They watched the kid with the pink hair try to sell cigarettes to sixth graders, straddling the unmarked divide between the public park and the schoolyard. He couldn’t have been more than 16 or 17 himself, a baby-face beanpole high schooler. Wiry limbs spilled like loose threads from his ragged Misfits t-shirt that was two sizes too big, likely a hand-me-down from some incarcerated sibling or other kin. On a picnic table not too far away his friends sat and watched, barely containing their laughter as the eleven-year-olds skitted like stray cats to avoid the unwanted solicitor.
“Here she comes,” Clyde grinned, nodding towards a paunchy middle-aged school teacher making her way across the yard. Yogi smirked through a mouthful of lamb pita. He took one more bite, wiped tzatziki from his lips and brushed some crumbs off his lapel, then folded the remains of the sandwich up in a wax paper ball and tossed it into the sewer grate. Propping a foot up against the pitted brick wall of the deli he folded his arms and set himself fully to the task of spectating.
Surprisingly, the kid didn’t move. With a pick-pocket touch he palmed the handful of loosies into the back of his kneeless jeans and, composing an amiable smile, greeted the woman with a flourished hand.
“Well I’ll be damned,” Clyde exclaimed. Yogi nodded, still chewing.
After a brief exchange the woman walked back to her post, confusion and self-doubt clouding her visage. For a moment the kid was still, watching her go without expression. Then he turned and headed back over to his group who immediately began whooping with laughter, falling over themselves at the sheer audacity of their peer. “Mikey don’t give a FUCK!” yelled a towheaded, undersized member of the crew, throwing an arm around his comrade.
“Whatcha think?” Clyde asked, turning to Yogi.
“Yeah him, kid’s got some game.”
Yogi spit. “He’s not a player. He’s a fuckin’ clown.”
Clyde laughed, “Aww Yogi, have a heart, maybe he’s just acting out because he needs a little structure in his life. You ever heard of a ‘cry for attention?’ He’s probably just neglected. Look at him, father a drunk, dickless, unemployed loser, mother a two-bit, saggy-tit gonorrhea-ridden whore-”
Yogi snorted and shook his head, amused but also slightly abashed by this cruel caricature.
“I’m just saying, let’s go talk to him.”
Yogi turned, throwing up a handful of incredulity. “You’re serious? You wanna recruit that bony pink-haired faggot?”
Clyde waved the criticism away, “kids are different these days, pink doesn’t mean fag. It’s a ‘fuck society’ kind of thing.”
“Oh what, you’re a child psychologist now? Where do you get this shit?”
Clyde’s brow furrowed, “I got a nephew who’s like that. Runs around lookin’ all weird, rings in his nose like some aboriginal spearchucker, but he’s a tough fucking kid. Bright too, wants to be an anesthesiologist.”
Yogi stuck his lip out thoughtfully and rubbed a thumb across his stippled chin. He watched the kids on the bench. They were all jabbering excitedly, vying for approval the way teens do; all except pink. He sat taciturn, looking deep in thought, plotting his next spectacle maybe.
“Alright fuck it, we’ll take a run at him.”
Clyde nodded candidly, unphased by his partner’s change of heart, “How do you want to do it?”
“You be bad cop. I’ll be worse cop.”
Clyde grinned, looking up and down the street. The middle schoolers were in a serpentine single file line heading back in the building and there was no one else around. “You wanna try and rattle him huh?” He cracked the knuckles on his right hand, getting into character.
Yogi kept his eyes narrowed on the kids. “Well,” he said, “how else you gonna find out whether he’s a diamondback or just a painted up morocca?”
Clyde shook his head, “You Texans, always with an expression for everything.” He came up out of his lean, arching his back to push off the wall. “Alright.”
They crossed the street and beelined to the table, about ten feet out the kids all stopped talking at once and stared with deerlike stillness. Pink looked up and glared and loudly hawked up a blob of brown mucous in their direction.
“Everybody get the fuck out of here, we want a word with Mikey.” The unnamed children scattered and flew off in an untidy murmuration. Mikey stood up slowly, sneering. “What the fuck do you queers want?”
Yogi slammed the heel of his hand into the kid’s flat, pubescent chest, knocking him back against the table. “SIT THE FUCK DOWN SHITHEAD.”
The kid winced sharply as the ledge of the table struck his spine, but he kept his sneer afixed. It was a real work of art, thought Yogi, the kind of facial expression that would make Johnny Rotten envious.
Clyde bent down and got in the kid’s face. “You think it’s funny to sell cigarettes to little kids huh Mikey? You think it’s a fucking joke?”
Mikey’s eyes shot up to meet those of his accuser. He smirked arrogantly, as if the answer to this question was self-apparent.
