Purring was all that resonated in the room as the sky turned a light blue color and the stars slowly faded away. Half of Belle’s body rested on Eddie and the other half rested on me, the purring half rested on me. The cat seemed happy; it was warm, it was safe and it was in loving company. That was all a cat really needed and for a while there I wished I was a cat too. Did cats feel grief? Could they feel grief in the first place? The purring sequence was interrupted by the cat being startled by the house of a metal door slamming shut. The cat went straight to hiding in between two metal crates under the mattress and I bashed my face against the old glass of the window, almost making the entire life resonate out of me, to see who was outside while Eddie checked the hallway for an unwanted guest. The little car Ritchie had stolen was parked outside, but I still didn’t want to see anybody. Turns out that it was Byron who stopped by to give me a few of my things.
“It wasn’t clear if you said that you and Eddie would be staying here the whole time,” he said softly as he handed me my bags, “so I thought I’d stop by and bring you your stuff just in case you won’t be returning to the loft.”
“Thanks buddy.” I whispered back as I put the bags on the makeshift bed and pulled the cat from underneath it.
“Two days can be a heck of a long time without anything of your own.”
“Thanks Byron, I really appreciate you thinking of me and looking out for me.”
“Always Drifter. We’re a family. Just so you know the boys just got back about an hour or so ago with some decent cash and other stuff, we’d just need somebody not too suspicious to go pawn it off.”
“I’ll do it.”
“You don’t need to do it now, I know you and Eddie want some quality time alone.”
“Don’t worry man, I’ll do it, but that’s all I’m doing.”
“Okay, I’ll be back with the goods in about an hour.”
Eddie and I said goodbye to Byron before going down to the streets below to fetch some food from McDonald’s with the rest of the coins I had stashed at the bottom of my duffel bag containing my clothes and the few possessions that I had been able to keep. The streets were quiet but we made it quick. In the bathroom at the restaurant I took a sponge bath because it had been a few days and I was starting to smell like Ricardo. If the smell wasn’t disgusting enough, the feeling was even worst. Back in Eddie’s shack I swapped my clothes for some cleaner ones as well as dark colors because the prison pants would be too easy to spot if I ever decided to drift onto a wayward path and land myself in some trouble. It was bad enough the way it was without one of the few people in the brotherhood that didn’t look “suspicious” for doing something illicit. I was going to do what I had to do.
I put on an enormous black hoodie from Pennington’s and some baggy black jeans making me look like a real homeless person and not just some rebellious kid wishing they could live on the streets instead of in a cheap house with their families. If there was one thing I would have told them kids, I would’ve told them to stick their heads out of their asses and start appreciating what they were given, because all that I ever had had been taking away from me. I covered my unruly hair with a purple slouch beanie, the last thing that my mother had made for me before whosoever that controls all the stuff in life decided to take her away from me too. And then I thought of Byron, his family was still out there, but he couldn’t be with them, and that was probably even more unbearable than knowing that all the people who ever loved you had long since left the world I lived in.
When Byron finally brought back some stolen valuables he had put all that he could fit into an old potato bag that I had picked up out of the garbage. I chuckled under my breath because if you walked into a pawn shop carrying some gold and silver in a potato bag the first thing the clerk was going to do is call the police. I shoved as much jewelry and other small items as I could in my hoodie pockets and gave the rest to Eddie so he could try to sell some on the streets or elsewhere. Byron gave us a ride to the downtown core where Eddie and I split up as he returned to Cap’n Crunch’s loft. I had my cat under my arm as I walked down the streets of Yonkers to some pawn shops that, hopefully, would pay good money for some stolen junk.
“Alright Belle,” I whispered to my cat, “let’s rock and roll!”
Down all the way at the end of the street I spotted an antiques shop so I decided to stop there first in hopes that some of the jewelry was vintage and worth more in there than in a pawn shop. Belle remained quiet and passive under my arm, not trying to make a move to run for it or curious to explore her environment. The shop had just opened when I walked in and was greeted by an old woman, probably the owner of the shop, who seemed to still live in the 1900s.
“Good morning young lady!” the old woman greeted me in an overly-joyous voice, “What can I do for you and your beautiful four-legged friend here?”
“Oh, I’m sorry about the cat ma’am,” I apologized as I put my free hand into my hoodie pockets to take out some jewelry and handing the pieces to her, “but I’m looking to know if these pieces are antiques.”
“Let me look at them sweetheart and I’ll appraise them for you.”
“Most of this stuff was handed down to me from my grandparents but I don’t really have any use for this you know?”
The old woman’s clothes looked like rags, even more like rags than my plus size hoodie. She didn’t seem to think of me as suspicious and she loved cats so it was the perfect opportunity to make some cash.
