By David McGrath

The spring when I was 8 years old and he was 11, Henry had organized a kind of cowboy-and-Indian thing on our block, with the west end, or the side bordering California Avenue, versus the east end, bounded by Washtenaw. It was more a combination Robin Hood and his band of merry warriors and the Cartwright family, together defending the sprawling Ponderosa ranch against Bobby Kowalski and his alliance of Martians and Second World War infantrymen.

The strange mix was dictated by the array of armament available to us from the last load of Christmas gifts; the toy cross bows and Fanner Fifty 500 cap guns were particularly popular.

Henry had neither invented nor initiated today's game. Since our primary influences were TV westerns, war dramas, and Flash Gordon sci fi, the games we played were naturally some form of war. The setting was 96th Place in the relatively new suburban village of Evergreen Park, where nearly half the houses were still under construction, and the other half contributed between 40 and 60 military-minded children to the conflict.

This resulted in the occasional epic battle, pitting a dozen kids on one side of a basement foundation, hurling snowball-size dirt clods at the enemy dozen on the opposite end. Henry's role in all of this was rather like a United Nations observer, insofar as he legislated battle rules such as always aiming below the waste, and supplying the historical context for our staged episodes — naming the dirt hill adjacent the alley Iwo Jima, and the mudhole in Gramer's prairie Guadalcanal. Paradoxically, he also assumed the role of Adam Cartwright and a participating warrior on the California Avenue team, armed with a plastic sword and mounted on my sister Ruth's Huffy bike.

Though only 8, I was honored as a scout who rode along with Henry, due less to any tracking or combat prowess that the only new and shiny 24" inch bicycle on the block belonged to me, courtesy of Father Clarence the previous Christmas.

We had ridden to the top of the block, to the edge of Washtenaw Avenue, ostensibly to steal any unguarded supplies-Kool Aid, Twinkies, rolls of caps-that the enemy had stashed there. In front of one of the older frame houses, surrounded by a white picket fence, was a Campbell's soup box.

"Guard the horses while I check that box," said Henry.

I dutifully held the reins of his Huffy, while remaining in the saddle of my horse Silver, and watched Henry raise the flap of the box with his sword. As he bent down to look closer, a husky kid with black hair and two silver six-shooters strapped around his waist came walking along the side of the house from the back yard.

"Who goes there?" he said.

He held his hands just above his pistol grips, ready to draw. Though his face put him at 10 or 11, this was a man-child. He was taller and heavier even than Carl.

"Put your hands in the air," said Henry, from where he crouched by the box. "We already have you covered," he said, jerking a thumb backward.

I realized that he meant me, and I quickly drew my Luger dart gun with my other hand. But the man-child ignored me and drew his right hand pistol, firing off an entire ring of caps.

"You missed," said Henry. "All your shots hit the box, Humperschnell," he said, rising slowly from behind the soup carton.

Humperschnell. Vince Humperschnell? I had heard this name mentioned before. Adults spoke about him in hushed tones. Kids were scared of him, referring to him by his nickname, "Brick." Brick was suspended for beating up a patrol boy. Brick maybe going to be expelled for cursing at Sister Jeanine.