“You sick little bastard.” Clyde shook his head in a patronizing fashion. “You know what they sell cigarettes for in prison? They sell them for sweet little pieces of ass like you. That sound funny to you Mikey?”
Mikey laughed, “You think I’m fucking stupid? I’m sixteen. You fucking cops say the same shit over and over like it’s gonna start working allofasudden. Why don’t you do your job and go find some niggers to exterminate.”
Clyde smiled wickedly. He turned to Yogi and silently mouthed, ‘told you.’ Then aloud he said, “You hear that Yogi? Mikey here thinks we’re cops.” He laughed derisively and Mikey’s sneer suddenly broke into uncertainty. Yogi let slip an incoherent syllable, something between a laugh and a grunt.
Clyde turned back to Mikey and stuck his hand out, “gimme one of those cigarettes kid.”
He looked unsure, glancing from Clyde to Yogi. Yogi nodded his head sternly and the kid leaned forward and reached around to his back pocket. He brought out a bent and flattened cig. Clyde took it and looked it over.
“Cowboy killer eh? Well at least you have decent taste in something.” He balanced the Marlboro between the dry exterior of his lips, pulled out a pale-blue bic mini, flicked it to life and lit the stale tobacco with a quiet crackle.
“Listen kid,” he exhaled and, with the cigarette cradled between his fore and middle fingers, reached up and used his pinky to delicately scratch the temple of his hairless dome. “My partner and I are not cops, we’re businessmen. But you mentioned something that I think it’s safe to say, you, me, and the cops all have in common and that something is a distaste for niggers.”
Mikey looked confused, but he was listening diligently now. Occasionally his eyes moved back to Yogi, wondering if there was another shoe getting ready to drop. Yogi’s face remained stoically unaltered. It was a practiced facade that he found exceedingly useful. His uncle had been a gambling man and had impressed the trade upon him from an early age. Remember Yogi, you don’t have to be holding anything to have the upper hand. You just have to keep your opponent guessing. His mind is his worst enemy and your best friend.
“Now you talk tough, but the question is ‘how tough are you really?’ ’Cause I’m looking for someone who can do more than fuck with schoolkids and sweet talk some dumb cunt.” Clyde took another drag and eyed the kid, appraising him.
Mikey’s smile shined with an inner hubris that had finally been rewarded. His whole life he’d been passed over and now finally someone was inviting him onto the main stage as he had secretly always known they would. He pulled another flattened cig out of his back pocket and produced a book of matches as well. He popped one off his thumbnail with a practiced ease, lit up, and tossed the black and shriveled sprig into the dirt.
“I can do anything you need bossman,” he declared, elbows on the table, smoke frothing from his thin, crooked nose.
Clyde laughed and even Yogi cracked a smile. “Well that’s what I like to hear, but aren’t you forgetting something?”
Mikey’s self-satisfied grin was replaced with confusion, he racked his brain searching for that etiquette of gangsterdom that had eluded his grasp.
“Money Mikey, money.” Clyde shook his head.
Yogi pulled out a fat roll of bills and held them out between his forefinger and thumb. He peeled off a pair of hundreds and handed them to Clyde who handed them to Mikey.
“You see Mikey, you do a man’s job, you get paid like a man. Never forget that.” Mikey nodded, brows knitted to convey the depth of his understanding.
“Good,” Clyde smiled warmly. “Alright then, c’mon we got work to do.”
The trio headed back to the car, Clyde and Yogi in front matching strides and Mikey following close behind, trying to affect their gate.
They got in the car wordlessly and started driving. They crossed the river and headed to a side of town Mikey had never seen before. There were black kids perched on stoops and porches and every couple of blocks there was a group of them occupying a corner, all glowering at anything that passed by. Somewhere deep in this unknown land they pulled up to the curb alongside an abandoned and overgrown lot and Clyde turned the car off. It was quiet and the sound of the breeze in the high grass was like playing cards being delicately shuffled.
Yogi pulled a small baggie out of the glove compartment and Clyde handed him the keys. He dipped one into the bag and brought it up slowly to his nose. He pressed down on one nostril and then took a great snort off the key. Clyde followed suit.
“You want some crank there Mikey? It’s great shit.” Clyde held the keys and the baggie out towards him, a sacrament.
“Yeah, I’ll take some.” Mikey said, trying to sound like he knew what crank was. He dug the key in the bag and brought out a scoop of chalky-white powder. Sticking the key almost in his nose he sniffed it up. It burned terribly and he pinched down on his nostrils and sniffed and his eyes watered. Then as fast as the pain had come on he felt pleasure take hold. A warm electric current flowed through his veins and he felt aglow, basked in the aura of his own being.
“Mikey, listen up.” Clyde was turned around now. Mikey looked up with wild eyes. “Now you can talk tough all you want, but we both know you ain’t never killed no nigger before. So here’s your chance to prove yourself. You see that big guy at the end of the next block?”
