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Chapter One

     The boy's name was Sloan Beckett. His family bought the old Richardson house a quarter mile down the road from Cal and Corey shortly after the twins' eleventh birthday. Sloan Beckett was two years older, a large, pimple strewn bully with a mean, calculating intelligence. He was already seeing a psychiatrist and taking medication for what his parents referred to delicately as his "tendencies." Within a month, all the neighborhood kids were calling him Slime Bucket, but not to his face.
     One warm fall day, Slime Bucket caught Corey from behind as she walked in the woods by the bank of the Saugatuck River. He seized her arm and twisted it behind her and reached around with his other hand and ripped open her shirt.
     "Leggo, you...pig! You..."
     "Gotcha now, Miss blond snotty."
     Still holding and twisting her arm, Slime Bucket used his other hand to shove Cory's shorts and underpants down below her knees. She tried to run, tripped, and he fell upon her, pinning her arms, yanking her ripped shirt aside, forcing her thighs open with his knees.
     "You got a nice one, Miss Snotty."
     Corey started to scream, earnest, full-bodied screams, pealing through the woods, one after the next. Slime Bucket looked confused, as if this response was somehow unexpected. He released her and stood.
     "Next time I'll stick it in," he said. "I can't be punished. I gotta condition." He shrugged, turned, trudged away.

     That evening, Corey told Cal. He listened silently till she was finished.
     "He ripped off your shirt?"
     "And he pushed down your shorts? And...and your underpants?"
     "Did know...did he...?"
     "No. I started yelling. I think he got scared."
     "Have you told Mom? Or Dad?"
     "Not yet."
     "Don't tell them yet. There's something I want to do."
     "Cal, you can't fight him! He's twice as big! And he fights dirty!"
     "Don't worry."

     Cal rose early the next morning and took out his eleventh birthday present and most prized possession, a Daisy repeating pump air rifle with real wood stock and real bluing on the barrel. He filled the magazine with BBs, muzzle loaded the barrel with three straight pins, and gave it a pump.
     I'll lose the rifle, he thought. They'll take it away for sure.
     Cal's rage was boundless, consuming. Losing the rifle was a consequence noted in passing, hardly a consideration.
     Carrying the Daisy, Cal walked down the road to within twenty yards of the Beckett's gate. The time was 7:30 AM, about fifteen minutes before the school bus was due. He held the rifle behind him, stock resting on the ground, and began to call.
     "Slime Bucket! Hey, Slime Bucket! Come on out, you chikenshit!"
     It didn't take long. Slime Bucket came pounding through the gate, looked around, spotted Cal and started for him.
     "I like your sister's cunt," he jeered as he advanced.
     Cal drew the Daisy from behind his back, knelt, and aimed. He wanted to take out an eye. Slime Bucket saw the rifle and spun around to run. Cal shot him in the ass.
     Those straight pins must have gone in a good half inch.
     Slime Bucket screamed like a girl.
     And Cal ran after him, pumping and firing BBs into Slime Bucket's back and legs and sorry quivering butt as he slammed screaming through the gate and up the walk toward his house. As Slime Bucket dove through the front door, Cal's parting shot took out a lower pane in a living room window.

     Cal walked back in the direction of his house but he didn't go home, not immediately. He stopped in the woods by the twins' tree fort and reached around the old pine into a hollow formed by the juncture of two limbs. From there he extracted a half full bottle of blackberry brandy, stolen from his parents liquor cabinet on the premise it would never be missed since no one ever drank it.
     He knew the phone would be ringing off the hook by then, the Becketts frantically phoning his parents. He wanted some time and needed some brandy to take the edge off his raging thoughts.
     Because the worst of it was that Corey would of course hear about it and she would love him all the more for what he had done and for losing the gun on her account but the truth was that in the darkness of his own heart he knew he shared more than he cared to acknowledge with the bully he had vanquished. He knew without knowing that the root cause, the locus of his rage, was his own desire, manifest and triumphant in another, his own roiling desire, provoked now by the briefest flashes of his sweet sister, of silky hairs curling from beneath her bathing suit, of smooth swelling flesh and pink nipple bud, all so innocently exposed for so long in the natural conduct of their life together, hidden now in the emerging reticence of womanly awareness.
     Cal took a second solid slug of blackberry brandy, then a third, then discovered that he was crying.
     How wrong it seemed! The imagined landscape of her body, that field of dreams that drove him daily to tortured tumescence, revealed, finally, but not to him! — oh God, not to him! — but to the prying pig eyes of Slime Bucket!



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