Everyone has their
team and we had ours. Christian was one of us but at some point, he decided to
follow his own path. He stopped answering our calls, avoided the Rainbow café
where we met to plot and drag on cigarettes like soldiers in Eastern lands. But
the gang tracked him down, found him holed up in a motel with a whore that
looked like a boxer with a weak chin and bruised pillowcase eyes. He'd spent
all his money on her, said he was in love. So, we paid her off, slapped some
sense into him and as he vomited blood on the nylon carpet, he apologised. Then
we allowed him back into the fold.
Whenever there was
friction amongst the boys, I was the man who they relied upon to mediate.
I proved my worth
when Paolo almost killed Lance for a small block of Afghani hash Lance was
slinging on the waterfront. Paolo punched Lance in the Adam's apple with his
pointed rings and Lance nearly choked to death.
Everyone wanted to
punish Paolo. He was part of the crew, true, but most of us were repelled by
him as he had a thing for young boys who he catfished on the net—plus, he owed
us all money.
I gathered everyone
at the Rainbow café, and we sat on the wobbly aluminium chairs as pedestrians
dodged brown globs of phlegm that we spat on the sidewalk. We formed into a
huddle, and I hollered above the blare of the traffic, “The crew is all, it's
like a marriage—for better, for worse. And so, Paolo is one of us. It's true he’s
fucked up, but nevertheless we must protect him."
Everyone lit up and
coughed into their fists. They took turns to spit again and mulled over my
words. Finally, they agreed to let Paolo be. That's why I'm the leader.
One afternoon I
arrived at the café and I was furious to learn that the lads had met up an hour
before me. This was not how things were done and I took it as a clear threat to
on?" I said, taking a seat, starting to roll a cigarette, making it clean
and straight. "You guys forgotten who's in charge here? Anyhow, it's good
to see you two all friendly," I said, indicating Lance and Paolo. And it
was true, they looked united wearing their Adidas Classics, the figure-hugging
black tracksuits and their pouches strapped around their shoulders.
"We want Paolo
out," Lance said, nervously playing with a box of matches, the harsh
bruising around his neck still visible.
"I thought we'd
dealt with this issue," I said.
We didn't," said Lance.
"So, what's the
difference?" I chuckled.
"Let's not do
this on the street," said Lance.
"What is your
problem?" said Paolo, scanning Lance as if he was a cockroach, clenching
his fists, ready to go again.
"You don't get
to give orders anymore," snapped Lance.
I stood, whipped out
my blade from my back pocket and held it against Lance's flared nostril. Before
I knew it, the rest of my crew had pounced on me. My knife slipped and I slit
Lance's nose. Blood splashed across the crew's cigarette packs that were stacked
on the table and then the claret dripped into the cracks of the pavement below.
I was pinned against the concrete by Christian, and Lance said, "This is
the new way. I give the orders now. Either you step down or you suffer the same
fate as Paolo."
And like that, my life
was transformed. I’d had my time. It was my turn to sink back into the shadows,
take orders, laugh when it was appropriate, and mirror the fluctuating moods of
my crew in order to fit in.
Our personalities would
continue to ebb and flow within each other’s orbit and I just had to accept my
position until I could rise up again. Eventually I would take back my rightful
place, seize power, and rule with an iron fist. Next time I would never let go.
Tim Frank’s short
stories have been published over sixty times in journals, including Able
Muse, Bourbon Penn, Intrinsick, Menacing Hedge, Literally
Stories, Eunoia Review, Maudlin House, and The Fiction
He has been nominated
for The Best Mystery Stories of the Year 2020 and is the associate fiction
editor for Able Muse Literary Journal.
Henry Stanton's fiction, poetry
and paintings appear in 2River, The A3 Review, Avatar, The
Baltimore City Paper, The Baltimore Sun Magazine, High Shelf Press,
Kestrel, North of Oxford, Outlaw Poetry, PCC Inscape, Pindeldyboz,
Rusty Truck, Salt & Syntax, SmokeLong Quarterly, The William
and Mary Review, Word Riot, The Write Launch, and Yellow Mama,
among other publications.
poetry was selected for the A3 Review Poetry Prize and was shortlisted for
the Eyewear 9th Fortnight Prize for Poetry. His fiction received an Honorable
Mention acceptance for the Salt & Syntax Fiction Contest and was selected as
a finalist for the Pen 2 Paper Annual Writing Contest.
A selection of Henry Stanton's paintings
are currently on show at Atwater's Catonsville and can be viewed at the following website www.brightportfal.com. A selection of Henry Stanton’s published
fiction and poetry can be located for reading in the library at www.brightportfal.com.
Henry Stanton is the Founding & Managing Editor of The Raw Art Review—www.therawartreview.com.