We met Brad in my driveway as he pulled his car in. Although he was in Chad’s class, he was a scrawny little guy who, like me, hadn’t yet gotten his growth spurt. Henry was younger than Brad, but he was considerably bigger. I had never liked Brad because he always tried so hard to impress other kids, especially sports stars. He loved football but was clearly not cut out for it, so he became the high school team manager and did all the grubby jobs in the locker room and on the field just so he could be with the players.
As soon as he got out of his car, he asked, “So, what’s this all about? What’s so important that I have to break up my day to come over here?”
Henry took the lead, saying, “We have something to show you upstairs in Max’s room.” Leading the way, with Brad and me following, he went into the house and up the stairs.
In my room, he gestured to the chair at the computer and said, “Sit down, Brad.”
“What, you got some horny video you wanna show me? I can get those any time I want.”
“No,” said Henry, “I think this will interest you more.” Leaning across Brad, he called up the images from the Sim card and scrolled through them until he found the one he wanted. He clicked on it and the picture came up, full screen. Although the picture was dim because of the poor light, there was a figure who was clearly Brad, standing with his arm around an unidentifiable girl and a beer bottle in his other hand.
“Holy shit!” cried Brad. “Where did you get that?”
Henry replied, “You know damn well where we got it, Brad. Now you’re gonna tell us the whole story.”
“I don’t have to say anything,” Brad said. “Yeah, that’s a picture of me, but it doesn’t show anything else.”
“There are other pictures,” Henry said. “Granted we can’t make them out because the light at The Cave isn’t very good, but I bet the cops have somebody who can enhance them.”
Silence. You could almost smell the wheels turning in Brad’s head. Finally he asked, “How do you know it was taken at The Cave.”
“We have our ways,” Henry replied. Of course, it was actually a guess, but he didn’t admit that.
“I’m not saying I’ll tell you anything, but what do you want to know?”
“Everything. Where The Cave is, why Chad was there, why you were there, what was going on, and who the older man is.”
That threw Brad for a minute. “What older man?”
“You know just what I’m talking about, and now you’re going to tell us all about it or the next hour will be very painful for you.”
Henry grabbed Brad’s ears and lifted him from the chair.
“Ow-w-w-w. Th-th-that hurts, Henry. Don’t you understand? I can’t tell you anything or my name’ll be mud and my life could be in danger.”
“Yeah, like Chad’s was, you miserable rodent.” Henry threw him on the bed, where he lay rubbing his ears, tears welling in his eyes.
“Next time I pick you up it’ll be by your balls. Do you want that?”
“No! No! No! PLEASE don’t do that!”
“Then tell us what we wanna know.”
“Oh shit. I am in so much trouble.”
“Yeah, you are, and it could get a lot worse if you don’t talk now.”
Brad rolled over, face up on the bed, and then hesitantly sat up. Henry and I sat on either side of him, pinning him in so he couldn’t suddenly take off.
“OK,” he began. “What do you know about The Cave?”
“Nothing,” I said, “except that some high school kids hang out there. We don’t have any idea where it is.”
“Well, in a way it began as a kinda joke, because it’s not a cave at all. It’s an old, deserted barn way back in the woods. I guess it was built when there used to be a farm there, but it hasn’t been used for years, and the trees have all grown up around it.”
Perhaps Brad thought he had told us enough, but Henry demanded, “Go on.”
“You have to park your car quite a ways away and walk in. I don’t think the cops even know where it is.”
“And what goes on there?” I asked.
“Mostly, we just hang out and drink and smoke. Some kids have sex but I’ve never gotten into that.”
He probably can’t get it up yet, I thought.
“So what was my brother doing there? Why would he go to a place like that? He didn’t smoke, he didn’t drink, and I doubt he had to go there to get all the sex he wanted.”
“I took him. I told him there was someone who was gonna be there who I wanted him to meet, but I didn’t tell him who. So he agreed to go. I guess he thought it was a kinda lark.”
“Who was there?” Henry asked. “Who was the man?”
“Do I hafta go on? Haven’t I told you enough?”
“Yah, you hafta go on, unless you want your balls crushed.” And with that, Henry reached down and grabbed Brad’s crotch.
“NO!” he screamed. “I’ll tell you everything you wanna know.” He paused for a minute. “I don’t know the guy’s name. He just tells us to call him The Boss, so that’s what we do.”
“And why was he there?” I asked.
“He sells drugs. And he gives you a discount if you bring somebody new to the group. That’s why I brought your brother. I was pretty sure Chad wouldn’t use drugs, but he was the only one I could think of to bring.”
“So let me get this straight,” said Henry, “You took Chad to The Cave just to get a discount on drugs, knowing that Chad wouldn’t approve? What kinda idiot are you?”
“A big one, I guess. I can see that now.”
“So what was the guy selling?”
“Weed and heroin, opioids, stuff like that. If you didn’t know how to use it, he showed you. He also sold needles and bongs. All the stuff you’d need.”
“And you bought?”
“Yeah. It was my third time. I loved the opioids. You don’t know it, but there’s a lot of pain in my life. Have you ever met my dad?” We shook our heads. “Well, he’s a goddam drunk, and when he’s been drinking he beats me. The opioids take away all the pain from my head as well as my body.”
I almost felt sorry for him, but we all knew we couldn’t stop now.
“OK,” Henry said. “So now we get to the important questions. Like, how did you know about Chad’s camera, and who did you tell?”
Brad said nothing until Henry began reaching down towards his crotch again.
“Oh, shit. OK. OK. On the way home from The Cave, Chad told me about the camera. I never saw it, except the pendant he was wearing, which I thought was just a piece of jewelry. But I thought it was really cool, so I told Billy Ingersoll about it the next day. I have no idea who he told, but the word must have eventually gotten to The Boss, because two days later Chad was dead.” Tears were coursing down his face. “I am so, so sorry. That’s what I was trying to say at your house after the funeral. I didn’t mean any harm. I just…just thought the camera was fun.”
“So,” Henry asked, “have you seen The Boss since?”
“No. Nobody has. He’s disappeared.”
“OK, Brad, here’s the deal. You are not going to tell anybody, and I mean, anybody, about this conversation. Do you understand?” Brad nodded. “If you do, I shall personally castrate you. Understand?” Brad nodded again. “Now get outta here and don’t show your ugly face in this house again, ever.” And with that he lifted Brad off the bed and shoved him towards the door.
We listened to Brad’s footsteps retreating down the stairs and watched from the window as he got in his car, tore out the driveway, and peeled off down the street. Then we saw a cruiser round the corner in hot pursuit with its blue lights flashing.
Watching it all, Henry and I had the best laugh we’d had since before Chad died.