Into the Cronesphere

Timothy Lachin’s first novel, INTO THE CRONESPHERE, was published by Venom Milk Press in 2013. It is a Hegelian Bildungsroman disguised as lurid exploitation fiction in the tradition of James Hadley Chase, Jim Thompson, and Charles Willeford.

Amoral…Timothy Lachin thinks above the clouds and writes for the gutter…I’ve been waiting for this for a long time. – Quintron

If you’ve ever wondered how this man…

…this girl…

shemeta

…and this boy…

tyrone photo

…could ever share a story…keep reading and find out…

PART ONE: BLOOD

“Or, in order that there may yet be something in the void – which, though it first came about as devoid of objective Things must, however, as empty in itself, be taken as also void of all spiritual relationships and distinctions of consciousness qua consciousness – in order, then, that in this complete void, which is even called the holy of holies, there may yet be something, we must fill it up with reveries, appearances, produced by consciousness itself. It would have to be content with being treated so badly for it would not deserve anything better, since even reveries are better than its own emptiness.”

 

G.W.F. Hegel

1

Trey was a wigger and a baller. He lived in Lacombe, Louisiana, a sleepy ghetto community just outside the suburban ring of New Orleans. Although Trey owned a Glock, he had never split anyone’s wig with it. He’d bought his Glock from a black named Pee-Wee for five hundred dollars. On his way home from Pee-Wee’s trailer, Trey saw a white dog on the side of the road. The dog was eating feces. Trey stopped the car and split the dog’s wig with his Glock to test it out. That was the first and last time he had fired his Glock.

Trey always wore the same thing: knee-length Tommy Hilfiger jean shorts and an oversized striped Polo shirt with a white Hanes undershirt underneath. Trey had thick country wrists and a thick, muscular neck. His hair was blond and shaved. His left eyebrow also had two lines shaved into it. Girls told Trey that he looked like Brad Pitt. Trey thought Brad Pitt was a homo. Girls liked Trey. Trey lived in a trailer and sold drugs. He liked to watch TV, play sports video games, drink beer, and get high on blunts. When the weather was nice, Trey liked to go crabbing off of Lake Road. He used raw chicken as bait.

Trey owned a dog: a Pit Bull. He left his Pit chained outside and sometimes he forgot to feed him. The Pit’s name was Scarface. Once, Scarface had beaten a 120-pound Tosa Inu in a fight. Trey also liked to fight. He usually won when he fought. He was a good fighter.  

Rhonda was a user. Her coarse, cruel, ugly features could have appeared as an illustration of degenerescence in a nineteenth-century medical textbook on eugenics or phrenology. Her beady eyes looked both calculating and barren of intelligence. Although she was only twenty-six she had four illegitimate children already, the oldest of whom, Shemeta, was twelve years old. Rhonda liked watching TV, taking X pills, smoking that Oscar the Grouch green, smoking crack, eating Big Macs from McDonald’s, and getting freaky. She liked it when the man had a big dick and hit her from behind. She liked to suck dick and prided herself on being able to keep her man’s dick hard when she sucked it. Usually Rhonda fucked for money but she gave it away for free sometimes, too. Rhonda’s money came from selling her ass and from welfare.

Rhonda parked her rust-pocked 1984 Chevrolet Celebrity in front of Trey’s trailer, turned off the engine, and lit a cigarette. Shemeta was silently eating a Big Mac in the passenger seat.

To a dispassionate observer, Shemeta would have looked nervous as she ate her Big Mac. To Rhonda, she looked like a fucking sniveling brat. Shemeta had nappy pigtails tied with plastic colored ball twisties. She was wearing a dirty striped tank top with no bra. Rhonda had never bothered getting her one. Because she wasn’t wearing a bra, the black circles of Shemeta’s nipples could be discerned through the thin fabric of the tank top. Big Mac Sauce had dripped on her breasts. Rhonda was wearing a pair of small hot pink shorts that had cost ninety-nine cents at Family Dollar and an oversized airbrushed T-shirt bearing a silkscreened photograph of a smiling black man in a prison uniform with the caption “Free My Husband – Free Danky”. Shemeta was also wearing a pair of ninety-nine cent Family Dollar shorts, but hers were orange. They both wore flip-flops. Rhonda was smoking a Kool cigarette. It was eleven A.M.

“Finish your Big Mac…why you eat so slow,” said Rhonda to Shemeta in an annoyed voice. Shemeta moved her eyes to meet her mother’s without moving her head or taking the Big Mac away from her mouth. Rhonda hated the stupid way Shemeta had of just…staring at her all the time. Shemeta shifted her gaze back to her Big Mac and took another gigantic bite.

Shemeta had never taken an IQ test, but if she had, it would have revealed her to be mildly retarded. Her body was half girl, half woman: her ass and breasts stuck out like a Hottentot’s, but her hips had not yet spread at all. From the side she appeared nothing less than cantilevered and from the front she ran straight up-and-down. Her thin legs were long for her torso and they seemed somehow to come together too close to each other at the sacroiliac. Shemeta had a layer of baby fat that collected around her gut. She liked watching television and listening to the radio. Her favorite musicians were Usher and Lil’ Wayne. When a song that Shemeta liked came on the radio, she would jump up with her trademark big smile, put her hands against the wall or a railing, and bounce her ass up and down. This dance was called pussy popping, or P-popping for short. Shemeta’s mother had taught her how to P-pop.

Sometimes Shemeta had inexplicable seizures in school in which she would collapse on the floor in spasms and urinate on herself. After the first of these seizures, the school doctor gave Rhonda a prescription for epilepsy medicine. Rhonda took a handful of Shemeta’s epilepsy pills as soon as she got them to see if they would get her high. When nothing happened, Rhonda tossed Shemeta’s pills on the floor. A few weeks later, blackout drunk, Rhonda found the bottle under the sofa and swallowed the rest of them hoping they were Xanax. Rhonda never bothered refilling her daughter’s prescription after that.  

Rhonda got out of the car and walked up to the door of Trey’s trailer. Her way of walking was loose and vulgar and communicated an indifferent fuck you. Shemeta stayed in the car. Rhonda banged on the door and scratched her ass at the same time. After a moment, Shemeta saw the door open and Rhonda go in.

Trey had a mocking smile on his face as he welcomed Rhonda into his trailer. He was wearing the same thing he always wore: jean shorts and a striped polo with a backwards LSU baseball cap. Trey had already smoked two blunts that morning and he was feeling right. To tell the truth, he felt like a pimp and a G.

“Stay here,” he said to Rhonda before going into his bedroom and closing his door. Bending down, he unscrewed one of the air vents on the trailer’s floor. This was the extra smart place where he kept his stash. He took out what Rhonda had asked him for over the telephone: five OxyContins.

Trey had been Rhonda’s pill man for the last two months. She was his first client in Lacombe. Rhonda had proven to be reliable, not in the sense that he could trust her in any way, but in the sense that she was a hardcore drug addict on whom he could rely to keep a steady stream of money coming.

Trey put Rhonda’s pills in a plastic baggie before rolling the rest of his stash back up, putting it back in the air vent, and screwing the cover back on.

When he came back out, Rhonda was standing with her arms crossed and all of her weight on one foot watching the flat-screen plasma TV. She took a long drag on her Kool. Trey had been watching Maury Povich. Rhonda liked the Maury Povich show.

Trey held up the baggie with a mocking smile. He was in a good mood. Rhonda made a move to take the baggie and Trey pulled it back.

“You know I need my money first, baby,” said Trey, still smiling.

“Man, fuck you, I got money, nigga…” mumbled Rhonda, who made a show of digging in her pocket and pulling out a series of crumpled bills one by one. After putting all of her money together, she gave it to Trey without counting it and without making eye contact with him. Trey put the baggie in the cell phone pocket of his jean shorts and began smoothing and counting the money. He knew very well that there wouldn’t be enough and that Rhonda would do everything she could to try and persuade him to give her a few more pills: the same old routine.

He counted out seventy-one dollars: twenty-nine short of the going price of twenty dollars a pill. One of the crumpled ones had Happy Birthday Shamita!!! written on it.

“You ain’t even got enough for four here, baby,” said Trey. Rhonda feigned perplexity and began to protest.

“What you mean? The money all there, nigga…count it again.”

Trey took out his baggie and theatrically removed two of the five pills.

“You know I’ma get my check from them people,” said Rhonda in a wheedling voice. It made her sick to her stomach to see the pills being removed. “You know I’ma come over here when I get my money.” Lies. Trey smiled. He looked at Rhonda’s fat, mottled, gamy thighs. Trey was high and Trey was horny.

“Come here,” he said to Rhonda. Trey rolled over to his couch and sprawled back. “Let me think about it,” he said, unbuttoning his shorts. Without hesitating, Rhonda got down on her knees, unzipped Trey’s baggy shorts all the way, pulled down his boxers and began sucking his dick. One of the reasons Rhonda was so good at sucking dick was because the process was incentivized for her: the sooner she finished, the sooner she got her paper. It only took a few seconds for her to make Trey hard. Trey’s meat rivaled the biggest black cocks Rhonda had taken. Rhonda did a sloppy job with plenty of saliva. She slurped and made a lot of noise. Every few seconds she took it out of her mouth and spat on it.

“Yeah, suck it, ho,” said Trey, half to himself. With his left hand he guided her head up and down.

Trey was groaning in pleasure now. The fucking bitch was slurping so loud he couldn’t hear Maury! With his right hand he picked up the remote and turned the volume up. There was a teenage girl on Maury’s sofa telling her obese mother that she was a slut and proud of it. She claimed that she had already slept with over a hundred men at the age of sixteen. She was wearing a tube top and looked like a chubbier Britney Spears. Trey wondered how hard it would be to turn the teenage slut out. Not hard, he thought. Money to be made everywhere, reflected Trey. Closing his eyes and taking a drag on his blunt, he imagined that the teenage slut was sucking his dick and not Rhonda.

“Yeah, bitch, there it is,” said Trey. He could feel the lava bubbling up. He tightened his grip on one of the curlers at the back of Rhonda’s head as he exploded into her mouth. Rhonda swallowed Trey’s load without flinching.

“That all you got for me, baby?” she said with a nasty smile as she stood back up, turning around so as to be able to see the TV.

“Fuuuck, you got a fucking mouth on you!” moaned Trey as he rolled his head from side to side, stretching his neck muscles. Trey loved having his dick sucked. Pulling his shorts back up, Trey reached down into his cell phone pocket for the baggie. With an exaggerated gesture he put only one of the two pills back into the baggie.

“What the fuck, nigga!” exploded Rhonda. “Gimme my fucking pills…fuck you, nigga!” Her yellow, bloodshot crack eyes flared in anger.

If Trey had been in a bad mood, he would have slapped this stupid bitch in the face, but he was high as a motherfucker and feeling right, so he just laughed. He picked up the half-finished blunt from the ashtray, lit it, took a drag, and then held it out to Rhonda.

“Yeah, you better gimme some, motherfucker,” she said, sucking the sweet smoke into her lungs.

“We ain’t done yet,” said Trey. Even though he had just caught a nut he was still horny as fuck. He liked Rhonda’s splotchy, unhealthy-looking ass and thighs and he wanted to fuck. Trey suddenly imagined that her ass was made of gyro meat. Homeboy, you high as fuck, he thought with a chuckle.

“Take off those shorts,” he ordered Rhonda.

“Man, fuck you. You too fucking horny, cracka,” she replied, although she had already begun doing what he had asked. The truth was that she wanted to fuck too.

Once the shorts were off, Trey told Rhonda to put her hands on the floor and wobble her ass for him. Rhonda did it. Trey sprawled back and watched it wobble back and forth. He was hypnotized by how chunky and stippled it was. He felt like he could watch it for hours. Rhonda’s voice snapped Trey out of his reverie.

“Nigga, you gonna fuck this pussy, or you gonna take a motherfucking nap?”

Trey got up and slid his thick nine-inch meat into the pink spot in the middle of her wet, hairy, purple-black pussy. He wouldn’t have admitted it to his homies, but he loved nasty, gamy, gutter pussy like Rhonda’s.

“You like that chocolate pussy, huh white boy?” teased Rhonda, pulling forward before sliding back towards him hard. “All day…them white girls don’t know how to fuck…don’t know how dirty you white boys really be…ain’t that right, pinky?”

Trey looked over at the TV. There was a Morris Bart commercial on. Morris Bart was a Jewish personal injury lawyer. Trey laughed. Morris Bart had a neck like a chicken and a voice like a faggot. Trey was fucking high. He began thrusting with renewed vigor.

“Shit…oh shit…fuck!” rasped Rhonda. Trey’s hard penis and aggressive strokes felt incredibly good!

With a groan, Trey blasted his cum into her polluted uterus.

Pulling out, Trey slapped Rhonda on the ass so hard that she yelped and went back to the sofa, where he removed the fifth pill and put it in the baggie with the other four. Rhonda pulled her shorts back up with a twist of her hips, took out another Kool, and lit it.

“Now give me my fucking pills…motherfucker…and gimme some lagniappe while you at it, ya heard me?”

“Here you go, ma’am,” Trey said, extending the baggie towards her and ignoring her absurd request for extra pills. “Enjoy yourself.”

“Fuck you,” said Rhonda, as she tried to swipe the baggie. Trey pulled it back again with a stupid grin.

“Man, fuck you, nigga, what the fuck!” exclaimed Rhonda, her face twisting into a mask of rage. “Give me my fucking pills, motherfucker!” Trey laughed like an imbecile and handed them to her. She snatched them.

“Now give me a kiss, sweetheart,” he said, puckering up like in a cartoon.

“Fuck you…you fucking crazy, motherfucker,” said Rhonda, who was smiling a little now that she had her pills. “I ain’t giving you no motherfucking kiss.”

 

Shemeta sat in the car, watching the trailer with dull, frightened eyes. She had finished her Big Mac ten minutes ago. With one hand she picked her nose and with the other she pawed at her itching vagina from outside her shorts. She had to pee. She knew her momma would be upset with her for interrupting her but she couldn’t hold it anymore…she couldn’t…and her momma would be even more angry if she went on herself or had to stop the car on the way back.

Shemeta got out of the car and ran up to the door of Trey’s trailer. Shemeta had never been taught how properly to announce her presence at anyone’s doorstep and so she just reached for the doorknob without knocking.

Trey was still grinning at Rhonda like an idiot when he heard someone approaching the door in great haste…as an enemy would. Trey had plenty of enemies back in Bogalusa. Had Corey’s boys found him in Lacombe already? Without missing a beat, Trey dropped to the ground, pulled the Glock out of his pants and leveled it at the door just in time to see Shemeta barrel in, calling out “Momma, Momma!”

Realizing that Shemeta was not one of the Cutt Boyz, Trey shoved his gun back in his pants and, reaching back, struck Rhonda across the face so hard that she fell down with a crash.

“Fucking whore! Fuck!” he shouted. “No one ever opens my fucking door except me! You got that?” He brought back his leg as if to kick her in the head but the rage had already begun to leave him. He kicked the sofa right above her head instead.

As soon as Shemeta saw Trey hit her mother, she stopped dead in her tracks, her eyes wide. Rhonda jumped right back up to her feet and began striking Shemeta.

“I told you to stay in the motherfucking car…you so stupid…stupid lil’ bitch…look what you done did!” Shemeta balled up to protect herself from the rain of blows. One of her thumbs went instinctively to her mouth.

“I had to pee, momma! I tried to hold it but I couldn’t!” Rhonda kept hitting her. Trey watched the scene from where he stood. His rage was gone. He had noticed Shemeta’s fresh young body almost as soon as she had run in and was now enjoying watching her breasts shudder under Rhonda’s blows.

After a few seconds, Trey stepped behind Rhonda, bear hugged her from behind, and whispered in her ear, “You done made your point…now lay the fuck off.”

“Nigga, fuck you laying hands on me! Who the fuck you think you is? Let me go, motherfucker…” Rhonda thrashed for a few seconds but without real conviction.  Fuck this white boy laying hands on me…but she had her pills and now she just wanted to go home and get right. Shemeta lay in the fetal position on the ratty brown built-in trailer carpet.

“Get up,” said Trey. “The bathroom’s down the hall.” Shemeta looked up at Trey but didn’t move right away. Her eyes were round with fright.

“You said you had to fucking pee…well fucking go!” Trey barked. Shemeta bolted to the bathroom. Trey let Rhonda go.

“Good-looking girl,” said Trey. “Starting to look like a good-looking woman.”

Rhonda did not know who Napoleon was or how to reduce a fraction but life in the ghetto had taught her to recognize when a man wanted a piece of pussy.

“Yeah?”

“Maybe you could leave us alone for a little while.”

Rhonda had no qualms about leaving Shemeta to Trey, but she wasn’t going to let him have her for free.

Trey imagined Rhonda’s peanut brain whirring as she calculated her response.

“Gimme five more,” she said. Smiling, Trey scrutinized Rhonda’s ugly face. Pimping her own kid daughter out to her drug dealer for five twenty-dollar pills! He turned around and walked back into his room.

“Don’t touch anything,” he said over his shoulder. Trey found his stash and took out not five but four pills. He would have given Rhonda as many as ten OxyContins for a crack at Shemeta, but he refused on principle to let a clucker dictate the terms of the bargain. When he walked back out he saw that Shemeta had returned from the bathroom and was looking at him. Damn, he thought, look at those fucking tits! The nipples pointed straight up, in contrast to Rhonda’s nasty, saggy titties that felt like zip-loc bags full of watery oatmeal. Trey tossed the baggie with the four pills at Rhonda.

“Get the fuck out of here.”

“Nigga, I said five!”

Trey opened the door. Rhonda gave him an icy glare before turning to Shemeta.

“You gonna stay by this man for a lil’ while. I got to go take care a some business but I be back in a lil’ while.” Rhonda gave one last look at Trey and smirked before hurrying out the door.

As soon as Rhonda had gone, Trey began to grin. “Come here,” he said to Shemeta in a nice voice. “You got nothing to be afraid of, girl.”

Shemeta hesitated. She knew what the white man wanted. She had lost her virginity the previous year to a neighbor boy named Gerald. Neither Shemeta nor Gerald could read. Gerald’s meat measured over ten inches. He gave it to her behind the dumpster at Chahta Ima Elementary School after school one day. Since then, several of Rhonda’s boyfriends had contributed to her sexual education. Sex held no mysteries for Shemeta. But white people did. Shemeta had never been alone with a white person before. She didn’t move.

“Come over here, baby,” said Trey again. She wasn’t moving, just staring at him, so he walked over to her with his hands in a pacifying gesture.

“Your momma’s a pain in the fucking ass, ain’t she?” he asked, trying to lighten the mood.

No response.  

“How old are you, girl?”

“Twaylve.”

Damn, Trey thought to himself. Twelve! He himself had lost has virginity at the age of thirteen to a fat twenty-four-year-old who lived in a trailer ten miles from his in Bogalusa. He and his friend Terry had heard she liked to fuck boys their age and would do it for twenty dollars. One day after school they rode their BMX bikes over there. It took them two hours. She answered the door smoking a cigarette and waved them in without saying anything. She knew what they were there for.

“Forty bucks,” she said.

Trey and Terry paid the fat girl. They had stolen the money from a retarded boy at school.

“You first,” she said to Trey, because he was better-looking. Terry had still not gone through puberty. She brought Trey into her room, laid on her back, and pulled off her acid-washed jeans. She left her T-shirt on because she was embarrassed of her fat body. Trey took off his jeans but not his “Poison” T-shirt and got on top of her. As soon as he slid inside her, she began moaning and her face turned red. Within thirty seconds, her thinning hair was moist with sweat and her eyes had rolled back into her head. Her body jerked up and down with pleasure. Trey came after two minutes of this.

“You fucking came already?” gasped the fat girl, disappointed and already out of breath. Trey didn’t say anything, just dismounted, put his pants back on and swaggered out of the room.

“Faggot!” she snarled as he shut the door behind him.

Trey still remembered the fat girl’s name: Brandy.

 

“Twelve, huh? Well, fuck it, you a woman now. What’s your name, girl?” asked Trey.

“Shemeta.”

“Shemeta, huh? That’s a pretty name.”

Shemeta just stood there staring at him.

Enough of this, thought Trey. “Take off your shirt, Shemeta.”

Shemeta hesitated for a second and then peeled off her tank top. Her breasts were so firm and round that they seemed somehow almost non-sexual. Damn, thought Trey again, look at those fucking tits! He started fondling them.

“Shemeta, you got the nicest fucking titties I ever seen,” said Trey. Shemeta looked back up at him with her big calf eyes.

“Really?”

“Yeah. Now take off your pants.”

Shemeta did as Trey asked.

“You gotta do something about that bush, though.”

Shemeta’s pubic hair formed a vast thatch that extended almost up to her bellybutton and spread onto the tops of her thighs. Fuck it, thought Trey. He turned Shemeta around, pulled his dick out of his pants, and penetrated the little girl.

