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Table of Contents

Phantoms

  • Fiction by D.V. Glenn

Devin gripped the Haitian’s neck firmly in his left hand. Beneath his little finger he felt an artery pumping evenly, an artery grid locked with its heavy traffic of blood, and was reminded of a yellow light at an intersection pulsing the warning to slow down. The dark brown eyes in the darker brown face of the victim were resigned, almost serene. Though small for his age – he had celebrated his 19th birthday two days ago – a good five inches shorter than the youth whose neck he clutched, Devin was known for his nuclear temper and disproportionate strength, a strength altogether incongruent with the slight and wiry frame that housed it, and it was this strength, applied now in measured increments, with which he pinned the taller boy inescapably to the wall.

Devin looked to his left and saw Gyra nonchalantly maneuvering a toothpick from side to side in his mouth with the tip of his tongue. To his right, Q-dog stood with his legs wide apart, sketching obliviously in the little notebook he had recently stolen from Thrifty’s, untied Nikes buried beneath an avalanche of baggy black denim, rumpled cuffs, the pants themselves hanging absurdly low on the waist. And over his shoulder, Devin heard the pneumatic sound of a narcotized Marlborough being deeply inhaled by Mistic with his usual fetishistic precision.

Mistic exhaled. “You got his neck in your hand, right? Keep lookin’ in his eyes long enough and you gonna see Devin’s face, then you be beatin’ yourself.” He always spoke as though expelling smoke from his lungs, the words thinned to a sigh.

They were in the parking lot at a Ralph’s supermarket near the downtown area. The city council had allocated funds to revitalize the far northern end of the business district a mile away with huge multi-screen cinemas, restaurants that specialized in esoteric varieties of pasta, lavender-hued New Age bookstores, and mini-shopping malls. The Ralph’s supermarket fell outside the mysterious line of demarcation that conferred renewal and regeneration on one sector of the city and was part of a sprawling community held in the grip slow decay, blight, and deterioration.

A Snickers wrapper worked its way out of Devin’s pocket and joined the brittle brown leaf and the lipstick-stained cigarette butt that was whirlpooled away around the corner of the supermarket by a sudden coil of wind. The stolen Snickers had been Devin’s dinner, along with the Hostess Ding Dong he had stuffed into his pocket as he had ridden down aisle four in the shopping cart Gyra had pushed with reckless abandon.

“Damn, look how little Devin is, he fit into this shopping cart. I’m pushin’ this boy like he some kind of goddamn big-head baby,” Grya had said to Mistic and Q-dog, sideswiping a display stand filled with Ivory soap.

“If I’m a baby, then give me a titty to suck on,” Devin said. “You fat enough.”

Their hysterical laughter drew the attention of the stock boy over in aisle three. He frowned as though he could identify each of the voices in that dissonant four-toned chord of laughter and winced, rising from the box of canned vegetables he was arranging in neat rows next to the Campbell’s soup, rising to his full height and wiping his hands briskly on the red apron. As he rounded the corner he removed the mandatory Ralph’s cap and apron that had drawn ridicule and scorn from the four in the past. “Hey, why don’t y’all shut up and get out of here?”

The hysterical group came to an abrupt halt. The stock boy, a weight lifter, approached them and in a fluid unexpected motion spun about and lifted Devin from the cart with arms sculpted into muscles of Olympian proportions. Devin’s legs dangled in loose-jointed humiliation three feet off the ground.

“I’ll escort you out and whip your ass first, little man. I told y’all to keep out of here, didn’t I?”

Q-ball, smiling broadly, came forward, shuffling in mock obsequity. He ran one hand casually over his shaved head and with the other hand reached under his huge Raiders jacket. “Hey now,” he intoned as though singing off-key, “what this? Damn, I don’t know. Lemme peep.” He lifted the jacket to the height of his navel and pointed to the waistband of his baggy Levis, as though in ominous pantomime. The stock boy’s eyes narrowed but remained focused with a kind of fascinated dread on the gleaming butt of the semi-automatic weapon protruding from the waistband as he lowered Devin slowly to the ground.

“Look like a ten minus one to me. Yeah, look like a nine mill to me, unless my arithmetic off,” said Mistic, “but what I know, I’m in a land where there ain’t no names to nothin’, I’m in a place where everything is everything, I’m that nine and that nine is me, that’s all I know.”

Devin gave no sign of the saxophone playing loudly in his head, the saxophone of fury that always hit that high shrill note over and over again whenever anger overcame him and he felt the almost uncontrollable desire to destroy whatever person, place or thing challenged him, resisted him, impeded his progress, came between his intention to reach his destination and the destination itself. He listened to that shrill note of fury but merely brushed his clothes off lightly and laughed. “Another time, cuz. You best lift you a lotsa weights tonight,” he said lightly, and then to his friends: “I hate that goofy apron-wearin’ son of a bitch. I’ma see him laid out at my feet one these days.”

The stock boy just stood there in the middle of the aisle and watched as the four turned and began walking away, his powerful arms hanging at his sides in impotent defeat.

Devin reached into a counter at the end of the aisle containing frozen foods and removed a Stouffer’s spaghetti entree. He turned and held it up so that the stock boy could see it. “You mind, cuz?” Devin called down the aisle to him, stuffing the dinner into his pants.

Outside in the parking lot, Devin threw the Stouffer’s dinner in a leprous green dumpster filled with cardboard boxes and gnat-infested wooden crates that vaguely gave off an aroma of rotten bananas and oranges. It was at that moment that he saw the two Haitian youths in a convertible BMW that appeared to have been dipped in reflective black lacquer looping the car savagely into a parking space in front of the supermarket’s automatic doors. The stereo speakers jack-hammered into the air bass tones so deep that they were almost visible to Devin, dark smoke rings too dense to remain airborne, hovering for a moment, then thudding heavily to the ground. “Let’s roll,” he said to the others.

Devin led the way, moving slowly and deliberately, measuring himself into the menacing and graceful rhythm of the stylized walk he had adopted through years of observation and mimicry and tailored to express the cold, sheer spaces in his heart. He moved slowly, yet the space separating him from the black BMW disappeared in an instant and he found himself grabbing one of the Haitian youths by the sweatshirt collar and forcing him back against the wall. “Un-huh, I told you to keep from around here, didn’t I, I told you to don’t be comin’ up here tryin’ to push that watered down chronic-lite, I told you …”

“What Devin tryin’ to convey,” sighed Mistic, “we take care of the chemical needs of the immediate citizenry around here.”

The other Haitian had managed to flee and was dodging between cars in the parking lot as Q-ball trotted after him in obligatory, half-hearted pursuit.

