Twenty Six.

He’s Got a Gun

To become good thieves we had to practice. So we did. Our goal was to rob one house a week for the whole school year. And though we were zealous converts, we still only managed to rob one house every month or so. But we did get better with each robbery, or just luckier, because we definitely got more careless.

If the driveway was empty and the lights weren’t on, we popped the basement door and went inside. We looked for cash, jewelry, stereos, and of course drugs. We knew some dudes who would buy anything. We skipped TVs because they were too big and bulky. Usually we took only what would fit in our bags and under our arms. We stashed it nearby in the woods or a dumpster and grabbed it later. If we got caught, we could say we just found it.

Someone came home once while we were in his house. I heard the front door open. I was in the hall near the steps, so I snuck to the basement and out the back door. Joe was upstairs. He climbed out the window and onto the porch roof. He crawled to the side and tried to scale the downspout. It pulled loose and ripped the gutter from the eave. His foot caught on the gutter and flipped him over head first into a bush. He was making so much noise I could hear him from out back. I thought that the dude had caught him or something, so I grabbed a stick and ran around.

Joe stumbled from the bushes when I got there. “Stupid fucking trees,” he said kicking at the bush and fighting back the branches. “Fuck,” he said as he cleared himself and looked over at me. There was a bright flash of light and a loud pop rang my ear. It felt like a bee inside my head.

“Shit,” he yelled. “Gun!” But I was already gone, before I even heard him, before I even realized what happened. I heard another shot before we got away. I looked over my shoulder as I was turning the corner. The dude was leaning out the window yelling and shooting his gun into the darkness.

We ran a while and ducked behind the bowling alley. We fell against the hill sweating and panting and laughing our asses off. Joe got up and walked to the corner to see if anyone had followed. He came back and dropped next to me.

“Here. I got you something.” He reached into the bag and pulled out a big rubber tube. He held it to the light.

“What the fuck is that?”

“It’s a pocket pussy.”

“A what?”

“A pocket pussy. You know, a marital aid.” He held it in front of his crotch to demonstrate, then tried to hand it to me. “You fuck it, Mann.”

“You fuck it?” I looked at it again. “You fuck it. I ain’t fucking it.” I nudged it away with my shoulder. “Jesus, no wonder that guy was pissed, you stole his girlfriend.”

“Hey…,” Joe looked over at me. I turned my head to look at him. “HOLY SHIT,” he said. His eyes got huge. “Holy shit.”

“What? What? What? What? What? What?” I looked around frantic, thinking someone was going to hit me in the head. “What?” I jumped up, ready to fight.

Joe grabbed my arm and pulled me down. “Come here. Turn your head again.” He looked at the side of my head. “You’re bleeding.”

“Huh?”

“You’re bleeding, a lot. Hold still a minute. There’s blood all over you. Where the fuck is it coming from?”

“Probably my ear.” I remembered the stinging after the flash of light outside that dudes house. I forgot about it until Joe mentioned the blood.

He kept looking at it. “Holy shit.”

“What?”

“Part of your ear is gone.”

“What?”

“What happened to your ear?”

“What?” All of the sudden I was deaf.

“What happened to your ear?”

“I think it got shot off.”

“Shit Mann, let’s go under the streetlight so I can see better.”

Joe inspected the wound. He kept touching it. “Ouch,” I said.

“Hold still. Not as bad as it looks. Nothing missing. It’s just ripped.”

We went back to my house to clean the wound. It really wasn’t that bad. All the pieces were there. It was just a big gash, but it bled a lot.

“Tonight was pretty cool, but we got to make a score,” Joe said, standing next to me at the utility tub in the basement. He was holding a first aid kit as I leaned under the faucet splashing water on my ear.

“Yeah,” I said, turning the water off and reaching for a paper towel. “We better put some peroxide on this. Do you see antiseptic in that kit?”

“Yeah, here’s something. Hold still.” He opened the bottle.

“Thanks…FUCCKKKKKK!!!!” Red flashes of light shot through my head. Burning sensations scorched the side of my face. “Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.” I jumped around trying to catch my breath. “What the fuck?”

Joe looked at the bottle label. “Whoops. Rubbing alcohol.”

“Oh my god,” I held my ear and looked at the bottle in Joe’s hand. “Don’t ever do that again. Jesus Christ.”

Joe smiled, “It says on the directions that you should clean it twice.”

“Fuck you.”

“No, I’m serious.”

“Fuck you.”

