SOME COLD WAR BLUES: A Short Story, Episode Seven

Frankie Ryan stayed with Jack and Peter, trying to prove that Andy was wrong about him, feebly lobbing snowballs over the parapet from a sitting position.

“Stop it,” Peter ordered Frankie, “you’re just wastin’ ammunition.”

Frankie jumped up to prove his mettle and got hit in the eye. He didn’t seem to have the sense to duck back down. Snowballs rained down on him. Soon he was wailing and utterly defenseless. A snowball smacked into the side of his face. He cried even harder.

“I’m gonna tell,” Frankie wailed at Peter.

“We didn’t do nothin’,” Peter said.

Peter and Jack watched Frankie shuffle off toward home, proving that Andy was right about him after all. Every few steps a snowball hit him in the back or head. The hoods kept taunting him, calling him a “pussy.” The way they said “pussy” almost made Jack shudder, and he guessed that Peter was feeling the same way, though he would never admit it.

Jack inched his head around the side of the fort and looked across the alley. Mike Davis was gone. He had probably waited until the hoods were preoccupied to their front, then, saying nothing, hightailed it, putting all the distance he could between himself and such bad company. Mike Gorski was gone, too. It was Peter and Jack against the three hoods and Tom Gorski. And Tom was almost a hood himself.

Peter took a stick and poked two eyeholes in the front wall so he and Jack could lie on their stomachs and see in front of them. Jack wondered whether the Alamo heroes had looked out like that at Santa Ana’s hordes.

“I’m cold,” Peter said.

Jack was cold too. His clothes were clotted with snow turning to ice. He was wet all over, especially his stocking hat and mittens.

“I gotta get home,” Peter said. “Come on.”

Jack said nothing, but there was no hesitation in him. He wasn’t going home. He was going to stay in the fort until they drove him out or gave up trying. He groped for a way to spare Peter’s feelings. One thing Peter would never forgive him for was being braver than Peter was.

“Come on,” Peter said again. “There’s more’a them an’ they’re bigger.”

“You go first,” Jack said. “I’ll cover ya and run on home right after ya. But don’ let ’em see ya leave.”

Peter considered Jack’s proposal for a few moments, making sure that it left him able to flee with his honor intact.

“Okay,” he said finally.

They heard Tom Gorski across the alley.

“Hey, pussies. Stand up ’n fight.”

“One more battle before ya go,” Jack said, and he and Peter jumped up and fired round after round, throwing and ducking, bending down to get more snowballs from the dwindling pile, throwing and ducking again.

“Make some more for me, will ya?” Jack said and Peter complied, and for the first time that day Jack was the leader, which nearly always happened when he and Peter were alone but almost never when they were with a group. As Peter knelt down to make more snowballs, Jack exchanged fire with Gorski and the hoods. A snowball hit him in the forehead, leaving a sear of pain, maybe a gash too. There had been a rock in the snowball. He was afraid, but he said nothing to Peter.

“That oughtta be enough, ought’nt it?” Peter said.

“That’s great,” Jack said. “Okay. Go behind the tank an’ up the terrace through the Hartigans’ yard. I don’ think they’ll see ya leave that way.”

“See ya later,” Peter said, and crawled on his hands and knees around the tank.

Jack failed to see Tom Gorski leave his fort and circle down behind the fieldstone wall, but he caught Tom climbing up the wall and drove Tom away while the hoods blasted away at him, hitting him with half a dozen snowballs. He turned and fought them furiously, alternately firing at the hoods and then at Tom as Tom ran back to the fort. But Gorski knew now that Jack was alone, which he would report to the hoods. It was only a matter of time before they would charge him.

By Max McBride
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