“These two necklaces here are definitely antiques,” she told me as she examined old necklaces with a magnifying glass, “and they are quite valuable too. I’ll give you a hundred dollars for both, how does that sound?”
How could I pass up such an offer?
“Of course!” I exclaimed joyfully.
“The rest aren’t antiques, sorry sweetheart,” she went on, “but they are still beautiful pieces that I’m sure the pawn shops down the street would be happy to buy. These are made with quality materials.”
I thanked the unnamed woman and went out the door with a nice $100 bill shoved inside the back pocket of my pants. I wondered how Eddie was doing over at his end with his street soliciting. I walked into the first pawn shop and offered up a few pieces of jewelry, still using the same story I used on the old woman. I sold a few pieces to the first shop for a few bucks and went on to the second to try for a better price. The second one had a huge jewelry collection similar to the necklaces and bracelets I had in my pockets so the Indian man was more than happy to buy my stuff. At the third and last shop the clerk was more reluctant to buy my old jewelry. He said he would buy it, but that it wasn’t worth much so I decided to make the best with my negotiations, but to still no avail. Part of me was distracted with the weapons display behind the counter. I wanted a gun.
“How much for that Glock 17 behind the glass?” I asked pointing to the one I wanted.
“Six hundred,” the man uninterestingly replied.
“I’ll give you all of this jewelry and the four hundred I have in cash here.”
“That’s two hundred too little kid, come back when you’re got something worth trading.”
“Seriously man?! For the price that you want to buy this stuff from me you owe me the gun! I’ll even give you the cat, these are priced insanely high in pet shops.”
“You’re too young to buy a gun anyway, but thanks for stopping by.”
“Hold on, we ain’t done yet!”
“Kid, what do you want?”
“The Glock 17, that’s what I want. And who gives a hoot if I’m too young to buy a gun, I ain’t too young to show this world what I’m made of!”
My voice was tense and apprehensive, the clerk knew what that meant, and he reluctantly opened the glass display and handed me the gun I wanted.
“Fine,” he muttered out, seemingly out of exhaustion although the day had just begun, “that will be four hundred dollars, all of this jewelry, and the cat.”
It crossed my mind to threaten him with my new weapon, take back my money and my cat and make a run for it but that was too risky. I would risk getting caught and losing everything. I had gotten what I wanted, so I thanked the clerk and went on my way. I regretted giving up Belle, but I reminded myself that I wanted Dwayne Jackson’s head more. I had no problem giving up a few years of my life for a manslaughter charge after killing him because he had given me a life sentence when he killed my brother. I shoved the small handgun into my overly big hoodie pocket and went walking back to where I came from. The humid late morning air was sticky on my skin, especially underneath my thick clothes but I didn’t dare to take it off just in case I got in a situation where I needed to hide something under it. I hadn’t gone out just to stir up trouble, but it did have a way of finding me.
For a while I sat on the sidewalk at the intersection of two deserted streets. I thought about my cat, or, my former cat. Somebody else’s cat that I had not only taken from them, but traded for a gun. Did the people who previously owned the cat have children? Did they ask their parents where their beloved kitty had gone? Back in Florida my mom had bought me a pet mouse, just this little white mouse that was so soft and friendly with humans, and one day it went missing. It had only escaped from its cage and went to hide under the couch when it got frightened by something and I was devastated not to have little Miranda in my hand anymore. A few hours my mom found Miranda wandering in the kitchen looking for some familiar surroundings and I had never been so happy to see a little white mouse crawling around. I guess you could say that somewhere between my life and my existence I felt bad in regards to the scenario I had created for myself. I wanted my cat back, my mouse back, my mom back, my brother back, my life back.
“The hell you doing there?!” a voice shouted out of a passing car.
I looked up, wanting to flip the driver the finger, and saw that it was Ricardo and Byron riding in an old baby blue Ford Crown Victoria.
“Waiting for Eddie,” I shouted back, still too caught up in my train of thought to mutter out anything else.
“You’re done?” Byron asked me before another car honked the horn from behind.
“Yeah,” I replied giving him two thumbs up, “just waiting for him to complete his share.”
Ricardo waved and then sped down the deserted street before the other driver honked again and started swearing in Spanish. I put my hand in my pocket and touched my gun. A grin swept across my face as I did. I’m going to kill you Dwayne, you just wait and see now. I marveled at the thought of sweet revenge. I could just see him, his face being blown off by my 9mm, the same thing he did to Jeff. I could see in the perfect detail the bullet going through his eye socket and coming out through the back of his skull, the blood splashing all over the wall behind him and me being the last thing he sees. Revenge is a dish best served cold.
“Drifter!” Eddie called out from behind me.
I signaled him to come and join me on the side of the street and in a few seconds he was standing right next to me. His pine green coveralls were dusty, like he had been rolling around in the sand of New Mexico, and his hat was still covering his whole head, leaving only a couple of black hairs sticking out at the bottom in the back. He had his hands in his pockets, seemingly holding something like I was, but he looked happy, as happy as he could be anyway.
