I’m on my third slow loop through a nearly-empty parking lot, passing by darkened stores as the last workers depart on a Sunday night. The land on which the mall sits was once part of the Everglades – I helped survey it as a summer job years ago. I’d wade into the forest with a machete and mark the trees developers would be saving – the slash pines were going, but the live oaks would stay to be stranded in asphalt.
Three days ago, Tristan, my cousin’s boyfriend, was waiting at a stop sign on his motorcycle when an inattentive driver plowed into him. If I delay my arrival any longer, I’d miss his viewing completely, so I finally drive across the street to the funeral home.
They were on me at once, each with their own manner of eagerness and exerting their righteous belief in violence for violence’s sake.
They tore away at my shoulders and arms, beating, demanding I release my grip from Luky Roberts.
Some voices were familiar, most were strange and hostile, as I had come to expect in Compound RR4, one of the lightest secured cell units in the Saratoga Range District Penal System.
As the pistol spun and wobbled on the oak table, Jay remembered playing spin the bottle in the basement of his grandparents’ house. They had used a glass milk bottle and it clanged loudly on the concrete floor. It was cold and musty down there, but he remembered his palms were sweaty. The girls were Dawn and Amber. He was the only the boy. Eventually, he knew, he would kiss both of them, and he would get to see them kiss each other. It was safe, because none of it was his idea, but he had to hide the tremble of his hands. Then his grandmother ruined everything. She heard the odd sound in the basement and intervened before any kissing occurred. He wished his grandmother were alive to intervene now.
Bullet Brown sittin at the bar sparked the fire when he tells Tall Tan, “Don’t start no shit and there won’t be no shit.”
Tall Tan, the Collector Man, poured some gas on the spark. “Too late for that. The shit started when you opened your goddamn lying mouth.”
Bullet smiled his gap-toothed smile. “Well, fuck, man. If we gonna do it let’s get to it.”
We went as far as his car would take us, driving past the smoking blue mountains of north Georgia and Tennessee, the hickory sweetness invading the cracked leather of our 1995 Chevrolet Cavalier, which was an indistinguishable red-brown-orange depending on which angle you looked at it from. We sped through the once-treasured nightmare of Detroit, the neglected chaotic sunset of Dallas. Yellowstone, freshly scorched and withered from its latest cleansing.
Eric Ward was never the same man when he put on the suit. It was a three-piece, black pinstripe with a notched lapel. A silk kerchief, deep crimson, sat Presidential in the jacket pocket with a tie to match. The Homberg on his head carried the proper tilt. He never checked the mirror. It just felt right. This was a suit for winners. A deal closer. That’s what his father would have said: a suit you wear when you want to Get Things Done.
The gang from the boatyard, by God you had to love ‘em, the lot of them, every man jack of them; braised, poured, scratched, abraded, welded, mucked about by all of life, you had to love ‘em. Up front you have to know that those who had gotten nicknames felt honored, for that moniker stuff usually came from within, a private medal of sorts, earned without hoopla, seared forever. Those who hadn’t been so acclaimed patiently waited some kind of anointment, slow in coming, taking over like a root, underneath everything seen or known. Some of them had names like Max, Slad, Wilf, Muckles, Shag, Ronnie J, Slip, a feast of designations varied as character. And the sole captain of his own boat in the lot of them was Shanklin Garuf.
To a man, you had to love ‘em.