Doing a Gang by Kin Platt *
It was not surprising that the subject had come up, perhaps more surprising that it had taken so long to surface. Both boys were about the same age, fifteen, neither particularly blessed with intelligence or creativity. Their parents were successful, they lived in an affluent community of lovely homes, gracious lawns and gardens zealously tended by wiry sunburned Japanese, and the cars parked in the driveways were the most expensive and desirable that money could buy. Neither boy had ever worked a day in his life, or starved, or for that matter gone without a meal. They were not beaten or oppressed, or singled out for unusual punishments. But that is neither here nor there.
Ray Chandler, the stockier of the two, was visiting his friend Mark Berry after school. They were sitting around the swimming pool in the backyard of the Berry family. The Chandlers didn't have a swimming pool, but they were so wealthy they didn't have the need to impress their neighbors.
“You're not kidding, Ray?” Mark Berry was saying. “You really mean this? You want us to do a gang?”
“Yeah, well, sure. Why not?”
Mark stared at his friend. “Why not? Are you for real? I can think of only a million reasons why not. You tell me one good reason why. Okay?”
The Chandler boy got to his feet, waving his arm, very animated. “Well, okay, I'll give you good reason. Like nothing is happening with us, right? It's the same all the time. Every day, every night. Day in, day out. I know what you do and you know what I do, and sometimes we both do the same dumb thing together, right?”
“Well, yeah,” Mark Berry said. “Kind of. Yeah, but still --”
“So I thought, hey – if we do a gang, it would be something different for a change. Right? So you want to know why, that's why. Different. Something different. Don't you feel maybe it's time we did something different, Pete's sake?”
Mark Berry thought about it. He nodded. “Yeah, well, okay, different sounds okay. But like what are you supposed to do, I mean, supposing we do like, you know, the gang?”
Ray Chandler waved his arms, walking back and forth a few paces on the white stone ledge outside the blue-tinted pool. “Oh, heck, you know. Go around in a car. Rumbling. Having a blast. Ride out Venice. Cruise down Sunset. Maybe hit downtown. All those different places. I bet we find a lot of girls down around those places. We have a blast, a lot of fun, right?”
Mark Berry rubbed his face. He knew the gang idea of his friend Raymond was a good, solid idea, and he wished he'd been the one to have thought of it. But although he was not a brilliant boy, neither was he a stupid one. He had read of the gangs in downtown L.A. and outlying sections. The blacks, the Chicanos, the tough white downtown gangs. They were always featured somewhere in the daily papers, their exploits recorded on TV, a shooting here, a stabbing there, a continuing gang warfare that never made sense to outsiders, and an ongoing activity the authorities seemed helpless to deal with.
He also knew that neither Raymond nor himself could stand up to any legitimate gang members. They weren't tough enough, mean enough, and although he knew there were numerous white gangs, some of even fairly well-to-do kids, he sensed these others had a keener purpose, were acting out of more mature reasons, or were perhaps simply more macho than he or Raymond. He certainly couldn't imagine himself cruising down a street, spotting a potential victim he either knew or did not know, and cutting him down with lethal bullets. He wasn't that crazy.
Considering all this in his mind, he shook his head slowly. “Okay, now just hold on a sec, Raymond. The idea is okay, I mean, okay it's not bad. You know? But all I know about gangs is they keep shooting up other guys – other dudes, right? It's on TV and in the papers every day, all the teenage violence, and you know the same I know about it, so we don't have to argue.”
“I never said shooting, Mark, I only said a gang, right?”
“Right, Ray. You didn't say. But here's why it's a real downer for me. The whole deal. You know, with my old man up for indictment on that bribery charge with that guy on the City Council, that's all I need now is to bring more dishonor to his name, his own kid running around, doing a gang, shooting up people.”
The Chandler boy came closer. “Now, hold on, Mark. I never said nothing about shooting people. Okay? All I said was we could have a blast. Rumbling around in the car, your car or mine, or we borrow one. We can do the deal without the shooting. I'm not so hot on that part, either, tell the truth. Besides, where would we get the guns?”
“Oh, that's no problem. My old man's got a couple. For protection, self-defense, you know?”
“Yeah? Like what kind?”
“There' a Smith and Wesson, six-shot, and also he's got this Colt five-shot. Both thirty-eight caliber.”
“No kidding? I wonder if my old man has a couple too, stashed away he never told me about. I'd sure like to see those, Mark. Is that possible, you think?”
“That's no big problem. I know where he keeps them. But getting back to the gang idea, were you thinking just us two, or maybe some other kids we know?”
“Well, yeah, in a way. There's Julie. You know him.”
“Big Julie? That big guy with the funny laugh, you mean?”
“Yeah, him. He's a pretty good fighter, in case we ever need one. I mean, he likes to fight. I don't mind if I really have to, I guess, but Julie, boy, he really gets a charge out of hitting and getting hit.”
“Well, yeah, I see your point on him, but the trouble is, I don't like Julie. I caught him a few times messing around, trying to make out with my kid sister, and Pete's sake, what does she know?”
“Yeah, Leona's kind of young, isn't she?”
“Well, you know, twelve or so. Like that. That's too young, right, for this Julie to be --”
“Yeah, sure, Mark. Okay, so screw him. We can think of another guy.”
“How about Bernie?”
“Yeah. He's good size. I don't know if he can fight.”
