'Til The End

a novel by

 

Chapter 2

Final Game of the Season - against Sterling Heights Stevenson
Barney Swinehart Football Stadium

Frost covered the grass as the chilly air blew the leaves from one yard to another. The morning came with the highest of expectations. They were on the verge of completing the school's first undefeated regular season. The final game, at home against their biggest rival Sterling Heights Stevenson, would determine if they remained unbeaten.

Stevenson was the team that over the years had so frequently ended Eisenhower's quest for a playoff berth. Previous Eisenhower Eagles teams had gotten to this point only to see their dreams stomped out by their biggest foe. Even when they had the superior talent, it would often come down to some poor play. It was fair to say that Stevenson had the Eagles' number.

The wet grass glistened under the stadium lights as the two bitter rivals got set to play for the league title and a spot in the playoffs. From the opening kickoff, it was clear there would be no chance of a one-play blunder to end the Eagles' season. The defense led by Ryan and Tyler stuffed Stevenson's potent offense. Tyler had three sacks and 12 tackles. Ryan had 15 tackles and one interception. Jacob was nothing short of magnificent, connecting on 23 of 28 passes for 325 yards and four touchdowns. Avery ran for a score and also caught one of the Eagles' patented, and almost unstoppable, screen passes. The night was summed up by the words of the Stevenson coach after a 35 to 7 defeat. "We haven't been waxed like that in years."

This game gave everyone the feeling of finally getting over the big obstacle that had always kept them from greatness. A tremendous high was felt throughout the community. With this group, it was sure to carry on throughout the night; fueled by alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine. As with all the others, Ryan, Tyler, Jacob and Avery reveled in this victory. It had become expected. Their status as champions their whole life brought them certain liberties and they took advantage of them all. All the girls wanting to be by their side, a look the other way at their alcohol and drug use and forgiveness of any potential embarrassment to school or community by anyone on the team.

In the locker room, as they peeled off their drenched uniforms and tossed soiled jerseys into a bin just inside the door, an elated Coach Murphy gave the game ball to Jacob.

"Jacob, great leadership, and pinpoint accuracy tonight. I'm so proud of all of you. What can I say about the defense; you guys are the best I have ever had the privilege to coach."

Through the roars of celebration, Ryan, Tyler, Avery and Jacob grinned and turned to grab their shower bags. Each had envelopes protruding out of the vent slits of their lockers. Avery was quick to open his.

Jacob leaned over to see what it said. "What is it Avery, do the girls have something planned for us?"

"No," he grinned as he opened the note to show them all caps lettering on the single sheet of paper: CONGRATULATIONS EAGLES! YOUR PRESENCE IS REQUESTED AT THE JENNELO HOUSE IN ONE HOUR TO CELEBRATE YOUR ACCOMPLISHMENT.

Ryan was grinning, now, too. "Nice."

"Hell yes," Jacob slapped Avery on the shoulder and flashed two high fives for Tyler and Ryan.

Avery still held the note nodding his head then looked up at his friends. "Sweet!"

They exited the showers quicker than the foamy soap off their bodies could disappear down the drain.

* * *

Tyler Jennelo's House
Shelby Township

Fifty minutes later they saw the black stretch limo parked in front of the Jennelo house when they pulled up. Tyler leaned forward in the passenger seat to look past Ryan through the driver side window at it as Ryan pulled his Chevy Monte Carlo SS in behind the yellow Trans Am in the driveway. Inside the open garage, on the left, was a black Mercedes sedan. The right side was full of boxes and a clear area for a weight bench.

"Nice ride," Jacob commented looking at it as he and Avery climbed out from the backseat of the car. They turned to Tyler, who grinned and headed to the front door. They followed him up the steps.

Tyler opened the door just as his dad was coming from his office to the left of the entry. He had overheard one of his father's phone calls the night before and suspected what was going on, but didn't know the details.

Rick Jennelo was as big as his son, only thicker-bodied with the build of a once fit man beginning to soften in middle-age. His dark hair, thinning on top, was salted with gray at the temples. "Since you told me you and your friends didn't have anything specific planned, I thought I would set up a little celebration for you. A night out at one of my friend's places downtown to celebrate your undefeated season."

Though they all lived outside the city, they knew downtown meant downtown Detroit. Mr. Jennelo's bar was on the east side but the real adult action was in the heart of the city. Ryan, Avery, and Jacob had a vague idea that Tyler's father was more than just the owner of a small bar that seemed to be very, very profitable. Tyler knew more about his dad's real business but had never been allowed to be involved or see any setting other than the bar and didn't talk to his friends about it.

