They rolled in at one thirty-five in the morning and headed straight for the beer in the back. I checked the clock. My shift at the Quick-N-Go was ending at three A.M. But when cutoff time for selling booze is two o’clock, a little attention to detail is needed. I stashed the sports page and watched the three gang-bangers linger in the back.
I gritted my teeth as they approached the register; three Latinos, late teens, early twenties, shaved heads, tattoos, clean white T-shirts and baggy pants. Full of gangster machismo they approached the counter, loudly, and set down forty-ounce bottles of malt liquor. They’d already begun horsing around, loudly and profanely.
“No, puto. I paid last time, eh?”
“Don’t be like that, dog. You sound like my heina.”
“Shut up, fool. I’ll kick your ass.”
Let me guess, I thought. They’re not going to have ID, or enough money, or they’re going to try and intimidate me into giving them something free.
They were still jawing at each other. “Just hurry up, fool. This gentleman doesn’t got all day.” The gentleman was me, and it wasn’t said in a respectful way.
They bunched in at the counter. On the left a short, bull-like boy with a ring in his eyebrows was smiling menacingly at me. On the right, a medium sized kid, very skinny. He was watching the street, keeping his face away from me. The local area code was tattooed in large numerals on the back of his head.
In the middle, I assumed, was the leader. He hadn’t joined in the general smack-talking, and the other two left him alone. He was the tallest of the three. His face looked like a storm was brewing. “What’s up, Ricky?”
My name tag said Rick. Here we go, I thought. “Not much. Can I see your ID?”
He handed me his license. “You don’t remember me, Ricky?”
My scalp prickled. That was the last thing I wanted to hear. My mind raced to recall any incidents I may have had with his kind in the past. I looked at the ID, the photo, probably taken a few years ago. When I looked up at him he smiled. It was like the sun coming out.
I looked at him closer. “Jorge?”
His smile grew. “You remember, Ricky? You gave me my first baseball glove.”
I looked for a moment at his face. He had a nasty scar in his right eyebrow and a gold ring through the other. His nose had been spread across his face and he had three teardrops tattooed under his left eye. His right forearm bore a memorandum for somebody, and the back of his hand had the three dots that meant my crazy life. But in his eyes I could now see the pudgy ten year old that a dishwasher had brought to the company picnic for a restaurant I used to work at.
He had been a delightful kid who preferred to be around the adults. He was on the opposing team during the softball game and didn’t have a glove. Each time my team came up to bat I tossed him my glove as he ran to the outfield, and vice versa. When the picnic had broken up he tried to return the glove to me but I’d told him to keep it.
“Jorge!” I exclaimed and stuck out my hand. He put out his fist, so I bumped it with mine. “How are you?”
He put his hands in his pockets and looked down. “Oh, you know, Ricky, same stuff, different day.”
“So where are you working?”
“I can’t work right now. I have a trial coming up and all.”
I raised my eyebrows “For…?”
He made a clicking sound of disgust with his tongue. “You know that shooting in Oakdale a couple years ago?”
I slowly nodded.
“They’re trying to say it was me, but that’s bull…crap, I was at home — it was some other fools but I’m the only one they can go after, ’cause — ”
The one who had been looking out the window interrupted. “George, we gotta bounce, eh?”
“All right, hey, I gotta go, Ricky.” We bumped fists again. “If you don’t see me again it’s because I’ll be in…” he smiled, “you know.” When they were at the door he paused. “I’ve never forgotten you for giving me that glove, Ricky.” Then the night seemed to suck them outside into the darkness where they belonged.
In a daze I absently began wiping the counter while I recalled the boy at the picnic. I said a prayer for him; he was beyond baseball gloves, now.
Kenyon Ledford is aware that this is not an Academy Awards speech, yet he would like to give a shout-out to Jan Tarasovic’s terrific and helpful blog, In Search of the Perfect Sentence. He also has appeared a few times in, Short, Fast, and, Deadly, and one very memorable time in the Jersey Devil Press. Kenyon also is a star Internet content writer. Perhaps you saw his work in The Miracle of Earth Magnets or Birmingham Storage Centers. Kenyon is an Evertonian who runs the website schoolofscience.eu and the ragged and inconsistent kenyonledford.com. Kenyon Ledford wants you to have a bitchin’ day.
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