Shemeta’s pussy was wet as hell. Trey easily went balls-deep on the first plunge without feeling even the slightest resistance from her cervical walls. Trey noticed with satisfaction that Shemeta was in the same position that her mother had been in only a quarter of an hour earlier. Some straight alpha male shit, thought Trey. Shemeta began moaning as Trey pounded her. Yes: she liked getting fucked!

“Damn, you a little ho already,” chuckled Trey. Trey was a vigorous fucker. He moved his head to the left so he could see her titties from the side. They were so firm that they didn’t swing around at all, just remained bolted onto her chest. Shemeta’s face looked simultaneously childish and slutty. Some element of this tableau stirred Trey’s libido on a deep level, and before he knew it he could feel the lava rising for the third time in half an hour. He exploded inside her with even more force than he had in Rhonda’s mouth.

2

 

Rhonda smiled as she drove off in her Celebrity, her first two OxyContins dissolving in her stomach. That stupid-ass white boy Trey had been so high that he hadn’t even noticed when Rhonda took his gold watch and slipped it into her bra.  

Now that she had the watch, she had to get rid of it as fast as possible. She sped to the pawn shop, which was owned by an older, light-skinned Creole named Mr. Cousin. His family had retained the French pronunciation of their name: Coo-zann. Rhonda scrunched to a stop in the clamshell parking lot in front of the empty store. After fishing the watch out of her bra, she got out of the car and waddled to the burglar-bar protected door, which made a beeping noise as she walked in. She walked straight up to the counter where Mr. Cousin was watching TV and dropped the watch down in front of him. Rhonda leaned way over the counter in a pose that was halfway between aggressive and seductive.

“How much you give me for that?” she said in a confrontational voice. Ashes fell from her Kool cigarette onto the counter.

Mr. Cousin picked up the watch with velvet hands. It was one of the expensive “bling-bling” models worn by the only people in town with enough money to be able to afford such tasteless jewelry: drug dealers. It was made of solid eighteen-karat gold and had an oversized gold face with platinum hands. It was very heavy. The inscription on the back plate read BALLIN’. Mr. Cousin supposed it had been purchased from a jeweler at either the Northshore Mall in Slidell or across the lake in New Orleans at Lakeside Mall. Mr. Cousin knew that Rhonda, who was visibly high, could only have stolen the watch.

Mr. Cousin didn’t want any trouble.

“This watch is hotter than a can of Sterno. Take it somewhere else.”

Rhonda face twisted into a snarl. “Fuck you, nigga…this mine…I bought it with my own motherfucking money…that watch mine, nigga, I bought it for eight hundred dollars.” Eight hundred dollars seemed like an extravagant figure for Rhonda, who thought that if she exaggerated its price she would get more for it. Mr. Cousin pegged its real value at over five thousand dollars. It was of course a little tempting to buy the watch, which he knew would never be redeemed by Rhonda, for far less than it was worth, but he knew too that trouble was not far behind. He had read Steinbeck’s The Pearl in high school and had never forgotten it. What if the cops came in and confiscated it as stolen property? Worse, what would happen when the man from whom it had been stolen came around looking for it? Lacombe was small and Mr. Cousin was not a greedy man. He supposed that he could get rid of it somewhere else without too much difficulty, but at the same time he had a personal rule about not getting mixed up in anything too shady. Everyone in Lacombe knew that Mr. Cousin was an honest businessman, or at least as honest as a pawn shop owner could be. He was smart enough to realize that this was why he was still healthy and in business. His one passion in life was fishing, and he had made enough money to buy a nineteen-foot Boston Whaler that he went fishing with on Bayou Lacombe every morning early before work. He didn’t want to tempt fate by getting greedy.

“No sale, and that’s final!”  

Mr. Cousin dealt with enough hustlers, fiends, and criminals every day to know how to communicate with their kind. Over time he had mastered the tone and facial expression that told customers like Rhonda that he would not change his mind.

Rhonda looked away from Mr. Cousin in frustration. Who the fuck did this nigga think he was? Accusing her of stealing…fuck this yellow nigga. Without addressing or even looking at Mr. Cousin, Rhonda scooped up the watch and walked back outside into the broiling, moist heat. What the fuck was she supposed to do with the watch now? She stuck it back in her bra and got into the car. She would think about that later. Right now she just wanted to go home and get right.

***

After downing her first Coke in three gulps, Shemeta was now working on her second. Trey was drinking a Budweiser. Shemeta sat on the sofa, kicking her legs back and forth. Trey was standing up, pacing.

“Where ya mama at?” said Trey, annoyed. He wanted Shemeta to leave.

“I dunno,” said Shemeta without breaking her fascinated gaze from the television, which was now showing Jenny Jones. Trey lifted his left hand to look at his watch.

It wasn’t on his wrist.  

In a flash, Trey realized that he had forgotten to put it back on after taking his morning shower. Before he even looked at the table where he knew it ought to have been sitting, his hustler’s instinct told him that Rhonda had taken it.

Trey closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He could feel the rage rising but refused to allow himself to blow his top. He imagined a meadow with a perfect, fluffy rabbit jumping through the flowers. Trey observed the rabbit through the scope of his rifle. At any moment, all he had to do was pull the trigger and the rabbit’s head would explode, but instead of pulling the trigger, Trey forced himself to concentrate on every detail of the scene: the white fur of the rabbit, the green rye grass, the sound of the birds chirping. After a few moments he could feel the rage melting away. Trey had learned this trick in jail.

Trey prided himself on his intelligence and cool head in matters such as this. Raw anger wouldn’t help him find his watch. He would put the anger on ice and thaw it out later. Trey knew that Rhonda was stupid enough to try sell it to the first person she saw on the street for a hit of dope. By the same logic, he knew that she was also stupid enough not to get rid of the watch right away, especially if she was high, which he knew she was.  

What would he do about Rhonda? On the one hand, he didn’t want to lose a reliable clucker. Rhonda brought him a lot of money. On the other hand, Trey was a proud man. Rhonda had to be punished. No one could steal from him, Trey Barnes, and get away with it. He was just beginning to develop a client base in Lacombe and had a reputation to think about. If word got out that Rhonda had robbed him and not been forced to pay, he was sunk.

“Get up,” said Trey to Shemeta, “we gonna go find ya mama. You want another Coke for the road?”

 

3

 

Shemeta smiled and smiled. She felt like a princess – or like a queen. Every time Trey squealed around a corner in his purple Taurus, she imagined the sun glinting off his chrome Sprewell spinner rims…imagined how jealous everyone must be of her…Shemeta…rolling with her white man!

They hating,” mouthed Shemeta. They were now driving past the old Huey P. Long Fish Hatchery on Fish Hatchery Road. Shemeta imagined herself holding a perfect little white baby in her arms. The baby was smiling at her! She put a bottle in its perfect little mouth and rocked it back and forth.

Trey thought in silence as he drove. The blunts were beginning to wear off. Although part of him felt violent and aggressive, ready to crack skulls and drink blood, another part of him realized that it was all play-acting. That’s why they call it Tha Game, thought Trey philosophically. To be honest, he felt good. He looked over at Shemeta again. I just fucked that piece, thought Trey. He imagined his cum still deep in her pussy. He reached over and roughly pulled her shirt up to get another look at Shemeta’s breasts. Shemeta did not resist as Trey grabbed her left breast and waggled it. She seemed to be happy about something.

“What the fuck you smiling about?”

Shemeta didn’t respond, just kept smiling as she stared at the dashboard. She wished that this moment would never end.

Trey put on a CD and advanced to track eight, a remix of “Down Here” by the white Baton Rouge rap group South Coast Coalition. When the bass throbbed Trey could feel violent energy coursing from his trunk down to his fingertips. This song always got Trey’s adrenaline pumping. Although Mista Matt and B-Rock weren’t the best rappers, the beat was fire and the track featured three of Trey’s favorite spitters: T-Bo, white and from Baton Rouge, Lil’ Boosie, black and from Baton Rouge, and the legendary Soulja Slim, black and from the Magnolia Projects in New Orleans. Trey liked and identified with T-Bo. Although he was white, he was a gangster, as grimy and shady as any black rapper. Unlike Mista Matt and B-Rock, he had a unique and inimitable gruff flow. Boosie held it down after T-Bo. Soulja Slim’s verse was last because he was the biggest star. Even when his lyrics were low-key, they communicated icy menace. A real hustler could hear right away that he was no studio gangsta but a cold-blooded killer.

It took them less than ten minutes to get to Rhonda’s squalid orange-and-white trailer. It was situated in the middle of a large, treeless, grassless lot on a little promontory surrounded by trash. There was no garbage pick-up in Lacombe and the only way to get rid of household garbage was by driving it to the dump yourself, which Trey did once a week on Saturday morning. Trey felt a wave of disgust as he scanned the avalanche of Styrofoam food containers, aluminum cans, and used disposable diapers that covered the ground.

Fucking animals, thought Trey. Like monkeys in a zoo. No, worse. Even monkeys are cleaner than these people.

Trey cut the engine and coasted in slow and quiet next to Rhonda’s Celebrity. The front door was wide open, with no screen door or anything: just gaping open. The trailer looked abandoned but Trey knew it wasn’t.

Trey wasn’t sure what to do about Shemeta. Should he tell her to come in, or would it be better if she didn’t see what was about to happen? Better to keep her out of it.

“Stay in the car,” said Trey. “Don’t come in till I come get you.” Shemeta nodded. She didn’t have to be asked twice not to leave Trey’s Taurus.

Trey took a quick look in the mirror, grimacing so he could see his gold teeth. Boot up, cracka, he thought to himself, and then jumped out of the car.

Trey went in swaggering, his game face on. He didn’t know if there were any men around or not and did not want to give himself away before he knew the coast was clear. The TV was on and Rhonda’s mother Dolores was sitting in a plaid easy chair with wooden arm rests and a doily across the back. She was watching the end of Jenny Jones. Dolores held a tiny, wrinkled, withered-looking little black newborn in her arms: Rhonda’s last baby. She was smoking a Kool cigarette. She had the yellow eyes and stringy neck of a crackhead. Trey had always thought Dolores looked like a mummy. He wondered idly what it would be like to fuck her. Two more babies were crawling around on the same ratty brown built-in carpet that Trey had in his trailer. They each wore nothing but disposable diapers: soiled ones.

“Afternoon, ma’am, I believe Rhonda is expecting me.” Dolores appeared not even to have noticed his presence.

After a long pause, and without breaking her gaze from the television, the aging rockhead extended one bony index finger towards the hallway.

“She in there.”

When Dolores opened her mouth, Trey could see that she only had two teeth left.

Trey pimp-rolled over to the door of Rhonda’s room, which was ajar. He looked in and saw Rhonda laid out on her back with her eyes half closed, high out of her mind on his pills. Trey stole in with assurance, closed the door behind him, and straddled her on the bed.

4

 

“Wake up!” Trey slapped Rhonda hard across the face. “Wake the fuck up!” He slapped her again. Rhonda responded with a weak spasm. She was unconscious after having taken four OxyContins. After a third violent blow, her red eyes rolled open.

“What the fuck…nigga…fuck…” she slurred.

“Where…is…my…watch?” said Trey. He spoke slowly and firmly but did not shout. Rhonda’s eyes rolled closed again.

Trey looked around Rhonda’s room. It was disgusting. The floor was covered in crushed Styrofoam cups, rotting French fries, and cigarette butts. The carpet underneath was so stained that it no longer had any discernible color. The only furniture was a plastic crate next to the mattress. There was a Styrofoam plate on the crate and a crack pipe on the plate. The walls were gray and greasy in the corner where the mattress lay on the floor. The mattress itself looked like it had been soaked in medical waste. A cursory search of this room revealed no watch.

Trey went back over to Rhonda’s unconscious body and began patting it down.

There: there was his watch, in her bra. So easy. Trey smirked as he pulled it out. Jesus, how could someone be so stupid?

Rhonda was out cold. He would have enjoyed teaching her a lesson, but how could you teach a lesson to someone who was stone zonked on Oxy?

After thinking for a few seconds, Trey reached into his pocket and pulled out the razor-sharp Buck knife that he used to gut and dress deer. She would just have to learn her lesson when she woke up. Gripping Rhonda’s face with his left hand, Trey cut a straight line an inch and a half long down Rhonda’s left cheek. Rhonda’s face twitched a little when the knife went in, but she did not wake up. Blood began to run down her cheek. The incision was not deep. He did not want to injure her, just leave a souvenir. With the concentration of a sculptor Trey shifted the knife in his hand and made a second incision, horizontal this time. Wiping away the blood with a T-shirt he found on Rhonda’s floor, he admired his handiwork: a perfect T. Trey smiled.

***

Dolores’ ears were as good as her eyes were bad. As soon as Dolores heard Trey slapping Rhonda, she leapt out of her chair with surprising agility and ran next door to Duke’s trailer.

Duke lived alone. He did odd jobs, hauling, construction, repairs, plumbing. Like Dolores, Duke liked to smoke rock. He was a big man, six-foot-four and two hundred forty pounds. He must have been about forty-five years old. Whenever there was a problem, Dolores or Rhonda went to Duke first. In exchange for his protection, he got an hour with Rhonda every Sunday night. Duke was considered slow and lazy by his neighbors. If he had any ambition, they said, he would have seized the opportunity to pimp Rhonda out for real instead of settling for a measly hour a week of ass and no cash. But that wasn’t Duke’s style.  

Duke may have been the father of Rhonda’s last baby, along with a lot of other men. Duke also occasionally fucked Dolores. Dolores and Rhonda made fun of Duke for the funny faces he made when he ejaculated inside them. His eyes would close and he would get a serious look on his face as if he were doing something important.

Most of all Duke loved to eat pussy. He could do it for forty-five minutes at a stretch. Rhonda and Dolores appreciated this. They thought of Duke as a big, stupid bloodhound.

Duke was a peaceful man…that is, until he needed a smoke and couldn’t get it. In such a situation he didn’t hesitate to put the Tec-9 and black ski mask that he kept in the glove box of his pickup truck to work. Duke didn’t get off on robbery and violence but he didn’t mind them, either. He had spent four years in Angola for attempted murder after pistol-whipping a minor into a coma during a botched mugging. Duke had pulled his gun on the skinny white teenager as he walked back to his car from the “Cinema Eight” movie theater in Slidell. The white teenager had just seen Twister, starring Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton. The images of Helen Hunt in a storm-soaked and transparent white undershirt had not left the white pussy indifferent. He was on his way home to masturbate to the image of her large breasts and plain face when Duke crossed his path. Unfortunately for the white teenager, Duke was high on PCP.

The compliant teenager only had four dollars in his pocket. Duke flew into a rage when he saw the four moist, worn bills.

“Four dollars? Four dollars? Bitch, I can’t even get a hot sausage po-boy for four dollars!” Duke began smashing the teenager on the head with the butt of his Tec-9. In a stroke of bad luck, a police patrol car drove by at this precise moment. Duke was tazed, beaten unconscious by the police, and arrested.

     

Duke was watching television and smoking a Kool cigarette when Dolores ran in. He wasn’t wearing a shirt and Dolores could see his powerful shoulders and thick gut.

“Duke…we got trouble!”

Duke knew the drill. It was not unusual for a john to start causing problems next door. Usually Duke’s size was enough to scare them into coughing up their money and leaving. He picked up his Tec-9 just in case, stuck it in his waistband, and jog-walked over to Dolores’ trailer.

 

Shemeta was still dreaming of her white baby, whom she had named LaShawn, when she saw Mr. Duke run out of his trailer. She liked Mr. Duke. One day when her mother and grandmother were gone he invited her into his trailer, where he made her take off her clothes and then licked her kitty. Afterwards, he seemed worried about something and said he would buy her a Wedding Cake sno-ball if she agreed not to mention anything to her mother. He said that it had to be a Wedding Cake snowball because it was like they were married to each other, only it was a secret.

 

The door flew open as Trey was sheathing his buck knife. When Duke saw the blood, he lunged at Trey. Physically, Trey was no match for Duke, but he was younger and faster and was able to roll out of the way. Duke crashed to the ground between the bed and the wall. By the time the bigger man had righted himself, Trey had backed towards the door and drawn his Glock.

“Don’t move, motherfucker,” said Trey. Duke saw that he had been beaten to the draw and didn’t move. He didn’t want to die. He had a vision of his empty chair next door, still warm and maybe even still rocking…still the same commercial break…shit, still the same Michael Hingle commercial on! After all, he had only stood up what…twenty seconds before? And now here he was looking down the barrel of a gun!

For a few tense seconds the two men stared at each other, unsure what the next move was.

Neither Duke nor Trey heard Dolores sneaking up. Suddenly, with a blood-chilling scream, Dolores stabbed Trey in the back with a steak knife. Trey howled and twisted backwards.

As soon as Trey broke his gaze, Duke drew his Tec-9 from his waistband and let three quick shots off. The first bullet hit Dolores in the forehead. The upper-left corner of her head exploded, splattering pieces of skull and brain onto the wall behind her. The other two bullets hit the wall. None of them hit Trey, who ducked and riposted immediately.

One of Trey’s bullets hit Rhonda in the gut. This time the pain was stronger than the OxyContins and she started screaming as her blood poured out onto the mattress. Another of the bullets hit Duke in the chest. Duke spasmed and collapsed like a puppet with its strings cut. Trey could tell by the way Duke crumpled that he was dead. Spinning around, he saw Dolores’ body on the ground behind him. Half of her head was gone and he could see her brain.

Fuck, thought Trey. Just like that, he was in big trouble: a multiple murderer! Rhonda screamed and clutched at her perforated gut. An incredible amount of blood was leaking out of her stomach. Trey didn’t know what to do. He had never heard such screams. Should he try to save Rhonda? Fuck that…he had to get the fuck out of there! But where? Trey couldn’t think straight. He couldn’t even move. Trey knew this was not how he should be reacting. MOVE, he commanded himself. Yet his body did not move.

Rhonda’s screams were unbearable. Her blood was beginning to pool around the mattress. The approaching red puddle snapped Trey out of his trance. He jumped backwards to avoid getting blood on his Nikes. Looking at his polo shirt, he saw that it was sprayed with Dolores’ blood. He peeled it off and used it to wipe off his face and arms. He was about to throw it on the floor when he realized it would be better to take it with him and dump it somewhere.

Shit, what about fingerprints? Did police really check that stuff? He stepped over Dolores’ body and used his polo shirt to wipe off the doorknob. Was that all he had touched? He couldn’t focus. His heart was hammering against his ribs. Rhonda was still screaming and so were the three babies in the living room.

Then Trey had a very wicked idea.

 

Shemeta was still thinking about Mr. Duke and the Wedding Cake snowball when she heard three fast pops followed by a pause and then three more fast pops. Then, nothing. About sixty seconds later, Shemeta saw the white man barrel out of the trailer and run for the car. But why was he holding her littlest sister Tamica in his arms?

 

As soon as Trey saw Shemeta, he froze. He had forgotten all about her. Jesus Christ, what was he supposed to do about this? Bring her with him? Kick her out? Shoot her too? If he left her behind, she would tell the police what happened!

He had to get rid of her!

Shooting Duke and Rhonda had been easy. But murking a little girl in cold blood…

He would bring the girl along. Shemeta could take care of the baby while he figured out what to do with it. Did he have time to stop by his trailer and pick some stuff up before leaving town? There appeared to have been no witnesses. Rhonda’s trailer was on an isolated back road. Was she still screaming? For some reason Trey couldn’t tell.

Trey had to think fast. He would stop at home, pick up some essential things, and then get the fuck out of town. He would think about where later. If no one saw him he ought to have a couple of days before the police put the pieces together and started looking for him.

“We gonna take a lil’ ride,” said Trey to Shemeta as he thrust Rhonda’s withered-looking preemie into her arms. “Your momma ain’t feeling too good.” Shemeta took Tamica, whose diaper was smeared with their mother’s blood.                    

5

 

Tyrone Washington was lying on his bed playing Final Fantasy VII. It was his favorite video game of all time. For some inane reason, his friend Victor liked Final Fantasy VIII better. Victor could be obtuse sometimes. Onscreen, Tyrone’s avatar Cloud slashed at a Guard with the badass-looking Buster Sword. Dramatic music played in the background. Tyrone chortled when the Guard’s counterattack inflicted a pathetic eight hit points of damage.

Cloud was a stylized, spiky-haired adolescent hero with a slight physique, a giant blade, and a tortured psyche. Unhappy Japanese teenagers were supposed to identify with Cloud, and they did. Tyrone also identified with Cloud. Sometimes, as he lay drifting off to sleep, Tyrone imagined himself as Cloud in the Final Fantasy universe, slashing his way towards a final showdown with Sephiroth.

