Barry Eichorn was a real American badass. Not one of those self-conscious pricks with two hundred dollar shades and a tribal tattoo. He wore a shotgun like others wear Kenneth Cole or Eddie Bauer. He had the face of James Dean, the hands of Marvin Hagler and the soul of Al Capone. Barry ran a crew called The Misfits, like the band, or Barry’s Misfits. They were neither Bikers nor Mafiosi. In Rosewater they didn’t need to be. Being breakneck criminals was enough for the terrified residents. They could barely be called organized crime. They fought in bars, raised hell in town, committed occasional stickups and got together at night at The Devil’s Shinbone to party and tell stories of each other’s exploits. The story goes that Barry is buried there.
The only killer elusive enough to slice through Barry’s guard was heroin. All it took was one taste in Chicago during a memorable two-day city run for it to piggyback him like an evil twin. Overnight, he went from rebel to slave, started sticking up more local stores at random, sometimes on his own, in order to please his newfound God. Barry Eichorn spent twenty-two years building his legend, and less than six months flushing it down the toilet. One night, crew members found him dead with a syringe in his arm at The Devil’s Shinbone, so they buried him on the spot, without ceremony. Heroin robbed Rosewater of its Great American Criminal.
“Why is it called The Devil’s Shinbone again?” asked Lou.
Steve sighed. “Because there’s this tall rock in front of the cave. I guess it looks like a shinbone or something. I don’t know. I’ve never been myself.”
“It’s a silly name. I mean, why shinbone? If it’s a long, tubular rock, why not call it The Devil’s Dick or Satan’s Cock? I don’t know, man. Anything but shinbone.”
“Why are we doing this again?” asked Danny.
They had been driving for an hour in Danny’s car. A dying 1974 El Camino his uncle sold him for $400. It didn’t matter to Danny who drove it with the pride of a warship captain. Steve and Lou had been his loyal sailors because they always had. Even before he had a car, they were at his side. Steve came up with the plans, Lou with the logistical questions and Danny with all the answers. They were a tight-knit unit; Misfits of their own.
“Because it’s fucking Halloween, Lou. What else are we gonna do? Trick or treat? We’ve been dicking around all night, might as well do something productive.”
“Tell me again, why digging up a guy’s skull is productive?” asked Lou.
“That’s the problem with you guys. You lack vision. If we own Barry Eichorn, we own this fucking town. We’re going to be legends, get mad pussy and have everybody in Rosewater talk about us for years to come. How’s that for a risk-reward ratio, Mr. Voice-of-Reason?”
“Don’t call me that,” said Lou.
“Yeah, man. You’re like that little angel, standing on my shoulder saying ‘That girl may have gonorrhoea Stephen. You may want to think this over again.’”
“I like it,” said Danny. “I know where The Devil’s Shinbone is. I passed by there with my father a few times. Let’s do this. It ought to be something else, right?”
They were those kids. Brash, bright-eyed and unfit for whatever Rosewater could offer them. They wore Slayer and Type O Negative t-shirts to freak their neighbors out, and it worked. In a bigger city, they would have been considered normal youth, but in Rosewater normal was an image more than a concept. Danny, Steve and Lou lived in dysfunctional symbiosis with their hometown. They enjoyed not fitting; it gave them a sense of purpose. They were harmless bogeymen to a population that enjoyed being afraid of anything different.
The Devil’s Shinbone was a fine oddity in the Illinois landscape, nothing devilish about it: a pond, a small waterfall that flowed in two narrow streaks. That’s it. More like Jesus’ Hipbone, really. There was indeed a phallus-looking rock, standing tall in the middle of the pond for no apparent reason. It stuck out like a middle finger. It was situated in a small grove, about five kilometers outside of town and three hundred feet from the road. Nobody came around there anymore since poachers sucked the life out of those woods, and even that was years before Barry Eichorn’s heyday.
In the stories Steve heard, the cave where The Misfits parties happened was behind the waterfall. Something was blocking the entrance, or rather someone.
A girl, whether she was a woman was debatable, but one thing was sure. You didn’t need all that moonlight to see she was drop-dead gorgeous; a perfect ten, A-Bomb. Dark fell on both sides of her face with loose curls like whirlpools in a midnight sea. She had a large forehead, a jutting chin, pulpous lips and her eyes were the color of the sky behind. She had a bandana for a headband and wore a leather jacket. To Steve, she was the perfect vision of beauty and to Danny and Lou, she was pretty damn close. In her right hand, she held a forty ounce of Jack Daniels and in her left, a gun, which at the moment happened to be pointing at them.
