Wednesday, 1 December 2010
PARNELL'S GIRL by Matthew C. Funk
Owen had no idea he held his own death warrant in hand as he scrolled through the iTouch he’d stolen. His good humor glimmered in the little screen’s reflection, joined with that of his pal, T-Bunch, hunkered over his shoulder.
“I got some mad bounce beats right up in here,” Owen said.
“You got a whole fucking record store there, dog,” T-Bunch drawled, spinning the New Orleans Saints football helmet dangling from his keychain to indulge his favorite nervous tic.
“I got motherfucking VH1 and MTV and BET all up in here.”
“It’s tight as a thong.”
“Crazy tight.” Owen flipped through the songs. His feet kicked on the steps outside the Carver High gym, making the rotting asphalt dance. “Got some Weezy. Some Prince. Some TRU. Got some Kool and the Gang and some DMX and some Guru, man.”
Always the cautious one, T-Bunch gave the schoolyard a stroke of his mirror shades. “Who you think was rolling with all them tunes loaded, dog?”
“Maybe some music critic.”
“Some music critic who’s down, for sure.”
“Some bad ass O.G., you think?” The helmet got to spinning again. Owen’s smile was alone.
“Ain’t no motherfuckers more bad ass than we Aces, fool.” Owen formed a fist decked with gold and glister. He held it out for a bump. “We running the Desire from the Canal up them ho-choked streets all the way to our crib.”
“Aces be running with iron fists and chrome rims.” T-Bunch bumped his fist. He let the question lie. His feet didn’t, starting a shuffle.
“Maybe some critic who knows Weezy.” Owen keyed back through the tracks to the main screen.
“Maybe we get a hookup with that Hollygrove player, too.”
“Maybe we do.” Owen showed a grin right to the edges of his golden grill. “Roll on up on Rabid with Weezy toking our blunts, and be like, ‘Damn, what’s up, little dog? We hit the platinum!’”
T-Bunch chuckled. A second later, he realized he was the only one. The frown slapped back on and he leaned in to the screen look at the screen with Owen.
“What’s that say, dog?”
They both read the name of the owner. Then both boys took a minute just breathing. They savored the wet diesel of the New Orleans air like it was a last meal.
“So,” T-Bunch was first to prod the silence, “We gonna give it back?”
“Hells no.” As hard as he tried, Owen couldn’t find an exclamation mark to end his sentence. He sagged.
“But, Owen,” T-Bunch said delicately. “That little gizmo belongs to Parnell’s girl.”
“Same Parnell who blinded that fool who scratched his ride.” T-Bunch pressed, shivering more by the word despite the stew of summer heat. “Same Parnell who, like, is supposed to eat fools he don’t like.”
“So we Aces, man!” Owen brayed through his cold sweats. “This the Ninth Ward—Ninth Circle of Hell here, dog, and we the ones holding the pitchforks! Feel me?”
T-Bunch shuffled like his feet were on fire.
“I said, ‘You feel me’?” Owen said.
He raised his fist for T-Bunch. By the time T-Bunch pounded it, Owen had already tucked the iTouch deep in his pocket. He pushed McDonald’s receipts on top of it just in case.
Noon came like a bath in hot sauce. It found the boys kicked back on their porch, fricasseeing on the lime-green stucco. Parnell found them too.
The ’74 Cadillac peeled up so fast it may as well have come off a stunt jump. By the time Owen and T-Bunch had focused their sleepless eyes on the driver, Parnell slithered out. He loped up, reptile sleek and shirtless, his Buddy Holly glasses a solid white burn under the sun.
“What’s up, little nigs?” Parnell crowed. His scars burned brown where he had cut the names of his gang into his flesh. “You learning a lot in school?”
“Yes, Sir.” T-Bunch said. Owen just scowled.
“You learn how to lie real good in school.” Parnell bounced onto the porch to leer over them. “Don’t you? Baby ate my homework; I ain’t no truant, just bringing Granmere her medicine—that kind of shit.”
“I guess,” T-Bunch said to Parnell’s nod.
“Yeah, exactly, shit like that.” Parnell put on a shark smile—not his brightest, but sharp enough to do. “But you wouldn’t lie to a mad king who feed a bitch his own tongue if he was lied to.”
“Naw.” Both boys answered.
“No, you too smart for that.” Parnell said. He bobbed his head like a prizefighter. “So, give it over.”
T-Bunch opened his mouth, but the denial choked.
“Uhm,” Owen managed.
“Ain’t no motherfucking ‘uhm’ to it, boy.” Parnell said, his hands bunching in his pockets. “Give my girl’s iTouch over.”
T-Bunch began to deflate just in time for Owen to see it. It got Owen’s back up; he sneered. There was no way an Ace was going to be made to feel less-than; not on his watch.
“Or what?” Owen yelped.
Parnell’s eyes matched his grin as he swiveled them to Owen.
“I mean,” Owen said, fighting down the fear jamming his throat. “We Aces, Parn. We as much as pay your motherfucking bills. Whatever rock you sling, it’s our houses in the bayou that cook it up. Our ho’s is the ones sucking your soldiers off. What you got?”
“Well,” Parnell snapped. “I got a bit of a rep, even with your high-stepping crew.”
“Dog,” Owen said, feeling all his quaking twist into a cocky chuckle. He stood. “I know what they newsflashing about you, but I got a headline for you, big man.”
“Listening.” Parnell said.
“You ain’t cutting off dick.” Owen flipped his hands up. “You ain’t going to feed shit to shit. You hear?”
Owen jabbed at the elaborate scars on Parnell’s chest with a finger that felt as hard as the ring on it. “So, you come up in our house, pissing on our sunny Saturday, you better be coming in trade.”