Something was wrong. Devin’s fist felt weak as it connected with the Haitian’s mouth. It was as if Devin were attempting to push his arm through the viscid protoplasm of a nightmare. The face seemed to absorb the force of Devin’s blow with the easy resiliency of down. The boy fell to his knees but looked up at Devin with an expression that was, oddly, placid, serene. Devin looked at his own right hand and saw flecks of blood on the knuckles, but when he looked at the face gazing up at him, it was stainless, intact, devoid of blood. Devin began kicking the boy, who at once curled up in a fetal position and again seemed to merely absorb the blows with the eager passivity of down.

Gyra’s arm reached in and parted the heavy curtain of rage which kept Devin in the muffling oblivion that prevented him from hearing the shrill zigzag of the approaching police siren as he kicked weakly at the fetal Haitian. The arm reached in and pulled Devin out and shepherded him across the lot and deposited him in the back seat of Gyra’s car. Then the car was speeding and Q-ball was sitting on one side and Mistic was sitting on the other side and Devin was in the middle while Gyra cursed and tilted the rear-view mirror to frame the hysterical red light of the patrol car behind them.

Later that evening Devin would remember that in the car his ears had been filled with shouts of triumph and that Gyra had received congratulatory slaps on the back from Q-ball and Mistic for the reckless cunning he displayed in out-maneuvering and finally evading the patrol car. And he would vaguely remember being dropped off in front of his apartment building and climbing the stairs to the third floor. But he would not remember entering the apartment, turning on the television in the tiny living room, sinking into the shabby sofa, and immediately spiraling into a deep sleep.

  • .

Devin woke at midnight, his head throbbing darkly. The television’s picture churned in horizontal anarchy and rolled the room in a thin, neon-like astral blue. Rising groggily from the sofa, he noticed a wallet he had never seen before lodged between the cushions and immediately opened it: no money. Was this a joke? For a moment he tensed, became inwardly quiet, listened through the sluggish hiss of TV static in a well-practiced attempt to hear the heartbeat, the breath, the thoughts, the blinking eyelids of an intruder flattening himself into one-dimensionality, into the shadows on the wall, but he sensed no other presence and relaxed.

He flipped through snapshots and in surprise examined one of the Haitian youth, a look of equanimity on his face, his arm draped around the shoulders of a diminutive woman whose features were a feminized variant of the Haitian’s own. Devin flipped through other pictures quickly, stopping when he found another picture of the same woman. This time she was a solitary figure standing in the middle of an massive stone archway that seemed to be inlaid with figures engaged in a battle of some kind. Devin peered at the woman’s face for a long time, then turned the snapshot over and read the inscription TO ALDEEN WITH LOVE MAMA.

He could not remember taking the Haitian’s wallet. A void shimmered suggestively in his mind as though on the verge of coalescing into memory, then went on shimmering mockingly. Again he gazed at the Haitian’s mother and began to think, as he rarely did, about his own mother, who had walked out the door three years ago, walked out of Devin’s life with no explanation, walked out one evening after she had thrown a skillet filled with brown rice at him when he refused to turn down his stereo, walked out and simply disappeared.

After this act of abandonment, Devin and a sister five years his senior, Shavell, stayed in the apartment alone. They lived on the income Shavell made doing hair and nails at the Beads ‘n Braids Salon around the corner and the money Devin made from time to time in his petty narcotics transactions, although Devin told her the money came from odd jobs he did for elderly people in the neighborhood. Then when Devin was seventeen Shavell left the state to live with relatives on a farm in Norfolk, fed up with Devin’s perilous antics, his chronic truancy, his endless entanglements with the police, his lack of ambition, his labyrinthine lies, his short-fused anger and facile episodes of reflexive violence. Devin had never met the relatives from Virginia and even doubted their existence, though when he thought about it reasonably, he supposed Shavell had no reason to lie: mysterious aunts, uncles, distant cousins, all living together on a farm … or was it his mother who lived on the farm? Devin did not like thinking of his mother, but if he did, he forced himself to remember the bad things: his mother sleeping for two days straight, or slapping him down the stairs the time he was suspended for cursing out his 6th grade American Studies teacher, or standing in front of the apartment building in her short fuchsia bathrobe on summer evenings laughing loudly with her disreputable friend Vanessa while cars drove by slowly and men barked entreating obscenities, or burning up the sofa with her cigarettes and the firemen coming to break the door down. But what he hated was when he had exhausted the list of bad things, as now, and was forced to acknowledge what was good and balanced and warm in his mother, the tenderness her touch sometimes conveyed, the brightness and hope for the future her eyes sometimes reflected, the tearful promises she made to work hard and buy a condo on the north side of the city, tremulous promises to rescue them all from poverty and ugliness and elevate them to health and wholeness and happiness.

A haggard-sounding doorbell rang abruptly. Devin quickly removed the snapshots of the Haitian’s mother from their plastic sheaths and placed them in his own wallet. His forehead seemed to give off a feverish heat and he noticed that his hands were trembling. “Who the hell at my door and it’s one at night?” he called out loudly.

Now someone was pounding on the door.

The pounding seemed to move in an elastic current through the floor, up through the soles of Devin’s feet, up into his legs, liquefying his sense of balance. He flung the door open angrily and Mistic pushed past and hurried over to the window, snatching aside the dingy sheet that served as a curtain, looking wildly up and down the street below.

“Q-ball – Q-ball was at the Jack-n-The-Box over on 7th, he was walkin’ back with some tacos, and me, I was parked in the lot waitin’ for him, and I said, ‘Yo, Q, you remember to get my hot sauce?’ and he was DB’d. I was waitin’ in the car for him, Devin, I saw it …” Mistic’s complexion, normally a shade somewhere between bronze and beige, was now adrenaline-yellow. And his tone of voice, normally a mellow suspiration, was now adrenaline-hoarse.

“Somebody did a drive by on Q?” Devin asked in disbelief, falling back heavily into a sitting position on the couch. “But that don’t make sense. Q wasn’t really into nothin’, none of us ain’t really into nothin’…” He was unable to absorb the magnitude of what Mistic was telling him. It simply did not make sense. The four of them – Devin Q-ball, Mistic, Gyra – had all attended the same elementary school and had gravitated together in the 3rd grade. They had been, and still were, a clique based on the premise that strength and protection were to be found in numbers, but they were not full-fledged gangbangers. Theirs were misdemeanor forays into crime – extorting lunch money from little kids in the neighborhood, shoplifting, purse snatching … even the drug pushing they were occasionally involved in was strictly small-time. Once in a while, more for dramatic impact than anything else, Q-ball would brandish his nine millimeter semi-automatic, but he had never actually pulled the trigger.

