PRINT ISBN-10: 0-9980767-4-0
PRINT ISBN-13: 978-0-9980767-4-4
EBOOK ISBN-10: 0-9977379-5-6
EBOOK ISBN-13: 978-0-9977379-5-0
Way Past Cool 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 and in violation of copyright law.
About this edition:
In the movie business there is what is called a Director's Cut, which is the original version of a film as its director envisioned it, rather than the edited version the producers and studio released. A Director's Cut may be vastly different from a production release and might include extra scenes and/or sometimes a different beginning or ending. Or, it may differ only slightly with a few extra lines of dialog and a few more minutes of running time.
So, too, with books: many books, even classics by great writers, were not always published in their original form as their authors envisioned: Charles Dickens, for example, was urged to change his original ending of Great Expectations... and, having read both endings, I'm glad he did.
When Way Past Cool was being readied for publication in its first hardcover edition in 1992, I was urged by its editor to delete apostrophes that indicate when a letter or letters have been left out of words in dialog to show pronunciation... such as goin' for going, 'fore for before, or s'pose for suppose.
I was never happy with this format, which was retained in subsequent print editions, and I've been told over the years that it often presents a challenge to younger readers... especially to some who have been subjected to so-called “progressive” forms of education. Also, without apostrophes to indicate when letters have been intentionally omitted from words, it's hard to differentiate them from possible typos or misspellings.
Way Past Cool was originally written on a 1923 Underwood typewriter, so I never had the manuscript in digital format; and since I had to scan it and correct scanner errors for this edition, I decided I would present the "Director's Cut" with the apostrophes restored, as I always thought it should have been published.
New readers should keep in mind that this book is over 20 years old -- aeons old in kid-time -- and many words and expressions have changed, along with some attitudes towards certain types of people... or at least the hate is masked by present political-correctness.
And, many technological changes have happened; some for the worse since kids are much better armed today, a lot more cynical, and a lot less educated in ways that matter... especially in heart magic. Baggy jeans and XXL shirts have mostly replaced Levis 501s, and it's a rare fat kid whose belly hangs out of his shirt anymore (if it did, he’d get hated-on by “healthy” fools more concerned about his weight than if he was living in poverty and getting a poor education from an inferior school) though Gordon’s “pants-on-the-ground” style seems popular these days even amongst the slim. Deek, of course, would have a phone instead of a beeper (what's a beeper?), as would Ty and many of the other kids, and would take pictures with it instead of using a Polaroid (what's a Polaroid?).
Then there are references to a "kinder and gentler America," and I leave it up to the reader to judge if that ever happened.
Jess Mowry - 2011
Way Past Cool
© 1992 - 2011 Jess Mowry
To Susan Daniel for taking the chance.
And for Jeremy just 'cause that's what it is
"Gordon! GUN!" screamed Curtis, diving off his skateboard onto trash-covered concrete.
Gordon dove from his board too, all 180 pounds rolling and skidding then scrambling warp-seven behind a Dumpster as a full-auto fired from a battered black van. Velcro ripped and his backpack burst open. Books and a binder tumbled out. Another gun joined the first, a steely stutter of Uzis in chorus. Bullets pocked brick, sending chips whizzing and spattering to a whine of ricochets that sounded just like the movies. The Dumpster rang dully as silver dents stitched its rusty sides.
Gordon was a born leader, first to risk his butt, with a natural balance of brains and balls tempered by a healthy helping of fear. As with all good leaders, his decisions came fast under fire; if they happened to be the right ones, so much the better. But there were times when a gang leader had to do stupid things -- like jumping to his feet and offering his head and shoulders as an easy target while he cupped his hands to his mouth and bawled, "DOWN, suckers!"
The warning wasn't needed: the other boys had already scattered among garbage cans, their boards abandoned and darting away as if seeking cover too. Gordon's stupidity would be remembered later as cool, though he never considered that. In another sort of war he might have won a medal.
