Fiction: Gold at Camp

By Mitchel Montagna

Gold didn’t like most of the little creeps at the summer camp for Jewish kids in Port Jervis, N.Y. He had one of them, Kaufman, squirming under the sole of his boot.  Gold dug his heel into Kaufman’s scrawny chest hard enough to make the boy think he’d never breathe again. 
Just four days earlier, an unemployed Gold, having abandoned home and trouble, had been hiking on Route 52. Gold moved aggressively along the white-hot road, carrying a small duffel bag of clothes and smoking a cigarette. Gold’s hair was long. His face was hard and flushed, containing calm islands of light blue eyes.            
Gold came to a chain link fence that ran parallel to the road. From the other side of the fence, he heard youthful voices. He saw kids playing in the distance. Gold approached a gate near a sign that said “Camp Beth Shalom.” Hebrew letters ran beneath the English words. Gold set down his duffel bag. He wiped his brow and flicked his cigarette toward the bumper of an oncoming car. Gold figured it was worth a shot: take a job, lie low. Maybe they needed someone to clean the toilets. Instead, they offered him a job as a counselor. 
Now Gold and Kaufman were beginning to draw a crowd. Kids stood and gaped, frozen-faced, not sure how to react. Gold looked around, and thought: it figures. Spoiled brats’ve been treated like toy poodles their whole lives. Let ‘em watch, it’ll teach ‘em a lesson about consequences. Gold took his foot off Kaufman. He did a swashbuckling two-step, and delivered a bruising kick into Kaufman’s ribs.      
The little asshole grunted and whined. His face was streaked with tears, but he still had that defiant look. Gold was gonna blow that expression away.
“What’d you say to me?” Gold growled. He placed his foot again on Kaufman’s chest. Gold put all his weight on that foot and lifted himself. Now Kaufman’s body supported all of Gold’s weight. The kid, his glasses broken, made gurgling sounds.
With violence lit inside him, Gold was in familiar territory. He had been working at a bar in Paterson, New Jersey, and was used to a hostile world. He felt at home among the neighborhood’s bars, pool halls, pawnshops, and strip joints. The streets teemed with sleaze bags who needed regular beatings. Gold was happy to oblige, pounding heads into cement. But Port Jervis was a different kind of place.          
Instead of North Jersey’s choking highways and strip malls, Port Jervis contained grassy meadows and quiet roads. North Jersey had swamps flushed with sewage while Port Jervis had the Delaware River. Camp Beth Shalom lay alongside the river, which was as clear as glass. Gold had been surprised to see colorful plants and fish shimmering beneath its surface. The Catskill Mountains rose just to the camp’s north, filling the horizon with treetops andawesome rock formations. Up here, the summer smelled of pine needles. Gold had been getting used to the area, was learning to like it. But his work got on his nerves.    
“You fucking faggot,” Kaufman gasped.  
Staring down at the insolent little prick, Gold felt his temper boil. Gold’s ferocity was usually an asset, having suited his work in Paterson. Among his jobs was throwing drunks out of bars. Gold understood that his tendency to get enraged didn’t match the demands of his current job, and he had sworn to keep himself in check. But a man could take only so much.    
Though only about five and a half feet tall, Gold was thick through the chest and upper arms. Veins popped from his forearms, and his fists looked like they could drive nails through steel. His legs were as heavy and defined as the Catskill rock formations.  Gold’s hair flopped around his face and across his eyes.    
When Gold was young his parents had misread those eyes, mistaking their icy blue stillness for thoughtfulness and gentility. The couple thought their son might become a teacher, or maybe even a rabbi. As the years passed, their hopeful parenthood edged into disbelief, denial, and shock. They tried to cope as their son tortured animals and assaulted classmates with baseball bats. Young Gold’s eyes kept calm even during his most savage moments. 
A fucking faggot, Gold reflected. Well, he grudgingly admired the kid’s spunk.  But he was also contemptuous. No way Kaufman could win this one, and a guy’s got to know when to back off. It wasn’t unlike poker, or betting on the horses. Not that Gold himself was great at avoiding long shots. But this was more serious—Gold’s manhood was at stake. There was only one possible outcome. Gold was gonna break the kid’s legs.  
Gold stepped off Kaufman’s body. With a grin suggesting blood lust, Gold reached down with his gorillaarms and steam shovel hands. The onlookers gasped, sensing they were about to witness something unimaginable.  
