I was standing outside my house on Normal Street, waiting in the cold of an autumn night after a rain. The roads were still slick and hissing with the passing of cars when Clean pulled up in his Impala. He had called. Told me he needed a friend. When I got in the passenger side of the car there was a hard-shell briefcase with a lock on it in the front seat. I grabbed it and sat down placing the case on my lap.
“What’s this?” I asked.
“It’s my Glock,” Clean said. “I need a favor.”
Clean was a staple at Steak and Shake during my nights with Danee and Rasha. He’d come in, loud and charismatic, and light the place up. He was hilarious, he was smart. He was everything you look for in a friend. And he was obsessed with the idea.
Friendship was his most die-hard topic. He wanted ride or die friends, not hanging out friends. He was only interested in being friends with someone if they would march into hell with him when he needed them to. He used to say this thing. Let me see if I can get it right.
“If I am with a friend and I get in a fight with six guys and my friend does not jump in to help, then I am in a fight with seven guys.” Clean said that line so many times it became clear to me that he was a guy I could count on.
I loved to get him talking about it. He talked about his one great friend, a preppy martial artist name Punch. Punch and Clean had been friends since they were kids. They could not remember a day when they were not tight, and Clean liked to talk a lot about how Punch had earned their friendship over and over again.
Reminded me of Cage. Reminded me of X. The great friends of my life that would have taken a bullet for me. Brought Billy’s speeches to mind. Get a few good friends that would take a blade for you, and that you would take a blade for. That is what you need.
Clean made me feel like that. He was a guy I was convinced would be there if I needed him. There was no doubt in my mind that, when the day came, when I was in trouble, Clean would be holding me up.
“What’s the gun for?” I said.
“I might need to shoot a guy tonight. I need your help to do it,” Clean said. “Well, Punch can’t do it because he has a girlfriend who is pregnant and—”
“So, who are we killing tonight?” Shadow said. He was pretty sure this was crap. Pretty sure that Clean was not going to kill anyone. But with the way things were going with Grasp and Rose, a kind of blatant disregard for life was filling us.
“There is a guy that works for my dad,” Clean said. “He is a hothead and an asshole. Dad says he carries a gun in his truck with him at all times. Well, Dad is firing this guy tonight and I am afraid he is going to lose his temper and kill my father. I want to at least be there with a gun if the guy tries to kill my dad.”
“And you need me, why?” Shadow said.
“To keep me company so I don’t lose my mind. I don’t know when my dad is firing this piece of shit, and I need a spotter.”
“In your mind, what does a spotter do?”
“I can’t stand in the parking lot with a gun. And I want to be parked across the street so we can get away fast if we need to. So, I need you to watch for a big guy coming out to his truck in a huff and see if he goes back in with a gun in his hand. If he does, you yell to me and—” Clean was shaking and sweating and freaking out, and I knew he was serious about this.
“Done,” Shadow said.
We sat in that car for hours. Clean kept opening the gun case and closing it. He kept looking up at the parking lot and talking. He was talking nervously. Trying to calm himself down, but failing miserably at it. He was talking and loading the gun and unloading it.
Then he saw his dad’s truck pull in and he perked up. “That was Dad.”
He looked at me terrified. “Could be any minute now. Can you see the big brown truck?”
“When the guy gets fired, he will come out to that truck,” Clean said.
I got out of the car and I stood at the entrance to the parking lot.
I started calling Clean after the drinking began. I would find myself in a neighborhood I didn’t know, and fall. I would crawl to a phone and call Clean. He would grumble and drive out to get me. I would cry and he would turn the music up. I would start babbling about kids and monsters and he would sing along to the music. He dropped me off at whatever place was close by, and would disappear again.
Once I called him drunk from my house and begged him to show up. I told him I needed him.
He found me on the floor hugging a knife and a bottle of Fighting Cock Bourbon. He took the knife and set it on the table. He tried to pick me up for a few seconds, then he left.
I watched a huge guy walk out of the factory where Clean’s dad worked, and go straight to the brown truck. The guy sat down and screamed at the steering wheel. Then, he blared Megadeth and screeched away.
No need for guns, spotters, or people to keep you company. The night was saved by the big guy’s good common sense and control of his temper.
But I had been there. He had needed me for a horrible shit moment in his life, and I had come through.
Clean started coming to Steak and Shake less and less frequently. He would not come to any event where he knew I might be and he stopped answering his phone when I would call him weeping.
There is a sub place called Quiznos. Go there, they have a chicken bacon ranch thing. Get it toasted. Anyway, there was one in town and me and Clean were at it one time when this guy walked in with two of his friends and his girlfriend.
Clean knew the girl from a class, so he said hi. The boyfriend and his two friends get an attitude. The girl grabs her boyfriend and pulls him to the door. He was easily one of the biggest men I have ever seen. The boyfriend gets to his truck, all the while arguing with his girl, and when he gets in the truck the vehicle comes to a screeching halt outside of the restaurant.
Clean gets up. “I’ll be back,” he says.
I took my glasses off, set them on the table and walked with Clean to the door.
Bunch of bluster from a jealous boyfriend amounts to nothing. But when we get back to the table, Clean looks at me and nods. “I know you would have fought beside me,” he says as I put my glasses back on. “You took those off, you were ready to go.”
I did both of these things because you are there for your friends, and Shadow was insane. He believed, at the time, that loyalty bred loyalty. Give your friends the utmost loyalty and they will give it back.
Keep a look out for Clean. He is coming back.
Oh, and fuck you, Clean.