a bit freaked about how close Greenleaf had come to turning his head on a whim and nabbing the two of them. Tom also wanted to talk about their lives, their friendship, and how things shouldn’t have to be so different between them once school started again on Monday.

Another of Tom’s friends, Josh Adler, had called the previous week from Oregon to announce his return to Ohio some time Saturday evening; therefore, if previous years were any indication, Tom’s recreational activities would soon change radically. He and Josh would now spend hours creating their own comic books, containing elaborate characters such as "Helmet Head" and "The Vomit Monster," with Josh drawing most of the pictures and Tom writing all the texts. They would do athletic activities, like shoot baskets (with someone other than Greenleaf, that is). They would avidly follow the Cleveland Browns. As was his custom, Josh would quote song lyrics incessantly, and hilariously. They would talk about girls, and boy, did Tom have a lot to talk about in that regard.

One thing they wouldn’t do—and had never done—was vandalize Crestwood, or any other subdivision. Perhaps partly because of this, they had also never found a way to include Steve Kirk in their recreational activities. They had never so much as discussed the topic.

Very soon, Tom, Josh, and Steve would be returning to this strange world, this stilted dynamic. As he did every year, Tom wanted to talk to Steve about this, but he wanted to wait until they were in the complete safety and confidence of Steve's family room. Tom wasn't sure why, but tonight was the first time that he did not feel completely at ease in their pine-shed lookout.

Even worse, for the whole way home, he had an eerie but very clear feeling that they were being watched.

  

Thomas P. Straw is a web designer and freelance writer who lives in Aspinwall, PA with his wife, son, and three cats. His reviews and essays have most recently appeared on-line at Pittsburgh Citysearch and Democratic Underground; in the print world, he has written liner notes for three CD re-issues of the folk group Bud and Travis, and his essay "The Mystery Of The Blues" appears in the recent Fireside book, Tanya Tucker's 100 Ways To Beat The Blues. The Crestwood Wars is his first novel, and he has just begun the process of finding a publisher.
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