The Thrill Kids [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Vin Packer
eBook Category: Mystery/Crime
eBook Description: The Thrill Kids by Vin Packer A Classic Novel of Juvenile Delinquency from 1955. Four kids from decent homes, roaming the streets and looking for kicks. Four kids who--one lovely summer night--wandered into Central Park, first molested a girl, and then brutally murdered an old vagrant they found asleep in a gully there! Author of Spring Fire and Look Back to Love
eBook Publisher: Wonder Audiobooks, LLC/Wonder eBooks, Published: Gold Medal Original s903, 1955
Fictionwise Release Date: November 2009
* * * *
When the big blond boy stepped out of the shower in the locker room of the City Boys' Club, a voice yelled, "Hey, Kraut! Leave it on, will you?"
Naked and dripping wet, he walked through clouds of steam to the benches where the voice came from, and he looked down at a boy bigger than he was, who was sitting there pulling off his socks. Both boys were sixteen; both were tall for their age. Emanuel Pollack, the larger of the two, looked at least seventeen, and his body was more muscular, his voice remarkably deep.
"What'd you say?" the naked one asked.
"I said leave it on. I want to duck under for a quick one."
"No, I mean, like, what'd you say before that?"
"I don't know," Manny Pollack said uncertainly.
"You want me to tell you what you said before that?"
"What's eating you? All I want is a shower."
"You said Kraut, Manny. You know? Kraut!"
"I'm sorry, Flip. I forgot."
"Yeah, like--you did forget. Like you didn't remember at all."
Manny Pollack stood up and unbuttoned his undershorts, letting them drop to the locker-room floor. He turned his back on Flip Heine and reached down for a towel. "I said I'm sorry."
Heine took him by the shoulder and turned him around. He had to reach up to do it, because Pollack towered over him. He said, "How long you and me known each other, Manny?"
"Years, I guess. Years. But for the love of Pete, Flip--"
"And all them years I been telling you I don't dig the moniker. Right?
Pollack gave an exasperated sigh, but he did not walk away from Heine. He stood there nervously, waiting. He tried to prevent the inevitable, whatever it would be (it was always different; Flip had a great imagination), by saying, "Look, the kids at school call you that and it's sort of catching, Flip. I can't help it if I slip now and then."
"School's out, man," Heine snapped. "School's been out a month."
A door slammed behind them, and another boy came into the locker room. Through the steam his form could be seen only hazily, as shadow-like he moved past them and stopped a few feet away. Manny glanced at him briefly, but Flip did not flinch. His eyes were still fixed on Manny. They were dark and narrowed and intense.
"What're you going to do, Manny, to make me know you're not going to slip again? Like, don't you want to do something?"
"Flip, gee. It's been a good afternoon. Why spoil it?"
"You spoiled it, Manny. You hung me up."
Pollack looked down at Heine and shuffled his bare feet restlessly. He shook his head. "I don't want to fight, Flip."
" 'D I ever touch you, Manny?"
The newcomer was watching them now. Pollack felt embarrassed and uncomfortable, looking over his shoulder at him and then back at Flip. The steam made the room sweat with moisture.
Flip never took his eyes from Pollack's face. He said, "Emanuel Pollack?"
"I'm talking to you. Like, don't you want to make me know that you're not going to have any more relapses of the old memory machine, eh?"
"All right," Pollack said resignedly.
"You want to do something, don't you?"
"Yes," Pollack whispered.
"Speak up, Manny, or I'll think you're insincere. You're not, are you?"
"I'm not insincere," Pollack said. There was a tense silence, and then he added, as he knew he was expected to, "I want to do something."
Heine smiled and nodded. "Course you do," he said. "But what could you do that would show me, Manny? I wonder ..." He scratched his head in a burlesque gesture of puzzlement, and finally he told Pollack, "You know only a downright dog would call a good man Kraut. Hmm? Don't you think only a downright dog would? Like, dogs go crawling around and they don't know. Wherever dogs go, they don't know and they go on all fours. Even if they want to take a shower, Manny. Hmmm? Understand?"
"Yes," Pollack answered. He hesitated. Behind him and Heine the boy who was watching coughed. Coughed or laughed? Manny did not know. He could hardly breathe in the steamy air. He looked down at Flip and Flip's eyes were on him. Flip had a cockeyed smile tipping his lips and he raised an eyebrow as if to say, "Well?"
Quickly, so that the words were jumbled together, but still plain to everyone in the locker room, Manny said, "I want to go on all fours to the shower for you, Flip. May I?"
