Part Three: New Year's Eve, 1983
It’s 20 degrees Fahrenheit at 11 PM. Occasionally snow drifts down out of the sky, depositing itself unceremoniously on cars, sidewalks, roofs, trash cans, awnings, and the homeless. The snow has been intermittent throughout the day, so it doesn’t stick to the streets. The sidewalks are slippery—the snow that fell there has been ground down to thin sheets of ice, almost invisible on the concrete, and it’s not uncommon to see people randomly grabbing at trees, benches, mailboxes, and handrails in an attempt to keep from falling over backward. Of course, most people aren’t on the sidewalks in Times Square: they’re in the street. It’s New Year’s Eve, it’s Saturday night, they’re outside, they’re drunk, and they’re waiting for the ball to drop.
The scene at the East Village—specifically, the part that everyone calls “Little Dresden”—is a little different. It’s called Little Dresden because it has so many burnt-out and abandoned buildings, sort of a mini-wasteland in the middle of the city. It’s not a friendly neighborhood. The ruins of Little Dresden are mostly abandoned by their owners, but they’re all claimed by someone, in some capacity. Squats, crack houses, hideouts, party spots, havens for runaways, they can all be found here. And tonight, most of them are full of people trying to keep out of the wind. Trash cans full of trash are lit, people huddle around the fires, and everyone seems on edge.
Except in the club.
8BC is located on Eighth Street, between Avenues B and C. It opened in October, and has hosted all manner of mayhem since. Bands play frequently, but they do other kinds of shows as well: performance art and experimental theater are as common as punk bands. It’s not terribly warm inside—the heat isn’t always reliable—but it’s better than you’d think, because it’s full of people, and most of those people are drinking. The walls stop the wind, the people radiate heat, and the club is infinitely preferable to the weather outside.
Also, CB thinks, the band is seriously kicking ass.
Sin has been going on and on about a band, Indestroy, for weeks. He has a bootleg demo tape that he plays constantly, and CB has to admit they sound good. They’re loud, they’re angry, and they’re pretty shamelessly political. Their singer has a lot of charisma and a lot of energy, their guitarists are tight, their drummer is always on—it’s a great sound.
CB, Sin and Billy are sitting at a table decorated (as always) with a kitschy chipmunk table lamp. CB and Sin are gasping from exhaustion. They aren’t fifteen any more. Moshing is getting harder to do for any length of time.
“Let’s go in again,” Billy urges, grinning.
Billy seems impervious to exhaustion. He’s managed to turn into a proper bruiser over the years, with a physique that makes him look like a big, white-haired Conan the Barbarian. Some nights he works as a bouncer for the club, but tonight he’s hanging out with his friends.
“God,” CB says, “no.” He fumbles for his trenchcoat, thrown over the back of his chair, reaches into its pocket and gets out a pack of cigarettes. He offers one to Sin, who takes it wordlessly, and then puts one in his own mouth. As he lights up, he watches the singer appreciatively. The guy really knows how to sell his music. CB wishes he could do something like that.
It’s a small club. The official occupancy is two hundred. Unofficially, it’s possible to squeeze more people in. It’s pretty crowded tonight. The stage is huge, especially for a club this small. When the place was being built one of the owners had dreams of it being a proper theater. He changed his mind, eventually, but he kept the stage. The floors are covered in dirt, and there are live chickens pecking about, for some reason no one has ever been able to explain. Dozens of inflatable Ronald Reagan dolls line up against one wall; on another is a painting of Greek women, struggling to hold up the side of a building as if they were the columns, while wolves tear at their feet.
CB likes that painting. It’s called “Civilization Teeters.”
“Come on,” Billy urges. “This is a great song. Get in the pit.”
“Damn it Billy, I’m tired,” CB says. “What kind of drugs are you on tonight?”
Billy grins wider. “I’m just glad I’m not working tonight. Sin was right, this band is awesome.”
CB nods in agreement.
“Also,” Billy adds, “you bums would be in a lot better shape if you weren’t smoking all the time.”
CB flicks his ash in Billy’s direction. Billy laughs. “Come on! It only turns 1984 once. Get in the pit for Big Brother!”
Six years ago Billy’s enthusiasm would have driven CB crazy. Now it’s fun. “All right,” he says. “But, for the record, you are a rat bastard and I hate you very much.”
“Save it for the pit, girlie,” Billy says cheerfully. He makes his way back to the stage.
CB looks over at Sin. “Coming?”
“Hell no,” Sin says. “I’m going to drink Billy’s beer. Yours too, if you’re going to be stupid.”
