Some Friends Never Go Away
Another tale from the early days in the 'hood
Frankie Firme ~ Contributing Editor
It was a clear, hot summer day in 1965 when Ernie, Nicky, and Frankie went out for a summer's day of playing and exploring in the large open field near their home in La Puente, California. They were best friends.
Published on LatinoLA: September 15, 2008
The field had once been part of a large farm and orchard that was bought, sub divided, and made into tract homes as large numbers of Chicanos were moved out of East Los Angeles to the San Gabriel Valley to make way for the new freeways. A large part remained that hadn't been developed, and it provided a swath of country in the middle of the new suburbs for the boys to play in.
Riding their bikes up and down the small hills and under and through neglected orange groves long abandoned , the boys were in their own world, chasing each other, throwing oranges at each other, hunting and catching lizards, all the while laughing and enjoying the last of their pre-teen years.
Coming up upon a small hill that had been partially bulldozed, they spotted a pile of rocks and gravel had been left on the top of the hill, and the boys soon found themselves throwing rocks in all directions, pretending to be big league baseball pitchers, yelling "strike 3 !" as they hit an intended target, or "bombs away!" as they threw large stones into a small pond at the bottom of the hill, causing large splashes .
In the midst of the rock throwing melee, Frankie saw something that caught his eye and began making his way down the small hill towards the pond when he heard Ernie & Nicky scream out in terror "Watch out!".
As Frankie turned to see what his friends were screaming about, he never saw the large stones the boys had heaved over their backs without looking.
One of them hit him square on top of his head, and Frankie's skull burst open as blood gushed out, and he fell face down in the mud of the pond, not moving.
Astonished and in shock, Ernie & Nicky stared at the growing red puddle for a minute before talking.
"See what you did?", Ernie asked in disbelief.
"Hey, you were throwing big rocks over you shoulder too, who said I did it?" Nicky replied.
After a brief exchange of blame, the boys got into a fist fight, hitting and slapping each other until they both fell into a fatigued heap, crying, and whimpering, and holding on to each other for comfort.
"Frankie was my best friend", Ernie cried.
"Hey, he was mine, too. If it was me, I didn't mean it. I wouldn't hurt Frankie or anybody else like that. If it was you, I know you'd feel the smae way " Nicky whimpered, trying to hold back his crying and catch his breath.
"What are we gonna do? I don't know if it was me" Ernie asked, "Don't they give guys the electric chair for murder?. He began to cry again.
"No, man. Now they give guys the gas chamber" Nicky replied, not able to hold back his crying anymore, "Or they give you life in prison, where the gangsters rape you and beat you up everyday".
They both spent the next hour crying and trying to rationalize what happened in a way that would absolve them of guilt and punishment. When they couldn't see a way out, they agreed to say nothing at all‘«™.and they buried Frankie at the bottom of the hill, covering the fresh dirt with rocks, tree branches, and debris. They hid his bike deep in the orchard up in a tree and left for home, each promising not to say anything‘«™
For the next 6 years, Ernie and Nicky rarely spoke to each other. They attended the same schools, but fell into different crowds. Nicky became a star athlete, excelling in baseball and basketball, while Ernie fell into the lowriding party crowd, hanging with the local gang. Both became popular in their respective circles, and they both enjoyed their teen aged years immensely without much problem, but always carried a cloud of guilt with them whenever they had an exceptionally good time...they always felt Frankie was missing out because of them.
They ran across each other occasionally at local parties and dances, or in different parts of the neighborhood like grocery stores and movie houses, but they rarely said more than a few words to each other. The sense of guilt & fear had widened the gap between them with each passing year .
Frankie had been listed as missing, then as a runaway. The police stopped looking for him after 6 months, and his family was left to grieve without an answer.
6 years had passed, and the disappearance of Frankie became a local neighborhood legend, as stories & rumors circulated about a boy on his bike riding through the field under the moonlight at night frightened kids from playing in the field after dark‘«™and made Nicky & Ernie feel even more guilty everytime somebody mentioned it.
For years they both endured nightmares and bouts of nausea & vomiting at night, but never admitted anything when asked what the matter was.
