About The Book
The Fourth Angel is John Rechy’s most accomplished work since his explosive City of Night. It is the compelling, ferociously relevant story of four teenagers playing deadly games with drugs, sex, and one another. Behind a facade of tough cynicism, on a raging search for kicks, they explore the hot, dusty city, bent on trouble. There are three “angels”—Shell, Cob, and Manny, and their recruit Jerry, who becomes the fourth.
Hovering in that uncertain limbo between childhood and adulthood, the four angels maintain a precarious balance among themselves and with the outside world. Each one is today’s street kid: still tinged with innocence and capable of beauty, but at the same time full of rage and violence, attempting to conceal an ugly past.
Shell lies on the resurrected grass of Memorial Park. His legs straddling her, Cob’s body grinds over hers. But she’s not looking at him–she stares at the sheet of azure sky, determined that it hold her total attention. And although his thighs press fiercely against her torso and one of his hands draws her face roughly to him from the neck, Cob doesn’t look at her either. Instead, locked behind large, deep-purple sunglasses, his dark, dark eyes search the park. Both sixteen, they thrust coldly against each other as if engaged in a deadly struggle.
‘do you see him yet?” she asks him, her gaze still nailed to the sky.
“No, man, not yet,” he answers curtly.
Shell’s hair is long, very long, brown, streaked blond; dark-lashed, her eyes are leonine yellow. Conveying premature scorn and too large for the rest of her chiseled features, her lips incongruously complete her stark beauty.
She twists her full but slender body under the weight of Cob’s. “Cool it, man; you’re fucking hurting me,” she says. Her voice is husky beyond her years.
Cob pushes his hair, long to his shoulders, behind his ears. His eyes move in an arc. Almost too thin, he has icy good looks–face sharp of features, sensual–the dark sensuality of barely contained violence.
The El Paso, Texas, sky is magic blue. Only the film of dusty gray which lingers on the horizon hints of the season of howling wind just passed, when the wind rampaged the city with racking regularity, the sun a dull whitish smear for days, dust settling only at night like filthy lace.
Now, a late summer, the sun spreads its warmth like an electric halo.
The grass on which they lie has lost its winter brittleness, assuming a velvet sheen. Here and there, trees on this truncated hill overlooking the rest of the park create alcoves, grottos. It’s four o’clock. Shadows engraved by the bright stare of the sun provide pools for lovers.
But Cob and Shell lie in a clearing.
“You see him yet?” Shell demands impatiently.
“No–cool it.” Cob’s legs curl about her more intimately.
‘maybe he fucking isn’t here,” Shell says.
“I saw his fucking car,” Gob says.
“You’re pressing too hard!” Shell repeats.
“Then why the fuck don’t you get on top?” His dark eyes are intense periscopes.
In one quick motion, Shell mounts him. “Like this?” A sudden bolting anger in her gesture, she arches her body over his, lunging downward fiercely from her hips.
He pushes her back roughly, his legs lock hers. Despite the proximity, a severe coldness seizes their bodies, fused together like pieces of ice.
Shell laughs coldly. “How did it feel?” she fires at him.
‘shut up,” he admonishes. “You’ll fucking turn him off if he’s already up here ” Diggit! I think Manny spotted him, he’s moving toward the fountain!”
“Raise my skirt higher,” Shell orders.
Cob raises it, revealing her tawny hips. Their lips crash on each other, cold like iron. Cob’s hand strokes her breasts. Shell’s body tenses. The amber eyes concentrate on the sky.
“He’s seen us! He’s hiding behind the bench!” Cob says victoriously.
Glancing back, Shell spots the man within a shadowed alcove. About fifty, wearing a business suit, he holds binoculars anxiously in his hands.
Behind him, in a tank shirt–his perennial uniform when he’s not shirtless, to show off his well-muscled sixteen-year-old body–Manny, hair pushed determinedly over his forehead to create the impression of length, advances stealthily on the man.
Neck craning, the man watches Shell and Cob. The binoculars pressed against his eyes are like a terrible mask he’s doomed to wear.
Cob pushes against Shell as if to penetrate her. She stares ferociously at him. His long black hair captures her face.
Pulled by the visual sensuality, the man abandons his crouching position. Perspiring, binoculars focused on the two, he whimpers in impotent frustration and secret joy. Rashly, he takes two steps toward them.
“He’s moving nearer!” Cob whispers excitedly.
The cold movements of their bodies increase.