“I got a trade right here.” Parnell pumped his shorts at Owen with the hands in his pockets.
“Let’s see it then, Hannibal the Cannibal.” Owen chuckled.
Parnell lifted his right hand from his pocket, a pin dangling on it by its thick ring.
“Oh shit,” T-Bunch muttered. He tried to stand and ended up sliding onto his belly, feet gone to ice. Owen just shrugged.
“What the fuck I need a motherfucking pin for?”
“You need this pin,” Parnell said smoothly.
“For what?” Owen laughed. “Hold my pants up?”
“You won’t have an ass to go with those pants.” Parnell lifted his other hand. “Unless you put it back in this grenade.”
Owen just stared at the live grenade in Parnell’s left hand, feeling his face slowly frost over. He tried to swallow. He tried breathing. Nothing worked.
Owen found the whimper that was left of his voice. “Crazy-ass motherfucker coming on up in here with a grenade to get an iPod back.”
“iTouch,” Parnell corrected. “We got a deal?”
“Man…” Owen whined. He looked to his friend for support. The sight of T-Bunch just sobbing melted the remainder of his bones.
“Yeah?” Parnell began to open his left hand. The lever on the grenade started to spring. Owen couldn’t nod fast enough.
“Yeah, man, yeah, sure, yeah, man, oh yeah, come on.”
Parnell let Owen clutch the grenade. When the grip was good and tight, he slid free of it. The pin got tossed to T-Bunch.
“I’d say you hand over my girl’s iTouch now.” Parnell wiped his hands on the name ‘SKY’ carved under his heart. “But it looks like you got your hands full.”
It took four minutes for T-Bunch to fish the iTouch from Owen’s pocket with his rubber fingers. By the time the pin was back in the grenade, Parnell was on his way home.
After the fifth lock was bolted into place on his tenement door, and the screen was braced with the bar, Parnell rolled his shoulders to relax.
He didn’t just walk through his den. He flowed. The furnishings and the walls all echoed his passions—scales stacked high with drugs, movie posters sporting French action flicks and Korean horror scowling all around, plush 80s-era upholstery. All of it was dusted with a fine sparkle of stray cocaine. All was right in Parnell’s world.
For all his lizard-like leisure, Parnell practically sped up the steps to the bedroom waiting with its door, as ever, a bit ajar.
His tread was light on the steps. They were hollow, and a bit too much gusto would get them creaking. The thought of what lurked under them made Parnell think back on the events of the day.
Under the stairs was the passage to the basement, a narrow flight that looked fused from kindling and spider webs. It was where Parnell had his most satisfying vengeance—a vengeance he’d been denied today.
Down below Parnell’s careful feet were the hacksaws and the blow torches. Racks of butcher knives rusted alongside rubber tubing. And in a case imported from Cuba, its burgundy wood sprayed with gold filigree in the height of Spanish Colonial fashion, there were tools for finer work.
Parnell permitted himself a frown as he pushed open the bedroom door. The young Aces—Owen and T-Bunch—would not be making the acquaintance of the Cuban case. Not today.
Their continued existence meant continued business. That didn’t matter to the anxious engine of Parnell’s heart. It meant everything to his head.
He had someone to take care of, after all.
Parnell took caution not to disturb the safari of stuffed animals on the floor and sank his weight onto the little bed. There, curled under sheets of peaceful pastel linen, was his girl. Little Sky, age twelve, had nothing to crease her face in sleep.
Parnell stroked his daughter’s face all the same. The action, as ever, terrified and exhilarated him. His hand felt so coarse whenever it touched her, as if the slightest error might leave her with an indelible scrape.
That concern was a curse for a wild beast like him. It was also a blessing he wouldn’t trade—not for all coke in Creation.
“Got your iTouch back, baby.” Parnell whispered after the urge to soothe her overcame the instinct to let her stay at peace.
Sky’s mouth turned down and an instant of fear shot clean through Parnell’s chest. The salve of her voice vanished it the moment later.
“Thank you, Parn,” Sky said, lashes fluttering on their closed lids as the frown shifted into a smile. “Where did you find it?”
“Around the gym, like you thought.” Parnell’s fingers checked Sky’s hair for any strays to tuck back in the groove of her braids. They did it for their own reasons, too. Each touch got dark places in him singing with a hint of light. “Some boys gave it over.”
“Just some boys.”
“Just some boys.”
The dent in Sky’s brows fell only to smooth a moment later. “Okay.”
“Yeah.” Parnell set the iTouch near her head. He tucked the ear-buds that he’d cleaned with antiseptic, then with a moist Kleenex and with a dry one, next to her head. “All’s good.”
“No trouble?” Sky’s eyes almost opened. It hit Parnell like a dare. For the first time in ages, he trembled a bit. “For real?”
“None.” Parnell said, able to breathe again as Sky smiled and settled into her pillow. He breathed deep, took her all in, wanting nothing more than to hold that breath forever. It left him for the only excuse worth it—saying her name. “Sky, girl, you don’t have a trouble in the world.”
Parnell left her with his promise and loped his scarred body downstairs to take gun and drugs and terror in hand, and so to go make his promise true.
Matthew C. Funk is a professional marketing copywriter and social media consultant, a writing mentor and the author of several manuscripts that illuminate the beauty of human extremes. A graduate of the Professional Writing MFA at USC, his online work is featured at sites such as Flash Fiction Offensive; ThugLit; Powder Burn Flash; Thrillers, Killers and Chillers; Twist of Noir; Pulp Metal Magazine; Spinetingler Magazine; Six Sentences and his Web domain.