“It’s what I always thought, the game slips in and out of real, in and out, and you best be in the real yourself when the game gets real, and out when it’s out,” Mistic said distantly, still looking out the window.

“Don’t start with that mess, man,” Devin said wearily, “you better tell me somethin’ I can understand.”

“Understand? Understand that I’m talkin’ about gettin’ schooled when you tryin’ all the time to avoid it, pretendin’ it don’t exist when you know it does. I’m talking about givin’ props to the forces of balance.”

“Man, shut the hell up,” Devin said ominously.

“I’m talkin’ about flunkin’ out of karma school, crimey.” Mistic let the curtain drop and then sat next to Devin. He seemed calmer now. The hoarseness in his voice was disappearing, subsiding into his characteristic silken wheeze. “I was in the car, Dev. It was the two we jacked today, them two Jamaica-talkin’ wannabes in the black beamer. They shot Q and the one you busted in the mouth, he got out the beamer and walked over and cracked a cap in Q. And Q was laying there like a chalk outline omega-man, I thought he was wasted. And I just froze, ‘cause he stepped over Q and came on up to the car window with a .45 in his hand and looked at me. He told me he wanted his wallet back, if he didn’t get it, we’d all be phantoms.”

“His wallet?” Devin said in disbelief. “What he talkin’ about? And where is Q, boy?”

“The paramedics took Q. Haiti said you got it, Dev, and he want it back, ‘cause he want that picture of his dead mama – the only picture he got of her … “

Devin leapt to his feet, his heart not so much pounding in his chest as whoosing, as though the blood in his veins had dammed to a sudden halt, then reversed itself, flowing backwards. “His dead mama?” He laughed incredulously, then abruptly clipped the laughter off. “What wallet?” he demanded loudly, pacing in agitation. “Did you see me take his damn wallet?” A picture flashed into his mind: Devin kicking feebly at the Haitian, who was curled up on the ground and gazing up with an expression of peaceful resignation. Beyond this, he remembered very little, because it was at that moment that the muffled gong now throbbing in his head had begun its percussive rhythm.

Yet the wallet was here, in his pocket.

“I didn’t see you take no wallet,” Mistic confirmed, “but I remember Haiti hangin’ on you, looked like he was fumblin’ his arms around behind you when he was goin’ down … ”

“I didn’t see me take no wallet either, but here it is,” Devin said, displaying the wallet thoughtfully.

Mistic did not appear to be surprised by the sight of the wallet. He merely settled back into the gnarled cushions and from his pocket produced a drug-laced Marlborough. “ … Yeah, fumblin’ around behind you now that I think about it, like he was hangin’ on your back pockets, puttin’ somthin’ in ‘em. You remember,” he said in the pinched spaces between inhalations. “Hangin’ onto your waist like some tired-ass fighter goin’ down in the 12th.”

“Yeah, it did seem like he was tryin’ to hold on to my damn back pockets to keep from falling or somethin’.” But Devin did not remember this, not really.

“That’s right,” Mistic said, watching Devin closely. “And he slipped that wallet in your pocket.”

“But that don’t make no sense.”

“I keep telling y’all fools that very little in this magnificent universe make sense,” Mistic said calmly, his voice cottony and muted with smoke, looking at Devin through pupils now dilated so wide that Devin felt uncomfortable and turned away.

“You high all the damn time now, then you wanna talk that crazy shit,” Devin said dismissively.

“Give it back,” Mistic said matter-of-factly. “There wasn’t no money in it, ain’t it? He got any plastic?”

Devin stood with his back to Mistic, looking out the window. “No plastic.”

Mistic shrugged, patiently summing up the facts. “No dineros, no plastic.”

“Roight, roight.”

“Then give it back then. I told you what he said. And now we know what he’s fixin’ to do.”

Devin put the wallet back in his pocket. “Give it back for what? You think I’m goin’ over in that hood lookin’ for him to give this shit back? I guess I’m just gonna hand it back to him, say ‘Here your wallet, dog, peace, out.’ Oh yeah, him and his crew would like that.” No, he could not approach the Haitian to return the wallet, but had it been possible somehow to do that, he would not have. Because even now he saw in the vivid lightning of a fleeting thought the Haitian’s mother, her face staring out of the photo with an expression Devin only at this moment realized was both profoundly sad and beautiful.

“I know his sister, Adena. She’s a senior at Carver.”

Devin remembered her. Before he had dropped out of Carver, his counselor had assigned him a reading tutor. Adena was a year younger than Devin, but she was an exemplary student, the kind of student held in high esteem by teachers, and she had selflessly volunteered to work with slow readers during her lunch hour and after school. After working with Devin for one week, she had told him you know Devin, you shouldn’t listen to what anybody says, you’re really smart, you just don’t try. The remark left Devin feeling both confused and angry, and so he did not show up for tutoring the next day. A few weeks later, he stopped attending school altogether. He tried not to think of what Adena had told him that day, looking at him with her frank, open gaze, but at odd times her words returned, rekindling in him the same angry confusion … really smart you just don’t try.

“Yeah, I know her too. So I’m gon’ just walk up and give her the wallet,” he said derisively. “Tell her I bust her brother in the mouth and copped his shit … ”

“You didn’t take it,” Mistic corrected him.

“Whatever.”

“What about Q?”

“Well?”

“He all flesh wounded up now, ribs and so on wrapped up like a fuckin’ mummy. Those boys are serious, Dev. They want that wallet.”

“I’m goin’ to bed,” Devin said abruptly.

“Aw-ight,” Mistic said, opening the door and walking out, and Devin yelled after him close the door but Mistic did not hear him or pretended not to hear, and Devin slammed the door so forcefully that the haggard-sounding doorbell slid down the wall and fell to the floor with a tinny sputter.

  • .

He opened his eyes and saw him: black bandana, black khakis, black billowing button-down shirt inside of which the lean torso and long legs seemed to swing from side to side as he walked, like a clapper ricocheting off the sides of a bell. Saw him striding ominously forward, dressed like an assassin, but with that same expression of detachment and inscrutable placidity on his face. Devin was standing with Gyra on Gyra’s cluttered front porch and drinking the searing foam of the malt liquor with competitive fervor, one can ahead of Gyra, whose woefully sagging pectoral muscles became the target of Devin’s mean-spirited hilarity the faster Devin drank. Devin’s head was tilted back, his eyes closed not only with pleasure but with the nausea, now intensified by the alcohol, that had been coiling and uncoiling in his stomach since that day in the Ralph’s parking lot. When he opened his eyes a moment to reach for another can, he saw the Haitian. But Devin had already popped the ring on the can and tilted his head back, beginning to drink, before the image registered. He coughed and the foam rushed out of his nose and mouth in a stinging tide and he whirled about, dropping the can.

