Children Of The Night by Jess Mowry: all rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this work by any means except short excerpts for use in reviews. The Kindle edition, to date, is the only legally authorized ebook or web-accessible edition of this work. If you find this book being offered anywhere else, either as a download or to be read online, it is there without the author's permission (ake STOLEN PROPERTY) and in violation of copyright law.


       I received Mowry's newest novel, (Way Past Cool) from his first major publisher, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, as I was searching for a young adult author to speak at an American Library Association program addressing issues in multicultural publishing called "Connections -- YA Publishers, YA Librarians, YA Readers: Linking Multicultural Needs". In reply to my invitation, I received a plump, heavily taped package from Mowry's Oakland address. Inside were his two most recent books, and a two-page single spaced letter -- a most graceful decline of my invitation. It explained that he was too poor a speaker to accept, while eloquently addressing each of the panel's issues.

       Like his books, Mowry's letter moved me to tears. In it I saw a private, sensitive man, compelled to mirror in writing his alien world for outsiders to see, but unwilling to visit our reality, where four hundred librarians would simply spell discomfort. Were some of those librarians -- afraid to promote his gritty, violent, four-letter word-spattered books to the youth for whom they were intended -- part of the problem?

       In his letter, Mowry agreed that such librarians may be...

       "one of the main reasons why there are very few books for 'my' kids to read and relate to. I say one reason, because it is pretty obvious that to be young, male, and black in this society is to be an endangered species... Point of fact is that these kids are not supposed to be able to read...

       ....the issue goes much deeper... into the reality that there is an active and growing war on black males in this society. The Rodney King rebellion was actually us shaking the bars of our cages. One of the most deadly attitudes being drummed into our kids is this idea of "bad" and "cool", and that it's not "cool" to read...

       As I see it, we need black publishing and black distributing especially for our inner-city youth... books and reading material of every sort and subject, written for, and about black kids, and this we don't have."

       Most of the writers of the nearly thirty articles and reviews Mowry sent me are also deeply affected by his testaments. Way Past Cool stirred a Los Angeles Times reviewer "to a real anger. It's proof that literature is far from dead. Unless you are emotionally dead yourself, you simply cannot read about fourteen-year-old kids who are discussing Captain Kirk one minute and talking about dirt naps -- their term for being killed -- or buying a new Uzi the next."

       If Mowry himself had not sent me his second book, Children Of The Night, an original paperback from a small African-American publishing company, I would never have seen it. Enter Mowry's alternative universe, a West Oakland neighborhood where thirteen-year-old Ryo is luckier than many because he has a mother, Tracy, who loves him and surrounds him with other caring adults to compensate for his lack of a father. Tracy must work endless hours in Brownie's cafe, with little time off to spend with Ryo. During meals at the cafe, kind-hearted Vietnam veteran, Brownie, and his regular customers offer Ryo advice and support, marveling at his intelligence and common sense, which set him apart from his neighborhood peers.

       Of course Ryo cannot remain unaffected by his surroundings. Hanging out with his best friend, his "homey" Chipmunk, a fat boy who still manages to be an ace on a skateboard, Ryo begins to see no way out. Dressed in shabby clothes, he endures the sneers of rich white "squid kids" at the mall while window-shopping a skateboard he cannot afford. Far beyond recreation, a board is a safe way to navigate the dangerous streets. "There's all kinds of ways to be hungry," Ryo thinks. "An' money seem to be the only thing what fill you up." There is only one way to get the money to escape from his city cage with his mother -- by working for drug dealer Big Bird.

       Sensing Ryo's talents, sixteen-year-old Big Bird grooms him for inside work, giving special treatment that includes a ride in Big Bird's Piper Cub airplane, which is beyond Ryo's wildest dreams.

       Despite his bedazzlement, however, Ryo soon becomes disenchanted with Big Bird's "rock house", which speeds boys as young as eight into crack addiction. How else, though, can Ryo earn a hundred bucks a day toward his dream? It takes Chipmunk's death in a drug run to propel Ryo to destroy Big Bird and so save himself.

