Ricky let out a shrill whistle and waved urgently to stop me from staring at the Scottish lady on the billboard. A mistake. He drew unwanted attention before running away.
Chris Ferris and two of his henchmen, Donny Greco and Phil Jaggly, approached like jackals about to pounce on Bambi. Chris Ferris, a head and a half taller than me, had long ago assumed the task of making my life miserable. Jaggly, who had so many freckles it looked like a fountain pen had exploded in his face, spent many an afternoon in detention. Greco, like Ricky, was becoming well-known by the police. I was too fat and slow to get away, and they took their time surfing the gravel slope to the bottom of the creek.
Ferris, with his trademark toothpick dangling from his lips, looked even more vicious than he did when adults were around. “She’s got big tits,” he said, jutting his jaw in the direction of the pretty lady on the billboard. “Like big tits, do ya?”
I had nothing against big tits, but kept quiet.
“Know what I think,” Ferris said, “I think you’re sweet on her.”
He reached down for a rock and threw it with all his might.
I don’t know how long the Scottish lady had hung there, or what type of surface she’d been painted on, but the first few throws bounced off of her, after which she disintegrated easily. First to go was her beautiful smile, with a rock taking out several pearly teeth.
“Leave her alone,” I begged, as if she were real and could feel pain.
Greco and Jaggly snickered at me before joining in. They worked up a sweat blitzing that beautiful face until it was a grotesque ruin of what it had once been. As if in response to her agony, a breeze kicked up, twisting and spinning the fragments raining around us.
It felt like an execution. I tried to leave.
“Not so fast, “ Ferris said, blocking my departure with a beefy hand. “What you got there?”
“An albino tadpole.”
“No, I mean on your wrist.”
“You mean my Zorro watch?”
“Yeah. Hand it over.”
No way. The Zorro watch was a birthday present, one of my most cherished possessions. Maybe he could be distracted. “Check out this albino tadpole.”
Jaggly tore the jar from my hands, peered through the glass at the tadpole swimming about in murky water and handed the jar to Donny Greco.
“What the f**k do we want with a freak tadpole?” Greco said. “Let’s dump it on a hot rock and watch it fry.” He passed the jar to Ferris.
Ferris grinned. “Not a bad idea,” His eyes were dark and menacing. “I bet you wouldn’t like that. Just look at you—about to blubber. Give me that watch or this thing’s gonna sizzle like bacon.”
The watch was too precious to hand over. I tried to convince myself he wouldn’t harm an innocent creature, but I knew better. Ferris was known to run through the neighborhood, whacking butterflies with an old tennis racket. “You can’t have my watch!”
“We’ll see about that. But first things first…” He threw the jar high into the air in the direction of a large chunk of concrete surrounded by a sizable puddle. The jar caught the bright slanting light before it collided with the concrete and shattered. The tadpole made like a Mexican jumping bean on the griddle-hot concrete, but with one impressive leap rose into the air, spun about several times and kerplunked into the muddy puddle, disappearing under the concrete.
Ferris noticed the look of relief washing over my face at his failure to torture and kill something I cared about.
“Hand over the watch, Porky!”
“No.” I’d take a beating, but I wouldn’t hand it over.
Ferris approached and stood so close I could smell cigarettes on his breath, undoubtedly smoked on the scaffold. All was quiet while I anticipated that first punch, until the silence was broken by a voice behind me. “You can’t have his watch.”
I spun around and saw Ricky quickly approaching. In years to come I’d always recall him dashing to my rescue with a shimmering sword and knightly armor, but in reality he was unarmed, until he reached the shattered mayonnaise jar and reached down for a shard of glass. Ferris and company had been too distracted to see him returning.
“This isn’t your business, Delgado. Get your bean-shitting ass out of here,” said Greco.
Ricky was the smallest guy present, but when challenged he could puff himself up like a cobra. “It’s a f**kin’ kiddie watch; you don’t want it,” he said, addressing the three of them calmly.
Ferris bent down and plucked a rock from the ground. Greco and Jaggly did the same.
The broken piece of glass in Ricky’s fingers reddened when his grip tightened on it. “C’mon, we’re leaving,” Ricky said, pushing me toward home with his empty hand.
“There’s three of us, Delgado,” Ferris growled, “and only you and this fat sack of shit.”
If Ferris thought Ricky would back down, he was mistaken. Ricky never backed down, not even when beaten by his drunken old man. Ferris took a step forward; so did Ricky. Ferris took another, but never reached us. At that moment a chunk of billboard, sporting a giant eye, caught the breeze, sailed down and caught Ferris on the side of his face. The material was sharp enough to cut. Ferris dropped his rock and pressed a hand to the side of his face, now seeping blood. He moaned and sank to his knees.
Ricky punched me in the arm to shake me out of my paralysis. We beat a hasty retreat while Greco and Jaggly stared at their leader and wondered what to do.
By the time we reached our bikes dinnertime had come and gone. An hour later we peddled to a stop in front of my house, where hell would break loose as soon as I opened the front door. I pulled off the Zorro watch and handed it to Ricky.
“What’re you doing?” he asked.
“Take it; I wouldn’t have it if it weren’t for you.”
He reached for it, his hand caked with blood from clenching that piece of glass. But he changed his mind. “Naw, don’t want it. Got my eye on one with real jewels inside. But I might borrow it sometime, if you don’t mind.”
This wouldn’t be the last time Ricky Delgado would slay a giant for me.
He never did borrow my Zorro watch.