”Did you see him?” Devin cried, pulling his body down into a half-crouch, looking up and down the sidewalk, out into the street.

Gyra stopped drinking and belched. “See who?”

Devin ran down the steps to the sidewalk. “He was here.”

”Who was?” Gyra said, drinking again.

Devin said nothing. He went back to the porch. “Your mama home?”

”Naw,” Gyra said. “She ain’t hardly ever here.”

”She still got that little pop gun, that .22?”

“Yeah, she keep it in the Folgers can in the kitchen. She call herself hidin’ it from me. But shit,” Gyra said proudly, patting his huge stomach, “I know where everything in the kitchen is.”

“Let’s finish up inside,” Devin said.

  • .

At home, Devin sat on the sofa looking at the picture of the Haitian’s mother. Tinted with the blue glow strobing the otherwise darkened living room, her remote, placid beauty was augmented into a realm of eerie mystery. Next to him on the sofa lay an open address book, and for the first time since she had left, Devin dialed Shavell’s number in Virginia. The phone rang and rang. He had no idea what time it would be there, and only a vague idea of what he might say – he simply waited and peered intently at the snapshot. Finally an elderly sounding man answered the phone, and Devin asked for Shavell. There was a muffled silence and then the sound of a hand lifting from the mouthpiece.

“Hello?” she said.

“This Devin. What up, baby girl?”

“Devin? Boy, are you trippin’ or what? I been sending you letters, I left messages on your machine, I told you if you got yourself together you could come on out here and … ”

“Shavell, where Mama?” Devin said.

“Our mama?”

“Yeah.”

“How the hell do I know?”

Devin hung the phone up slowly, thoughtfully, his eyes fixing in inward retreat. When it rang a few moments later, he unplugged it.

  • .

Sitting in the front row of the movie theater, forcing handfuls of the salty stale popcorn into his mouth and chewing doggedly, Devin tried to ignore the amoebic pains branching off here and there through the fluid-like heaviness in his head, wiping away the cold film of sweat on his forehead with the back of his free hand. He was forced to crane his head back to take in the vaulting height of screen, but the pain that trickled down his neck was worth it. It was as if through this painfully close proximity to the screen, Devin would somehow be able to observe what others in the theater were certain to miss. The others cheered and clapped and yelled as Steven Siegal tirelessly disabled assailant after assailant in a bar, humiliating and finally breaking his opponents with a minimum expenditure of energy and an economy of movement that defied comprehension. But they cheered for the wrong reasons, the obvious ones. What they did not see but what was clear to Devin was that fury could be controlled and tethered to purpose, fury could be harnessed. The actor, even as he wreaked havoc, seemed to move in a sort of trance of peace, a peace that Devin hungered for when his cynicism dissolved at 2:00 am in the morning and he was pacing the floor in his disheveled apartment, a peace he suspected existed for some but that he had never been able to find.

The movie ended and Devin walked down the burgundy-carpeted hallway to the #4 screen. This movie, action-packed and extravagantly violent like the one Devin had just seen but starring Mel Gibson, started in five minutes. He had not paid for a second ticket but the usher, a boy with braces no taller than Devin who stood immediately outside the doors directing people inside with little sweeps of his flashlight, turned his head and pretended not to see Devin swaggering inside, pretended not to see the challenge and defiance in his eyes.

After the movie Devin stayed a few paces behind an elderly silver-haired man with a cane whose clothes appeared to have been starched and pressed by an overly solicitous wife or caretaker obsessed with neatness, following him out of the theater and into the underground parking structure. Devin loved parking lots. They represented to him a world of possibility that allowed him to exercise his will and to immediately see the results of the choices he made. For example: He could steal the Blaupunkt CD player in that white Lexus over in aisle B3 if he really wanted to, or for that matter he could steal the Lexus itself, while the owner shopped obliviously somewhere in the glittering honeycomb of the mall above, falsely secure, spending money freely, without devoting so much as a single thought to Devin, who had not eaten in two days and whose pockets were at this moment empty.

Devin could disable most alarm systems in under 4 minutes flat. But he was not in the mood for cars today.

The man he was following sensed something but it was too late. By the time he had turned around to see who was behind him, Devin was no longer behind him but was bent low and darting past him after having dipped his hand, humming-bird quick, into the man’s sport coat pocket and lifted out the wallet, whose unmistakable imprint in the fabric Devin had seen from afar. He glanced over his shoulder and the man was moving his mouth soundlessly, shaking his cane in the air.

Looking back at the old man and laughing, Devin must have stumbled sideways into a parked car, because he felt the force of an impact, felt his ankle twist painfully, felt the back of his head hit the ground hard. Then he heard a click and looked up.

The Haitian was aiming the muzzle of a .45 at Devin’s face. Devin tried to see his face but the muzzle hole was the opening to a tunnel and Devin’s gaze was drawn there, held there, the hole expanding to eclipse the Haitian and then in the tunnel Devin saw his mother’s face or the face in the snapshot, he could not tell which because there was a liquid fusing of features between the two women and he felt himself lifting upward, floating weightlessly and liquidly, and he closed his eyes as though obeying a signal transmitted directly into his brain from a source no one else had access to. He waited, then felt something strike his neck.

Devin’s eyes fluttered open and he saw not the Haitian but the old man raging above him, slashing down with the cane, the air dividing audibly. He scrambled to his feet, protecting his face with his forearms, and grabbed the cane when the opportunity arose, yanking it out of the old man’s hands. The man lost his balance and fell backward, not in the graceless, ponderous way that Devin had fallen, but gingerly, slowly, as though befriended by gravity. Devin struck the man on the side of the face once with the cane just to teach him a single lesson, then the lesson ran like a tributary into the gigantic river that was all the lessons Devin had ever been forced to learn, the lesson his mother had taught him about the frayed connections between people, the lessons emerging from Mistic’s drug-induced lucidity about aloneness and balance and blighted inner knowledge, the lessons Devin had learned at the movies and on the streets, the lessons he had learned at school when he discovered that an acid hunger feeding on the lining of the stomach from sunrise to sunset made reading and writing impossible, and he brought the cane down again and again, but with the same dreamlike deceleration that had seized him when he had delivered blows to the Haitian. Exhausted, dizzy, he looked down, looked at the old man’s face: it was badly swollen but there was no blood, and the eyes were blinking slowly, staring at Devin calmly, without fear, as though simply to achieve sharper focus.

