Socia’s hands hung empty by his sides, but the kid’s were dug into the pockets of a team jacket, and he flapped them back and forth against knobby hips. I said, “Take your hands out of your pockets.”
The kid looked at Socia, and I pointed the .45 at him. “Which word didn’t you understand?”
Socia nodded. “Take ‘em out, Eugene.”
Eugene’s hands came out of the jacket slowly, the left empty, the right holding a .38 that looked twice as big as his hand. He tossed it into the salt pile without my asking, then started to place his hands back in his pockets. He changed his mind and held them out in front of him as if he’d never noticed them before. He folded them across his chest eventually and shifted his feet. He didn’t seem to know exactly what to do with his head either. In quick, rodent’s motions, he looked at me, then at Angie, over at Socia, back at the place where he’d tossed the gun, then up at the dark green underside of the expressway.
All the salt and exhaust fumes and cheap wine aromas down here, and the stench of the kid’s fear hung in the air like a fat cloud.
Angie looked at me and I nodded. She disappeared around the cone on our left while I watched Socia and Eugene. We knew no one was hanging around on the expressway above, because we’d checked as we came down Mosley. No one was on the roof of the subway station; we’d scoped it out coming down the hill.
Socia said, “Just me and Eugene. No one else.”
I didn’t see much reason to doubt him. Three days had aged Socia faster than four years in the White House had aged Carter. His hair was mangy. His clothes hung on him like they’d hang on a wire hanger, and there were beige food stains on the fine linen. His eyes were pink, a crack head’s eyes, all burning adrenaline and shadow seeking. His thin wrists trembled and his skin had the pallor of a mortician’s handiwork. He was on borrowed time, and even he knew he was way past due.
Looking at him, for a twentieth of a second or so, I felt something akin to pity. Then I remembered the photos in my jacket, the skinny boy he’d killed, a hardened robot rising up from the ashes who looked like the boy, talked like the boy, but had left his soul back in a motel room with stained sheets. I heard the tape of him popping Anton’s eye from the socket. I saw his wife going down in a hail of bullets on a soft summer morning, eyes glazed with eternal resignation. I thought of his army of Eugenes, who closed their glass eyes and hurtled forward to die for him, inhaled his “product,” and exhaled their souls, I looked at Marion Socia and it wasn’t about black or white, it was about hate. Just knowing he existed made me hate the nature of the world.
He nodded toward Eugene. “Like my bodyguard, Kenzie? Am I scraping the bottom of the barrel, or what?”
I looked at the boy, could only imagine what those words did to the eyes behind those glasses.
I said, “Socia, you’re a fucking pig.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah.” He reached into his pocket and I placed the .45 against his throat.
He looked down at the silencer nestled against his Adam’s apple. “Think I’m foolish?” He pulled a small pipe from his pocket. “Just grabbing some lightning.” I took a step back as he extracted a thick rock from his other pocket and placed it in the pipe. He lit it and sucked back hard, closing his eyes. In a frog’s voice he said, “You bring what I need?” He opened the lids again and the whites of his eyes fluttered like a bad TV.
Angie came up beside me, and we stared at him.
He chucked the smoke from his lungs in a blast and smiled. He handed the pipe to Eugene. “Aaah. What you two looking at? Little repressed white children appalled by the big black demon?” He chuckled.
“Don’t flatter yourself, Socia,” Angie said. “You’re no demon. You’re a garden snake. Hell, you aren’t even black.”
“Then what am I, missy thing?”
“An aberration,” she said and flicked her cigarette off his chest.
He shrugged, brushed at the ash on his jacket.
Eugene was sucking the small pipe as if it were a reed poking above a waterline. He handed it back to Socia and tilted his head back.
Socia reached out and slapped my shoulder. “Hey, boy, give me what I come for. Save us both from that crazy dog.”
‘“That crazy dog’? Socia, you created him. You stripped him bare and left him with nothing but hate by the time he was ten.”
Eugene shifted on his feet, looked at Socia.
Socia snorted, toked from the pipe. The smoke flowed slowly out of the corners of his mouth. “What do you know about anything, white boy? Huh? Seven years back, that bitch took my boy away from me, tried to teach him all about Jesus and how to behave for the white man, like he had a chance in the first place. Little nigger boy from the ghetto. She try and slap a restraining order on me. On me. Keep me away from my own child so she could fill his head with a lot a shit about the American Dream. Shit. American Dream to a nigger is like a centerfold hanging in a prison cell. Black man in this world ain’t nothing unless he can sing or dance, throw a football, make you whiteys happy.” He took another hit off the pipe. “Only time you like looking at a nigger is when you in the audience. And Jenna, bitch tries to pass all that Tom bullshit onto my boy, tell him God will provide. Fuck that. Man does what he does in this world and that’s it. Ain’t no accountant up above taking notes, no matter what the preachers say.” He tapped the pipe hard against his leg, dumping the ash and resin, his face flushed. “Come on now, Kenzie, give me that shit and Roland leave you alone. Me too.”
I doubted that. Socia would leave me alone until he was secure again, if that ever happened. Then he’d start worrying about all the people who had something on him, who’d seen him beg. And he’d wipe us all out to preserve his illusion of himself.
I looked at him, still scrambling to decide if I had any options other than the one he offered. He stared back. Eugene took a step away from him, a small one, and his right hand scratched his back.
“Come on. Give it here.”
I didn’t have much choice. Roland would definitely get to me if I didn’t. I reached into my pocket with my free hand and extracted the manila envelope.
Socia leaned forward slightly. Eugene’s right hand was still scratching at his back and his left foot tapped up and down on the cement. I handed the envelope to Socia, and Eugene’s foot picked up speed.
Socia opened the clasp and stepped back under the streetlight to survey his handiwork. “Copies,” he said.