by Gregory Shipman.
I never saw him when he wasn’t slightly dirty, slightly smelly, and slightly drunk. My dad told me he was once a gangster, but the game got too fierce. I was never sure exactly what that meant, but at ten-years-old, I always tried to impress my dad; so I never let on that I didn’t understand.
His name was Ray-Ray. He was old… at least forty. His eyes were clear, but they should have been runny. His voice was sharp, but it should have been slurred. All the kids in the neighborhood teased him, but he didn’t care. He never seemed to be in any particular place, and yet, he seemed to be every place. His clothes were never right… mostly too dirty and too big. He wasn’t particularly neat, but he had that look… like he was orderly in his disarray. But what the hell, I was ten-years-old. What did I know?
I would sit on the steps with Ray-Ray almost everyday. Mostly it was on the big church steps down on the corner. He would talk to me like I was a person, not like a kid. He would tell me stories about the old days in the neighborhood… back in the days when he was young. I would listen to him spin the tales of how things used to be. Those were the days, he said, when men were hard and women were soft. He said men now are not as hard, but the women are still as soft. I never knew exactly what that meant either, but I told you, I was ten-years-old.
Ray-Ray would go on to talk about stores and churches and clubs. He would talk about sport teams and city league basketball games and who cheated on who. He would talk about everything and anything… except himself. Ray-Ray never talked about Ray-Ray.
One day I realized that no one ever hassled Ray-Ray. The kids teased him. They called him a bum or a drunk or an old man. They made up little songs about him. But that was the kids, and if it bothered him, he never showed it. But the real deals… the street thugs, the hustlers, the dealers and dope crews… they never bothered Ray-Ray. I asked him about that, but he never answered.
He did tell me about Miss Bertha’s secret boyfriend who only came by on Saturday nights. He said Miss Bertha would always have something to confess to the Lord on Sunday mornings. Some people around here believe if you ain’t got nothing to feel sorry for doing, the Lord might think you ain’t really living. Catholics confess to priests. We Baptists don’t do the middleman thing. When we sin the ‘Big Man’ needs to hear it first hand. Ray-Ray said the noise that came outta that house on Saturday nights meant Miss Bertha was doing a lot of confessing on Sunday mornings!
My mom would sometimes give me sandwiches for Ray-Ray. He would sit with me on those church steps and eat while I told him about things in my life. I’d talk about school and girls and my family. He knew my dad but never talked about him. He knew my grand mom and said she was a nice lady. But Ray-Ray still never talked about Ray-Ray.
I remember the day I turned eleven. My dad bought me a new English Racer bike for my birthday. It was a beautiful dark blue bike. There were no fenders over the wheels, the brake controls were on the handlebars and there were gears to shift. You could even spin the pedals backwards while cruising. This was an awesome bike… and I was eleven! I was only the second guy on our block to have an English Racer. The other guys still had kid bikes, which pretty much made them kids.
With my new bike, I decided to cruise down to the corner and see if Ray-Ray was around. I wanted to show it, and maybe spin the pedals backwards for him. I found him on the church steps. He smiled as I came to a stop and showed him my new bike. We sat and talked about being eleven and only having two years to go before the teenage stuff started.
Suddenly, I saw Ray-Ray tense and shift his position. His eyes became even clearer, and his fingers began to jiggle as though he was about to play a piano. He whispered to me not to move.
A man walked up to us. His eyes were bloodshot, he wore work clothes and a gun was in his hand. He pointed it at Ray-Ray. He paid no attention to me.
Ray-Ray had both his hands on the steps, and he calmly watched the man with the gun. The man told Ray-Ray he was going to shoot him. Actually, he said he was going to shoot him dead.
My friend never moved or said a word. The man started crying. According to him, Ray-Ray killed his brother and uncle. Ray-Ray killed them, he said, because he was paid to do it. Ray-Ray still said nothing. Still crying, the man said Ray-Ray killed a lot of men because he was paid to.
I looked at Ray-Ray, but he never took his eyes off the man.
Ray-Ray finally spoke. He asked the man to let me leave. The man kept crying. I think he never heard the words. He kept the gun pointed at Ray-Ray, who never took his eyes off the man. I kept my eyes on both of them.
Without seeming to move, Ray-Ray moved. Fast. One minute the man was holding the gun and ready to shoot, and then the gun was in Ray-Ray’s hand.
Giving me a sad smile, Ray-Ray told me to take my bike and leave. Nodding at him, I took my bike and left.
I stopped a little ways up the street next to two drug-guys who were watching the scene. Neither one seemed to notice me.
Ray-Ray appeared to say something to the crying man, and then handed the gun back to him. He sat on the church steps. He looked up the street towards me and nodded. The drug guys looked at me. I looked back.
The man pointed the gun at Ray-Ray and shot him. He shot him twice, and my friend slumped over and rolled down the steps. The drug guys glanced at me before quickly walking away. The killer of my now-dead friend put the gun in his pocket and ran.
I rode my brand new English Racer bike home. Spinning my pedals backwards, I never looked back. I knew Ray-Ray was gone. And now, after years of growing up, I know he wanted it that way.
A native East Baltimorean but now a Fairbanks, Alaska resident, Gregory K Shipman has a day job that often extends into the evening. His passion is fiction-writing about the steamy, noir side of life… past, present and future. He has yet to earn a living from his writing but has the satisfaction of knowing its all non-taxable and doesn’t accumulate airline miles. He lives a life of hardly quiet desperation with his pet laptop and on-again, off-again Jeep. He enjoys Jazz, Blues, Theater and the occasional diabetic coma…