       Mowry believes that the pivotal age of thirteen is when most ghetto children fist begin to see "what it is,"the dreadful reality around them. Through the voice of cafe owner Brownie, Mowry rails against the traps confining these boys, tired of "having nothing, being nothing, and seeing nothing ahead". While mourning for Chipmunk and the other lost ones, the reader roots hard for Ryo, hoping he will be one of the survivors. Our hope is kept alive by Suntop, a nineteen-year-old pimp who hangs out at Brownie's. A fan of Elf Quest graphic novels, Suntop believes in magic, swearing that he makes magic happen, sometimes through his ladies the "Elf-Princesses," who bring happy moments to his dark world.

       When Ryo turns to Suntop for comfort after a crack-crazed friend is shot, the seventeen-year-old "Elf-Princess." Firefox, is part of Suntop's cure for Ryo's blues. Ryo's sexual awakening with Firefox is a ritual coming-of-age, giving Ryo the power to make a stand.

       Though Mowry strongly depicts drug lords as evil predators on the weak and innocent, Suntop's prostitutes and magic rituals -- really a form of positive thinking -- are just as clearly a force for good. Such values are part of what makes this inner-city world so foreign to the rest of us; we must be careful to judge that world by its own rules, not ours. As Brownie says, the problem is "people not believin' what's goin' on in places like this... as long as they can keep it in places like this."

Cathi Dunn MacRae, senior editor of Voice Of Youth Advocates (The Wilson Library Bulletin - September, 1992)


                                  Children Of The Night
                               © 1991 - 2012 Jess Mowry

                                             For Ryo


       Children Of The Night is my actual first novel (many people seem to think Way Past Cool was the first). It's a story about Ryo, a 13-year-old West Oakland boy, and his homey, Chipmunk, who are sick of being poor and having nothing. Together they make a decision to work for a young crack dealer named Big Bird.
       Like my story collection, Rats In The Trees, Children Of The Night portrays Oakland, California innercity kids in the late 1980's. This was a time when it was common for some crack-dealing 12-year-olds to have thousands of dollars in their pockets; a time when younger and younger kids were getting guns and using them on each other; a time when (just as now) a large segment of the U.S. white population were applauding (though usually not openly) the "self-cleaning ovens" of the innercities.
       I find it interesting that a self-proclaimed "white, middle-aged reviewer" for The Washington Post, who had "never hung with the homeboys" (why, then, was he reviewing one of my books?) chose to dis me and my work by "exposing" the fact that Children Of The Night was published by Holloway House, a "Black-exploitation publisher," as if this book was something I should be ashamed of.
       I am not in the least ashamed of this book. I am disgusted with the sloppy printing, proofing and editing done by Holloway House, but what does it matter who published the book as long as its positive messages got out there on the shelves?
       To me, the statements made by this self-described "white, middle-aged reviewer, who had never hung with the homeboys," are typical of a book reviewer with his own agenda... and I assume the agenda is that black kids are not supposed to know the truth about the odds stacked against their survival, and that anyone who tries to tell this truth is to be disrespected, discredited... if not disposed of.
       But, despite the poorly-done printing I'm still proud of the (printed) book. As far as I'm aware it's still in print and may be ordered through your local book store or from Amazon. It also seems to be widely available at "ghetto liquor stores," and I'm certainly not ashamed of that either. Here at least is one of my books in an affordable format that can be easily accessed by the kids I wrote it for.

