The rest of our friends had gone to Six Flags, but Tyler and I went to Colburn to buy crack. It was early September, the beginning of senior year of high school. We were skipping school because we could skip once a month, no problem, and remain beneath the sixteen absences that would keep us from graduating. They’d call home, but my parents worked and I’d be back early enough to erase the messages. Tyler’s girlfriend Ellen would forge a note saying that I had nosebleeds, diarrhea, a urinary tract infection: whatever she thought might be funny to show the secretary in charge of attendance.
It was the perfect day for Six Flags, a weekday that was all dark clouds and mist, which meant no lines. As Tyler’s 88 Buick scrolled over the cracked and pot-holed pavement, I held my hand out the window, arm-wrestling the wind.
“Roller-coasters are for children,” Tyler said. I nodded my head sleepily as the car hugged a turn. Tyler steered with his left hand. His right arm was always back behind my headrest like I was his girlfriend and the seat was the only thing keeping him from holding me tight. “I feel sorry for them,” Tyler said. He turned his head away from the road to look at me. I could tell he was grateful for the company.
Out my window was a lake the color of tinted glass. Swans floated on the surface, bobbing.
“Eight in the morning is way too early to buy drugs,” I said.
“All my good memories are of doing bad things,” Tyler said as he parked the car. The streets were empty, for the most part. Cadillac rust buckets lined the sides of the road and lights changed from green to yellow to red with no cars crossing the intersection.
“What are we doing here?” I asked.
“I know a guy. He’s going to sell us crack. We’re going to smoke it and get really, really high.”
“I woke up like twenty minutes ago.”
“Nobody wakes up this early to sell crack”
“I know a guy.”
We walked away from the car, I assumed in the direction of Tyler’s guy. We moved toward the beach, past landmarks that proved how wealthy Colburn used to be. A spiral staircase that stopped abruptly, leading nowhere. A fifteen foot tall gargoyle made of black marble. All surrounded by abandoned buildings, the sidewalks sparkling with the violence of shattered glass.
“What’s your guy’s name?” I asked.
“Filipino Bob,” Tyler said after thinking about it for a minute.
“You made that up.”
Tyler started to answer me, but was interrupted by a man who stepped in front of us. He grunted. The noise sounded like it had to work its way through a blockage in his throat, like he hadn’t spoken for weeks. His skin was riddled with sores, and his face was covered with black hair that hadn’t been shaved, maybe ever. He wore an old army jacket, and waved an empty bottle at us threateningly. He was missing a hand. There was just a stump that ended about where a hand should begin and a triangle flap of skin that had been sewed over it.
“Hi,” Tyler said.
The guy swung the bottle at the alley’s brick wall, and the noise it made echoed through the empty streets. The bottle didn’t break. He swung it against the wall again, and the base of the bottle shattered, leaving a razor-sharp circle of broken glass. He pointed the jagged edge at us.
“Wallet,” he said to Tyler. Tyler laughed. The man turned to me. “Watch,” he said.
“Dude,” Tyler said, “You’re missing a hand. Even if I gave you my wallet, you’d have to put down the bottle to take it from me. That’s bad news for you. I’ll give you six dollars to leave us alone.” Tyler took his wallet out of his back pocket and opened it, showing the man all the money that was intended for drugs. He removed six one dollar bills and held them out.
“Here,” Tyler said. “Open your mouth.”
The man feinted with the broken bottle toward Tyler, which caused Tyler to flinch. Tyler shoved the guy against the wall and then backed off. He’s only seventeen, but Tyler is six two and shaped like a pro wrestler. Tyler threw the money at the guy, who let the bills fall around him to the ground.
“Let’s just go,” I said. “It’s not like we can’t outrun the guy.”
“That’s not the point,” Tyler said.
“Come on. ‘Filipino Bob’ is waiting.” The man’s eyes shifted between me and Tyler. He looked shaky, sick. Like he had maybe ten minutes to live.
“I’m gonna give the guy my wallet. And when he puts down the bottle, I’m going to crack his head open like a fucking piñata.” Tyler moved closer, until the broken end of the bottle was only inches from his abdomen.
“Tyler, this guy has problems.” A pleading entered my voice that I regretted. Bad energy vibrated in my gut and worked its way out to my fingertips, which trembled.
“I shouldn’t hurt him, you’re saying.”
“I’m saying that he looks fucked regardless.”
“Watch!” The guy turned the bottle toward me.
“I’m not gonna give you my watch, dude.” I shifted my attention for a second before looking back at Tyler.
“People have problems. People are fucked.”
Tyler held out his wallet. “Take it.”
A siren broke the tension and we turned to watch the cop car pull up next to us. The guy didn’t put down the bottle, didn’t move like he was going to run. His eyes shifted manically.
“Problem?” the cop said in a friendly voice, stepping out of the car toward the three of us.
The cop held his nightstick out, pointing it at the guy. The distance closed between the two of them. The cop lifted the nightstick over his head and brought it down on the guy’s forearm. The contact made a sound like a knuckle cracking. He dropped the bottle and fell to his knees with a gasp, hugging his two arms in toward his chest. A foot long hanger of drool dropped from the man’s mouth and scraped the pavement. He spit it out and cursed. The cop smacked him above the ear with the nightstick. The wood bouncing off the man’s skull made a hollow sound of impact. A seizure racked his body as he crumpled into the fetal position. His legs kicked out and then locked. When his body turned so he was face up I watched his eyelids flutter, exposing the cream-white of his eyeballs as the pupils rolled into the back of his head.
I felt dizzy. My skin was wet, with either sweat or mist, making my shirt stick to my chest and back. I watched the man’s legs go completely rigid and his arm, the one with the hand, raise up away from his body and shake, limp at the wrist. The newly broken bone made a harsh angle.
“What are you boys doing in this part of town?” the cop asked, friendly.
“Buying concert tickets,” Tyler said. The cop stared for a long time, a thin smile slashed across his face. He turned to look at the man, who was still flopping on the ground, tiny hisses escaping through clenched teeth.
“Go to school,” the cop said, and then turned back to his car.
We walked back in total silence. Tyler drove, his right arm behind the headrest, intimate. We came to a red light at the lake. The swans were still floating.
“Ha!” Tyler yelled, punching the dashboard. “That was awesome!”
My mouth was sticky with dried out saliva. My tongue like gravel. I coughed my affirmation. The light changed and we pulled away with purpose. Filipino Bob would wait. I held my hand out the window and let it flutter, hiding the tremors that moved through my muscles but were most evident in my hands.
“OK,” Tyler said, “Six Flags!”
Bobby Fischer lives in Haledon, NJ. He received his MFA from William Paterson University, where he currently works on the staff of Map Literary, an arts and literature magazine. Reach him @cuddlecrime on twitter.