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Clay circles low and slow, holding the knife loose and waist-high, like he knows how to use it, which he does. The guy he's facing up to is maybe half again his size, but he's not armed, so he's been fighting dirty, trying for a kick to the nuts. Clay's maybe a bit winded, from all the running around on the sand he's been doing, but he doesn't let it show. There's a set of stitches over his right eyebrow where Steroids Statz smashed a 40 bottle over his head last weekend, but trust Clay to not stay out of trouble.

I don't need this. Clay arguably needs this even less, since he's already on probation, and I can just see him trying to explain to his PO why he knifed a man. Still, my record may be clean, but that doesn't mean I want to be an accessory to aggravated assault because the psychoboys I've been running with can't keep their asses out of a fight for ten clean minutes.

It's the summer, maybe of 1997 or so, and I'm down at the beaches of sunny North Carolina, supposedly with my family, or at least somebody's family. The truth is maybe a dozen of us DC kids down here at the same time have linked up and gone feral, moving from house to house whereever parental supervision is the least at the time. "Sand Spider" Zijerdi's got a fake ID that the locals are naive enough to take, and good ole' Clay's been leading expeditions garage hopping to keep us in liquor. Between that and the ounce of weed his brother brougth down, ostensibly to sell, everybody's been keeping good and messed up.

Unlike most of these kids, I've got a life to go back to. I know these people, and many of them live on the party circle, moving from basement to basement and rec room to rec room like the changing tides. They bum rides when they can to where ever something's happening, turn up at home at odd intervals, and most of them have a list of priors as long as your arm. Mommy and daddy's money usually keeps them out of trouble, unless they fuck up really bad.

Unfortunately, the beach has a history of making people fuck up really bad. Last year, Matt Morvillo, the son of defense contractors who make something in the high six figures, got in a car chase up Virginia Beach way. They clocked him at 130 before he crashed, and when the pulled him out of the wreck, miracurously whole, he blew three times the legal BAC limit. They searched the wreck, and found a three pound brick of weed, 30 grand in hot jewlery, and sawed-off shotgun. Mom and dad could have spent every cent they had, and he still wouldn't have beat a rap like that one.

So here I am, watching the children of one of America's richest elites self-destruct in slow motion. As far as they're concerned, I'm one of them, because I can handle my drink and smoke, which is all the membership credentials you need. I've even picked up a bit of a reputation as some kind of criminal mastermind, because I figured out how to use clear nailpolish to jimmy the magnetic lock to the indoor pool we break into to drink and smoke most nights. I guess there are worse rackets than being an evil genius, but I'm not sure it's really me.

So back to the scene at hand. We've got Clay and some random kid who stepped to him on the moonlit beach, circling each other like scorpions in a bottle. Clay swipes, falls short. The Stranger kicks, hits the solar plexus. Clay hits the ground like a puppet with the strings cut. Somebody with a clear head gets the knife our of his hand, puts it away quick. Not long after that, Clay gets up, goes back to it. Not that it matters anymore. Danger averted. Nobody's getting a shiv to the guts tonight.

And yet. And yet. Now I'm walking down the beach later, full of a bottle of Robitussin and a cheap gin hangover. Trying to get away. Maybe some time's passed, maybe some hasn't. In that state, you can't tell. Your memory tangles up like an unspooled casette tape, and maybe one bit of it gets played over and over. A man with a knife, ducking and lunging, over and over. Hold that image. Walk, mechanically, for miles after miles. The rain's falling, which is good because it helps to sluice off some of my poison, chemical sweat. Trying to remember: I've got a life to go back to.

In the distance fireworks are going off, because it's not long after Independence Day. Little knots of revelers are down on the beach. I avoid them all. I walk. One foot, then the other. In the distance, a great rusty pier, extending over the beach, miles off maybe, it's hard to tell.

One foot, then the other. Maybe hours later, maybe twenty minutes, I'm at the pier. A great decaying metal thing, on giant rusted pillars, stamped everywhere with the logo of the Army Corps of Engineers. Off over the ocean, the sun is rising. I sit, under the pier, by the edge of the water. The red pillars march off to infinity against the blue water, geometrically perfect. Like some kind of ancient pagan shrine, a set of dolmens over the ocean. I am surprised to realize that I'm crying.

Eventually, I turn around and walk home.

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