"You sit around wondering how you ended up here, and everyone else you grew up with ended out there?" That was doing time for him. Reading letters about lives he could no longer imagine. Tatted up old timer, with enough status to get the best of everything, he did alright. Went in with two murder convictions, for the fam, and even at 15, that gave him a lot of cred. He shakes his head as an image of that night comes to mind, trying to drive the sounds and smells and feelings out of his mind; seventeen and fourteen, and they seemed like men to him back then, warriors. Now they looked like what they were, kids.
23 years, two months, seven days, eight hours and twelve minutes. He feels the same panic as when he first went in... tells himself to quit dwelling on his years in prison. There was little chance he was going back for this. Hell, the cops called him a hero. Old Man kills two gangbangers trying to abduct a young woman. The cops were nice enough not to bring up his record at the press conference.
He gets up from the bed with a low moan that is half back pain/half mood. Ten months out now, living in the cheap motel, tied to the poverty of social security, he barely changed the lifestyle he lived in prison. His body was too old to go out and try to start over. He was living his last years doing what he always had since he went to Joliet, trying to make the best of a very bad situation.
He didn't know anyone in the SRO, a piss scented series of six by 12 rooms on Milwaukee and North, a neighborhood that was pretty rough when he went in, now he was surrounded by rich young kids, bars too fancy for his taste, restaurants he couldn't afford. The Twain hotel was a relic, kept alive by laws for affordable housing. The fam sent someone to pick him up from Joliet, took him out and got him drunk... a coming home party, arranged by the few old timers who were still in who remembered him, and a bunch of kids who didn't really seem to notice him.
Occasionally, some old timer, faded blue tats on their arms and neck, would see him in a coffee shop, or on the street, stop and say hello, ask about the others; most had left the gang and lived fairly normal lives... the ones who avoided bullets, and stretches like his. Tried as an adult at 15. He was already six four and had two tombstones on his back for the rivals he took out; in prison he added three more. He made no plans with such people. He didn't need the shit easy money would buy. The only connection he kept on the streets were for weed, an old friend from way back, now living the high life in the suburbs and taking in the long bucks on weed sales he was too distanced from to worry about cops, who in Chicago were pretty easy to buy... back in his day. He doubts that changed. His friend, Johnny, sent a kid around with a couple ounces every month. They were supposed to take care of their own and their families when they in prison... for a few years they had sent him money for his commissary, kept his wife and kids in a house. That ended when she remarried some straight dude, and made it clear neither she, nor the kids, ever wanted to see him again.
That morning, he was one step out of the doorway of the hotel, leaving the dingy interior for a sun that had him reaching in his pocket for his sunglasses. The five way stop was loud as hell all night long, a party spot now. A scream sends him a step back into the hotel... looking around for trouble, tensed and ready, already holding his cane like a club. A young woman was being dragged into a car, almost right in front of the door. A young Hispanic woman, the type who was too beautiful for him to look at without feeling the pain of knowing he grew too old for them in prison. One guy had her by her long black hair, the other was holding her arms, the third hitting her and screaming, "Bitch, get in that fucking car."
Broad daylight. People were stopping on the sidewalk, seemingly waiting for the drama to end so they could continue their days. One guy just walked past them, staying close to the wall, his eyes on the pavement, pretending nothing was happening.
The guy punched her hard in the side of the head, but she kept fighting. The kid had the colors of the Dalton Street gang, pulled a folding knife out of his pocket and started to open it, fumbling to hold onto her hair and get the blade ready.
The stores along the block were all open, people here and there... her screams made a few stop and stare but no one was going near the three tatted-up gang bangers. He was about ten feet from them, standing in the dingy doorway.
He had been in that situation a lot of times. One of his own being jumped in prison meant he was getting jumped, too. Without thinking, he took the three steps across the sidewalk, and swung the head of the cane into the temple of the kid with the knife. Next one he came down on the top of his head, and blood seemed to explode and the kid was falling on the curb. He was done before they even noticed him, out cold. He didn't know, but one was already dead. The third guy jumped in the driver's side and started to go for a piece under the seat when the sound of a siren went off and he took off fast, hitting a car and ripping off its bumper, which got tangled in his. The metal dragged down the street LOUD, almost seemed to be screaming, until the bumper caught on another car, ripped a gash in the side and fell off.