CB laughs. “You owe me a beer. Asshole.” With that, he launches himself out of his chair, and with a new burst of energy throws himself back into the crowd.
Music and elbows, music and elbows… CB spends the next few songs getting friendly concussions from his fellow man. After the third song CB has definitely had it; his head is throbbing from being knocked around, and his lungs are burning from the exertion of it all. He makes his way back to the table, where Sin is talking to a pretty girl he recognizes from somewhere. He collapses into his chair and fishes for a cigarette in his trenchcoat pocket. He can’t find anything.
Sin looks over at him. “Oh, I smoked the last one. And I drank your beer. Sorry.”
Sin is trying very hard not to smile.
CB laughs between gasping breaths. “You… son of a…”
“You know Annie?” Sin cuts in, gesturing to his left.
Annie has hair almost as white as Billy’s, cut very short. She doesn’t wear any makeup, but she is very pretty. CB waves, not quite in her general direction, as he stares semi-sightlessly at the ceiling. “Hey. I think I’ve seen you around…”
“I think you’re out of shape,” she says.
Billy makes his way back, takes one look at the table, and announces, “Sin, you son of a bitch, you drank my beer.” He goes over to the bar, buys four, and brings them back, one for each of them. “I don’t know you,” he says to Annie, “but you get one anyway.”
“LADIES AND GENTLEMEN!” The singer for Indestroy is screaming into his microphone. “IF I MIGHT HAVE YOUR ATTENTION FOR A MOMENT I HAVE IT ON GOOD AUTHORITY THAT IT IS NOW NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR!”
Everyone cheers. CB raises his beer to toast the new year. Sin and Billy do the same. The band launches into another song, and the crowd responds with renewed vigor.
Sin whispers into Annie’s ear. She smiles slightly and stands, he follows suit. “Later guys.”
CB and Billy watch in amusement as they head out together. Billy shakes his head. “How does he do it?”
“He’s charming,” CB says. “I don’t know what that means, exactly, but I hear women like it.”
They lapse into silence and watch the band.
Another year gone, another year ahead. Four more years of the Gipper, four more years of Just Say No, four more years of Yuppies and the Moral Majority and Voodoo Economics and the Cold War and Nuclear Armageddon on the horizon and now, on top of all that, it’s the year of Big Brother.
CB looks up to see Billy peering at him over his beer.
“You’re brooding again,” Billy says.
CB gives him a half-smile. “Blame the beer,” he says. “I think maybe I—“
A slim hand falls on his shoulder. CB turns in his chair and sees Annie standing in front of him, swaying unsteadily.
Her eyes are glazed and unfocused. She’s trying to speak, but she isn’t saying anything coherent. CB notices her lip is bloody, and there’s a bruise on her cheek that is rapidly turning purple.
Billy is around the table in a second. “Hey, are you OK? You look hurt. Where’s Sin?”
Annie looks over her shoulder at nothing. Her lips are still moving, but she isn’t talking.
“Hey Billy, what’s up?” one of the bartenders calls over.
“She’s hurt,” Billy says. “She left with Sin and I think something happened—”
Annie’s eyes clear for a moment, and she focuses her gaze on CB. “Sin is in trouble,” she says. “It’s the NAA.”
Seconds later CB and Billy are running out the door and down the street.
There are many different kinds of skinheads in the world. Not all are racist, and even a lot of the ones that claim to be are usually just bullies who use race as their excuse. But the New Aryan Army is bad news: they go beyond bullies and dive deep into scary territory. They mean business. They train for what they believe is an inevitable war of racial cleansing. They terrorize blacks, Jews, and anyone else who doesn’t have white skin—and even then, if you don’t have blond hair there’s a 50/50 chance they’ll go after you because you’re “mixed.” They’re vicious animals, and they kill people.
Sin is a Korean who was walking with a white woman alone at night.
CB and Billy round a corner and see Sin’s car parked on the curb. The passenger door is ajar, the overhead light is on. Sin isn’t there.
“Sin? Sin!” CB’s voice echoes off the gutted buildings. There’s no response. He didn’t expect there to be, but he hoped…
“Be quiet a second,” Billy whispers. “Listen.”
CB shuts his mouth and listens carefully. Very faintly he hears a repetitive thud, followed by a breathless grunt, followed by mocking laughter.
“This way!” Billy runs off past the car, and darts down along one of the abandoned buildings. CB follows him, breathing hard.
Billy turns around to the back of the house and stops short; CB almost runs into him.
Four neo-Nazis wearing jeans, braces, flight jackets, and thick work boots with white laces are standing around Sin, sprawled out on the ground, retching and gasping for air. Blood streams from his nose and mouth. One eye is swollen. A thick boot kicks down hard into the back of his head, and he pitches forward, smashing into the concrete ground. He doesn’t move.