Tyrone Washington was a black nerd. Physically, he was a shrimp. He was five-foot-seven and weighed a hundred and twenty pounds. Although he was weak and skinny he managed to carry around a small gut. Tyrone’s dark black skin made the heavy acne that he spent hours squeezing and picking harder to notice. His unkempt hair occupied the intermediary zone between nappy corona and small Afro. The cheap-looking light blue plastic eyeglasses he wore were one of only four models available at the welfare ophthalmologist’s. One of the retarded boys in Tyrone’s homeroom had the same frames. Tyrone was seventeen years old and finishing his senior year of high school at Mandeville High.

Although he had an above-average IQ, Tyrone was not in the gifted program. He didn’t like to study and his above-average IQ was not high enough to compensate for his poor study skills. His grades were good without being great. What Tyrone liked was facts, the more useless, the better. For example, although Tyrone had never read Heart of Darkness, he did know Joseph Conrad’s original Polish name: Jozef Korzeniowski. Tyrone also knew that pigs had corkscrew-shaped penises and that St. Peter was the first Pope, even though he had only a vague idea of what Catholicism was. Tyrone’s favorite books were the Almanac, the Guinness Book of World Records, the Book of Lists, 2201 Fascinating Facts, and other such titles. He made no attempt to synthesize his store of trivial knowledge into any worldview or philosophy; his facts just existed as discrete bits of information in his head. He did not pay attention to politics or care about what went on in the world. Place was not important to him. He did not notice such things as architecture or landscape. Anything that involved synthesis and judgment was foreign to Tyrone. He was neither proud nor ashamed of being black. He talked too much in class and most of the other students didn’t like him. His teachers found him sort of touching, sort of annoying, sort of smart, and sort of pathetic. Tyrone had a couple of equally marginal friends, both of whom were white: a Gothic fat girl named Jessica and a husky, freckled boy named Victor Sanders.

Tyrone’s grandmother was fat and didn’t work. Her money came from welfare. She had Tyrone’s mother when she was sixteen years old and Tyrone’s mother had Tyrone when she was fourteen years old, which meant that Tyrone was only thirty years younger than his grandmother. Tyrone’s mother was a crack addict and ad hoc hooker who sold her ass in Pearl River, Mississippi, just across the state line. Often she would drive to Lacombe to ask her mother for money. Tyrone felt anxious whenever she stopped by the trailer. She never stayed for long. If she was high she risked coming into Tyrone’s room and telling him she loved him…eyes red and bloodshot. But if she was sober she didn’t bother. Usually, Tyrone’s grandmother gave Tyrone’s mother some of her welfare money. Looking out of his window, Tyrone would see his mother walk straight from their trailer to the trailer next door to buy drugs with the money she had just been given.

Tyrone’s grandmother watched television all day long and prepared a stupendous amount of food for herself and her grandson, whom she adored. Out of everything his grandmother made, Tyrone only liked corn bread and greens. He picked the bacon out of his greens and gave it to his grandmother. Her favorite part of the bacon and greens was the fat. His favorite food was pasta cooked al dente with Kraft brand Parmesan cheese. Tyrone taught his grandmother what al dente meant. She thought Tyrone was a genius and told her friends that he spoke Italian. Tyrone’s grandmother cooked pork at almost every meal. Tyrone would eat just enough to satisfy his grandmother. He would have preferred to eat nothing but vegetables. Tyrone’s grandmother knew this but couldn’t accept that someone would only want to eat vegetables. She had heard of vegetarians before on TV but it sounded suspicious and even a little Satanic to her. Sometimes his grandmother made salad for Tyrone. She bought him the special Paul Newman dressing he liked, even though a small jar cost more than the forty-eight ounce tub of Wal-Mart brand ranch dressing that she kept in the fridge and drowned her own salad with.       

***

“Stay here. I have to get some stuff. Don’t move!” said Trey, jumping out of the car and slamming the door.

All of a sudden the car was very quiet. Shemeta knew that her momma was dead. Shemeta hated her momma and she was glad that the white man had killed her. She imagined the handsome white man shooting her mother in the head with his gat and her mother’s head exploding. The thought made her tremble with excitement. Now she had a baby and the white man was her baby daddy. They would live together in the white man’s trailer and she would have six babies, three boys and three girls.

Shemeta looked down at her little sister Tamica. This baby was hers now! Staring at Tamica’s shriveled body and black skin she felt disappointed. She didn’t want this baby. She wanted a white baby, a fat one with blue eyes.

“Why you so ugly,” said Shemeta, shaking Tamica as she spoke.

The limp crack baby began to cry. Hearing its voice, Shemeta began to feel compassion for her new baby and started to rock it.

“Baby, baby,” she said as she rocked Tamica.     

***

Trey grabbed a laundry basket, which he emptied on the floor. The first thing he had to do was grab what was left of his stash: some OxyContins, some Ecstasys, and about six ounces of weed. He knew without looking that there was two thousand dollars in cash in the box underneath the weed as well as a box of fifty bullets for his Glock. He closed the box and stuck it in the bottom of his laundry basket. Next he went to his dresser and took out a few Polo shirts, some underwear, some socks, and some shorts. He also grabbed his deodorant and his digital camera. He took off his undershirt and looked at his back in the mirror. The wound appeared to be superficial and had stopped bleeding, which didn’t stop it from burning like a motherfucker. Next he went to his closet and fished out the briefcase in which he kept all of his vital documents. These too he put in the laundry basket. Moving into the kitchen, he grabbed a two-liter of Coke, a six-pack of Budweiser, and a big bag of Chili Cheese Fritos for the road. In the bathroom he grabbed his toothbrush, toothpaste, and hair clippers. Trey turned on the shower, peeled off his clothes, and jumped in before the water even had time to get hot. This would be the shortest shower of Trey’s life. He stayed under the water just long enough to wash the blood from his body and then jumped back out.

Trey put his old clothes in a plastic bag with the bloody undershirt and put the bag in the laundry basket, from which he took out a clean set of clothes that he then put on. On his way out of the bathroom he stopped in front of the closet in which he kept his hunting guns. Should he take them? On the one hand, he would be able to get good money for them on the road. On the other hand, he didn’t want to sell them. They were his guns and he wanted to keep them. Even though he realized that he would probably never be able to come back to this trailer he decided to leave them as a sort of good-luck gesture. Trey grabbed an LSU sweatshirt and threw it over the laundry basket before running outside and putting everything in the trunk of his car.

As he shut the trunk, he remembered his antlers. He couldn’t leave his antlers behind. Trey had shot his first deer when he was twelve and his dad mounted the antlers for him. It was the only nice thing his dad ever did for him. His dad had been a crystal meth addict and a thief before Trey found him dead in the front yard one day. He had gotten fucked up, passed out, fallen into the ditch, and drowned face-down in three inches of septic water. Trey ran back into his trailer, grabbed the antlers off the wall above his bed, and ran back outside.

***

Tyrone was equipping Tifa with new Materia when he heard tires screeching to a stop outside. His immediate thought was that it was his mother with a new boyfriend and he felt something turn in the pit of his stomach. He paused the game and craned his neck to the window just in time to see his next door neighbor running into his trailer. There was a deep red blotch on his back. Was he bleeding?

What was going on?

Trey frightened Tyrone. The two of them had never spoken. Tyrone avoided all contact with him. Shady people came and went from his trailer at all hours. Every square inch of Trey’s appearance advertised his capacity for violence. Tyrone was afraid of violence.  

Tyrone noticed a young-looking black girl in the passenger seat of Trey’s Taurus but couldn’t make out her face. Tyrone could see Trey moving around inside the trailer in a hasty and violent way. Something was up. Tyrone got up to his knees and pressed his face to the window to get a better view.

A minute later, Trey shot out of the trailer with a laundry basket full of stuff that he threw in the trunk. He had changed his shirt. Tyrone saw him look around suspiciously before running back into his trailer. Ten seconds later, he emerged again, holding a set of what looked like deer antlers. He turned around and locked the front door. He scanned his surroundings one last time before jog-walking back to the car.

Suddenly Trey stopped dead in his tracks. Tyrone could feel the blood drain from his face as well as a strange tingling in his crotch as he realized that Trey was looking at him. He did not know what was happening but he knew that whatever it was…was bad…very bad…and he wished more than anything in the world that Trey had not seen him at the window.

***

Trey was about to jump in his Taurus when he noticed the black splotch pressed against the window of his next-door trailer.

Goddamn it…the little fucker must have been watching ever since I drove up, thought Trey. He couldn’t have seen anything truly incriminating, but still…the kid was always in his room…always at that goddamned window…probably never stopped jerking off, thought Trey. He knew that the little nerd didn’t have any friends around to talk to and that was good. But still, he had seen him and he would probably tell that fat grandmother of his that something was going on. She would talk and that was no good, no good at all! Trey knew that Tyrone was scared of him. But what the fuck could he do? He didn’t have time to go over and pistol whip him…he should have been on the fucking road long ago already!                

***

Tyrone felt sick when he saw the cruel smile spreading across his neighbor’s face. When Trey’s lips parted, Tyrone saw that his teeth were all made of gold. They sparkled in the bright sunlight.

Time stopped for Tyrone. He wanted to look away but he couldn’t. Trey’s reptilian gaze nailed him to the spot.

Slowly Trey lifted a finger to his mouth. Tyrone could actually hear him whispering…could even feel Trey’s warm breath on his ears. How was this possible?

Shhhh…be quiet…bitch…

Then, with the same finger, Trey made a gun with his hand and extended it towards Tyrone in a horizontal grip.

He left the gun pointed at Tyrone for an agonizing few seconds before finally pulling the trigger. Tyrone felt a cold, stabbing pain as the bullets pierced his body.

Trey put his finger to his mouth one more time before tapping his temple. Even though his lips didn’t move Tyrone could once again hear Trey’s voice as clearly as if they were in the same room: Use your head…bitch…

Then, in a flash, Trey winked, jumped back into his car, started it up, and peeled out.

Tyrone lowered his frozen body back onto his bed. He didn’t feel like playing Final Fantasy VII anymore.  

6

 

Trey began to feel better once he got on I-12 going east. Although he knew that he was far from home free, he had made it out of Lacombe with no real difficulty. If only that little fucker hadn’t seen me leaving town…but Trey had the feeling that the kid wouldn’t talk. He could just tell. He had a sixth sense for these kinds of things. Trey had always considered himself special, not just lucky but destined for greatness. There was a reason that big buck’s bullets had all missed and his had all hit home. Trey was different…special…whatever you wanted to call it. Always had been. Looking at his speedometer, Trey saw that the car was cruising at a steady seventy miles an hour.

The situation was on lock.   

By the time they got past Biloxi, Trey was feeling straight up enthusiastic.

As he drove, Trey reflected on the fact that he was now a killer. He was glad that he had made his bones. As Trey had always suspected, taking a life had been about as difficult as putting a gallon of milk back in the refrigerator.

Trey looked over at Shemeta. She was cradling the baby in her arms. Trey still wasn’t sure if taking the baby was a mistake or not. Just a few days earlier he had seen a Geraldo Rivera investigative report about human trafficking on television. Newborn babies were worth plenty of money on the black market – twenty thousand dollars or more. There were thousands of people out there ready to pay top dollar for the chance to be parents. Anyone else would have just panicked, run out of the trailer and ended up in jail within twelve hours, Trey thought. He had kept his cool, thought fast, and found a way to turn a bad situation into a money-making opportunity. Twenty thousand dollars! Why would anyone on earth pay that kind of money for a baby? This one didn’t look like it was worth more than fifty bucks, thought Trey with a snort. So…shriveled and unhealthy-looking. Right now he would have paid someone fifty dollars just to shut the fucking thing up. Tamica had been crying for the last thirty minutes.

“Shut it up!” exploded Trey.

“She hungry,” said Shemeta, who was attempting to rock Tamica.

Looking over at Tamica, Trey imagined palming her and tossing her out the window like a Styrofoam cup. He looked back at the road at took a deep breath. Keep a cool head and everything will be OK. Babies need food. Breathe. A big payday like this was worth some temporary discomfort.

“Well we just gonna have to get her some food then,” said Trey, trying to stay frosty.

Trey pulled off the interstate in Gulf Shores, Alabama and followed the signs to a Wal-Mart. He would rather have waited until nightfall to stop but he couldn’t stand hearing the baby scream anymore. Besides, he wanted to stretch his legs, smoke a cigarette and get his thoughts together. Pulling into the crowded parking lot, he chose a space way out by the edge, away from any other cars.

“Remember,” said Trey to Shemeta, “if anyone asks, you waiting on ya mama.” Shemeta gave a lazy nod without looking at Trey.

Trey grabbed her face with his hand, hard, and twisted it so that she was facing him.

Tamica started shrieking again.

“You look at me when I talk to you! Don’t even think about leaving this car! You understand? Don’t even think about it!” Trey punctuated his tirade with a bitch slap across the face from his free hand. Shemeta nodded as best she could given Trey’s iron grip. Trey stared at her with his icy eyes for a second or two more before relaxing into a testy smile and letting go of her face.

“Smart girl,” said Trey, moving his head left and right to crack the vertebrae and lighting a cigarette. His hands and cheek muscles twitched as he sucked down lungful after lungful of smoke in tense silence. After two long minutes, Trey spoke.

“Fuck it…you want anything for the road? Some sweets? What kind of candy you like?”   

“Twizzlers,” said Shemeta in a timid little-girl voice.

“Yeeaah…Twizzlers…you got good taste for a little kid…I love me some Twizzlers…I been eating Twizzlers since motherfucking day one, ya heard me? Twizzle my Nizzle…fo shizzle…” Trey’s vague imitation of Snoop Dogg broke the tension. Shemeta laughed. Trey got out of the car.

Walking into Wal-Mart, Trey felt positive on the whole. This was it: life. Although the danger was far from over, he was in total control of the situation. Once past the greeter, Trey grabbed a shopping cart and rolled over to the baby supply section. He grabbed a crate-sized forty-pack of disposable diapers and tossed it into the cart. Moving further down the aisle, he grabbed a baby bottle and stood for a moment contemplating the wall of baby formula. As soon as he moved to take one from the shelf – the cheapest one – a fat white woman with a puffy-paint Teddy bear on her oversized T-shirt who was shopping behind him piped up.

“That formula’s no good…gives mine diarrhea. Parent’s Choice is better.” Trey put the cheap stuff back on the shelf and thanked the woman, calling her ma’am.

“Just trying to save you a surprise,” she said in a tired voice, rolling off slowly.

On second thought, Trey decided to buy the cheap stuff anyway.

Was that all that the baby might need? What else did babies need? Trey couldn’t think of anything else. Moving into the clothes section, he decided that it wouldn’t hurt to change his style, given his situation. He selected a pair of dark blue Pioneer brand pleated slacks, a dress belt, a pack of white button-up shirts, and a pair of brown dress boots with a puffy rim around the top. On a whim he decided to buy a clip-on tie with a Tabasco pattern on it. He might as well go all the way if he was going to dress like a businessman. Next, Trey stopped in the girls’ section, where he picked up a new tank top for Shemeta for ninety-nine cents as well as a three-pack of cotton underwear and a new pair of shorts with Tweety Bird on the butt that cost $4.24. Trey felt embarrassed when he picked up the underwear. He hoped no one was watching him. Last of all he stopped in the snack section. What the fuck did she say she liked…Goobers…no…Twizzlers. He also got an eight-ounce bag of Jack Link’s brand peppered beef jerky and a big Gatorade for himself. Gatorade for the ballers, Haterade for the haters. On his way to the checkout counter he made an impulse stop at the jewelry island. There was a whole wall of little gold pendants and lockets for girls. As a drug dealer and ex-convict, Trey had a shrewd grasp of human psychology as well as an intuitive sense of the proportions in which to mix seduction and sadism to hijack someone’s will. He knew that this was a far more effective technique than simple intimidation. Without looking, Trey chose a locket in the shape of a heart that cost $6.99 and put it in his shopping cart.

When he checked out the total was over a hundred dollars. Looking at the receipt he was shocked at how expensive the diapers and formula were.

Fuck it…investment capital, thought Trey as he wheeled back out into the blinding sunlight.

When Trey got back to the car, he saw that Tamica had quieted down. The first thing he did was go to the trunk and take out some OxyContins, one of which he crushed into powder and put in a plastic baggie. Next he took out the bottle, unwrapped it, and poured the baby formula into it. He tossed the cardboard and plastic packaging on the ground. Next he poured a little of the Oxy powder into the bottle with the formula. He wasn’t going to take any more chances with the baby crying. He shook the bottle to mix everything up. Taking the bottle, the Twizzlers, the beef jerky, the Gatorade and the pendant, Trey walked around to the driver’s side of the car. Before opening the door, Trey put the box with the pendant in his shirt pocket.

“Lot of people in there…Sunday shopping,” said Trey to Shemeta as he dropped into the driver’s seat. “Here you go,” he said as he tossed the Twizzlers on Shemeta’s lap. “And this is for Taleeka…Takeela…whateverthefuck,” said Trey with a smirk as he put the bottle in Shemeta’s hand.

“Tamica,” said Shemeta.

“Whatever.”

When the rubber nipple went to Tamica’s mouth it was as if she had been touched with a live wire. Her tiny body shivered and jerked as if she were having an orgasm.

Legs loose, Trey ripped open the bag of beef jerky, stuffed a big piece into his mouth, and rolled his head back so he was looking up. He closed his eyes as he chewed.  

He turned to Shemeta as if he had just remembered something.

“I almost forgot. This is for you. I got a little steamed up back there. This is my way of saying that…we gonna be cool soon as you get the wax out your fucking ears and learn the rules.” Shemeta’s eyes widened as she saw the jewelry box come out of Trey’s shirt pocket. She made to open it but Trey stopped her, saying, “Naw, let me.” He held the heart pendant up so that Shemeta, who was beaming, could get a good look at it before putting it over her head himself and even…giving her a little kiss on the mouth.

Shemeta felt a warm tingling all over her body.                   

7

 

After finishing her drugged bargain formula, Tamica fell fast asleep. She slept so soundly that Shemeta was able to make a little clothes nest for her in the back seat and set her there. Night had fallen, and the three of them were nearing the Atlantic Ocean. Trey had decided that Daytona Beach would be a good place to hide out for a little while. He had been there once a few years before on vacation with some of his homies and had a real good time. In the daytime they set up camp on the beach, drinking rum and Coke and conversating with all the fine-ass bitches getting their tan on. At night, Trey and his buddies would get in Trey’s Taurus and cruise the beach, throwing their sets up, stunting, and just generally wilding out before hitting the club. One of Trey’s boys brought back a freak one night, a fat bitch with big, floppy titties, and they all went family-style on her, slapping her ass and titties around and cumming on her face. She sucked them all dry and when they woke her up to kick her out the next morning she still had dried cum all over her face and hair.  

Good times.

Daytona it would be. But this time he was in town on business. Trey had matured since that last trip and now he had only one thing on his mind: getting his paper right. Trey had been thinking it over. This shit back home was a sign that it was time to stop fucking around with the small-time bullshit and take a step up to the big leagues. Trey felt like a tiger or a Pit that had just been let out of its cage: lean, mean, and ready to rip into some buttery, innocent flesh.  

But first things first. Right now, the first thing would be to find a motel, something cheap where no one would ask him any questions.

After driving around the strip for a little while, Trey saw a place that looked perfect. It was a squat, fifties-style dive motel surrounded by a low brick wall called the “Sun Tan Motel.” The sign out front said “Free HBO – Free Wireless.” He saw that the units in the back were set off from the street and that he would have a lot of privacy. Good enough, thought Trey. It was a little after ten P.M. He parked in a dark corner of the lot and loped over to the office.

The man at the desk was a fat, middle-aged Mexican with a mustache. He was watching Cops on TV. He straightened up in his chair when Trey walked in.

“I’m looking for a room,” said Trey. “You got any vacancies? Something in the back, away from the street. My girlfriend’s sick and don’t want to be disturbed.”

“Just the two of you?” replied the Mexican with a heavy accent.

“That’s right,” said Trey.

“How long will you be staying, sir?”

“We on vacation…just chilling. Be here at least a week. Swimming, getting a tan. That’s why we came here. Sun Tan Motel. How’s the water?” said Trey with a big smile.

“Oh, it’s alright, still a little cold. But it’s OK. People be out there all day, getting tans, having fun in the water.”

“I hear that, bruh.”

“Will you be paying by cash or credit card?”  

“Cash, dog…one week. How much that come to?” The Mexican typed in fifty-nine times seven on his calculator and showed the product to Trey: $413. Trey pulled a big wad of cash out of his pocket and peeled off nine fifty-dollar bills. Trey made a point of always keeping fifties instead of hundreds. Benjamins were played out, so Trey flipped the script and carried Grants instead. The Mexican took the bills and gave Trey his change of thirty-seven dollars. Trey pushed the bills back towards the Mexican.

“Naw, bruh…that’s for you. Just make sure we get some privacy, ya heard me? I don’t want no one coming in…no maids, no room service, no fucking meter man, nobody, ya heard me? Me and my girl want some privacy…if I need anything I’ll come by and ask for it my own damn self. You can do that for me?” Trey was smiling aggressively and leaning across the counter.