The auto-fire cut off... thirty-two-round magazines emptied fast at 550 rounds per minute, as most kids in West Oakland knew. It was as if somebody had switched on silence. Gordon jerked an old .22 pistol from the back of his jeans and got off three quick shots in the van's general direction before the worn-out little gun jammed. Its popping sounded weak and wimpy after the 9mm Uzi snarls.
But the van peeled away, rubber screeching and blue smoke blasting from rusty chrome side pipes. Gordon cursed and beat the gun's butt on the Dumpster lid. It fired again, once, defiant now in the sudden morning stillness. Brick dust puffed from a building across the street, and a window nearby slammed shut. The van's engine roar faded up the block. Tires squealed as the van got sideways around a corner.
"Motherfuckin' piece of SHIT!" raged Gordon. He almost whacked the gun again, but caught himself in time and looked around instead, while wiping a skinned and bloody elbow on his jeans. "Yo! Anybody hit?"
Four heads poked up from behind a ragged row of garbage cans: Ric and Rac, the twins, identically flat-topped and wide-eyed, Curtis with his long ratty dreadlocks, and Lyon's fluffy bush like an Afro gone wild.
"Hey!" squeaked Curtis, his expression amazed. "I got shot in the back!"
Beside him, Lyon lifted Curtis' tattered T-shirt, plain and faded black like the other boys'... gang colors. "Yeah? Well, you for sure be takin' it cool, man. Let's check it out."
Curtis squirmed, trying to look over his shoulder. "Well, how the fuck I s'posed to take it?"
The twins squeezed close too, their mouths open in duplicate wonder and tawny eyes bright with curiosity.
Gordon walked over, carrying the gun muzzle-down.
Lyon glanced at the fat boy over Curtis' head. "That thing gonna go off again?"
Gordon spat on the garbage-slimed concrete, holding the pistol like a snapping rat by its tail. "How the fuck I know, man? Piece of shit jam up just when you needin' it, an' then go off when you don't! How many goddamn times I say we gotta save back for some kinda better gun?"
He scowled at the other boys, and pointed. "An' how many motherfuckin' times I gotta tell you fools not to hide a'hind garbage cans in a fire-fight?" He aimed a finger at one can bleeding yellow goo. "Dumpster steel mostly stop bullets. Them don't!" His eyes, obsidian hard in a coffee-colored face, softened slightly and his voice gentled down. "So, how Curtis?"
Lyon dabbed at Curtis' shoulder blade with the tail of his own tee. "Stop that silly wigglin'!" Spitting on his fingers, Lyon wiped more blood. The scent of it was coppery, like new pennies. Finally, he smiled and patted Curtis' arm. "It be only a cut. Like from a chunk of flyin' brick or somethin'. Nowhere near his heart. That be all what matter."
Curtis tried to reach around to his back, but couldn't. "It for sure feel like I been shot!"
Gordon wedged his bulk between the cans and peered at the wet ruby slice across the smaller boy's honey-bronze skin. He snorted. "Shit. Don't signify nuthin', man. You ever get shot for real, you fuckin' well know it! We all check out how way past cool you handle it then!"
The twins exchanged identical glances and snickered in stereo. "Best believe, sucker!" said Ric. "Gordy been shot! He give it a name! Word, you, Curtis!"
"Yeah!" giggled Rac. "In the butt, he shot! Yo, Gordy, show us again!"
Lyon had a funny V-shaped smile that looked mostly smart-ass even when it wasn't. "Bein' shot s'posed to mean you way past bad." He turned his smile on Gordon. "'Course, gettin' butt-shot don't tell the same, huh?"
Gordon chewed his lip a moment, then growled. "'Pend a lot on whose butt you talkin', don't it?" He jabbed Rac in the chest with a finger. "An' stop callin' me Gordy, goddammit!" Squatting with a grunt, he started picking up his garbage-stained papers.
"Well," said Ric, "I get myself shot, I want it be in the arm, Gor-don!"
"Word, Gor-don!" agreed Rac. "Wear a tank top all the time. Look way past cool, believe!"
