Mark's phone beeped at him and he reached into his pocket to pull out his phone, “Ugh, another text message from Devon.”
“What's it say?” John asked changing lanes while looking over his shoulder.
“I don't know I haven't looked at it yet. What do you think he wants? A ride or money?”
“No bet.” John's phone beeped and he pulled it from his belt as Mark slid his open to read the message. The display read “Messages (1) from Devon.” He hit me too. I'm guessing ride.”
“Nope,” Mark said as he read it, “he wants us to meet him at the park down by the river. He's got something he wants to tell us.”
“I hate that. People that text that they want to tell you something. Tell him to text it to us, we're busy.”
“Are we busy?”
“Nyah. I just don't feel like going out there. The road construction is a mess that direction and I don't feel like his drama right now.”
“His drama? You just stole Diablo 3 and had me help! Maybe you're the dramatic one!” Mark elbowed John across the center console as he sent the reply to Devon.
John grinned back at him, “Hey, don't mess with the driver. Their phones beeped a second time seconds later.
“Damn! What's it say?” John said turning down a one-way going through downtown.
Mark looked around as he read, “You're going anyway aren't you?”
“Yes. He'll blow our phones up if we don't, now what's it say?”
“Says he doesn't trust his phone and wants to tell us in person and we're not supposed to tell anybody where we're going.”
“Well if he doesn't trust his phone they already know. He said where to meet him.”
“Yeah, well, he's paranoid, not bright.”
“Wonder what he did this time.”
"Probably one of his friends. Reach me my hat from the back seat."
"Reach you? You want me to reach you? Where do you come up with this stuff? That's not even English." Mark said as he reached into the back seat to grab the black Under Armor beanie that John had taken to wearing recently. "You think you really need a beanie in September?"
"What are you my mother? I don't need the beanie. I want the beanie. It's tight."
"Tight like cool or tight like it squeezes the sides of your head together and rubs your two brain cells together so you can think better?" The two of them continued back and forth as they drove past the orange cones that divided the road through the construction site. The road was being widened along this stretch of road and it was two months past when it should have been finished, but with all the rain they'd had this summer they hadn't been able to get much work done on the road. Standing water now stood in the low spots in the sand and gravel.
"What time do you work?" John asked as he pulled the tight left into the park and started down the gravel entrance.
"Not until four, why?"
"In case Devon get wound up I was wondering if we could use that as an excuse to bail. There he is over by the bathrooms. You think he knows what goes on at this park?"
"Yeah, he's probably here to get a little loving for some cash, deviant."
"I don't think what they do in those bathrooms is loving." John steered the Prius in the the spot nearest the stone out building built during the depression, wheels crunching on the gravel. Both doors opened at once as the two friends climbed out of the car. "Hey, Devon. Whassup fag?" John said as he closed the distance.
Devon looked up towards the entrance to the park and slouched forward, dropping a cigarette and stepping on it as he approached.
"Those things will kill you." Mark said like he did every time he saw Devon. The two of them had been neighbors for years. They went to different schools, when Devon went. His grand mother paid for him to go to the catholic high school, but he skipped a lot. He lived with his aunt, his parents had skipped on him when he was 8 and he'd been raised alternately by his aunt or his grandmother depending on who was most fed up with his lack of caring and unwillingness to apply himself. Right now he was living with his aunt so was two blocks from Mark, on the south side. It was his grand mother that lived next door to Mark.
"Yeah. I know. Listen guys, thanks for coming. I didn't know who else to tell. I think we're in trouble." Devon looked again towards the entrance to the park.
"We as in us? What'd we do?" Mark asked.
"We didn't do anything." John said, with special emphasis on "anything."
"No, not us us, the town us. I heard some stuff today while I was down here."
"Why were you down here?" Mark asked.
John looked significantly towards the bathrooms and hummed softly while rocking back and forth on his heels.
Devon blushed a bit, but wouldn't look at either of them in the face, "No, not that, not this time, but hey! I don't do anything anyway. I just take their money and stand there. I'm not a fucking fag ya asshat!"
"He was just giving you shit. C'mon John, don't be like that."
"Whatever. A blower's a blower. Just don't up the ante is all I'm saying or next thing you know you'll have purses falling out of your mouth and seriously, Devon, you're a good guy and all… but you'd be one ugly chick."
"Nope. I'm a pitcher, not a catcher. So, why we down here and why do you keep looking up the road?" John asked, putting his hands in his pockets. So far the conversation had gone much the way most conversations went and nothing new seemed to be forthcoming. He was getting bored.
"Can we go for a ride and talk? I don't want to stay in once place for very long."
"You can't smoke in my car."
"That's fine. Can we go out by the orchard?" The three of them walked to the Prius and climbed in. "Somewhere outside of town."
