Pulling on Octavio’s shoulder, I spun him around to face me. “What the hell are you doing? We were supposed to scare him. Not knock him out!”
With the sophomoric defiance that springs eternal from teenage souls, emotion won over reason , and the street side of my young Cuban companion emerged as he stood over Joe’s unconscious body, with the obvious intention of making me balk. He spoke to me in the same menacing tone as a coffee cart proprietor would address a ‘dirty Bengali’ cabbie trying to pass off fake $100 bills. “Hey…fuck him! He lied to us, and he got what he deserved, especially for what they did to my aunt. So, what? You gonna be a little bitch about it now?”
These Little Peru kids might have seen a few things on these dilapidated streets, and when they see white skin, they confuse the lack of pigment for a lack of spine, which is common in this part of the country…but they forget that there’s a whole other world of crazy that walks upon American ground, where dirtnecks hide razor blades in their cheeks and run through the woods without shoes. And just like this microcosm of Hispanic culture, they also love fried food, banal music, Jesus with a side of xenophobia, and the occasional fist fight spurred by the cerveza known as Bud. It’s called West Virginia.
“You lissun here, boy,” I said through gritted teeth, as a seeping rage began to slide my voice into the dialect of my youth. It had taken quite a bit of effort to get rid of that accent before arriving in my new homeland, knowing that Yankees deem condescension of rednecks as the one acceptable form of bigotry…but it has a way of unfurling its tongue under the influence of booze, fatigue, or (in this case) anger. “Doan run ye mouth on me, and gitcha head outta ye ass.” I collected myself and snapped back to the present, along with the remembrance that this boy could snap me like a pretzel. “Listen…you don’t know if Joe is even really guilty. Instead, you decided to become El Comandante and declare him guilty without any proof. Which you don’t know for sure…And, if, if this guy knows something, then you get information, reliable information, only by carefully drawing it out…by not tipping him off that we might know something about him! What about that whole plan that we talked about? What the fuck just happened to that? I’ll tell you what happened to that…you totally shit all over it! So now what the fuck are we supposed to do?!? Other than face the fact that you’re now going to jail?”
For a few moments, we stood eye to eye, with neither speaking a word. Slowly, though, I saw how my words were digging through the layers of hormones and emotional insecurities, and at last, they found their way into his heart to deliver an icy grip of something new: fear. His recalcitrance abated as he came to understand me, and a look of panic gripped him as he turned his gaze down to look upon the unmoving, groaning figure of Joe.
“Fuck…” he breathed out quietly. “Shit…I fucked up…what are we…”
I put my hand on his shoulder. “Listen, kid…maybe you should just get out of here. Maybe I can talk to him after he wakes up…you know, somehow get him to forgive you and forget this whole thing. Maybe we should forget this whole thing, since we’re obviously not off to a good start…”
“No!” he said, focusing his attention on me once more. “Please! We can’t quit now…we need to do something! Come on, man…you’re smart! You’ve got an idea, right?”
I narrowed my eyes much like an annoyed cat. “You want an idea? How about we strap him into a chair and dance around him like Vic Vega? Maybe cut off both ears instead of one?” In response, Octavio only looked back at me, dumbfounded.
I keep forgetting…I gotta lay off the Tarantino references when talking to these kids and focus more on allusions to something else asinine like iCarly or Shake It Up… But that was something to worry about later. Now, though, I needed to think quick and come up with something for the both of us. Even though Octavio stood to face the worst of any possible repercussions, my simple association with him meant that I was also in the path of danger. If Joe was a friend of Captain Richie, then I was bound to be on the receiving end of something not entirely benevolent. Maybe something akin to what befell Abner Louima, if I was lucky? I didn’t want to find out.
“Okay, okay…maybe I got something,” I muttered, only somewhat coherently. “Okay…help me get him up so that I can put him on the chair. Come on! Get his other arm!”
With each person grabbing an arm, we lifted and then dragged Joe’s limp form into the metal chair, in which he had been in a much better mood only moments before. Where’d that smug grin run off to, buddy? Did you lose it? We pressed him against the back of the chair in order to keep him on the seat, and his head rolled forward to lie on his chest. His eyes fluttered as more gibberish and a slight drool escaped his lips.
Octavio leaned close in order to whisper in my ear. “So…what are you doing to do? You’re not going to cut off his ears, right?”
I shook my head. “Uhhh…no. I’ve got a theory about this whole thing, and trust me, it’s kind of crazy…to the point where I don’t even really believe it. But…it’s all that I got to work with. So, when I start talking, just nod and go with whatever I say. Because if I don’t pull this off, we’re both in trouble. Okay?”
Octavio nodded apprehensively. “Okay…okay.”
Taking one last deep breath, much as a stage actor might do before taking the stage on opening night, I then knelt down besides our slumbering prince, and I placed my hand under his chin, lifting his head with care.
“Hey, Joe! Buddy…buddy! Come back to us! You awake?”
Joe lifted his head of his own volition, and opening his eyes, I noticed the pupillary response of someone who was awake but still uncertain about whether the present situation was a lucid dream. His lips slowly started to move, themselves uncertain of the language in this dimension.
“Wha…huh?” questioned Joe. “What happened?”
I placed a comforting hand on Joe’s shoulder, motioning with my other hand towards Octavio. “I’m sorry…but that was Octavio who knocked you out. You know, though, I can’t blame him…after all, who wouldn’t be mad after all of the bad things that you’ve done?”
“What things? What are you talking about?” blurted out Joe, looking both confused and scared.
“You want to play dumb? Okay, then…let me tell you what I know.”
Peter Bolton is the author of Blowing the Bridge: A Software Story and has also been known to be a grumpy bastard on occasion.