“Who the fuck are you?”
The question was legitimate, but Danny’s answer escaped his mouth before he could think. It happened sometimes. “Well, who the fuck are you?”
She took a swig of Jack Daniels and smiled. Steve got weak in the knees. “I’m holding the gun, cocksuckers. That means you answer first.”
“Please, calm down. We’re just kids,” said Danny, “It’s Halloween and we had nothing to do, so we decided to check out Barry Eichorn’s tomb, you know? We figured it’d be cool.”
“You should leave him alone,” she said.
Lou’s sister went to high school with Barry. He was two years older than her, so they never really hung out, but she told him stories of Handsome Barry, every night: fed his fantasies of rebellion, chaos and muscle cars. She could talk about him all evening, sometimes. Barry died at twenty-two and that girl looked to be about the right age.
“Did you…know him?” he asked.
She scoffed. “Huh, yeah.” She held out her hand and fondled a ring, the kind that respectable women wore; mothers, with engineer husbands and a minivan in their driveway.
She turned the gun to Lou, and her jacket fell from her shoulder. She had a tattoo that started on her shoulder and disappeared into her sleeve. Lou saw it, or at least part of it. It wasn’t flowers or faeries or whatever else girls get inked when they have a full sleeve done. Lou had a weak spot for tattooed girls, often checked them out on the internet. On her shoulder peeked a red, demonic face, peeling its skin off with claws.
“We’re just kids looking for a scare, ma’am. For some stories to tell our friends on Monday,” said Lou, “Do you have stories you could tell us?”
The lines of her face grew smoother. “What are your names, young men? I don’t even know your names.”
“I’m Lou. These two are Danny and Steve. We’re childhood friends. We didn’t mean to interrupt anything, I’m sorry if-”
“Nice to meet you, boys. I’m Henrietta. I know it’s a stupid name, but you can call me Ree. That’s how Baby used to call me.”
“Baby?” asked Steve.
“Yeah, Barry. You know, the reason you came all the way here? Let me show you where he’s buried.”
None of the boys had ever seen her before. Rosewater was a small town and hot chicks were like the Marines: the few, the proud. Teenagers knew every one of them, from Mrs. Galloway, Jarred’s Milf of a mom, to Bobbie Joe Patterson, who was fourteen years old and refused to date anybody under eighteen. Ree wasn’t from Rosewater, but it didn’t mean anything. Barry wasn’t exactly a stay-at-home boy. The Greater Illinois Region was his playground.
The boys walked behind Ree into a thicker patch of wood. The trees almost entirely absorbed the moonlight. She led them to a slight bump in the soil, where a two by four was planted in the middle. The initials B.E were written, one over the other, in thick, black marker ink.
“That’s it boys. That’s where my baby lies,” she said.
“Were you two dating for long, when Barry passed away?” asked Lou.
“I don’t know, I forget. Time’s not important when you’re happy, right? When you’re loved,” said Ree, before taking another swig. She burped and wiped the whiskey from her chin.
“I suppose so,” said Lou.
The boys looked at each other, silently daring one another to tell her. Ree was a beautiful woman, someone they could only dream about. Anybody right in their mind, anybody normal would slip a ring on her finger in a hurry, demon tattoos or no demon tattoos. Not Barry though. He went through the most gorgeous girl like lonely men went through boxes of Kleenex. He never belonged to a single woman. Ree’s dreamy gaze sang another song, though.
“I thought Barry was a player. I seen him with different girls every week. For years,” said Steve.
Ree turned around, hellfire tearing her face apart. She jammed the gun in Steve’s chest and barked. “What do you know about him, huh? Did you ever talk to him? Did he ever hold you in his arms or make love to you? Did he?” Her voice never cracked, just grew gradually louder.
“No, ma’am. I’m sorry we came here and caused you grief. It was very inconsiderate of us. It was a mistake.”
“Sit down. All of you.”
“You wanted to hear about my Barry, right? So I’m gonna tell you, but you need to sit around the bonfire like the good little boy scouts you are.”
“Ree, we’re not gonna sit down,” said Danny.
She fired a shot right over his head and lit up the night. Lou thought he should make a run for it, but fear kept him cemented in the soil. Fear made you do strange things. Bark rained on top of Danny’s head; a lot. This was a big toy.
“This was Barry’s gun, you know? He was nuts about it. He called this thing The Grim Reaper, so I suggest you boys be very quiet and obedient, because I’m not really sure how it works.”
Even Steve got the cue and sat down. The ground was moist. They sat in a semi-circle around Ree. To an outsider’s eye, it almost looked like a black mass or another sort of occult ceremony.