But Kaufman caught the break of a lifetime. Mel Jacobs, the Boys’ Camp Director, had just joined the spectators. Jacobs shouted and rushed forward. Kaufmanwas spared. Gold felt stymied, like he’d been interrupted at the point of ejaculation.    
One of the boys in Gold’s cabin was named Rossman.  The boy had a crew cut, Mongoloid eyes and an old man’s body. Rossman couldn’t walk five steps without stumbling. He had an IQ of about 90.   
Rossman’s elderly parents had struggled to find appropriate places for him. They selected Camp Beth Shalom because, obviously, nice Jewish boys wouldn’t pick on their defenseless son.  
Rossman at camp suffered torrents of abuse. He was spat on, pissed on, tossed into mud puddles. His cabin mates made him eat insects. He was bound, gagged and locked in a steamer trunk. He was kicked in the balls.    
Rossman’s reaction was minimal.  He was used to such treatment and, anyway, he could barely talk. He had cried so often in his 13 years that by now, no matter what the outrage, his tears hardly came. By the time Gold had arrived on the scene, three weeks into the summer, most of the boys were tired of bullying Rossman. It no longer seemed worth the energy. But they continued to treat him with contempt. And they hated his needy, freakish presence.
After Mel Jacobs had coaxed Gold away from Kaufman, and sternly lectured the new counselor, Gold jogged over to the softball field where his cabin was scheduled to play a game.    
Gold was thinking that this was all right, the game’ll lift his mood. He tried to dismiss Kaufman from his mind. He would get even with the little shit, but some other time. Gold liked softball and had played it often. Thoughts of stepping into a pitch, and driving the ball over deep center field, thrilled him. As a counselor, Gold’s role was to serve as third-base coach. Since he didn’t yet know the kids well, he let them make the lineup decisions. But by God, Gold knew he could contribute from his position behind the hot corner. Just let his boys get that far, and he would guide them home.
Gold stood bareheaded behind third base, his tangle of weedy hair matted with sweat. The boys wore baseball caps—most with Mets and Yankee logos—to protect themselves from the sun. They wore knee-length, baggy shorts. Gold’s shorts, from a different generation, were tighter. The sky was mostly clear but Gold noticed a black haze drifting in from the mountains. He hoped it wouldn’t rain; he wasn’t in the mood to stay cooped up inside.
Gold recalled when he had played softball with his neighborhood buddies. The score would be like 30-25. Muscular adolescents and meaty men routinely drove the ball 300 feet. But these kids at camp played a different game. They were pansies. They groaned, tapping ground balls to second base and shortstop.  
And Rossman—Jesus Christ. The retarded bastard could barely lift a bat. Every kid on the field hooted when Rossman hobbled to the plate. Of course he struck out, waving owlishly at the ball. In the field, Rossman’s teammates sullenly placed him between right and center, where the ball hardly came. Gold recognized Rossman as the kind of cretin he’d have enjoyed torturing as a kid. Otherwise Gold didn’t give a much of a shit. It did bother him a little that the others had the nerve to pick on Rossman. In Gold’s judgment they weren’t much better. Sure, the strong should prey on the weak.   But to be strong—you’ve got to earn it.  
Gold stood around bored to tears until the fourth inning when one of his kids reached third base. Gold stared at the fellow, named Bernstein. The boy was polite, serious and kept to himself. Gold considered Bernstein an okay guy and felt enthusiastic about helping the boy score.     
“Now you listen to me, Bernstein. When I say ‘go,’ run like a fucking deer.  Otherwise stay put.”
Bernstein nodded gravely. The third baseman pounded his fist into his glove.  “Hey batter batter,” he chanted.  “Hey batter batter.” The kid had a high voice. Like one of those singers from the old days with his balls chopped off. “No batter, no batter,” the kid squealed.  
The next batter was named Marinelli. A Guinea Jew, Gold was thinking. But Marinelli was as feeble as the rest. With toothpick arms, he swung and managed a couple of foul tips. “Marinelli you son of a bitch!” Gold yelled. “Put some muscle into it!”
“Hey batter batter,” said the third baseman. “No batter! Swing batter!”
Marinelli topped a weak grounder back to the pitcher. Gold slapped his forehead in frustration. “You hold it right there,” he warned Bernstein as the pitcher threw Marinelli out.
Well, there was only one out. But then Rossman dragged his sorry ass to the plate.  “Aw, fuck!” Gold said, louder than he had intended. The kids in the field exploded with cruel glee. “Hey moron! Hey you brain-damaged motherfucker! Rossman the Retard, Rossman the Retard!” 
