The Boys from Racetrack Road – Episode 1
By: Rock Kitaro
Act 1 – A Little Humility…
Dragon Ash – “Mixture” Press Play
Act 1 – A Little Humility
Waiting at a red light in 90 degree weather is never a good thing. It doesn’t matter if you have AC or not. You’re gonna sweat. Your shirt is gonna get soaked. And if you don’t have shades, especially down here in Tampa, Florida…your eyes are gonna burn.
Such was my circumstance on that Friday morning. I was sitting in my black two-door 1999 Oldsmobile Alero. To my right was Joey Abasolo. He was about a year older than me, but shorter than me. Joey was either Cuban or Puerto Rican. I couldn’t tell from his light complexion, slanted eyes and edged up buzz cut. But I’m sure he couldn’t tell what I was either. My dad’s black, but my mom’s Dominican. I stood about six feet with a sharp mustache goatee and an admirable lean athletic physique. I looked black, but from my light skin and long curly hair, most people thought I was Samoan. Whatever the hell that means.
Joey was sitting in his white 2004 Toyota Supra. I’m not gonna lie, his car looked clean and from the heavy bass rumble of the engine, you could tell it wasn’t factory manufactured. To say Joey was proud of it was an understatement. As I sat patiently waiting with my fingers casually clasped in my laps, Joey had his left hand on the top of the steering wheel, flexing those triceps and grinning at me like he’d lost his mind to the sun. It was awkward and I couldn’t help but shake my head at him.
Yep, my old man always said a race was the best way to start the day, but I was wasting time. I should’ve been heading down to Ybor to pick up my little sisters. I told them not to go to that after party. But like they’d listen. Then I had to go to school and work up until midnight. Yep…That’s how I wanted to spend my Friday. Damn! What the hell was I even doing there? How did I even end up in that little predicament? To answer that, let me take you back to about an hour earlier.
You see, at nine o’clock I had to attend regional team meeting for Pizza Shack in the district of Town and Country. About 30 employees had all gathered and were seated under the roof of the sit-in restaurant. It wasn’t the Pizza Shack that I worked at, but it was the next closest one down. Not everyone from my store was in attendance. Some of my co-workers attended the same meeting but the day before. I should’ve done the same.
The mangers and shift leaders were all dressed in their green and red uniforms, all wide-awake and eager to begin the day’s activities. Everyone else, the drivers and CSRs, were all dressed in our street clothes, slightly out of it and simply waiting to get out. Tom Gilchrist was the name of the General Manager. He stood up at the check out counter to address us. To be honest, I couldn’t remember what he was talking about during the meeting before this point.
“Alright everyone, lets all give a big hand for our man. This pizza driver has been with us for some time. He just so happens to have set a company record with a whopping forty-eight deliveries in a single night! Everyone, give Mr. Maxwell Blaz a hand!” Mr. Gilchrist said with a ridiculous amount of enthusiasm, considering what time it was.
I stood up from my table wearing some dirty jeans haven’t been washed in a while and a tight fitting button up shirt. It wasn’t my best attire, but I new there wasn’t going to be any girls there worth impressing. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t a thug or one of those so-called players. I wore clothes that fit me. I wore a belt to keep my pants up. I hardly talked slang and I was responsible with my money. If you could point out anything about me that would probably raise an eyebrow, it would be the tattoos that covered my arms from my shoulders to my wrists. Nothing vulgar, just tribal designs that said “edgy” yet “neutral” at the same time. After all, this was Tampa, Florida, the MMA capital of the United States. Ink was pretty much a mandatory sign of manhood. So naturally tattoos were on my wish list for my nineteenth birthday last November.
Walking up to receive my plaque was a bit…weird. Even though delivering pizzas wasn’t exactly a headliner on your resume, I still took pride in what I set out to do. But there was only one person clapping for me. In a room of about thirty plus people, the sound of just one person clapping was worst than no one applauding at all. I took the plaque and shook Mr. Gilchrist’s hand. I wanted to hurry up and return to my seat but the general manager gestured for me to say a few words.
I nodded politely and faced the rest of my peers. Everyone looked stoned. It was ridiculous. Even the people who worked at my store were looking at me like they were begging me to keep it short. “So…Thanks, I guess. It’s a real honor and a treat.” I said with as much enthusiasm as I could muster.
“Hang on! Forty-eight deliveries!? In one night? How is that even possible?” A rough-lookin dude from another store barked out.
I instinctively batted my eyelids and raised my eyebrows at the dude. “Well, I was actually gonna address that. I mean, if you’d relax and let a brotha talk… You might just very well learn something. I mean…Possibly.” I said with a natural dramatic flair.
A round of laughter started to rumble from my audience. Even workers who were dying for a cigarette couldn’t help but laugh at this rude rough-lookin dude. But of course, the kids sitting at the dude’s table were not amused. Joey Abasolo was one of those kids.
“You were probably speeding! I’m guessing you used your tips to pay off all those tickets.” Said the girl sitting beside Joey with large plugs in her ears.
The girl kind of made sense…Actually she made perfect sense. Except I don’t get no damned speeding tickets. If a cop was able to pull me over with the speeds I usually ran, I knew I’d be heading straight to jail, no questions asked. Mr. Gilchrist was beginning to have second thoughts. He shot me a look as if he wanted me to confirm or shoot down the girl’s accusations. The rising volume of independent debates between the various workers also wasn’t helping my case.
“Alright, everyone simmer down! Simmer down!” Chris shouted as he rose from his seat.
Chris Meister… one of my best friends. He was a white guy with a large bouncer build and a short buzz cut. He had naturally loud booming voice and loved to explain every little thing down to the last detail. He was twenty-four years old and living at home with his mother but only because his mother needed him. Chris juggled about ten jobs throughout the week, but Pizza Shack was his main source of income. His money was divided between paying a boatload of bills and his unwavering need for alcohol consumption.
“Now being Max’s shift leader, I check his record every month. As is required by standard issued protocol.” Chris began while nodding in search for Mr. Gilchrist’s approval. “And in the three years Max has been driving for us, he hasn’t racked up a single point on his license.” He said.
I nodded with overflowing gratitude. “Thank you, Chris. I appreciate…”
“Yall just mad cause the boy got skills and yall just hatin.” Chris just had to add.
I sighed and instinctively facepalmed myself. Chris’s loud declaration triggered an uproar from the drivers, all shouting to call out Chris’s bullcrap. Ten minutes later, the meeting was over, but not the debate. And it wasn’t my debate. Chris was the one still arguing with everyone on my behalf. I was outside in the parking lot with three of my younger co-workers. They were supposed to be riding with me and everyone agreed with the idea of picking up some sausage biscuits before the breakfast hours ended.
Paul, Christy and Matt were all still in high school with about two years left till their graduation. But they were old enough in my book. Cool and mature for their ages. As we walked toward my black Alero, it was Paul who nudged my shoulder and directed me towards the Toyota Supra on the other side of the lot. Joey and his crew were all leaning against the white car and glaring at me like they went to a rival school.
“The hell is their problem…” I said casually, mainly rhetorically.
“Let’s go find out…” Paul said, getting ready to step up.
I’m sorry… Let me go a little more in depth with these high schoolers known as Paul, Christy and Matt. They were all cool and mature, but still high schoolers. Paul was Italian. He needed to be on the football team with his swollen physique and intimidating glare, but he was a car enthusiast like myself. Christy and Matt were brothers and sisters. Both were tatted up and both looked like emos with long colored hair and thin skinny fitted jeans. Both were responsible and always talking about the news as if their parents were fighting in the conflicts overseas.
“I’m sayin man. Let’s go see what their problem is!” Paul urged.
I laughed as I patted Paul on his chest. “No no no no. Leave em be, eh Paulie.” I said before Matt put an arm around Paul’s neck and pulled him away. Christy laughed and cheered for her brother to wrestle Paul to the ground. It was always a pleasant sight to see my juniors smiling. And just when everything was going all well and smooth…I got a phone call.
My ring tone was a Korean pop song that my youngest baby sister put on. It was a pleasant tone that always lifted my spirits. However, it was the name on the caller ID that made me bite my lower lip. I flipped my phone open…yes, I had a flip phone…I flipped opened my phone and answered. “Yeah…” I said bluntly.
On the other side of the city…in downtown Tampa…in some celebrity’s luxury penthouse hotel room… close to a popular concert hall…Two of my sisters were sitting half dressed on a leather sofa. The swanky hotel room was a mess with scattered condoms, broken wine glasses traces of narcotics and toppled champagne bottles. About eight other women wearing nothing but their underwear were passed out on the floors and on the other couches.
Camille and Marisa Gallagher…They’re my half-sisters. Same mom, different dad. With their long brown straight hair and light mocha colored skin, it was easy to tell that they took after their German father. Most people found it hard to believe that they’re my sisters even though we all had broad shoulders and the same jaw line. Back when I was in high school, I had to kick the crap out of several guys who thought my sisters were cheating on them with me. As if the implication of incest wasn’t disgusting enough, dealing with the kind of jocks my sisters attracted only amplified how much I couldn’t stand them.
Camille was the oldest one. She had just turned eighteen and was in her senior year. She’s already appeared in five music videos behind our parent’s backs and has since expressed aspirations of becoming a back-up dancer either on Broadway or for some pop star. Camille has always been the popular type…Yeah she’s tall, they say she’s sexy and pretty and fully developed…But like I said. She attracted the dumbest of them.
