Me and Ray were always talking when we were kids. We’d get a trade when we grew up, plumbing, electric, something like that. We’d get into some business together, success guaranteed, watch each other’s back. That’s when we were kids, a long time ago.
I did okay in school, better than Ray, that’s for sure, but Ray had the touch. Even as a kid he could fix things. Anything. He could look at something and figure it out. A lock, a lawn mower, a bicycle, he’d jump right in, no fear. Tools? He’d figure them out too. We’d grow up and be a team. Partners forever.
Before I knew Ray—I met Ray in the fifth grade—before him I played a lot with the Abrams twins. One was Paul and the other was Robert. You couldn’t tell ’em apart. Everybody in the neighborhood called ’em Half and Half, and both of them would answer to that, didn’t matter which one it was. I’m bringing that up because I didn’t know when I was a kid, or even when I got a little older, but Half and Half and me would be the team.
It was supposed to be me and Ray, but that didn’t work out.
Why Ray made it a point to bully Paul and Robert Abrams I couldn’t figure out. We’d be outside playing stickball, having fun, and Ray would show up and I’d see the twins look at each other and right away they’re leaving, heading home. Ray would run to catch up, push them around, punch them, call them names I never heard him use on anybody else. Even as a kid I knew it was way wrong, and even when me and Ray were close friends, when I thought we were a team, I stuck up for Half and Half. Ray would give me a look like I was being a sissy or something, but me and Half and Half were friends long before Ray Mitchell showed up in the neighborhood. I told him a million times to lay off.
I don’t want to say this, but it’s true: even as a little kid Ray could be like his old man, who was, excuse the language, an asshole. My folks didn’t put up with language like that. My mother would wash my mouth out with soap, but that doesn’t change anything. Ray’s old man was no good, ever, and that’s probably the reason me and Ray ain’t a team no more—Ray becoming like his old man.
Anyhow, we get through grade school and high school, and for some reason I never quite understand, I get a choice: brick layer or drywaller. I had uncles doing that stuff, I guess that helped. I go with drywall. Easier on the hands, plus the work’s inside. Funny, but Ray, never much of a student, is in trade school.
About that time there’s a story goes around that some guy has come up from Atlanta and he’s gonna be the big man, immediately, with the drugs thing. That’s what we hear. It’s all over the neighborhood. Me and Ray don’t fool with the drugs. Never. I’m not interested, and Ray, who I don’t realize is on his way to becoming an alcoholic like his old man, he likes drinking. Ray gets all bent out of shape when he’s drunk; I guess I don’t see that yet.
Drugs? We know there’s drugs around, but who cares? We steer clear. What’s this guy from Atlanta got to do with us? This guy, he’s all muscled up, everybody’s talking about him. The story is he comes into town and takes over the north side, like, in a week. Everybody’s talking about that. You know how people talk. He comes into town and they say he kills some guy on the north side, some big-time dealer—he doesn’t hesitate, he gets right to it—and after that the north side belongs to him. Leastways, that’s what we’re hearing. I don’t go to the north side, but I see stuff on the news and hear stuff out on the streets. Word is this guy ain’t afraid of anybody, cops included. And then we hear—we hear about this in our neighborhood, which is mostly white—we hear some guys saying all the talk about this guy being dangerous and so on, that’s bullshit. We hear there’s some guys—from our neighborhood—they’re going to rip off this guy from Atlanta. You know, steal his drugs and his money. He won’t see it coming, he’s new to the area and he don’t really know his way around—something like that. Sounds like a made-up story to me, and then I hear this:
I’m at the butcher shop getting something for my mother, I’m standing outside the butcher shop and I hear these guys on a stoop, old men, I hear them talking. I’m not getting the whole thing, but it sounds like Mr. Abrams—that’s Half and Half’s old man—Mr. Abrams is the guy who’s gonna take out the guy from Atlanta. I hear that and it just doesn’t make sense. It’s ridiculous. Half and Half’s old man? No way. Two old men on a stoop. Who listens to them?
I’m an apprentice drywall installer, making good money, and Ray’s just getting out of trade school. We’re both, like, twenty.