Stories about the Llorona competed with the little Chicano kid on his bike for local scary tales told by parents to keep their children indoors after dark.
The field began to get surveyed and explored by construction companies when Nicky and Ernie were seniors in high school. They began to feel intense pangs of guilt and fear...and they knew had to talk to each other sooner or later.
One night, Nicky woke up to what he thought was a young boy staring at him through his bedroom window. He yelled out "Who's out there?", and awakened his brother Paul, who slept in the bed next to him.
"What's the matter?" Paul asked, as he awoke to see Nicky looking out the window.
"Oh nothing‘«™I had a dream that some kid was looking at me through the window", Nicky replied, as he closed the window curtain.
Turning over to go back to sleep, Paul murmured ,"Oh yeah‘«™.I sometimes think I see that too‘«™weird dream, huh?".
Nicky was stunned‘«™.was he going crazy? Had somebody really been looking in the window?
Ernie was parked in his car making out with his girlfriend Pat late one night near the edge of town, when the moment led to the inevitable‘«™the moment he had been praying for‘«™
‘«™as he was undressing Pat and unbuckling his pants , he positioned her under him as he lay upon her, kissing and fondling her when Pat suddenly screamed out "What are you looking at you little pervert?", and she pushed Ernie off her, pulling her clothes back on.
"What happened?", Ernie asked in frustration.
"Didn't you see him? Some fucking little kid was peeking in the window looking at us!" Pat said, "He ran off, but it took all the fun out of it!"‘«™.
"Hey", she laughed, as she saw the disappointed look on Ernie's face, "maybe it was that ghost kid on the bike people talk about"‘«™
"Shut up", Ernie said, as he jumped over to the front seat, " I'm taking you home".
‘«™he didn't want her to see him shaking in fear as he started the car and drove off, leaving her in the back seat.
"Talk about a sore loser.." Pat laughed, as she stayed in the back seat and lit up a cigarette.
The next day, as if by divine intervention, both Ernie and Nicky went to the local hamburger stand, Giggy's, for the Saturday lunch special, and met as they walked in opposite doors.
"What are you doing here?", Ernie asked surprised.
"Same thing you are", Nicky replied, looking as surprised "having lunch".
"All American special?", Ernie asked.
"You got it,dude!", Nicky laughed, as he and Ernie smiled and high five'd each other like they did when they were friends.
" Double cheeseburger, chili cheese fries, and a shake", Ernie laughed.
"Yeah! Remember when it all used to cost just 40 cents?", Nicky said.
"Yeah‘«™.it was Frankie's favorite back then‘«™" Ernie said, getting somber.
" I'm hip‘«™all three of us used to ride our bikes up here, remember?", Nicky asked.
"Yeah‘«™"Ernie replied "You know, Nicky, we've both had some fun growing up these last few years‘«™.ever wonder what kind of kid Frankie would have turned out to be had he lived?".
"He would have been cooler than both of us, Ernie. Let's just leave it at that", Nicky said angrily.
"I don't think I can, Nick. I feel guilty everytime I enjoy something or have a good time that Frankie never lived to enjoy. Shit!...I couldn't even get laid last night , 'cause Pat saw some kid peeking in through the car window at us and she made a joke that it could have been the kid on the bike ghost‘«™really brought out the guilt in me. I can't sleep, I wake up sick & vomiting, and I've had nightmares for years‘«™and lately I feel like Frankie's coming around peeking in windows at me ever since they started working on that damn field again."
"I know what you mean", Nicky said with wide eyes, "Me too! Shit! I even have him looking in my bedroom window at night". Glancing around, he looked shocked at something that caught his eye.
Looking towards what Nicky was looking at, Ernie turned his head and stared in disbelief‘«™.
‘«™there stood Frankie's bike just outside the back door of the hamburger stand, a little rusted & dirty, but the whitewall tires, banana seat, siisy bar, and Batman decals left no doubt whose bike it was‘«™
Both boys quickly got up and ran towards the bike to inspect it‘«™it was Frankie's bike as they remembered it. They looked at each other in disbelief.
"Hey! What are you doing near my bike?", a young boy of about 12 years old said as he came out of the burger stand.
