"Whatever the fuck's goin' down here," the boy said,
"I ain't to be passed off to this motherfuckin faggot,
I don't think so, Beetle. I murder ya both where ya
The yellaboi lifted his gun. Omar was impressed. In
the dim light of a nearby street lamp, it appeared to
be a stainless steel-clad Ruger. Then he stepped
aside, putting Beetle between himself and the gun's
The boy's grip on the gun was shaky. He brought his
other hand up underneath to steady it as he swung it
back and forth between Beetle and the other stickup
boys who, up until then, had been snickering into the
palms of their hands.
Bailey carefully kept them in the sight of his glock,
both hands wrapped around the butt, his arms fully
extended. He and the boy might have been cohorts in
an ambush, with Omar safely on the shadowy sideline.
Too excited to stop himself, Beetle pounced on the
yellaboi, wrestling him for the gun, still working
the deal with Omar. "Didn't I tell ya?" Beetle
gasped. "He slight, but don't let that fool ya. Yall
see he fierce! He got fight in him."
Beetle got the gun out of the boy's hands and smacked
him hard across the face with it. The boy spun,
landing on his hands and knees on the sidewalk. In
the course of the blow, the boy's sock hat snagged on
a link of a platinum bracelet around Beetle's wrist
and was yanked off his head.
Beetle was a might sorry, fearing that if he gone
fucked up the boy's face, Omar would lose interest,
but his mood changed when he noticed the damage to his
bracelet. He put the gun on the boy and sputtered
obscenities at him.
The boy glanced up. Maybe it was the way a shaft of
moonlight commingled the radiance of his anger and
fear, but Omar saw something in those eyes and the set
of his bloodied mouth that made his heart drop to his
stomach and spring back up into his throat. Sometimes
it happened that way with Omar. The boy reached
across the sidewalk and snatched back the sock hat.
Omar couldn't tell you why, but the sight of the boy's
shredded knuckles as he pulled the hat down on his
head planted a clear-cut detour in Omar's course of
Tucking his gun under his arm, Omar picked up Beetle's
discarded shotgun and shoved its barrel hard into the
back of Beetle's head. He uncocked the hammer. Even
in the din of Beetle's indignant tirade, the sound was
loud and clear.
"Aight," Omar said. "It's a deal. I'll take that
9mm." He nodded at the boy, crouched on his knees
now, but still a mite wobbly. "Git your gun, man."
"Yo, Omar," Bailey said, speaking up for the first
Omar ignored him, gestured with the shotgun. The boy
slowly got to his feet and took his gun back. No
sooner did he have it in his hand then he whipped it
hard across Beetle's chin. By the sound of the crack
the blow made, Omar guessed the boy was getting his
strength back, if not his senses.
"What else he got?" Omar asked. The boy reached
behind Beetle and pulled another handgun from the sag
of his pants. "Them, too," Omar directed, nodding his
head at the stickup boys. They moved a little too
fast, so Omar fired a round into the sidewalk inches
from their toes. They winced and squeaked as they
were sprayed with bits of concrete, but they put their
hands up and allowed the yellaboi to grab their guns
from out their belts, too.
"Well?" Omar asked them. "What chu waitin' for?"
The boys turned and vanished into the shadows of a
To Beetle he said, "You ain't welcome on the West Side
no more, so go on after your boys. And I will be
lookin' for you tomorrow, and the next day, and the
"You don't play fair, Mr. Omar," Beetle said.
"Someday that will catch up with you. Whatever
happened to a deal's a deal?"
"Oh, I'll keep my end of the bargain. Go ahead. Rob
the stash, man. Go in. I'll take my half when you
Omar pounded his fist on the door and stepped back.
He had to admire Beetle for standing his ground. He
didn't know what he would have done if someone
actually answered the door, but apparently they were
long gone out the back way.
Omar laughed, then reached over and took the Ruger
from the boy. He was still too lightheaded to protest
much. Omar waited until Bailey got a good hold of him
on the other side, then reached over to Beetle.
"I take this, too," Omar said, snatching the broken
platinum chain out of Beetle's hand. "For my
expenses," he said.