       Jess Mowry - 2012

                                        Chapter One

       "Read my lips, kid! Get the fuck outta here and don't come back till you got the money to buy something!"
       Ryo looked up at the surf-Nazi. The dude was about seventeen, thin, and tanned to the max, muscles hard under his skintight O'Neil tank top. His short hair was bright blond, but his eyebrows and the smudge above his lip were black. The dude flicked the tiny swastika earring in his left ear and gave Ryo a smirk. "Oh, and have a nice day... boy."
       Ryo turned away from the counter, walking slowly to the skate shop door, carrying his thrashed old Chris Miller by its front truck. He didn't bother with the walk -- Brownie still called it showing pride -- or telling the punk to eat a shitburger or something. What good would it do? Might as well flip-off a dog. He felt the dude's eyes on him as he stepped into the mall's huge main corridor, then the dude turned to another big skinhead kid who'd been leaning on the counter, and snickered.
       Ryo heard the other kid laugh. "I got nothing against 'em, man... figure everybody should own a couple."
       That was so fucking old! thought Ryo. Besides being retarded.
       The surf-Nazi snickered again. "That one's been in here three times this week creaming his jeans over the Steadham deck. Even wanted to stand on it once!"
       "Well," said the other kid. "That's a radical ride. ...Hey, what're you scared of, man; like the little shine's gonna rub his color off on it?"
       More laughter. Ryo wondered if those kind of people ever thought up new nigger jokes?
       "Nah, just his smell. You check how dirty he is?"
       Laughs. "How can you tell?"
       "He probably just dresses that way when he comes up here so I'm supposed to feel sorry for him. Believe it, man, his mom's got those welfare bucks up her chocolate wazoo!"
       Ryo stood for a minute on clean polished tile. People, mostly white, bustled past, some giving him curious or hostile stares -- like what are you doing here, boy -- all careful not to brush against him. Ryo looked back at the Steadham deck in the shop window, fingering his own street-scarred plank and wondering if those assholes even knew Steve Steadham was black. The mind-picture of that skinhead shredding on a nigger's board was kind of funny in a way; Suntop always laughed when Ryo told him visions like that. Ryo studied the deck a long time... black or white, it was a totally hot ride, and this goddamn squid place was the only shop he knew of in Oakland that had it. He sighed and turned away, walking toward the food court where Chipmunk would probably be.
       Welfare! He'd heard that stupid word all his life... maybe one of these days he'd figure out what it was! Mom worked in Brownie's cafe sometimes eighteen hours a day and she always seemed tired. If Welfare gave away money, how come she never got any? There was a big mirror in a shoe store doorway, reflecting a display of radical Nikes and Cons. Ryo glanced at them, then down at his own ragged Cheetahs, their toes wrapped with electric tape... Oakland lace-savers. He saw himself in the mirror, too, knowing he didn't belong here, even if most of the people's faces weren't already saying that. It wasn't totally because he was black. He knew that. The surf Nazi was just an asshole, and assholes came in all colors.
       Suntop would say it was the mark of the beast, and laugh.
       But, it was really money.
       The mirror shone a bright reflection of an average-height thirteen-year-old with a thoughtful snub-nosed face that smiled easy... though it wasn't anywhere close to smiling now. Ryo was about the same color the surf-Nazi wished he could be, his body tight and wiry, looking like the small kid-muscles had been added after his skin was already fit. He had lots of bushy hair... Brownie still called it an Afro, like it was something special and didn't just grow that way all by itself. Ryo's eyes were a clear amber, like those of a wolf... only, since there weren't any wolves in Oakland, most of the other dudes called them dog-eyes. For a few years at school Ryo had almost ended up with that name, but another kid who wasn't liked as much got it instead. Wolf-eyes would have been okay, even sort of cool, but only important dudes ever got to pick their own street name.