Gordon spat again, barely missing Rac's Nikes. "Yo, raisin-brain! Gettin' shot more like to make you way past dead! Ever hear of somebody bein' actual shot in the arm? That ain't nuthin' but TV dogshit!" He glared at the gun, then looked up at Lyon. "I feel like dustin' this goddamn thing, man. Prob'ly end by killin' one of us 'stead of keepin' us alive."
"So?" asked Ric. "What you 'spect for twenty dollars?"
"Word!" added Rac. "K-Mart blue-light-special kinda gun, all that is! Deek even say."
Gordon's nostrils suddenly flared. "Deek, huh? Listen up, suckers! Deek talk a fly out shit, he wanna! Only a motherfuckin' fool figure he gots somethin' to say worth the ghost of a dog! Next time he come by curb-preachin' you, tell him fuck off!"
"Well," said Rac, "S'pose he get pissed an' tell his bodyguard shoot me?"
Lyon grinned. "Then ask him if he do you in the arm."
"Just shut up, Ric," said Gordon. "For once."
"I'm Rac," said Rac. "He's Ric."
Gordon sighed. "Whatever." He stood up and shoved the pistol at Lyon. "Here, man, see if you can fix this piece of shit again."
Lyon looked closely at the gun. "Mmm. I see what happen. Rimfire bullets be most like to jam. That 'cause the primer stuff be in the rim, an' with cheapo bullets like these it don't all the time go clear around. Then the firin' pin hit a empty spot an' you end up with jack."
"Or a dirt nap," growled Gordon. "Shit! I don't wanna hear all that stuff, man! Like we gonna be pop-quizzed on gun fixin' in school! It the onliest goddamn gun we got, an' the onliest goddamn gun we 'ford right now, so's just make it shoot again, huh!"
Gordon heaved another sigh and stared around the alley at the wreckage; scattered skateboards, books and binders, and more sheets of somebody's homework fluttering in the gentle morning breeze. He scowled when he recognized them as his own. "Shit an' goddammit to hell! Ain't this a motherfuckin' bitch!"
Lyon watched as Gordon snatched up the papers and tried to wipe them clean, then gave up and stuffed them into his pack. "Yo, Gordon, tell the teacher you got 'em dirty gettin' drive-byed."
"Too fuckin' funny, man! Ain't none of them teachers gotta live around here. Not know from nuthin' what is. Shit, this my goddamn English story too... how I gonna spend my motherfuckin' summer vacation! Been bustin' my goddamn ass over it all week, an' now ol' Crabzilla gonna kill me for sure!" Gordon scowled at the twins' grins. "You two! Get your asses busy pickin' up your own goddamn shit! We gonna be late an' get tardies!"
Ric and Rac moved as one. They were wiry, hard-muscled, Hershey-brown boys of thirteen, wearing tight black tees faded to gray, ragged 501s with ripped knees, and big battered Nikes. Their eager, snub-nosed faces made them look like African imps. Their mother had named them from some old book about kids who made fools out of grownups. A desperate teacher had once pleaded with them to dress differently so she could tell them apart. They'd shown up next day with their initials Magic Markered on the front of their shirts.
Curtis was still trying to touch his own back. He was the smallest of the gang, twelve and childlike, with the prominent tummy and smooth-lined body of a little boy. A lot of kids figured him for the mascot. His dad was white, and Curtis could gleam like polished bronze when clean. His parents were trying to save enough money to move to Jamaica someday.
Lyon lay the gun on a Dumpster lid and wiped Curtis' cut a final time, then dangled his long bloody fingers in Curtis' face. Curtis winced. Lyon grinned. Everything about Lyon was long; narrow, lean-jawed face with high cheekbones, and tall slender body more delicate than skinny. His teeth looked too large for his mouth. His ebony eyes were tilted up at the corners and, like his V smile, always seemed a little sly. He had a funny loose way of holding or moving his hands that made them look like paws. He read books because he wanted to, and could fascinate or terrify with magic tricks or spooky stories. Lyon appeared fragile but most kids let him be.