The boy was silent during the ride to Omar's, his
skinny frame sunk into the vastness of his puffy coat.
Omar rode in the front, twisting around every now and
then to study the boy. His eyes never opened, but
they weren't exactly closed, either. Omar was pretty
sure he'd taken the brunt of Beetle's smack on his
jaw, and that his brains were probably all right. The
front of his coat was blotchy with a copious amount of
blood from his mouth. Omar hoped he hadn't lost any
From back in the day when Omar's brother Anthony ran
the crew, Bailey never lost the habit of keeping his
opinions to himself, preferring to let his actions
speak his mind. So after helping Omar bring the boy
back to his current hideaway, he slipped back into the
shadows of the projects, to his own little hidey-hole,
ready to take Omar's call for whatever might come
The yellaboi wasn't resisting him, but he wasn't
helping none, either. Seemed like he was all legs
and no feet. Still, Omar managed to get the boy
upstairs to the bathroom and sit him on the toilet. He
ran the tap until the water was steaming, then left
the boy to himself to clean up. Downstairs, he
sprinkled table salt into a tall glass and brought it
back to the bathroom. He knocked on the bathroom door
and let himself in. The bloody parka was now on the
floor at the boy's feet, and he was leaned over the
sink, scooping handfuls of hot water into his mouth.
Omar mixed hot water in the glass and handed it to the
"Fuck's this?" he asked.
"To gargle. Stops the blood."
He took the glass and gargled and spit until the water
Stepping back from the sink, he wiped condensation off
the mirror and gave his teeth a good look.
"Shit," he said, pulling his lips back. The boy
allowed Omar to examine his mouth. The caps had
sliced a fair-sized gash into the inside of his upper
"Gotta get them teeth out," Omar said. "They tearin'
your mouth up."
The boy fumbled with the caps, yelping now and then
with pain. He finally gave up.
Omar washed his hands and stepped aside so the boy
could position himself in front of him. The boy held
tight to the basin, and bent his knees. Omar reached
They were stuck, gory, and very slippery. Tears of
pain were leaking from the boy's tightly squeezed
eyelids. He finally let out a wail and ducked his
face from Omar's prying fingers.
"Motherfucker! Ain't you got some....painkiller...some
Henny or sumthin?"
Omar wasn't a drinker but he reckoned Bailey might
have something appropriately medicinal stashed in one
of the rooms. After a quick search, he returned to
the bathroom with a bottle of peppermint schnapps.
The boy took a big swig, then screeched.
He tipped back the bottle and finished it off, then
doubled over and waited a few minutes. "Do it now!"
he said, straightening up. "Now, now!" He opened his
Omar delicately, but determinedly, maneuvered the caps
free from the boy's front teeth, with the help of a
washcloth. He handed them to the boy. He looked at
them as if they were bugs, then flipped up the toilet
seat and tossed them in.
"Just as well," Omar commented. "All that glamour
don't suit you."
The boy couldn't help but smile, and even though his
lip was grossly swollen, Omar couldn't help but find
the smile very appealing, now that the offending caps
were gone. The boy had nice teeth.
"Scuse me," the boy said, slipping past Omar into the
hallway. Omar picked his coat up off the floor and
followed him down the stairs.
"So you Omar," the boy said. "'Omar the Terror'. You
don't look like no terror to me."
Halfway down the stairs he turned and looked up at
Omar, studying his badly scarred face with exaggerated
concentration. Omar turned away, uncharacteristically
"But your name suits ya, nevertheless," the boy
"You been knowin my name and I don't know yours. That
seem fair to you?"
"Oh, we ain't gonna be on a first name basis. Soon as
you give me back my gun I'm out a here."
When they reached the door, the boy took his coat from
Omar and shrugged his skinny frame into it.
"Can't do that," Omar replied. "That gun belongs to
me, now. Also, me and my partner know for a fact there
was 4 Gs a cocaine in that house. Me and him woulda
split it 50-50. I leave it up to you and Bailey to
settle on what you owe him, but you owe me twenty
thousand dollars, and that's not an amount a money I
can let slide. Just can't afford it. And even if I
could, there's a principle involved."