Then everyone wanted to help. Kept asking if he was alright, like they expected him to have a heart attack. Like they cared. He was calm over a slight nervousness that he wasn't about to show. The cops talked to everyone, the chief came down with a TV camera, and thanked him, on Channel Two, for saving this young girl. He just kept looking at the blood on his cane. Trying to keep his distance from what had happened, say as little as possible. No one there understood the implications of what he had just done, beating down a rival gang.
The hotel clerk called up to his room around ten, said some kid was there to see him. "What's he look like?"
"Hispanic kid, red bandana. Want me to send him up."
"Hell, no. I'll come down."
The bandana meant he was in his old gang. Why a young kid? Why just hours after the fight? An answer came to him, but he hoped he was going to hear different.
He walks off the elevator scanning the lobby. Just a kid, smiling, friendly, wearing sunglasses at night... high, drunk?
"Hey, George, we need to talk?"
"Yea, who are you?
"Sorry, capo. Rudy. You okay?"
"What's going on?"
"Frankie. He said you don't know what you done."
Shit. That is all he has to hear. Rival gang, figures out who he is from the news, decides a soldier's business is to counter-attack.
"They gonna come for you. You gotta stay someplace else, man. We'll get ya there, c'mon."
"I don't have anywhere to go..."
"Yea, well, we'll get ya a hotel for a couple nights. They're out hunting tonight. You did good. They want you, but you know, man... whoever they see..."
They get into a black Hummer and make it about three blocks before the cops pull them over. They use the speaker to tell them to stay in the car, and show their hands.
The cops shine their flashlights in, get a look at everyone's face. His presence surprises them. "Hey, Ed, this is the old man who clocked those kidnappers on Milwaukee. What you doing in there?"
He rolls down his window, looks up into the cops smiling face, tells him, "These boys seem to think I am in danger."
"Mother fuckers." The thought pisses the cop off. He goes around behind the car and talks to the other cop.
His partner comes walking up holding something in his hand. He guesses they pulled his record.
"Hey, old man, come on out. The rest of you just sit there. This will only take a minute, then you can go."
"You got quite a record."
"I was a kid. Now, nothing like that. One of the guys who I knew, way back, saw the news. I didn't know these guys were in gangs... and of course, it's a fucking gang that is still at war with... well, the people I ran with in prison, and shit. I got no reason to lie."
"Yea, well, it obviously wasn't a gang hit when you did those guys. The other one died, too. Guess you learned to take care of yourself in jail."
"Yea, living in the Twain, you obviously ain't making no money off these shits anymore."
He lets them drop him off in front of the hotel, goes into the lobby and gets a pop, waits until they leave... He has four hundred bucks on him. He was going to have to move. Go to his P.O. and report within 24 hours, change around the social security, food stamps... change his address. He hated shit like that. Seemed worse than being in danger.
He starts walking back toward his hotel, finally see's a cab and hops in. He can't run. No fucking way. Life was fine. He could put in his time like the best con. No one is in front of the hotel, so he pays the cabbie and goes up to his room. He puts in his key, turns the latch and hears something inside... or did he? There was always some damn noise in the hall of the SRO. He pushes the door open and stays in the hallway, looking around the small, empty room. "This is what I have to lose?"
He rolls a joint, pours a shot of tequila and gets the lime juice out of his cooler. "I ain't worth getting some kid killed over. Let em' come. I'll give my fucking ten years of life... they won't have to fight anyone else. What the fuck... I took away enough years from enough people. Be good to give a few back."
A few shots of tequila bring back his bravado a bit. He fees like he was swaggering down to the doorway of the hotel, though he looks like he's staggering to the bored clerk in a plexiglass booth. They are across the street in a white hummer, stolen fresh probably. A nervous kid in the back seat hits a kid in the front on the back of his shoulder, alerting him. He's young. Maybe 14? Excited and hyped and ready and here he is. He asks God to forgive whoever was gonna do this, though he hadn't prayed since he was an altar boy.