"OK, but Mark's got to be to work at 4 so we can't hang out too long. We've only got a couple hours." John looked over his shoulder as he backed out. A white van was pulling in and moving slowly down the road towards them. Devon was laying down on the seat, eyes wide as he stared at the ceiling.
"Don't let them see me!" Devon hissed, rolling down into the floor board and curling into as tight a ball as he could make.
John idled forward slowly as he leaned forward and pulled off his t-shirt, dropping it behind him onto Devon's head. Mark looked over at him as he lowered the driver side window and put his elbow on the window looking like he was out for a Sunday drive. The muscles of his stomach were just beneath the skin, a six-pack at least. After he had been working out he had a distinct 8 pack. The two cars passed just as the Prius entered a patch of sun coming from the van's side of the road causing the windows to reflect a glare into the van's driver's eyes. He appeared to be a man in his mid-thirties and he was looked at Mark and John closely as he drove past. John gave a little wave and Mark tried not to stare.
When they got to the road John pulled out after a rolling stop and accelerated slowly North towards the orchard road.
"That was close." Devon's voice came from behind them.
"Hand me my shirt and quit sniffing it ya sicko."
"What is that you're wearing?"
"Egoiste, and seriously, don't sniff my clothes, that's weird."
"Then why are you wearing cologne ass? You either want people to smell the cologne or you stink like ass, which is it?"
"Whatever." John reached back and pulled the shirt back and dropped it on the center console and rested his arm on it. "Why do you think they were looking for you?"
"Not me necessarily, but they're looking for someone. See, there were these two guys down at the river today. Suit types, out of state plates, in a white van like that one. They were doing something down by the river and I was sitting in the shade by the bathroom and heard them talking about cutting the town off or something. I thought I'd heard them wrong but they said it again. They specifically said, 'cut the town off for at least a month until it was contained.' And that got me thinking about all the construction going on lately. All the roads are torn up. Right now there's two roads in and out of town that are under construction, and two roads having bridge work so you have to detour around them. Why would they do work on two bridges at the same time? It's not like we had an earthquake. They're closing us off."
"That's stupid. It's just Obama money being used on infrastructure projects. They've been talking about it for years. Turn on the radio and turn off the Floyd once in a while. It's part of the stimulus, getting America to work and all that." John reached up and adjusted his beanie with his right hand.
Mark turned toward Devon, "What were they doing by the river?"
"I don't know. I couldn't see them very well without moving and I didn't want to move because I thought they'd see me. They had something in their hand, like the size of an iPod and it looked like maybe they were taking readings or something. I saw could kind of see them through the space between the trees. I don't know. It's just weird."
"You're just weird." John said looking up into the rearview mirror and smiling at Devon to take the sting out of the words. The two of them had a relationship based on mutual insults and barbs that neither of them really meant. They'd met through Mark and there had been a few years of jealousy as they felt like they were competing for his friendship and then they finally, around sixth grade settled into a steady, chronic, good natured verbal warfare type friendship. They appeared to understand each other, and while they weren't friends with each other, they were both friends with Mark and so they barely got along with each other rather than push him into choosing one over the other. They were both pretty sure they would win any such contest but not sure enough to want to push the issue.
"The old brick plant is up here where they used to make bricks, not the plant that's made of bricks. Want to stop there? We can park behind it and the men in black won't see us if they drive by." Mark said pointing towards a little used road that turned into the woods. John nodded and slowed to turn into the drive.
"How do you know you can get back there?" Devon asked looking at Mark through the rear view mirror. He picked up the Target bag and looked at the game and the card reader inside.
Mark looked at John and John shrugged and said, "Go ahead, he's a lot of things, but he isn't a snitch." Looking up in the rear view and catching Devon's eye he added, "but keep this off Facebook. It's just between the three of us."
Mark interrupted, "Among the three of us, you only use between if there are two. It used to be between the two of us, but it's about to be among the three of us."
John gave Mark a withering look and punched him in the leg. "It's about to be between me and Devon because I'm going to leave your body under a pile of bricks, and if you say 'Devon and I' I'm going to push you out of the car."
Mark grinned and rubbed his leg. "Just saying. You don't want to sound ignant do you?"
John coasted to an almost silent stop next to a wooden guard shack whose roof was falling in and whose windows had been broken out years ago. The brick factory had gone out of business almost 30 years before and the plant had been abandoned. "You know what parkour is? Free-running? Like in Assassins Creed?"
Devon looked back and forth between John and Mark. "Yeah."
"Well, we've been practicing, a lot for the past few years and this is one of the places we practice. It's got lots of vertical lines and it's private. We mostly learned it from youtube."
"You learn everything from youtube." Devon interrupted. You still doing the bump lock thing? That was cool."