“Sorry, Mark. Bernie's out, far as I'm concerned. He talks too much. So what if he rats on us and lets the world know we're doing a gang? It's got to be a secret thing, right?”
“Yeah, right. Okay, forget I mentioned him. Who else?”
“Jeez, you know I can't think up anybody else right now.”
“How about Charles Baker? You know, the one on Rodeo?”
“Him? That jerk? He once borrowed twenty bucks from me, and never gave it back. Then he says he remembers he paid me. That creep? No way, Mark. Sorry. Do another one.”
Mark sat blowing his cheeks, lips pursed, thinking, shaking his head, tapping his fingers, as if counting. “Hey, that's wild,” he said. “Here we want to do a gang and we can't even think of anybody else but us.”
“Well, heck, there's no rush. Maybe tomorrow we'll come up with a couple guys we like.”
“Yeah, that's a good idea, Ray. Not to jump right off into it. Good idea. We'll think about it. After all, if we do it, we want to do it right, you agree?”
“Well, sure. Why screw up right at the start?”
Mark nodded. He got up rubbing his hands. “Okay, I think it's great we agree, so far. You still want to see the guns?”
“Sure do, if you think --”
“No sweat. Wait here, Ray. I'll bring them out.”
“Okay, you think you can. You want, I'll come in.”
“No, better wait here. My folks are out but maybe the kid sister's home. I don't want her saying she saw us both in there, just in case.”
Ray Chandler stepped back, waving his hands. “Okay, sure.”
The Berry boy walked away and entered his house through the side terrace door. He went quickly to his father's bedroom. He heard his sister upstairs talking on the phone, her stereo playing loudly. “That you, Mark?” she called.
“Yeah. When did you get home?”
“I've been home for hours. I was here when you and Ray got here. You two guys going swimming?”
“No way. It's too cold.”
He remembered seeing the guns in his father's dresser, the top drawer. He was surprised to see only one, the larger Smith and Wesson. He took it out and went through the other drawers without success. Well, maybe he's got it under his pillow now, he thought. He checked the pillows, and then the small drawer of the night table. He stood there a moment, frowning. With his sister so close, he didn't want to take the chance of her coming down unexpectedly, finding him in their parents' room, going through their dressers.
“Screw it,” he said. “So I'll show him just the one.”
He brought it out to the terrace, holding it carefully. It was heavy, the dull silvery metal gleaming in the sunlight. He handed it to his friend, pressing it on Raymond's hand.
“I thought you said there were two,” Raymond said.
“All I could find was this one, the Smith and Wesson. The other's around someplace but anyway, this will give you the idea what a real gun feels like, right?”
The terrace door opened, and his younger sister came out. “Mark,” she said. “What are you doing with daddy's gun?”
“It's okay, Leona,” Mark said. “Raymond wanted to see it. Just don't tell pop, okay?”
She nodded. “Okay.” Her hand came up. “Were you looking for this one?”
Her brother stared. “Hey, she's got the Colt. Be careful with that thing, Leona. It might be loaded.”
Leona looked down at the dark short-muzzled pistol in her small hand. “You think so?”
The boys watched transfixed as she lifted her arm slowly. She leveled the gun at arms-length out toward them. Her finger was inside the trigger guard. “Hey, watch it, Leona,” the Chandler boy said nervously.
She smiled thinly, and aimed the gun at him. “Kiss the world goodbye, Raymond. You're dead. Pow!”
Her finger tightened and her hand shook. The sound was like thunder on a still day. Raymond staggered back, his arms flung in the air. He coughed, looking at her dumbly. His lips moved and his eyes became suddenly red.
“Hey, Leona, that hurt, you know?” He fell slowly backward.
Mark Berry dropped to his knees, his face white. He looked at the dark crimson hole in the center of Raymond's white shirt. There was a lot of blood, and soon more welled, pulsing brightly.
His voice shook as he shouted at his sister. “You know what? You killed him.” He shook his friend who lay there. “Hey, come on Raymond. You okay? Honest, she didn't mean it.” He looked unbelievingly at the blood on his hand. His voice was a high-pitched scream, as he turned to his sister. “I told you it was loaded, you little, stupid dope. Why don't you listen sometimes? Now look what you did.”
Leona walked across the stone terrace toward him. She was a slight, small girl, looking younger than her years. Her face was tan, her brown eyes bright and sparkling. “I knew it was loaded, you dope. Why do you think I shot him?”
Her brother looked at her, frowning. “What do you mean?”
“I mean,” she said, speaking firmly and quite distinctly, “I always wanted to shoot one of these dumb things. And I especially wanted to shoot Raymond Chandler. You know why?” And as her brother shook his head mutely, his head whirling, unable to utter a word, she continued, “Because he was a real stupid jerk, you know that? I've asked him probably at least a million times to make out with me, and all he did was keep on telling me to go away, to get lost, I was too young.”
Mark Berry stayed on his knees, feeling cold. He put his hand on his friend's forehead, and shivered. “Honest, Ray, she never meant to do that. She wouldn't do a thing like that to you in a million years.” His voice broke and he began sobbing.
The girl came closer, the gun dangling at her side. Her thin brown legs were near his shoulder and he looked up to see the gun in her hand circling toward him.
“Hey, Mark,” she said softly, seductively. “I got a great idea. How about you and me doing a gang?”
Thank you to Christopher Platt for allowing me to post this never-before-published story by Kin Platt. For more news on Kin Platt, please join the discussion on Facebook.