The Mexican hesitated for a second. “Of course, sir, no problem at all. Take this and leave it on your door just in case.” The Mexican handed Trey a “Do Not Disturb” door sign.

“I’ma put it on there, bruh, but I don’t want no just in case, ya heard me? You go ahead and tell your people to just forget about room number” – Trey looked at the key – “room number eighteen for a lil’ while.” Pulling closer, Trey added, “I’ll be honest with you, homey, me and my girl gonna be straight freaking all week…she shy but she wild too, you see what I’m saying? So just tell them people we good, we set, we don’t need nothing in there.” Trey was almost whispering, leaning way in and looking straight into the Mexican’s eyes.

“Yes sir, absolutely sir, I understand,” stammered the Mexican with a nervous smile, looking away.

Trey nodded and signaled that the conversation was over by holding out his fist for dap.

After concluding with the Mexican, Trey walked back to his car, which he drove up to room number eighteen. Making sure no one was around, he opened the door and ushered Shemeta in. Tamica was still asleep. Trey went back out to his car and brought the laundry basket in as well as all of the stuff he had bought from Wal-Mart. After setting everything in a corner, the first thing Trey did was crack open a beer and sprawl back on one of the beds with a loud groan of relaxation.

“Shit,” said Trey, “I’m fucking bushed.” Shemeta set Tamica on the floor next to her bed and then lay down on her stomach. After gulping down his beer in less than three minutes, Trey got back up with a groan, got himself another beer, and began rolling himself a blunt with one of the Swisher Sweets he had bought from Wal-Mart. Trey knew that the situation was still critical but he was too tired to do anything more for the day. He would wake up early with the chickens and start straight hustling…tomorrow.

After lighting up the blunt and taking a few drags, Trey extended it across the particle-board night table to Shemeta without breaking his gaze from the TV. She took it nervously and put it to her mouth. Trey was surprised to see that she didn’t know what to do with it.

“You mean your mama ain’t never smoked you out before? With all the dope she burns? Damn.” Trey’s reddened eyes had already swollen shut a little bit. “Just put it in your mouth and suck on it. Shit…that shouldn’t be a problem for you.” Trey chortled at his joke. “Breathe it in deep. Get all that good stuff way down in your lungs.” Shemeta took a big hit and started coughing.

“There you go,” he said. “Keep it down as long as you can. That’s good shit you smoking.”

“It taste sweet,” said Shemeta as she handed the blunt back to Trey.

“Why you think they called Swisher Sweets, dummy? Have you some more, put you right to sleep.”

After finishing the blunt, Trey got up and scavenged the big bag of Chili Cheese Fritos that he had salvaged from his trailer. He ripped it open and started chowing down. After eating about half of them, he abandoned the bag on the nightstand. Shemeta snatched it up and began eating the Fritos by the fistful. Trey turned the TV on and started flipping around. It only took Shemeta a few minutes to finish the Chili Cheese Fritos.

“You got the munch too, huh?” said Trey. “Shit…your first time…I bet you high as a motherfucker!”

Once there were no more Fritos, Shemeta began licking her fingers down to the webbing. They had collected a significant quantity of Chili Cheese powder with each of her eager plunges into the chip bag. Shemeta found this process fascinating. Her body felt heavy and she could feel herself sinking into the mattress. After sucking off most of the flavor, her hands were wet and sticky with saliva and patches of Chili Cheese spice that her tongue had missed.

Shemeta tossed the bag on the floor next to her bed where Tamica was sleeping. Some of the Chili Cheese bottom debris spilled on Tamica’s face. She gave a jerk and began to gurgle. Shemeta peered down at Tamica and then hoisted her up to the bed. She began to wipe Tamica’s face with her sticky, spicy hands.

“You so dirty,” said Shemeta. The crack baby began crying as the Chili Cheese spice got in its eyes.

“What the fuck are you doing?” shouted Trey. “You woke her up!”

“She lonely,” said Shemeta, who was now rocking Tamica and clutching her hard against her body. Tamica fought against Shemeta’s painful, suffocating embrace.

Still drugged, the baby eventually lost consciousness. Shemeta continued to squeeze her, staring with bloodshot eyes at ESPN’s SportsCenter.        

After fifteen minutes in which no one spoke but the television, Trey got up to get another beer. Instead of sitting back down, Trey began to pace. Rather than calming him down, the blunt was making him anxious and paranoid.

“We gonna get something straight here,” said Trey. “Here’s how this shit works. That baby is your business. You gonna feed it, you gonna change it, you gonna fucking burp it.”

Trey stopped pacing, his eyes squinted in reflection.

“Here’s what we gonna do.” He went out to the car and came back with the toaster-sized ninety-six ounce mug of Sprite that he   had bought at a gas station. He dumped the remaining contents into the sink. Then, one by one, he opened the seven remaining formula cans and dumped them into the oversized plastic cup, which he hadn’t bothered washing out. He walked into the kitchenette and began rummaging around in the drawers. He came back out with a turkey baster, which he dropped into the formula mug. From his pocket he extracted six Oxy pills and crushed them up. He dumped the powder into the formula and began stirring it with the turkey baster.

“What that is?” asked Tamica.

“That’s to help her go to sleep…make sure she behaves herself. Give her nice dreams…bout bunnies and shit. Now, watch me carefully. I’ma put this shit in the fridge – baby likes her milk nice and cold, right? Specially when it’s hot outside like this. Now, whenever she’s hungry, you just come over to the fridge, suck some of that good stuff up into this bitch, and then squirt it in the bottle. You and Tamica rocking and rolling.” Trey paused for a second and looked around. He seemed agitated. Spotting the diapers, he lunged towards them and held them up.

“You know how to change a diaper?” Shemeta nodded. She had changed plenty of diapers. “Good, cause I sure the fuck don’t. I’ma put them right here. Baby Tamica takes a dump, you take the old one off and pop one of these clean motherfuckers on there. I don’t want to smell no fucking baby shit so keep your nostrils open.”

“Where the wipey box at?”

“The what?”

“The wipey box.”

“I ain’t got no fucking wipey box…this ain’t the fucking Hilton. Toilet paper’s good enough for my white ass…it’s good enough for hers. Speaking of which…I got to take a shit.”

Trey went into the bathroom and closed the door. Thirty seconds later, the toilet flushed and he came back out gesticulating. He was getting manic.

“Another thing. We got to get the rules straight. Rule number one, we laying low, and that means you ain’t leaving this hotel room, ever, for any reason. You understand? You gonna stay in here and take care of the baby. They got HBO here so you cool. But if I catch you even looking out the door” – here Trey stopped pacing and jabbed his finger in her direction – “you gonna regret it. Just fucking forget about the sun for a little while. You understand? You don’t need no fucking tan anyway.” Shemeta nodded. Trey nodded too, as if to himself, and continued pacing around the apartment for a few more minutes before abruptly turning off the TV.

“Bedtime. We waking up early tomorrow.”

8

 

“Tyrone! Come on outta there, baby! I just made some chili dogs and they good!”

For the past hour Tyrone had been lying immobile in bed. Tyrone did not feel very good. Something strange was happening. His mind was racing so fast that he couldn’t even figure out what he was thinking about. How was it possible that he had heard Trey whispering to him from outside the trailer? He knew it was impossible but the facts were there: he had heard him. And then the way Trey had looked at him…looked through him…and then killed him…must have rattled him because he really didn’t feel very good at all. He couldn’t shake the thought that maybe he really was dead…that maybe Trey really had just killed him. Crazy…but he couldn’t get this thought out of his head.

“Tyrone! Come get you one while they still hot!”

Mechanically, Tyrone got up and walked out of his room. After eating half of a hot dog with his grandmother, Tyrone went back into his room and lay down on his bed. He unpaused his video game and tried to play but he felt too weird to enjoy it. His head hurt. He found a save spot, turned the game off, and settled into a heavy, sickly late-afternoon nap with all of his clothes on.

When Tyrone woke up it was after eight P.M. His cheek was wet with drool and his muscles ached. His head still hurt but not so much as before. The late spring sun had not quite set yet and it took Tyrone a few moments to figure out that it was Sunday night and not Monday morning. He felt better than he had before he fell asleep although he still did not feel good.

Tyrone had a painful erection and needed to pee. He dissimulated his hot, hard, small penis under the band of his sweatpants and pulled his T-shirt over the bump so his grandmother wouldn’t see the telltale bulge. Hunching over somewhat, he walked out of his room.

Tyrone slunk past his grandmother, who was making a big bowl of potato salad in the kitchen, and locked himself in the bathroom. He had to bend over almost double in order to orient his still-erect penis in such a way that the urine would go into the toilet and not on the wall.

After urinating Tyrone began to stroke his penis. If ever he needed to masturbate…now was that moment. He barely had time to imagine his fat Gothic friend Jessica’s huge breasts spilling out of one of the frilly black lace shirts she liked to wear before he had ejaculated into the toilet bowl.

Tyrone was seized with a sudden feeling of guilt and self-disgust. Taking a piece of toilet paper, he wiped down the inside of the weak-flushing bowl in order that his grandmother would not see his sperm. He then took a piece of toilet paper which he fashioned into a little cap for his penis so that the drops of semen that would slowly drip out over the next fifteen minutes wouldn’t leave telltale sperm stains in his underwear. He flushed everything down, pulled his sweatpants up, and looked at himself in the mirror. Tyrone had seen movie characters splash their faces with water and scrutinize their dripping visages in the mirror in such situations so he did it too. He stared at his face for a few seconds and then broke his gaze when his mirror image began to expand and rotate, which always happened when he stared at his face in the mirror for too long. Toweling off, he left the bathroom and joined his grandmother in the kitchen.

“Tyrone, help me open this jar of mayonnaise…you young and strong, not like your old grandma,” asked his smiling grandmother.

“Sure, grandma.” He opened it.

“It sure is nice to have a man around the house,” said Tyrone’s grandmother as she dumped half of the sixteen-ounce jar of mayonnaise into the bowl with the potatoes, celery, and onions. The sight of so much mayonnaise made Tyrone queasy. “We gonna have pork chops tonight while we watch your program. I made them just how you like them, too.”

Three years earlier, Tyrone had gone through a Japan phase after seeing the Tom Cruise movie The Last Samurai. Imagining himself a budding samurai, he mentioned to his grandmother that he liked Teriyaki flavor pork chops better than the pork chops in barbecue sauce she usually cooked, even though the closest thing to Japanese Teriyaki he had ever eaten was chopped and formed Pemmican brand Teriyaki flavored beef jerky. Ever since then his grandmother believed that Teriyaki pork chops were one of Tyrone’s favorite dishes and she cooked them all the time. Tyrone had never actually liked Teriyaki pork chops and now Tyrone no longer even liked the idea of Teriyaki pork chops.

“Thanks, grandma,” said Tyrone as he sat down on the sofa. He and his grandmother watched “Star Trek: The Next Generation” together every night at nine P.M. Tyrone’s grandmother thought the show was a lot of foolishness but she liked it because Tyrone did. His favorite characters were Lieutenant Commander Data, Jean-Luc Picard and Geordi LaForge. He didn’t like Riker or Worf very much and hated the putative boy genius Wesley Crusher, who looked and talked like any of the preppy nomads Tyrone went to high school with. “Nomad” was a nickname that he and Victor came up with during gym class one day for the wealthy suburban jocks that ranged from one end of the basketball court to the other. It didn’t make that much sense but it stuck. Sometimes Tyrone masturbated while thinking of Marina Sirtis as Lieutenant Deanna Troi even though he didn’t like her character. He hoped that tonight’s episode would be one he hadn’t seen before. He especially hoped it wasn’t an episode from one of the earlier seasons with the useless Tasha Yar, a beardless Will Riker, and the form-fitting V-neck uniforms that bothered him for some reason.

“I heard you snoring in there,” said Tyrone’s grandmother. “I don’t know what you been doing to make you so tired…must be that big brain of yours!”

“Grandma…” said Tyrone, rolling his eyes. “Brain size has nothing to do with intelligence. Everyone’s brain weighs the same: about forty-eight ounces. What really matters is the brain-to-spinal cord ratio. For humans it’s fifty-five to one. What do you think the dumbest vertebrates are? I bet you can’t guess!”

His grandmother shook her head from side to side and clucked her tongue in admiration. Such a smart boy!

“Cows?” she guessed. Tyrone closed his eyes and shook his head with a patronizing smile.

“Grandma…cows are mammals and mammals are already at the top of the evolutionary ziggurat. I estimate them to have a brain-to-spinal cord ratio of at least thirty-five or forty.” Tyrone made this figure up on the spot. He had no idea what the actual brain to spinal cord ratio of cows was. “No…think lower…slimier…smaller…”

“Tyrone, baby, I don’t know what the stupidest verteba or whatever you talking bout is…why don’t you just tell your grandma and stop wearing her out with all these questions?” She was still smiling and chuckling.

“Well…OK…you like them fried with ketchup on them…give up? Fish! Their brain-to-spinal cord ratio is one-to-one…that means that their spinal cords are the same size as their brains! Just a miserable snarl of electrified organic material. They’re so dumb they have no memory. They’re fully capable of biting the same hook they bit ten seconds before!”

By the time Star Trek came on, Tyrone was feeling better. He had taken the smallest pork chop in the pan along with a tiny portion of potato salad. His grandmother had taken four pork chops and a serving of potato salad as big as a baby’s diaper.

“Get you some more, boy, you too skinny,” she entreated Tyrone at each commercial break. Tyrone gave her his standard response, that he had to watch his “caloric intake” because he was “on Sugar Busters”. This joke never failed to cause ripples of hilarity to shudder through his grandmother’s enormous, gelatinous body.

Tyrone was feeling much better by the time he went to bed.         

9

 

“Duke, where you at?” called Willy Johnson, a big smile on his face. He pushed open the screen door and looked around the empty living room of Duke’s trailer. The TV was on but Duke was not in his rocking chair.

Maybe he was in the bathroom.

“You on the shitter? Man, you gotta eat more vegetables, cousin!” shouted Willy as he walked towards the bathroom. But Duke wasn’t in the bathroom either.

“Where you hiding, bruh? Come help me smoke this blunt.” Duke wasn’t in the bedroom either.

Must be next door, thought Willy.   

“Duke, you in here?” called Willy as he pushed open the door to Dolores’ trailer.

***

Inspector Batiste, a tall, shabby Creole with a pencil-thin Duke Ellington dandy mustache, surveyed the scene. There was blood everywhere. It reminded him of the scene in A Nightmare on Elm Street where Johnny Depp gets sucked into his bed. All three victims were well known to the police force. Duke had done time in Angola for armed robbery and Dolores and Rhonda had been in and out of trouble with the law for countless petty offenses: drugs, prostitution, robbery, domestic violence. Was there even any point trying to figure out who did this? At first glance it appeared to be the same old story…criminals killed doing something illegal. Drugs involved, of course. Inspector Batiste had found the OxyContins that Rhonda hadn’t taken as well as some marijuana.

Looking at Duke’s crumpled, bloody body, Inspector Batiste was once again reminded of the fact that there really was an irredeemable class of people who could only be described as criminals. Rather than being one predicate among others, this word, criminal, corresponded to some more fundamental existential position, one that overdetermined all of a person’s other characteristics. This was the depressing conclusion that Inspector Batiste had settled on after twenty years of police work.

Ballistic analysis would reveal a stolen, unregistered weapon. No one had seen anything and if they had they wouldn’t talk about it.

Inspector Batiste liked to watch CSI on television. Since he was a David Caruso fan he liked the Miami version the best. Of course, there was no state of the art crime lab back at Slidell police HQ and none of that kind of forensic evidence was admissible in court in real life anyway. In real life crime wasn’t interesting like it was on television. Crimes were committed by criminals and the motive was never complicated.  

Was there any point in checking fingerprints? Half the men in Lacombe had passed through Rhonda’s bedroom at some point. He would check anyway.

One detail caught Inspector Batiste’s attention: the fresh knife wound on one of Rhonda’s cheeks. What could the T shape of the incision possible signify? Some sort of sexual perversion? The murder weapon was nowhere to be found, which indicated that the killer had escaped. Inspector Batiste went over a few possible scenarios. Maybe Duke got his snout into some bad PCP and decided to get rough with Rhonda. Hearing her screams, Dolores comes in with backup of some sort. A gunfight ensues, and everyone gets hit but Dolores’ friend, who then sneaks out. Maybe. But then what about the bloody knife in Dolores’ hand? Maybe Dolores and a friend were cutting up Rhonda for some sick reason – the woman was a rockhead after all – and then Duke came in and tried to stop her. But then how did Duke end up on the other side of the bed? Maybe there was no fourth man. Maybe Duke shot the two women and then shot himself in the chest? No, there were no powder burns. There were probably at least ten equally valid scenarios. Inspector Batiste felt his head growing cottony at the idea of all the possibilities. The fact was, without a witness or some providential piece of evidence that Inspector Batiste sensed would not be found, this case would go cold and die.

10

 

Tyrone scuttled to his seat as the bell rang. It was seven-thirty A.M. World Geography class on Monday morning never failed to agitate him. The teacher, Coach MacGregor, was one of the baseball coaches. He had a strong Southern accent and wore the same thing every day: blue athletic shorts and a white “Mandeville High” T-shirt tucked into the shorts. Tyrone considered World Geography class a sorry simulacrum of learning. Their unit on the Middle East had consisted in watching the made-for-TV movie “Not Without My Daughter”, in which a valiantly middle-American woman’s Iranian husband brings the family back to Iran before going fundamentalist. The plucky mother, played by Sally Field, has to find a way out of Iran…but not without her daughter. Tyrone had lost what little remaining respect he had for Coach MacGregor when he told the class that two of the reasons the Aztecs performed so many human sacrifices were “boredom” and “a need for more protein in their diets”.

As soon as the bell finished ringing, Coach MacGregor handed everyone a piece of paper with an unmarked world map Xeroxed onto it. At the bottom of the paper were the names of twenty-three world capitals: Tokyo, Hong Kong, New York, Mexico City, Cairo, etc. Looking closer, Tyrone could see that there were twenty-three dots on the map. Obviously, they were supposed to match the names of the cities to the dots. Tyrone snorted to himself. Too easy!

As soon as the students saw the test, hands began to go up.

“Is this for a grade?”

“You didn’t tell us there was going to be a quiz!”

“This isn’t fair!”

“Is this for a grade?”

Coach MacGregor stood in front of the class with his hands up in the pacifying stance of a harried politician addressing an angry electorate.

“This is not for a grade…I repeat…not for a grade…this is just an exercise…I just want to get an idea how aware you are of basic geography after six months of this class. Match the names of the cities to the dots. It should only take you five minutes.”

Tyrone was done within two minutes. Looking up, he saw with satisfaction that he was the first one done and that most of the other students seemed lost.

After ten minutes went by, Coach MacGregor put down the copy of Sports Illustrated he was reading, stood up and told everyone to exchange their sheets with their neighbors. Tyrone gave his sheet to Jennifer Dupré, a pasty white girl with dark hair and freckles whose Daisy Dukes were so short that the bottoms of her ass cheeks were hanging out. Jennifer was also from Lacombe and spoke in the combination of Ebonics, New Orleans Yat, and Louisiana Country accent that typified the Lacombe patois.

Coach MacGregor labored through the list, holding a copy of the map up to the class and pointing at the cities with a pen. Jennifer only got one city right out of all twenty-three: Miami. She even got New York and Los Angeles wrong. When Jennifer gave Tyrone his paper back, he was annoyed to see that he had missed four cities.

“Wow,” said Jennifer, “how did you know all that?”

“I follow world affairs very closely,” snapped Tyrone. To no one in particular but in a theatrical voice that was a little too loud, Tyrone added that he “always confused Manila and Phnomh Penh.” Tyrone was even more upset to see that he had not received the highest mark in the class: a quiet boy named Bill who was in the gifted program and never talked to anyone had received a perfect score.

Tyrone raised his hand as if it were an emergency. Coach MacGregor called on him with a little sigh of exasperation.

“Yes, Tyrone?”

“Coach MacGregor, I would like to formally challenge my score. The dot that you claim represents Tokyo is actually located somewhere in the middle of the Tokyo-Sapporo conurbation.”

Coach MacGregor paused. He never knew how to deal with Tyrone. Every time he asked one of his interminable questions the other students drifted off and he had to shout to get them back on task.

“Well, Tyrone, I believe you’re thinking of the Tokyo-Osaka uh…agglomeration…”

Conurbation.”   