Marisa was close to being Camille’s twin. She was seventeen years old and looked up to Camille like she was Beyonce herself. To be honest, Marisa was tolerable on her good days. There have been several occasions where it was just me and her, and I could tell Marisa had a good heart. She was the kind of girl I know would turn out on the straight and narrow. But when she was with Camille, which was ninety percent of the time, Marisa always said and did things that made me want to wrap my hands around her neck. It was the darnest thing. For the life of me I don’t know why.
So there they were, sitting in that hotel room. They had their skirts on, but their blouses were half opened exposing their colored bras. They had no idea where their shoes were. They had to take it off the night before to enter the Jacuzzi, but after that, everything was a blur to them. Marisa was still half asleep and leaning against her older sister. Camille was the one with the phone in her hand. She was wide-awake and fully aware of how much trouble she was in. But it wasn’t her first time in hot waters. Sophisticated was the perfect one-worded adjective to describe her in the perspective of anyone from the outside looking in. Annoying was the perfect word to describe her if you were me.
“So…We need you to come and pick us up…Marisa and me.” Camille said over the phone.
“What? Where are you?” I asked with my temper already raised through the roof.
I could hear Camille sigh heavily over the other end of the phone. “Ybor…” She said with a sigh.
“GOD…DAMNIT!” I shouted. Paul, Christy and Matt stopped wrestling and turned to look at me. They couldn’t contain themselves from snickering at me.
“What did I tell you! I said, don’t go to that stupid after party. Damn! Son of motherfu…” I said, biting my lip and fighting hard not to shout every curse word I knew out loud. It was very frustrating for me. You think you’re doing someone a favor by saving them a world of grief and stress…but some people just have to cross that word. YOLO…they say. I hated that phrase. Real people who live for the day don’t have to think about it. They just do it.
“I’m sorry, Max. Please!!” Camille stressed. “You have to come and get us before Mom and Dad get back from Orlando.” She said.
“What’s the point? They’re gonna find out anyway. They always do.” I told her.
That’s when her legendary attitude kicked in. “Look! Are you gonna come and get us or not!?” Camille barked.
I ran my hand over my face with frustration. Camille didn’t have a car, but amazingly, that hasn’t stopped her from getting around. But at that time of the morning, I was sure she’d have a hard time finding one of her suitors to even pick up the phone if she called. I knew Mom and Dad were going to find out and that they would be punished. So I guess…their safety was what concerned me at the moment.
“Yeah! Fine! Just be ready when I get there.” I told her.
“Thank you!” She barked back. Camille beat me to the punch and hung up before me. I hated that.
By then, Chris had finished brownnosing upper management and joined us outside. He and I started walking over to where Paul and Matt had continued their wrestling match. Chris noticed my obvious frustrations. I kept smacking my right fist into my other hand. Chris just looked at me with that cheesy rat-toothed grin of his. He knew I’d tell him what was wrong. He didn’t even have to ask.
“Stupid whores. It’s like they can’t wait to get raped.” I said out loud.
“Who?” Chris asked.
“My sisters. It’s like…I bet if I made Camille promise to skip school once in a while, she’d have perfect attendance. Just straight blockheads.” I continued to vent.
Chris laughed a general laugh. He didn’t care. “Yeah, well… We represented in there, didn’t we. Race Track Road Pizza Shack! There ain’t no competition!” Chris said with authority.
I smiled at him. “You sure are proud this morning, Chris. That’s cute.” I casually let out.
Chris punched me in the shoulder. “Ah man! I’m proud every morning. Holdin down two to three jobs. Payin them bills. What’s not to be proud of?” Chris said.
“I envy your outlook on life. I truly do.” I replied.
Christy was standing next to the wrestling match between Matt and Paul, but looking past me and over the right side of my shoulders. “They’re coming.” She said with anticipation.
Paul and Matt instantly broke up their match and stood up with the front of true Italian mobsters. I turned around and rolled my eyes. Flipping Joey Abasolo and company, coming to start trouble. Joey was obviously the ring leader, but there were seven of them against the five of us.
“Sup fellas? Can we help you?” Paul was the first to ask them with his chest all out.
I raised my arm to block Paul’s progression and to keep him behind me. “Easy, Paul. We’re all on the same team here. But if homie over there don’t stop kickin my tires, there might have to be somethin.” I said.
Everyone turned their attention to a big black dude that was kicking the tires of my black Alero… I guess to check my air pressure? The dude stopped kicking them and turned to me with a wide cheesy grin. Joey and his boys started laughing.
“This your ride?” Joey asked as he approached my car. He and his friends gave a scrutinizing inspection of it while wearing grimaces as if my car as if it had an assortment of dead bugs all over it. I said a silent prayer in my head. I was hoping to god that none of them got wise enough to spit on it. God knows such insolence would have sent me over the edge.
“Why yes. Yes, I am the proud owner of this here vehicle.” I said with one eyebrow instinctively raised. My arms were crossed over my chest. At the point, I honestly wouldn’t have cared if Paul was to bum-rush them. I wasn’t holding him back. And the looks those guys were giving my car…It was unbearable.
My Alero wasn’t the flashiest vehicle on the streets. I didn’t have a polished metallic paint finish nor did I plaster my panels with hundreds of “edgy” looking decals. But the rims and everything under my hood…That was all Maxwell Blaz. You see, most Oldsmobile Aleros have a thin curvy body frame, but not mines. My old man helped me modify the side paneling with a stocky feel that sat only two inches off the ground. My rims were 18-inches. Pure chrome from my seventeenth birthday and no, they weren’t spinnin. Spinners…That crap was so 2001. My chrome rims had the wicked design of five short Roman broadswords poking outward from the center. May god help any squirrel that gets tangled in those suckers before I take off, because once they go, I was pretty much drivin around an average 90 mile per hour fuel injected shaver.
I did have only one sign on my car other than the manufactured labeling that came with the Alero. When I got that hand-me-down car for my fifteenth birthday, the first thing I did was place a dark sticker that acted as sun visor across the top of my windshield. The sticker was a black backdrop for the word, “BERSERK”. “Berserk” was the name of my favorite manga when I was growing up. It was only fitting that I’d carry it with me on the road.
“Forty deliveries… That’s something else, homes. You must be proud.” Joey told me as he leaned over my windshield to check the interior.
“Forty-six.” I corrected. “And yes. I am proud of it. But hey man. It was a team effort. Right guys!” I said cheerfully in an attempt to mellow the mood. Everyone just stared at me like I was retarded. They weren’t buying it.
“I thought it was forty-eight deliveries.” Chris pointed out.
“Damn…” I said under my breath. Chris was right. It was such a little thing to curse about, but still…details damn it…
“How bout a race?” Joey finally uttered much to my dismay.
I closed my eyes with agitation. “Nah man. I honestly have somewhere I have to…”
“Oh ho ho!!!” Chris shouted with a clap of his hands. “Max would smoke you!” He added.
I slowly turned to Chris with my jaw involuntarily shifting to the left. Before I could shut him up, Paul, Christy and Matt began the trash talking. Then of course, Joey’s crew that already outnumbered us had joined in the trash talking. Soon after, it was an orgy of mixed dialects and a contest of slang insults shooting back and forth between Italians, Latinos and a natural born announcer. I couldn’t make out what anyone was saying, is what I’m trying to tell you. I just stood there in the middle of it, hopeless and wondering if I could pull one of those cartoon moves where I could slide out through the midst of it.
“Alright then! Let’s go!” Joey shouted out with his arms raised. “I have a friend who works at the Gas Me over on Lancaster. The first person who makes it there and back wins. How’s a hundred sound?” Joey suggested.
I raised my hand in a last ditch attempt to call it off but wouldn’t you know it, Chris stepped up to the plate. “Ooh-hoo!!! Take that Max! You got this!” He said while aggressively massaging my shoulders. His massage actually hurt. Add that with my growing frustration and you’d understand why I swung an elbow back toward his chest.
“It’s still early, so traffic should be light. Nobody’s gonna get hurt. A hundred bucks in ten minutes…You can’t possibly turn that down homes. Hahahha! You gotta be stupid to turn that down esse! I mean…Unless you finally get the picture that you can’t beat me.” Joey said with that rich Latino laughter. He even had the audacity to add a little salsa dance toward the end of his dialogue
“Make it 400, and I’m in.” I told him. Joey laughed at my proposal with the rest of his friends, but they accepted.
That cheeky bastard…To be honest, yes, I was stupid to turn down a hundred bucks for ten minutes of my time. It was an unnecessary risk at the beginning of a potentially long Friday. “Unless you finally get the picture that you can’t beat me…” His words echoed through my head as I sat in my Alero at that red light on Hillsborough Avenue. I’m Maxwell Blaz. There’s a reason why I won that plaque and I was determined to show him how.
So as we sat at that red light, ready to race on green, I tugged on the front collar of my tank top to fan some air through. Joey kept grinning at me like a goblin. I could hear his engine revving as he kept stepping on the gas. Both our windows were down, so I knew he could hear me reasonably well.
“You know you’re hurting your engine when you do that, right?” I warned him. He responded by opening his mouth wide open and wagging his tongue at me. I turned away with utter disgust. And there I was simply trying to pass on some friendly advice.
Alright…Nearly a minute and a half minute had past since stopping at the red light. I could tell by the time stamp of the raggaeton song that was playing on my stereo system. I always had the volume low while at a red light, out of due consideration for my neighboring vehicles, but I could still hear the constant beat of the song. My eyes rolled to my left. The pedestrian crossing sign was my flag. The digital orange numbers on the crossing sign for the right-to-walk had already begun to count down. It was at fifteen seconds.