Yet Devin saw blood splattered on the tip of the cane. He never saw the mall security guard approaching from the perimeter of the lot in a stealthful choreography of self-effacing moves, crouching low, moving on tiptoe, taking his time, holding the hoop of keys dangling from his belt against his leg to silence the jangling, and finally encircling Devin’s neck in one arm and pressing atop him with his full weight, bearing him irresistibly down, down. Then Devin was sitting handcuffed in a chair in the dingy, tobacco-scented security guard’s cubicle, and two police officers arrived.

“So you like doing that shit to helpless old men?” one of the officers asked, ushering him roughly to the patrol car. He grabbed Devin by the neck from behind and turned him around. The officer glanced over both shoulders, swiftly disengaging his baton from his belt. The second officer, with a bland expression on his face, took a step to the side, assuming the at-ease military posture with hands clasped behind the back, shifting his body to the right, as though to block the view of anyone who might suddenly emerge from the elevators a short distance away.

The orderly procession of his thoughts and perceptions seemed to leap from Devin’s skull from the force of the two baton blows and dangled in the air before him for a moment, finally dissolving into a swirl of iridescent confetti. Then Devin’s mouth and nostrils filled with the overpowering taste and smell of citrus, limes and oranges, and then he heard his own scream echoing damply off the cement walls of the parking structure. He laughed to himself as he collapsed, surprised that his voice had sounded so much like a woman’s.

“You resisting me? You resisting me?” the officer said loudly, gripping the baton with both hands, his legs spread wide apart, looking down on Devin. The officers each grabbed an outstretched arm and dragged Devin’s limp body to the patrol car.

  • .

Mistic was trying to explain it to Devin. “That old man knew lettin’ you go would be more punishment than any jail could ever be, so he didn’t press charges, aw-ight? He didn’t need to, aw-ight? He rose above what society told him he was supposed to do, what the pigs and so on wanted him to do, what his own family wanted him to do if he got a family, and he acted instead on a cosmic level, to school you. He was … ” He paused, inhaling the butt of the Marlborough surreptitiously, and his eyes drifted upward for a long moment as he waited for the perfect word. “Confident, he was confident of that, and he did what he did out of that wisdom. See, he knew this: it was two possible realities involved – one, Devin doin’ hard time, and B, Devin out on the streets to meet a different destiny. Now then, the number one scenario prevent the B one from happenin’. The number one scenario always the obvious choice, but the problem with that is, the truth ain’t never obvious, is it? He must have known B would be the greater lesson.”

They were in the back of the Seven Eleven where a row of arcade games lined the wall. The air buzzed, chirped and exploded with the low-tech, synthesized mayhem of computer weaponry being operated by hyperactive children and bored young adults. Devin manipulated the joystick viciously and pretended to concentrate on the game. “He didn’t press charges ‘cause he was afraid I’d find his old ass.”

“Look, they still coulda locked your ass up, but he was a retired prosecutor or some shit and convinced ‘em to cut you loose, ain’t that what you said them oinkers told you?” Mistic breathed in a high-pitched voice, “If you was you but older, and you knew what life was all about, would you be scared of you?”

“Where were you? I didn’t see your ass there takin’ no notes. How you know if he scared or not?” Devin muttered, jerking the joystick back and forth brutally. “And hell yeah, I’d be afraid of me, ‘cause I’d know that I’d waste me in a minute without blinkin’ an eye.”

“If you say so,” Mistic said lightly. He paused, as though deep in thought. “Dev, they let Q out of the hospital. I went to his place to see him. He gone.”

“Gone? Gone where?” Devin asked irritatedly.

“I don’t know, he just up and left.”

Devin let go of the joystick and looked over his shoulder, but Mistic had wandered over to the check-out counter and was buying a pack of Marlboroughs.

  • .

Devin heard about the fire but had to see for himself, and now he stood on the sidewalk before Gyra’s house, staring at soot-blackened clothes, dented cans of Purina cat food, shredded and crumpled Ebony magazines, a smashed pinata, several Barbie dolls with limbs or heads missing, and a few pots and pans strewn across the weed-infested front yard peppered with ashes. The pungent odor of charred wood and damp smoke seasoned the air, which left an almost herbal taste in Devin’s mouth. The four walls of the house were still standing, but the pipe bomb thrown through the window had in seconds produced a broom of flames that swept through the rooms, shattered the windows, and consumed the roof before the fire department had arrived. The fire had only been extinguished a few hours ago, and Gyra’s neighbors still lingered together in a sort of high-strung motley caucus, discussing the recent events with no attempt to separate rumor from fact.

“Somebody said that boy’s mama wasn’t nothin’ but a ho and she was skimmin’ pimp money, and he – the pimp – had the house burnt up like you see it now.”

This remark was by some endorsed and refuted by others.

“It’s a good thing wasn’t nobody in that house. But it was sad to see the look on their faces when that boy and his little sister and their mama got out the car and just stood there lookin’ at how they didn’t have nothin’ left in the world,” said a heavy-set man wearing a red, green, and black Malcolm X T-shirt that was too small. Devin had listened to the others and for the most part had dismissed their far-fetched speculations, but there was something in the man’s tone – a disdain for gossip, a level-headed knowledge of simple facts – that prompted Devin to listen more attentively. “I told her what I saw – I went out on the porch to pick up the evening paper, and when I heard tires screech, I looked up. It was dark, but it look like I caught a glimpse of a black car roundin’ the corner. Few minutes later her house was on fire.”

“Did she know why they did it?”

“No, but she said she was takin’ that boy of hers and leavin’ – leavin’ the city for good, goin’ back down to Arkansas.” Devin’s hands were buried deep in the pockets of his baggy khakis, and he absent-mindedly fingered the trigger of the .22 he had stolen from the Folgers can in Gyra’s kitchen a few days ago, attempting now to make sense of what he heard, to reach a conclusion of some sort, to focus his concentration, a concentration that had lately become compromised by his waning physical strength, by the sense of imminent collapse nested somewhere deep in his body.

“Must have been gang-related. That boy of hers was up to no good – he never went to school – not that I could see,” an older woman wearing a nurse’s uniform said solemnly.

Heads began turning in Devin’s direction. They watched him as though only now becoming aware of his proximity, as though he had suddenly stepped forward out of a realm of invisibility and had before their eyes taken on the physical properties of this dimension. They fell silent, and they watched him with eyes clouded by suspicion and distrust. Only the man wearing the Malcolm X T-shirt looked at Devin without hostility. But when he took a step toward Devin, Devin’s finger tightened involuntarily on the trigger and he took a step backward.

“Say young brother, haven’t I seen you hangin’ out with my man Gyra before? Do you know anything about what happened here?” The man kept walking toward Devin, approaching him almost nonchalantly, his tone matter-of-fact. He appeared to be simply including Devin in the conversation in the hope of uncovering information that might prove useful.

