EVERY NOW AND THEN I get it into my head to make a list of certain things I’ve done in my life. There’s a sense of satisfaction to be gained by stacking up a bunch of items that are normally scattered out over a lifetime, then sitting back and giving them a good long look. Some of them invariably get you thinking, and the patterns that emerge can even give you a new insight or two. Could be anything, like all the cars I’ve ever owned, or all the houses I’ve lived in, or maybe all the girls I’ve slept with. Some of them turn out to be pretty long lists.
My latest is a review of all the close calls I’ve had; those adrenaline-soaked moments when I’ve come within a cat’s whisker of dying. Considering how I’ve lived my life, I suspected there might be quite a few of them, and, truth be told, I wanted to see if I was getting close to number nine. While pondering that list, a long ago memory of one of those moments came back with a rush, buried all these years. Suddenly I recalled someone who had been my best friend for all of six months in my freshman year in high school. The mysterious Danny McNabb.
He claimed to be Scotch-Irish and Protestant, but his parents didn’t mind if he went to a Catholic school. Apparently he didn’t mind either. The first time I saw him was when he strolled into my class at Cathedral Academy in the middle of a school day, and sat down with a sly smile on his face as Sister Marie Frances explained to the rest of us that his family had just moved here from California. You could see right away he was not your average Catholic schoolboy; he was cocky, worldly, brazen; like there was nothing that could faze him. Here he was, a stranger dropped into a strange land, and he seemed to find the whole thing vaguely amusing.
The nuns must’ve thought they could win him over, bring him into the fold, so to speak; but it was clear from that first day it would never happen. His mind was elsewhere; he was merely tolerating his current situation and was not about to get with the program. What sealed the deal was, when he learned I held the title of Mister Detention for having set a record in that particular department, he began to join me there on a more or less regular basis. We were a bad influence on each other, Father Benson said.
His family was renting a big house on the opposite rim of that great big bowl of green known as Lincoln Park, and I soon got used to making my way over there at all times of the day and night. His parents, who were never home, seemed to be some kind of rich nomads. There was all this stuff just laying around: diamond-studded jewelry, fur coats, leather furniture, you name it. They had more things in that house than I had ever seen in my life, and Danny had the run of the place. He claimed to have lived in every state in the union. There were pictures of him with Roy Rogers and Hopalong Cassidy, things like that. The best part about that house, though, was that we seemed to always have it to ourselves. We threw a few wild parties now and then and drank whatever we wanted from the bar in the dining room. It was at one of these jamborees that we made local history.
I was feeling a little drunk, souldancing in the kitchen to the silky sound of The Five Satins with my girlfriend, when I heard a voice behind me, shouting, Get ’em up, Brady, reach for the sky! I turned to see old Danny boy himself, swaying on his feet, a rifle aimed somewhere in the vicinity of my head.
Put the gun down, you asshole.
No, no, put your hands up, Brady, c’mon.
I’m not kidding Danny. Put the gun down.
Put down the fuckin’ gun before you fuckin’ kill somebody, someone shouted. He lowered the gun.
Hey, I was only fooling, it’s not really loaded. Besides, the safety’s on, see?
BLAM!!! A circle of smoke rolled through the kitchen, followed by a stunned silence. The bullet passed through the trash can and lodged itself in the floor below. In the sti-i-i-ll… o-o-o-f… the ni-i-ight, ending in the background. I lunged at Danny, pushing him up against the wall.
You stupid sonofabitch! You could have blown my fuckin’ head off! Are you crazy?
He just laughed in my face. Like I said, nothing fazed him.
Hey, take it easy, man. it wasn’t your time to go.
I let go of his shirt, walked out the door and headed back across the park, suddenly sober as a judge and shakin’ like a leaf. A couple of days later I went back over there and rang the bell for what seemed like an hour. Finally, a neighbor came out on the porch and yelled over at me that the whole lot of them had moved out in the middle of the night, and no one knew where they went. The very next day, she said, a couple of Federal Marshalls were in the neighborhood looking for them.
I had always wondered where they got all their money; Danny said that his father worked for some big company, which also seemed to explain their nomadic life. The jewelry and the furs and the pocketfuls of cash took on a whole new meaning, though, as I began to think back over the last few months. In the end, I concluded that they must have been a family of gypsies, forever on the run, one step ahead of the law; though I’ll probably never know for sure. It does seem to be the most logical explanation, though, the more I think about it. They just seemed to disappear right off the face of the earth, and last I heard, criminals aren’t eligible for the rapture. If they did make it up there, though, you can bet your bottom dollar they sure as hell would have cleared out of heaven a long, long time ago.