My posture when sitting at a red light was usually to sit comfortable and composed, especially in that heat. But when I’m driving…When I’m about to race…I had a signature pose. Not a pose, but more so a position that helped me focus better. My seat was upright enough to see the road in front of me, but leaning back enough for me to rest my right elbow comfortably on the shoulder of the passenger seat. My left hand was on the 11’clock of my steering wheel, designed to pull down for sharp left hand turns…my specialty. My left elbow was resting on the pad of my rolled down window. My car was an automatic. But before you judge, just watch and see what I can do with it. It doesn’t matter if you’re driving an automatic or manual. It doesn’t matter if your engine vibrates loud enough to shatter glass like that douche next to me. Anyone can drive. Few can glide.
The route of our race would take us up through the Westchase subdivision. Westchase was an upper to middle class suburbs that was usually heavily patrolled by police officers. But like Joey said, at close to ten o’clock in the morning, those guys were hitting up last call for those sausage biscuits.
Cruising past the first light, our first right hand turn would bring us to Countryway Blvd. Turning right on Countryway Blvd, we’d have to traverse through the winding road for three miles before we get to the intersection of Countryway Blvd and Linebaugh. The gas station where Joey’s friend would be waiting to observe the winner was at the corner of Linebaugh and Countryway Blvd. So basically the winner of our race would be the first person to get through the light, and make that left hand turn to pull into the gas station on the diagonal side of the road. That light could make or break us. If we end up getting to that light and it’s red, whoever’s in the left turning lane would win. Unless someone does something crazy.
With six seconds left… Joey started revving his engine harder. I was ready, calm and collective. Then…The light turned green. It was always an involuntary twitch for me whenever I see that green light. I couldn’t control it. The right edge corner of my mouth curled up into an arrogant grin. That race was mine before it even began.
As expected, Joey peeled off with neck breaking acceleration motion speeding off down the road. I stepped on the gas, but not hard. This was Oldsmar, you see. Joey may have known where his friend’s gas station was on Lancaster. But I grew up on these streets. Yeah, we were running on the same agreed upon route and he knew exactly where he was going, but looking at a map and actually running the streets are two different things. I knew where every pothole and common exit ports were along Countryway Blvd.
In his Supra, Joey was approaching the intersection of Hillsborough and Countryway. He nearly clipped the back of an SUV as he drifted at the light to turn right on Countryway. I’m not gonna lie, he was good. Almost as good as Robbie when it came to drifting techniques. But still…He was entering my forest. It was only a matter of time before he’d get tangled in the vines.
Coming up on the intersection of Hillsborough and Countryway, I slowed from 62 to 42 mph. Incoming traffic had the right-away from the left hand turn, but it was early. I was able to slip in between two smaller sedans without giving the senior drivers a heart attack. On Countryway, I could see Joey about thirty seconds ahead of me. I started laughing. He was heading towards the first obstacle. And once he’d get to that obstacle, I knew frustrations would take over and he’d tried to block my path. So I had to accelerate. I had to get close enough so that I’d be past him before his cognitive could decide what to do with me.
My car was a front-wheel drive. My acceleration was one of a kind. My old man helped me out in that regards. My engine consisted of a smooth vibrating V8 motor, which means eight cylinders, a custom intake system, expanded headers and a muffler on my twin exhaust pipes. The custom air intake system my dad made was put in more so to deceive any would-be opponents. It made my car quieter. But if you were listening, you’d notice something else about my car. The smooth, light, water suction sound was my turbo system. I didn’t use NOS, I felt that crap was too unstable for my taste. But my turbocharger…that bad boy allowed me to shoot from 0 to 60 in less than 8 seconds.
The speed limit on Countryway Blvd was 35 mph and for good cause. When I say Countryway Blvd was winding and narrow, I’m not lying. It was a four lane road, but rolling through the Westchase subdivision there were approximately eleven curves before getting to the street lights of Linebaugh. And with pedestrians entering and exiting from their respective neighborhood blocks, Countryway Blvd would be suicide for anything more than a speed limit over 40.
Joey was about twenty car lengths ahead of me when he was nearing his first curve. I sped up from 40 to 55 in a matter of seconds to catch up to within ten car lengths. When I was approaching the curve, I laid off the acceleration and let momentum take me through the curve with ease. And sure enough, after clearing that first curve, Joey saw that obstacle. I saw the back of his white Supra and watched with a wide grin of suspense and anticipation.
You see, in the middle of our two lanes were four small speed bumps the size of individual bed pillows. Two speed bumps for each lane, positioned to line up exactly to where your tires would normally be running. Those speed bumps were devastating. I’ve seen many a drivers mess up their suspension that way, and Joey was no exception. Joey saw them at the last minute and hit the speed bumps going 40mph. It was so freaking hilarious! His car did a seesaw effect with the front end bumping up off the ground followed by his rear end. I saw the silhouette of his small bald head bounce like a bobble doll with his arms wiggling like a rag. I nearly choked on my own laughter.
But still! It was a race, so I had to focus. After Joey ran over the first bumps, he did what any rational person would do, racer or not. He slowed down and raced to get a grip of his own palpitating heart. I kept moving. I’d driven across those speed bumps hundreds of times and the way to drive over them without hitting them is dependant upon complete accuracy. As I said, the speed bumps were small bumps, designed and positioned to where your tires would normally run across. So a simple maneuver to run your tires between the declining grooves of those speed bumps was your best bet.
And just like that, I passed a nerve-rattled Joey and sped off through another set of speed bumps. He couldn’t believe it. He glared at me through his windshield as he sped up. He didn’t care about his suspension or that his front bumper was hanging by a thread. He just wanted to catch up so bad.
And he did catch up. But each time he did, we approached another winding curve in the road. He had to tap on the brakes to slow down. I didn’t have to. My acceleration and speed brought me to the curve. My handling and momentum coasted me through it. Upon exiting the curve, a simple release of the steering wheel straightened my wheels out and baddabingbaddaboom!
I stayed in the lead for most of the way up through Countryway Blvd. But when the intersection of Linebaugh and Country way was within our sights, we had a quarter mile of straight road with no curves. Joey punched it to 76 mph and ended up passing me on my right hand side. Once he passed me, he entered the left lane to be directly in front of me. I wasn’t too concerned with Joey at this point. The object of the race was that stupid gas station. My focus was on that stupid traffic light.
The traffic lights for our flow of traffic had just turned green in the two lanes and the left turning lane. Things weren’t looking good for me. Even if I punched the acceleration, I wouldn’t have made it to the left turning lane in time to pass Joey. It was at this time that I began to curse that stupid route. From the way things were going, it looked like Joey had won the race before even entering the gas station.
Sure enough, Joey had entered the left hand turning lane and was six car lengths in front of me. But when I noticed the light for that left hand turning lane…I couldn’t help but smile. Was it luck? I don’t know. It didn’t matter. Normally, and by normally, I mean in rush hour traffic… that left hand turning lane would stay green for about a minute and thirty-seconds to ease the congestion of traffic. But at around 10:30 on a Friday morning, well past the morning rush hour…that green light stayed green for thirty seconds.
The instant Joey entered that left hand turning lane, I floored my gas pedal. Joey had no choice but to slow down, being that it was an intersection and all. And being that his confidence was already high, like he had won the race already, he wasn’t even concerned about me. But the light for his lane just turned yellow and Joey was over a 150 feet out. He knew he wouldn’t have made it and he didn’t have the cojones to speed through a red light at one of the most popular intersections in the subdivision. As soon as he looked in his right rear view mirror, I blew by him. The anger was enough to make him turn off his stereo.
He pulled out of the left turning lane to close in from behind me. The light for my lane was green. It was illegal to make that needed left hand turn, so my next best bet was to cross the intersection and bust that next u-turn that was forty-feet away. My speed was 62 coming up on this u-turn. You could hear the sounds of our tires squealing from the hard braking. Joey was basically kissing the back of my bumper, and to make the u-turn, I jerked a little bit into the right hand lane to give me some room. That jerk was about a split second away from hitting me and the sudden movement scared Joey into slamming on the brakes. After swerving into the right hand lane, I yanked down my steering wheel to the left like my life depended on it. With my car being front wheel drive, the back of my car whipped in a near perfect 180 degrees to turn around and enter the right hand lane of the other side of the road.
“FUCK!!” Joey shouted as he struggled to do the same.
I was wearing a beaming ear to ear smile as I punched on the acceleration. There wasn’t any traffic to cause interference. I sped up to 40 and entered the Gas Me from its side Countryway Blvd entrance. I didn’t brake at all. There were only two cars at the Gas Me and they were parked at the pumps. So I went ahead and sped through the parking space of that gas station and exited out onto the Linebaugh Avenue entrance. Joey’s Supra had entered into the Gas Me shortly after. By then, he wasn’t in a hurry.
Joey’s friend, the attendant at the Gas Me’s register, watched the whole thing from inside the store. The friend couldn’t help but shake his head with disappointment and empathy. Joey’s facial expression was pitiful and distraught. His friend almost wanted to come out and give him a cherry flavored ice smoothie on the house. But Joey’s friend wasn’t the only one at the Gas Me to witness the race.
Someone else heard the roar of Joey’s Supra. And while pumping gas into his 2010 black and silver Nissan Skyline, this someone had turned his head to the intersection of Countryway and Linebaugh. This someone saw me make that badass u-turn. This someone saw me cut through the Gas Me’s parking lot like it was a lot in my own backyard. This someone was a tall and cut up (lean and athletic) Asian guy with a quarter length of jet-black spiky hair that was slicked back. This someone was wearing a black tank top that revealed a portion of a back tattoo that looked like he belonged to the yakuza. This someone’s name was Mirror. Mirror was grinning. Mirror was impressed.