       Nah, he thought, being black didn't have anything to do with those hate looks. His faded Def Leppard T-shirt was full of holes and way too big... it had been the only one left at the store where mom bought his clothes. His jeans were a year too small, and faded, both knees history, while the rest showed almost as much honey-brown skin as denim. He glanced around. Squid-kids, even the few black ones, could dress this way here, no prob.
       Money meant you could dress any way you damn well wanted. Or, like Brownie had once said: "You gotta be rich to dress poor."
       The next place was a toy store. Ryo's nose wrinkled when he saw  skateboards in the window for $24.95. Old people and dudes who didn't ride could never figure the difference between a toy board and a real one. Jeeze, mom had almost bought him one of those last Christmas! He'd explained what is, cool as he could, not to hurt her feelings, and she'd understood. Toy boards were for little kids. A real board became part of you... maybe like wings were to birds? A good ride put you above all the street shit somehow; flying must be like that. Hell, a dude could no more shred on one of those toys than expect to get off the ground in those model airplanes!
       Ryo moved closer to the window and looked at the models. He had a few at home. They were hot to build, especially when you took the time to do everything right. He saw his reflection in the glass and frowned. But, they cost, too... everything cool in the world coast a lot.
       Except crack.
       And that only made you forget there were cool things. ...For a little while.
    Chipmunk was in the food court all right, double-cheeseburger in one hand, jumbo Coke in the other, his battered Roskopp balanced against one leg. Chipmunk's name had been easy because he really did look like Theodore. Ryo stood by a pillar, watching people's faces. They were giving Chipmunk the same looks and plenty of space. Chipmunk was the fattest kid Ryo had ever seen who rode. He was intense, too, even if he panted and sweated and bitched a lot going uphill. Seeing him with his shirt off, you figured, no way, until he pulled some radical move like a one-handed three-sixty around a no-parking sign; then the posers and squids shut up fast. His two front truck bolts were upside down, nuts on deck. He did that to feel where his front foot was because he had trouble seeing it. He had huge boy-boobs that got bra jokes at school, and his belly bobbed whenever he moved, hanging way over his jeans in front -- he had to lift it up to piss -- and his deep belly-button was overlapped by twin scallops of fat so it looked like a big friendly smile. His jeans were always half off his butt, he had more rolls than a bakery truck, including under his blubber-bulked arms; and his Guns 'N Roses shirt looked painted on over them.
       Ryo sighed, still watching faces, and making one at another mirror across the corridor. It seemed like half the kids in here were as fat or fatter than Chipmunk, but nobody stared at them. Maybe these people figured you were supposed to have money to be fat... like, what was the word? Entitled.
       Ryo noticed the clerk in a book store giving him hard looks. Why? Did he think Ryo was going to boost a dictionary or something? Everybody knew poor nigger kids couldn't read! Ryo gave him one back then walked over to Chipmunk, calling, "Yo, niggerboy," loud. These  fools expected ghetto so why disappoint them.
       Chipmunk grinned. "Shhhh! I was tryin' to keep that a secret. ...So they still got your new deck?"
       Ryo shot a glance back up the corridor and frowned. "I just now decided I don't want the goddamn thing."
       Chipmunk cocked his head. "Huh? Hey, yours is history, dude! That crack gets bigger every time you ollie!"
       Ryo shrugged. "Maybe I'll find some other store that's got the Steadham for a better price."
       "But, I thought it was on sale here this month for thirty-five?"
       Ryo shrugged again. "Might as well be thirty-five zillion! I'll never have no fuckin' money!"
       Chipmunk held out the half-chomped cheeseburger, but Ryo shook his head. "Thanks, but I ain't hungry."
       Chipmunk stuffed the whole thing in his mouth so he really did look like one and talked around it. "We could troll for 'luminum cans again."
       "Oh, get real! You know the wineheads always score 'em first!" Ryo glared around. "C'mon, let's go! All this perfume an' shave lotion's givin' me a headache! ...'Sides, there's too many fuckin' mirrors in here!"
       "Nothin', man, c'mon."
       Chipmunk chugged his Coke and burped. "Oh. Like in them vampire movies? So, what's the prob, Ryo? Can't you see yourself in 'em?"
