Something else Jake excelled at was ferreting out deep water holes hidden underneath the creek’s banks and catching what my dad called ‘bottom feeders’ (carp and suckerfish) by hand.

I kid you not. Jake would scout out spots along the creek where the bank hung out over the water, lie down and literally reach under the bank into recessed, watery alcoves. He’d then grab either a carp or a suckerfish by the gills and drag it flopping to shore.

According to my dad carp and suckers don’t taste so great. But they’re big, sometimes the size of large walleyes or small northern pikes. They provide plenty of meat, regardless of taste. Given the needs of Jake’s family, taste probably wasn’t a big concern. Any type of free food helped.

My dad had never taken up fishing by hand because he could never get over the fear that maybe something else waited for him under that bank. Like water moccasins or a snapping turtle. Jake, however, showed no fear. I suppose needing to eat and always being on guard for your father’s routine unemployment served as a big motivator.

But that afternoon Jake came up strangely empty fishing for bottom feeders. We all caught some trout. I landed four, Gary five and Kevin a whopping three (I think he just liked walking in the woods more than anything else). Jake, as usual, had landed seven trout, knowing exactly where to cast his bait, as always.

Try as he might, though, he couldn’t land any suckers or carp. After several bottom-feeders squirmed from his grasp, Jake finally rolled over and punched the ground, enraged. “Fuck this shit,” he snarled.

I glanced at him, feeling that odd worry again. Jake hadn’t been the same since the Commons Yard Sale and Mr. Trung. He’d offered one or two of his usual dirty jokes but they’d fallen flat. He hadn’t ridiculed any of us when we’d gotten snagged or lost the inevitable hook or two. He’d acted quiet and withdrawn, moody and tense. Now, however, I sensed a seething anger lying beneath the surface, threatening to break out and spill everywhere.

And that’s when Gary opened his big mouth.

“I dunno,” Gary sniped from where he was leaning against an Adirondack pine. “Maybe you’re just goin’ pussy, Jake. Maybe Mr. Trung spooked ya this mornin’.”

Though an obvious comeback to Jake’s ‘naked mom’ joke, I winced and glanced at Kevin. He returned my look, eyebrows raised, and I realized he’d also noticed Jake’s strange reaction to Mr. Trung. I saw it in his eyes, the same thing I’d felt while standing at Mr. Trung”s table: unexpected concern for Jake.

Jake scowled at us, eyes narrowed, nostrils flaring, like he wanted to kick all our asses right then and there.

“Blow me, McNamara. Ain’t spooked by nobody. Specially not a fuckin gook like Mr. Hong Kong Fooey.”

“I dunno, man. You looked pretty messed-up when he was showin’ off that cool domino game of his. Didn’t say a word an’ kept starin’ at your big feet the entire time. What’s up with that?”

In a flurry of leaves, twigs and browned pine needles, Jake scrambled to his feet, hands clenched into fists. “What th’hell,” he rasped between clenched teeth. “You spyi’n on me, Macky? Huh?”

Gary shrugged, looking immensely pleased with Jake’s reaction. “Naw, I was just headin’ back to see if you guys were ready to go an’ I turned the corner an there you were, starin’ at the ground, shiverin’ like a scared little girl. Had to watch for a couple minutes. It was fuckin’ priceless, dude.”

Gary was clearly still pissed about Jake’s taunt earlier, and tension had always simmered between them, even on a good day. But Gary’s jab seemed over-the-top, completely unexpected . . .

But never in a million years could I have anticipated Jake’s response. He bellowed and charged, slamming his shoulder into Gary’s gut, tackling him.

Kevin and I intervened, pulling them apart, but not before they rolled and kicked and exchanged a flurry of punches that mostly glanced off each other. By the time Kevin and I got them to their feet, however—Kevin holding Jake back, me pushing Gary away—I noticed a dangerous gleam in Gary’s eye that I’d never seen before. Had Jake finally crossed a line?

Gary spat on his hand. I hissed in surprise at the bloody splotch of saliva. Apparently one of Jake’s flailing blows had landed after all.

Pushing and trying to shove me aside, Gary snarled, “I’m gonna fuckin’ kill you, Burns.”

“C’mon! You call me pussy? I’ll show who the fuckin pussy is . . . ”

“Cool it, Jake!”

Jake lurched forward against Kevin, jabbing a finger at Gary. His red face twisted into an ugly sneer. “I ain’t afraid of nobody, Macky! Nobody!” Spittle flew and the cords in his neck stood out as he screamed. “An’ I ain’t afraid of that stupid Gook’s goddamn fortune tellin’ game! Fuck him an’ his game!”

An oppressive silence fell over everything then, sharp tension building like a static charge between us. Kevin took a deep breath and broke the silence with, “Jake. What the hell is wrong? You can tell us, man. It’s okay.”

I’m ashamed to confess how I felt just then. Here was this kid who really annoyed the piss out of us (me especially), dogging our steps every day; a kid with issues; a kid whose presence offered very few perks, and here Kevin was trying to make peace with him while I just wanted Jake to storm off into the woods and leave us alone.

I got my wish. Jake glared at Gary for several seconds, face red and teeth bared like a dog. Then he hissed, “Fuck y’all. I don’t need your help, or your shit.”

He shook himself free of Kevin’s grip and stalked away, stooping to grab his line of fish from the water in one hand and his pole in the other. He slouched toward Black Creek Bridge and Clarke Street, leaving us in the woods staring at each other, leaving me to wonder just what it was about Mr. Trung that scared Jake Burns so much.

I’d find out soon enough.

Though I still wish I hadn’t.

Comments (2)
goodnovel comment avatar
nathan blas
Nice novel pls give more extra bonus pls so we can read ur nice novel pls...
goodnovel comment avatar
nathan blas
give more extra bonus pls

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