"How you figure? First of all, the deal was that you
was gonna split the stash with Beetle. That woulda
made your share...." The boy stopped to calculate.
While he did the math, he kept testing the gash in his
lip with the tip of his tongue, and scratching hard at
the top of his head, still covered by the sock hat.
After a few seconds he gave up. "A fuck lot less
than twenty Gs. Anyway, I do owe you for bustin'
Beetle in the mouth. I wish't ya'd shot the
muthafucker dead, but, shit....I guess that's worth a
He opened the door. "So keep the gun. You and I both
know it's worth somethin'."
Omar began to feel forlorn. He must have showed it,
too, cuz the boy seemed to have a second thought. He
paused in the doorway.
"What?" he asked. "You don't think that's fair?"
"I think I just been robbed," Omar replied, shrugging.
"But, whatever. I got my reputation already. You
go on out and work on yours, some."
"OK, Omar the Terror," the boy said derisively.
Again, he studied Omar's face. Then he nodded, and
"It ain't safe out there," Omar warned. He was
delaying the inevitable. "This here neighborhood.
Ain't safe to go out without protection. Hold up a
minute, I give you your gun back."
Omar turned and disappeared into the apartment, hoping
the boy would close the door and follow him. He did.
He'd tossed his coat onto a sofa in the front room,
and was now digging through the pockets. He found the
boy's Ruger and held it out to him. The boy was
scratching at his head again.
"Watchu got, fleas?" Omar joked.
The boy looked offended, and headed back to the door.
Omar was out of ideas for changing his mind. He could
easily pull a gun, force the boy upstairs, get that
stupid sock hat and bloody wreck of a coat off of him,
and every thing else between him and a piece of the
boy's skin. Love him up until he was good and done
with him. And the boy owed him! Twenty thousand
dollars, not to mention Beetle's undying wrath. He
tried to think of anything short of force or money
that would cause this baby gangster to fall into his
Omar's prayer was answered when the boy suddenly bent
over and vomited all over himself and the doorstep.
Omar waited out the first wave, then grabbed him by
the collar and rushed him up the stairs. As soon as
Omar had him back on the toilet seat, the boy allowed
him to remove the ruined coat and assorted layers of
sweats and tee-shirts. The mangy sock hat came off
with everything else. Omar was surprised to see
inches of brick red hair forming the roots of his dark
braids. No wonder he was scratching his head, Omar
realized. His scalp was flakey with dried skin and
cruddy hair-grooming wax. Omar nearly gagged at the
smell of coconut oil mixed in with peppermint and the
sweetly rancid odor of sick.
The boy suddenly twisted around and dropped to his
knees, barely managing to get the toilet seat up in
time. Omar held his braids as his head jerked up and
down over the toilet, until there was nothing left in
him but dry heaves.
"It hurts," the boy moaned, falling limply against
Omar's legs. Omar wrapped his arms around him and
pulled him up, steering him into the bedroom. He
eased him onto a mattress on the floor, and crouched
next to him.
"Beetle musta hit harder than I thought, " Omar said.
"Thinkin' you need to go to emergency. That ain't
gonna be easy cuz Omar don't drive."
The boy had rolled onto his side, his knees pulled up
to his chest. He was trembling, his bare arms prickly
with goose bumps.
"Nah," he gasped. "I just need a cigarette, is all."
Omar laughed, and then realized he hadn't had a
cigarette in hours. Now that was something new.
The boy buried his face in the mattress, then turned
back to Omar.
"Say what? You don't drive?"
Omar shook his head. "Got a partner. Don't need
"That's the fuckin' funniest thing I ever heard.
He sat up, clutching his belly. Omar readied himself
to run him back to the bathroom, but it was a false
"I'll get you a smoke," Omar said.
He went downstairs for his cigarettes. Minutes later,
he returned to the room. The boy had pulled a blanket
over himself and turned towards the wall. Feeling a
bit lightheaded his own self, Omar lit a cigarette and
sucked in a lungful of smoke. The boy groaned
piteously, so he crushed the cigarette out on the
floor and resumed his position on the mattress.