"Yeah, but this is cooler. I only used the bump locking to get into the shed to see what they were locking in there that they didn't want me to see. It's not like I'm a criminal."
"Really? Seems like they forgot to put Diablo 3 on the receipt for your card reader. What do you need a card reader for anyway? Doesn't your laptop have one built in?" Devon asked holding up the Target receipt.
"So, what's your theory about why they want to close off the town?" John asked climbing out of the car and pulling his seat forward so Devon could get out. Mark flushed and climbed out of his side of the car.
"I don't know." Devon said as he climbed out into the sun. It was warm and sunny but the ground was still soft from the rain they'd gotten two days ago. It had rained a lot this summer, making it the wettest year in almost fifty years he had heard someone saying at the park. His aunt's basement had had water in it since March and the clicking of the sump pump going on and off had become so common place he didn't hear it any more. His room was in the basement, but that side was dry. The floor had been built up on two by fours so he was off the concrete floor, but the damp was there and would probably not go away until winter when everything froze again.
The three of them walked idly into the part of the brick plant that had been offices. Old desks lay broken and wet in the shade of the walls. Vines had over grown many of the exterior walls, pulling them down in various states of disrepair. The roof was gone everywhere and lay in piles through out. "The thing is I don't know. I just got weirded out and they sounded so serious, and the town is getting cut off from everywhere else. Then they came back and… I don't know. It's just fucked up and…"
"And you don't trust anybody so figured they must be up to no good."
"I trust Mark." Devon said defensively.
"You can trust John too. He just acts like an ass because he likes you," Mark said knowing it wasn't entirely true, but wishing again that his friends could be friends with each other as well. "If he didn't like you we wouldn't be out here."
"We might be, I was pretty bored." John said jumping to stand on the edge of a waist high wall and look out over what he'd come to think of as "The Course."
Devon sat on a piece of the concrete and tarred roof that lay on the ground near what must have been an oven. It was still mostly intact. The high temperature blocks that made it up had weathered better than the bricks. "They should make houses out of this instead," he said picking up a piece of brick and knocking it against the side of the oven. Pieces of the red brick flaked off and fell to the ground. There was a moment of silence afterwards, more than a pause in the conversation, the world around them seemed to go quiet as well except for the whisper of a breeze high in the trees that surrounded the brickworks.
The silence was broken by Mark's phone beeping shrilly. He pulled it out and flipped it open, "Shit. They want me to come in early. I gotta run home and change."
"You gonna shower first stinky bitch?" John asked, stretching to the side on top of the half-wall.
"I'm not stinky. I'm not the one that hoses himself down with Egoiste, and you know… the name of that is just about…"
"Blah blah blah, whatever. The girls like it. Want to race to the other end and back before we go?" His eyes were on the far end of the plant, a city block away. Mark jumped onto the half wall and looked out over the half-walls, broken desks, ovens, and pallets of bricks that lay between them and the wall at the end of the clearing. A piece of roof clung to the wall there, supported by what had been an interior wall of a hallway. He looked at Devon who was watching the two of them standing there on the wall. Pulling his shirt off he dropped it down to Devon and did windmilled his arms, loosening his shoulders and rolling his neck. "Be right back. Say when."
Curious, Devon stood up, pulled himself up onto the wall the two had bounded onto and stood there unsteadily holding his friend's shirt up in the air. "On your marks! Get set!" A long pause as the two teens bounced lightly on their toes, eyeing the obstacle course in front of them, "GO!" He brought the white t-shirt down quickly.