The crimson pressure in Devin’s head and the constant effort he made to push through the clammy web of disorientation that was with him day and night left Devin teetering constantly on the edge of exhaustion. He dropped the .22 when he pulled it out of his pocket, and when he bent down to retrieve it and stood back up, his legs gave out and he fell backward into a sitting position on the sidewalk.

“Hey, hey, hey, no need for that thing, little brother. Nobody here accusing you of nothin’,” he said in a soothing voice, coming forward slowly, extending his hands forward passively.

Devin struggled to his feet, still holding the gun. He began backing up, slowly at first, then faster, and then at the corner he turned his back on the small crowd and began running. His arms and legs moved in an ill-coordinated flurry, as though the running were propelled by a series of sudden, chaotic bursts. But he kept running, and though his eyes were wide open, he ran forward as though blind, with no sense of destination, running out of blackness into deeper chasms of blackness. He did not turn around, did not need to look back to know that the Haitian was following him, was close behind him, determined to catch up with Devin and take back what was rightfully his.

  • .

The woman in the shapshot advised Devin, who of course did not actually hear her voice as a schizophrenic hears voices in the head and is convinced of their reality. Nevertheless, he was advised by the woman in the snapshot, and Devin knew that only she could have directed him so fittingly. He sensed that the sudden insight he was visited by bore the stamp of a soul not his own, her soul, that the guidance he was receiving was nothing that could be spawned in his own muddled mind.

And so he did not go back to his apartment that night, nor the next, and in fact he understood that he was not to inhabit the apartment until he was advised to return there. He could have stayed with Mistic, but he did not. Behind the baseball field in Martin Luther King Park and almost completely camouflaged by an unchecked growth of trees and shrubbery, old bleachers had been stacked one upon the other and covered with canvas sheeting. Devin slept under the bleachers and was only disturbed by the occasional empty wine bottle or beer can that was tossed over the fence and into the bleachers by passers-by on the sidewalk.

This knowledge too was given to Devin: that the son, Aldeen, had somehow been the cause of the mother’s death – indirectly, perhaps. She had left him finally, completely, heartbroken over the path that her son had chosen in life. Her leaving had not been a pathetic and cowardly act of abandonment, but an irrevocable departure, a final withdrawal. In this way she had demonstrated the fullness of her devotion to her son, and her son could love her as he had never loved her in the flesh.

  • .

For three days in a row he stood at the bus stop across the street from Carver High, and today he observed once again that Aldeen’s sister, walking alone across the teacher’s parking lot and moving quickly, was beautiful with her slender frame, her narrow waist, her dark complexion which appeared to lay upon her skin like a satin silhouette, her fingers finely-chiseled as though perfectly suited for playing the flute, her eyes like the dark side of the moon. And when he saw that today she cradled three or four text books in her arms as she had on the previous two days, he was once again accompanied by the impression that she was a serious girl with serious ambitions: college, then a well-paying job, perhaps marriage and children, a structured life that rose steadily on an arc of achievement, lifting her above and out of the tedium and paralysis of the ghetto. Devin, on the other hand, did not hide the fact that he had no serious ambitions and probably never would, did not hide that fact at all but flaunted it with bitter pride, as though it was his only mark of distinction.

He crossed the street. When the driver of an old pick up truck blew the horn at him, he became aware that he had somehow acquired a limp, that his usual quickness and agility had now become adulterated with impalpable lead. Breathlessly he fell into step with the girl, pacing her from a distance of a few feet to the side.

“Do you remember me?”

“I don’t remember you, but I know you from somewhere,” she said without slowing down.

“You helped me with some lessons once.”

“You feeling okay?”

He became conscious of his disheveled appearance, his soiled and sleep-crumpled clothing, his slightly unsteady gait, the dew of fever on his forehead.

She stopped. “You look like you don’t feel so good.”

“You helped me once,” he said, “and I never thanked you or nothin’.”

“Is that so.”

He now heard in her voice the faint trace of an accent suggesting tropical heat, wind, the lulling cadence of waves. “My name Devin … He reached into his back pocket and removed the wallet. “I found this. Somebody say it belong to your brother.”

She took the wallet. “This is Aldeen’s,” she said, turning it over in her hand.

“I found it,” he repeated.

She began walking again, but more slowly. “I think I remember you now.”

“I thought he’d want it, ‘cause I know how it is to be lookin’ for somethin’ but you can’t find it nowhere.” He cleared his throat awkwardly, unaccustomed to speaking at such length. “‘Cause you know, hell, my mama disappear once on me a while back, and that like losin’ a wallet.”

Devin saw an ember of painful identification smolder in her eyes. He thought she was about to speak of the loss of her own mother, and felt a noose of vertigo tighten about his neck as he measured the length of his terrified waiting in the arrested rhythm of a single breath. Then the ember faded into the dark lunar depths of her eyes.

“Your mother, wasn’t her name … didn’t she work over at Square’s Pharmacy, in the part that sold the videos? My cousin worked there too.”

Yes, he remembered suddenly now that his mother had worked at Square’s Video Vision for about two months, until she had been fired for screaming at a customer. “She wasn’t there long, but yeah, she was up in there for a minute.”

Adena now came to a full stop and faced Devin, shifting the weight of her books in the bend in her left arm. Again the ember flickered in her eyes and she appeared to reach a decision. “When you said she disappeared, you meant she disappeared but she’s back now, right? Because my cousin still sees her sometimes, working at the museum downtown.” She paused and looked at Devin searchingly. “Does she like working there?”

The lie rose quickly to his lips. “Yeah, she like it okay.”

They had reached the corner.

“Here comes my bus,” she said. “What if he wants to thank you for the wallet?”

“He know where I hang.”

“Oh,” she said with an amused laugh. “And where is that?”

“I take care of business over at Ralph’s sometime.” He wanted to say more but the doors to the bus hissed open and she was absorbed into the shuffling cluster of people pressing forward. The bus pulled away heavily, groaning to achieve momentum, like a barge afloat on waveless water, laden with cargo. She sat in a seat by the window and seemed about to wave at Devin, then apparently changed her mind at the last moment, instead merely looking at him with dark, somber eyes.

  • .

Devin stood trembling with rage at the check-out counter in the museum gift shop, pointing the gun at the woman who had once been his mother, wondering dimly whose body would crash through the glass of the display counter if he pulled the trigger: the loud, wild, doomed young woman who had thrown a pan of brown rice at him and walked out the door, or this well-groomed, almost meek-looking woman with the make-up and lipstick politely ringing up sales for customers, this imposter he had seen on only one other occasion – the time his mother had appeared before the judge to explain why she could not control her son. Were it not for the fact that Devin knew this woman was an imposter whose appearance was designed to impart an impression of respectability, he might have felt sorry that she would have to die for the sins of that other woman.