From behind, Manny pounces on the staring man.
Instantly their movements end; Shell and Cob rush toward the man and Manny. But already the panicked man is running down the hill to his car. The binoculars lie on the ground, an exposed secret.
Shell’s eyes are fierce on Manny. “You fucking let him get away!” she accuses.
“No, man,” Manny protests. “You stopped too soon!”
“You fucking let him get away!” Cob badgers.
“No, man, you blew it,” Manny insists. “You quit before I could even grab the weird fucker.”
Angrily Shell picks up the dropped binoculars. She studies them like the abandoned weapon of a stalked enemy. Depressed, she moves toward a stone bench under a wooden shelter on a loop of the park. A wall outlining it has begun to crumble, loose stones cascade down the spotted hill.
“Honest, Shell “” Manny approaches her. Not tall, Mexican-American–Chicano, he has the open good looks of a not very bright athlete. Yet, like Shell, like Cob, his face is branded by a bitter turn of the lips.
“Okay, man, fuck it,” Shell says impatiently. Just slightly past four! The afternoon stretches before them like a vast, barren desert.
“We could do something else.” Manny too feels the weight of the lingering afternoon.
“I wanted to get into that guy’s head,” Shell says. “Now he’ll never come back.”
Cob lies lazily on the low stone wall.
Shell sees a boy sitting on a bench away from them. She focuses the binoculars on him. “We need a fourth angel,” she says abruptly, removing the binoculars from her eyes as if something has affronted her gravely.
“Why?” Manny asks guiltily. An exposed board of the wooden shelter provides an excellent chinning bar. He begins to chin slowly.
Cob doesn’t sit up. “How about another chick?”
Despite the tone of indignation, as if she will not commit herself totally to that emotion, any emotion, a smile slashes Shell’s face. “Are you fucking calling me a chick, man?”
“You’re not a fucking dude, are you?” Cob doesn’t face her.
“I’m not a fucking chick, either,” she says. Part of her control, the cold smile remains. “A chick is fucking weak and weird, diggit?”
“Okay.” Cob yawns. “But if you want a fourth angel, why not a righteous chick?”
“I want a cat that won’t fuck up.” Her words accuse them both. She glances at the boy on the bench.
“What do you say, Manny?” Cob asks him indifferently.
“Okay by me,” Manny says ambiguously, pleasing both.
“Now what the fuck does that mean?” Shell stands before him as he lowers himself.
“I mean, a dude, a chick–get a fucking dude, but don’t get so fucking uptight,” Manny says. “Why do you want a fourth angel?” He tries not to sound piqued.
“Because I’m fucking bored.” Shell stares at the boy on the bench as if to force him to look at her.
‘so am I,” Cob accuses her back.
‘me, too,” Manny says sullenly. He removes his shirt, wipes his body with it. He flexes defiantly.
“What’s so fucking funny?” Manny says.
“You are,” says Cob.
“Fuck you ” Hey, check out that old woman, man!” Manny says.
A tangled puppet on high heels, a woman walks precariously toward them. A pitiful old hag, a brutal parody of youth, her face is screechingly painted in a vain attempt to mask deep, scar-deep, wrinkles. Her lips are a red quivering heart. Her dyed orange hair blazes unreally in the sun. Eyebrows arched like savage wings, her eyelashes are painted on her lids. Her dress is a crush of ruffles.
Cob touches his long hair, as if to assert the difference between her world and his.
Manny lets out a long whistle of mock approbation. “We could get into her head,” he offers, anxious to make up for the earlier fiasco with the voyeur. “I bet it’s loaded with shit.”
“Leave her alone,” Shell says flatly. She turns quickly away from the woman. The boy on the bench has not even glanced at them.
“Why not her?” Manny asks.
“Yeah, why, Shell?” Cob challenges with seriousness. Occasionally, they hint of verbalizing the rivalry that developed from the moment they met, here, over a week ago; Manny came along a few days later.
Shell pulls their attention from the old woman. Abruptly: “That cat over there–he could be the fourth angel.”
Still unaware of them, the youngman, their age, sits moodily on the back of a stone bench. He looks fixedly into his hands, holding sunglasses.
Cob reaches for the binoculars, fixes his sight through them on the boy.
‘shit, I think he’s crying!”
“You’re just saying that to bum Shell out on him cause she don’t dig crying,” Manny laughs, amused to stir the shapeless conflict between Shell and Cob.
