No. Come on. This can’t be it, man. Not like this.
Not like this.
Six, just six minutes ago, I was sittin’ in my car ‘n everything was fine. I was safe, and didn’t have no bullets piercin’ my body. I mean, yeah, ok. I’m man enough to admit I was nervous as hell. The truth is, I was a hot mess, just drippin’ with sweat, lookin’ at my fractured reflection in that damn rear-view mirror like somehow, it was gonna make me man up. “You got this, Deshawn,” I was givin’ myself a pep talk like a crazy man. “You got this. Stop bein’ such a baby. Just man up, go in there, n’ get this done.”
I huffed out the breath I’d been holdin’ as I unfolded myself. The door to Old Blue squawked open wide. This was it. Nothin’ would ever be the same again. Nothin’.
Every step I took was filled with their voices replaying in my head. “Man, you’re crazy.”
“Don’t do it, Deshawn. You gonna regret this the rest of your life.”
“You outta your mind?”
“This ain’t gonna go your way, man. It never do.”
“What the hell you gonna go ‘n do that for? You crazy!”
Crazy? Maybe, but I had to try.
Then, there was my sister. Everything in the whole damn world could go wrong, but she’d be there, hell or high water, to throw cautionary tales at me. This mornin’ was no different. She put her hands to both sides of my face, makin’ sure I had nowhere else to look. “Are you sure this is what you want? Deshawn, you have to make sure this is what you want because there isn’t a way back from this. If it doesn’t work out, your life will never be the same.”
What she didn’t get was that if this did go right, my life was never gonna be the same neither. Change was comin’ one way or another. And that? That was what kept my feet movin’ across that parkin’ lot.
As I gripped the scalding black door handle and yanked, I caught my reflection again, but that time, I saw a new man in the glass panel door. I saw confidence and strength. Man, I saw my damn future.
Catchin’ the attention of the Security Guard at the door, I gave the obligatory nod ‘n moved further inside. Man, I could feel his blue eyes boring into my back. Just because a man, a black man, walked in to a place like that, it’s gotta mean he’s up to no good, don’t it? The familiar cloud of injustice moved into my mind. Bullshit. Absolute bullshit. I had just as much right to be there as anyone else did.
Just ‘cause I didn’t have the nicest car, n’ ‘cause I wasn’t dressed in no suit, they all figured I didn’t belong. Hell, they didn’t know the first thing about me. No more than I knew about them, but did that stop them from jumpin’ to conclusions? Nope. They only saw me as a black man in a place that swirled with money, money they assumed could belong only to them.
They had no idea that I had everythin’ all set up before I even stepped foot through that door. They had no freakin’ clue that I had everything taken care of, planned out, and by night’s end… my destiny would be altered. No. They didn’t see any of that. They just saw me, a black man, in the same vicinity as them, and I could see their narrow minds turnin’. I could see them gaugin’ me, watchin’ me, waitin’ for me to do somethin’ crazy.
Crazy was what I went there to do.
* * *
“No, no. It’s on me Officer. You have a good day now.”
“Thank you.” I smiled at the aging restaurant owner, throwing more than enough to cover the bill into the tip jar. It was the middle of the afternoon, on a scorching July day in Las Vegas. A quick bite was all I had time for, and I’d already gone a bit out of the way to make it here. I liked stopping in. The food was good, but the service was better.
Just as I was getting ready to leave, I saw the twenty-year-old land boat pull into the parking lot of the jewelry store across the lot. The car had been puzzled together over the years by matching intact panels of similar cars to form one, mostly blue piece of crap that couldn’t be worth more than one grand. Tops.
With a sigh, I called it in over the radio. Time to poke my head in, make my presence known. Lord knew nobody with a car like that could afford anything more than air at a place like this, and I worried about what he might be looking for.
He was African-American, 6’2”, maybe 250 lbs. Big boy. I nodded to the Security Guard as I entered, and feigned interest in the glittering, gleaming items within the glass cases, careful to keep out of his line of sight.