He had gotten up early, limping the three miles, seeing in his mind’s eye the museum opposite the county court building in the municipal quadrangle downtown. At a certain point he closed his eyes as he walked, floating forward through a dim ocular mercury, feeling the shadows of passers-by slide across his face, feeling the sun wheel in and out of clouds, feeling occasional pockets of warm, noxious decompression as traffic that was too close to the curb sped by, eyes closed but walking in a straight line and even crossing streets and somehow sensing the names of those streets as he went on and on, until finally it was 5th and Main, 4th and Main, 3rd and Main, and when he opened his eyes, there stood the museum, stately, monastarial, the side of the building that faced the parking lot covered in a thick somnolence of ivy, the benches lining two sides of the quadrangle occupied by mothers and their unruly children, or by drowsy students with backpacks, or elderly men reading the editorial page of the newspaper.

Devin walked under a gigantic archway as he headed toward the steps in front of the entrance to the museum. He paused briefly because it seemed to him that recently he had seen this very archway with its monumental embossment of angels and demons intertwined in combat, the figures with lavish attention to detail wrought out of and locked in this sweeping expanse of stone, the outcome of the battle never to be revealed. Looking closely, he noticed that the faces of the angels were expressionless, calm, serene, even though the muscles of their winged bodies were powerfully flexed in the act of engaging their opponents, while the faces of the demons were frenetic, contorted with fear and with the effort to surmount the forces arrayed before them. He stood there a long time, trying to remember where he had seen this before, and gave up when the dull green pain in his head suddenly intensified, became a jagged, uncut emerald.

Devin had no money for the admission fee. He told the young blonde woman with the tattoo on her wrist sitting behind the counter that he had left his backpack in the museum the day before. She buzzed for a security guard to escort Devin to the lost and found office on the first floor next to the gift shop, but when five minutes had elapsed and no guard appeared, she waved Devin through.

He followed the blonde woman’s instructions in case she was watching him, walking to the end of the corridor and turning right. His hands were jammed in his pockets, giving him the slouched, invertebrate look of a sullen adolescent, but the index finger of his right hand played nervously upon the trigger of the stolen .22. A group of ten or eleven young children fidgeting nosily before an exhibit were herded along by their exasperated teacher. Devin trailed along behind them for a time, limping, then stopped to look in the gift shop window while the teacher and the children walked on.

Laughter came from inside the gift shop, familiar laughter that caused Devin’s ears to ring with the sound of blood aroused into motion by dread, tornadoes of blood spinning around the ear drums, roaring in his head. This laughter that he had desperately hoped he would one day hear again seemed to come from everywhere at once and spread itself through the air melodiously. He followed its ebb, stepping into the gift shop.

His mother was laughing and ringing up a sale on the cash register for a pale, heavy-set man with a briefcase who was buying a Business Week magazine and was in the middle of a humorous anecdote about his dentist’s new Ferrari. She seemed taller than Devin remembered, and her black hair was longer and now streaked with auburn. The heavy-set man concluded his anecdote with a stout burst of laughter and his mother turned her back to the man, bending over to pick up a receipt which had fallen to the floor. She wore a knee-length black shirt and the man’s eyes, as though endowed with tactility, roamed slowly over her calves and came to rest on the curve of her hips. Devin walked over to the man and grabbed the back of his shirt collar, jerking him back and to the side, using the man’s weight to establish a semi-circle of momentum and then flinging him to the side, releasing him as though tossing a discus. The briefcase flew out of his hand and he stumbled headlong into a revolving rack displaying post cards for tourists. The man rose to his feet immediately and ran out of the gift shop without looking back. There were no other customers in the store.

Devin walked over to the counter where his mother stood motionless, still holding the plastic bag containing the man’s Business Week magazine.

“How you been, mama?”

He took the gun out of his pocket and was comforted by the compression of power, finality, and terrible destiny in so small an object. But his hand, as he raised the gun to the height of his mother’s forehead, trembled as though afflicted with neurological chaos. Mentally, Devin repeated something that was a combination of prayer and curse, a desperate mantra for stillness to seize the hand, but it continued to shake, and he saw his mother’s eyes fix on his affliction.

“I know you want to know what I been up to all this time. Well, I been all right, as you can very well see. I know how to look out for number one,” he said. “If you didn’t do nothin’ else, you schooled me good on that.”

In his daydreams, Devin had been certain that he had been but one component in a combination of factors which had driven his mother away, that it was not only he from whom she had fled, but that she had also fled from the aimless and idle men and women she called her friends, the dismal look of the houses they all lived in, the heavy staleness of the air, the dreary names of streets, the sameness of the weather, the dead weight of ghetto itself. But now that he found her here, it was clear to him that she had fled only from him, and nothing else. It was this sense of betrayal that afflicted the hand holding the gun.

“I wasn’t no good,” she said. “No good to me, no good to you or to your sister.”

“You did what you had to do, right?” he said, smiling bitterly.

“I’m no different from nobody else.” She closed her eyes and did not open them again.

“That’s right. You ain’t no different from nobody else whose brains I wouldn’t think twice about blowin’ out.”

This was not the loud, brash woman whose strategy for living was to take the offensive, to destroy your enemy before your enemy could even conceive the intention to destroy you, to strike swiftly and boldly without weighing the issues and to worry about the consequences later, to protect yourself at all costs and never to assume the meek, powerless demeanor of the victim, and although she had inadvertently revealed her weaknesses at times she had never completely violated her guiding strategy. This was not that woman.

Devin’s T-shirt was soaked with sweat and his head was filled with a tremendous pressure. “I won’t be back,” he said, finally. When he reached the entrance to the gift shop he turned around for one last look. His mother still stood there with her eyes closed, holding the bag with the magazine.

  • .

On the way back, Devin stopped at Mistic’s house because he did not know what to do now, did not know what he should do next, and Mistic would know, just as he had always seemed to know in the past. This time Devin would not laughingly dismiss him or ridicule him for his nearly incomprehensible insights but would listen closely, out of the hard, naked urgency he now felt to know what was expected of him. All he knew was that something had ended – something had completed itself, though without coming full circle. Whatever it was that had fueled his molten momentum through that seamless surge of day and night since his mother's disappearance had been, finally, depleted; but unlike fuel, it could not be replenished. Whether he was relieved that this was so or was now beginning something like a period of mourning he could not have said, since he had never mourned anyone or anything. He knocked on Mistic’s door but there was no answer. A child with unlaced Reeboks riding a battered tricycle down the block stopped and called out to Devin.

“It ain’t nobody live there no more,” he said, and resumed pedaling.