Billy yells, incoherent with rage, and throws himself at them. The four turn, looks of surprise on their faces. Surprise turns to confidence when they see it’s only one guy—then confidence turns to alarm when Billy hits the first neo-Nazi and the force of the blow actually lifts him off the ground.
CB hangs back, torn. He’s not much good in a fight. The last time he tried to help Billy, despite his best intentions, he actually wound up making things worse. Billy has tried, over the years, to teach him to fight, but for some reason he can’t get it. Billy complains he tries to fight “like a cartoon,” and that he’s always overextending his balance. The lessons never go well.
He considers running to get help, but he doesn’t want to. His friend is lying in a heap on the ground. Those bastards were trying to beat him to death. He’s not a coward, and he won’t run out on his friends, but he doesn’t want to screw this up for Billy… so he waits.
It isn’t a kung-fu movie, where each attacker waits his turn. They all jump on Billy at the same time, and they move like they’ve done this before. As Billy knocks the first guy to the ground, the second tries to take Billy’s legs out from under him, the third tries to knock him down on his back, and the fourth just takes a swing. Billy knows what’s coming, but he can’t counter all of it, so he mitigates. He grabs the arm of the fourth skinhead, and as he falls over backward he takes the guy down with him. When the two left standing go in for the kick, one boot hits Billy in the side, but the other boot hits the fourth skinhead in the small of his back.
Still, Billy’s in a bad spot, and he won’t be able to get out of it on his own. CB takes a deep breath and runs straight at skinhead number two, shouting at the top of his lungs.
The skinhead looks up, startled, just as CB crashes into him at full speed. It’s not a tactic that requires finesse to work, and they both go tumbling to the ground. The key to momentum is keeping it, so CB does everything he can to keep the skinhead down: hitting, biting, poking him in the eyes. It works for a while, but eventually the skinhead recovers enough to kick CB, hard, and suddenly he can’t breathe.
The kicks keep coming after that. CB twists and turns as best he can, trying to dodge the blows, and to his credit he probably keeps them from landing in the places that would hurt the most, but they keep hurting. One after another, to the point that CB is starting to feel a little numb. Something in the back of his head tells him that is not a good sign, but he can’t do much more than keep trying to roll, and dodge, and finally all he can do is curl up in a ball and wait for it to stop…
… and then it stops.
CB doesn’t understand it at first, but after a second he realizes that he’s not being kicked any more. He lifts his head up, and sees the blurry figure of Billy standing over him, panting heavily. Billy reaches down his hand. CB grabs it, and Billy hauls him to his feet.
CB yells in panic and pain as his ribs protest, but that’s all they do. He doesn’t think anything is broken.
“Not bad,” Billy says as he wipes blood off his face. “You weren’t totally useless.”
CB tries to grin. He thinks it probably looks more like a facial tic. “Notice how I distracted him,” he says between gasps. “Making him kick me all those times.”
“Yeah,” Billy says. “I noticed that. Can you walk?”
“We need to get Sin to a hospital. He’s in bad shape.”
CB nods again and stumbles over to Sin. He’s moaning softly, but can’t do much more than that.
“I’ll get him up, you put an arm around your shoulder, we’ll drag him to his car,” Billy says.
“OK,” CB says.
Billy drops to one knee and grabs Sin by one arm. “Hold on, man. We’re going to—“
“Well, well, well. What have we here?”
Billy lets go of Sin, stands, and turns around. CB turns as well, then his blood turns to ice.
Nine. There’s no way they can fight nine.
The leader stands in the middle. He’s dressed like the others—jeans, boots, braces, a white t-shirt—but he’s not wearing a jacket, and he doesn’t seem the least bit cold. He’s massively built. CB thinks he’s bigger than Billy.
“See fellas, this is a perfect example of how dirtied the white race has become.” The leader talks easily, casually. His eyes are sharp and cold. “These two are trying to help their friend, there. You see that? They’re actually friends.”
The man steps forward. Billy and CB tense, ready to fight, but the man actually turns his back on them and starts to lecture his own people.
“But you can’t be friends with an animal,” he says. “Not in the same way you’re friends with another man. Oh, sure, you can say dogs are man’s best friend, but that’s the other way. Dogs are our friends. We love them, but they’re dogs. We don’t think they’re people. We don’t think they’re equal. If a man came up to me and told me his dog was a person, I’d think he was crazy. And so would you.”
Billy coughs nervously. Sin moans.