Mr. Jennelo turned waving them to follow him back into his office. He sat on the corner of a large mahogany desk and faced them. "You've all turned 17 right?" They nodded. "Can I count on you to act like men - not boys - and keep something between us. And not screw up by getting too wasted and starting trouble?" He looked each of the boys in the eyes, the last and longest into Tyler's whose grin dipped and then flattened into a tight straight line. He got a "yes sir" from each of them. "Okay, then that limo is going to take you to have some fun; food, drinks, and some gambling if you want. Each of you will have a $1,000 credit limit at the tables but that's it. You reach that limit and your gambling and party is over. There will be women around..." He paused as the boys all were grinning again. "Though you can admire them and can look all you want they're not for you - no touching. Got it?" They looked at each other and he waited for their "yes sir's!" and nodded. "Okay. I've told your parents that I'm treating you to a night out on the town and they are okay with it. But don't make me regret doing this by spilling any details or acting badly." He looked at each boy. "Okay, let's go."

Outside Mr. Jennelo paused before getting in the front with the driver. "There's beer for you guys but take it easy. Okay?" He waited as they got in and heard Tyler tell Ray, the driver: "Hope you don't mind loud music while you drive." A half-second later Tyler's favorite radio station, 101.1 The WRIF, was blasting from the multiple Kenwood speakers in the passenger compartment of the stretch limo. He opened the door, slid inside and settled into the relative quiet of the soundproofed driver's area. He sensed the excitement that coursed through his son and his closest friends. Winning the game, thoughts of the next one, a playoff, and looking forward to a night of new experiences made their hearts pump. Seeing them all at this moment, so young and feeling such joy in life, touched feelings in him that he thought had been stripped away years ago. The death of his wife had taken most of what he had loved in life. Even though he still had Tyler and loved him more than he could tell him, he had been numbed by his profession's ugly side of dealing with human nature daily and could not give way easily to emotion. He regretted he had not shown more affection to Tyler as he was growing up. He glanced through the glass partition and could see the broad smile on Tyler's face and felt his own stretch his lips. This was a good thing he was doing for his son and his friends.

* * *

Downtown Detroit

Forty minutes and six beers later, the four boys got out of the limo. The old three-story building seemed to take up a city block and looked like it needed work. It was dark without any inside lights showing. The limo had turned into an alley just wide enough to drive through. It stopped just past a set of double doors covered by a gold-striped awning. The kind that could be retracted and cinched tight against the building's wall.

Tyler's father went up the three steps to the doors and knocked four times then pressed a buzzer set to the right of the doors. At eye height - about 6 feet - a rectangular opening appeared. The light set over the doors didn't shine into it so all they saw was a white flash that blinked out as the panel slid shut again quickly.

The door opened and a big blond-haired man, taller than Jacob and more massive, greeted them.

"Mr. Jennelo..." He looked at each of the boys then back to him. "And guests... Welcome. Frank's expecting you." He backed away as they stepped into a dark, dusty, foyer. Behind the man was another set of double doors. He turned to it and pressed its buzzer. Another panel, in the right-hand door, slid open. This one was backlit by the lights inside. It shut almost as fast as it opened. Some music had leaked out along with the light and even more spilled as the doors opened wide.

"Thanks, Boris." Rick Jennelo said. He turned to Ryan, Jacob, Avery and his son. "You're at the point in life where boys become young men. Congratulations on your undefeated season." He waved them inside.

* * *

Avery looked at the pile of chips he had in front of him and jumped when someone slapped him hard on the back. He looked over his shoulder.

"Better cash those in... Ryan and Jacob shot their wad and are at the bar waiting for us." Tyler had that manic grin on his face that he wore when he was on the edge of being too high or too drunk.

Avery had seen him leave the floor an hour ago with one of the girls and had shaken his head. They weren't supposed to mess with the girls but the ones rubbing against him all night had made that hard. He made himself laugh with that thought. But the cards had been even more attractive to him. He couldn't turn away from them as the stacks of chips grew in front of him. He scooped them up and followed Tyler to the cashier. A minute later he counted the cash that was pushed across the counter back to him. Holy Shit! He'd won nearly $4,000!

At the bar, they joined Ryan and Jacob, who sat under a crystal chandelier that spun a thousand darts of light from it. The glint of the hundreds of bottles behind the long expanse of the gleaming mahogany bar was hypnotizing. Avery looked at his smiling friends and around at the opulent furnishings. He had never imagined a place like this. It felt like it was somewhere he could stay forever.