It helps when you’ve got nothing to lose.
At least that’s what she told us at the time—me and Jimmy and Bill—with that look in her eyes that she got sometimes.
“We ain’t crooks!” Jimmy appealed to each of us, but we looked away; at the headlights on the street behind us, the uneven cobbled walk that was always tripping us up, the beat up out-of-order public bathrooms we’d sometimes seen bad-looking people going in and out of. Even we knew better than to go in there.
“Well, you ain’t no murderers either,” Karen snapped back, “but that’s what’ll become of ya if we don’t do it.”
Boy, did we know it. We’d worried about the blood on our hands for days. We were in a bind and time was running out.
Jimmy rolled the baseball toward me, though our game of catch had ended hours before. The lights over McGolrick Park didn’t go on at night anymore and we’d stopped hoping they’d fix ’em. So, when it was too dark to see the ball, we dragged our bats in the mud and sat in the grass near the street lamps that lit up Russell Street. The grass was wet with melted snow, but we were already dirty and so we didn’t care.
“What do you think, Hal?” Karen narrowed her eyes, daring me to say what I really thought, even though she knew I wouldn’t. She knew those guys would listen to me. It wasn’t fair, really, but what could I do? She was the prettiest girl I’d ever seen. Her blonde hair was stringy and her face was streaked with mud and I’d never seen her wear a dress or anything like the other girls wore. Yeah, so she had me and there was nothin’ I could do.
I held the ball in my hands and traced the stitching with my fingers. Jimmy pushed at his glasses nervously. Bill picked at the frozen grass, but said nothing. He’d do whatever we wanted, Bill. He was good like that. It was Jimmy who was the wildcard. But Sammy was gonna die and we all knew it. Besides, he didn’t have nobody but us.
“It’s like Karen said,” I looked around at all of them. “We ain’t got no choice.”
It was just a pet store off Driggs Avenue, nothing special. Karen picked the place, said it was close enough to my folks’ apartment if we had to run.
We met around the corner from it the next afternoon. Bill’d swiped his brothers’ and old man’s ski masks and old sweats from home. Karen pulled a mask over her pretty blonde hair and I’ll tell ya, she really looked the part.
“I can’t even tell it’s you!” Jimmy said.
“That’s the point, dummy,” Karen said with a roll of her eyes, the only part of her that we could see. She yanked off her mask and shoved it in her baggy pockets.
Jimmy had his drawstring pants pulled tight around his scrawny waist; Karen’s sweatshirt went down past her knees. The only one who didn’t look like a hobo or a fool was Bill, who was built like his pops—all brawn, like Dick Butkus, even though he hated football. His old man was always jostlin’ him, trying to get him to play, but Bill just wanted to write his poems. We’d never seen Bill get in a fistfight but we were pretty sure he could knock someone out if he had to. We were grateful to have him around.
Tiffany Adams, who was a nice girl but a dim girl if you know what I mean, was managing the store. It was my job to talk to Tiffany, Karen said, on account of me being the only one who’d be charming enough to distract her.
While I was working out if a girl like Karen would prefer a charming guy like me, or a stoic guy like Bill—no offense to Jimmy or nothin’ but he wasn’t really in this race—Karen was assigning jobs to the others and shuffling us inside. The door slammed behind us and Bill and Jimmy and Karen posted at their stations, but not before Karen gave me a shove toward the counter.
“Can I help ya?”
Tiffany’s pops owned the store and she’d worked with him for as long as I could remember. She had dark red hair and green eyes and she smelled real nice. She was looking at me expectantly, so I leaned over the counter and tried to brush some hair outta my eyes like I seen them do in the movies when they’re talking to pretty girls like Tiffany Adams. “I saw ya through the window so, uh, I was comin’ in to ask ya how ya was doin’.” I threw her a grin so she would know we was flirting.
“Ain’t you sweet,” Tiffany said. “You live down the street, dontcha?”
Outta the corner of my eye I noticed the security videos behind the counter starting to go black, one by one. I nodded and leaned in a little closer.