"You may, Manny," Heine answered. "Manny, you may if you really want to."
Then as he did it, Heine did not laugh at him, but there was laughter. Laughter, and sudden applause. Before Manny ducked under the water, he heard a strange voice call to Flip, "Infinitely well done, sir! Huzzah!"
Outside the C.B.C. a half hour later, the midafternoon July sun was still hot as Flip Heine stood on the stone steps with his new acquaintance. The traffic on upper Lexington Avenue was sparse. New Yorkers had deserted the city for a week end in the mountains or on the Island. Flip mopped his brow with a clean white handkerchief and glanced at his watch. Although he was thin, his square-cut face was full and ruddy, and his nose was pudgy. Strands of his yellow hair, which he wore in a duck-tail haircut, kept falling across his forehead. He habitually pushed them back with hands that were childlike in their smallness. His lightweight trousers were pegged and pale blue, with high risers and a navy-blue suede belt resting down on his hips. His shoes were suede and navy blue, too, the same color as his silk shirt with the red diamond design on the pocket. The collar of the shirt was turned up slightly. His large brown eyes seemed restless and anxious as he looked expectantly down Lexington Avenue, and when he said anything, he turned his eyes from the boy beside him and talked to the sidewalk or the street. He mumbled his words, and his sentences were thick with the slang of jazz, which he had acquired in the past year, and which he broke into with desperate spontaneity on occasion. Already he respected Bardo Raleigh.
"You'll like Wylie real fine," he said to him. "Him and me and Manny hung around a long time together now. Been in the same classes in school and everything. Wylie works Saturdays till four, for his old man. Ought to be along in a minute now."
Bardo was a somewhat short, well-built seventeen-year-old. He had a good stance, which he had proudly perfected in Sandside Military Academy, along with excellent manners, a sullen sort of sophisticated poise, and an unusual skill in the art of fencing. His hair was dark brown and combed back in a neat wave. He was a nice-looking boy, not too handsome, but attractive in a clean-cut way, with regular features and fine light-blue eyes. His smile was particularly winning, for he had good white teeth, straightened to perfection by braces when he was a child. But one seldom saw him smile. Bardo Raleigh believed that "smiling all over the place" was "vulgar."
"It somehow is not feasible," Bardo remarked in his contemplative, detached manner, "that you and your colleague inside would still get along after a performance such as the one witnessed."
"Manny's O.K.," Flip answered. "He goofs sometimes."
"You know, man. Like, he shoots his mouth off."
"Peculiar," Bardo mused, "that he's so susceptible to sadism."
Flip shrugged his shoulders. He did not know exactly what Raleigh meant. He said, "He likes snakes. He has one and everything. One of his own, you know? Keeps it in his room. Man, I mean, who needs it?"
"Obviously he does," Bardo commented. "He probably has a psychological complex."
"He'll be along in a minute now," Flip said, looking back toward the club door and whistling shrilly at it. "Takes him a crazy time to dress," he added. Again he checked his watch, searching the street afterward for any sign of John Wylie. Flip had suggested to Bardo that he come along with the three of them, and Bardo had said fine, he would, but where were they all bound?
"The store," Flip had told him. "Down the street on Ninety-first."
"Bernie's. Like, they sell magazines and Cokes and they got a juke and couple pinballs and things. You know?"
"What are you going there for?" Bardo had inquired.
"For? You have to go for something? We're just going there."
He glared at Bardo with resentment. It was the same resentment he frequently felt toward his family. They couldn't understand why he hung around Bernie's either.
"You got records home," his old father would argue with him in German, "and you got a phonograph. And you got all the soft drinks you need downstairs in the place. Bring your friends home, Hans, the way a good boy does."
"The place" was Die Lotosblume, the Heines' small restaurant on Eighty-sixth Street near Third Avenue. Flip's sister sang there, and his three older brothers helped run the business. Four evenings a week Flip waited tables reluctantly, hating the familiar smells of grilled Bratwurst, red cabbage, schnitzel, and dark draught beer. The melancholy choruses of "Muss I' Denn," "Lili Marlene," and "Nur Du," which filled the room as the night wore on, filled Flip with shame at being there among the white-haired old Germans whose tears rolled down to their handle-bar mustaches as they reminisced; whole families gathered around one table, their napkins tucked under their chins, their voices rising in thick, guttural accents; and the sight-seers, who asked Flip what Bauernwurst was, what kind of meal a real German would order, and if the "little Fraulein" would sing "Come, come, I love you only" in German for a dollar bill.