“All of you have no idea what it is to be loved; really loved. You probably think your moms and your dads really love you, but let’s be serious. They had you because they didn’t know what else to do. They got married, they bought a house together and what else were they gonna do? Most children are born out of boredom and crumbling weddings; Little Baby Saviors. I’m no different and neither are you. Barry didn’t think like that. He was different. He never ran out of life.”
“Where did you meet him?” asked Lou. For a moment, his question hung there, unanswered. Ree gazed at the stars, the barrel of her gun resting on her lower lip, thinking.
“In Cook County, Chicago. I used to work there. I was a cook in a shitty, comfort food joint. Made mac n’ cheese all day and meatball spaghettis also.”
“So he was a regular?”
“Of course not. What is this? A trick question? Do you think I’m making up a shitty, cliché romance?”
She pointed the gun at Lou’s head. The two other boys cast their gaze downward at the soil in front of them. Danny noticed Ree was wearing high heels.
“No, I’m sorry,” said Lou.
“The regulars in that joint were animals. Fat, shapeless, stinking animals or weirdos in their forties, living with their moms. Christ, they were a nightmare. ‘ Sit on my lap, Ree, c’mon’, ‘With a body like yours, you should be stripping’, ‘Why don’t you serve us food in those booty shorts, like the girls across the street’. Goddammit, I was a cook, not a waitress.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” says Lou
“Shut up. You stop hearing them after a while. The loverboys were a lot worse. Those loons who fell in love, who thought that because they loved me, I should love them back.”
She raised her tank top and walked up to Lou, stopped at an inch of his face. It was the closest he’s ever been to female bare skin. Ree had a scar starting at her hip that disappeared into her pants, an inch past the bellybutton. “They were the real danger. There was Larry and John, too. They hurt me. They said I wasn’t who I should be, that a beautiful girl like me shouldn’t be such a spiteful dyke.”
“What about Barry?” said Danny.
Ree sighed and continued. “I started seeing him one day. He sat at the far left booth, always alone. He was quiet. Minded his business and looked into the kitchen once or twice. He smiled to me. It made me warm when he did. He left me messages in his plates, written on napkins or on table-mats. Simple things, ‘Looking forward to coming back’ or ‘It was delicious, why don’t we share next time?’ Then Larry came back and Barry stopped coming. The old boy brought me roses and chocolates and begged me to stop the restraining order. He was crying, believe it or not. The last time we’d met, I was the one left crying from his knife.
That night, I was closing the kitchen and Barry spoke to me, ‘Ree, Ree, are you there?’ It was him. Barry. ‘Come here, Ree. I have a surprise for you.’
Larry was in the alley, behind the restaurant, facing the brick wall, with his face swollen like a basketball, a gun pointed to his neck. All he could say was “Please Ree. Please, c’mon Ree. Please.”
“This is my gift to you, beautiful lady. I love you. Let’s start over, all right?”
Ree shot Steve in the face, point blank. Half the teenager’s face flew off and disappeared under a tree. His body hit the ground with a dull thud. He didn’t have time to beg for his life, to cry in pain or to utter any last words. His life was snatched away from him in a second. Danny turned around and bolted in the opposite direction. Ree shot him in the back, right under his neck. He kissed the soil in the same morbid, lifeless way as his friend.
“He kissed me and we rode on his motorcycle for so long. I wrapped my arms around his waist and closed my eyes. I thought it would last forever,” said Ree. Her eyes were in another world, seeing a reality that Lou couldn’t. “He told me at The Devil’s Shinbone only, we could be together all the time. That nobody would get in our way anymore. Not Larry, not mom, not the doctors and especially not you.”
“Ree, please. Let me go, I won’t tell anyone about Barry and you, I promise. He will remain your secret.”
She hit Lou on top of his skull with the butt of her weapon.
“I know Barry wasn’t perfect, but he was mine. These girls who said they’ve been with him, they don’t have a fucking clue. They don’t know what it is to be loved, the way Barry loved me. Do you believe he loved me, Lou?”
Lou couldn’t think straight. All he could think about was not fucking up. That if he lied, she would shoot him dead. “I think Barry could have loved someone like you, yes. But I think girls like you are more likely to love Barry than vice-versa. Barry Eichorn was a gangster, Ree. He liked to scare people and hurt them-”
“No, he didn’t,” barked Ree, pointing her gun at Lou’s head again.
“But there were so many stories about him. I don’t know which ones to believe anymore. Is he even buried here?”
“I don’t know,” said Ree, her voice choked up.
It was the last thing Lou heard before everything went dark.