“What’s wrong?”

Tony cringed when he arrived at their lair. There was something that bothered him on the way but he could not recognize what it was, a peculiar scene, a suspicious-looking observer or just his imagination ruining his concentration.

“I am not sure,” he replied to Jimmy’s query. The leader of the pact sent him for a pass of their next target.

“Let’s split up for a while,” Lucas was uncomfortable seeing his friend lose color. It was very odd that Tony would arrive not in his vibrant self as usual.

Karen came rushing: she bore a disturbing information.

“Guys! Some of the neighbors told me that a man kept hovering the plaza. The children divulged that he asked them about certain characters living here.”

“Did he ask about any of us?” Jimmy was skeptical. “He’s probably an intermediary, looking for people with expertise for a hit.”

“Maybe it’s nothing,” Karen agreed, evading Jimmy’s stern face, signalling her to shut up.

“I am not a math genius but one plus one is equal to two.” Lucas did not say it but he still wanted the group to separate for some time.

“So you’re backing out? Is that it?” Jimmy’s temper decided to show up. “Tony, are you out, too?”

“Two days, Jimmy,” he said. “Just two days to calm things a bit. Nothing to lose if we are careful.”

“Ah! You are losing your nerves!” Jimmy’s neck veins were visibly strained. “Time is of the essence. The opportunity is tonight!”

Bobby came just in time. His arrival somewhat cooled down the heat inside the lair.

“What’s up guys,” he grinned innocently, “and gal?”

– 0 –

Lefty sowed confusion.

In disguise for most of the time, he was aware about the mentality in the slums: people protected their own, no distinctions, good or bad, they stuck together as unit of tolerance for one another’s fight for survival. Exceptions were a rarity.

His sights was onto Tony, a sixteen year old who was tagged as The Climber. If he could capture him, the group’s operation would be paralyzed. Tony was supposed to be always the first to go in.

Another name was added to Lefty’s list: Lucas the Mask. The seventeen-year old had the habit of wearing stockings on his face to elude identification. He was also said to be Tony’s close brother in crime.

Arson was out of the question: they seldom group together in one place. The habitual offenders graduated from petty stuffs to become pretenders, unnamed for now, but soon to be given the monicker they probably dreamed of in the first place.

“I’ll make you all popular,” Lefty swore. “Your names will be added to my favorites roll.”

He saw them appear at a corner store.

Two birds with one stone.

– o –

“I am thinking of retiring,” Tony confided to Lucas who drank a soda. “I am afraid. I don’t want to get caught. I know what horrible things they do to minors in jail.”

“We won’t go to jail,” Lucas corrected. “We’ll be locked up in a detention center.”

“That’s the same thing,” Tony quipped. “I don’t want to be locked up again. Remember our first? Someone tried to rape me.”

“Which I stopped,” Lucas reminded him. “We’ll not be caught because we’ll retire.”

“What will Jimmy say? He’ll be raged.”

“So what?” Lucas downed the rest of the bottle’s contents. “Big deal.”

“I talked to Marcus the other day. He agreed that it’s time for me to do good things for a change. Go to school maybe.”

“What? As Grade one pupil? You’re be the laughingstock in class, the giant first grader.”

Lucas had not forgotten how Marcus treated him as a boy. That scar would never leave him for the rest of his life.

“He’s willing to teach me so I can take the special test to start in high school instead.” Tony sounded hopeful.

“Marcus has lost it. He’s feeding you all those dreams you can’t achieve.”

“Maybe he’s right, Lucas. We can be classmates. Let’s try it!”

“School is not for me, Tony. You know that. If I quit being a thief, I could be a swindler instead. I can talk so with enough practice I can fool people with sweet words.”

“What? You want to be a politician?” Tony laughed out loud.

“Come to think of it,” Lucas agreed. “That’s not a bad idea.”

(to be continued)



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