"Aren't we good enough for you, Hans?" his father would demand.
"I didn't say that," Flip would answer.
"You say it, Hans. You say it with your eyes."
"O.K.! O.K.! I don't dig Germany. Germans don't give me kick one!"
"You go to that store to learn that talk, is that it? To learn to talk smart-aleck to your old father?
"All the guys go there, Pa."
"All the wise guys."
Bardo looked questioningly at Heine now, and with nervous irritation coloring his voice Heine said, "Like, we go to Bernie's and put out for a Coke, and play the juke. Bull around."
"Well, don't apologize, my good man," Bardo responded.
Flip had never heard a crazier comment in his whole life. Who was apologizing?
Wylie was ten minutes late already, and Manny, as usual, was dawdling. Ordinarily Flip would not have been bothered by these things, but this afternoon he was. He wondered what to say to Raleigh, and he wondered what kept him from crossing him off as a creep and just ignoring him. All the while he wondered, he strained for another likely topic of conversation.
He said, "Wait till you meet Wylie, man. Man, girls eat their hearts for breakfast over old Wyle!"
Bardo shifted his rapier to the other arm, took a silver nail clipper and file from his pocket, and worked with it on his hands, which were already immaculately white, the nails meticulously groomed. He was wearing gray linen trousers, and a white shirt under his charcoal-colored linen jacket. His necktie was inch thin, and striped black and blue. His academy graduation ring, which he wore on the little finger of his left hand, had a ruby stone that flashed its reflection in the gold handle of the rapier, jutting out from the leather case. Heine and Pollack had gone to the club for handball, but Bardo had gone there for his fencing lesson. When it was over he had planned to drop the sword with the doorman at his apartment building and go to a double feature. Then in the locker room, when he got into conversation with Flip, after Manny had dog-walked it to the shower, Bardo had changed his mind. He was immediately captivated by Heine's disciplinary measure, and by the amusing, almost absent way he instigated it, and afterward appeared to slough off his triumph over Pollack. Such an impassive personality intrigued Bardo, to say nothing of the whole subject of discipline.
Raleigh had been an exemplary cadet during his four years at Sandside. In that strange world of little men carrying big guns, parading close order in full dress, standing white-glove inspection, and "popping to" like automatons at a senior officer's sharp bark, Bardo excelled. During his four years at the academy he had been "pulled" only once, in his freshman year, for failing to shine his brass, and his last year he had served as Colonel of Cadets. Discipline was his obsession. When he read in a modern history book one of De Gaulle's statements made during World War II, he saw to it that every cadet memorized it and could repeat it word for word. It was a sentence that somehow inspired him:
"France will fight this battle with passion, but she will fight it with discipline!"
"Thank God," Bardo had concluded his commencement address on his final day at the academy, "that I have learned the value of discipline, for it is the difference between leading and following in this world. The followers will never appreciate its value; the leaders, who do, are obliged to be their shepherds."
There was a polite sprinkle of applause from the student-parent section, and a rousing ovation from General Baird's box. The military band broke into the "March of the Men of Harlech," and Bardo Raleigh did not touch his glove to his cheek to stop the tear that had rolled there from his brimming eyes.
* * * *
"'How is it?" Bardo said to Flip, "that you have so much power over your friend Manny?"
"I just put Manny down," Flip retorted. He disliked analyzing situations. Flip just said things and people said things back, and if it did not make intellectual history, it did not confuse him either. Bardo spoke unlike anyone Flip had ever encountered before. He seemed to probe for answers Flip did not know how to give him. It made Heine feel curiously and newly inadequate, and vaguely uncomfortable in Raleigh's presence. At the same time he was aware that he somehow admired him for this very fact. He was oddly pleased, even flattered, that Bardo was joining them.
"What do you mean, you put him down?"
"I don't like anyone calling me Kraut," Flip elaborated.
"I'm talking about power, my good man. Your pow-er over him."
"Power?" Flip shrugged his shoulders, embarrassed. "Who says?"
"Why are you so evasive?"
Flip chuckled and cracked his knuckles in a frustrated, awkward gesture. "Man, oh, man," he said, for no reason.
Raleigh said, "Where did you pick up that jargon?"
"Heard it around."
"He doesn't like it," Bardo said.
"Bardo Raleigh doesn't," Bardo Raleigh answered. "He finds it infinitely tiresome."
* * * *
Emanuel Pollack pulled his olive-colored tie to a neat knot and studied his face in the locker-room mirror. He wondered if his father had been right this morning when he had suggested that the reason Manny had flunked two of his subjects this term was that the curriculum was too difficult for a young boy.
