By John Adinolfi
I been looking for Bobby all night. Now, I keep watch from the shadows of a decaying brick apartment building across from his place. My dingy white T-shirt clings like a damp dishrag in the late-August heat. I hear the ballgame on a radio from an open window above me—Mantle and Maris are chasing the Babe’s record. But baseball don’t matter right now. What does, is what I see under the flickering yellow glow of the street lamp. Bobby is squeezing Rosie tight. She ain’t objecting. I close my eyes when he kisses her. It’s not like I never seen a guy kiss a girl before, but this is my best buddy and Rosie. Any man would dream to be with her, even me. But everybody knows Rosie is Big Mike’s girl.
A door slams somewhere in the building, and Bobby turns towards the noise. I’m pretty sure he can’t see me, but I jump back into the space by the dumpster, anyway. He turns his attention to Rosie. They stagger up the steps, disappearing behind his door. I scurry outta there faster than them rats in the garbage.
It’s late, and the Hunts Point streets are dark and deserted. I wander around, thinking about Bobby. He’s barely eighteen, but I don’t know nobody who knows more about the world than him. Bobby’s the only one who don’t call me kid, even though I’m three years younger. Nobody bothers me when he’s around. I can drink beer and play pool with him at Big Mike’s social club. That’s where I head. Bobby’s gotta be back there by now. He’ll tell me everything’s square with him and Mike and Rosie.
But he’s not there when I walk in. Rosie is. She don’t say anything, but her wide eyes try to warn me away. I didn’t think she even knew I existed. I realize, too late, that coming here was a stupid mistake. Big Mike is leaning back on his usual stool near the end of the bar. He asks me straight out if I seen Bobby.
I lie right to his face.
He eyeballs me for a second and then hoists his considerable bulk off his perch, putting a beefy arm around my shoulders. I guess I ain’t as tough as I think, ’cause my heart’s pounding, and my legs feel like the insides of one of Valencia’s jelly donuts. I wanna run out. But that’d be letting Mike know for sure I lied.
Mike says everything’s gonna be ok, kid. He says he likes me, and he likes Bobby. We’re all friends, right? So just tell him where I seen Bobby, and we can straighten everything out. Probably just a misunderstanding anyway, right? I know there’s no such thing as a misunderstanding with Mike. I tell him again that I didn’t see Bobby all night. His scowl lets me know he don’t like that answer. He clamps an iron grip on my arm. With his other hand, he grabs a fistful of Rosie’s hair and yanks her out from behind the bar. As he drags us out the back door, the barflies stare into their drinks, as if ice cubes are the most interesting things in the world.
In the dim alley behind the club, Mike pushes Rosie down onto a pile of empty liquor boxes. He switches his grip to my neck and says this is the last time he’s gonna ask. My feet barely touch the concrete. I wriggle like a worm on a hook. The big fish is gonna eat me alive.
Bobby steps out from the deep shadows of a storage shed. Moonlight gleams off the steel barrel of his .38. Mike drops me, grabbing for his own piece.
I heard gunshots before, but this one is deafening in the cramped space. Mike crashes hard, dark splotches that look like the thick syrup of a cherry coke sprouting out of him. Bobby just laughs. Rosie yells at Bobby to stop. He turns and stares at her like he just realizes she’s been there the whole time. Flashing a wicked-looking grin, he tells her she’s been fun, but now her time’s up too.
I finally find the voice in my bruised throat. I beg Bobby to say he don’t mean that. He tells me it’s time to grow up, kid, and takes aim at Rosie’s heaving chest. Rosie screams as the sounds of two more shots pound my ears the way the jukebox does on full-blast.
Bobby falls face first into the spreading red puddle of his life. My hands don’t stop shaking, even after I drop the gun I had ripped from Mike’s cold hand.
Rosie is curled up on the ground, sobbing. I put my arm around her and lead her back inside. The crowd of human vermin has scattered. The sirens get louder. We didn’t do nothing wrong, but sometimes that don’t matter. I follow her eyes as she looks to the open door. She tells me this could be our only chance to leave this life behind. I don’t see any flashing red lights yet.
Rosie calls from the kitchen that the baby is crying again. I turn off the radio. We don’t get the Yankee games up here, unless they’re in town to play the Sox, like tonight. I walk down the narrow hallway to his room. As soon as I pick him up, he stops fussing and smiles at me. I tell him it’s ok, kid, I got you.