“No, man, I think the dude’s fucking crying,” Cob says.
As if to intensify her naked focus on the boy, Shell’s eyes narrow. “We’ll teach him how to stop,” she says sombrely.
Quickly, Shell leading, they approach the boy on the bench.
Very handsome, with longish brown hair, the boy covers his eyes quickly with the sunglasses. With a shake of his head he tosses his hair defiantly from his forehead.
“Are you crying?” The smile on Shell’s face freezes as if before an enemy.
“No,” the boy says.
‘show us your eyes,” Cob says.
“Go to hell,” the boy tells them.
‘say, you’re the dude whose mom died.” Manny recognizes him.
“Yeah ” my mom “” The boy pauses. He can’t pronounce the word ‘died”. “A month ago,” he says. A portion of his life rushed after her into death. A scream ripped from his throat, he ran insanely along the hospital corridor to dash himself against the windows as if within the windy darkness outside he would find her. Death a constant presence every moment of his existence now, she dies for him each brutal day.
His voice veers on anger. “Look, I was just sitting here. Alone. I mean, what the hell”?”
“What are you so uptight about?” Cob asks. Then, in a subdued tone: “I lost my old lady too.”
“The fuck you did!” Shell turns on him.
A smile knives Cob’s face. “In a way,” he says. The smile flees. “To my ” sister.” Quickly he adjusts the purple glasses as if to block a tide of reality.
“What’s your name?” Shell asks the boy.
‘manny’s the one with the muscles, Cob’s the thin one,” she introduces. “And I’m Shell.”
‘shell?” Jerry is intrigued by her severe beauty.
“Like short for Michelle ” Michelle, ma belle,” Manny sings the Beatles’ song.
“It’s not short for anything,” Shell says defiantly. “Just Shell–like hard,” she seems to announce a credo.
“You want to be the fourth angel?” Shell asks Jerry abruptly.
“If being an angel means you’re dead “” Jerry starts. “What the hell is the fourth angel?” he shifts his thoughts.
“I’m the first angel, Cob’s the second “” Shell says.
“No, man,” Cob corrects. “I’m the first angel, you’re the second, Shell.”
Shell says: “We’ll find out.” Then to Jerry: ‘so?”
“You mean like the Hell’s Angels?” Jerry smiles.
“The Hell’s Angels! Far fucking out!” Manny folds over with glee. He mimes the revving of a motorcycle. “Varrooooo-mmmmmmm!”
“We’re like Heaven’s Angels,” Shell says to Jerry.
“We just call ourselves angels, that’s all,” Cob shrugs.
“What do I have to do?” Jerry asks, not taking them entirely seriously. Though he has always made friends easily, he has retained deliberately drawn boundaries between himself and others, as if the sea of emotion containing him and his mother may not be invaded. Since her death, he has isolated himself progressively, with memories.
Manny’s hands form a halo over Jerry’s head. “Now you’re the fourth angel,” he says.
They all laugh.
Cob sees Jerry looking steadily at Shell. As if to scare the new boy, or test him: “Have you ever done dope? You’ll have to, with us,” he says.
Quickly fascinated, “What kind of dope?” Jerry asks. A door may open to lead him from the void of death.
“Everything!” Manny says approvingly. ‘shell buys it! Diggit, her old man gives her so much bread, man! He digs her so much””
The purple shield of Cob’s eyes is still reflected on Jerry.
Jerry matches the steely stare, removes his own sunglasses.
Quickly Cob shifts his gaze, across the street, down the hill.
Shell’s eyes follow his. To:
Three cars parked before the men’s restroom. A fourth car just drove up.
“Another of those weird creeps rushing into the head,” Cob says with contempt.
“We could trap one and get into his head.” Shell studies Cob.
“Outasite,” Manny approves.
Cob nods solemnly. He looks like a young–sinister–prophet. A dark angel. Now he holds the abandoned binoculars to his eyes, over the purple glasses, looking at the men across the street. Like a sniper.
Jerry feels vaguely apprehensive.
“That’s what the three angels–the four angels–do, man,” Manny explains to Jerry. “We get into people’s heads. We almost had a peeping Tom.”
His purple gaze suddenly again on Jerry, “We interrogate people,” Cob says.
“About what?” Jerry asks.
“About all the bad shit,” Cob answers.
Now Shell is staring at the men cruising the restroom. One mills outside. She turns abruptly, studying Jerry’s reaction. “We could set fire to one of those guys down there,” she says.