It was just another July night. Hot early summer air, loud traffic moving slowly in both directions on Dundas, between Church and Jarvis Streets. He could hear bits and pieces of pop songs and the occasional hip-hop beat splashing out of open car windows and floating into the thick humid night. It was all bright lights, big city down here. He and his boys were hustlin’, flexing’, trying to make a name for themselves. Trying to make some cash. Trying to be the men they had been led to believe they should be, all the while attempting to fly under the radar of five-o.
He belonged to a small crew, run by his best friend’s older brother, J. J ran things tight, both in the hood and out in the streets. Out of line, late with a call back, late with cash owed and you just might catch a beat down. J would show up randomly, just to check in on them or with the re-up. He would drive up in a white Jeep with gold rims, Pink LED lights shining down from underneath. Not too flash, but just enough to let you think he might be a real player. Though he was just another soldier, living in his mama’s basement in the project. 1980’s paneling on the walls, decent sound system, a framed Kobe jersey on the wall next to a NAS poster, closet full of sneakers. No diploma in a frame, no assets, the car on a high interest cash lease. Twenty-five, no prospects, other than his gang affiliation.
The boys in the crew thought J was a god, they looked up to him, wanted to be like him. Saw the ride, the girls, the folded pinks and browns. Saw the respect those things gave him in the urban blocks they all lived on. While the City let the bricks and mortar crumble, they plied the old neighbourhood trade. Periodic sweeps occurred. The Babylon system sending in their uniforms every now and then to remind everyone who was really in charge. The crew knew the drill and innocently dribbled balls on the worn out courts watching as a couple OG’s running a trap house got paddy wagoned away. Laughing at 51 division as they tried to look hard, out of place, no body cared, fucking pigs.
Everyone up the line was just trying to get a piece for themselves, get a little ahead, dreamt of getting out. This fucking town, this fucking country, it did all it could to keep people like him down. Wrong colour, wrong address, just wrong, tough fucking luck. His anger somehow kept in check, most days. His bitterness, a well worn groove on the handle of the glock he kept in his waist pack. They sold what was in demand, these days fentanyl had replaced crack, so that’s what they slung. He didn’t care if these dumb street fucks died. Worst fucking dope ever. Each week a new batch. Each batch a new colour and no different than a fresh bullet in the chamber. Toronto street roulette. One puff of smoke or mainline and your life could be over, gone, exhaled. If you think the dealers care, you’re living in a fantasy, living like the fucking Cosby show, a different world all together. No not that Different World. Ain’t no one care if you junkies die. Not the cops, not the mayor, not the other street life. In this life, it’s for life, which is usually way too short.
He knows all that, as he zips his glock in a designer shoulder bag and hops on the electric scooter that will keep him moving all day. From hood to customers, to re-up, to bag man, to nothing but another job that no one really wants, though some still think they do. There is always another fool, waiting in the wing. It might seem like not working and the paper might seem good today, but tomorrow there ain’t no unemployment benefits, no sick days, no security, nothin’ but looking over his shoulder, holding a few small bags of dope, money owed up the line, a gun. Each of which could get him killed or put away for a several years, federal time. Die trying, try not dying.
He didn’t know another way of life. The housing he came up in promised no future, but this. By nine years old he was running for the bigger boys. Doing errands, watching for cops. Getting paid in dope. They wanted to see if he was an entrepreneur and flip it on his own or if he was just another joke, who smoked it, nodded out, eventually OD’d. He flipped it and slowly built the trust of the gang and moved up to his current crew, who were now all of nineteen, twenty years old.
He stood on the dirty dark sidewalk, looking up at the newly built condos. Mesmerized momentarily by the steel and glass, lights shining out into the unglamorous streets below. He heard the car stop, the door slam, he turned to look, saw a blur of movement, heard the bottle smash, down on his ass, head bleeding,. All he could smell was the acrid aroma of vodka, his skull numb, eyes blurred by the viscous blood pooling in his sockets.
“What the fuck, are you doin’, cuz?”
Was all he got out before being surrounded by four guys that looked just like him, size, age, skin colour, black bandannas obscuring their faces.
“You tell J, we own this fucking street now. Motherfucker”.
Spit the one who hit him with the almost empty twenty-sixer of Grey Goose, smashed glass scattered on the broken sidewalk, around him. As what seemed like a parting afterthought, three of them then laid a few boots to his now curled and protected torso. As they walked back towards their ride, one flashed a glock in his waistband and shot him three times with his hand, fingers pointed, thumb half-raised.
“Your dead”, he laughed, as they got back in the haphazardly parked matte black Benz.
Still alive, still in one piece, he got up off the ground and wiped the blood from his face with the front of his now stained t-shirt. He limped to his scooter, leaning against the buildings closed storefront.
Now that he felt safe, he spit blood onto the street and laughed.
“Stupid fuckers, didn’t even take my shit”. Laughing as he checked his pockets and still had a fat roll of twenties, a bag full of little dope bags and his gun. He knew J would be out for blood now, but knew he was good, nothing lost, means nothing owed.