"Guess I ain't used to drinkin' that much," the boy
said, still facing away. "Not that shit, anyway. And
my stomach was empty."
"Beetle don't feed yall?"
"Beetle don't do shit," the boy mumbled. "Shoulda
shot that faggot bitch." The boy turned around and
said, apologetically, "No offense."
"I'll be outta here in a minute," the boy said before
turning back to the wall, tugging the blanket over his
Omar thought not, and settled on a corner of the
mattress, sitting cross-legged and jonesing for a
smoke. He wondered what would happen if he curled up
next to the boy, real quiet-like, not touching him or
nuthin, just waiting for him to fall asleep.
As a stillness settled over the room, the outside
became raucous with sounds of music, fighting, dogs
barking, babies crying. Omar's nightly anthem. He
felt lonely and pitiful. No, he realized...he felt
frustrated. He was a man with no plan, and probably
no time to come up with one.
So he decided to give in.
No more strategizing.
Just do it.
He leaned back on his haunches and pulled off his
sweatshirt, as a wave of righteous entitlement drowned
out any second thoughts pounding in his head. Just
then the boy sat up and vigorously rubbed at his scalp.
"Arrrggghhhh!" he yelled. "I can't stand it no
more!" He yanked hard at his braids. "I think I
might do have bugs! Fuck!" Then he started to cry.
Omar grabbed his wrists and pulled his hands away from
his hair, worried the boy was going to pull out one of
"It ain't bugs, man," he laughed, trying to hold the
boy and get him to look him in the eye at the same
time. "Ya need to wash your hair, that's all. Ya
need to get them braids out."
He settled the boy down but his own heart was
pounding. The boy seemed to realize what was
happening and wrestled out of Omar's grasp. Their
mutual embarrassment expressed itself in a moment of
"They makin' me crazy," the boy said finally, looking
"C'mere," Omar instructed. He pulled the boy to him,
back to chest. Surreptitiously, he reached under piles
of dirty clothes near the mattress and searched until
he found a squashed tube of lubricant jelly. He'd
learned from past experience that the slippery stuff
served multiple purposes.
He massaged the jelly into the boy's scalp until there
was no resistance in his body language. Omar tipped
his head back and took a good, long look at the boy's
face. His eyes were closed and his expression was
relaxed. He had a beautiful mouth, fat lip and all.
Omar felt every ounce of the boy's slight frame
pressing into his chest. He understood that the boy
was submitting to him. Omar leaned him forward
slightly, rounding his back. His shoulder blades
stuck out like the nubs of wings, and every bump of
his spine stretched the pale skin translucent. The
boy reached up and scratched at his scalp again. Omar
gently brushed his hand aside, and took up one of the
braids between his fingers. The part of his hair
still knotted into braids had been dyed black, in
contrast to the natural dark red of his lengthy roots.
The boy, or someone, had coated the new growth with
waxy coconut balm, maybe in an attempt to twist it
into baby dreads. Omar reckoned that the braids were
weeks old, and it'd probably been that long since he'd
had a good wash.
"You fierce, ain't you?" Omar commented gently. Omar
knew a boy who looked like this would have to work it
to appear hard. He feared that the true nature of
this boy, once it was revealed, would be more than his
heart could bear. Which was fine with Omar, he was
already halfway sprung with the boy in his present
ragged condition. Get him into the shower, work some
Nubian Queen Braid & Weave Easy-Out through his hair,
or just chop off all them braids entirely and start
Yeah, sprung was the word.
"This here the worst fuckin day a my life," the boy
murmured. Omar smiled at the irony.
Omar let go of the braid and traced a finger down the
boy's neck, his chest. His thumb brushed a nipple on
its way to his belt buckle. He would have gone
further, but the boy intercepted Omar's hand and
pushed it aside. But not off. Omar let his hand
trace the same route back to the boy's throat, and
rested a finger there, feeling his pulse. After a
time, he began to pluck away the soldered ends of the
boy's braids, one by one.
"Wish't I knew your name," Omar whispered,
practically a sigh.
The boy took his time thinking about it. Finally, he
Omar drank it in. Brandon the Terror. He wondered if
Brandon could drive.