Lyon licked his fingers. "Mmm. Way cool blood, homey. Maybe I take me some more. Tonight. When the moon be full."
Curtis went very still. His voice broke. "Not funny! Maaaan, don't be sayin' them kinda things!"
Rac snickered. "Yo! That time of month already, Lyon-o? Hey, what you call a used Kotex?"
"Vampire tea bag!" said Ric.
Curtis glared. "Eat shit an' die, suckers! So there!"
"You two your very own HBO, ain't ya?" said Lyon.
Everybody just shut the fuck up!" roared Gordon. "Goddamn honky show here!"
"Donkey show," said Lyon.
"Whatever." Gordon tugged at his pack straps, then faced Curtis. "An' you stop actin' like a goddamn puss! S'pose you wanna go to 'mergency, now?"
Curtis considered that.
"Way past fun," Lyon told him. "Get to sit on your butt an' wait for hours aside all kinda cool people what been shot an' stabbed, ODin' an' pukin' all over the place. Yo, they prob'ly give you stitches. Leave a hot scar. Like Frankenstein."
"Um ... naw, I don't wanna," said Curtis.
Lyon's eyes lost some of their slyness. "Well, it gonna be bleedin' some, open like that. Best take off your shirt so's it don't stick."
Gordon nodded. "Good idea." He peered at the cheap digital watch on his wrist. "Shit! Now we late!" He studied the watch, frowning and flicking it with a finger. "Shit, I think it busted."
"Yo," said Ric. "Hold it up to your ear, man."
"To check if it still tickin'," added Rac.
Gordon did, and the twins burst into laughter.
Gordon, a month shy of fourteen, was the oldest. He was a big, heavy-breasted boy with a belly that hung over his jeans and bobbed whenever he moved. For all his jiggly softness there was muscle buried beneath the fat, like a small tank wrapped in foam rubber. His T-shirts never covered his middle, and his jeans sagged so low that his bullet scar usually showed. His hair was a natural bush, and his flat-nosed, heavy-lipped face made him look dense unless you paid attention to his eyes. He kicked the squatting Ric in the butt with the toe of his ancient Airwalk, sending both brothers sprawling. "Shove it in your ear, asshole! There! Now you know what time it is, fools!"
"Well," said Curtis, coming out from behind the cans and stripping off his shirt. "Don't feel up for sittin' in class bleedin' all day. Mom an' Dad at work. Maybe I just bail myself on home an' watch TV."
The twins got up and examined his back again. "Um, yo," asked Rac. "What that shiny white shit way down inside there?"
"Bone!" said Lyon, slapping Rac's hand away. "An' keep your goddamn dirty finger outa it!"
"Mondo gross!" said Ric. He shook a finger at his brother. "Can't touch that!"
Curtis turned to Lyon, his eyes widening. "No shit? You mean my skeleton showin'?"
Lyon laid a paw on his shoulder. "It be okay, man. Leave a cool scar. Better'n just a pussy ol' shot in the arm."
Curtis looked thoughtful, then puffed his little chest almost as far out as his tummy and made a face at the twins. He strutted to the alley mouth and peered cautiously up the deserted street. "Wonder if them motherfuckin' bangers still motorin' 'round here?"
Lyon glided up beside him and gazed toward the corner where the van had gone. Oily smoke mixed with streamers of gray-white gunpowder still drifted in the cool air. The sun was spilling over the roofs and down the buildings, turning grimy orange brick into gold. The faint breeze was still stirring in from the Bay, as yet untainted by garbage stink and exhaust fumes, smelling of salt and hinting of faraway places. Lyon's long delicate hand clasped Curtis' shoulder again. "I come home wit ya, homey. Patch you up good as new. Gots any peroxide?"
"Nuh-uh. Gots Bactine, I think."
"That do. Keep the maggots from hatchin'." Lyon flipped a finger at the empty street, then glanced at the rusty little gun he'd brought with him. "Showtimes! There them big dudes with their full-auto Uzis, an' go bailin' warp-seven 'cause Gordy gots the balls to shoot back with this!"