       "Oh, shut up."
       "Who pissed in your Froot Loops? ...Um, does your hand hurt?"
       Ryo flexed the fingers of his left hand, then shoved it in his pocket. "No! An' don't keep askin' me that all the time! ...An'... I'm sick of seein' myself in all these fuckin' mirrors... an' gettin' stared at like I'm some kinda animal, okay? Shit! Don't it bother you?"
       Chipmunk dropped his cup into a trash can. "Nah." He patted his belly, making it ripple. "Maybe I'm just used to it more. Anyways, know what? My mom took me to the zoo one time. All them animals be starin' right back at the people like they never saw nothin' so lame!"
       "Them animals be locked in, man. Nobody gives a shit what they think!"
       "Well, if a panther got out they'd care."
       "If a panther got out they'd shoot it!" Ryo spun around and headed for the front doors, knowing everybody would get out of his way. Poor niggers kids were all on crack or something.
       Chipmunk caught up to him out on the sidewalk. "Wait up, man," he panted. "Um, we could go see Big Bird. Turtle said..."
       Ryo made a face. "Turtle's always sayin' somethin'! Dude never shuts up no more." He sighed. "Big Bird. Wonder how he got his name?"
       "Well, just one run for him an' you'd have the Steadham."
       Ryo didn't answer. There was a sign on a pillar, NO SKATEBOARDING. Subject to confiscation! He decked and rolled, cutting around people, not caring about the nasty looks he got. Maybe that was the secret, just not to care anymore? Then you could stand in the street and holler all day like the crazy old niggers and not give a shit.
       Behind, he heard the rattle of Chipmunk's worn Bullets. There was a grocery soldier down the walkway, glaring. "Hey! You kids!" Ryo flipped him off and cut into the parking lot, almost hoping the dude would chase him. Confiscate, hell! That might work for squid-kids whose moms could just buy them another board! There was thunder overhead as a jet climbed from the airport, silver and gleaming and going somewhere. Ryo crouched, kicking hard, racing it and knowing how stupid that was.
       Sweat glistened on Chipmunk's round face when he finally caught up again. "C'mon, Ryo! Tell me what's the matter, man! You been talkn' that deck for weeks now!"
       Ryo slowed, watching the jet leave him behind. "Forget the stupid deck, man. ...I'm just tired of bein' dogshit, that's all. Okay?"
       "Well, like I said..."
       "I know. Big Bird."
       They rolled around back of the mall buildings. Chipmunk didn't say anything else. Ryo liked that. There were times when a dude could be totally cool just knowing when to stay quiet.
       There was an access alley with a line of Dumpsters. Ryo pointed. "'Least we know where all the new Dumpsters start out... before they get all thrashed an' end up down where we live."
       Chipmunk called, "Hey! Check this!"
       Ryo kicked a one-eighty and rolled back, studying the big black-and-yellow sticker on the Dumpster's freshly-painted side. "'Do not play on or around'."
       "Wonder how come they don't put those on ours?" asked Chipmunk.
       "'Cause nobody gives a shit what happens to us!" Ryo turned away. "'Sides, they probably figure we couldn't read 'em."
       Chipmunk leaned his board against the Dumpster and lifted a lid. "Wonder what kinda stuff squids throw away... Hey! Check this!"
       Ryo stood on tip-toes while Chipmunk held the lid. "Yeah! Cons! New ones!"
       Chipmunk nodded eagerly, arms over his head, not caring his jeans were slipping off. "Look! There's a pair about your size, man! The kind you like!"
       "Yeah!" Ryo snagged one, then scowled. "Aw, shit!"
       Ryo held the shoe in front of Chipmunk's face. "Somebody cut it to hell with a knife!" He threw it back and pointed. "All of 'em, man!"
       Chipmunk let the lid drop with a bang and yanked up his jeans. "Shit, why anybody do that? I mean, they was already in the garbage?"
       "So we won't get 'em, duh!"
       Chipmunk thought for a minute, bending way over to study his own ragged Nikes. "Yeah. I remember now, Brownie tellin' Jon they do that with toys at Christmas, too."
       They rolled toward the street. Ryo jerked a thumb at the other Dumpsters. "Believe it, man, anythin' else in 'em... jeans, shirts, whatever... they fuck 'em all up! The squids figure if you can't buy nothin' you sure as hell ain't gonna score it free out their trash!" He spat. "You don't got money, you're dogshit. Simple, huh?"

