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The Final Nail
About the Author: Kyle Decker graduated from Drake University in 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in creative writing. From 2013-2018 he lived in South Korea where he worked as an English teacher and freelance writer regularly contributing to the punk ‘zine bROKe in Korea, among other publications including The Korea Times. He has also had short fiction published in The Molotov Cocktail. While in Korea he fronted the multinational punk band Food for Worms from 2014-2018 and worked as a D.I.Y. concert promoter. His novel This Rancid Mill, which features the same characters, will be released by PM Press in the Spring of 2023.

As Katie tells me her story her shoulders fold in, her eyes transfixed on things I cannot see.

“If there’s any good left in people,” she says, “I’m too tired to find it.”

I’ve found that such broad statements refer to very specific things. For Katie it referred to her younger sister, Carrie, being beaten and raped in an alley during a show. Carrie disappeared shortly after and hadn’t been heard from in three days. Their dad had turned to drink after their mother’s death. He wouldn’t be looking for her. So Katie came to me. She was never going to give up on her sister; but humanity, it seemed, could go get fucked.

Katie’s mentality is common among punks. Nihilism is, after all, often seen as the heart of the movement. It’s why I keep tissues on my desk. I nudge them in her direction. She takes one and dabs the streaking makeup on her face. Of course, considering punk fashion in 1982, the makeup was streaked before she’d started crying. I scratch along the edge of my inch-high blue mohawk.

“Have you gone to the police yet?” I ask. This question, in our little world, is strictly taboo, but it’s crucial for me to ask it.

“Like they’d give a shit about some punk.” She’s not wrong. If you were to walk into a police station dressed like us they’d be more likely to take you in than take your statement. But it doesn’t answer my question; I alert her to this fact by widening my eyes and tilting my head.

“Please, don’t tell anyone,” she says.

“Of course not,” I say. Finding her sister is the easy part. Well, the easier part. It’s what I do once I find her that’s the tricky bit. If she doesn’t want to go home, I’m in no position to make her. Or if I find out she’s in trouble, I don’t exactly have the LAPD to back me up.

“Okay,” I tell her, “I’ll find your sister.”

“Thank you, Alex,” she says. “I owe you.”

This can mean any number of things. When the vast majority of your clientele are teenage runaways they don’t have much to offer in the way of cash. But do enough people enough favors and word spreads. Bands put you on guest lists, the guy at Oki Dog hooks you up on the house, and everyone buys you drinks. People have your back in a fight. Hard currency is just one way to cover your needs. Favors don’t pay tuition though.

“Did she tell you who attacked her? Give you any idea?”

“No. After it happened she just kind of shut down. She finally started to snap out of it. But then she just went out and didn’t come back.”

“Okay. I’ll need you to write down a list of people she knew, places she frequented. That kind of thing. You hear from her, contact me right away.”

She writes down everything and gets up. As she reaches the door she turns around, forces a smile, and then leaves. I look at the list.

Sally Fitz - best friend

Jon Richards - ex.

Oki Dog

Al’s Bar - where it happened

She also left a photo of Carrie. It was one of those school picture-day photos. A portrait of Carrie from the bust up in front of a gray background. She’s wearing dark makeup with her hair frizzy and bleached. Whatever was written on her t-shirt had been blurred out.

Al’s is a dive on South Hewitt. It sits on the ground floor of the American Hotel. Bricks on the outside; graffiti and a diverse clientele on the inside. Punks, art students, and skid-row bums mingle together, a gallery of losers, rejects, and weirdos. The bathroom is disgusting and there is no air conditioning. It’s one of my favorite bars.

I take my car, a red 1971 Chevy Vega. Like so many things in life, it’s an unreliable piece of shit; but like so few, it’s something I can call my own. As I walk up I see an old bum lying on the sidewalk with his back against the wall. He’s wearing torn pinstripe pants and a black suit jacket crusted in things I prefer remain a mystery. His lips tuck in a bit on account half his teeth are missing.

“Buy a guy a beer?” he asks, checking off the final stereotype.

This story appears in our MAR 2022 Issue
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