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Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night

“Such as?” asked the man in the suit.

“Well,” said Vincent, “someone like a hero.”

Six weeks passed. Six more weeks of drudgery, six more Saturdays. The Odyssey began to wind down, lose its novelty. It was time to move on. But no replacement had been found, not as yet. So there was a hiatus. The Faces kept in training, waiting for the next step. A fresh sensation, another explosion. Meanwhile, they marked time.

Sure enough, their patience paid off. Outside the pizza parlor, on another Saturday night, Joey, Vincent, the Double J, and Eugene sat waiting in the Dodge, raring to go. But Gus did not show up.

Twenty minutes passed, then 30, 40. They were almost ready to go on without him. Then suddenly he came out of the shadows, running, burning. His face was flushed; he was all out of breath. Too wild to make sense, he could only spew out obscenities, kick at the curb, pound his fists, impotent, on the body of the car.

At last he simmered down, choked out his explanations. And the news was indeed enormous. That afternoon, just three hours earlier, his younger sister, Gina, had been molested, debauched, as she crossed a children’s playground in the park.

Gus poured out the story. After his sister had finished her lunch, she went to the apartment of her best friend Arlene, who lived about ten blocks away. Both of them were eleven years old and together they spent the afternoon nibbling chocolate candies, trying out different makeups, sighing over photographs of Donny Osmond. Then Gina walked home in the dusk, alone, wrapped in her imitation-leather coat, which was short and showed off her legs. Soon she came to McKinley Park. To make a shortcut, she turned off the street and headed across the park playground.

“. . . Gus banged his clenched fist into his palm. ‘Mother,’ he said, ‘I’ll kill him.’ ‘Tear his heart out,’ said Joey . . .”

It was getting dark and the playground was empty, spooky. Gina hastened. Halfway across, however, a man appeared, coming from the opposite direction. He had wispy hair and a wispy beard, and he was talking to himself. When Gina came level with him, he stopped and stared. “Pretty. Pretty. Pretty,” he said. Just like that. And he looked at her legs, straight at her kneecaps, with a strange smile, a smile that made her want to run. So she did. She sped out of the playground, into the street, down the block.

Just as she reached the sanctuary of her own hallway, Gus was coming down the stairs. So she bumped straight into him, jumped into his arms. “What’s wrong?” he said. But she couldn’t say. She just dug her nails into his arms, and she sort of sighed. Then she burst into tears.

He carried her upstairs, cradled like an infant. In time, she was comforted, she calmed down. Finally she told her story, was put to bed, and soon fell asleep. Now all that remained was revenge.

Vengeance. When Gus completed his story, he laid his forehead against the roof of the Dodge in order to feel something cold against his skull, which seemed as though it were burning. There he rested for a moment, recovering. Then he straightened up, and he banged his clenched fist into the meat of his left palm, once, twice, three times, just like on TV. “Mother,” he said. “I’ll kill him.”

“Tear his heart out,” said Joey. “Eff him in the place he lives.”

“Cut off both his legs,” said Vincent. “Kill him. Yes.”

They all knew who it was. They didn’t even have to ask. In Vincent’s own building there was a man called Benny, a wimp who had wispy hair and a wispy beard, who shuffled, and he was really weird. He had these crazy staring eyes, this horrible fixed stare. Everyone steered clear of him. Nobody would talk to him or go close to him. Children threw stones to make him go away. Still he hung around, staring.

No question, he was diseased. One day a bunch of kids had waited for him in the park, jumped him, and tried to teach him a lesson. But he would not learn. The more they abused him, beat on him, the stranger he became. He talked to himself, he mumbled stuff that no one could understand. And often, late at night, blind drunk, he would stand outside people’s windows, yell and carry on and keep them from their sleep.

And now this. The final outrage. So the Faces drove back toward the high-rise, piled out of the car, descended on the building in a wedge.

Enforcers. Vigilantes. In silence, they came to Benny’s door and Gus rang the bell, banged on the door. A minute passed and there was no answer. Gus banged again. Still no reply. Inside the apartment, everything seemed quiet, absolutely still. Gus banged a third time, a fourth, and then he lost patience. He started raging, kicking the door, barging into it with his shoulder. But nobody moved inside or made a sound, and the door would not give way.

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