Ric moved close to Gordon. "Yo! Gordy gots 'dustrial-strength balls! Word!"
Rac stepped to Gordon's other side. "Believe! That why he lead!"
Gordon shrugged. "Don't call me Gordy." He jerked his jeans up a little and eyed his watch again with a frown. "I don't figure it cool for us to scatter right now. Three blocks back to Curtis' place, or 'bout the same to school. We better decide which one we goin' for an' keep together. Yo, Lyon! Maybe you should fix that gun right now. Ain't a good idea to be skatin' with a bullet stuck in the hole." He stared at his watch once more, then whacked it.
"So, what you 'spect for two-ninety-eight at K-Mart, man?" asked Ric. "A goddamn Seiko?"
Rac poked his brother. "Shut up, doofus! His mom give him that for his birthday! It a heart thing... like Lyon always talkin' 'bout. Yo, sucker, what your mom ever give you from the heart?"
Ric snickered. "You, sucker! I the first, 'member?"
"Shit! By one stupid little minute!"
Lyon fingered the gun. "What I s'posed to fix this with, my dick? I need somethin' like a screwdriver for poppin' out the bullet."
Gordon tore the watch from his wrist and flung it into a garbage can. "S'prised you can't magic it fixed, man." He pulled a switchblade from his pocket and thumbed the button. Nothing happened. "Shit!" Gordon pried it open with his fingernail. "Try this. An' please don't bust it."
Handing the knife to Lyon, he dropped his hands to the roll of fat where another boy's hips would have been and scanned the street. "Shit, we so goddamn late now them school doors is locked! Best we all just bail on back to Curtis' crib an' hang."
Curtis looked happy, until the twins faced him and demanded, "Yo! Gots any food?"
"Um, well, it gettin' kinda close to the end of the month. Gots bread... an' this big new bottle of ketchup."
The twins made identical faces and turned on Gordon. "Yo! We don't score school lunch..." Ric began.
"We don't get nuthin' all goddamn day!" Rac finished.
Gordon sighed once more. "I gots enough food for everbody. Mom workin' steady again. Best we go my place."
"Better," said Rac.
"Word," added Ric. "You ain't sposed to leave your dudes go hungry."
Rac nodded. "Word up! By rules!"
Muscle hardened somewhere in Gordon's chest. He clenched big fists. "Shut up! Don't need me no 'minders 'bout rules from you suckers! Curtis! Quit fuckin' with your goddamn back! Get busy an' snag all our boards 'fore some car come by an' run 'em into street pizza! Yo, Lyon! Get that gun fixed so's we can bail the hell outa here!"
Gordon faced the street again. His forehead creased. "Goddamn if that dint look like the selfsame ol' van what done a drive-by on us a couple days ago." He glanced at Lyon. "Same sorta big dudes ... 'least sixteen. But why in hell they tryin' to do us?"
Lyon returned to the nearest Dumpster and lay the gun on the lid. He eyed it a moment, then poked the knife point into the ejection port. "They pass some new law say you gotta have a reason for shootin' black kids?"
Curtis returned with his arms full of boards and started standing them upright against the Dumpster. "Oughta be a rule about it."
"Word!" said Ric. "Give it a name!"
"Straight up!" added Rac. "Law say black kids eat shit an' die!"
Gordon snorted. "Yeah, next you be tellin' me there salt in the sea! Swear you two gots one little brain between ya an' trade it off." He ran a finger across Curtis' back, then drew bloody zeros on the twins' foreheads. "Yo! That all what the world figure you worth! Shit, it say all the time on TV how people like otters an' little white rats better'n you. Leave them nuthin's on till I say you take 'em off. Make you 'member what is an' what ain't."
Lyon rapped while he worked on the gun. "You ain't furry an' cute, so's you way cool to shoot, be a whale or a seal, then you got some appeal." He pried out the misfire round, tossed it away, then worked the gun's action a few times, slapped the clip back in and handed it to Gordon. "Should be workin' now, man. ...You be figurin' the Crew got somethin' up with these drive-bys?"
