My name is Reginald Nathaniel Caster Williams. The Reginald is from my paternal grandfather, the Nathaniel is for my maternal grandfather, the Caster is because my father thought it would sound cool, and the Williams is because I am a Williams. It actually is my mom’s last name, not my dad’s, since my father has not been in the picture since I was a year old. I would like to say that my mom raised me right, she sure tried, but in the end, I kind of raised myself. I love my mom, and she is a saint, but no mom from this town can be a single parent without a gang trying to take the place of a strong family. We all yearn for it, we all want it. We want to be included.
Not for lack of trying, I tried to avoid it altogether. I really did. I focused on school like my grandma and grandpa wanted. My grandpa even slipped me a twenty for every straight A I brought home. My last report card, I pulled down a hundred and twenty bucks. My cousin though, my mom’s sister’s son, Curtis is a god damn idiot. We are about the same age, and I wish I could say we were up to the same thing, but that would be an outright lie. He doesn’t go to school any more… he thinks he is the man of his house now.
If my grandma heard that, she would hit him so hard upside the head, he would have both of his ears on the same side. My grandma don’t carry no one’s shit, especially not Curtis’s. But like I said, he wants to be included. He wants to be a part of things. He wants to be a gangbanger like his pops. And like my dad too, I guess. Although his dad is running on the streets, my dad is on a ten-to-twenty because he thought robbing a bank was a good idea. It falls to me to watch over Curtis because he don’t think, and if his head weren’t screwed on, it would float away.
I got shot because of it. Twice. Once in the left shoulder, two inches below the joint, three inches from my heart. The bullet went straight out after bouncing off of my clavicle, and made an ugly gaping hole in my mid-back. The second bullet hit the side of my head, a glancing blow that gave me a concussion, and pushed my temple up and back, carving a shallow gash all the way past my ear. I don’t know if I shot anything back to be honest, because as the adrenaline wore off and my blood loss caught up to me, I blacked out at the feet of an old white dude in a golfing hat.
Then I woke up in a god damn graveyard. I won’t mention the rest right now. Let’s just call this shit crazy and come back to it later.
“Curtis,” I said. “You should come talk to the librarian with me. She was telling me about the GED program they run. You could work on getting your diploma.”
“I don’t need no diploma, Reg. Shit, son. After this score, I am going to be set. Taking care of it. One bitch ass nigger dead, his deal is mine, and then I take it back to my pops and earn my place.” Curtis laughed, sliding his finger along the flat edge of his hat brim.
“Curtis, you just going to get shot.” I said emphatically. “You have never even shot a gun before.”
“I have too. I have shot Miles’ nine.”
“At glass bottles. And you were drunk.”
“Don’t be spittin’ at me, son. I know what the fuck I am doing. What you doing? Huh? Being a little bitch, that’s what. You can do this shit the easy way, Reg. Come on, man. Help me out. You need this as bad as I do.” Curtis thought he was acting cool, but we grew up together, so he was just coming off as a fake.
I raised an eyebrow and shook my head. “Curtis, this is bad all around. Who told you about it?”
“Janks, man. Swore up and down it was legit.”
“Janks man? He is stoned all the time! How would he know anything, Curtis? The dude can barely put his shirt on straight. He uses man, he uses bad. You can’t trust that.”
“You can, and I will. I have the glock already. I got my pops snubbie. You take one, shit, I will even let you use the glock. I got the .38 down.”
“I don’t know. Who else is going to back this up?” I asked incredulously.
“No one, Reg. Don’t you get it? This is for us. Just like we used to talk about. This is for all that shit those fuckers laid down on us. Do you remember that shit? Or did you lose what was important?”
“And what would that be?”
“Each other, Reg. You and me versus all those lame ass fuckers.” Curtis laughed.
“You gonna get your ass shot.”
“Only if your aim is that bad.”
“Fuck you, Curts.”
“Fuck you, Reg.”