"They drive you kids too hard," he had said in his soft, serious tone. "They expect too much of you. Why, I saw you studying every night with my own eyes, Emanuel. Latin and French and all those subjects are hard! And you with an I.Q. of a hundred and eighteen. Nobody can say you haven't got the brains, Emanuel."
Manny would have liked to accept his father's idea that the school was to blame, and not himself, but Flip and Wylie both had passed their subjects, and he remembered the principal's report. His mother had read it aloud.
" ... convinced that his inability to concentrate and his dreamy attitude during class sessions are rooted in a basic personality problem. The faculty recommends that Emanuel apply for consultation with a psychologist at the Jewish Children's Clinic ... "
"You don't have to go, son," his father had declared. "You just forget all about it."
But his mother had said he certainly was going to go.
"Not if he doesn't want to, Ruth!"
"Well, he should want to!" and then turning to Manny she had said, "Don't you want help? Do you want to be backward and stay behind another year? You want help, don't you, Emanuel?"
"What about it, Emanuel? Do you?"
Emanuel said, "I don't know. I--What do you think?"
"I think," his father said, "that you should do as you please. You should do whatever you think is best, Emanuel."
As he remembered these things, Manny's reflection frowned back at him. His face was gaunt and somewhat sullen; his gray eyes were always rather timid-looking. A teacher once described Manny by saying that he had the face of a melancholy seventeenth-century poet and the build of a professional football tackle. His hair was chestnut-colored and curly, and now still wet from the shower. As he took his comb from his trouser pocket, he heard Flip's familiar whistle outside. Without bothering to part his hair, he grabbed the coat of his tan summer suit from the wire hook on the wall and began to run up the basement steps. Midway, he suddenly remembered the humiliating episode of less than an hour ago. It was funny that he had forgotten all about it, and funny too that as he recalled it, he was unable to recall his anger at Flip. The incident, he realized, was a dead issue, buried now in a graveyard of past and similar incidents.
* * * *
Coming up Lexington Avenue, approaching the club entrance, Johnny Wylie wondered who the third boy was with Heine and Pollack. He saw Manny shaking hands with him while Flip stood by, grinning inanely and pushing the yellow strings of hair back off his forehead.
Johnny was the baby of the crowd; he had five months to go before he would be sixteen. He was five feet seven and clearly handsome, with thick black hair he wore close-cropped to his head, sparkling dark eyes, and a smooth, creamy complexion. Above his full wide lips he was cultivating a thin line of mustache.
"Where'd you get the 'tash, Johnny, hmm?" Lynn Leonard, the girl across the hall, had said shyly to him that morning as they met at the mailboxes in the apartment-house entranceway. "It's nice."
He had tried to keep his eyes off the tight white halter she filled too well for a girl of fifteen.
He said, "That's a funny name for it--'tash." He stared down at his shoes, afraid to raise his head for fear his eyes would never reach her face, but stay fixed there below her neck. He could smell the faint lilac fragrance she wore, and he was keenly aware of bare flesh at her shoulders and back, though he had not seen her fully.
"It's nice," she repeated. "It's a nice 'tash."
" 'Tash!" He feigned a gruff tone. "I never heard one called that before. Never!"
She laughed, tossing her head back so that her long, soft dark hair fell to the small of her back, and Johnny stole a glance at the halter. He looked squarely at her there, and then away quickly, his face flaming. He turned so she could not see.
"See you around," he mumbled.
"So long, Johnny."
* * * *
"Do you stay in bed very long in the morning after you have once awakened?" Father Farrell had questioned Johnny after he had blurted out his confession twenty minutes ago, when he had stopped off at church on his way uptown.
"I won't any more, Father."
Johnny felt better now, after having talked about it with someone.
As if to dismiss these scraps of thought from his mind, he squared his broad shoulders, drew a deep breath, and held his head up high. He wore a brown cord suit and a natty yellow bow tie, which was clipped to the collar of his white shirt. The taps on the heels of his heavy oxblood shoes clicked more insistently as he stepped up his pace, waving now at the boys who were waiting for him. Johnny took the club steps by twos. He slapped Flip across the back and gave Manny a mock punch in the stomach. Then he shook hands with Bardo Raleigh.
"Let's all cut out for the store," Heine said, and as the sun slipped back behind the skyscrapers to the west, casting their jagged shadows in the path, the quartet ambled lazily along Lexington Avenue.