Mark and John sprang from the wall, arching their backs. Mark landed just before a wall, grabbed an impossibly narrow gap in the bricks and pulled himself up and onto the wall. John caught the wall and yanked himself up and over the wall, tucking his legs under him as he shot over the wall with almost no loss of forward momentum. Their feet hit the ground seconds apart but John was already in the lead leaping sideways into the air to kick off the side of an oven, launching himself onto the top of a pallet of bricks he ran across and threw himself into a long open gap in the floor. Mark went around the pallet and onto the forks of an abandoned fork lift, from there he went onto the cab and kicked off through the air, arms outstretched, eyes fixed on a desk against the far wall. Most of the furniture here was too decayed and old to use but this desk was metal and still a good launching point to get over the big pile of bricks that divided the plant almost in half. He hit the ground and sprinted for the desk, pushing off, feeling the wind on his skin and the sun on his back. His foot slapped the desk and propelled him up to within reach of the top of the bricks. He pulled himself up to the top of the pile that was only wide enough for one step. He had done this once before, and there was only one place to safely land because he had to roll or lose his momentum and jar the hell out of his legs and back. He threw himself forward off the fifteen foot high obstacle as John ran up the almost perfectly vertical wall. His feet finding traction enough to push himself up while his forward momentum kept him from teetering backwards. Mark knew that this was almost the limit of how far John would be able to go vertical without bouncing off another wall, and there wasn't another wall close enough for him to use. If he didn't make the grab he'd have him for sure. Even if he did make the grab he'd have used most of his momentum getting there. John made the grab and hung for the briefest of moments before pulling himself up, red brick grime smearing down his front where he hit the wall. He topped the wall in time to see Mark hit the ground, roll forward and spring to his feet in a fluid motion that left him aimed at a gap between two collapsed pieces of the roof. John's angle was wrong to hit the bare patch so he launched himself at a fork lift, hoping to skip off the roof of that onto the next pile of rubble. He was looking too far ahead though. You couldn't do that. One step at a time. He could see Mark was focused and his shoe squeaked as he stepped on the roof of the rusted yellow fork lift. Almost no weight was on his foot but he felt the roof giving way under it and quickly lifted it, and instead of pushing off from it went for a rough landing a little short of where he'd been aiming. He'd been distracted and lost some speed. The landing was hard, but he hadn't been hurt. With a burst of speed he ran over piles of roof and collapsed walls at an almost sprint. He caught Mark as they got to the wall under the over hang of the roof, both hands slapping the wall in rapid succession before they turned to go back. Both were breathing hard but not laboring for breath just pushing oxygen in as fast as they could. The trip back was John's from that point on. There were no secret launches Mark could use and straight line running, even over rubble John was the faster of the two of them. John shot over the wall they'd started on almost two seconds ahead of Mark and the two of them stood looking at each other and grinning.
"I almost had you with the desk launch."
"You almost had me when my foot started to go through that fork lift." I didn't realize it'd gotten so bad."
"Holy shit!" Devon exclaimed jumping down from the wall. His landing looked heavy and awkward after the two free-runner's display and he felt awkward by comparison. He hated feeling second best all the time to them. John was the worst. He appeared to be good at almost anything he tried. He had a weird learning thing where he learned best by watching it. Youtube had change him completely. He'd taught himself to play guitar, open locks without keys, and apparently parkour by watching it on a computer and then doing it. "How'd you keep that a secret? WHY would you want to?"
Mark looked up, as if remembering Devon were there for the first time, "My mom would kill me if she knew I was doing this." He shook his hand, wiping some red brick dust on his pants. "It was John's idea."
"Imagine my surprise." Devon mumbled. A look of irritation flashed across John's face but he looked towards his car and pretended to have not heard. He knew Devon was jealous of him. He assumed that things came easy to John, but they didn't. He had to work, and would work, obsessively at something either until he was excellent at it or until he finally admitted he couldn't do it. There weren't many things he would give up on. He hated being beaten. The Rubik's cube had beaten him but Mark could do it in just under a minute no matter how messed up it was. Learning to read music had beaten him. He had learned to play guitar, and could play a song by hearing it, but couldn't read music. He'd hoped his reading problems wouldn't extend to reading sheet music but it did. The notes wouldn't stay in order on the page. His dyslexia wasn't as bad as some people's. Numbers he was fine with. But anything that required lots of reading he was better off hearing it. Writing assignments were a nightmare to him.
"Where you want to go?" John asked moving to get into the car.
"Can I crash at your place Mark?" Devon asked as Mark pulled his shirt on.
"Yeah. I work until 8 tonight though. I'll text Mom and let her know." He reached for his phone as John reached for his to look at the time.
"I'll drop you two off at your house then I'm going to see what's on at the theater and see if Kayla wants to go see anything." John said reaching into the car to pull on his shirt.
"Kayla Jensen? Really?" Mark asked closing his phone and putting it back in his pocket. "I thought you had a firm no blonds rule ever since Joannie."
"I do, but Kayla's a red-head now." John said stepping back so Devon could climb into the back seat. They never needed to talk about it. Devon always rode in the back seat if Mark and John were together. Anybody who was with them rode in back, even the various girlfriends they'd had over the years. It wasn't questioned, it was just the way things were.
"Oh yeah, right. She's going to the haircutting college. Got yourself an older woman eh?" Devon said
"Older and wiser my man. Older and wiser. But it's not official yet. Just testing the waters seeing if she wants to ride the John Train."
"Sort of an express train isn't it?" Mark said snapping the seat belt into place.
"Well, if they're any good it is." John laughed. His first time with a girl had been a miserable attempt that ended almost literally before it started a few years ago and she had told everybody about it. Over the years the sting of the jokes was gone and John made them too. His mom thought his nicknames were because he was fast at cross-country track meets. A lot of people thought that, but not his peers. They all knew the source of the "Minute Man" type comments. She had apologized for telling everybody the summer after it happened but by then it was too late and while they weren't exactly friends, they were friendly.