We sat there in silence for a while, the back stoop started getting darker by the minute as the sun went down behind the drab concrete buildings that made up this part of the neighborhood. Curtis fidgeted with his shoe laces pretending to ignore the monumental question that hung between us.
“I need you on this one, Reggie.” Curtis dropped his swagger and his street all at once. It was the Curtis I remembered sitting next to me. “If you don’t want in after we are done, I will leave you be.”
I looked him in the eye, and I saw he was being as true as Curtis could be. I swallowed heavily.
“Fine. Meet you at Corner Store at ten.”
“Yes! My man. Yes!” Curtis said as he grabbed my arm and shook me vigorously. “That’s right!”
We were going to meet under the faded mural for Coke that must have been from the last Olympics, whatever, and wherever that had been. Some black chick must have been inspirational to the marketing team that decided to penetrate our market, but we could see right through it all. Stupid pandering from the big businesses that just worked to push us down and take what shavings of quarters we could muster. No wonder every black man was considered an angry black man… we had every right to be. Companies that sought to elevate us from our ‘situation’ did everything to make sure we did not leave our place. I suppose it was better today than it was when my grandma and grandpa had the race riots and the all that horror after MLK was shot, but was it only marginally better? White folks can’t call us niggers any more, and we can go to the same schools. But what else can we actually do? It is a self perpetuating system. We rise, or attempt to rise, and the complex hand of the market keeps us on our side of the border of inequality. Here I stood, thinking about the complex state of our little world, and my cousin was walking up dressed in black like he was a ghetto ninja.
“Why you wearing red, fool?” Curtis said.
“Its my favorite color?” I replied.
“Shit. It just makes you a target.”
“Or they going to shoot at the crazy ninja in black Levis.”
“Whatever man. Come on.”
“Where we headed?” I asked.
“We are going over to the park, past the courts.”
“That is dangerous territory, Curtis.” I said, trying to not let my voice shake.
“Take this then.” Curtis said as he handed me the glock.
“Shit, shit, shit.” I tucked the gun hurriedly into the small of my back and made sure my shirt covered it.
“Calm down, man. This is easy. No one is going to be on the courts, no one is going to see us. We waltz into the drop, take out the chumps, and walk away. Its the cover by their drop site. No one can see the back alley man. Its a blind spot. Janks is a genius.”
“If this is such a good plan, why does Janks know about it then,” I retorted sarcastically.
“He, uh, was down the alley and saw it.”
“He was shooting up in a dark alley and happened to see this? What the fuck, Curtis? This plan is inane!”
“I told you not to use those words, man.” Curtis shook his head threateningly.
“Its dumb! Stupid! INANE!” I was getting furious. “You are going off the word of a strung out junkie that happened to be riding a high in a dark alley!”
“Cool it man, people will notice.” Curtis pushed my shoulder towards the courts.
“Cool it? You are lucky Curtis. You are fucking lucky that I am here to make sure you don’t fucking commit suicide.”
“How would I commit suicide?” Curtis asked with a bewildered look on his face.
“And you are stupid to boot.” I shook my head.
“Shut the fuck up.” I spit.
“Right there… between those stores. See that spot with the light? We go down a block and we can drop down between that light and the one between it. Its just a wall, totally dark. Use the dumpster on the other side.”
We walked around the block and came at the alley from the other side. The steam from a Chinese restaurant was stinking up the alley, and a bunch of wild cats crisscrossed back and forth in the dark, mewling for whatever the Mexican cooks from the Chinese place tossed their way. We jumped the dumpster, then vaulted over the wall and sure enough, landed in the dark.
Curtis tapped on his shoulder, and pulled out his .38. I pulled the Glock and checked the safety about twenty minutes too late after shoving it down my pants. I could have shot my own ass cheek… that would have been a short end to our long evening.