Fifteen minutes later I was back in the parking lot of the Pizza Shack, leaning against the front panel of my car and wearing a malicious grin that was arrogant enough to make the pope himself want to throw holy water on me. I had my homies Chris, Paul, Christy and Matt by my side. We watched as Joey’s Supra came rolling in with his messed up grille. Only this time, Joey didn’t look pitiful or distraught. He looked angry.
When his car came to a park, he immediately hopped out and slammed his car door shut. He took off his shirt and slung it to the ground. His group of co-workers were following right behind him. I saw the look in his eyes. He meant business. Not professional business, but street business. My casual lean was the last place I wanted to find myself if he came swinging.
“Oh damn. This dude’s for real.” Chris said with stupefied astonishment.
“That’s fine.” Paul said with a ridiculous lack of fear. Both he and Matt were already taking off their assortment of wrist bands and piercings.
I looked inside the store to see if anyone was watching. This bastard was about to cost me my job. If he wanted to throw down, I was all for it. But time and place was what I was worried about. I held up my hands to calm him down. “Whoa whoa whoa! Put on the brakes, kid! What’s your problem?” I asked.
“You are! Fuckin cheat!” He said as he swung at me.
I easily palmed his forearm away before he could hit me. A small scuffle broke out with a lot of pushing between his friends and my friends. We ended up doing this ridiculous circle of a aggression that looked like we were Native Americans giving a rain dance around a bonfire. My hands were still up, hoping he’d calm down. “What are you talking about bruh! You lost fair and square.” I told him.
“Fair and square my ass, fucker! You cheated!” Joey shouted with spit in his slurs.
“Wait a second! Alright! Now how did he cheat?” Chris asked…almost sounding like he actually believed him.
“He knew the area, mane! Those fuckin speed bumps wrecked grille man!” Joey shouted.
With a cautious smile on my face, I tried to reason with him. “Now Joey. You have two eyes bro, just like anyone else out here. You saw those speed bumps. I had to deal with those same speed bumps, bro. I mean. Come on, man!” I told him.
“Nah. Fuck that.” He said has he shoved me in my chest. “You knew they were there! You were expecting it.”
“Putcha hands on my man again!” Christy warned as she wrapped up her knuckles with the chain from her wallet.
I palmed her stomach to hold her back. “Come on, Chrissy. Everyone calm down.” I said aloud and calmly, mainly talking to myself at that point. I was now glaring into Joey’s eyes. If he touched me again, my diplomacy dike would’ve broke and I would’ve unleashed a flurry of head-bobbing jab and hook combinations.
“Hey, is everything all right?” An elderly customer called out to us as he escorted his wife up to the Pizza Shack entrance. It must have been terrifying for the senior couple. A large gathering of hot-blooded youths, all shouting with our chest outs. Everyone stopped what they were doing and calmed down in a show of respect toward the senior couple. I mean…We weren’t hoodlums.
“Yes sir! Everything is fine! You folks go on ahead and enjoy yourselves. Try the baked cinnamon sticks. Those are delicious, let me tell ya!” Chris shouted with a rosy smile. His homely charms worked on the couple. But the elderly husband still shook his head at us anyway.
“400 buck, ma nigga.” I simply stated, ready and willing to let things escalate again.
“Ma nigga. Let’s go.” Paul and Matt repeated, both wide eyed and furiously serious.
Joey shook his head and sucked in his lips. He reached into his pocket to pull out the wad of cash. Chris snatched it and began the count. ‘Man, this ain’t fair! He knew the area!” Joey started complaining again.
I rolled my eyes. “Well, that much is true. I mean… I did grow up and live here all my life. But aren’t drivers allowed to know the courses that they race in? I mean…It allows a driver to have a strategy.” I said.
It was weird. But with each syllable I spoke, the more I began to calm down. To be honest, I wasn’t even aware of what I trying to say to them. I was just rambling.
“And without strategy, then a race is nothing but pure luck and whoever has the best the equipment wins. And that wouldn’t be fair, now would it? I mean, am I right? Because god knows that sometimes I can be wrong. And heaven knows…”
Joey and his friends just looked at me like I was oozing snot from eyes. Paul, Matt and Christy couldn’t help but snicker at their priceless expressions. And Joey himself…every fiber of his being was keeping him from wrapping his hands around my throat. Joey’s angry friends began to talk amongst themselves.
“What’s wrong with him?” One of them asked, referring to me.
“Why is his eyes looking around like that? I mean, is he serious?” Another asked.
“Wish he’d shut the hell up.” Another said.
And all the while, I just kept rambling as if I actually cared about Joey and simply wanted him to understand what just happened. I didn’t stop talking until Chris patted me on the back. He held up the cash and nodded. “Alright, Max. Come on.” He said to me.
I put my hands on my hips and looked at Joey with an apologetic smile. “You’ll get me next time, man. And next time, you can pick and choose the route. How’s that sound?” I told him before turning around and heading back to my car.
“Oh I will pick and choose the route, homes! You best believe that!” Joey shouted back at me.
I put my arm around Christy’s shoulders. “I just said that.” I whispered to her. She laughed out loud. I knew she had a crush on me. But statutory is statutory. And regardless the circumstances or innocent intentions…being labeled as a sexual offender is just plain devastating.
Chris drove a green pick up truck with USF’s logo on it. His truck was parked next to my Alero, so it wasn’t like we were all heading back into another huddle around my car. The heat was picking up and the back of my shirt was already soaked with sweat. I needed a shower. I didn’t know how Christy seemed unaffected by my musk.
“What do you guys have planned for the day?” Matt asked out loud, not to any specific person.
“Don’t you have somewhere you need to be?” Chris asked me.
I stopped in mid stride with a look of dread. “CRAP!” I shouted. “Chris, can you give these guys a lift home. I gotta take care of something.” I asked him as I ran for my car.
Chris laughed and clapped with jolly amusement. “He forgot!” He said, coughing on his own laughter.
“What does he have to do?” Christy asked.
Matt scoffed. “Hell if I know.”
“So, you’ll give us a ride then, right Chris?” Paul asked.
“Yeah, hop in the back.” Chris said. Paul was already hopping into the bed of his truck. “Hey, Max. It’s Good Friday tonight, alright! So I don’t want any excuses. Don’t be late.” Chris reminded.
I hurried on the ignition and backed out of the parking lot. Christy watched me as I peeled off. She shrugged with a moan. “He’s hot.” She said about me.
“I know right. I’d do him.” Matt joked.
“Alright kids. Pack it up.” Chris said as he waved his hands like a helicopter.
Matt and Christy were climbing up into the bed of Chris’s truck when Paul asked a question that should’ve been on the forefront of my mind. “Chris, did you give Max his share of the money?”
Act 2 – Case Del Gallagher
Two hours later, I pulled into the driveway of a large two-story cream-colored brick house in the subdivision of East Lake. The house was built in the late 90s but was constantly renovated over the years to keep up with modern amenities. The large front yard had top notch Floridian landscaping with palm trees surrounded by moats of white sea shells and flood lights planted in the ground pointing up at the trees to show off during the night. The driveway from the street coming in led to a doublewide car garage. I parked off to the side of the garage to refrain from blocking the path.
Each of the four doors that granted entry into the house had it’s own set of locks. Meaning, each door had its own key that would open it. Why they wouldn’t have the same key and lock on all the doors…that was my parent’s idea. I’ll get into that later. There was a side door for the garage. I only had one key and my key granted me access to that one door.
I opened the door to the garage and peaked in. I couldn’t help but smile. I wasn’t the type of person to tell on anyone, not even my enemies. But that goes without saying. Sometimes I wished people would get what’s coming to them. I know that sounds hypocritical compared to the crap I usually got into, but its not like I inconvenienced anyone. My sisters on the other hand…Yeah.
“Oh crap, they’re here!” Marisa whispered out loud.
“No, Marisa. Someone else parked their cars in here just for safekeeping.” I told her.
Marisa’s hands were on my shoulders. She and Camille were following me in as if we were treading around a pack of sleeping bears. My mom drove a Chrysler Town and Country and my stepdad drove a 2012 Range Rover. A couple of intimidating vehicles, large bulky and expensive. Those were the type of vehicles that told you that the owners didn’t mess around with money or business. Those were my parents.
“Maxy, why do you stink?” Marisa asked me with a cringe on her face.
“Sweat.” I said bluntly at such a stupid question.
Like she should talk. Marisa and Camille were fully clothed at least, but they still reeked of hard proof beer and vomit. We tiptoed around the front of the vehicles on our way to the adjoining laundry room doors of the main building. The door was always unlocked. I turned the handle and opened the door slowly. The house alarm chimed once. We all instinctively waited in absolute stillness with the door peaked open. We were silent, listening for any sign of movement or activity.
“Okay!” Marisa whispered, nodding her head and wearing a look of complete dread. I looked over my shoulder at her. I wanted to tell her it was all hopeless. But still…the big brother in me, ya know. I then looked past her to Camille. She hadn’t said a word. Not a single word since I went downtown to pick her up. It was Marisa doing all the talking, making all the excuses. But Camille just stayed silent. No sarcastic condescending comments. No “took you long enough”. Not even a flipping thank you. She was up to something. Or maybe she was just too scared out of her mind. The bubbles in her stomach were getting to her. I grinned at her. And as if she could tell what I was thinking, Camille rolled her eyes at me.
