by Nane Quartay
On the corner of Heath and Highwater, Bug Minnon's life was changed forever. On a warm, cloudless night he came face to face with his enemy. A nemesis who had been a lifelong companion, a monster who stomped around the landscape of his soul, leaving a poison that seeped into his heart. Sometimes it even shows its hideous face for all the world to see.
"I can read miiiinds, man!" Bug crazily exclaimed.
Moose stood with his head turned skyward, an upturned nose sniffing the air.
"You smell rain?" his voice wafted down to the smallish man. Bug was so zooted he simply floated himself up to where he could hear better.
"Naw, man," Bug answered. But yo' ass always smellin' rain, he thought, cause of that metal-plated brain you got. If Bug ever told anyone about Moose's weakness they would both be dead. First Moose would kill him and then someone else would kill Moose. Hell, people would fight to draw straws to see who'd get the first shot at the big man. Bug's mind twirled the idea around in the haze of his stupor, toyed with the notion of betraying his best friend, of having power over a giant. But then he discarded the idea, tossing it into the mushy mist of his smoke-filled brain. Moose kept him fed. With brain food. Mind candy. Manna. Because of Moose, Bug could look into people's thoughts.
"I can read miiiiinds, man!" Bug repeated. Moose stopped sniffing the air and arched an eyebrow at Bug.
"Here we go," Moose groaned.
"For real!" Bug said. "One rock! If I smoke me some … I can read people's minds. Tha's right. That's the kind of high I gets," Bug finished triumphantly.
Moose was quiet. He was in one of his moods, Bug determined. Danger! Danger! The thought flitted across Bug's mind making him giggle fiendishly. Boy he felt good! Moose turned to him and raised his arm, pointing across the street.
"What's that man thinkin'?" Moose asked with a devilish glint in his eye.
"Who?" Bug squeaked.
"Him," Moose thundered, jabbing his finger in the direction of a man in a wheelchair. Bug squinted in the darkness, focusing, channeling his powers. The old man sat in his wheelchair, both his legs were amputated at the knees and he was filthy. He sat facing a water fountain fashioned of stone angels and granite doves spouting dirty yellowish liquid. Behind him was a playground with two children playing on the swings, laughing carelessly and living young. Their laughter washed over the grim, crippled figure as he stared blankly at the large structure of intended serenity. A large dog sat behind the man, steadily chewing on the rubber wheel of his chair. The man sat motionless, a living statue, hardened, transfixed, with a mongrel gnawing on his 'leg'.
Bug went into a trance. "He's thinkin'," Bug droned. "If I could crawl around inside the inconsequential, the indignities of life would hold no meaning." Bug turned to look at Moose. "And I could stab this dog in his eye," he finished. Moose regarded Bug, surprised.
"Told you!" Bug exclaimed. Moose's eyes clicked before he turned and began walking down the street.
"Come on," he called over his shoulder. "Let's go down to the Aisle and cop."
Bug hurried after Moose, and the headed for the red-light district; the best stuff was down there.
Drug traffic on Heath Street was like shopping at the mall but without the ornamental finery. Heath Street is a collection of rundown, old, abandoned buildings. The gutted houses had no windows, just black holes that beckoned, no - dared one to enter. The streets were littered with the used paraphernalia of chronic drug use; needles, pipes, rubber straps and such. There was even a version of a drug drive thru as dealers did their business from open car windows.
The dealers themselves were bold and brazen, kings ruling over all who reside on the Aisle of Addicts. They all wore similar expressions, a defiant look that dared and a scowl that warned. Expressions that became a part of their lives as card-carrying chemical distribution reps. The citizens of Addict Aisle shuffle around obediently in their empty, lifeless husks of bodies, their very existence like wisps of smoke born of their habit. The men, bedraggled and beaten, in search of the next fix. The women, some old, some decrepit, having sold the last of their material goods are now selling the one commodity left to them. The drug denying them the ability to see what they have become; walking sperm banks with a habit.
Numbed to the element s of street life, Moose and Bug looked neither left nor right. Sights of the city made some people cry but for them it was emotionally effortless. As they hurried down Highwater Street, Bug took a moment to consider the man he called friend. Moose was frightening. He cut an imposing figure, in dress as well as in manner. He was clad in a tight, black T-shirt with the word 'Hell' splattered across his chest in red, burning letters with the evil image of the devil hidden in the flames. Moose was a roughneck, one of the roughest necks around and he always seemed anxious for a fight because he thinks there isn't a man on the planet who can handle him.
And with good reason. Moose's chassis is built on a massive core, an eighteen-wheeler with sledgehammer fists powered by steel ribbon biceps. A big, strapping, brooding man with a fast-burning fuse, Moose is the image of a man on a dark mission, to be avoided, or failing that, appeased at all times and at all costs.