“…yes, well, class, Tyrone has made an interesting point here, that Japan is so crowded that the whole east coast is essentially one big endless city,” said Coach MacGregor, trying to funnel his students’ attention back towards the lesson. Coach MacGregor considered asking the class if they knew what the population of Japan was, but didn’t do it because it would just fire Tyrone up further. Meanwhile, Jennifer Dupré was giving him a big smile and opening her legs just enough for him to see her panties. He would have liked to lower his gaze but knew that it was a trap. Coach Lewis had told him that Jennifer had already fucked at least seven boys on the football team, five of them black, and had already had two abortions. She was perky and friendly and a terrible student. Most of the other coaches slept with the sluttier students like Jennifer but not Coach MacGregor. Three Mandeville coaches had gone to jail for sleeping with students over the past five years, including his good buddy, Coach LeBlanc. Coach MacGregor didn’t want to go to jail. Sometimes Coach MacGregor thought about Jennifer as he masturbated. He lived alone and his life was sad. He once had a chance to play minor league baseball when he was nineteen years old but his mother insisted that he finish college first. By the time he finished with a degree in Geography from the University of Southwestern Louisiana, the offer was no longer on the table.   

Looking at Tyrone’s anxious, froglike face bobbing and twitching behind Jennifer Dupré, Coach MacGregor sighed and pointed at the US Midwest on a wall map.

“OK, class, last time we were talking about the Rust Belt. Who can tell me…”    

Tyrone drifted off. He was annoyed and agitated for the rest of class because of the four missed questions and had a hard time sitting still in his seat. His penis tingled.  

When the bell rang, Tyrone gathered his things up and bolted out into the hall where he met Victor, who was in all the rest of his classes.

Victor Sanders had a pasty complexion and doughy features. His red hair was already beginning to fall out. He loved weapons and wore a black trench coat to school every day, even when it was hot outside. At home he kept a gigantic fantasy Rambo knife with H.R. Giger-inspired blade detailing in the place of honor on his well-kept desk. He had bought it for sixty dollars at a gun show he had attended with his father, a tiny, stringy man who never spoke. The father collected guns, which he kept in a walk-in closet off of his bedroom. His specialty was World War II-era Nazi weaponry. He subscribed to Soldier of Fortune magazine and believed that the American government was in danger of imminent collapse. When this happened everyone was going to need plenty of canned food. Victor’s father made his own bullets in his workshop. Behind Victor’s knife was a composite image of his own face morphing into the face of a dog. Victor had made it using PhotoShop and refused to explain the story behind it to anyone.      

Tyrone considered Victor his best friend. Today Victor was wearing a large silver medallion with what looked like Druidic runes inscribed into it. It was as big as an Olympic medal.

“What’s with the bling??” asked Tyrone, assuming the crabbed beta male’s position next to Victor, which gave him a stutter-step as they walked to gym class.

“This isn’t bling,” snorted Victor. “This is a genuine Baphomet medallion…and let’s just say I had a pretty badass weekend in the French Quarter.”

At the mention of the word weekend, Tyrone could feel an echo of Trey’s bullets ripping through his torso. He tried to block it out.

Victor looked into the distance and shook his head a little bit in a conscious attempt to signal to Tyrone that he would have liked to tell him what happened but couldn’t, either because it was too crazy or because Tyrone just wouldn’t understand. The implication, of course, was that sex was involved. Tyrone took the bait.

“Well, what happened? Come on, tell me!”

“Let’s just say my cousin Chip knows how to have a good time.” Let’s just say was one of Victor’s more pretentious verbal tics. Victor was always talking about Chip, whom he idolized. Chip was twenty-eight years old and lived across Lake Pontchartrain in New Orleans. Every once in a while Victor would spend the weekend with Chip in the city. Chip worked at the big-box Barnes and Noble bookstore on Veterans Boulevard in the suburb of Metairie and lived in a dark, dingy apartment on Adams Street in Uptown New Orleans. The neighborhood was home to a mix of Tulane students, middle-class whites and poor blacks. It was segregated into black blocks and white blocks. Chip lived on a black block. Most of the houses were elegant turn-of-the-century wooden homes with high ceilings and original plaster moldings. Chip’s four-unit apartment complex was neither elegant nor poetic. It was a cheaply built, dimly lit brick affair with low ceilings, rusting fixtures, and peeling, yellow seventies wallpaper. His next-door neighbor was a drug dealer named Latrell. Chip often regaled Victor with stories about “his homeboy Latrell”.  

One day, not long after moving in, Chip was sitting outside on his balcony smoking a cigarette before leaving for work. His reddish, thinning hair looked even thinner than usual because he had just taken a shower. It was so humid in New Orleans that Chip’s naturally greasy hair stayed wet-looking all day. Chip had just lit his cigarette when Latrell came out and sat down on a broken folding chair outside of his own front door ten feet away from him. Latrell wasn’t wearing a shirt and Chip could see a couple of scars that looked like bullet wounds on his muscular, tattooed torso.

“What up,” said Chip, offering his fist in a weak dap gesture. Latrell just sat down, saying nothing and offering no reciprocal dap. He looked nervous and agitated. He was tweaking on crack cocaine.

Chip thought that he and Latrell were cool with each other because they once had a five-minute conversation about the New Orleans Saints running back Deuce McAllister.

After a few minutes of uncomfortable silence in which both Chip and Latrell smoked, Chip stood up, crushed out his cigarette, and tossed it in the wastebasket between the two of them.

“Get your fucking cigarette out of my trash can.”

Chip stopped in his tracks and looked at Latrell, who was still sitting dead still and staring straight ahead.

“Uh…what’s that?” he said, a tremor in his voice.

“You heard me, motherfucker.”

“Hey man, it’s just a cigarette butt…and that’s the uh…that’s the whole building’s trash can,” said Chip in a faltering voice. “It’s cool.”

Latrell didn’t say anything and didn’t look at Chip, just took a deep breath, got up and walked into his apartment. Chip wasn’t sure if their conversation was over or not. He was still standing there deciding whether or not to walk away when Latrell came back out of his apartment holding a pistol, which he lifted to Chip’s temple.

“Bitch, you can either bend your ass down and get your shit out of my motherfucking trash can or I can split your wig right here, your choice!” Latrell’s eyes were bulging and bloodshot and Chip felt a little squirt of urine leave his penis. Chip put his hands up in a pacifying gesture and croaked, “Hey man, it’s cool, it’s cool, I’m getting it…look, no need for violence, man, I get it.” Chip bent down and began rummaging in the trash can. His hands were trembling so much that he had a hard time holding onto the cigarette butt. “Look, here it is, I got it,” said Chip, attempting a smile. Latrell kept the gun pointed at Chip for a second before sticking it in his waistband and sitting back down.

“Stupid-ass white boy,” he spat out as he lit another Kool cigarette.

***

“Come on, man, you gotta tell me what happened!” squealed Tyrone as they walked into the gym.

“Wait till we sit down.” The two of them walked into the locker room, where they changed into their P.E. uniforms: blue athletic shorts and white “Mandeville Skippers” T-shirts. Victor’s bluff posture and knowing smirk had disappeared. His face and body now registered fear and submission as he scanned the horizon for predators. None of the other boys were paying any attention to the two beta males as they changed. A Cajun with Down Syndrome named Brandon Comeaux who had once attempted to masturbate in the shower generally bore the brunt of the bullying.

The two friends took their place in the calisthenics formation just before the bell rang. As they began doing jumping jacks, Tyrone saw Jessica walking out of the locker room towards the opposite corner of the gym where she had class with Coach Smith, a mannish, middle-aged lesbian. Jessica turned and gave the two boys a coy wave.

There were two kinds of gym teachers at Mandeville High: mannish, middle-aged lesbians and fat, middle-aged male football coaches who fucked the slut students. Coach Dumas, a young, fit, friendly black coach, had been an exception to the first part of this rule until he was sent to jail for sleeping with a fourteen year-old white student.

Coach Roberts belonged to the second category of football coaches. He was fat and cruel. Since the St. Tammany Parish public school system was run by an unofficial football coach cartel, he was also on the fast track to become the next principal of Mandeville High School.

Once, when Tyrone and Victor were in ninth grade, Coach Roberts brought the whole class outside to the football field and separated the boys into two teams, making sure to put all of the strong, popular, post-pubescent boys on one team and all of the fat, skinny, hairless, prepubescent, or unpopular boys on the other team. The girls were instructed to sit down and watch the game. Team Beta was forced to play shirtless so that the girls could see their diversely pathetic physiques. Coach Roberts then instructed the boys to play full-contact tackle football with no pads. Under his leering grin, Team Alpha was given free rein to brutalize Team Beta for the entire hour. Tyrone escaped with a few bruises; Victor got the shit beaten out of him.

This year, however, Coach Roberts had turned out to be the ideal gym teacher. After calling roll he disappeared to the field house, taking his favorite football players and cheerleaders to hang out with him.        

Today was no different. After a desultory calisthenics session, Coach Roberts vanished, leaving Tyrone and Victor free to scuttle into the bleachers while the other students played basketball.

Now that he was out of the bullying danger zone, Victor was able to relax and fall back into his confident persona of choice. The central characteristic of this persona was a smirking, counterfeit cynicism whose primary function was to communicate to Victor’s interlocutors that they had no hope of ever digging as deeply into the gritty, mystical, down-and-dirty marrow of life as Victor had. Victor imagined himself to be a sort of young Rasputin or Nietzsche. Most adults intuitively situated him somewhere on the David Koresh – Unabomber continuum.

Like his cousin Chip, Victor was a closet sexual fetishist, and this disavowed fetishism lay at the origin of the mystico-pompous blowhard personae that they both affected.

Victor took his medallion out of his T-shirt, looked at it, and then shook his head with a smile as if he were once again remembering the wild story behind it.

“Chip had to go to work on Friday night, which was cool with me. I mean, you know me, I’m a lone wolf at heart. So I decided to grab a beer and reconnoiter the hood, solo style.” Victor liked to use military vocabulary when he was speaking. “Not without my blade, of course. Any little wannabe hoodrat tries to step…he gets a poke in the gut. It’s the ghetto down there, man. No joke. Shit’s real Uptown. So I start walking…”

“Hey! Children of the Clover!” called a female voice from the gym floor. Both boys turned to see Jessica lumbering up the bleachers towards them. “Children of the Clover” was her nickname for the three of them. She had come up with it in junior high school.

Jessica’s shoulder-length hair had been bleached a sickly yellow the last time they had seen her. Today it was maroon. Jessica changed hair color all the time. Her small, porcine eyes were surrounded by heavy black eyeliner. The eyebrow piercing above her right eye had been infected for months and so the skin around it was red and swollen. She wore a black choker necklace with a chrome ring hanging from it. Jessica was a big-boned girl with wide, solid shoulders, heavy, pendulous breasts, and pasty white skin. Victor and Tyrone both had crushes on her.

“Hi, boys,” said Jessica with a flirtatious smile as she wedged herself into the little space on the bleachers between Victor and Tyrone, making a point to brush her large body against both of them. Both boys got goose bumps. Tyrone anxiously scooted away a few inches. Victor didn’t move.  

Unlike Tyrone or Victor, Jessica was not a virgin. Like many overweight and insecure teenage girls, she considered herself to be a very sexual creature. Those were the exact words she used. She proved it by posting a video of herself masturbating with her mother’s curling iron on the internet. The video had appeared on the “Self Shot Sluts” website under the caption “Chubby Emo Girl Masturbates”. According to the counter on the website, over one hundred thousand people had clicked on it. The video above hers, “First Anal: Ends in Tears”, had been viewed over five hundred thousand times. Jessica also regularly met much older strangers on the internet for sex. Tyrone and Victor didn’t know about any of this.

“Cool medallion,” said Jessica to Victor, grabbing it and holding it up so she could see it. The cord bit into Victor’s neck as she pulled him off-balance.

“Hey, watch it! Are you trying to break my neck or what? That medallion is no joke! I got it from Mystic Curio in the French Quarter. The guy that runs the place is, like, this real dark priest with a long white beard. You can just tell that some real occult shit goes on in there behind closed doors. I mean, the tourists are, like, afraid to go in there. My cousin Chip knows the dude and said he might be able to get us invited to a black mass sometime.” This last part was a lie, half Chip’s, half Victor’s.

“Cool, maybe you’ll bring me there with you,” said Jessica as she let the medallion fall back against Victor’s chest. “So, how do y’all like my hair? The color is burgundy plum.” Here she shook her head from side to side in a studied attempt at Riot Grrrl insouciance.

Before Victor or Tyrone could respond, Jessica stood right back up. “Ok boys, this was just a cameo appearance. I’ve got to go play basketball with the nomads or else Coach Bitch will chew me out!As she got up to leave, she turned back towards Tyrone and tousled his hair. “See you Tyrone!”

Tyrone and Victor both needed a second to pull themselves back together. “Wow,” said Tyrone, “that choker…” He shook his head as if to signify what a woman.  

Victor started rummaging through his bag as if he had just remembered something.

“Hey man, check this out. I drew it over the weekend at Barnes and Noble’s.” It annoyed Tyrone that Victor always called it Barnes and Noble’s instead of Barnes and Noble Bookseller, which was its proper name. Victor and Tyrone always spent P.E. class making funny drawings, which they called drawrings with a fake British accent. The drawring that Victor pulled out was in ballpoint ink on a sheet of loose leaf paper. It was a superhero-style rendition of a muscular black man wearing nothing but combat boots, a military beret, and mirrored aviator glasses. In one hand he held a bloody machete and in the other hand he held what looked like a human heart. A lit crack pipe protruded from his mouth. Victor had also made a point of giving him an enormous, semi-erect penis with intricate vein detailing. Behind him could be seen an “African” landscape of burning straw huts and hacked-up bodies. The block-letter comic book-style caption read GENERAL BUTT NAKED.

“Pretty badass, huh?” said Victor.

“Sweet! Let me see that!”

“Chip told me all about this guy. General Butt Naked is real. During the civil war in Liberia, there were all these different warlords that just, like, assembled mercenary armies and then went from village to village killing everybody for who knows what reason. General Butt Naked was the baddest of them all. They say he killed twenty thousand people. The night before a raid, he and his colonels would find a baby somewhere that they would cut up and eat raw to give them strength before the attack. See, that’s why he’s holding a human heart. Then they would get trashed on crystal meth, take off all their clothes, and roll out with machetes and AK-47’s. These days he’s, like, reformed and turned into a preacher or something. Unbelievable, huh? No offense, dude, but your people are fucked!”

“Ha! As if yours are any better,” chortled Tyrone. “Do the names Jeffrey Dahmer and John Wayne Gacy ring a bell? Dahmer used to trepan his victims to turn them into sex zombies!” Victor and Tyrone had spent at least three weeks drawing serial killers earlier in the year. The handsome cipher Ted Bundy was Tyrone’s favorite murderer. Victor preferred Gacy, fat and full of sexual rage just like him. “Oh, and by the way, my passion for verisimilitude obliges me to draw your attention to a certain factual inaccuracy in your drawring, namely the high unlikelihood of the real General Butt Naked being circumcised.”

“Shit, you’re right!” exclaimed Victor with an exaggerated laugh. “Well, I guess it doesn’t really matter. Still, it’s pretty badass, huh? Check out the veins on his dick. It took me like half an hour to draw them right.”

In the meantime, a strange thought had come to Tyrone. Pursuing in his clipped, pedantic tone, Tyrone added, “You know, you might be more right than you realize with that tasteless ‘your people’ crack. Approximately five percent of the Liberian population is composed of descendants of former American slaves sent back to Africa at the beginning of the nineteenth century. That’s why it’s called Liberia…you know, like liberty. Today they form the ruling classes. For all I know, General Butt Naked might be my uncle.”   

“That would be pretty fucking sweet, man! My dad says we might be distantly related to Goebbels, but this dude would be even more badass than that!”    

Tyrone’s mind began racing again. Although he couldn’t explain how or why, he was certain of it: he was related to General Butt Naked. Not only was he sure that he was related to General Butt Naked, he knew that the whole thing had something to do with what had happened to him the previous day. These thoughts were accompanied by a tingling in his back.

In the meantime, Victor had resumed his story where he had left off. Apparently Chip and Victor went to some bohemian coffee shop in the Ninth Ward and saw a guy walking a baby goat on a leash. Chip also got into a fight in the Barnes and Noble parking lot with a guy named Tab Flanagan over a girl or something. Victor and Chip got drunk on absinthe one night in his apartment and recorded some music.     

Tyrone began to drift off.

Suddenly, Victor stopped talking as if he had just remembered something.

“Hey man…I meant to ask you…did you hear about this murder in your ‘hood? Three dead! A real bloodbath, man. It wasn’t too far from your house, either! Did you hear the gunshots?”

Tyrone felt a sudden chill.

“No…what happened?”

“They found all these people blown away in some trailer off of Lake Road. Two women and a man. They haven’t caught the guy yet.”

“What time did it happen?” asked Tyrone.

“I don’t know, man. Sometime in the afternoon. Why?”

“Just wondering.” Tyrone was looking away.

“What’s up, man? You OK?” asked Victor, finally noticing that Tyrone was in outer space.

“It’s uh…it’s nothing,” said Tyrone. “I have a headache. I think I’m going to lie down and try to take a nap.”

“OK,” said Victor, disappointed that he wouldn’t have anyone to talk to for the rest of class. “Shit, maybe you have a brain tumor, man! That would suck!”

Tyrone went to the top of the bleachers and lay down.

***

Tyrone’s grandmother was frying chicken when he got home from school. He said hello and then went straight to his room and took out the book he had checked out from the school library at lunchtime. It was a short book about the history of Liberia. He read it from cover to cover in three hours. There had been a slow but steady trickle of immigration from the US to Liberia all throughout the nineteenth century. Tyrone shivered with excitement when he saw that his family name – Washington – was in fact present in Liberia. Neither the fact that there were thousands of unrelated black Washingtons all over the United States nor the fact that General Butt Naked was a member of one of the indigenous inland tribes and not of Americo-Liberian descent could shake his sudden, volcanic conviction that they were related.

Tyrone felt elated. Everything was coming together. He held his hand in front of his face and waved it from left to right as if he were conducting an orchestra. Even this gesture participated in some greater universal unity. Putting his hand down, he jumped out of bed and walked into the living room where his grandmother sat eating fried chicken and watching television.

“Get you some fried chicken, boy, it’s good,” said his grandmother.

“Sure, grandma,” said Tyrone. He grabbed the smallest piece he could find, a wing. He took a bite and then began speaking.

“Grandma, did you know we have relatives in Africa?”

“Sure I do, boy,” chuckled his grandmother.

“No, not like that! I mean real relatives. The Washington family is a very important family in Liberia. Their most famous general was part Washington. I’ve been doing some research,” said Tyrone, gesticulating energetically with his chicken wing. “It’s an established fact. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.”

“You sure about that, Tyrone?” She looked at her grandson with compassion. It was happening again. His glassy, bloodshot eyes told her all she needed to know. In these moments his gestures became manic and his words confused. Over the last six months these episodes had been occurring with greater and greater frequency. “Our family never been outside of Louisiana. We been here since slavery, Lord help us. You been reading too many books, Tyrone. You too smart for your own good. Why don’t you find yourself a nice girl and some nice friends? You know I love Victor, but why don’t you go out and find yourself some black friends? Put down those books and those Chinese video games and go play ball or something. And you need to eat more, you too skinny.”                     

“Grandma, don’t start with that again!” said Tyrone, rolling his eyes. “You know I’m on Sugar Busters…” This time Tyrone’s grandmother didn’t laugh like she usually did. After staring at him for a few seconds, her face softened again.

“Sit down next to your old grandma, boy. It’s time for our program. I wonder what kind of foolishness that Data going to be getting hisself into this week.”   

11

 

Trey woke up with a start at seven A.M. Time to get moving! Shemeta and Tamica were still sleeping on the bed next to his. Fuck it…let them sleep, he decided. After taking a piss and brushing his teeth, Trey threw on a polo shirt and shorts and walked outside. The sun was already shining bright and the air smelled nice and fresh. Salty. Trey felt energy coursing through his body. He could hear the seagulls all around him. He was eager to put his plan into action. Dropping to the ground, Trey blasted out forty rapid-fire pushups before jumping back up and walking over to the motel office. There was a new Mexican in there: this one was taller, older, and skinnier. Trey nodded at him as he walked over to the breakfast table. There was an air pot of coffee, some green apples, some bananas, a pitcher of orange juice from concentrate, some bagels with cream cheese, and some donuts. Trey poured out a glass of orange juice, chugged it, and threw the empty Styrofoam cup into the trash. Next, Trey opened up a banana and ate it in three big bites. The Mexican was typing at his terminal. Trey tossed the peel in the trash and grabbed a second big Styrofoam cup, which he filled with coffee. He grabbed a handful of sugar packets and started ripping them open and pouring them in two by two. After pouring in twelve packets he stopped, stirred everything up with a brown stirring straw, and tasted it. Sweet as hell but still not sweet enough. Trey added two more sugars before moving to the creamer. He poured in a bunch of creamer too. Satisfied that his coffee had enough sugar and cream, Trey grabbed three glazed donuts with one hand. Sitting down at the cheap sofa in the reception area, Trey started chowing down, alternating gulps of coffee and mouthfuls of donut. Within five minutes he had finished. Standing back up, he went to the breakfast table, refilled, re-sugared, and re-creamered his cup, grabbed three more donuts, an apple, and a banana and opened the plate-glass door, nodding to the new Mexican on his way out.