The pitcher, with disdain, bounced the ball off home plate.  Rossman swung downward like he was trying to swat a fly. Strike one. Everyone laughed. “Hey dummy!” called the third baseman. “Go back to Creedmoor!” 
Gold smiled. He imagined pounding the third baseman’s head into a wall.  
With not much happening, the counselor decided he had better keep his runner alert. “Hey Bernstein. How’s it going?”
“Okay,” Bernstein said. He kept his eyes focused on home plate.    
“Bernstein,” Gold said. “You ever get laid?”  
Bernstein looked at Gold. The color of the kid’s face, already pink from the heat, deepened.    
Gold guffawed. “No need to be ashamed,” he said. “You’re young yet. But I can tell you ‘bout a place near where I’m from. Make a man out a you.”
Rossman swung and missed at a pitch that floated directly over his head. Strike two. Everyone roared.  
“Got these women,” Gold said. “Ten dollars. Ten dollars, swear to fucking God.  You put your dick in their armpit. They squeeze tight. You’ll come faster ‘n a trainthrough a tunnel.
“For fifteen bucks,” Gold continued. “You put your dick between their tits. I’m telling you. Then you come like a - like a - uh, like a Goddamn rocket.”
The pansy third baseman was looking at Gold with a simpering grin. “I’m not talking to you, fuckhead,” Gold said. The camper quickly looked back toward home plate.  
Rossman swung and missed again.  Strike three.
“Asshole! Dickwad!” his teammates screamed from the bench. His opponents cheered.
Still got one more out, Gold thought. Just one goddamn single and we get a run.  Gotta keep Bernstein alert. “Then again,” he said.  “If all else fails.  Get yourself a Playboy Magazine. You know what they are, don’t you Bernstein? Go to your room, lock your door. Pull out the centerfold. And then,” Gold said, barely able to suppress his laughter, “pound away at ‘er peehole! Ha ha ho!”
The next batter swung at the first pitch and popped weakly to the second baseman. Three out. “Jesus Goddamned Christ,” Gold said. But he kept laughing as the teams swapped positions.  
Bottom of the last inning. Gold’s team was in the field, holding a 2-1 lead.  The rain clouds were moving closer, like invaders. Gold watched the game intently. He wouldn’t mind a victory, even a lame one like this.  
The game was proving to be a decent diversion. But Gold brooded again about how the Kaufman incident could screw him up. Bad goddamned luck, he told himself.  Gold thought about it as a natural event that he had no control over, like the approaching weather. He could get booted out of here. More time on the goddamned road. He watched a kid from the other team push through a seeing-eye single, the ball struggling along the grass, barely rolling between the first and second basemen. Damn.  
And this place wasn’t bad. Who’d think to find him here?
Back home, Gold had been selling credit card accountnumbers to these Russians. Every few days he’d crib one or two. Keep it low-keyed, don’t attract attention.   For a few extra hundred bucks a month. The Russians made counterfeit cards or used the numbers to steal identities. Gold figured that by the time anyone noticed what the victims had in common—a trip to his bar—he’d have moved on. But one afternoon the Russian bastards didn’t answer his calls. Gold packed his bag that night.
If he had stayed away from the racetrack, he’d have had enough money to disappear. Instead he’d blown his cash like a chump. So Gold tramped as far north as he could get, hitching a couple of rides, resisting the impulse to bash the driver and take the vehicle. That might have to be his next move, though.  
The following batter popped one just over the shortstop’s head. Now there were runners on first and second base, no outs. This just wasn’t Gold’s day.  But he clapped his hands in encouragement.  
“C’mon, men! This goddamn fag can’t hit!”
Gold felt a cool gust of wind. The black clouds had drifted to the edge of the sun.  The fag at bat watched a couple of pitches go by. Then he lifted a short fly ball into right center field. Straight toward the oblivious Rossman, who wore his glove uncomfortably like it was a mound of shit.         
“Goddammit Rossman, look at the fucking ball!” Gold cried.  
The right fielder, fat Herbie Chernoff, was lumbering toward Rossman.  Bernstein, from center field, was doing the same. The second baseman was backing up.  The other fielders stood helplessly. The opposing team, watching the ball arc toward Rossman, realized it had secured victory. They began hooting and jeering. The runners on first and second sprinted around the bases.    
Gold felt a rain drop on his forearm. He glanced at the sky. A pitch-black cloud was directly overhead, blocking the sun. He focused again on the ball field and saw Chernoff, Bernstein, and Rossman all collide and tumble. Gold saw a knot of arms and legs.  