“Pussy.” He put the lid on the bottle and set it on the washing machine. “But seriously. We got to score. That house tonight don’t count. We didn’t get nothing, except you got shot. But that don’t pay.”

“Yeah. We need a house with some good shit in it, like music equipment or something.” I pinched my ear with the paper towel, then reached up and pulled the string to turn on another light. Joe grabbed two beers from the mini-fridge and handed me one as I checked my ear in the mirror.

“Yeah,” he said. “Some place with music equipment.” He thought for a moment. “Music equipment…” Then his eyes lit up and he looked up at me in the mirror. “You mean like a nice guitar?”

I looked at him. “You know something?”

His eyes started to glow and he got that “Joe” smirk. “I know where there’s a Gibson Les Paul.”

I looked at my ear in the mirror, then I looked at Joe in the mirror. “Dude, do you mean…”

“Yeah, I hate that fucker anyway.” Joe was nodding his head and looking at himself.

“Let’s do it,” I said nodding my head.

“Listen,” he looked at me, “this will be easy. We know he’ll be in school tomorrow. And his mom’s dead and his old man will be working. No problem.”

“Easy money,” I said, looking at our reflections framed in the mirror.

Grossman looked like Angus Young. But not as cool. Grossman was a dick. He had a cool guitar but I don’t think he knew how to play. And he kind of smelled bad too. And he was greasy. And he was always a dick. He picked on me when I was little, back when I first started wandering the streets, before I was getting into trouble. He was older, and dumber, but thought that he was the coolest fucker in the world.

He served newspapers in the neighborhood. I used to see him knocking on doors and collecting money. I never saw him serving papers though. When I did see him collecting money, he would pull out a wad of bills and hold it up. “See this, half of this is for acid. Yeah!” Then he’d walk away. Every time he saw me he’d do that, pull money from his pocket and hold it up and say, “This is for acid.” I didn’t even know what acid was until I asked Duke. But Grossman sure was proud that he could buy it.

When Joe and I started hanging out, we partied with a lot of the older dudes, Gina’s friends. Grossman was among them. We weren’t friends, it’s just that some nights the party was at his house. He had a pool table in the basement, and that was reason enough.

I never really talked to him. I don’t think we even looked at each other. But he let me into his parties and pretended all was cool. I think he was afraid of Joe. Joe was crazy, really crazy. He even scared crazy people. I think crazy people can tell when someone is crazier and not only do they respect it, they fear it. It’s animal instinct. Grossman hadn’t dropped so much acid that he couldn’t see that. I also think that a lot of it was posturing. Although he had dropped a lot of acid, probably a couple hundred times, I think he was more of the dysfunctional type of crazy, whereas Joe was the dangerous, antisocial type. And all crazy people respect and fear that type.

It was a bright sunny spring day. Joe and I got up for school but we didn’t go. We did go and meet everyone behind the Giant to catch a buzz. Then we cut out through Loch Raven Village into Grossman’s neighborhood. It was quiet, like everyone was at school or work, which was probably the truth. It felt like we had all the time in the world as we snuck through his yard and down to the basement door. Joe pulled his pry bar and went to work, but it wasn’t working today. We both looked at the door. It was strong as hell and it wasn’t budging.

“Fuck this.” Joe ran up the steps to the back porch and put his elbow through the window. Glass flew into the kitchen and shattered across the tile floor. Joe reached in and unlocked the door. We went in, took only the guitar, and ran straight to Hamburgers’ house.

Hamburger was a bad ass brother with a deep booming voice. He was loud and proud and he thumped his chest for emphasis. He lived in the Ridge and was in and out of prison so many times we were never sure if he was home or not. But if he was, he had drugs. Hamburger was fun to talk to. Mostly he only talked about women. He liked big women. Big women. He went to KFC on Hillsway and talked shit to all the fat women who were eating whole buckets of chicken. He said his kind of woman liked gravy on her mashed potatoes, and lots of it. He’d talk about it for a little while and ole Hamburger would start thinking about it too much, and then he would have to go see if there were any fat chicks up there.

“Here’s the deal,” he said after inspecting the guitar. “Two hundred cash tomorrow, or hash oil today.” Hamburger pulled out a Mason jar filled about an inch with syrupy goo. He held it to the light and licked his lips. “Yo, this is good shit,” he said smiling at us. His gold tooth was the same color as the hash oil.

Joe and I both stared at the jar. This was back before I stopped smoking. “Weed drippin’s, huh?” Joe thought for a moment then said, “A cap of oil today and a hundred bucks tomorrow?”