We finally entered the laundry room, stepping over wet towels that Camille and Marisa used in the pool the day before. I could feel the moisture in those towels as my boots squeezed the water out of them…disgusting.
We turned the corner and entered the downstairs entertainment room from the laundry room. Not gonna lie, our house was loaded. We’re talking about a 5-bedroom, 4-bathroom estate with an upstairs entertainment room, downstairs entertainment room, a downstairs living room and a dining room un-separated from the kitchen. Everything had a light beige or white color to it and the window blinds were almost always open. The floor was carpeted, but the wood flooring underneath was creaky. Everytime you stepped on it, you could hear a slight crack.
Camille reached over Marisa and popped me on the shoulder. “Not so loud!” Camille finally whispered.
I turned to her. “You think they’re asleep?”
“Just hurry up! God!” Camille whispered. “Go!”
I looked to my left. “Oh! Hey Mom. Hey Bryan!” I said out loud.
Camille’s heart dropped and she stood with a petrified expression. Marisa’s mouth was wide open as if someone just stabbed her in the abdomen. But I was just joking. They weren’t there. Well…At least, I didn’t see them there at first. I started laughing as Camille and Marisa continued to follow me. They peaked around the corner to see if I really was joking or not. They didn’t see anyone and felt instant relief. Brief relief. Because sure enough, as we kept walking down that hallway towards the staircase, you could see a clearer view of the dining room. And sure enough, there they were. I couldn’t believe it. It was all so hysterical to me. I didn’t mean to bust them out like that. But, oh well.
“Hey, Max.” Bryan greeted me as he poured himself a cup of coffee.
Bryan Gallagher has been my stepfather since I was two, so he was pretty much like my dad. He was of German descent, with a dark beige complexion, short brown hair and brown eyes. I always used to make fun of him for looking like your stereotypical video game character from some shooter or RPG. Because even though he wore glasses and always dressed in a tucked-in collared shirt, he was tall and physically fit. I doubt even I could take him in a fight.
My mom, Shannon, was of Dominican descent, with a light Hispanic complexion and long flowing black hair. She was a beautiful woman with a contagious smile that she passed on to me. Like Bryan, she too was always dressed professional. Even when she was loafing around the house, she wouldn’t be caught dead in some raggedy t-shirt and sweatpants. She had to look stylish all the time. An unnecessary trait that she no doubt passed on to Camille and Marisa.
Bryan and Shannon owned their own private investigation slash consulting firm. Hence, the obvious wealth and irrational home security measures. Bryan was ex-CIA and my mother used to be a supervisor for the TSA at the Tampa International Airport. They met when Bryan was passing through a checkpoint and kept setting off a metal detector. My mother was called in to pat him down and felt more than just his shiny belt buckle. The rest is history.
The two of them had just returned from a business trip to Orlando. For the past three days they were attending meetings and setting up contracts with a number of clients. No doubt they were exhausted and worn out…only adding to my suspense at the amount of trouble my sisters would get into.
“Where have you guys been?” Bryan asked.
I was wearing a smile that I just couldn’t shake. I walked with a coy pep in my step as I strolled across the living room to approach the family members in the dining room. “Me? Well uh…You know!” I said with a slight snicker. “I just came back from a team meeting for Pizza Shack.”
My mom was already sitting at the table reading the news from a tablet, a bowl of oatmeal and grapefruit slices in front of her. Her eyebrows were lowered, induced by my beaming smile. She then exchanged a glance with Bryan. Bryan was already chuckling and shaking his head. “Uh oh.” He said.
“Uh oh!” I repeated, more dramatically.
“Oh god.” Angie chimed in.
“Hey Baby Angie.” I said as I reached over and petted her head. She pushed my hands away as she continued to text her friends on her iPhone while eating her bran flakes. Angie was my youngest sister coming up on her 15th birthday. Out of Camille and Marisa, Angie was the sibling who looked the most like me. She also didn’t have my mother’s hand me down traits when it came to materialistic things. To say Angie was the jewel of my life was a gross understatement. If anything ever happened to her, I’d literally set the city on fire to find her. God would understand. I mean…It’s Angie.
“Boy, what’s wrong with you?” Shannon asked me with a slight Caribbean tint in her accent.
“Say what now?” I asked with a raised eyebrow, still cheesin it. Bryan started to choke on his coffee as he chuckled. Even Angie, who was engrossed with her texting conversation couldn’t help but smile with anticipation.
“Why are you acting like this?” Shannon asked me.
I laughed an obviously mocking laughter as I approached and sat down in the chair next to her. “Come now, mother. Come. Come. You know I want to be an actor one day. Like you forgot. Look at you. LOL” (I literally said, L-O-L)
I tried to put my arm around her, but she cringed at the smell of me and blocked my advance. I then turned and looked over at Camille. Both she and Marisa were standing there in the hallway like they were in a criminal line up. Marisa’s eyes were wide open with gripping fear. Only Camille kept a strong front, her brown eyes squinting at me with utter disgust and unquenchable rage.
“Problem Camille? Problem Marisa?” I asked with a wide toothy smile.
Angie chuckled. “You’re a troll, Max.”
Bryan walked around the kitchen island to get a better look at his two eldest daughters. As sure as he knew my smile said I was up to something…he knew when his own flesh and blood were shaking in their boots. Needless to say, Bryan didn’t need to know the details to come to an general conclusion about what they did. From the moment their eyes locked with his, he knew that they messed up in some sort of fashion. Camille’s eyes were naturally deceptive, but Marisa’s eyes were like mine… A dead giveaway to the truth.
“Camille? Marisa?” Bryan asked with his eyebrows raised.
“Dad! We didn’t do anything!” Marisa lied through her teeth.
“You haven’t said anything either.” My mom pointed out.
Camille was glaring at me. I was still cheesin it. I knew her upcoming revenge on me would be overkill, slow and deliberate. But it was worth it to see her in such a predicament.
I looked around. Everyone’s attention was on Camille and Marisa. With a clap of my hands I stood up from the dining table. “Well now!” I started abruptly. “This looks like a case of…how do you say…ah yes…miscommunication. I’m gonna go ahead and head upstairs. Take a shower. Look over some notes and stuff. Probably get a nap in before heading off to class.”
“You have school? It’s Good Friday?” Angie asked me.
“Preachin to the choir, Ang. Preachin to the choir.” I called back.
I was soooo happy. I could feel Camille still staring daggers at me. I had to walk past her to get to the staircase, but even I wasn’t so foolish as to smile in her face from close up. If she lunged for me, Bryan would’ve pulled her off, but not before she’d snatch out a clawful of my hair. So I kept my eyes down while trying to contain my wide slanted grin.
“You’re dead.” Camile whispered to me.
“Eat a dick, Camille. Eat a dick.” I whispered back.
After that, I headed upstairs to do exactly what I said I was going to do. I was stinkin with the sweat from the race earlier and I wasn’t the type to just jump in bed to waddle in filth. A shower was necessary and urgent. I had my own bedroom, all of us siblings did. I kept my room moderately clean. There weren’t any wrappers or loose trash hanging around. Just an occasional shirt or socks that I’d whip off in a hurry and throw on the floor. I had a desk, dresser, full sized bed, 54-inch flat screen (that I paid for), an old laptop with a hard drive my boy Eric put in and a couple of racing games. I know that sounds like a lot, but I was hardly ever home. Angie was always coming in while I was gone and using my stuff, but I didn’t mind. If a fire struck my home and I lost everything, it wouldn’t bother me…not too much, anyway.
Downstairs, Bryan spent the next twenty-five minutes drilling Camille and Marisa with questions. But they weren’t saying anything. Most parents would probably try bringing me in to the mix, but Bryan knew I wasn’t one to talk. Just alluding to the fact that they did something wrong was shady enough of me. But Camille didn’t say thank you to me for driving freaking 40 minutes to downtown Tampa. So as far as I was concerned…justice was served and my conscience was clear.
“You’re grounded!” Shannon said as she stood next to Bryan in the living room. The two were facing Camille and Marisa like they were in a western showdown.
“Mom, it’s Good Friday! A three day weekend! You can’t do this!” Camille complained.
“Then tell us what happened?” Bryan said casually with his hands in his pockets. Camille and Marisa exchanged glances. But they weren’t talking.
“And that’s why you’ll spend all of your three day weekend, right here in Casa del Gallagher.” Shannon told them.
“Marisa…I know you. What do you have to say for yourself?” Bryan asked her.
“Don’t say anything.” Camille told her.
“What?” Bryan barked. The sudden spike in volume caused Angie to start snickering from the dining room table.
Shannon stepped forward. “Camille. You’re supposed to be setting a good example for your sister, not helping her get away with…
“Shut up, Angie!” Marisa shouted.
“Hey!” Shannon said, pointing her finger at Marisa.
Bryan approached closer. His brown eyes and towering height instantly instilled fear in the girls. Even Camille with her heart of bricks felt fragile at the moment. “No phone calls. No internet. I don’t want you leaving this house. And please…give me a reason to take off my belt. You guys don’t need to worry about getting the mail, your mother and I got that covered. Understand me.” He said, mainly talking to Camille. Camille rolled her eyes and stormed off. Marisa followed shortly after, slightly sensing at least a hint of regret from her actions.