Mikey leaned forward and peered through the windshield, blinking his eyes several times until they came into focus. “Yeah I see that motherfucker.” His head bobbled erratically.
“Good,” Clyde nodded, “now if you wanna be part of our crew you gotta be a killer. You think you’re a killer Mikey?”
“Goddamn right I am.” He wiped at his nose, eyeing the bag of powder in his lap hungrily. Yogi reached back into the glove compartment and brought out a dark-black handgun. He handed it to Clyde and Clyde handed it back to Mikey.
“You know how to use that?”
Mikey flipped the safety off. “Fuck yeah I do, everyone in my family has a gun.” He went to cock it and Clyde held a hand out to stop him. “Hold on there bud, she’s live, don’t jam her.” Mikey nodded and slowly moved his hand up and down, feeling the weight of the gun. He felt raw, unrestrained power flowing through him.
“I figured you’d know. Sharp kid like you.” He smiled again and Mikey felt a small puddle of pride well up in his gut. “Alright so here’s the plan. You stick that bad boy in the back of your jeans, get out, skulk on up to this fucker like you’re just another deadbeat copping some crack. And then when you get up good and close you blast him. Then we’ll drive up and you hop in. Got that?” Clyde eyed him very seriously.
“Got it.” It felt so clearly laid out, like he had done it before, like it was routine. Easy.
“Okay.” Clyde said, “Ready. Set. Go.”
He jumped out with both feet, leaving the car door open as he strode rapidly up the block. Halfway there he slowed down, trying to skulk like Clyde had told him. When he was within ten yards his prey called out, “Look at this little fiend.” The two younger men manning the stoop laughed. “Kid whatchu want with your pasty ass?”
He tried to speak but his mouth was so dry and his mind was moving too fast to stop and form words. He kept walking and the big man yelled again, louder, “I SAID WHATCHU WANT MOTHERFUCKER?”
The crank rose up in him. His face flushed and rage ripped through his brain like a great tree of lightning and he didn’t think, couldn’t think. He just grabbed the gun and whipped it around and pulled the trigger. Click. Nothing happened. He pulled again. Click. Click click click. BOOM. The noise was deafening, but it wasn’t his gun. It was the big guy and he was holding a sawed-off and smoke spilled up from one of the barrels and there was a wetness running down his body and he looked down and there was blood pooling at his feet. And he couldn’t breathe. His stomach was full of holes.
It felt like a dream in which he had half-woken and lucidity was slowly creeping in. He cocked his head to the side, looking at the man who had shot him almost as if he were asking, ‘really?’ Then another deafening explosion and he fell and didn’t move.
From down the block Clyde and Yogi watched black bodies flee in all directions from the epicenter. They waited until it was clear and drove up fast. Yogi jumped out and grabbed the Glock, his gaze avoiding pink’s lifeless corpse. As they sped off Clyde looked back in the rearview. “Lambs to slaughter,” he said quietly, shaking his head. Yogi didn’t say anything.
After crossing back over the bridge and tossing the gun they both felt more at ease. “Dollars to donuts,” Clyde said, “that black nationalist motherfucker is in handcuffs by the end of the week with his whole organization shut down. We put in an anonymous call to the local PD, tell ’em who shot the kid, what’s his name again?”
Yogi leafed through the dossier. “Wallace Eckers, aka Ribeye.”
“Ribeye? That’s a new one.” Clyde laughed. “Anyway, Ribeye’s looking at death row. He flips just so he can live out a miserable 50 or 60 years in a max pen and the whole thing comes tumbling down.” He snapped. “Like that. Then we prop up a more patriotic, capitalist minded ghetto dweller and he can peddle his wares up and down the streets of this little McShantytown till kingdom come for all I care.”
Yogi nodded silently, trying not to picture the face of their sacrificial lamb.
“Fuck I’m hungry, those sandwiches just burn right through me. Wanna grab a slice or something before we get back to the office?”
He shook his head and reached to turn up the radio.
Clyde shrugged. “Alright fine, we can eat at that diner across from the motel.”
In the dusky evening, after the detectives and the news crews and the onlookers had all left and the ambulance had taken the body away, a hunchbacked and liver spotted old man came out of his crumbling abode. He surveyed the scene: tatters of bright yellow crime scene tape, a pair of old shoes hanging from the telephone wires, and the rust-colored, coagulated stain on the sidewalk in front of his stoop. He hobbled down the steps and around to the side of the house and came back dragging an old hose behind him. With a firm grip he pulled down on the trigger of the nozzle and a pressurized stream of water shot out, still warm from the heat of the day. He moved the spray back and forth across the stain and it rose up in a fine pink mist and the wind carried it away.