Earlier in the evening, Bug and Moose had been up on Judson Street getting high on some shit that Moose boosted from a corner hood. The young pusher had been frightened into bravado until Moose put his finger in the middle of the kid's forehead and pushed. Hard! Then the thug dropped all pretenses and offered Moose everything that he had on him. Moose took it, and punished the hood with raging fists to the head, twice when the boy was knocked out.
Moose was a fearless man, but like other supermen, failed to take into account the infirmities of mere mortals. Bug was snapped back to reality as they rounded the corner onto Heath Street when a young hood went crashing, face first into Moose's chest. Bug gasped.
The man stumbled backwards onto Heath Street and looked up to see what he had run into.
"'Scuse me, my man," he pardoned.
Oh, hell! Bus's mind set off an alarm. That's Tokus. Tokus the drug dealer.
"'Scuse me hell, bitch!" Moose spat. Tokus' eyes went dark-dead, dead like the sea, dead like death and the darkness of the night surrounded him like a comforting blanket. Tokus glared at Moose. "I said 'excuse me'," he replied flatly.
"You gonna 'scuse me' what you got in your pocket, little man," Moose said.
The two men eyed each other, assessing, measuring. Moose was much taller than Tokus, yet they met eye to eye, neither man flinching. Tokus reached into his pocket, took out a large baggie full of white powder and smiled at Moose. A dangerous smile.
"You want this?" Tokus asked. "Take it."
The street grew eerily silent as they faced each other. The air grew heavy with tension, the night pulsed with the quickening of the crowd as they gathered around, drugs forgotten, chemical euphoria delayed.
"That's mine," Moose stated, laying claim to the big bag of cocaine while he took his shirt off, revealing a heavily muscled chest. Bug counted the scars of two gunshot wounds and at least three knife wounds.
"Oh yeah," Moose cried. "That's mine little man."
Tokus, who had been taking his shirt off, paused, dropped his shirt to the ground and stepped toward Moose, his body tensing, his face clouding over with midnight madness. Moose suddenly reached out with both hands and grabbed Tokus by the head, pulled him close and noisily kissed him on the lips. Then he shoved him roughly away. "Bitch," he sneered. Moose assumed a boxing stance, his eyes aglitter with the excitement of a veteran prizefighter. Tokus just looked mad.
They circled each other until Moose moved in, fast and fierce, rushing Tokus with all his weight and power behind a vicious right hand. Bug had seen many a man fall victim to that blow, Moose called it his money punch, but Tokus dodge it with ease. Instinctively, Moose followed with a sharp left. Again, Tokus avoided the blow. Going with the momentum from the misguided left, Moose shot his foot at the side of Tokus' head. Tokus sidestepped as Moose stumbled past him, tried to regain his balance and failed, falling hard and landing on one knee. Tokus came in swinging, landing a thundering right, complete with thunderclap, to the top of Moose's head.
"Ahhhh, damn!" Tokus screamed and clutched his fist.
The big man crumbled into the street in a heap while Tokus winced and cradled his hand as if a worm of pain was wriggling up his arm. Tokus shook his fist as if it had hit a solid metal brick and his fingers seemed to swell with pain. His fist had hit something harder than bone. Moose wasn't getting up.
Tokus stepped back, breathing heavily. The rise and fall of his chest echoed loudly into the silence of the night as the fiends of Addict Aisle looked on.
Sensing that the fight was over, a few of the druggies got brave. Moose had victimized most of them at one time or another.
"Come on, you ole punk ass! Get up!"
"You pussy man!"
"Strictly dickly is what you mean!"
Amazingly, Moose got one hand underneath himself and began struggling to his feet. His eyes rolled crazily in his head and one side of his face ticked madly. Tokus stepped toward Moose, his fist curled and cocked, when Bug leapt between them.
"Naw, man! Naw!" Bug cried. "My man is out! He's out! You can see that! He's out, man!"
"Not if he gets up," Tokus growled. Moose had made it to one knee, but his entire body was shaking. Saliva trailed in a long string from the corner of his mouth and his eyes had turned a bright red. Specks of blood dotted his head where Tokus had punched him. Bug turned back to Tokus.
"He's done. Why you gonna hurt him again, man?"
"He kissed me," Tokus roared.
"So kiss him back then!" Bug replied desperately. Moose moaned.
"Get out of the way or take his place," Tokus warned.
Bug looked at Tokus and knew there was no question of his intent. Here lay his best friend and Bug had a decision to make. Unbidden, memories came rushing at him like scarlet ghosts and the ugly monster reared his head and roared. Ninth grade study hall. A football player, a senior twice his size had stood over him, threatening. His heart had raced in epileptic spurts. Like now. A thin sheen of sweat had broken out on his brow. Like now. His body had felt fragile, as if one touch would send it bursting into bloody, boneless pieces. Like now. Then, horribly, he had bowed his head, turned and run away. Like now.
Bug didn't wait to see if his best friend made it to his feet or not, but the sound of Moose screaming followed him down the block and around every corner for the rest of his life.
His nemesis had won again.