"Where did you get this bike?", Nicky demanded angrily.
"Hey‘«™.kick back & cool it, man. My brother works for a company that's clearing all the trees out in the old field. He was cutting down an old orange tree, and he found this bike in it‘«™and now it's mine!". The boy jumped on the bike and quickly rode off as Ernie & Nicky looked on in amazement.
"Damn! That freaked me out, dude." Ernie said.
"Dude! That was Frankie's bike. You know it was", Nicky said nervously.
"I'm hip‘«™hey man‘«™now you're freaking me out. I'm out of here", Ernie said as he hurriedly left.
Both boys exchanged guilty glances before parting without another word.
High School graduation came, and the boys never spoke to each other again. Nicky was suddenly gone from the neighborhood, and Ernie never saw him again.
About 9 months later, a detective came to Ernie's house asking for him, along with Frankie's and Nicky's parents. Nicky was not with them. When they all gathered along with Ernie's parents, Ernie broke down and began crying hysterically. "We didn't mean to do it‘«™we were all playing‘«™it was an accident! I'm sorry!", he couldn't contain himself any longer and he began to shake while crying. He felt his life was over, and he was going to prison.
"We all know that", the detective said calmly, "But where does the 'WE' come in? I just came to ask you to verify the story ".
"Huh?" Ernie said, as he stopped crying abruptly.
Reading a letter that Frankie's parents had brought, Ernie's mother began to cry as she said "You better read this, mijo".
The letter was from Nicky to his mother. In it, he stated he loved her, apologized for any trouble he had ever given her, and admitted that he had actually thrown the lethal stone that had killed Frankie 6 years earlier, but that he had never told Ernie this out of fear & guilt. He further asked that his mother inform Frankie's parents before informing police where Frankie's body could be found, and ask for forgiveness. He also asked that she also ask Ernie for forgiveness.
"That son of a bitch prick!", Ernie exclaimed, "Couldn't even be here to tell us in person! Where is that chicken shit little prick?" he demanded. "All these years I've been hurting and suffering! Where is he now?"
After a minute of silence, the detective solemnly said "I guess you didn't get the news yet, kid. Nicky's dead. He got his draft notice just after high school graduation and went into the Army. He was sent to Viet Nam 3 months later. He must have had some kind of death wish, because he volunteered for every dangerous mission in the jungle there was, and never even got a scratch. Then one day while in a bar in Saigon, Nicky's having a beer with around 10 to 15 G.I.'s when some kid runs in and throws a grenade in the middle of them. Without thinking twice, Nicky jumped on the grenade and wrapped himself up in a ball. The grenade exploded and he was instantly killed‘«™but he saved everybody in that bar. The letter you just read is the kind of letter every G.I. writes in a combat zone , putting it on the bottom of his duffle bag. It's only to be opened when a G.I. is killed, and his belongings are inventoried before being sent home. The inventory is started by turning the bag upside down and emptying the contents‘«™the letter on the bottom of the bag is found first‘«™."
The 2 coffins were buried together just a few plots apart. One of a 12 year old boy's remains‘«™the other that of a young brave soldier who had fallen in a combat zone very far away.
Ernie stood through the graveside services in stunned silence. The past week had been a blur, and the discovery of Frankie's body had made the headlines. It never mentioned what had actually happened to him, and Ernie was grateful for that.
He had decided it was best he left town‘«™so he had signed up and was to report to the Navy the very next week.
As he walked alone away from the gravesites, he thought he saw something out of the corner of his eye just up a small hill in the cemetery‘«™
‘«™squinting into the sun, it appeared to be 2 young boys on bikes waving goodbye to him just before riding off. Absentmindedly, Ernie smiled and waved back as the 2 figures faded off into the distance.
"Who you waving at?", Pat asked as she walked up behind him, putting her arm in his, and her head on his shoulder as they turned and began walking towards the car.
"Just a couple o friends", he said, as he felt a warm tear roll down his face‘«™..
Frankie Firme ~ Contributing Editor:
This is another tale from the upcoming book "When vatos Locos ruled the World" by Frankie Firme
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