Gordon scralched his head, which made him look like a stupid fat boy. "Cross my mind, man, but goddamn I figure how... or why. Ain't none of 'em ol' enough for drivin', an' even they rousted that van, for sure weren't them in it. Nor the time last neither. An', hey, you tell me how they ever score the buck for one Uzi, never mind deuce. Shit, all they gots be that ol' snub .38, an' it ain't much better'n this!" He flipped the little pistol in his palm.
"Well," suggested Curtis. "Maybe they pay some big dudes to do us?"
Gordon snorted again. "Uh-huh. With what, man, Wesley's ass?" He paused a moment. "'Less they cut some sorta deal with Deek..." He shook his head. "Naw. Don't figure, man. We most never fight with them no more. Not since we all little kids. Shit, why should we? Hood they got no better'n ours."
Gordon snagged his board, a street-scarred Steadham full-size, and decked easily despite his mass. But then a siren sounded in the near distance and he froze. His eyes shifted to Lyon.
The slender boy's head came up. His face turned skyward and his hands dangled loose in their pawlike way. The other boys waited, watching him. At times like these his ears almost looked pointy. "Two blocks up an' three over," he murmured. "Comin' this way, warp-seven. Ain't no ambulance nor fire truck neither."
Gordon's eyes calculated. "Most nobody call the cops over some shootin'." He glanced in the siren's direction and fingered his jaw. "'Course, if they come, it with their screamer full-on, just like now. That give whoever gots the full-auto plenty of time to bail. Best we chill our own fire." He buried the pistol under a sackful of garbage in the Dumpster, then wiped his hands on the tail of Rac's tee.
"Shit, man!" squeaked Rac. "Shoot bullets through me, why don't ya!"
Gordon grinned. "I know. It ain't fair. Shut up." He jerked his jaw toward the street. "Let's motor. Be cool."
The boys grabbed their boards, decking and following Gordon out of the alley and down the sidewalk. They rolled fast in file, Lyon second on his pug-nosed Chris Miller, then the twins on identical Hammerheads. Curtis brought up the rear on his ancient flat-deck Variflex. The siren's yelping came closer, beating between the buildings and echoing through the canyons of brick and concrete. The boys had almost reached the lower corner when a cop car skidded around the intersection behind them, fishtailed, recovered sloppily with screeching rubber, and blasted down the block. The boys neither looked nor altered their pace.
The car braked suddenly at the alley mouth, its nose diving as if scenting the gun smoke, but then the boys were spotted and it dropped ass and squeaked after them, slewing sideways into the intersection just as Gordon reached the curb, tires smoking as it slid to a stop. Its engine almost strangled, shaking the whole car, but struggled back to a loping idle that slowly smoothed out. Its siren blipped silent on a rising squeal but the rooftop strobes kept firing. Inside, the radio spat cat fight sounds.
The boys tailed their boards and bunched together behind Gordon, waiting. Their faces switched on expressions of stupid, dull-eyed sullenness while their hands hung loose and open at their sides. The car doors burst simultaneously wide, one cop, white, on the passenger side, crouching behind, shotgun leveled at Gordon's chest through the open window. The other, black, gripped his gun double-handed over the car's roof. Strobe fire glinted ruby and indigo off his chrome-silver sunglasses.
Gordon yawned and hitched up his sagging jeans.
It was a long half second. The cops poised, tense. They were bulky, big-bellied men in gunmetal-blue uniforms. Their shirts were stretched tight over bulletproof vests, and they were belted by black leather that creaked with the weight of cuffs and clubs, walkie-talkies, and strangely shaped pouches packed with state-of-the-art stuff for survival in a hostile environment. Helmeted in stark white, they looked like intergalactic mercenaries grounded on a planet whose native inhabitants hated their guts. The strobe lights fought a losing battle against the gold of the climbing sun. The scents of hot rubber and steel, of leather and plastic, polyester and polish, radiated from the car. The engine settled into an indifferent idle, its exhaust ghosting steam in the cool morning air. The radio hissed and spat its alien language.