       Chipmunk grinned. "I knew that."
       Ryo almost smiled back.
       In the alley mouth were four white squid-kids in bright baggies and Airwalks. They had almost new boards and were all smoking Marlboros like that was something special. Ryo tensed: four! And they looked hard... for squids. But the biggest, a blond boy about Ryo's age, smiled and held up a palm. "Peace, brothers."
       Ryo and Chipmunk tailed, keeping one foot on their boards. Ryo's expression was guarded... anybody, any color, who called you 'brother' usually wanted something. "Yeah?" he asked.
       The blond kid lowered his voice .. like there was anybody around. "Um, you brothers got some crack you could sell us?"
       Ryo suddenly felt madder than hell, though he wasn't sure why...  Brownie called that rage. His nose got that funny crinkly feeling like just before you were going to cry, and his voice came out choked and husky. "No," he said, decking and kicking away.
       He heard the dude say, "Well, excuuuuse me, home-boy! and the others snickered.
       "Bet they woulda paid a lot, man," Chipmunk said, following. "Even Big Bird's dudes never get to sell up here."
       Ryo wiped at his eyes, staying ahead so Chipmunk wouldn't see.
       The afternoon sun baked the sidewalk. Ryo tailed and pulled off his shirt, tying it around his waist. Chipmunk did the same, his belly and boobs bursting into the sunlight as if glad to be free, his rolly body sheened with sweat, glistening chocolate-brown. Ryo studied him a moment, then smiled. "You're cool, dude, you know that?"
       "A lot of fat kids never take their shirts off."
       "Oh." Chipmunk looked down at himself and shrugged. "Fat squid-kids, you mean. Hell, everybody can see I'm fat whether I'm even wearin' a shirt or not. So, why should I melt... like I'm 'barrassed or somethin'? Anyways, you can't never let people figure somethin' scares you, or that's what they always gonna go for. Like Suntop says about talkin' to demons."
       Ryo grinned. "Better watch it, homey."
       "Somebody figure a panther got out."
       Chipmunk grinned, too, wiping sweat off his face. "Sure be cool to ride a bus home."
       "'Cept you ate all our bus money, huh?"
       "I was hungry, man. You know I never feel good when I'm hungry. 'Member when I was little an' my mom couldn't find no job? I was always hungry. ...Know what? I figure, wasn't for your mom always bringin' us stuff from Brownie's, I probably be takin' a dirt-nap right now."
       Ryo smiled. "For sure I remember. I knew you since first grade, man. Used to be able to count your ribs."
       "Well, I just never wanna be hungry again." Chipmunk looked across the street where there was a McDonalds. "Um, wanna hear somethin' lame?"
       Ryo cocked his head. "What?"
       "Sometimes I dream about just goin' in there an' scarfin' down Quarter-pounders till I can't eat no more. Stupid, huh?"
       Ryo grinned. "With cheese?"
       "Or duh."
       Ryo laughed. "Okay. When I get rich, we'll book in there an' you can stuff quarter-pounders with cheese till you can't even fit in them little plastic tables no more. Just like Shane."
       "Yeah right, dude. I be holdin' my breath."
       Ryo's grin faded. He turned away and sighed, "There's all kinda ways to be hungry, man. An' money the only thing fill you up." He glanced down the sidewalk where there was a bus bench. "Hey! C'mon. I got a idea."
       They rolled to the bench. Underneath were some beer and wine bottles. Ryo knelt and pulled out two, a Bud longneck and a California Cooler that was still half full.
       "Let's see that cooler," said Chipmunk.
       Ryo handed it to him. Chipmunk sniffed.
       "Jeeze, man, you ain't gonna drink that?" asked Ryo.
       "The alcohol kills any germs. AIDS, too, I think." Chipmunk took a small sip. "Ain't bad. Want some?"
       "Nah, thanks."
       "Don't you wanna get buzzed?"
       Ryo laughed. "Man, way I feel right now, I'd like to be drunk on my ass so's I wouldn't gotta think about nothin'! ...But there ain't enough to buzz both of us. Go for it."
       "Thanks." Chipmunk chugged.
       "Maybe we can score some beer."
       Chipmunk killed the bottle and wiped his mouth. "How?"
       "Remember that old perv in the park? He said he'd give us a sixer if we let him mess around."
       "With you, man. Pervs don't want fat kids."
       "So, I'll let him do it with me. Shit! You're my best friend. You do stuff for me all the time."
       "Wonder what kinda shit pervs wanna do?"
       "Play with your dick, I guess. Maybe jack you off."
       "I wouldn't be in the mood."
       "Think of the beer."
       Chipmunk laughed. "He probably couldn't find my dick. I almost can't myself 'less it hard."
       "Oh shut up."
       "Well, if you do, get the sixer first. ...Um, Big Bird's got beer."
       "Big Bird don't sell beer."
       "I know. But Joey said that sometimes he'll give you a couple of sixers when you ask him for a job. If you don't want the... other shit."
       "'Job,' huh? That's a cool word for shit. ...An' I told you before, don't talk no more about Joey."
       "Well, it is a job, ain't it? Sorta? An' the only kind dudes our age can get."
       Another jet climbed for the sky, and Ryo lifted his face to watch it. Chipmunk looked up, too. "Wonder where it's goin'?"
       Ryo shrugged. "Like my mom always sayin', outta here, ain't that enough?"
       Chipmunk turned to Ryo. "'Member when we was little? You was always talkin' about bein' a pilot when you growed up. How come you don't talk about that no more?"
       Ryo's nose got crinkly again, and he stared down at the sidewalk. "'Cause that's when we was little! All little kids dream about stupid shit like that. Shit that can't never happen." He spit on the concrete. "You wanted to be a astronaut, remember? Some kinda space dude like on Star Trek. Now you're too fuckin' fat! ...Shit, we might as well make believe we gonna be elves, like Suntop!"
       "You sayin' he ain't one?"
       Ryo sighed. "I don't know." He moved close and punched Chipmunk's arm. "Don't even listen to me, man. Like you said, I'm all bummed out today. Pretend I'm cracked an' don't know what the fuck I'm sayin'. Like Turtle." He grabbed Chipmunk and jiggled and tickled him until the fat boy was giggling.
       "Well?" asked Ryo, stepping back. "You get a buzz off that cooler stuff, yet?"
       Chipmunk considered. "Hit me."
       Ryo took a fast swing at Chipmunk's belly, but Chipmunk caught his fist. "Nah. When you're fat like me, it take a lot to get you buzzed."
       Ryo laughed. "Yeah? So how come I seen you on your ass with just a sixer?"
       "Beer's different. This cooler stuff's for pussies."
       "Puss, puss, puss!""
       "Hey, I could eat myself, huh?"
       "Gross!" Ryo made a face. "Lucky I didn't hit you, never find my fist again."
       "Wanna go to your place an' jack-off?"
       "Thought you wasn't in the mood?"
       "You got me in it huggin' me."