Shemeta and Tamica were still sleeping. Trey put the food down on the motel room table. Trey would have enjoyed taking a walk down to the beach but he wanted to get to work right away. Trey settled in at the table and turned on his laptop. It took him a few minutes to start it up and log on to the Sun Tan Inn’s wireless network. Trey went straight to nola.com to see if the cops had discovered the crime scene yet.

There it was: THREE DEAD IN LACOMBE SHOOTING. So Rhonda had died. Trey didn’t give a fuck. There was nothing in the article about Tamica or Shemeta being missing. They must not have figured that part out yet. Trey was glad that blacks didn’t talk to cops.

The next part was going to be more delicate. Although Trey knew that the internet was the place to find a buyer for Tamica, he had no idea how to go about searching for one. Who bought babies, anyway? Trey had a cousin once who had gotten pregnant when she was fourteen and had then given the baby up for adoption. From the Geraldo special he had learned that couples had to wait a long time for a baby, especially a white baby, and there were all sorts of rules about who could adopt a baby and who couldn’t. Trey figured that this would be his target demographic: people who, for one reason or another, weren’t allowed to adopt a baby legally. Fags, ex-cons, nutcases…whoever the fuck these people were. Who would want to adopt a baby, anyway? Trey thought the whole thing was ridiculous. But there was nothing ridiculous about twenty G’s.

After an hour of fruitless searching, Trey had finally found his way onto a forum where people who couldn’t adopt legally exchanged information about other ways to get a baby.

He learned that you could buy a plane ticket to some shithole country in Africa, adopt some starving AIDS baby there, and then bring it back to the US, but it was risky and expensive and you had to stay there for a long time. You could also make a private arrangement with someone to get pregnant and give you the baby, but it was illegal and the birth mothers often changed their minds once they had their babies.

After scrolling through page after page of forums, Trey isolated a couple of people leaving comments who looked like potential buyers: a woman named EarthLove46, a man named GreggDogg, and another man named RayOfLight. EarthLove46 lived in California and couldn’t adopt a baby with her girlfriend because they were lesbians and both on SSI for being bipolar. GreggDogg was a fruit. He also lived in California. His posts were so saturated with a variety of emoticons that they were practically hieroglyphs. RayOfLight, however, looked promising. He lived in Atlanta and was apparently some sort of burned-out hippie. He claimed that he and his wife couldn’t legally adopt a baby because he had gone to jail protesting for civil rights in Georgia in the sixties. People with criminal records weren’t allowed to adopt. RayOfLight’s tone was a little deranged and aggressive and he seemed like the kind of wacko who really would pay a bunch of money for a black market baby. Obviously he was also a nigger lover who would be cool with having a black baby. Trey opened a new window and within two minutes had created a new e-mail account under a fake name. Trey then used this fake e-mail address to sign up for the adoption forum that these other freaks were posting on.

Once he was signed up, Trey leaned back and took a break. He would have to think carefully before posting: who was he, what was his story, why did he have Tamica, etc. His eyes were starting to hurt from staring at the little screen for so long. Tamica and Shemeta were still sleeping.

Trey idly opened a new tab and began looking at porn. After checking out a few videos on BlacksOnBlondes.com, Trey found his way to YouJizz.com. Trey clicked on a link that led to a video of a hot brunette with small, perky tits and a tattoo of an eagle on her hand being fucked by the MILF Blaster. As a great consumer of pornography, Trey knew that MILF stood for “Mother I’d Like to Fuck”. The MILF Blaster was a short, middle-aged guy with a goatee, a plastic-y, pumped physique, and an aggressive but non-threatening eager randiness. He never stopped cracking jokes and mugging for the camera, even as he was pounding ass.

The brunette told the MILF Blaster, who was wearing nothing but a camouflage hunting cap, to fuck that pussy. Shifting in his seat, Trey unzipped his pants and pulled his dick out. This brunette was smoking hot. Trey liked her skinny waist and her round, apple-shaped ass.

Trey advanced the video ten minutes. The MILF Blaster was fucking her in the ass now. That’s what I’m talking about, thought Trey, who was now starting to get hard.

After pounding the brunette bitch’s ass with increasing intensity for a few minutes the MILF Blaster pulled out, turned her around, and blasted a load of cum all over her face. The Blaster grinned from ear to ear and gave a double thumbs-up as the brunette opened her mouth and showed the cum to the camera, opening and closing her mouth like a freshly caught bass gasping for air. By now Trey was good to go. He stopped the video and walked over to Shemeta. Pulling down the covers, Trey lifted up her shirt so he could see her titties. Shemeta didn’t wake up. Tamica was stirring a little bit next to her. Trey began slapping Shemeta’s face with his erection. After a few taps around her lips, Shemeta gave a start and opened her eyes.

“Morning,” said Trey, smiling.

Shemeta looked up at him, dazed.

“Time to go to work,” said Trey. “Breakfast of champions. You need you some high-quality protein.” Trey then forced his penis into Shemeta’s mouth. With a maladroit gesture Shemeta pushed herself back on her elbows and began to lick the head of Trey’s penis unconvincingly. Trey grabbed the back of her head and pushed. Shemeta gagged and involuntarily closed her mouth a little.  

“Watch the fucking teeth!” exploded Trey.

Shemeta had clearly not inherited the dick-sucking gene from her mother.

After three minutes, Trey pulled out of her mouth, jerked himself off rapidly for about ten seconds, and then let out a major groan as he blasted a few ropes of sticky cum all over Shemeta’s face. The pearly white cum gleamed in the lamplight against her dark black skin.

“Damn,” he said, “look at you…fucking splashed! You look good like that, girl…got your war paint on.” Smiling, Trey grabbed a couple of paper towels and brought them over to Shemeta. “Good girl,” he said, patting her on the head.

Shemeta got up and walked to the bathroom. Before wiping herself off, she took a good look at her reflection. What she saw in the mirror was…a real woman. Shemeta had goose bumps. She arched her back and admired her breasts in the mirror. The white man had told her she had the nicest titties he had ever seen. She wiped herself off and then threw the paper towels in the trash can.

Walking back out of the bathroom, Shemeta picked up Tamica’s bottle, squirted some cold formula in with the turkey baster, and brought it back over to Tamica. Even though her sister was still sleeping, Shemeta wanted to feed her. Shemeta grabbed the sleeping Tamica and shook her, first making sure that Trey wasn’t watching. Tamica immediately began crying.

“Shh, shh, baby, baby,” said Shemeta, rocking Tamica in an exaggerated gentle way. “You hungry,” she added, forcing the bottle into Tamica’s mouth. Tamica didn’t want to eat and squirmed away from the bottle, wailing.

“Why you so stupid…that’s breakfast you sucking on, dummy,” said Shemeta, forcing the nipple into Tamica’s mouth.

“Shut it up!” barked Trey from behind his computer. “And change its fucking diaper…it fucking stinks in here!”

After a few minutes, Tamica began sucking on the formula. Within ten minutes she was out cold again. Shemeta carried her into the bathroom, where she took off her diaper, not bothering to wipe all the smeared shit off her bottom before putting on a new one. What could she do with no wipey box?   

12

 

After finishing his second Big Mac, Trey fired up a blunt to get his brain working. Shemeta was watching television. Trey was smart enough to realize that there was no way he could pass himself off to a potential buyer as anything but the thug he was. He wouldn’t even try. His story would be straight ghetto.

I have a baby and I want to sell it. Family died in a drive-by. Stray bullet. fourteen years old. That hood life, bruh. Me and my girlfriend snuck into the trailer and took the baby before the government could put it in an orphanage.

RayOfLight would like that part. He seemed to hate the government.

A week later my bitch girlfriend runs out on me in the middle of the night and takes all my money too. I can’t take care of the baby myself so I’m looking for a responsible couple to raise her right. Promise made to her dying momma.

Trey was tempted to send RayOfLight an e-mail right away but first he wanted to flesh out the back story a little bit. Everything had to be straight in his mind from the first e-mail. He hit the blunt again. What was the mother’s name? Tammy, like his own mother? No, too white-sounding. Something blacker. LaNigra? Trey chuckled and then stopped himself. Get serious, bruh. Play around later once your paper’s right. He would say the mother’s name was…Lanita. Who was the father? No father. What would the baby’s name be? He thought it would be smarter to give her a fake name. What was the little girl’s name on the Cosby Show? He couldn’t remember. Raven Simone? No, that was the actress. Trey was aware that he was wasting time. Fuck it, call her…LaTasha. Good enough. Where did all this happen? RayOfLight didn’t need to know that. What if RayOfLight got spooked and tried to call the cops? That was a risk Trey had to take. He didn’t think there was any way for them to trace the e-mail address since he had just created it. Not that he knew anything about tracing e-mail addresses. He would have to be very careful when he set up the rendezvous. But if there was one thing Trey knew how to do, it was sell dope and not get caught. That’s what Tamica was: dope. Looking over at her sleeping on a pile of clothes on the floor, Trey imagined that the withered preemie was filled with cocaine.

This deal would be a little trickier but that’s how Tha Game worked. He would just have to handle his motherfucking business like he always did.

What else did he need? He needed a photo of Tamica.

Trey walked over to the bed where Shemeta was watching TV. She was eating out of a big bag of cheese puffs that Trey had bought while he was out getting lunch.  

“What the fuck are you watching?” asked Trey.

“Highway to Heaven,” said Shemeta, as if Trey were stupid for not knowing what it was. Trey stopped and watched the television set for a few moments. Some guy with a beard and a baseball cap was talking to an old lady while sappy music played in the background. Shemeta was absorbed.

“Looks boring as shit to me.” Trey walked over to Tamica. He was once again struck by her extreme ugliness. She hardly looked like a baby at all. Trey thought she looked more like a skinny grocery store chicken than a newborn human. How could he make her look cute? What the fuck did he know about making babies cute?

“Hey!” barked Trey. “Turn that shit off. I got a job for you.”

Shemeta didn’t respond. Trey walked over to the TV and slammed it off. “Hey! When I say move, you move, you heard me?”

Shemeta looked up at Trey with angry eyes. The show was almost over. She wanted to know how it was going to end.

Trey slapped her across the face.

“Don’t you ever look at me like that! I’m the fucking boss around here, you heard me? When are you going to get that through your fucking skull?”

Shemeta was now glaring at him with real hatred. He slapped her again, harder this time.

Trey could see tears forming around the edges of her eyes. Satisfied that he had slapped the fight out of her, he decided that it was the moment to change gears. He paused and pretended to look contrite.

“Come here, girl,” he said, dropping his head and making an apologetic gesture with his hands. “Look…I’m sorry about that. It’s just that we’re in this shit together, ya heard me? I need you right here by my side. I need you up in the cut with me. Now, I see you paying more attention to fucking Highway Angel than to me and I get a little burned, that’s all. Cause I need your help.”

Shemeta looked wary but eager to believe him.

“Come here,” said Trey, taking her into his embrace. Shemeta let herself go against him, burying her head against his chest. “There you go. It’s all good, girl.” After thirty seconds in which Trey stroked Shemeta’s head, he took her by the shoulders and stood back from her. “Now, we got a little job to do. Baby Tamica ain’t looking so hot. We want her looking cute cause I want to take some family photos, ya heard me? Now, I’m a man, I don’t know shit about making babies cute. So I need you to take care of that for me while I go take a little walk. Wash her up, get her fresh, whatever. You can do that?” Trey smiled and looked into Shemeta’s eyes. The fire in her eyes had disappeared. She was already practically jumping around with excitement.

“She gonna need barrettes, and a lil’ blanket, and a bracelet with pink and yellow hearts, and lil’ booties, and…” Trey was amazed at the speed and enthusiasm with which Shemeta enumerated everything Tamica would need to look cute. He hadn’t planned on going back to the store but figured a ride would do him good. He needed some more beer anyway. After instructing Shemeta to give Tamica a bath and reminding her that under no circumstances was she to leave the motel room, Trey walked out to his car.

The bright afternoon sun hurt his eyes. All of a sudden he felt exposed and paranoid. There were ears and eyes everywhere. It wouldn’t take much for everything to go to shit. All Shemeta had to do was walk five hundred feet from the motel room to the lobby and tell the Mexican behind the counter everything. Go straight to jail, do not pass Go, do not collect two hundred dollars. At least the door couldn’t be opened from the inside once he locked it from the outside. There was always the possibility that Shemeta might bust out the window or scream her head off until someone passed by, but short of tying her up Trey couldn’t do anything about that. As long as Shemeta seemed to be enjoying herself that wouldn’t be necessary. Keep cool, thought Trey as he started his Taurus. You’re just one more nameless asshole hanging out at the beach. Concentrate.

Stopped at a red light, Trey’s gaze idly went down to the license plate of the car in front of him. It read DIC 666. Trey chuckled. Wait a second…license platesfuck! His identity was billboarded on the back of his car for every last cop in the world to see.

“Fuck me!” shouted Trey as he punched the steering wheel in rage. How could he be so stupid? Not wasting a minute, Trey pulled into the first big beachfront hotel parking tower he saw. After driving around for five minutes, he found what he was looking for on the empty top floor: an abandoned car. Parking garages were full of them. It was like Where’s Waldo. You just had to keep your eyes open for the telltale layer of dust.

Trey chuckled as he thought of stupid-ass Waldo with his faggot puffball cap and stripy shirt. When he was a kid he had stolen a “Where’s Waldo” book from his second-grade classroom. After finding and circling Waldo on every page he threw the book in a ditch.

Good memories.

It took Trey less than five minutes to unscrew the license plates from the silver Lincoln Town Car and make the exchange. He slipped his own plates under the backseat rug so he would have them to put back on when things cooled down.

Feeling a little less exposed, Trey drove to Wal-Mart, where he bought a package of plastic barrettes, a fuzzy baby jumpsuit with pastel cartoon birds on it, a case of Budweiser, a gallon of milk, a loaf of white bread, a prepaid cell phone with a new phone number, a thirty-two slice pack of American cheese, Hormel brand salami, some Chester’s Flamin’ Hot Fries and a bag of party-size Snickers bars.  

On the way back from Wal-Mart, Trey noticed a stretch of beach that was almost empty. The blue water looked cool and inviting. Fuck it, thought Trey. Sure, he had to stay focused, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t take a little dip. Stripping down to his shorts, Trey waded straight into the still-cold early summer water. It felt good. He winced when his scrotum hit the freezing water but kept plowing in. Trey stayed in just long enough to get wet and do a few vigorous strokes before hustling back out.

Rather than going straight to his car, Trey walked out to the end of one of the narrow concrete piers that jutted into the water and sat down cross-legged. From where he sat, he could see nothing but water and boats. In the distance was a yacht. Trey thought he could see a fat man in a captain’s hat surrounded by women in bikinis. Trey wondered if they were shooting a porno.

Remember the big picture. Don’t get lost in the details. Stay focused. Plan your moves. Always go for the throat. Never give up.

Trey sat motionless at the end of the pier for fifteen minutes, contemplating the big picture and occasionally nodding to himself. When he stood up to walk back, his features were once again calm and composed. His taut muscles rippled in the sun.

13

 

Back at the motel, Trey found Shemeta holding Tamica and watching “Perfect Strangers” on television. As usual, the baby was asleep. It was amazing: she actually did look better for having taken a bath. Shemeta had a big smile on her face. Trey found himself smiling back.

“Lemme see!” said Shemeta, putting Tamica down next to her and reaching for the Wal-Mart bag.

“Where the booties at?”

“Don’t need no booties. Her little suit got booties built-in. They sewed on there.”

Shemeta frowned. She wanted booties.

“What about the bracelet?”

“I forgot the fucking bracelet. That ain’t important. She got her little suit and her barrettes. A baby cute as Baby Tamica don’t need no bracelet.” Shemeta didn’t seem convinced but didn’t say anything, just started putting the barrettes in Tamica’s hair. Tamica protested weakly as Shemeta pulled her hair tight to get the barrettes on.

Within a few minutes, Tamica was as presentable as she was going to get. No quantity of soap or booties would ever fix the hooded Fetal Alcohol Syndrome eyes and flat nasal bridge that Rhonda had drunk into Tamica’s features. The baby even seemed vaguely to be smiling in her new terrycloth jumpsuit. Trey took her from Shemeta and laid her on the bed as he would have laid a nice ten-pound redfish across the top of his ice chest to fillet it. Tamica stirred. Trey stood on the bed next to her and aimed the camera downwards to get the framing right. He took a few photos with and without flash before checking them.

“Lemme see! Lemme see!” cried Shemeta. Trey showed her the pictures. Shemeta said that the best picture was one in which Tamica’s hand was extended towards the camera and her eyes were only half-open. “She look Chinese,” said Shemeta.

“Shit, you’re right.” Trey laughed.

“Now take one of me holding Tamica!” Shemeta held Tamica up next to her and smiled so hard her eyes almost closed. Trey didn’t need any photos of the two of them together but took a few anyway.

“I got an idea!” said Shemeta, putting Tamica down on the bed. “I’ma do my hair just like Tamica!” Shemeta ran into the bathroom. Trey was amazed by the speed with which Shemeta managed to duplicate the exact same complicated-looking barrette arrangement in her own hair. Trey snapped a few more photos. He was beginning to get tired of this. He supposed that Shemeta could spend hours playing with her hair and having photos taken.

“That’s enough pictures,” said Trey after snapping a photo of Shemeta holding Tamica up to her face and smiling extra wide. Putting Tamica down, Shemeta crossed her arms and made an exaggerated sulking frown.

“Now me and you are gonna take some photos without Tamica,” said Trey. Shemeta started smiling again.

“Take off your shirt. Lemme see them big ol’ titties.” Trey walked over to the bed, where he picked up Tamica with one hand and set her carelessly on the night table. She began crying.

“Come on, chop-chop,” said Trey, snapping his fingers.

Shemeta frowned and didn’t move. She didn’t want to take her shirt off. She wanted to take more pictures with Tamica.

Walking up to Shemeta, Trey grabbed the bottom of her tank top and yanked it up so that Shemeta had no choice but to lift her arms and let him peel it off. Trey didn’t give a fuck what Shemeta wanted. He wanted to nut. With his left hand he began roughly massaging her breasts and with his right hand he held the camera, which he had switched to video mode. Shemeta pouted but didn’t resist.

Without warning, Trey reached down and pulled down his shorts. His erect penis sprang out of the elastic waistband like a cobra preparing to strike. It bobbed just inches from Shemeta’s face. She gazed at it, mesmerized. It looked gigantic and frightening. All of a sudden she felt hot in between her legs and opened them up a little bit. The white man’s thing was twice as big as Mr. Duke’s. Trey put his hand on the top of Shemeta’s head and guided it towards the head of his penis. Shemeta began to suck on it.

“Look at the camera,” said Trey. Without taking Trey’s penis out of her mouth, Shemeta looked up at the camera. “What’s your name, girl?” said Trey. “Tell the camera.” Shemeta took Trey’s penis out of her mouth to speak.

“Shemeta.”

“How old are you, Shemeta?”

“Twelve.”

“Now show us them beautiful titties.” Trey took a few steps back so that Shemeta’s whole body was in the frame. Shemeta was smiling now. She arched her back so her breasts stood out even more. “Rub them together,” said Trey, who was stroking his penis with his left hand. Shemeta pressed her breasts together. “Can you lick your nipples for us?” asked Trey. Shemeta giggled.

“What you want me to do that for?”  

“Cause it’s fucking hot, that’s why.”

Shemeta held her right breast up and then licked her nipple quickly, as if it were an ice cream cone. She started giggling again and let herself fall backwards onto the bed, kicking her legs in mirth.

“Perfect,” said Trey, stopping the recording. Setting the camera down, he reached across the bed, grabbed the waistband of Shemeta’s shorts, and pulled them off in one swift movement.

Trey paused when he saw her gigantic bush. “Shit, I forgot about that. Well, now’s as good a time as any to bushhog that thicket. Come in here.” Trey instructed Shemeta to follow him into the bathroom.

Reaching into his bathroom bag, Trey pulled out his hair clippers. “Sit down right here,” said Trey, indicating the toilet seat. “Now open wide.” Shemeta began giggling again. Gripping Shemeta’s right thigh with his left hand, Trey put the clippers to her pubic hair. Shemeta jumped a little bit and laughed.

“Ooh! That tickle!”      

“Hold still! This’ll just take a minute.”

Trey began shearing her crotch. The black curls fell into the toilet bowl in clumps like snow falling on Scotch pines. Shemeta shivered and giggled with each passage of the clippers. Within a few minutes Trey was finished. “Now go look in the mirror,” he said. Shemeta ran over to the mirror.

