I left Kane Hospital and was at 120th Street northbound on Wilmington Avenue, to walk-hitch back to Connie's place. I trudged in the street a bit in the sticky late-afternoon heat, thumb out. Across the parking lot behind me was Lickety Lick Chicken with the usual din of people inside. Sweat brought what was left of my high down quicker. Connie’ll fix me up in more ways than one. I’d look for more mes in The Courts.
From somewhere among a line of cars, music assailed my ears above the racket of engines: drums, bass, strings, then Marvin and Tammi, Listen, baby, ain’t no mountain high, ain’t no valley low, ain’t no river wide enough baby. The “Tank,” a boxy rust-bucket 55 Chevy station wagon weaved and thumped the curb. Its top was dull white, the body a faded rose that might’ve been red at one time, hammered out dents covered with gray primer, no front hub caps. The engine coughed like it had emphysema.
Poochie Felder was terrible news and had always introduced himself with loud music. At his converted garage apartment, he had a record player attached to six towering speakers, two of which doubled as Tank speakers controlled by his eight-track tape player.
Curbside, Poochie leaned across Lanky Lonnie, a grin showed his missing front tooth. He was red-boned with sandy hair and a Quo Vadis haircut, his green irises seemed to float in ponds of pink. A good fist-fighter, he was once a can't-miss pro baseball prospect.
Lanky Lonnie had a Raven 25 caliber between his legs. “W-what’s happening?” he said. His short, low-maintenance hair hadn't quite decided if an Afro or conk job was for him. He played community college hoops until he busted a knee. Even before the injured knee, one leg was shorter than the other. Now he really limped.
I Dapped Lonnie, then did Poochie. A strange face was in the back seat and leaned out from Angel Dust fog.
Poochie turned down the volume.
“My cousin Skillet from Shreveport,” Poochie nodded toward the passenger, a smutty, stocky guy, who could easily pass as retarded, a Raylon Skewlet type. He grunted and lifted his upper lip, underneath which glowed a gold tooth cap. Right away, there was something not quite right about Skillet. I pulled back a tad so that the Tank's window post was a barrier between us.
“I’m going to The Courts. Ya’ll headed that way?” I said. I cut an eye to Skillet.
“Naw.” Poochie said. “The other way—Compton.”
“What? The records hop at Cressy Park?”
Poochie was only a fair dancer but quickly pulled girls with his green eyes even though his rap was so-so. He'd always get one to lie with him between tower speakers and other junk in the Tank's bed.
“I’ll tell you what,” Poochie said, “I’ll drop you off in The Courts if you help us with a little problem—well, maybe two little problems.”
I hesitated, these guys had reputations, and I'd almost gone to jail with them before behind some failed purse snatching caper, and, there was Skillet, one of his eyes glared straight at me, the other one gazed above my head. But the trek to Connie's place was long plus these guys probably had drugs. "I'm in. What's up, Poochie?”
“Some Compton niggas jumped me last night and tried to take the Tank when I dropped the girl at her house.”
“Oh, hell nawl.” I leaped into the back with Skillet and the Angel Dust cloud. "Tried to take the Tank?"
Under the dome-light Skillet put his scarred knuckles over a Bryco .380 automatic that was on the seat, grunted, hitched his head up, and leaned forward to greet me. Was that chicken stuck between his teeth? His breath flamed an acrid odor of yard bird mixed with Angel Dust and who knew what else. “I don’t like you,” Skillet’s coarse voice slurred, his crazy stare was blank.
“The night’s still young,” I said. Retarded mothafucka.
“Yeah—about ten mothafukas tried to jack me up,” Poochie said. He had to be exaggerating, he was known for that. "I busted the leader in his mouth, and when they ran to help him, I got away."
“They tried to take the Tank? Man, you got to be shittiń me." I held out two fingers for the Angel Dust joint, but Skillet left me hanging.
“Naw. W-we gonna b-bust caps on n’em,” Lanky Lonnie said. “I know w-where they asses hang out.”
“YEAH—kill em’ mothafuckas,” Skillet said. His eyes blinked like hummingbird wings. He was funky like he hadn’t showered in days. I tried to take it all in at once.
Poochie changed the eight-track tape and said, “We got two guns—the Raven has two bullets. Skillet’s piece has three. We’ll show their asses.”
“T-two guns, five bullets. That's f-firepower,” Lonnie said.
“What’s the other problem, Poochie?”
“We need gas money, Otis.”
“You got a clothes hanger?” Among the junk in the wagon bed, he did. I unfolded it at the twist, straightened it out, and bent it in half with a small loop at the end. “Stop at the next phone booth.”
Ron L. Dowell holds two Master’s degrees from California State University Long Beach. In June 2017, he received the UCLA Certificate in Fiction Writing. His short stories or poems have appeared in Oyster Rivers Pages, Rain on Rooftops Review, Writers Resist, Stories Through The Ages Baby Boomers Plus 2018 and in The Poeming Pidgeon. He is a 2018 PEN America Emerging Voices Fellow and a current member of the Community Literature Initiative Poetry Publishing Class. Ron recommends the Teen Intervention Program.