On the sidewalk stood small black, brown, and bronze figurines that a moment before had been living and laughing. Now, the only hint of humanness was the blood seeping down Curtis' back. A big fat fly lazily circled his shoulder, sparking metallic iridescence in the sun like a tiny high tech toy.
The cops' faces could have come from the same sort of action-figure mold as an old He-Man, Master of the Universe. It was even hard to tell them apart. "Against the wall!" ordered the black, a dusty line from any movie. "Spread!" he added, never doubting these kids wouldn't know the script by heart.
The figurines moved, little androids now, automatically obeying alien orders. Backpacks, books, and binders hit the sidewalk like so many weapons. Skateboards were left where they stood. The cops' eyes shifted uneasily behind their chrome mirrors, studying rooflines and windows above for an ambush. Finally, the cops moved after the boys, who were lined against grimy brick, their backs and balls vulnerable.
The scene -- the kids, the two big men, the shotgun wary while the black cop bolstered his pistol but left the snap undone -- would have looked bogus on network TV, like a parody of something from a long time ago. The black cop considered the row of little sculptures, then squatted with a grunt and creak of leather and tore into the backpacks like a gorilla who smelled a banana.
He seemed about as disappointed when he didn't find one. Finally he stood with another grunt and rubbed his back. A shiny black boot freed homework to the breeze and sent Lyon's board skittering into the street. A smile crossed the white cop's mouth as a garbage packer swung ponderously around the corner and bore down on the board. The driver, black and tired-looking, took the scene at a glance and didn't seem to find it a parody of anything. His heavy-gloved hands moved gently on the big wheel, guiding twenty tons and ten huge tires in a delicate dance around the skateboard. The truck rumbled away. The cop's smile clicked off.
The black one began searching the boys, slapping where he should have patted, and jerking arms back to check out their undersides like junk-shop merchandise that nobody could make you buy if you broke. For some reason he passed over Lyon and started with the twins, looking slightly confused as if he hadn't counted right. "You two. Turn around. Well, ain't that cute."
Four tawny eyes stared through the man.
"What are those marks on their foreheads?" asked the white cop. His eyes narrowed. "Looks like blood."
"Is," muttered the black one. "Initiation rite. Back against the wall."
The twins exchanged glances and secret smiles before turning and spreading again.
Moving to Gordon, the cop found the blade and yanked it out, raised it and an eyebrow to his partner with an I-told-you-so smirk, then thumbed the button. Nothing happened. He frowned. "Cheap shit from Taiwan." He shoved it in his pocket.
Reaching Curtis, he fingered the small boy's dreadlocks, then wiped his fingers on Curtis' jeans and studied his back. "Got us a little Rasta mon here. Peace, love, an' ganja. So what happened to you, Ziggy?"
Curtis' voice carried all the emotion of an ATM terminal. "I fall down." He thought a moment. "In busted glass."
"Uh-huh," said the cop. "Say somethin' for me in Rasta, mon." The fly had settled and was busy sucking blood. The cop smacked it flat with his palm.
"Pussy clot!" hissed Curtis.
"Welcome to a kinder, gentler America, boy." The cop turned to face the row of backs, dropping his hands to his belt. The white cop lowered the shotgun slightly. "Anybody hear some shootin' a few minutes ago?"
"No," said Gordon.
The black cop gave the white another smirk and stepped back to Gordon, nudging the boy's feet farther apart with his boot. "Uh-huh. Figured you did the talkin', fat boy. Only kids packin' that much lard around here are the ones makin' money. So what's your gang dealin', fat boy? Rock? Ice? Or you the kind sell hospital garbage to little kids?"
Gordon said nothing.
"Uh-huh. So what you call yourselves, fat boy?"
"Friends," said Gordon.
"Uuuuh-huuuuh." The man thunked the back of Gordon's head with his knuckles. "C'mon, fat boy. We seen you dudes always hangin' out together. Gangs always got baaaad names, like the Crew. So what's yours, fat boy?"
Gordon sighed, tensing for what would come next. "I just tell you."