Her kitty looked funny but she liked it. She reached down and scratched between her legs.

“It feel like…cold,” she said. Her outer labia tingled where she could feel the cold air coming from the air conditioning vent.

“Now come here!” said Trey. He couldn’t hold it any longer. The sight of Shemeta’s purple, engorged lips had turned him into a bull in heat. He threw her over his shoulder and carried her back into the bedroom, where he tossed her on the bed like a sack of rice.

Trey then once again committed statutory rape on Shemeta with great vigor and enthusiasm, slapping her face and calling her a whore. Shemeta did not try to hide her enjoyment. When he blasted his nut all over her lower belly, she gasped with pleasure. Outside, the sun was disappearing over the rooftops of Daytona Beach.   

14

 

After taking a brief post-coital snooze, Trey woke up with a start. Shemeta was still sleeping and the TV was on. Trey jumped up and turned it off. What time was it? Was it already Tuesday morning or was it still Monday night? Trey looked at the watch that he had recovered from Rhonda’s bra. It was nine P.M., which meant that he had only been sleeping for an hour and a half. Trey felt disoriented. Had it really only been thirty-six hours since was sitting back in his trailer in Lacombe watching TV and firing up a fatty in anticipation of Rhonda’s visit? After rubbing the sleep out of his eyes, Trey dropped to the ground and did fifty quick pushups to clear the dream fog out of his head. He felt a little better when he stood up.

The atmosphere in the motel room was stifling. Baby Tamica must have taken another shit. Trey considered waking Shemeta up so she could change the diaper but decided that peace and quiet was more important. Picking Tamica up gently so as not to wake her, Trey transferred her to the bathroom floor and then shut the door to reduce the smell.

Moving quietly, Trey opened the front door and walked outside, barefoot. The ocean breeze and still-warm asphalt felt good on his skin. Trey sat down on the back of his Taurus and lit up a cigarette. In the distance he could see groups of young people walking up and down the beachfront strip. Trey could hear the sounds of screeching tires, ringing bells and rock music emanating from the Go-Kart track down the road. After a few seconds, he recognized the song, Cherry Pie by Warrant. Trey wouldn’t have minded going Karting himself.

After finishing his cigarette, Trey walked back into his cold, squat, dungeon-like motel room. Feeling hungry, he walked over to the fridge and made himself two salami and cheese sandwiches and a glass of milk, which he set on a paper towel next to his computer. Time to put his plan into action. Trey cracked his knuckles and then rolled his head from left to right to crack the vertebrae in his neck as well.

The first thing he did was to upload the photos of Tamica to his computer. Next, Trey navigated back to the bookmarked adoption website. Finding RayOfLight’s e-mail address, Trey opened up his own e-mail inbox and began composing a message with his two index fingers. After twenty-five minutes, Trey sat back and reread what he had written.

 

RayOfLight,

I believe your looking for a baby to adopt. I found your e-mail address on the adoption website. I sympathize with your situation and have a proposition that might interest you. I am looking for the right person to adopt my baby. She is a black baby named LaTasha. If your interested I can tell you the whole story. She is looking for a good family. Please respond as soon as possible as my situation is urgent. LaTasha may be the “ray of light” that your waiting for. I’m in a similar situation to you with the goverment so I know how it is. You sound like the kind of person who know’s how to do business. So lets do business together.

Sincerely,

Trey Green       

 

It looked pretty good to Trey. Rereading it a second time, he had an idea. Chuckling, he deleted “black” and replaced it with “African American”. He was now sure that RayOfLight would eat it up. Trey hit the “send” button and then sat back in his chair. All he could do now was wait. He would give RayOfLight twenty-four hours to respond before sending the message to GreggDogg and EarthLove46.

Trey didn’t know what to do next. He felt antsy. Going to the fridge, he got himself a beer, which he finished in three swigs. Trey grabbed a second beer and went back to his computer, where he navigated to the nola.com website. There had been no developments in the “Lacombe Triple Shooting”.

Trey was still reading the reader comments when a chime indicated that he had just received a new e-mail. Trey felt a jolt of electricity shoot through his body. So this shit is on for real. RayOfLight had not wasted any time in responding. Trey guessed that RayOfLight was the kind of pathetic freak who spent sixteen hours a day on the internet. Fine with him. RayOfLight’s message was short and to the point.

 

Dear Mr. Green,

Please send me some proof that your proposition is legitimate.

Sincerely,

Ray Jackson

 

Game on, thought Trey. He thought of RayOfLight as a monster alligator gar that he had hooked but hadn’t landed yet. He would have to handle the line carefully, knowing when to pull back and when to give out slack. Now was the time to reel RayOfLight in. Within two minutes, Trey had sent an e-mail with the “Chinese” photo of Tamica.

RayOfLight’s next message surprised Trey.

 

Dear Mr. Green,

She certainly is a beautiful little angel. But how do I know that you didn’t just get that photo off the internet somewhere? If you are serious about your offer, please take a photo of LaTasha holding a piece of paper with my name written on it. Then we can talk.

Sincerely,

Ray Jackson

 

Fair enough, thought Trey. RayOfLight knows how to play ball. Fine. Trey preferred dealing with professionals anyway. Of course, in Trey’s line of work, professionals were a rarity. Most cluckers tried every stupid trick in the book to hustle Trey, just as Rhonda had. But Trey was always smarter than they were, just as he had been smarter than Rhonda.

You want to play tha Game…well, let’s play the motherfucking Game then, bruh. Trey grabbed the Wal-Mart receipt and wrote “RayOfLight” on the back with the free pen the Sun Tan Motel had left on the nightstand. Moving quietly into the bedroom so as not to wake Shemeta, Trey placed the receipt across Tamica’s chest and snapped a photo. Within two minutes Trey had uploaded the picture and sent it to RayOfLight along with the following message:

 

RayOfLight,

I mean business. If your interested, call me at this number in the next ten minutes. No more e-mails.

Trey

 

This was the big moment. Trey wanted to keep RayOfLight disoriented and on the defensive. By forcing him to call right away, he would keep the ball in his court. More importantly, Trey didn’t want to give RayOfLight the time to talk to anyone, record the phone call, or worst of all, get the police involved. Trey knew that if RayOfLight called, the deal was sealed.

Picking up his brand-new untraceable cell phone, Trey walked outside and sat in his car waiting for the call. He didn’t want anyone to hear what he was going to say to RayOfLight. Putting the cell phone in the cup holder of his Taurus, Trey lit a cigarette with steady hands. He felt nervous but ready for anything, like he always did when a big deal was about to go down. The parking lot was empty. He could make out the Mexican from the night before sitting behind the desk in the brightly lit lobby of the Sun Tan Motel. It looked like he was watching TV.

Trey checked his watch: it had already been six minutes. What would Trey do if RayOfLight called his bluff and waited longer than ten minutes? This was the crucial moment in the deal, the moment when the lines of authority were being drawn.

Trey scratched his balls.

Thirty seconds before the ten minutes were up, the phone rang.       

15

 

Trey didn’t say “Hello?” like a chump when he answered the phone. Instead, he assaulted through the objective with, “Just in time, RayOfLight.”

“Start talking,” said RayOfLight. He had a deep, gravelly voice. He didn’t sound intimidated at all. “Who is she, why do you have her, why are you offering her to me. The whole story. Start.”

“Alright, bruh. Be cool. Here’s how it is. LaTasha’s momma is dead. Died two weeks ago. Got shot. Stray bullet. She was sitting at home watching TV. Died just like that, holding her baby. No family, no baby daddy, no money, no nothing. Me and my girl heard the shots and ran over there. LaTasha’s momma was all banged up. Gruesome sight, bruh. LaTasha didn’t even know what happened and she just had a big old smile on her face even though she had her momma’s brains all over her. Like a little angel from Heaven, bruh, I ain’t lying. That’s how sweet she is. We took her before the social services could get her. We good people, bruh, we didn’t want her growing up in no orphanage. We was friends with her momma. A week later, my girl runs out on me. Middle of the night. Took all my fucking money. Now, I ain’t too happy about that and neither is LaTasha. Fact is, I’m broke. I don’t know shit about taking care of babies. I can’t even take care of myself. I just learned how to fry a egg yesterday, bruh, no joke. How the fuck am I supposed to raise a baby? So I’m trying to find a family for LaTasha without giving her to the fucking government. There it is.”

“And do you have any proof for that extravagant story? Where will I be able to find a newspaper article corroborating what you’ve just told me?” RayOfLight sounded highly skeptical. Trey kept cool.

“No article, bruh. Let’s get this straight. I’m helping LaTasha find a new family. Don’t you worry about proof. I’ll be straight with you. This whole situation is fucked up. You don’t need to know any more than what I just told you. In fact, the less you know, the better. You get LaTasha and ain’t no one going to be asking you no questions after that, ya heard me? That’s a promise. You just going to have to believe me. You can take LaTasha as is – and she’s cute, bruh – or we can stop doing business right now. Your choice.”

RayOfLight didn’t respond immediately. Trey could tell he had scored a point. This clown really wanted Tamica.

“How do I know this isn’t a scam?”  

“Ray, you know this ain’t a scam cause I just told you it ain’t a scam. Now, I understand you got no reason to trust me. But you just gonna have to trust me. I’ma level with you. This some shady shit we doing, bruh. Now, you know and I know that we just trying to do right here. Problem is, the government don’t see it that way. They don’t care about LaTasha. They don’t care about shit. That’s why you can’t adopt a baby, and that’s why I got LaTasha to begin with. That’s why you talking to me right now. Fact is, you don’t like what you hear, you can just hang up that phone and go back to watching TV. Grab yourself another beer from the fridge and change the channel. What time is it, ten-fifteen? You still got time to catch the sports on the news. But if you hang up, don’t try calling me back, bruh, cause I won’t answer. Opportunity knocks once, Ray, and you got to know when to open that door.”

Trey was in the zone. He could feel it. With his left hand he idly massaged his semi-erect penis. It was moments like this that made the Game worth playing. RayOfLight was silent and Trey could sense his desire to believe as well as his anxiety.

“How much do you want?” Straight to the point. Trey liked that.

“Like I told you, bruh, I’m broke, my girl left, I’m sick. I won’t lie to you, Ray. I’m in a fucking jam. Now, we ain’t talking bout a plasma TV. We ain’t talking bout a motorcycle or a flatboat. We talking about a baby. You can’t bargain shop on that one, bruh. You can’t just grab a News On Wheels and pick out the one you want. You can’t drive over to Wal-Mart. Now, how much does a new car cost? Fifteen, twenty grand? You ask me, a family’s worth a good bit more than a pickup. Now, I ain’t greedy, bruh. I just want to get my life back on track. Fix my car, pay for my medicine, take care of my debts. You know how it is. Given my situation, I can let you have her in exchange for thirty G’s.”

“Thirty thousand dollars! That’s a fortune!”

“It ain’t cheap, bruh. But like I said, you ain’t buying toothpaste at the Time Saver. You ain’t buying Doritos. You buying a human life. You buying grandchildren, bruh. You buying a family. You buying happiness for you and for Baby LaTasha. You ask me, thirty grand sounds like a deal.”

There was a long, pregnant pause as RayOfLight thought.

“I…I can’t give you an answer right now. I have to talk with my wife first.”  

“Sure thing. You talk it over with the missus. You think about it. Give me a call tomorrow night on this number at ten P.M. exactly. I’ll be waiting for you. One more thing. You sound like a reasonable dude, Ray. Like I said, this shit ain’t exactly legal. Don’t get any funny ideas about talking to anyone besides your wife, ya heard me? I done my research, I know who you are, I know where you live. We’ll just leave that train of thought right there, alright bruh? You play straight with me and everyone going to be happy, you, me, the missus, LaTasha, her dead momma up in Heaven. We can leave it right there, ya heard me? It’s been good talking with you, Ray.” With these words, Trey hung up the phone before Ray could respond.         

“Fuckin’ A!” exclaimed Trey. He pumped his fist like Tiger Woods after chipping in an eagle at the Masters to beat Ernie Els. The conversation couldn’t have gone any better. Trey had stayed in control from beginning to end. He was sure that RayOfLight was going to say yes. He knew how to read a mark and RayOfLight was as transparent as glass to him. Trey had taken a gamble by highballing the price but it was clear from the way RayOfLight responded that he would be willing to go that high. Otherwise he would have protested more or just hung up.

Trey felt energy coursing through his body. He jumped out of the car and started pacing around the parking lot. He didn’t want to leave the motel but he couldn’t sit still at a moment like this. It took Trey four cigarettes before he felt calm enough to go back into the room and fall asleep.

16

 

Ray Jackson hung up the phone and lit an American Spirit brand cigarette with trembling hands. His wife would be home from the bio-dynamic gardening class she taught at the local Anthroposophy Institute in half an hour. Bio-Dynamic gardening was an agricultural method invented by the turn-of-the-century Austrian guru and esotericist Rudolf Steiner that involved talking to plants and fertilization by gnomes. Ray and Wanda Jackson were Steiner people. Wanda taught kindergarten at the local Waldorf school. The educational methods practiced in Waldorf had been revealed to Steiner in moments of divine clairvoyance. The gods that spoke to him had told him that humans learned in seven-year cycles. For this reason, many Waldorf parents did not cut their children’s hair until they reached their seventh birthday. Instead of learning to read, Waldorf kindergarteners learned to move their bodies in a calisthenic dance known as “eurythmy.” The gods had revealed to Steiner the movements that made up eurythmy. Wanda also taught eurythmy.

Ray shifted his bulk in his wooden desk chair. He was a fat man with long white hair and a long white beard. He had lost his left leg below the knee in a motorcycle accident twenty years before and wore a prosthesis. He was naked. He spent his days sitting at the kitchen table and chatting on several internet forums. He valued his comfort very highly and felt more free and natural when he was naked. The table was stacked high with papers, knick-knacks, and books. Ray and Wanda’s house was a mess. They were hoarders and they never cleaned. To the right of Ray’s laptop sat an ashtray overflowing with butts. Next to the ashtray was Ray’s penis-stretching device. One of the forums that Ray spent his days posting to was Thunder’s Place, which was a website devoted to penis enlargement. Ray had always been ashamed of his small penis and had taken up penis enlargement two years before in the hopes of being able to give Wanda more pleasure when they made love. Wanda had a very large vagina. Ray’s gains had been modest but palpable: he had gone from having a penis that was 4.75 inches long by 4.5 inches around to having a penis that was 5.5 inches long by 4.75 inches around. His penis was now on the small side of average. Of course, he fudged the length a little bit when he measured it, substituting his bone-pressed erection length for his non-bone-pressed erection length. Jabbing the ruler into the fat pad above his mons pubis  allowed him to pick up an extra half-inch. Like everyone else on the website, Ray hoped one day to possess the “Irish Sword” – a penis measuring eight inches long by six inches around. For girth, Ray “jelqed” – massaged his penis as if he were milking a cow’s teat – for half an hour a day, five days a week. His principal length exercise consisted in hanging weights from his penis while he was sitting at his computer. He found this method to be both more effective and less painful than the expensive stretching device he had bought on the internet and now rarely used.

Ray did not work. He and Wanda lived on her small Waldorf salary and his SSI checks. They had bought the house with the two hundred thousand dollar settlement he had received for his motorcycle accident. He woke up every morning at four A.M. and began posting and chatting on his numerous web fora. In addition to Thunder’s Place, Ray frequented an alternative medicine website called CureZone, a Steiner website, eBay, Facebook, the Alex Jones conspiracy theory website, and the adoption site where “Trey” had found him. He also played Second Life.

Every day, when Wanda came home from work at four P.M., the two of them drove fifteen minutes to Duck’s Cafe and Bakery together, where they bought their chocolate éclairs. They were crazy about éclairs. Duck’s sold gigantic éclairs the size of Triple Whoppers. While they ate their two “Colossal” éclairs apiece, Ray and Wanda each drank a twenty-four ounce cappuccino. At first they would go to the trouble of adding spoonful after spoonful of sugar to their giant cappuccinos until they were as sweet as ice cream, but then they discovered that they could ask the employees to add a few shots of vanilla-flavored syrup, which was even sweeter.

They had their own battered plastic gas-station mugs that they would present to the store employees every day to rinse out from the day before and refill with their milky, sugary coffee drinks. The mugs were never washed at home with soap and a thick, sticky, permanent brown film had developed at the bottom.

Ray and Wanda disgusted the Duck’s employees. They never stopped touching each other. Their caresses were not those of an adult couple but those of children attempting to draw their mothers into prohibited incestuous contact. Their daily Duck’s bill came out to almost twenty dollars. They spent more money on chocolate éclairs and coffee than they did on their utility bills and cars combined. One day Wanda explained to one of the bored, disdainful teenagers who worked there that they had tried to make their own éclairs at home to reduce expenses but that they couldn’t replicate the Duck’s éclairs. This afternoon snack added over fifteen hundred calories to their daily total and was the principal reason why they were both fat and diabetic.

Ray was nervous but excited. He and Wanda had wanted a child for many, many years. Five years ago they had made a deal with one of the Waldorf parents to let them raise the baby she was pregnant with – her sixth – but once she had the baby she couldn’t bear to part with it.

Ray frowned when he thought of the money. Where would they get thirty thousand dollars? Although they lived in relative comfort, they had no savings. Ray already knew what Wanda’s response would be. She would be willing to do anything to get that baby. Ray frowned again when he thought of the man’s voice: menacing, cold, flat. The voice of a killer. Ray wasn’t sure if he believed the man’s story about the baby’s mother being murdered. Ray wondered if Trey was the one who had done the murdering. Nonetheless, Ray’s gut told him that the offer was legitimate. Chances were that the man had somehow come across the baby and simply wanted to make some money by selling her. What if the man had kidnapped the baby? There was no way to know. Even if he had, chances were that he and Wanda would be better parents than whomever he had kidnapped her from.

A frightening new thought occurred to Ray. What would happen to LaTasha if he and Wanda didn’t buy her?

He closed the Thunder’s Place window on his desktop and looked again at the first photo, the one in which her eyes looked half-open.

An angel.

Wanda drove up at eleven P.M. After setting her canvas totebag down next to the doorway, Wanda walked into the living room where she and Ray spent all of their time. She had already settled her fat body into her chair and lit a cigarette before she noticed the serious expression on his face.

“Honey,” said Ray, “hold on tight, because I’m about to give you the most exciting news you’ve had in a long, long time.”

Ray told her the whole story, starting with the e-mails, which he showed her. Wanda started crying with joy before he had even finished the story.

“We’re finally going to have a family!” she kept saying through her tears.

“Wanda, where are we going to get that much money?” asked Ray in a gentle voice.

After a long silence during which they were both thinking the same thing, Ray went ahead and said what was on both of their minds.

“I could sell it.”

Wanda didn’t respond right away. It was an original Salvador Dali print that Ray’s father had acquired when he was in the army during the liberation of Paris in August, 1944. He claimed that a young, rich, beautiful, eccentric French noblewoman had given it to him as a gift along with a night in her bed as thanks for having expelled the German occupier. It was Ray’s most cherished possession. He had barely known his father and this small print possessed a talismanic signification for him. Its value had been appraised at thirty thousand dollars.

Ray gazed at Wanda, his hands clasped under his chin. Their house and everything in it was mortgaged to the gills. A large chunk of Ray and Wanda’s paychecks already went to paying off their massive debts. There was no way the two of them could get another loan. The bank didn’t know anything about the print, however, which meant they could sell it without having to give the bank any money. Even a man as otherwise insolvent, impulsive, and financially irresponsible as Ray Jackson had managed to impose this discipline on himself for all of his fifty years. No matter how bad things got, the print was off-limits. It constituted the center of Ray’s being, inasmuch as his adherence to this one unquestionable rule had allowed him to construct some kernel of a sovereign self, a hidden, solid, permanent core in sharp contrast with the weak, lazy, idealistic, go-with-the-flow persona that dominated ninety-nine percent of the time.

Ray sensed that to part with the print would be to part with the only bit of iron he had. On the other hand, he would not be selling the print to pay for something ephemeral but for a human life. For a daughter!          

Wanda didn’t say anything. She knew how important the print was to Ray and could see the conflict in his eyes. She sensed that to speak now would be a mistake. Wanda was not intelligent, honest or courageous enough to admit it, but she had always been jealous of the Dali and had several times considered getting rid of it.

Once, after finding some sexy pictures on Ray’s computer that had been sent to him by a woman he had met on the internet, Wanda had gone as far as to light the match with which she intended to burn the print. Weeping, her hands trembling, she moved the match towards the print, only to lose her resolve at the last second and blow it out.

When Ray spoke after a long, heavy silence, his voice was grave and measured.

“Sometimes the Goddess moves in mysterious ways. Now I know why I kept that print my whole life. It was in preparation for this moment. We’ll sell the Dali.”

Wanda stood up and embraced Ray. She had never loved him so much in her entire life. Not only were they going to have a family, but the print that had for so long kept her from being a real woman would be gone!