“The problem with lowering yourself like this—well, where do I start? But the main problem is that it makes you weak. It diminishes you. It makes you sick, in body and in mind.”
CB notices that Sin is starting to twitch involuntarily. “Billy,” he hisses, and then notices that Billy is sweating profusely.
“They’re like cancer,” the leader says. “They fool you into thinking you’re like them. They get you to treat them just like you… and then you get weak. And then you fall.”
Billy’s eyes roll back, his head tilts up, and he collapses to the ground.
“Billy!” CB kneels over him, ignoring the skinheads for a moment, and places his hand on Billy’s forehead. Billy is consumed by a fever. Sin starts twitching more noticeably, and the sweat on his forehead glistens in the night.
CB looks up at the leader. “Cut it out.”
The leader turns around and looks at CB, a strange expression on his face.
“I mean it,” CB says. “Whatever you’re doing. Stop it now.”
“No,” the leader says. “I won’t. I can’t. Purity doesn’t hesitate, and it doesn’t step back. It only marches on…”
CB gets to his feet. He feels pressure building in his head. It’s rage—pure, seething rage. And it’s mixed with something else. Something he doesn’t quite understand.
The leader reaches for something behind him and pulls out a gun. CB doesn’t know what type it is—it’s not a revolver, but that’s about as far as his experience with guns goes.
“But I can be merciful,” the leader says. “Just because something’s an animal, that doesn’t mean it deserves to suffer.”
“No,” CB says.
The leader points the gun at Sin. “Sometimes the only white thing to do is to put an animal out of its misery.”
All of a sudden CB feels the world come crashing down on him—the full force of everything in the world, all the pieces of it, whirling around him in incomprehensible patterns. And then, a moment later, everything clicks. All the pieces fall to the ground and he knows that he can grab them and move them anywhere he wants. He can see the gun, he can feel the trajectory the bullet will take as it exits the muzzle, he knows where it will enter Sin’s body, where it will exit. He knows what will happen if he doesn’t stop it, and more important, he knows that he can stop it.
In an instant, he feels like the most powerful man on earth. It’s liberating.
“I said no,” CB says… then he winks. Somewhere, off in the distance, something makes a soft popping sound. Then the skinhead leader pulls the trigger, and the gun makes a sound it’s not supposed to make—a grinding, grating noise—and nothing happens. The gun jams.
And then CB moves.
He runs toward the leader with a yell. The leader’s eyes widen in surprise, and he takes a step back, preparing to meet CB head on. But CB stops, changes direction, and throws an elbow into one of the other skinheads. Elbow to neck—the only thing that skinhead will do is gag and claw at his throat for the next several minutes.
And then there are eight.
The suddenness of his attack catches everyone off guard. The leader recovers fastest, realizes what’s going on, and immediately charges into the fray, but the other skinheads were expecting CB to go after their leader and still can’t understand why he didn’t. This gives CB time. One fist, one kick, a second elbow—all to soft spots, all dirty shots, three more incapacitations.
And then there are five.
The leader closes on him then, and hits CB in the face, hard. Stars explode, and CB staggers back. He tastes blood. But he keeps his wits about him, and when the leader follows up with a left, CB grabs the arm with both hands, and falls backward, pulling the leader along with him. Before the leader can fall on him, CB’s foot buries into his stomach, and as he rolls back he kicks up—and the leader goes flying over him, just like Shatner used to do in all those old Star Trek shows. CB vaguely remembers attempting that when Billy was trying to teach him.
Billy told him that would never, ever work.
The leader snarls and climbs to his feet, but CB ignores him for the moment. The skinheads are now even more confused—they apparently find it inconceivable that anyone would be able to lay a finger on their boss. Three more dirty blows, three more incapacitated skinheads, and when the last man standing comes to his senses, he runs away.
CB turns just in time to see the leader’s right hook, but not in enough time to dodge out of the way. He staggers back again, stunned, and this time can’t counter the left. He trips over his feet and falls to the ground. The leader stands over him, furious.
“Why didn’t you get sick?” The leader spits out the question, voice dripping with rage. And then, a moment later, Billy hits him in the back of the head with a brick.
The leader crumples to the ground.
Billy helps CB up again. He looks at CB strangely. “You… did a lot better, that time around.”
“Yeah,” CB says. “I know.”
“What the hell happened?”
CB shrugs. “How do you feel?”
“I felt like shit,” Billy says. “Like my insides were on fire. Until you started fighting him, then it went away.”
“Good,” CB says. “Let’s get Sin to that doctor.”
Billy nods. Together they lift Sin up, throw his arms around their shoulders, and drag him off to his car.