“Excuse me.” He muttered as one saleswoman walked away to address two teen girls and their mother. “Excuse me.” He tried again with a young man suddenly overcome by a need to move to the back of the store. The black man tsked his tongue. “Man, come on,” he grumbled, turning to try along another case in front of a bank of windows. I quickly swooped around a young couple fawning over wedding bands in the center of the store, but I had been so focused on the big guy, I didn’t see the stroller.
“Sorry! Sorry!” I called out as the stroller and I both clattered to the floor.
A newborn began crying and screaming from the floor, but his stroller had protected him. Or her. Who could tell what that bald, screaming infant was? Either way, the child hadn’t been harmed, not that the parents would believe it. Mom and Dad acted as though I had just murdered their ugly little kid in front of their very eyes.
“He’s ok. He’s ok.” I attempted to persuade Mom as she cradled her precious little one in her arms. Dad looked like he wanted to bluster, create a scene, but eyeing my uniform, he too chose to worry over the wrinkled little creature in a yellow onesie.
As for me? I’d lost sight of my target in all the commotion. Just as I placed one hand on the glass countertop for balance and returned to my feet, I heard it.
The sound was unmistakable. A small caliber that was quickly followed by another.
Screams and panic clogged the store. “Get down!” I ordered. “Police! Freeze!” Where was he? I radioed for backup. “Shots fired! Shots fired!” Damn it? Where’d he go? He was a giant in a world of glass. Where the hell was he?! The child continued to howl as the others whispered and whimpered when I stepped over them.
Another shot rang out in harmony with a woman’s scream. “Help! Please! My husband!” A small river of blood crept around a bend in the store. I hurried to place my back along the interior wall, weapon at the ready.
I turned just in time to see my mark running, barreling toward the door. “Freeze!”
But he didn’t freeze. He was coming right at me. And I fired. Pop.
The giant dropped to his knees, scampering toward the couple. “Put pressure on-”
“Drop your weapon!” I ordered.
“What?” The black man feigned confusion, but my bullet must have missed him because he didn’t look hurt. He looked scared, and fear in these situations was never good. “Hey!” He raised one palm to me, but his other dove into his pocket. “We’re cool. Look-”
Pop. Pop. Pop.
I fired three more shots, and the woman screamed again. Then, I saw them. Motion drew my eye out the window to the front parking lot, and three punk kids, white kids, were running, stumbling over one another. Terror drew their eyes back to the store they fled, and the last one?
The last one tucked a 9 mm into his waistband.
The world began to move in slow motion then. The big man who had absorbed three of my bullets was grunting as gravity compelled him the rest of the way to the floor. “It’s ok.” He muttered. “It’s ok. It’s ok. It’s not me, man. It’s not me.”
With weapon drawn, I moved in. “Drop it!”
“I bought it online.” He was struggling to draw breath.
“Freeze!” Damn it! “Freeze.”
“I was just pickin’ it up.” His words were rushed, in a hurry to make sense of the life I’d just robbed him of. “Just pickin’ it up. It’s my destiny man. She’s the one.”
I stood directly above him as his body seemed to go lax. His arm gave way easily when nudged by the toe of my shoe and a small, white box popped out of his pocket.
He was struggling to form words. “My life was gonna…. Change. It’s crazy man…. But… she’s the one. She’s the one. Saved for a year for… a year for this.” He coughed, sputtering out blood. “No. Come on. This can’t be it, man. Not like this. Not like this.” His mouth was hardly moving anymore as his voice wandered away.
His blood reached out to join that of the man below the sobbing red-haired woman. “My husband!” She pleaded.
“Ambulance is on the way, Ma’am.”
“He’s dead. My husband’s dead. He’s all I had.” She was sobbing as she hugged the lifeless body of her husband. That, just that, had visions of my own wife, my own life, flickering through my mind. My wife was a beautiful, glorious woman I didn’t deserve. What would she think now?
What had I done?
I studied the box that lay amid the growing pool of blood. Red blood. The blood from two men. One white. One black. But, both … both had bled red.