Trent and Eddy were going on twelve when they conjured up the chivalry to see their first naked lady. Now they were hightailing it from an angry barker who was guarding the Condor Club as if he were a dragon protecting his lair.

Eddy threw back his head and made a barking laugh, “Let’s skedaddle Trent, and don’t look back. His buddy got killed yesterday. I saw that big ape’s picture in the Chronicle.”

The ape was a great bald man in a pinstripe suit, weighing probably three hundred pounds. He had dreadful close-set eye that gleamed anger from beneath his shaggy brow. He bared his gold teeth in a frustrated snarl and shook a rocky-ring laden fist at the boys then howled at Eddy,” I’m going to tell your dad you stole that nudie poster.” But he never moved from his stool. They hid in among the groups of sailors going in and out of the bars and strip clubs. Their Catholic-school uniforms made perfect camouflage.

Trent knew two things for certain about his thrill-seeking new friend: 1. Eddy Thompson was too skinny and tall to get away with anything, and 2. His father knew a lot of people. Grown-ups never forgot Eddy Thompson, with his pale skin and white hair. His eyes were different too. The right one was as blue as the ocean, while his left one was green, and a little bit lazy. The boy giant was the youngest child in the big family that owned the neighborhood cleaners.

There was something extraterrestrial about Eddy Thompson—that was why kids called him “E.T.” Eddy preferred just “E.” E didn’t share movie E.T.’s desire to go home—he never wanted to go home. But like E.T., Eddy avoided adults. “They give me a stomachache,” he’d once shared with Trent.

Treasure hunting was Eddy’s specialty. “Gold is just God with a little L in it,” he said with quivering alert eyes that were wider than the West Coast. His finds included a fang that a tiger spit out at the zoo, an old Spanish coin he plucked from the surf on Ocean Beach, an arrowhead he found in a cave on Mount Sutro—and now, a poster of the Condor Club’s most famous topless dancer.

Out of the side of his mouth, E. said, “That was as easy as sneaking out the house.” There were maps to fortunes in his pupils.

“Yep,” Trent snickered as if the Condor Club was an exhibit put there for he and E’s entertainment and education rather than the mortal matters of the strippers inside.

A triangular constellation of three red, white, and blue stars shielded Carol Doda’s lady parts, below the biggest bare boobs either boy had ever seen. According to the nuns at Our Lady of Mount Carmel School, they were the gateway to every “Thou shalt not” in the Good Book.

Eddy was Trent’s one true friend. He was what Trent was working hard to be again since his familiar life had suddenly disowned him. Trent was scared and wanted to be a carefree and irresponsible kid again.

“We can hop on this bus,” E. said, then took off at a sprint toward the open doors. He dropped a handful of change in the driver’s waiting palm, and Trent followed him onto a bench seat.

Eddy swept a glob of spit from his toothy grin then commenced to finger painting the bus window in a bodacious portrait of Miss Doda’s burlesquing broadside. He finished with two sweeping circles, then licked a fingertip and dotted each.

The driver yelled, “Get your loogie off my window, beanpole!” But E just chuckled out of his nose until he finished. “I’ll call your father myself.” The driver had one eye on the road and one on E in his rearview mirror. His bus driver uniform was clean and sharply pressed—only E’s dad starched creases like that.

Trent wiped the foamy spit off the bus window. “Sorry,” he smiled back at the driver. “So, E, how did that barker’s buddy get killed, anyway?”

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