I could hear the stomping coming up from the stairway. By then I had already taken a shower and was lying shirtless with my face buried in my pillow. The sound of Camille and Marisa approaching was comparable to a stampede on the Serengeti. Living with a bunch of girls for the past seventeen years, I was used to drowning out the ambient sound of pop music, hyena laughter and mindless gossip. And even though I really was trying to take a quick thirty-minute nap, I knew with a rampaging Camille, it was best not to let my guard down.
Sure enough, she approached my bedroom door and whipped it open. “Son of a bitch!” She said with a sharp amount of spite.
I turned my head onto its side and looked down past my feet and at the doorway. Camille and Marisa were standing there like a couple of Spartans ready to battle. “If you’re talking about my dad, then…sure.” I told her with a lack of emotion or enthusiasm.
“You’re nineteen years old! Why don’t you get out and get your own apartment!?” Marisa shouted.
“Well financially speaking, that’s a very bad idea, Marisa. With the way the economy is heading, it’s to my advantage to stay at home while I…”
I stopped talking…or rather, Camille’s growling and grunting scared me into silence. Like super-saiyan charging up, she just stood there and growled at me. “GO TO HELL!” She shouted at the top of her lungs. With that, she slammed my door close and trudged off, taking a submissive Marisa with her.
“I’ll join you there shortly!” I said out loud, but not loud enough for her to hear. I got off easy. You don’t understand. I know men aren’t supposed to hit women, but Camille is what I’d like to call a knuckle-dragger. Meaning, she had big hands and long arms like her freaking father.
Most women slap and grab hair when they get into fights, but Camille was different. Being that she’s oh so popular and one of the hottest girls in the school, she’s had her fair share of fist fights. I’ve seen some of them. And man…she throws knuckles, keeps her elbows up. She bobs and weaves…and she’s not such a princess as to refrain from dragging her opponent down to the ground. But for some reason whenever she’s fighting me, not only does she used her fist, but she always manages to find some kind of blunt instrument to use on me. She actually did knock me out at the family reunion of 2007, but still…she had a wrench.
I couldn’t sleep after that. God knows what she was cookin up. I just rolled over onto my back and looked up at my ceiling fan. With it closing in on the end of the semester, I really did not need Camille or Marisa as an enemy. Not going into the summer. Time usually healed most of our disputes, but still… With my crew I never know what kind of crap I’d stumble into.
My door whipped open again. I instinctively grabbed a pillow and readied myself for attack. But it was only Angie. She smirked at my scared expression as she walked over and sat on the edge of my bed. She was wearing that cute innocent smile that she always wore when she needed me to keep a secret. And like I said…she was my angel. It was hard to refuse sometimes…all the time.
“Don’t kids these days knock?” I asked her as I reached over and grabbed a black graphic t-shirt that was hanging on the knob of my closet door.
“Max, fourteen going on fifteen hardly registers me as a kid. Never mind the context by which you’re using it.” She told me….See how she speaks to me…That was Angie…my jewel. Not to mention she had one of those high-pitched cartoony voices. So adorable.
I put on the t-shirt and got out of bed. I needed to be at school by 1pm, so it was best for me to straighten up my room…A messy room is a prankster’s best friend. “What’s on your mind, Angie?” I asked.
Angie cross her legs and leaned back on her arms, batting her long eyelashes at me. “Maxwell…Now you know I’m not like those other two creatures.” She began.
“I dare not compare.” I told her with a gracious head bow.
“Good. Good. Splendid even. But um…I’d really appreciated it if you’d stop trolling on my forum.” She told me.
She was referring to this online community she’s a part of. A bunch of Korean pop music enthusiasts. I listened to a little kpop myself even though I can’t understand a single word they’re saying. But when Angie told me she was part of this forum, I couldn’t resist but to become a member myself.
For her to approach me on the subject made me feel on easy. I really did enjoy making fun of the other members. It wasn’t cyber bullying, but simply making fun of the ignorant insults made by foreigners against America. You’d be surprised how much Europe talks crap about us. Being a proud patriot, there was no way I was gonna let their jokes slide without throwing in several punchlines of my own.
“I don’t trust those people you’re talking to, Angie. I’m sorry.” I told her in a blatant lie. Trust had nothing to do with it. Like I said…I was enjoying myself.
“It’s just a forum for k-pop lovers. Tis all it is! Nothing but thirteen-year-olds fangirling over their favorite boy bands and girl groups. Tis all it is.” She told me in a cute whiny tone. That tone…I had to hurry up and leave for school earlier then what I would’ve preferred. If we continued the debate I had no doubts she would’ve make me promise to delete my membership.
“Exactly! Just the kind of place I’d expect pedophiles to be lurking in.” I responded back.
“Ridiculous is what you are being.” She told me.
“Hurting anyone, I am not.” I told her.
“Seriously, Maxwell. Everyone is making fun of me. They say I can’t debate properly because I have my big brother protecting me.” She told me.
I snatched up my wallet, cell phone, keys and my watch. “Who is? Listen, just write down their user names and tape it to my TV.” I told her as I sprayed myself in cologne.
She just sat there watching me with disappointment. I didn’t look at her. But I knew that’s what she was doing. “Don’t worry Angela. Just leave me their names and I’ll get they asses.” I said as I hurried out the door. Angie simply rolled her eyes. She knew exactly what I was doing and she snapped her fingers for letting me get away.
Out on the back patio, Bryan and Shannon were lounging with their shoes off on the lounging pool chairs. They were shaded by a large canopy and there was a clean glass table between them that was holding up the seventeen manila folders of documents that they brought back from Orlando. Our backyard was a large pool encompassed and closed off by a mesh screen that kept the pests out. Yes…I’m sure you can imagine the amount of parties I had in my high school days, not to mention Camille’s shindigs.
My mom and stepdad were being kept company by our golden retriever, Shelly. She was an old dog. We got her when I was nine. She’s had to put up with a lot. Poor thing… She was laying on the patio at the foot of their lounge chairs just minding her own business. I think with the decade of constant garbage coming from my sisters’ mouths, Shelly just liked being anywhere where there was a similar ambiance. My parents were listening to a political talk-news station on the radio. Like I said…Shelly liked listening to garbage.
In the midst of scanning over some affidavits, Bryan let out a loud chuckle out of the blue. Shannon looked over with a grin and one eyebrow raised. “It’s not funny, Bryan.” She told him. Granted, the punishment was handed out close to an hour ago, my mom intuitively knew what my stepdad was chuckling at.
Bryan continued to scan over an affidavit. “I mean, the nerve of Max. Basically setting them up for failure. That was classic.” Bryan said with amusement.
Shannon lowered back in her chair and crossed her ankles. “Mm-hmm…We should’ve grounded him too. He should have called us the minute he found out they went to that party with god knows who.” She said. Now how they knew that Camille and Marisa went to an after-party…I have no clue. I never told them and I knew my sisters didn’t. Just a glimpse of how scary my parents were.
“Don’t be like that, Shannon. We raised our kids to depend on each other so they won’t always have to depend on us. Besides, with the amount of requests we’re getting, its not like we have all the time in the world.” Said Bryan.
“I know! That’s what I feel bad about. I mean, running our own firm is one thing, but I feel like we’re not spending enough time…or rather, our priorities are in the wrong places. I mean, how did Camille and Marisa even get downtown in the first place?” Shannon asked.
Bryan chuckled to himself. “The kids are fine, Shannon…I think…” Bryan’s words were cut off from the sudden outburst of Shannon’s laughter. “What?” Bryan asked her.
Shannon was trying to cover her mouth from laughing so hard. “Max!” She exclaimed as she held up a brochure. The brochure was of an acting class in Tampa. It fell out of a folder she was rummaging through.
“Since he’s started college, I hardly see him anymore. How in the world does he manage to slip these in with my files?” She said.
Bryan reached over and grabbed the brochure. He adjusted his glasses before examining it. “Hmm. He seems serious about this.” Bryan uttered.
“He’s always so dramatic and over the top all the time. Trying to act like Will Smith.” Shannon said as her laughter died down.
“Whoa! The fresh prince?” Bryan let out.
“His role model.” Shannon told him.
Bryan nodded. After a brief, pleasant moment of silence, the two of them went back to work. Then idiosyncrasy and years of symbiotic marriage kicked in. Suddenly the two of them started singing the opening theme song to the “Fresh Prince of Bel Air”. Word for word, they sang the rap jingle, both bobbing their heads and hitting each note with surprising accuracy. They followed up the song with mild laughter and an affectionate holding of the hands.
Act 3 – Tigers and Bears, Oh my!
Anyone who’s been through Tampa would probably note that one of the most memorable things to do is to drive across the Courtney Campbell causeway. This was a scenic bridge that crossed over the northern most part of the bay, connecting Tampa to Clearwater from east to west. There are two beaches along the causeway on both the east and west ends. We’re talking sandy beaches, sparking clear water, rows of palm trees, and a trail for biking and walking all along the sides of this bridge. The perfect photo for post cards.
On the Eastern Tampa end of the Courtney Campbell causeway there was a park beach where family reunions and group functions were held. There was a lot of shade and stationary barbecue pits open for public use. At 2pm that afternoon, the parking lot of this beach was being occupied by sixteen souped up sports cars and five lightweight motorcycles. The vehicles all looked like they came straight from a car show room and were out on display. But it wasn’t a car show. About thirty members of an Asian race team had gathered for an innocent barbecue luncheon.