       "It wasn't a hug, just a jiggle-tickle."

       "That work, too."

       Ryo glanced up the street. "Here come a bus. That's the number almost get us home, too."
       Chipmunk yanked up his jeans. "Yeah. But how...?"
       Ryo snagged the empty Bud bottle. "Follow me an' carry that cooler."
       The bus hissed to a stop, diesel smoke swirling. Ryo waited until an old lady with a walker eased slowly out the back doors, then slipped past her before the doors could close, holding them open for Chipmunk. The lady was white, but she turned and gave Ryo a sly little smile. Ryo grinned back: good people came in all colors, too... even if there weren't very many of them.
       The driver, young and white, saw the boys in his mirror and twisted around for a better look... two ragged black skate-punks with bottles. He watched as they slid into a seat. Ryo threw back his head and pretended to chug from the Bud bottle, acting drunk. Chipmunk caught on and did the same. The driver shrugged and turned away. The company didn't pay him enough for trouble like that. Some of those kids carried guns!
       The bus lurched into traffic, the driver cutting off a Honda and flipping the finger when it honked. Chipmunk poked Ryo in the ribs. "Hey! This a total escapade, man! How'd you figure it?"
       Ryo shrugged, staring out the window and feeling a little sad. "Somethin' Jeremy told me to try a long time ago... before he got all fucked up. ...Anyhow, we just actin' like dogshit niggerboys, the way everybody expect us to." He stayed quiet for several blocks, then finally sighed. "Guess we might as well see Big Bird."


                       End of excerpt. This book is available on Kindle.