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Angie said, “Come on.”

I got up and saw what she was running for. Twenty yards ahead of us were two more tenement towers, intact it seemed, and packed close together. Between them was a dark blue alley. A hazy yellow streetlight shone at the end of it, and it was much too thin for a car to work its way into. Silhouettes of misshapen hulks of metal stood out in dark shadows between the two towers.

I ran across the open lot, hearing the engine coming off to my left, blood pouring down my arm like warm soup. I’d been shot. Shot. I saw their faces again as they fired, and I heard a voice that I soon realized was mine saying the same thing, over and over again: “Fucking niggers, fucking niggers.”

We reached the alley. I looked behind me. The car was stalled by something in the gravel, but the way they were rocking it from the inside, I didn’t think they’d stay that way long. I said, “Keep going.”

Angie said, “Why? We can pick them off as they come in.”

“How many bullets you got left?”

“I don’t know.”

“Exactly,” I said. “We could run out trying to pick them off.” I worked my way over an upturned dumpster. “Trust me.

Once we made it to the end of the alley, I looked back and saw the headlights arcing to the left, moving again, coming around to meet us. The road at the end of the alley was a faded yellow cobblestone. We stepped out onto it, hearing the big engine roaring closer. The yellow streetlight we’d seen was the only one for two blocks. Angie checked her gun. “I have four bullets.”

I had three. She was the better shot. I said, “The street-light.”

She fired once and stepped back as the glass fell in a small shower to the street. I jogged across the street into a mass of brown weeds. Angie climbed down behind a torched car directly across from me. Her eyes peered over the blackened hood, looking at me, both of our heads nodding forward, the adrenaline rippling through us like fission.

The car fishtailed around the corner, hurtling over the torn cobblestone toward us, the driver craning his head out the window, looking for us. The car began to slow as it got closer, trying to figure out where we could have gone. The shotgun passenger turned his head to his right, looked at the scorched car, didn’t see anything. He turned back, and started to say something to the driver.

Angie stood up, took aim over the blackened hood, and fired two shots into his face. His head snapped to the side, bounced off his shoulder, and the driver looked at him for one moment. When he looked back, I was running up to the window, gun extended. He said, “Wait!” through the open window and his eyes loomed large and white just before I pulled the trigger and blew them out through the back of his head.

The car went left, hit an old shopping cart on its way to the curb, bouncing up and over it before ramming a wooden telephone pole and cracking the wood at a point about six feet off the ground. The guy in the backseat shattered the window with his head. The telephone pole wavered in the fragrant summer breeze for a moment, then dropped forward and crushed the driver’s side of the car.

We approached slowly, guns pointed at the hole in the back window. We were about three feet away, side by side, when the door creaked open, the lower corner hitting the sidewalk. I took a deep breath and waited for a head to show.

It did, followed by a body that dropped to the pavement, covered in glass and blood.

He was alive. His left arm was twisted out behind him at an impossible angle and a large flap of skin was missing from his forehead, but he was trying to crawl anyway. He got two or three feet before he collapsed, rolling over onto his back, breathing hard.

Roland.

He spit some blood onto the sidewalk and opened one eye to look at me. The other eye was already beginning to swell under the mask of blood. He said, “I’ll kill you.”

I shook my head.

He managed to sit up a bit, resting on his good arm. He said, “I’ll kill you. The bitch too.”

Angie kicked him in the ribs.

All the pain he was in and he rolled his head at her and smiled. “’Scuse me.”

I said, “Roland, you got this all backward. We’re not your problem. Socia’s your problem.”

“Socia dead,” he said, and I could tell a few of his teeth were broken. “He just don’t know it yet. Most of the Saints coming over with me. I get Socia any day now. He lost the war. Just a matter of picking his coffin.”

He managed to open both eyes then, for just a moment, and I knew why he wanted me dead.

He was the kid in the photographs.

“You’re the ”

He howled at me, a stream of blood jetting from his mouth, trying to lunge for me when he couldn’t even get off the ground. He kicked at me and banged his fist off the ground, probably driving shards of glass all that much farther into the skin and bone. His howl grew louder. “I fucking kill you,” he screamed. “I fucking kill you.”

Angie looked at me. “We let him live, we’re both dead.”

I considered it. One shot is all it would take. Out here on the cusp of the urban wasteland with no one around to question. One shot and no more Roland to worry about. Once we settled with Socia, back to our regular life. I looked down at Roland as he arched his back and jerked up, trying to stand, like a bloody fish on newspaper. His sheer effort scared the shit out of me. Roland didn’t seem to know pain or fear any longer, just drive. I looked at him steadily, considering it, and somewhere in that raging, hulking mass of hatred, I saw the naked child with the dying eyes. I said, “He’s already dead.”

Angie stood over him, gun pointed down, hammer pulled back. Roland watched her and she stared back at him flatly. But she couldn’t do it either, and she knew no amount of standing there would change that. She shrugged and said, “Have a nice day,” and we walked toward the Melnea Cass Boulevard, four blocks west, shining like civilization itself.

TWENTY-SEVEN

We flagged down a bus and climbed on. Everyone on it was black and when they saw us bloody, torn clothes  most of them found some sort of excuse to move to the back. The bus driver closed the door with a soft whoosh and pulled off down the highway.

We took seats near the front, and I looked at the people on the bus. Most of them were older; two looked like students, one young couple held a small child between them. They were looking at us with fear and disgust and some hatred. I had an idea what it must be like to be a couple of young black guys in street clothes boarding a subway car in Southie or White Dorchester. Not a nice feeling.

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