Afterwards you sit around wondering how you ended up here, and everyone else you grew up with ended out there?
He tells himself to quit dwelling on his years in prison. There was little chance he was going back for this. Hell, the cops called him a hero. Old Man kills two gang bangers who were trying to abduct a young woman. The cops were nice enough not to bring up his record at the press conferance.
In prison, you killed somebody in a gang and you expected to have to fight for that right at any moment. He was sixty when he got out. An old timer to the young gang bangers, who had given him the respect their codes demanded. No one wanted to violate in prison, where they were sure as hell going to get a beatdown.
He gets up from the bed with a low moan that is half/back, half/mood. Ten years of living in the cheap motel, tied down by the poverty of social security, he had barely changed the life style he lived in prison. His body was too old to go out and try to start over. He was living his last years; years that had followed decades of him having to constantly try to make the best of a very bad situation.
He retired from the gangs when he started to sense the young guns were sick of listening to him. Death was not someting he looked forward to, like some of the more depressed, fatalist guys he had met over the years. The guy who took over after him was grateful for the easy transition. They feared him, of course. Killing was something he learned to do young and well.
Out ten years living on Milwaukee, he told nobody who he was. Occasionally he was recognized, said hello. He made no plans with such people. He didn't need the shit easy money would buy. The only connection he kept on the street were for weed. An old friend from way back who considered it part of his retirement plan to keep the old gang banger stoned. Really helped his back. He wasn't quite hypocritical enough to say he smoked for his physcal health, and people didn't want to hear that he smoked for his emotional health.
Old as he was, people didn't suspect he smoked, so he didn't worry about the cops. He knew cops well enough to make them like him. A survival skill in a prisoner who was negoitiating for his soldiers with the warden and the guards with every interaction.
The woman was being dragged into a car by three guys, right in broad daylight. One of them had a knife. The stores along the block were all open, people here and there... her screams stopped them all. He was close. Had a cane in his hand with heavy, steel handle. One of them had a knife but they weren't looking for him to give them any trouble.
He had been in that situation a lot of times. One of his own being jumped. Usually he was gettting jumped too. Without thinking, be swung the head of the can up and caught one in the temple. The next one he came down on the top of his head. Before they even noticed him, they were out cold -- one already dead. The third one looked into his eyes and saw something he recognized from battle and let the girl go, jumped up into the drivers seat and took off.
Then everyone wanted to help. Kept asking if he was alright. They expected a heart-attack. He was calm over a slight nervousness that he wasn't about to show. The cops talked to everyone, the cheif came down with a tv camera, and thanked him, on Channel Two, for saving this young girl. He just kept looking at the blood on his cane. Trying to keep his distance from what had happened, say as little as possible. No one seemd to think he had just put himself in danger by attacking another gang. He told himself this was probably true, out here. Prison was prison, freedom, freedom.
The hotel clerk called up to his room around ten, said some kid was there to see him. "What's he look like?"
"Hispanic kid, red bandana. Want me to send him up."
"Hell, no. I'll come down."
The bandana meant he was in his old gang. Why a young kid? Why just hours after the fight? The answer came to him, but he hoped he was going to hear different.
He walks off the elevator scanning the lobby. Just a kid, smiling, friendly, wearing sunglasses at night... high, drunk?
"Hey, man... we need to talk?"
"Yea, who are you?
"Sorry, capo.. Juan. You okay?"
"What's going on. Somebody tell you to come talk to me?"
"Frankie. He said you don't know what you done."
Shit. That is all he has to hear. Rival gang, figures out who he is from the news, decides a soldiers business is to counter-attack.
"Who were those pricks?"
"She was one of ours. We've got some homeys across the street. You gotta stay someplace else, man. We'll get ya there, c'mon."
"I don't have anywhere to go. I just got out of prison, man. Forty years. Everybody I know is dead of drifted off, except Frankie. Frankie, who takes care of the few of us who are still alive. You know why he does that? Everybody is dead."
"Yea, well, we'll get ya a hotel for a couple nights. They're out hunting tonight, so we're gonna do us some hunting, too. That was my buddies girlfreind they were trying to beat down, man. He's pissed, too."
The kid starts laughing and he almost smiles himself, before the crushing knowledge of his situation obliterates all of hope of him feeling good for... he could dwell on shit like this a long time, had to. Staying alive was the only rule for most of his years.
The get into a black Hummer and make it about three blocks before the cops pull them over. They use the speaker to tell them to stay in the car, and show their hands. "These cops know us, man. Don't worry, we're cool."
The cops shine their flashlights in, get a look at everyone's face. His presence surprises them. "Hey, Ed, this is the old man who clocked those kidnappers on Clybourn. What you doing in there?"
He rolls down his window, looks up into the cops smiling face, tells him, "These boys seem to think I am in danger."
"Mother fucker." The thought pisses the cop off. He goes around behind the car and talks to the other cop. Comes back and waves his flashlight up the road. "You know these kids?"
About then his partner comes walking up holding something in his hand. He guesses they pulled his record.
"Hey, old man, come on out. The rest of you just sit there . This will only take a minute, then you can go."
"You got quite a record."
"I was a kid. Now, nothing like that. One of the guys who I knew, way back, saw the news. I didn't know these guys were in gangs... and of course, it's a fucking gang that is still at war with... well, the people I ran with in prison, and shit. I got no reason to lie."
"Yea, well, it obviously wasn't a gang hit when you did those guys. The other one died, too. Guess you learned to take care of yourself in jail."
"Here...." The cop hands him a fifty. "We got this poverty fund, sign this.
"I can use it."
"Yea, living in the Mark Twain, you obviously ain't making no money off these shits anymore."
He lets them drop him off in front of the hotel, goes into the lobby and gets a pop, waits until they leave... He has four hundred bucks on him. He was going tohave to move. Go to the po, the social security, food stamps... everyone of them and change his address. He hated shit like that. Seemed worse than being in danger.
He starts walking back toward his hotel, finally see's a cab and hops in. He can't run. No fucking way. Life was fine. He could put in his time like the best con. No one is front of the hotel, so he pays the cabbie and goes up to his room. He puts in his key, turns the latch and hears something inside... or did he? There was always some damn noise in the hall of the SRO. He pushes the door open and stays in the hallway, looking around the small room. "This is what I have to lose?"
He rolls a joint, pours a shot of tequila and gets the lime juice out of his cooler. "I ain't worth getting some kid killed over. Let em' come. I'll give my fucking ten years for their fifty. What the fuck... I took away enough years from enough people. Be good to give a few back."
The shots brought back his bravado a bit, then made him sleepy. He thought about what an irony it would be if he was to die in his sleep that very night...
this work is protected by a commercial common use license. Feel free to spread my words...john scott ridgway