We hunkered down in the dark spot between the dumpsters, just waiting for something. I kept wanted to ask, but since Curtis was just regurgitating what he had heard from a junkie laying from this very spot, I figured my answer would come soon enough. My knees started to hurt and the stale smell of old piss and the sweet rotting smell of whatever was stored in the dumpsters was getting to me. Thankfully we did not have to wait long. One of the doors nearby opened and a solitary business looking guy came out with a couple duffel bags and set them into the crook of the wall, like he was taking out the trash. He looked right at us, but we must have been well hidden, because he smoked a cigarette, took a leak on the other wall and headed back inside. The heavy door thunked behind him more than twice before I allowed myself to breathe.
“We grab the bags and jump over. The gate will unlock here in a minute, a black sedan and a couple OG’s will pick up the stash. Let’s move!” Curtis pushed the dumpster out and ran over to the corner and grabbed one of the duffels. “Holy shit this is heavy. This must be thousands man!”
I grabbed the other duffel and unzipped it. Inside, it was nothing but shrunk-wrapped stacks of twenties, fifties, and hundreds.
“Uh, Curtis. This is way more than a couple thousand.”
“How much more?” Curtis said hungrily.
“At least ten or twelve bundles in mine. A 100k? 150?”
Curtis put his rolled up fist to his mouth. “Ooooh man, we made it man! Let’s go!”
We grabbed the bags and started moving slowly. The weight was impressive… money weighs more than you think. We pushed the dumpster back, and it moved begrudgingly, as if it did not want us to get over. The wheels squeaked loudly, and I could hear Curtis curse under his breath. Lights flashed over head, and it dawned on me the crawling lights over the brick was a pair of car headlights turning into the alley and shining through the plastic slats in the fence.
“Fuck. We gotta move, Curtis. The thugs are here, I think.”
“Get up, I will toss the bags.”
“No you get up, I will toss them, you pull them. Go.”
Curtis climbed onto the dumpster and jumped up to the lip of the brick wall. He pulled himself up and dropped a hand to me. I pushed the first bag up the grunting. He grabbed it by the strap and pulled it up with his veins on his forehead bulging. I heard it hit the ground on the other side. He stuck his hand back over and I pushed the second duffle up. I heard the gate behind me start to move, a creaking and squeaking noise as its undersized hard rubber wheel turned hatefully to allow the sedan to pull in.
Curtis grabbed the second bag and dropped it. Any moment the car’s headlights was going to light up my ass, and then I was going to hear gunshots. I looked over my shoulder at the gate, and realized it was opening slower than my imagination had played it out, thank god.
“Curtis, man, come on. Pull me up.” I whispered forcibly through my teeth, pulling my lips so tight, they felt like they were going to split.
“Curtis!” I hissed.
Finally I saw his face pop over the edge. He put a hand down and started to pull me up. I swung a leg over the wall just as the car pulled into the alley and thought I was out. I felt something slip from my waistband, and a heavy something liberated itself downwards. The glock hit the ground hard, fell over, and the loudest god damn gunshot I had ever heard echoed from my feet. The bullet whined off the brick to the side and I heard a thunk as the bullet hit the back quarter panel of the sedan.
Its brights went on as I dropped over the wall. Not even a second later, two shots rang out and I could hear the sound of bullets hitting the wall on the other side.
“I saw someone man! On the other side! Right there, his leg was hanging over and he took his shot at us!” A voice yelled.
“The bags are gone!” Another yelled.
“Get over that wall!” Yet another said vehemently. “Get in!”
The sedan’s engine roared and the tires squealed as it backed out of the alley. I could hear someone climbing the dumpster on the other side.
Curtis grabbed his bag and I grabbed mine, and we tore off down the alley. The bag felt like it weighed nothing at all with how fierce my heart was tearing along, the raging pure wide-eyed realness of it all was pushing itself against me. The abandon of it, the moment of it, the undiluted pureness of this moment was overwhelming.
I ran hard, pumping my arms with the duffel slung over my shoulder. I took a hard corner, hearing Curtis behind me, clumsily hitting a trashcan and sending it spilling over the sidewalk. Not far behind, I heard the squeal of tires, and horns blaring. We had to get off the street. We had to get out of sight.
I pointed at another turn, hoping that Curtis saw it. I turned, and thankfully, I heard Curtis behind me.