Knuckles made a watermelon sound on Gordon's skull. "Uh-huh. More like smart-mouth little niggerboys. So who shot your Rasta 'friend,' lard-ass?"
"He fall down. In busted glass."
"Uh-huh. Maybe you can't take no name cause the Crew come an' smoke your butts? Word say they some real bad dudes."
"Uh-huh, said Gordon.
The cop whacked Gordon's head against the wall. "You gonna go far with that mouth of yours, niggerboy! How come you ain't in school?"
Gordon took a breath. The shotgun's muzzle lifted a little. "We takin' our Friend home. 'Cause he fall down. In busted glass."
The cop snapped his holster strap. "Yeah, right. You oughta get a medal! Ain't gonna catch me cryin' when the Crew come down an' show you punks what time it is!" He scattered skateboards with his boot.
Lyon murmured something, so softly that only Curtis next to him heard. There was a small metallic click.
"GODDAMMIT!" bawled the black cop, grabbing at his pants pocket where the point of Gordon's blade poked through. Startled, the white brought the shotgun up, ready.
Cursing, the black cop carefully pulled out the knife, ripping his pants a little more, then lay it anglewise in the gutter against the curb and broke it with his boot heel. There wasn't a sound from the kids, but quivering shoulders revealed silent snickers. Chrome eyes watchful, the cops slid back into their car. The white racked the shotgun, then the car clunked into gear and squeaked away. "Get a life, suckers!" the white spat back.
"I take mine over yours any day, motherfucker!" Gordon muttered. He turned from the wall, rubbing his brick-bruised forehead, and hesitated because the car was only halfway down the block. But he felt the other boys' eyes on him and flipped the finger anyhow.
Like a broken spell, the hard little sculptures softened and became kids once more. The twins sidled up to Gordon with grins. Rac squeezed the fat boy's biceps. "Yo! There the rock!"
Ric giggled and draped his arm over Gordon's shoulder. "An' ice! Maaaan, Gordon total cool like it under fire! Way cool. Way past cool!"
Gordon smiled a little. "Uh-huh. You can rub them zeros off now. Cops gots a way of turnin' everbody into nuthin'."
"Give it a name," said Rac, dabbing at the tail of his tee with his tongue then wiping his brother's forehead.
"Word!" agreed Ric, doing the same to Rac's forehead. "Like the ghost of a dog!"
Curtis moved close to Lyon and gazed up into the slender boy's face. "Um, you done that knife thing, huh, man?"
"Done what?" the twins demanded.
Lyon shrugged, his narrow eyes sly as usual. "Just a coincidence, homey."
"Did Lyon make a curse?" asked Rac. "How he do that anyways?"
"Who know," said Ric. "Fuck that. What a 'incidence?"
Gordon's eyes shifted between Lyon and the broken knife, but he said nothing, just nudging the twins and pointing to the mess on the sidewalk.
Curtis searched Lyon's face again, then smiled and darted into the street to rescue Lyon's board as a car rounded the corner. It honked at Curtis, and all the boys fingered it and bawled curses. The car laid a patch and warped away. Maybe its driver would spread the word he'd been attacked by a youth gang. Curtis returned, grinning and panting, and gave Lyon his board. Lyon turned him around to wipe blood and smashed fly off his back. Gordon and the twins gathered up their school stuff and repacked their packs.
Curtis knelt down beside Gordon. "Um, you figure what them cops say is true? 'Bout the Crew gonna smoke us?"
Gordon shuffled his wrinkled papers. "Naw, that just dogshit, man. Cops always sayin' stuff like that. They like seein' us fight. Hope we kill each other."
"Save them the trouble," said Lyon. "One time I read this book. Tell where back in the olden days some of them KKK dogfuckers liked to get us fightin' so's they could watch an' laugh over it."
Curtis rose and came back beside Lyon. "Well, shit. Seem like we be pretty fuckin' stupid to go puttin' on showtime for them assholes!"
Lyon nodded. "You say it, homeboy."
End of excerpt