The second baseman stood over the pile and yelled, “He caught it!  He caught it!”   
Gold saw Bernstein take the ball from Rossman’s glove. Holy shit, Gold was thinking. The retard did catch the ball! Both runners had gone almost all the way home.  Too late to go back! Bernstein regained his feet. He dashed to second base and stepped on the bag. Double play. Then Bernstein tossed the ball to the first baseman. Triple play!  They’d won! All because Rossman had caught a ball for probably the first time in his life.  Is that great coaching or what, Gold thought. He let loose a whoop. A steady rain began and Gold heard a crack of thunder. He jogged toward his cabin, pumping his fist in victory. The rain felt good washing away his perspiration.
Rossman found himself in an unusual position. As an unlikely hero, his cabin mates treated him civilly. A couple of them, including Bernstein, even spoke to him as friends. Rossman enjoyed lunch for the first time in weeks, and lay dreamily on his bunk during the post-meal rest period.  
The rain continued after rest period ended, canceling most activities. The boys wandered around the cabin. Boredom hung in the air, and the boys tried to think of ways to break the tedium. A couple played chess, a few roughhoused and pretended they were professional wrestlers. Others sat and stared.  
Fat Herbie Chernoff, for one, was getting tired of people treating Rossman like the fucker was normal. In order to correct the situation, he enlisted Baum’s help.    
“C’mere, Rossman,” Baum said. He was thin with black curly hair. “Let’s go outside. We got somethin’ to show you.”
Rossman hesitated.  
Baum grinned. “You better put on your jacket,” he said. “I’m gonna wear mine.  It’s comin’ down pretty hard out there. We don’t want you gettin’ a cold.”  
Baum, Rossman and Chernoff put on waterproof jackets. They walked down the aisle between the beds and into the lavatory area. They walked through the back door, into the rain. Fat Herbie had a rope hidden under his poncho. The boys crossed a short patch of grass and entered a wooded area behind the cabin.
They walked for about ten minutes, pushing their way through wet branches and crossing muddy puddles. The rain was slowed by the vegetation above, but still fell through steadily. The boys’ jackets were slick with moisture, and raindrops clung to their faces. The boys stopped when they reached a small clearing.
“Listen here, Rossman,” Baum said. “You’re a great softball player. You should be rewarded for that great catch you made today. Right, Herbie?”
“Oh yeah!”  Chernoff nodded, licking rain from his lips, peering through his glasses.
“We got a present for ya,” Baum said. “A brand, new softball uniform.”
“You can wear it round camp,” Fat Herbie said.  “Show everyone how great you are.”
Baum stepped toward Rossman. He said, “But first you gotta take off your clothes. Then we give you the uniform. You put it on.”
“You can stand under those trees there to change. Then when we get back to the cabin, you’re wearing your brand, new shiny uniform,” Fat Herbie said. “You’ll surprise everyone. They’ll know how great you are.”
“Take off your clothes,” Baum said.
Rossman struggled to speak. “W-w-w-where’s the uniform?”
Fat Herbie and Baum grinned. What a dumb fucking idiot, they were thinking.  “Behind that tree over there,” Baum pointed to his right.  
“We kept it dry,” Fat Herbie said. “Just for you.”
“Take off your clothes,” Baum said.
“Uh-uh-uh….”  Rossman looked like he was chewing a big wad of glue. He took a step backward and shook his head.
“Take off your goddamn clothes,” Baum said.
Fat Herbie pulled the rope from under his poncho. “Take off your clothes, asshole,” he said.
Rossman tried to speak. He was unsuccessful. He blinked his eyes. Baum took another step forward. “Take off your clothes,” he said. “Show us your weenie.”  
Herbie giggled.   
The boys, startled, looked around. They saw Gold step out from behind a veil of bushes. Through the rainy mist the boys could see that Gold’s hair was wild, his cheeks streaked with dirt. Gold wore no jacket, and his drenched clothing clung to his powerful frame. Although a sneer ripped across the counselor’s face, it didn’t touch his eyes. His eyes were strangely remote. Gold looked like some sort of psycho—which, in fact, he was, Fat Herbie realized in a terrifying flash of insight.
Gold had escaped the confinement of the cabin just minutes after rest period was over. Talk about cabin fever—he could’ve strangled someone. He was wandering through the rain, smoking a couple of joints. He came upon this scene of two jerk-offs pushing Rossman around. He’d watched half-interestedly for a couple of minutes, then something made him come forward when the boys looked like they were gonna get rough.
Gold walked toward the three boys. His boots dug into the mud. “What the hell are you doing?”