“Run, Reg! Go, go, go. There is a big motherfucker behind me!”
I took another corner and saw the perfect opportunity as I ran up to it. A small grate, barely on its fittings over a boarded up window well. The perfect place to drop a couple bags. I unslung my bag as ran up to the gate, bending low in a fast motion and pulling the grate upwards as hard as I could. The remaining masonry screws cried out briefly, and brick dust sprayed outwards. I dropped my duffel in the hole, and Curtis, without a word, dropped his in after that. I shoved the grate back down, and Curtis and I pushed a dumpster over the top.
We took off again, and I heard a gunshot behind me. I felt something pass by my ear eagerly. I leaned to the left and pushed Curtis into a gap between two apartments. He shimmied between chain link posts and I jumped and tumbled over the top. I pushed Curtis ahead of me as best as I could and I felt him pull his snub nose .38 out and in a swift motion, turned and fired.
In the enclosed walls, it was deafening with its potency. No far off pop pop pop of a video game or a movie. This was a staccato roar of death baring its teeth. I turned to see a dark shadow drop like its strings had been cut. I grabbed Curtis by the collar of his stupid black jacket and pushed him physically in front of me. We finally made it back to the street and we both ditched our jackets in narrow space. Curtis dropped his gun into his pocket and pulled his t-shirt down.
We had gotten away. My cousin had committed first degree murder, I was an accomplice, and we had stolen tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars from what I was sure was the mafia based on what the suit was wearing.
“Jesus. We are never doing that again,” I said.
“No doubt.” Curtis shook his head.
“We have to walk like nothing happened.”
“You look terrible.” Curtis said.
“I feel like I am going to puke.” And I did, all over the side of the building. A passerby shook their head, but in this part of town, no one thought much of some youths puking against a wall.
“I think…” Curtis started, but the sound of squealing tires told me exactly what he was about to say. There was fusillade of noise behind me, and the wall erupted in a spray of broken masonry and mortar. Curtis’s head rocked forward, and blood erupted from his chest in a fine mist all around him like an aura. I could taste it. I could smell it. I turned and felt someone punch me in the chest, and another punch in the side of the head. I hit the wall in a spin and went down next to my dead cousin. His hand had the revolver in it, clenched tightly, even in death. I stretched my arm out and pulled it underneath me, gripping its walnut stock as tightly as I could.
“Shit, we have to hustle. Cops will be on their way.”
“We got to see if one of them is alive, Abo. Or the bossman is going to be pissed.”
“That one is definitely dead,” the first voice said, his thick latino accent was barely understandable. He must have been fat.
“Yeah, he is done. This one is still breathing.” I felt a hand grab my shoulder and rolled me over.
I had the gun at my hip and I put the first shot into the suprised face of a skinny ragged looking black guy with a wide nose and wider eyes. The bullet must have killed him instantly, because his weight fell immediately over me. I pushed the snub nose out from his armpit and took another shot at where the fat one was standing.
My shot went very wide, and the fat one (who was actually very fat) moved so fast that I could not believe it. In a moment he was gone and the sedan roared away. My shoulder was screaming, and I could feel the back of my shirt getting very wet.
I pushed the dead gangster off of me, and looked over at Curtis. His eyes were glassy and staring at me, cold and lifeless. There was nothing in his face. Nothing that I could recognize as my cousin. I felt so many things well up inside of me, but I had to get moving or I would be joining him.
I stood up, nearly falling over again. In the distance, the immediacy of the wailing sirens called out to me. I clutched the snub nose in my hand tightly and crossed the street in a daze. I climbed a hill and rolled down the other side, feeling the shock of being shot spread across my chest, and my arms, and my legs. Everything felt so heavy.
I am not sure how I stumbled through a wrought iron gate, but an old man in a flannel print golf cap watched me intently, setting a rake and shovel down near an old shed. I pointed the gun at him, then lowered it slowly.
“I… I… I…” I said.
Then I passed out and saw no more.