Japanese edgy rock music was blasted at a moderate decibel level from a set of speakers. It wasn’t just members of the race team, but also some family members of known members who just so happens to have a day off for Good Friday. This Asian race team wasn’t made up of just one ethnicity, but its member’s ethnicities were from Japan, China, Korea, Taiwan etc. Everyone was enjoying themselves by congregating over variety of grilled vegetables and Korean BBQ. The older family members sat together on the benches playing mahjong. The younger members were either out enjoying a swim, playing in the sand or cracking jokes in front of the grills. Suddenly, a black and silver Nissan Skyline pulled into the parking lot and turned off its engines.
Ken (Mirror) Murata stepped out of the Skyline still wearing the black tank top, edgy blue jeans and black shades from earlier. He looked around and couldn’t help but smile. It was a beautiful day with a nice breeze and the smell of spicy flame broiled pork in the air.
“Uh huh. Look at this guy. Lookin like he owns all of Tampa.” Hagrid said.
Hagrid Tsu was working the grill and squinting his eyes through the smoke to see Mirror greeting the elderly guest first. Hagrid was of Chinese descent, in his mid twenties and spoke perfect English. He was tall and scraggly looking individual with a small head and a weird half-shaved haircut. He was heavily pierced and tatted from his neck down, which was why he wore a t-shirt even though most of the other guys were all bare-chested.
Joining Hagrid by the grill were team male members Otto and Cake, along with one of the groups première female cyclist, Cheska. Otto was a large Japanese who spent a lot of time in the gym. Cake was Vietnamese, much shorter, barely over five feet tall. Cheska was a beauty with the perfect well-toned body and obsessed with the color yellow. She had yellow streaks in her hair. Her bikini was yellow. And of course her bike was yellow.
“Took him long enough.” Cake said, with a slight Vietnamese dialect.
“Yes it did, Cake. Yes it did.” Hagrid said with a hint of genuine disappointment. Mirror was supposed to have been there by noon.
Cheska was the only one of the group not bothered. She’s known Mirror since middle school and was used to him getting sidetracked by something. She looked out toward the incoming waves. There were several kids playing together in the shallow water. Only one kid was sitting by herself in the sand and reading a book. This kid was an eleven-year-old girl wearing a light-green dress and matching green sandals.
“Hey Lizzy! Your brother’s here.” Cheska called out to the girl.
Lizzy slowly lifted her head and looked over toward Cheska. “Come on.” Cheska called out to her. Lizzy looked past Cheska and could see Mirror approaching. Mirror saw Lizzy looking at him. He removed his glasses revealing a natural defiant stare. Mirror raised his hand to wave. Lizzy smiled briefly and went back to her reading.
“Yep. Lizzy’s mad cause you’re late. We all are.” Hagrid told Mirror in dramatic fashion as though Mirror cost them the winning point of a football game.
Mirror grinned as he put back on his sunglasses. “Shut up.” Mirror said in a low, barely visible tone.
“Don’t shut him up.” Cake said.
“Yeah, don’t shut me up.” Hagrid repeated.
“Why are you late?” Cake asked.
“Why are you always late.” Hagrid repeated while rolling his neck. When it comes to facial expressions, Hagrid was a contortionist.
“You guys…” Cheska said, breaking them up.
Mirror nodded with gratitude towards Cheska. He then looked over to where a hammock was set up between a pair of palm trees. A couple was resting in the hammock, a girl on top of a guy. Cheska caressed her hand across the top of Mirror’s shoulders. “Saito was asking about you.” Cheska told him.
“Because you were late.” Hagrid brought up again.
Mirror sighed. “Damn dude. Dropping a subject just isn’t what you do, now is it Hagrid.
“Maybe if you’d explain.” Hagrid pointed out.
“I don’t care. He’s here now.” Otto said.
“Damn! Thanks Otto.” Mirror said, clapping Otto’s hand.
“I was busy. Had to run down some tags.” Mirror said with a smile. He knew very well that the mere mention of tag tracking would make up for his tardiness. And sure enough, Hagrid closed the grill’s lid and walked around to approach Mirror like a school girl ready for gossip. Mirror walked away from the grill and stepped into the sand on his way to Lizzy. Hagrid, Otto, Cake and Cheska followed.
“Who is he? Is he good? He must be good. You know how I know he must be good? Because if it were just someone you were curious about, you would’ve waited and had me track him down. Because you’re a lazy fuck. That’s how I know. So he must be good. That’s how I know.” Hagrid spit out in nonstop rapid fire.
Mirror chuckled to himself as he sat down in the sand behind Lizzy. With a jeaned leg on each side of Lizzy, Mirror pulled her in to sit on her lap. Lizzy didn’t stop reading. If anything, she felt more comfortable than sitting in the sand. Like a cub being under the protection of its mother. Such sights were always an inspiration to Cheska. She always admired the love Mirror had for Lizzy. She sat down shoulder-to-shoulder next to him.
“Well, who is he man?” Cake asked.
Mirror looked up at the three men. Their curiosity was peaked. “I’m not sure yet. I know where he works. Gonna check him out tonight.” Mirror told him.
“Cool. Sound’s cool man.” Cake said with a wide grin.
“No. Just me.” Mirror told them.
Both Otto and Cake lowered their eyebrows. “Just me.” Mirror made clear.
Hagrid look back towards the park and shook his head. Four members of the race team began to approach Mirror from behind. The four men were all physically fit, dressed in blue jeans and dark graphic t-shirts. Otto gestured for Mirror to turn around. Mirror didn’t turn around.
Hagrid smirked. “Sup homies. You guys eat? Enjoyed yourselves?” Hagrid asked them.
Every large group has cliques within the group. This race team was no exception. The four men who had approached were all avid street racers and even better brawlers. Their ringleader was a man everyone called Popsicle, but he wasn’t present. So in his absence, the four disgruntled team members thought it was best to go ahead and make amends for their past transgressions.
“Mirror.” Marty called out. Mirror simply looked over the left side of his shoulder. All the four guys could see were his shades.
“Hey listen man. We get it. We messed up. With the way things are going, the last thing you and Saito need are a bunch of dumbasses stirring things up on the circuit. It was just the heat of the moment, ya know. But still. That’s no excuse. We’re sorry, aniki.” Marty told him.
Mirror nodded as he turned his head to face forward again. “Thank you, Marty. I can respect that. If Saito invited you here, it’s because he still considers you Bronze Tigers. If Saito thinks you’re a Bronze Tiger. You’re a Bronze Tiger with me as well.” Said Mirror.
The four men lowered their shoulders with relief. “Thanks Mirror. Again, it won’t happen again, I can promise you that.” Marty told him.
“Yes. Yes. Quit being so serious, man. No one’s head’s getting chopped off over here. We’re just having fun man. Go for a dip. Relax!” Hagrid told them.
“Yeah! Hahahha! Right.” Marty said followed by about a dozen humble bows and head nods.
“Um…What about Pops?” Xiah, another one of the four, asked. “Popsicle is still with us, right?”
“The man picked a fight with one of the most dangerous teams in Ybor!” Cheska told them.
“Yeah, but that’s because the nigga didn’t want to pay up after Pops beat him in a quarter mile.” Xiah defended.
“And who told you guys to race the TC Guns?” Otto pointed out with his arms crossed, revealing those huge biceps.
“So what, we gotta get you guys permission to take a piss too?” Xiah asked them.
Otto was about to step to Xiah before Hagrid held him back. Hagrid with his skinny 6’2 frame stepped to Xiah without an ounce of fear. His eyebrows were raised and his naturally slanted eyes were wide open. “Xiah…you don’t like it…Yous can step. No one’s putting a gun to your head telling you to be a Bronze Tiger. But good luck finding another Asian race team with the respect we got.” Hagrid told him.
Mirror sighed heavily. Lizzy noticed. She noticed that something in Hagrid’s little monologue rubbed Mirror the wrong way. But she couldn’t pin point exactly what it was. Xiah shook his head at Hagrid before walking past him to stand on the beach in front of Mirror.
“Mirror… We’re not trying to cause problems. I mean, you and your cousin got a good thing going here. And Saito’s always looking out. But being in an all-Asian race team don’t mean shit if our wings are in chains. If our hands are tied behind our backs, ya know. Nobody likes being dictated to. Begin in a race team is supposed to be fun. We’re a club. Not a gang.” Xiah told him.
Mirror nodded with understanding. “I got you Xiah. We don’t want anyone feeling like they’re in chains. And don’t listen to Hagrid tells you. If you didn’t hear it from me or Saito, it ain’t legit.” Mirror told him.
“Yeah, and Hagrid needs to know when to keep his big mouth shut.” Cheska added. Hagrid spit out a loud loogie at the thought.
“Thank you, Mirror. That’s all I’m saying.” Xiah assured him.
Mirror nodded. “I’ll talk to Saito. To be honest, I was thinking we’d make some changes with the club, myself.”
“Changes? I don’t like change.” Hagrid said.
“Changes for the better, Hagrid. This is America after all. Land of opportunity. The land of freedom. The melting pot.” Mirror said with a smile. That’s what Mirror did. He never told you straight forward what was on his mind. But he liked to allude to a general vague idea and watch as your face contorted and your brains scrambled for the pieces. And with Hagrid…it was always a priceless sight to see.
Closing in on 5pm that day, I was nearing the end of my Intro to Communications class at USF. It was a class every freshmen had to take in our first year so the number of students in the huge auditorium of a classroom was close to 150. The students were sitting at rows of tables that elevated on an incline to the back of the room. The first four hours consisted of the instructor’s lecture. The last hour was a study session where students could either get a jump start on homework or work on upcoming projects. Needless to say, the room was a little bit noisy with each group of students talking amongst themselves.