“Where’s your cat?” he inquired curiously, “Hope it didn’t run away.”
“No,” I muttered as I looked at a ladybug crawling next to my leg on the sidewalk, “I sold it.”
“I sold it. You know, for money.”
“You cannot be serious! You loved that cat!”
“I know, but I came out here to fetch some money, and so did you, so how much you got?”
“About four hundred, and you?”
“About the same, it’s all about the right items in the right markets. People will pay top dollar for some of this old stuff.”
“Too bad the boys ain’t stole the rest of the bronze collection I sold this morning, people went crazy over that ugly junk. But hey, the dollar bills were nice!”
Eddie flashed me a smile, completely unaware that I didn’t have a single penny in my name but instead had a 9mm pistol with a single round in the chamber inside my pocket. That’s what I had traded my beloved cat for.
“I want to shoot a gun.” I muttered to Eddie.
“Fine, you can shoot the gun,” Eddie’s smile vanished from his lips, “but you ain’t shooting people you got that?”
“I got it man, I just wanna feel the power of the recoil against my shoulder and the sense of satisfaction that comes with it.”
“Fair enough, Lennie’s got a bunch of firearms that you can shoot down at the factory. Wonder if the boys or Shany will be passing through here sometime so we can hitch a ride back.”
“You’re a little too late Eddie, Byron and Ritchie stopped by like five minutes ago.”
“I have legs, I can walk.”
Before heading back Eddie and I grabbed a bite to eat, and not from the garbage for once. I had some Starbucks coffee and two maple donuts that created an explosion of sweet taste and a sugar overload in my mouth. Eddie wanted to pass through the downtown core to get down to Cobalt because passing through the outskirts of town would add another hour to our commute on foot. I hated passing through the downtown. I hated seeing all those fancy New Yorkers with their noses stuck up in the air and their stilettos so high that they walked awkwardly like they had a stick stuck up their rear end. The businessmen with their expensive suits and their briefcases owned the sidewalks. They, the supreme authority of the side of the road and on the streets paved in gold being driven around in their Audis. Back in Cobalt screeching tires and flying gravel was all I knew.
“You wanna know what’s amazing Eddie?” I challenged after I was done eating my junk food that Eddie had happily paid for.
“Try me,” he retorted, seemingly lost in thought over something else.
“How people trying to survive by working the streets are degraded and looked down upon but these other greedy jerks who have money stacked up all the way to the ceiling are put on the covers of magazines and worshipped like they are God.”
“I’ve stopped thinking that life is fair a long time ago.”
“I just don’t understand the mentality of people Eddie. These idiots are laughing, thinking that they deserve some respect when it’s us putting our lives on the line just to make it by and we get nothing.”
“If what that stuff Byron preaches is true, they are all going to hell.”
“It upsets them when homeless people ask them for money by why doesn’t it upset them when they see poverty littering the streets like this?”
On every street corner there was another homeless person with a little jar of coins sitting on the sidewalk, often near trashcans, just waiting for a good samaritan to give them some loose change. I wish I could have been fortunate enough to give them some without lacking any for myself but I probably had less than them. I had less integrity than them, or maybe I had more. I didn’t sit around and beg for something, I went out and got it. Not a big deal who stood in the way, when I went out to get something I didn’t stop until I got it.
“Drifter,” Eddie began slowly, seemingly gauging my reaction, “where do you get your morals?”
“Up my butt,” I blew him off giggling under my breath.
But the cold hard truth was that I had set out to kill Dwayne Jackson the same way he murdered my brother Jeffrey. My Jeff. I wished it could’ve been me. I wished it could’ve been anyone else but Jeff. When I was with him, my world was perfect. It was perfect. And it was perfect.
“You sure you want to walk back to go see the boys?” Eddie asked after a long moment of silence.
I was usually talkative with Eddie. He and Byron were the only ones I really could talk to. I was too busy contemplating how I was going to get revenge to even remotely talk, or even think for that matter, about anything else. I had to keep my cool, nobody could know I was roaming the streets of New York armed and dangerous. Or maybe that one shot in my gun was for myself. Maybe I didn’t look suspicious in my enormous Pennington’s hoodie but I felt suspicious. Something inside of me, about me, had changed. It was different and I didn’t want to let my mind wander to that dark and evil place in my mind but I couldn’t escape it.
“I don’t want to go back to the factory.” I finally spit out after a moment too long.
“You sure you don’t wanna go back see the others?” Eddie’s voice indicated concern.
Oh, the others. I liked to be alone since Jeff had died — was murdered. Byron and Eddie’s company was nice at times but everything and everybody else just made me sick. Especially the factory. Jeff lost his life in that very factory.