Devin left the porch and limped across the front lawn, looking through the living room window with the partially opened curtain. There were a few empty boxes and a pillow case on the floor, but no furniture in the room. Mistic had gone, and Devin knew he would never see him again. He had simply vanished without a trace, as though he had never existed in the first place.

  • .

Devin understood that it was time to return to his apartment, and when he opened the door the walked in, he was shocked to see that he had lived in such starkness, such squalor. “I’m not that Devin no more,” he said aloud, wonderingly. He saw the answering machine blinking and pressed the playback button. He listened to a message left by the Haitian’s sister that morning.

“Devin, this is Adena. I hope you don’t mind the call, your name was in the book. I gave Aldeen the wallet. Did you take some pictures out, pictures of a woman, I think there were two of them? It’s our mother – for some reason he’s convinced that you still have them, and he’s … he’s not reasonable … I’m just trying to say that you should stay away from him … do you know what happened to those pictures, Devin? Call me at 435-6770.” Devin picked up the answering machine and threw it across the room. Then he took the picture of the Haitian’s mother out of his pocket and looked at it with a feverish intensity, etching into his memory the delicate curve of her face, the eyes dark and deep and liquid with secrets, the dark complexion smooth and flawless as though varnished, staring and staring as though his eyes would never find solace or redemption in that picture again.

  • .

Devin waited quite some time in Ralph’s parking lot, lingering by the Coke machine at the side of the entrance. From time to time he glanced up, watching the sun bleed waning light into the western sky. Then there was an assault of sudden darkness, and the night was everywhere. People entering the supermarket looked at him as they passed, warily at first, expecting a solicitor’s sales pitch, then curiously, surprised that he did not ask for a donation for the local high school’s book purchasing drive. Sometimes he smiled broadly, deliriously, as people passed him. He even waved to the stock boy – the weight lifter who had picked Devin up so that his legs had dangled three feet off the ground – who was on the other side of the lot collecting the dented, lopsided shopping carts left in the parking spaces by customers.

He put coins into the Coke machine and when he turned around, he saw the Haitian looping the black BMW wildly into a parking spot a few feet away. He wondered vaguely, almost dreamily, why the tires had not screeched.

The door sprang open and the Haitian, dressed in black, seemed to lithely flow out of the car upon a tide of hypnotic, vaguely sinister rap music. Devin thought: he’s into Snoop like me. As he approached Devin, his oversized black shirt rippled sinuously, like the wind-caressed, slow-motion hair of models Devin had seen advertising shampoo on TV. Again, the Haitian made an impression upon him of stealth, of the sleek, silent danger belonging to the stranger who is manufactured from one’s deepest anxieties and fears, the stranger from whom one vainly attempts to flee in nightmares. He stopped ten feet away from Devin, who was once more struck by the contrast between the Haitian’s assassin-like attire and comportment and his face, the tranquility that seemed to lend his features a quality of purity, of transcendence, as though his actions were ordained by a higher power and he bore no responsibility for them.

“Time to give back what belongs to me,” the Haitian said. While his sister’s accent had been almost nonexistent, his own was weighted with rhythm, almost a parody of a Haitian accent.

Devin removed the two pictures from his pocket and looked at them. “You gave ‘em to me, didn’t you?”

Now the Haitian was holding a .45 at his side. “You want to die for them?”

Devin saw the stock boy, who had been stacking empty fruit crates near the entrance to the loading dock next to the Coke machine, remove his Ralph’s cap and apron, throw them on the ground, and stride toward the them.

“I’m sayin’ to you: you want to die for those pictures?” the Haitian asked a second time.

Devin did not really want the pictures anymore – he did not need them anymore. He was over all that now. Nevertheless, he put them back in his pocket. He saw the Haitian’s look of peaceful resignation deepen profoundly as he raised the .45 to the level of Devin’s chest, and with a rush of exhilaration, Devin understood that look, felt inside himself the foundation from which the Haitian’s own placidity must surely have risen, and for the first time in his life, Devin felt the fear that was with him constantly simply cease.

In the moment that the Haitian pulled the trigger, the stock boy stepped between the two, and was reaching for Devin’s neck. The bullet shattered through the ribcage and angled upward to pierce the heart, and though bone and membrane slowed its savage velocity, it found an exit after ripping through the tip of the right shoulder blade and lodged in the Coke machine with a dull thud. He stiffened, lurching forward, falling at Devin’s feet and clutching Devin’s ankle for support in an effort to pull himself to his feet, then collapsed. Devin watched the Haitian, waiting for the second shot, but none came.

“It’s over,” the Haitian said quietly. He tucked the .45 somewhere beneath the voluminous folds of his shirt, walked over to the BMW, and drove off, the engine ripping the air with a panther’s growl of acceleration. Again, the tires did not screech, but Devin did not make that observation this time.

He took the two snapshots out of his pocket and tossed them to the ground.

People from inside Ralph’s spilled through the doors, out into the parking lot. In the chaos of motion and noise, Devin heard the manager of Ralph’s stutter something about calling 911 as he ran back into the store. Devin knelt down and turned his ear to the stock boy’s nose – he was still alive, for Devin heard him breathing thinly. “911 ain’t worth shit – not in no ghetto,” Devin said, more to himself than anyone else. “911 take thirty minutes to get here, if that.” He put one arm under the victim’s knees and one under his back, and to the astonishment of the onlookers, Devin picked the two-hundred and ten pound stock boy up, straining fiercely, dwarfed by the weight lifter’s sculpted bulk. St. Mary’s Hospital was three or four blocks away, or perhaps six or eight blocks, or maybe a mile, five miles – he did not really know. But he began walking, his arms trembling, his limp anchoring him inescapably to a rapidly deepening exhaustion. There were a few surprised shouts of protest but no one tried to stop him.

“You shouldn’t move him!” Devin heard someone cry out but he ignored that, hoisting the stock boy up with difficulty and maneuvering the crushing weight of his body over one of his small shoulders. Tears of exertion began rolling down Devin’s face. Blood ran down the stock boy’s muscular chest and onto Devin’s neck, his shoulders, his arms, his fingers. “Just relax,” he told the stock boy, who was unconscious, “just relax because the more you fight the worse it get, the more you fight the harder it get, the faster everything disappear, the faster you turn into a ghost,” he whispered soothingly, not knowing why he was saying the things he said, and not caring. He did not even stop for the police, who pulled alongside him as he limped down the sidewalk, did not stop and felt no fear when four of the officers leapt out of the skidding patrol cars, brandishing their weapons and yelling freeze, just like on TV. He did not stop and knew only that he must bear this unbearable weight on his shoulder until it was impossible for him to go on, until it was impossible for him to take another step.

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