Sitting beside me was my childhood friend Amy Ennis. She was reading a book that she cleverly had opened in the middle of the class’s textbook. Amy has pretty much been with me through my ups and downs ever since 4th grade. She stayed just a couple of houses down the street, so she knew my family and generally got along with my sisters. We sometimes car-pooled, but only when it was convenient for both of us.
Amy was a beauty in her own right. With naturally milky white skin, blue eyes and dark hair, it was obvious for her to take the path of a Goth girl in high school. She was always wearing all black attires. We’re talking black skirts, black thank tops, fishnets, black lipsticks and eyeliner. She was about five foot ten and used to take gymnastics back in middle school so she had a nice ass and well toned legs. If she’d dress like your traditional high school girl, I have no doubt that she would’ve been as popular as Camille. But Amy wasn’t into your traditional good-looking guys. She kind of breaks the stereotype with the phrase that all women care about is a guy’s looks. She was attracted to things like weird hobbies and unusual special talents. Like if you have a pet viper, or if you’re the only one for miles who knows how to play the jazz flute… you might have a run with her.
While everyone was flirting in their respectable groups I was earnestly looking through my notes. The Intro to Communications class was so pointless to me. It was basically a class to teach us young folks the ethics on being politically correct and respectful in the business world. So pointless.
As I turned a page in my notes I came across something that I forgot about. It was a brochure for an acting class that I snagged from the notice board in the campus cafeteria. I was actually looking for that brochure. I grabbed about four of them cause I knew I’d lose one of them. Didn’t think I’d lose all of them. But all’s well that ends well. I propped my head up by my arm as I got sidetracked into checking out this brochure.
“Why don’t you just go?” Through the ambiance of chatter, I heard the femininely husky voice of the girl sitting next to me. Still with my head propped up, I looked at her and raised my eyebrows, silently asking about what she was referring to.
“To that acting class. Why don’t you just go?” Amy said..
She was serious and concerned about me. I grinned. “This isn’t like you. Usually you’re all anti-establishment, burn the place down. You’re not a poser are you?” I mocked.
Amy let go of the serious expression. She closed her large blue eyes and slowly opened them with a grin of her own. “I have a knife on me. I will stab you, honey.” She told me. Her words wiped the grin off of my face. She wasn’t joking. I knew she carried always carried a switchblade on her and I have seen her stab one of her overly possessive ex-boyfriends.
“This class costs $200 a month. I don’t have that kind of money. Not with what, tuition and the cost of repairs to my car that spring up out of the blue.” I explained.
Amy nodded her head. “Yeah, that’s why you have a job. And aren’t your parents like…loaded?”
“Yeah, but you know them. It builds character and discipline and all that crap.” I said.
“Hmm…Drop out of college then.” Amy said bluntly. She stopped caring the topic of conversation a couple of lines earlier.
“Yeah, I could do that. But I kind of want a degree. So…”
“You know what I’m hearing?” She asked.
“Excuses, young one.” She told me.
I scoffed apathetically. “Psh…The abusive amount of perfume you’re wearing is an excuse.” I uttered.
She didn’t respond back. We just went back to our own business after that. When class let out at five o’clock, Amy and I traversed the campus on our way to where we parked. She and I hadn’t said a word to each other for the last fifteen minutes since my last insult. I wasn’t worried about hurting her feelings. Cause god knows that when that when it comes to that track record, she had me beat, making me cry at least twice. And she never apologizes….Ever!
On her fifteenth birthday when we were high school freshmen…I just so happens to have forgotten about it. Seriously, she wasn’t the kind of person to remind anyone about it because it would make her a hypocrite. She was always calling everyone else obnoxious and self-absorbed. So I had no idea. We went the whole day at school and I didn’t say a word about it.
Back when I was a freshmen I was always getting mad props from the ladies about my long Spanish hair that I always had pulled back into a ponytail. Everyone always thought that I looked like a cartel member with my complexion and long hair. I liked my long hair. It’s my pride. It’s like a lion’s mane. The Bible makes mention of it with the legends surrounding Samson. I loved my hair. Not sure if I made that clear enough.
Anyways, that night I woke up at around 2:30 in the morning. I usually moved around in my sleep, trying to hit the cool spots of my bed before sunrise. But on that particular night, when I tried to move, I found my movements were restricted. Come to find out this crazy bitch had literally taken a page out of “The Wedding Crashers” and tied my ankles and wrists to the bed posts with my tank tops. She was sitting on my chest, decked out in one of her Goth ceremonial dresses. I know…you’d think such a vision would turn a hot-blooded youth like myself on…but it didn’t. She didn’t have on any of my overhead lights. I knew it was her, but all I could see was the outline of her through the moonlight that had penetrated through my curtains.
“Amy? Dude, what the hell are you doing!?” I remember shouting at her.
“Sshhhh!!” She whispered. “You’ll wake up your family.”
“How did you get in here, Amy? Why am I tied up like this?” What the hell…” I stopped talking. Amy had grabbed a handful of my hair and pulled up on it. Then I saw the outline of a pair of scissors and could hear the mechanical chime of her opening them.
“Maxwell…What was yesterday?” She asked me.
“What?” I asked…I honestly couldn’t hear her. And with that, she cut off the first patch of my hair.
“OH!!! NO YOU DIDN’T! HAVE YOU LOST YOUR..” I began to shout, before she grabbed another handful of my hair.
“What was yesterday?” She asked me again.
“Amy! I don’t know!” I shouted. My answer triggered another cut out of my hair.
“Amy I don’t know! What the hell man! Get the hell off of me!” I shouted with actual desperation and tears in my eyes. By that point I really was hoping to god that I was having a nightmare.
“Maxwell!!!” She called out as if I was a dog roaming out in the pasture. “Maxwell. Calm down. Calm down. Now then…Tell me what yesterday was.” She said. I knew she was smiling because I could hear a slight chuckle in her tone.
I spent the next five minutes getting my hair cut off in patches by this evil girl who was trying to teach me a lesson in the best way she saw fit. Even after I guessed it, she kept cutting off my hair, making me guess what she wanted for her birthday. My parents eventually heard my screaming and came in. And even when my parents whipped open my bedroom door and flicked on the lights, Amy didn’t flinch or seem at all scared or nervous. She just kept merrily cutting like she was doing me a freaking service. Bryan literally had to manhandle Amy off of me while Shannon tried to pry the scissors from her hands.
Afterwards I had to have my head completely shaved to keep from having a goddamn field of crop circles. I was so disappointed and crushed. Amy and I didn’t talk for the rest of the year until that summer and even then, she didn’t apologize. Instead, I had to apologize to her. My hair didn’t get that long again until the same time next year and by then I had Amy’s birthday burned in my memory. I can’t remember what I got her, but she liked it.
“It’s called a gamble, Maxwell. A risk. Taking a chance. No one gets to those higher places without making sacrifices.” She told me as we continued on our way to the parking lot.
“Like you?” I asked her. Amy shot me a look, daring me to elaborate as she pulled out a cigarette to light up.
“I mean, you’ve been rockin the Tim Burton look since sixth grade. If you’re gonna be a defense attorney…Nay! If you’re gonna get into grad school, you’re gonna have to leave all that behind.” I told her.
She nodded and inhaled a deep puff. “I suppose, it would be a sacrifice. But one I wouldn’t regret making.” She said with a firm resolve.
“Why an attorney though? With this style of yours, you don’t have to abandon it. I wouldn’t even recognize you in any other rags, ya know. I mean, what. You could join a band or a tattoo parlor or a cult, sect, tribe or a coven like the Wicca or…”
“Stop. You’ll piss me off.” She told me while tilting her head diagonal and widening her blue eyes at me.
I let out a mild chuckle. “Just sayin.”
“Just stranglin.” She shot back.
She and I started snickering. “I don’t know, booboo. Being a criminal defense attorney…I don’t know why, but I’ve always rooted for the bad guys. I hate goody two-shoe boyscouts.” She said.
“So then, I guess you must hate me then.”
Amy smiled at me while shaking her head no. “No, my dear. You are far from innocent.”
I shot her a look and stopped walking abruptly. Amy was in a hurry but stopped to face me. She folded her arms and shifted her hips. “You’re no boyscout Maxwell. I may not have seen you break any laws, but I sense a dangerous, fiery spirit emanating from you. I always have. Which is why I’ve always sat next to you. You keep me warm.” She told me.
Amy knew about my racing. She didn’t think too highly of it but she didn’t think it was evil either. What the hell was she talking about? Why was I even taking her seriously? I mean… dangerous spirit…emanating? What’s that all about? After briefly pondering over her words, I involuntarily rolled my eyes and started walking away from her. I was going to walk her to her car then go to my own, but…
“Have to work.” I told her as I waved goodbye.
“On Good Friday?” Amy asked me.
“One of us has to.” I called back to her.
Amy smiled and just stood at me as I walked away. That bastard…She knew she touched a nerve and I had no right to get mad. I criticized her…so she criticized me. You give what you get and all that. Anyways…Only the first half of the day had gone by. It was time for the second half and I needed to keep my spirits up or else face the barrage of “What’s wrong Max?” And I couldn’t have that.
There was a cool breeze setting in. The scorching heat from earlier had died down to a manageable eighty-two. The breeze was a good sign that it wouldn’t be humid that night. For a pizza delivery driver, humidity made all of outside a sweaty gym. What with walking up and down flights of stairs and traversing whole fields to get to some remote apartment. If you were a delivery driver for Pizza Shack…you were pretty much a field agent. And my Friday night shift was just about to start.