Lightning shot through the sky, followed by a blast of thunder. Rossman moved his mouth without saying anything. Fat Herbie adjusted his glasses. Baum grinned.  “Nothing. We’re just playing around.”
Gold stopped within a couple of yards of the boys and examined them. He had hated the smooth-talking Baum from day one. And this fat fuck, what could you say about him? Then Gold stared at Rossman’s dorky crew cut and Chink eyes. Rossman’s mouth hung open, exposing his thick tongue. Rain washed snot into his mouth and down his chin.  
“Hey we’re fine,” Baum said. His teeth flashed. “See?  We’re just kidding around.”
Gold continued to look at Rossman. He smelled the boy’s animal misery. Gold felt a prick of disgust, then an icy feeling moved along his spine. He reached toward Rossman.   
Gold listened to the rain pelt the treetops. He heard a faraway roll of thunder. He saw green leaves bending under the water’s weight. He felt like he was standing outside himself. Gold brought his hand down on Rossman’s shoulder. He squeezed gently.  
“Go back to the cabin,” Gold said. “Now.”
Rossman didn’t have to be told twice—to his credit, Gold thought. Gold turned to the other campers, feeling more like himself now. The swishing sound of Rossman’s footsteps receded. Gold grinned. “I want you two fucking Kikes to take off your fucking clothes.”
Fat Herbie stared as if Gold was pointing a gun. Baum kept grinning. “Come on,” Baum smiled. “Quit kidding around.”
Gold picked up Baum by his face. He smashed the kid’s head into a tree. Gold squeezed Baum’s temples as if trying to bring his thumb and forefinger together inside the boy’s brain. Baum’s nose started bleeding. “I said take ‘emoff.” 
They sat with their backs against a tree. The rope Fat Herbie had brought dug so deeply into their skin they could barely breathe, much less move. Their clothes had been tossed into the shrubbery. Gold stood over them. The boys looked pathetic. You could count the ribs on Baum’s chest. Fat Herbie’s whale-like stomach hung over his dick.  
“You look cute,” Gold said. “Someone might come by, fuck you up the ass.”  
He might have left it at that. He might have simply left the boys tied up, and gone on his way. Except that Baum said, “Go to Hell.”
Gold stepped backward. “Whoa,” he said.  
Gold had to hand it to these kids. He thought he knew people, but he’d learned something new up here. There are spoiled little fuckers whose sense of entitlement is amazing. You beat em, you teach em a lesson, and they still think they run the world.  Gold’s heart hummed with excitement.
He crouched down in front of Baum. “You think you’re tough,” Gold said softly through the rain. “But you’re dreaming. You’re beat. You can’t do shit. Nobody gives a fuck about you. And I can do anything I want.”
Gold interlocked the fingers of both hands and cracked his knuckles. “Anything I want,” Gold repeated.  
Baum looked frightened but it was too late. Gold shot his fist into the middle of Baum’s face. At the point of impact Gold rotated his wrist to increase the damage. Gold felt Baum’s nose cartilage twist and collapse. Gold felt a bolt of joy. Baum launched a scream.
A flower-shaped splatter of blood surrounded what used to be Baum’s nose.  Baum’s cries were primal. Gold rose to his feet. He walked around to Fat Herbie, who moaned in terror. Gold liked the sound of that, although you could barely hear him next to Baum. Gold bent down and reached toward Herbie’s face.
Gold removed Fat Herbie’s glasses. He pinched Herbie’s cheek and gave the flesh a nasty little twist. Gold broke Herbie’s glasses in half and tossed them away. “Better than you deserve, Fatso,” he said. “But I’m in a hurry.” 
Gold walked off through the woods back toward the cabin. The boys’ cries trailed him but quickly grew faint, muted by the rain and foliage. As Gold approached the cabin, he could barely hear them anymore. Well this would give Gold a head-start. If there had been any doubt, he’d ensured today was his last day at Camp Beth Shalom.
Without a word to any of the boys, Gold packed his duffel bag. He left the cabin and headed through the rain toward the chain link fence along Route 52. On the opposite side of where he’d been four days ago. Four days? Seemed like four years. They’d sure be looking for him after this caper, he thought. Good thing they didn’t know his real name! Gold laughed out loud. He tossed his bag over the fence and climbed over after it.  Plenty of cars passing by. Well, he’ll keep going north. Pity the poor son of a bitch who picks him up this time.

Mitchel Montagna has worked as a special education teacher, radio journalist, and corporate communicator. He is married and lives in Florida.