Seventeen.

The After Party

We were walking home after the party when Joe noticed I was feeling good. “Man you’re jumpy. What’s up?”

“I don’t know, I just had fun tonight.” I never told Joe about me and Gina. I wanted to but wasn’t sure what he’d think. He was as protective of her as she had been of him. I was sure he wouldn’t mind, but I didn’t want to risk it. Besides, if Gina wanted him to know, she’d tell him.

“Yeah, you handled that big fucker. That was a cool mind trip.”

It was four thirty in the morning. We were walking down Taylor Avenue. It was dark, a little foggy. It felt like rain. It rained some earlier and the streets were still wet… I love the smell of wet morning streets. I love the feel too. It feels peaceful and quiet, with the road dirt gently rolling to the gutter and down the drain, leaving fresh, clean pavement. It all feels so new. The early morning makes me feel new, too, like I could conquer the world… At least that’s what I was thinking when Joe nudged my arm.

“Yo, Mann, check that out.” He motioned up the street. A cop was paused on the shoulder and checking us out. He pulled away and drove by slowly, checking descriptions as he passed. When he reached the top of the hill near the Bingo hall he stopped again, obviously looking for someone. When he U-turned and hit the lights, we took off. We ran up Hillsway and into the alley behind Dartmouth Road. The sirens started screaming from all directions. I heard cop cars enter the alley, saw the spotlight shining its way up the backyards. We cut between two houses, crossed the street into the next alley. I turned up the alley, and Joe crossed through another yard. He was headed for the woods by the cemetery.

The sirens were everywhere. The whole neighborhood was lit up with flashing lights. I dove into some bushes so I could stop and listen and think. I heard cops and radios, saw flashlights reflecting off houses and parked cars. I didn’t know what they wanted and I didn’t want to find out… Cops don’t care who they catch. All they care about is a conviction. It doesn’t matter if they got the wrong guys. And of course, with me and Joe, a couple of young guys walking the streets at four thirty in the morning, they probably figure that we were guilty of something.

Then again, it’s possible that they had the right guys. I tucked as deeply as I could into a thick pricker bush and I was pretty sure they wouldn’t find me. Then I heard the dogs, and I knew that it was serious. And I was trapped. I looked around for a better place to hide. My only hope was that they wouldn’t bring the K-9 into this yard. I searched frantically, looked to see if I could climb to the roof. Then I heard the helicopter. Then the barking got louder. Then the lights got brighter. Sweat was pouring down my forehead. They were sweeping the whole block from both ends. Dogs, flashlights, cops.

I heard the K-9 enter the yard next door. In a panic I pulled the lid off of a metal trash can and jumped inside. My heart was pounding and the sweat was gushing. I felt like I couldn’t breathe and I was getting a headache. Besides all of that, something in the trash can really stunk. It was burning my eyes and I thought I was going to puke. I couldn’t stand the smell. It smelled like dog shit and oranges. I was about to climb out and look for another place to hide when I heard the gate open to the backyard. I froze.

I heard dog tags jingling. My hearing became acute. I could feel each step the cop took as he searched the yard. I heard his quiet commands to the dog. As they neared I tried to slow my breathing, quiet down, play dead. I felt them coming closer. They moved slowly, methodically. It felt like forever. The dog rustled the bushes next to me. They were inches away. I could hear the dog sniff the trash can. I squeezed my eyes shut and hugged my knees into my chest as hard as I could, and just froze. Sweat dripped down the back of my neck and I think I felt the dog’s breath there.

I didn’t realize I had stopped breathing until the sound of the cop’s radio startled me. I sucked in air like someone under water for too long. A cop was calling for assistance. I couldn’t hear much, but I did hear them retreat from the yard. They went out the gate and down the alley. I heard voices in the distance calling over the sounds of car doors slamming and engines starting, then I heard the four-barrels speeding up Hillsway with sirens screaming.

I waited a few minutes then jumped out of the trash can and took off through several yards and alleys. I crossed Taylor Avenue into my neighborhood, going in the opposite direction of the fading sirens.

“Joe got arrested.”

“Huh?” It was early Sunday and I was half asleep. I switched the phone to my other ear. “What?” It was Gina calling. I didn’t know she had my number.

“Joe got arrested after the party Friday night. They caught him in someone’s garage.” I was awake now. I wondered why I didn’t hear from him on Saturday. “They charged him with all these robberies and car thefts. When they ran his prints, they found all these matches. They also said they found his prints on a gun used in a bank robbery.”

“That’s crazy. Joe doesn’t have a gun,” I said, staring at a poster for “The Warriors.” I thought about all the shit we did lately and got nervous they would figure out I was with him. Thoughts rushed my head. If they found his prints, they found mine too. We didn’t wear gloves. And we did a lot of shit. We went out every night for almost a year breaking the law in some way or another. The images flashed in my head and made me confused and more nervous. I forgot I was talking to Gina.

“Jesus Christ,” Gina said. “He just got out of trouble.”

“Huh? Oh… yeah.” I said. “What’s going to happen to him?”

“They sent him to Cub Hill. His mom is freaking. It’s his second offense. The public defender said he’s fucked because this charge was so serious. He has to stay there until trial and, if guilty, ‘til he’s eighteen.”

“Oh, fuck.” I dropped the phone. Two years.