In an access of transcendental joy, she walked into the center of the room and began doing the Eurhythmy movements that she taught to her kindergarten students.

17

 

Tyrone felt better than he had in a long time when he woke up on Tuesday morning. When he looked in the mirror he realized that he had the exact same nose and indeed the same facial features as his ancestor General Butt Naked. Tyrone picked up a plastic Light Saber and watched himself slashing downwards with it, as if he were beheading an enemy tribesman with his machete.

Tyrone had an idea. He bent down and pulled out the secret box of semi-precious objects that he kept under his bed. He hadn’t looked in the box for over a year. The objects it contained had all possessed a certain talismanic value for Tyrone at some point in his life. There was a 1923 silver Peace Dollar, a broken padlock that he had found in a parking lot, an eagle feather, a pencil that he had sharpened down to the eraser, a rubber band ball, a small, rusted mother-of-pearl handled knife…digging through all of these treasures, Tyrone finally found what he was looking for: a smallish snake skull that he had found underneath a cypress tree at the edge of Bayou Lacombe. He had boiled the skull to remove the pieces of flesh that still stuck to it. He had not done a very good job of it. There were still little bits of hardened gore wedged in the crevices.

Rummaging deeper, Tyrone found a leather necklace with a turquoise on it that he had bought at the Lacombe Crab Festival from an Indian for five dollars. He removed the turquoise and strung the leather cord through the snake skull’s eye holes. He then tied it behind his neck.

Looking in the mirror, Tyrone was pleased with the way it looked. He decided to wear his SR-71 Blackbird T-shirt to school that day. The snake skull hung over the cockpit of the plane.

Tyrone made sure to hide the skull inside his T-shirt before walking out of his room. His grandmother was a devout Christian and she would consider the snake skull to be Satanic.

Tyrone’s grandmother was in the kitchen making coffee when he walked out of his room. She wore a nightgown with a terrycloth robe over it.

“Goodbye, Grandma,” said Tyrone. “I have to catch the bus.”

“Come give your grandma a hug before you go,” she responded. Tyrone kept his chest from touching her when he hugged her so that she wouldn’t feel the snake skull.

“Here, take this,” she said, putting a marshmallow Granola Bar into his hand. Tyrone slipped it into his bag and then dashed out the front door just in time to catch the school bus.

Tyrone and Victor met up as usual on their way to P.E. class. Victor was a little peeved to see that Tyrone had stolen his necklace idea. He also thought the snake skull with little bits of dried flesh still stuck to it was a little…gross.

Walking into the gym, their hearts dropped when they saw that Richie, Bradley, Carter and Ian, four of the most aggressive nomads at Mandeville High, were hanging out in front of the entrance to the locker room. They all played varsity sports. They weren’t normally in the same P.E. class and Tyrone wondered what they were doing there. Richie was the worst. He owned a pickup truck with big wheels that he would take mudding every weekend. It was considered prestigious to have as much mud as possible on your pickup truck on Monday morning in the Mandeville High parking lot.

Richie was short, thick and hardboiled pink with thinning blonde hair. He was as strong as a bull and played football. He smiled when he saw Tyrone and Victor approaching.

“What’s up, Columbine?” barked Richie to Victor. “Hey, cool necklace, bra.”

The nomads laughed as Richie took Victor’s medallion in his hand.

“Let me see that.” He pulled it roughly over Victor’s head.

“Whoa. This medallion is sweet. I’m buying it from you, dog. How much you want? Fifty bucks sound good?”

Victor didn’t respond. He looked like he was going to puke.

Richie made a show of rummaging in his pockets. He did it slowly and screwed up his face in an over-earnest gesture of concentration.

“Here, hold this for a second,” said Richie, handing Victor a piece of lint from his pocket with a sincere smile. Victor took it. The nomads laughed.

Tyrone watched the whole thing as if it were happening on television. For some reason the nomads were ignoring him. His gaze had become disembodied and he could see himself standing there like a mannequin with perfect clarity. He felt neither angry nor afraid. He felt nothing. It was as if he were a balloon floating away to the top of the gym.

After searching his pockets for longer than necessary, Richie gave a shrug and said, “Looks like I forgot my wallet at home today. I’ll pay you tomorrow, how about that? We got a deal, buddy?” With a big smile he held out his hand for Victor to shake. Victor slowly extended his sweaty hand and took Richie’s. As soon as Richie had Victor’s hand in his, he squeezed it as hard as he could. Victor winced but tried not to show it. The nomad squeezed some more and then suddenly let go.

“Ok guys, see you tomorrow!” said Richie as he and his crew walked over towards where Coach Roberts was sitting on the bleachers. They were laughing as they walked.    

Tyrone and Victor said nothing as they walked into the locker room to change. Victor had turned pale. Tyrone avoided looking at him. They snuck into their gym clothes, leaving their schoolbags in the gym lockers.

Once in the bleachers, Victor walked up to the top corner and sat staring off into the corner. Tyrone left him alone and shuffled onto the basketball court.

There were four basketball games going on. The first game was the mixed nomad/black game. Unlike Tyrone, the blacks that played at this game were real Louisiana blacks. They had all been deemed either learning disabled or behaviorally troubled by the St. Tammany Parish public school system. Most of them were from Lacombe. Most of them dealt drugs. They all had sculpted, muscular physiques with cut, bulging triceps brachii muscles. None of them had scored higher than eight hundred on his SAT, which indicated that they were functionally illiterate. All of them could dunk, even the five-foot-eight Clifton Jenkins, and so could a couple of the taller white nomads. The game played at the first goal was rough, loud and fast-paced.

The second goal was for the girls. They only pretended to play competitively. The real goal of their game was to wiggle their behinds for the alpha nomads to see.   

The third goal was for the middle class of boys who were neither nomads nor nerds. These were people like Scott McNulty who had internalized the differential status system of the nomads but who were not audacious or courageous enough to ride with the big dogs. Their basketball game was a watered-down version of the nomads’ game: less violent and athletic but still organized around ideals of aggression, masculinity, pride, and physicality. After receiving their high school diplomas, most of the boys in this group would go to Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, where they would meet plain girlfriends. They would marry them a year after graduation. Then they would begin having children with them. There were no blacks in this group.

The fourth basketball court was for nerds and invisibles. Their game was not aggressive. They did not attempt layups or muscle past each other towards the goal. They did not dribble or pass. They played “Horse” and didn’t speak to each other. This was the game that Tyrone joined.        

When class was over, Tyrone and Victor walked back into the locker room. There was a crowd gathered towards the back, where the latrines were. The crowd was laughing. Walking towards the scene, Tyrone saw that Victor’s schoolbag had been thrown in a toilet. It was soaked in urine. Some enterprising student had even defecated on it.

***

The cafeteria was serving chicken nuggets for lunch that day. Tyrone and Victor had to wait in line for five minutes to get their lunch tickets because everyone liked chicken nuggets. Tyrone’s ticket was free because he was poor. All the other black students got free tickets too. Instead of waiting in line, they shouldered past the white students to demand their lunch tickets.

Tyrone and Victor waited in line like everybody else. Victor’s ticket cost ninety-five cents. They took their trays and sat down at the table occupied by the retarded students and their aides, which was the only table they were allowed to sit at socially. Mandeville High School was the only school in St. Tammany Parish that had the facilities for handling special education students, so there were plenty of retarded students there. Tyrone and Victor knew all of their names.

There was Stacy, a stunted, twisted, nineteen-year-old body that wouldn’t have measured longer than four feet if it were possible to stretch her out and measure her. She was confined to a soiled high-tech wheelchair and couldn’t eat or breathe without tubes. Her face looked wrinkled and evil.

There was Michelle, also in a wheelchair and capable of breathing and swallowing food but not of speaking or controlling her bladder. Her eyes never stopped rolling back and forth in her head. Her disposition was generally pleasant.

There was Katie, who resembled Michelle with her Beatles shag and who was capable of standing, walking, and swallowing food without spilling too much of it. Although she could not speak, when she was happy she made a ululating noise like a seal.

One day Katie had had a seizure just two feet away from Tyrone. When her head slammed into the tray some of her corn splattered into Tyrone’s mashed potatoes. For the next week, he and Victor made a series of drawrings of the incident. They invented superhero costumes for the retarded students and drew them fighting crime.

Today there would be no drawrings at lunch.

“Rats,” Victor said in a fake casual voice. “They’ll get what’s coming to them.” Tyrone didn’t say anything. He still had the distinct sensation that none of this was real, that it was some sort of game or test.

Victor stabbed a chicken nugget into a blob of mayonnaise. “Did I ever tell you my dad’s story about rats in Vietnam? One day his unit discovered that if they left a plank against a drum full of cooking grease the rats would just run up it and fall into the bottom of the drum. Every night they would leave the plank up and every morning the drum would be a foot deep with rats squirming around in the grease. They would just drop a match in there and watch them burn. That’s how you deal with rats.”

Tyrone stared at Victor’s pores, which he was noticing for the first time. There were so many of them.

They finished their meal in silence.

When they got to their next class, they learned that there was going to be a pep rally that afternoon. Classes were canceled on game day afternoons and the cheerleaders were allowed to wear their uniforms to school. Their skirts were very short. In fact, they broke the dress code regulation by several inches. During the pep rally, the students sat in the gym bleachers according to class and were encouraged to show their school spirit by cheering louder than the other classes. The cheerleaders did a few routines on the gym floor and some of the boys in the bleachers got erections. The cheerleaders had tan, trim thighs, eager lips, and perky breasts. The football players would perform some sort of wacky game, tricycle races for example, or they would put on wigs and fake breasts and pretend to be cheerleaders. Someone would dress up as the opposing team’s mascot and the football players would pretend to beat the mascot up. Banners insulting the other team were brandished by school spirit committees. These committees would get together the night before pep rallies and paint the banners.

Tyrone, Victor, and Jessica hated pep rallies. Unlike movie nerds, Tyrone and Victor did not wish they were cool enough to date the cheerleaders, nor did they desire them. Victor resented and hated them. Tyrone had no cognitive mapping for them. On a certain level he certainly disliked them but he did not have the same core hatred for them that Victor did. On a deeper level, cheerleaders, athletic blacks, nomads, and to a lesser extent all other people were simply a source of perplexed anxiety to Tyrone.

Although they were both chronic masturbators, Victor and Tyrone each avoided the question of realizing his sexuality in any way, but for different reasons. Victor was only very dimly aware of the fact that he was a pervert, a masochist and a fetishist who was condemned to derive more sexual excitement from being beaten and insulted than from inserting his penis into one of the tight, glossy, manicured cheerleader vaginas that were the glory of Mandeville and the lifeblood of the field house.

Tyrone’s sexuality was even more confused than Victor’s. Sex was simply a black hole for Tyrone, a question with no answer, a void that risked sucking him in if he got too close to it. He preferred to play Final Fantasy VII.

Students were given the option of skipping the pep rally if they so desired. These students were allowed to sit in a classroom and read, study, or talk quietly with their friends. Out of the fifteen hundred students at Mandeville High, there were only about twenty-five who chose the classroom over the fun: the lowest of the low. Whichever coach was obligated to babysit them instead of going to the pep rally did not attempt to hide his disdain for their lack of school spirit.

Today’s pep rally was no different. Coach Dave, the usual babysitter, had gone to jail a month before for having sex with a fourteen-year-old student. He had been replaced by Coach Smith the previous week. Today it was Coach MacGregor’s turn.

After five minutes, Coach MacGregor just left the classroom. He wanted to watch the pep rally and he figured that the nerds didn’t need supervision anyway.

Jessica could tell that something was wrong with Victor and Tyrone. Tyrone was uncharacteristically silent and Victor just looked…scary.

“Hey Victor, what happened to your medallion?” asked Jessica, trying to be nice.

“I sold it.”

“Really? Why? It was cool!”

“Let’s just say I got an offer I couldn’t refuse,” said Victor with a bitter smirk. “And it wasn’t that cool anyway.” Here he gave Jessica a dismissive wave and looked away.

Stung, Jessica clammed up.

Tyrone stared at the blank piece of paper on his desk.

After a few minutes of silence, Victor stood up brusquely. A few heads turned to look at him. He put on his trench coat and walked to the back of the classroom, where he began marching back and forth like a soldier on patrol, with his hands clasped behind his back and his eyes fixed on some distant point. When he reached the wall he would mark a brisk pivot like a Buckingham Palace guard. It was clear that he had practiced this maneuver at home in front of a mirror.

Jessica felt sad. She didn’t know what had happened but she knew that Victor was suffering.

“Hey, Victor, come here,” she said. He didn’t acknowledge her and continued pacing.  

“Dude…what are you doing?” asked Jennifer Anderson in a loud, derisory voice. Jennifer was a spunky, sharp-tongued, flat-chested, glasses-wearing girl who talked a lot in class and spent all her time hanging out with the flaming but still-closeted Clay, who was snickering next to her. They weren’t exactly nerds in the way that the Children of the Clover were, but they were definitely not cool. Victor didn’t respond, just kept patrolling. Jennifer didn’t back off.

“No…seriously, man…what the hell do you think you’re doing?”

At this, Victor reached into the side pocket of his trench coat and took out a big Rambo knife. He had at least five different Rambo-style knives. No one flinched or panicked as Victor had imagined they would. A few students tittered. Clay’s mocking laugh had a distinct lisping quality.

Feigning indifference, Victor took out a sharpening stone and began theatrically sharpening his knife against it as he continued to pace back and forth.

“Dude…put that away. You think you’re all like…tough and Matrix…but you’re not. You’re just going to get in trouble. No one is afraid of you. Seriously.” Jennifer Anderson was right: no one was afraid of him. Victor still did not acknowledge her presence.

“God, give me a break.” With this Jennifer Anderson shrugged and turned back to Clay. The two of them resumed their gossip. The rest of the students also resumed what they had been doing.

Jessica sensed that the kindest thing she could do for Victor would be to stop looking at him and so she turned to Tyrone.

“Tyrone, what the hell is going on?” she asked.

“The warrior is preparing for battle.”

“What? What battle? What are you talking about? What’s wrong with you two today?”

“Richie stole his medallion and desecrated his property. Looks to me like Victor has taken it as an act of war.”

“An act of war? Oh my god. Poor Victor…that fucking mongoloid Richie…he makes me sick!” With this Jessica stood up and walked towards Victor.

Clay snickered softly and motioned with his head for Jennifer to watch. They laughed because Jessica’s loose, confident, devil-may-care stride was that of a woman who believes that she is being watched and desired by every man in the room.

She stopped in Victor’s patrol path. When he got to her he went around her without making eye contact. She turned around and followed him.

“Fuck that shithead Richie! Don’t give him the pleasure of making you crack up. Listen to me, Victor…put the knife away, OK? Just come sit down with me.” Victor didn’t respond. Here Jessica grabbed his arm and spun him around.

“Victor Sanders…if this is what it will take…” With this Jessica leaned towards him and kissed him on the lips. It was a real cinematic kiss: Victor’s first. Clay and Jennifer sniggered viciously at their desks. Caught off guard, Victor didn’t know what to do with his knife. He clumsily stuck it in the pocket of his trench coat. Jessica left her lips locked onto his. Her tongue was wriggling around in Victor’s mouth like an eel slipping between rocks. He felt her breasts against his chest. She was soft and warm.      

At this moment, for a reason unknown to him, Tyrone felt the overwhelming need to turn away from Victor and Jessica and to look at Bill, the boy who had gotten the perfect score on the geography test. All of a sudden his disembodied emptiness was replaced by a wave of melancholy that seared him to the bone. Bill looked so kind and intelligent. The other students never made fun of him, even though he had nothing to do with them. He was reading an Ayn Rand novel. He had gotten a near-perfect thirty-five on his ACT, four full points higher than the next highest score in the school. He didn’t have a girlfriend or seem to care about having one. He wasn’t laughing at Victor and Jessica, although Tyrone was sure he was embarrassed for them. More than anything in the world at that moment he wanted to go talk to Bill but he sensed that there was an absolute barrier between them. He belonged to a different species. Turning back towards the stupid, tawdry spectacle his friends were putting on, he felt a desperate revulsion for them both as well as for himself. They were now making out in the back of the room. Tyrone imagined them as two worms or slugs rubbing their mucus holes against each other.

After a few moments, Victor and Jessica stumbled back to their desks holding hands. They were both flushed and beaming. For the rest of the pep rally they cooed together, pawing at each other and kissing. Tyrone laid his head on his desk and pretended to sleep. His hands were on his lap and the entire weight of his head was on his forehead. He rolled it back and forth. It was painful because of Tyrone’s numerous forehead pimples. He imagined his round forehead bone as a steamroller and wondered if his pimples would pop if he put all his force into mashing his head against the desk. He tried it. It was very painful but none of his hard, deep pimples exploded. He imagined them rupturing under his skin and infecting his bloodstream. He wanted to die.

When the bell rang, Tyrone said a hasty goodbye to Jessica and Victor and bolted out of his seat.

“Hey man, wait a second,” said Victor with a self-satisfied Cheshire Cat grin. He wanted Tyrone to stick around and reflect his glory.

“I’ll call you later,” mumbled Tyrone as he hustled out of the door. Victor shrugged. He turned back to Jessica and inserted his tongue into her mouth.

Jennifer Anderson and Clay dashed out of the room with Tyrone as soon as the bell rang. Within two minutes they had found Coach MacGregor and told him about Victor’s knife. Coach MacGregor alerted Kurt, the school policeman, and the two of them rushed back to the classroom.

Kurt loosened his gun in his holster as they approached the room. He had joined the police in the hopes of one day being able to shoot someone. It was his goal in life. With any luck this wannabe Columbine creep would try something and he would be able to plug him in between the eyes. He had seen the freak around campus before with his black trench coat and always knew that one day he was going to try something.

Kurt’s superiors had sensed that Kurt was that kind of police recruit as soon as he joined, and that was why they had posted him to Mandeville High: to keep him from shooting anybody.

When Coach MacGregor and Officer Kurt burst into the classroom, there was nobody left but Victor and Jessica. They were making out ferociously in the back row. Jessica’s hand was massaging Victor’s erection through his jeans. A tiny spot of pre-ejaculate had soaked through the denim. They stopped as soon as they saw the adults.

“Put your hands up and stand up slowly!” barked Kurt. Victor looked bewildered. “Now!” shouted the police officer. Victor did as he was told, aware of the fact that his erection was visible through his pants.

“You too, girlie!”

Jessica crossed her arms and didn’t move.

“Or what – you’ll shoot me, pig?”

“Leave her alone! She didn’t do anything!” cried Victor, eager at the opportunity to appear gallant. “It’s me you want.” Victor thrilled with these tough words. He slowly walked to the front of the room. When he got there, Officer Kurt slammed him face-down on the desk and began to frisk him brutally.

“Easy, Kurt,” said Coach MacGregor, who felt a little bad for Victor.

“Easy, huh? Looks like this little fucker wasn’t planning on going easy on anyone with this!” barked Officer Kurt, brandishing Victor’s Rambo knife. “Were you, punk?”

A few minutes later, Victor was being led away from the school in handcuffs.

***

Tyrone’s school bus ride home seemed to last forever. The bus was very hot and smelled bad. Most of the students who rode Tyrone’s bus were also black: the athletes from his P.E. class. Sometimes they gave him trouble. Today they didn’t. He tried in vain to read the book on mental disorders that he had discreetly checked out from the school library that day after school but couldn’t concentrate. He had the distinct sensation that something was very wrong with his mind. He had taken off the snake skull and put it in his pocket. What on earth had he been thinking?

Tyrone flipped through his book until he found the chapter on paranoid schizophrenia. There was a picture of a white teenage boy sitting on his bed with his head in his hands. Tyrone began reading. Psychotic episode… delusions of grandeur… feelings of persecutionlanguage troubles...    

Tyrone put his book away as he neared his stop. Normally this was the scariest moment of the day. He got off at the same stop as Terrell and Clifton and they occasionally robbed or playfully beat him after the bus drove off. Today, however, he was too preoccupied to be scared.

Let them kill me, he thought. I don’t care.

And he didn’t.

But they didn’t pay any attention to him, just walked home talking to each other and dribbling a basketball.

When Tyrone walked into his trailer, he saw his grandmother’s huge body lying in the middle of the floor like a piece of installation art. She was dead.    

END OF PART ONE

To read the rest of INTO THE CRONESPHERE…

PURCHA$E IT!

cronesphere cover image for blog

http://www.amazon.com/Into-Cronesphere-Timothy-Lachin/dp/0989507408/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1372336311&sr=8-1&keywords=timothy+lachin

(Also available at foreign Amazons if you’re a foreigner)

* If you live in Paris…send me an e-mail and I’ll sell you a signed copy for ten euros.

One comment

  1. Perry

    Loved this, and recommend it all around. I was reminded today because of Fesse-bouc conversation, in which I said I’m tempted to get in touch with the guy, but I’m not sure that’s a great idea.

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