The boys took Jackson over to Magazine and walked past all the antique shops and junk stores for a change of scenery. They were confronted by a hideous demonic yell that made George wonder if the gates of Hell themselves had been unleashed. The noise was unlike anything George had ever heard on Earth before. Buddha led George around behind the flower shop Mrs. Cara worked at and stopped in front of a huge green dumpster from which the hellspawn’s howl emanated.
George reached to open the lid and Buddha yelled, “Not yet!” The boy fished out a small cloth pouch that held herbs out of his backpack. “NOW!”
When they opened the lid, Buddha’s cat leapt out of the dumpster with pure unadulterated rage. She was a spinning, hissing, clawing, windmill hell bent on murder.George had to dive out of the way and use Buddha’s backpack to deflect her blades. She rebounded towards Buddha to exact her revenge for his imprisonment in the dumpster. Buddha stood his ground and placed a perfectly aimed shot with the cloth pouch right on her snarling snout. The soft pouch didn’t cause her any harm, but the second it touched her nose, she was stunned and her pupils dilated. She changed from the bansheeball of death to a mellow, peony-loving, purring, hippy cat.
“What kind of magic is that?” George asked, standing up and brushing dirt from his clothes.
“Brilliant! Where did you get it?”
“Prince said I might need it a couple weeks back.”
The previous month had been strange for George as it was absent of his normal haunting. He had not seen Isabella Leboux, his ghost girl, in so long he was beginning to actually believe she was gone.
The boys were walking past the park across the street from the flower shop when they froze dead in their tracks. The surreal scene had been fostered by some children who pulled the top off the fire hydrant to play in the water after the warmth of the air from the previous night’s storm. The spray of the hydrant created a huge fan made of water. Mrs. Cara aught sight of the boys through the large storefront window where she was working. Her heart skipped a beat, her flesh rippled with chills as she saw what the boys saw. The water made a window between worlds. Mrs. Cara thought to herself, ‘Buddha’s cat is a girl’ as she saw the dark skinned Mulatto girl reflected in the water. And then she saw floating off the ground Isabella Leboux with her long black ringlets and crystal eyes staring at George with a look that anyone who had ever heard the signal chord of a love song could recognize. ‘She’s even more beautiful than he described.’
The sound of the water and the window to the angel turned the volume of the world to mute for George. He was lost in the phantasm’s gaze, struck dumb with love.
Unbeknownst to the boys, in the vacant lot just beyond the water window were a few twelfth graders playing volleyball. Just beyond George’s field of vision was a voluptuous girl playing in a bikini top. Much to the King’s dismay, her gargantuan golden-gloves boxing boyfriend couldn’t see Isabella, so it appeared that the Freshman was openly ogling his bikini-clad belle. The buff boyfriend walked around the fan of spray, but his words sailed past George like wind as the King remained lost in a trance, sharing a moment between dimensions.
When the muscle-bound mauler’s overhand right rocked George’s head, Buddha reached in his pack for a crescent wrench. George held out a hand to stop him, never taking his eyes off Isabella. Mrs. Cara came running as the jock hit George with a hook that knocked him to the pavement. Buddha grabbed Mrs. Cara and said, “He’s got it. Let him handle it, please.”
George pulled his shirt off and Mrs.Cara saw the huge tattoo that covered George’s entire back. It was red and black wings from his neck to his waist. He also had a huge crown tattoo on his ribs. George looked back at the water, but the girl was gone. Then he slung a haymaker at the boxer. The big kid side-stepped and hit the King with an uppercut that lifted the boy’s feet completely off the ground. The hulk who hadn’t even been touched turned to walk back to his cheering friends. George staggered to his feet and spit a front tooth into his palm and put it in his pocket. “That’s all you got? You hit like a girl.”
The enraged rumbler spun and charged George. With a blinding flash that not even the angels could have seen, George’s fist flew from his pocket with a completely committed right hook, accented by a tiny blur of gold. The fit ‘felt’ more that it sounded like a hammer hitting a steak. The only shot the King landed in the entire fight, the first punch George ever connected, laid out a golden gloves boxer who outweighed him by thirty pounds.
Buddha ran up and caught George who almost fell down himself. George hugged Buddha to steady himself and slid the brass knuckles Mr. Curtis had given him into Buddha’s pocket. Mrs. Cara turned in time to see another muscle-bound kid running toward the boys to avenge his friend, but not before a tattooed arm intercepted. The man’s Jim Morrison-esque hair blocked his face as he whispered into the boy’s ear, “Hey Tony, where you going? Did you know I was locked up with your big brother at Winnfield? Me and Rambo ran out of commissary money and sold him soups. He calls himself Susan now.”
The boy’s face was horrified as Bobby continued, “Now run along before I catch you in jail and auction off the whole lot of you.”
Boogie walked over hugged George. “Good to see you little bro! You might have won but your face lost.”
George laughed, spitting out some blood clots from the missing tooth.
The image finally registered in Mrs. Cara’s mind of who was standing before her. Her face lit up and she rushed him. He scooped her up in a hug and swung her around like some old movie. (Now I am not you casual observer. I am a historian, a comedian, a bard, who tells the tales of heroes. In the same way that Spider Hernandez could spot a thief in the dark while wearing headphones, I saw what that was.) It was like a spirit, a thought, an energy, a dream that lasted a millionth of a second. They had forgotten themselves. However, as quickly as that passion had been set ablaze, it was extinguished. Their faces took on a mask as if they had been in a dream and were awake now. The whole scene hadn’t lasted the flap of a hummingbird’s wings, but the world saw it. (And this historian wondered how he had ever missed it before.)
Bobby awkwardly set down the beautiful Mrs. Cara, who was now drenched from the hydrant’s mist. She said she had to go back to work. She paused to look at George and said, “Mister, we are going to have a little sit-down, official Ice Cream Gangster meeting about those tattoos tonight.” Then she stormed back to the store. “And no more fighting!” she called.
They all busted out laughed as they walked toward the hotel. Boogie pulled a red and black bandana from his pocket and gave it to George for his bloody mouth. “I’ll give you this; that missing tooth looks tough as Hell.”
“Man, how didn’t that psycho knock you out?” Buddha continued. “He was like twice your size.”
Bobby put his arm around George and said, “I bet it has something to do with a little black rock in your pocket. I think it is called the King’s stone.”
George’s head snapped up and he asked, “How did you know about that?”
Boogie told the story as he sauntered along the sidewalk. “Well, ya’ll know I used to work at the Prince’s shop when I was in high school. I had gotten on probation and Judge Waldrin said I could get an afternoon job or community service. I took the job. One day the Prince gives me a T-bone steak out of the fridge at the shop and tells me to put this rock in my pocket.”
“Did you get in a fight?” Buddha asked.
“I played baseball at Jesuit and led the team in home runs. The district home run title came down to me and a guy named Jacob Dixon they called Clown. So Tex’s Dad Bama pitched a wicked left-handed heater, but I homered off him twice that year. I had his number, but he never threw me one strike. He walked me three times. Meanwhile our pitcher threw two of his slow-ass knuckle balls to Clown that he hit so far, I don’t think they’ve ever come down. Clown wins the title and I felt played. After the game, me and Julian and Guillermo catch Bama outside the stadium and we fought.”
“Did you win?”
“Did I win? Hell no, man! He hit me like a sledgehammer and we was wicked fast.”
“The rock didn’t help you?”
“It might have, but he hit me so hard with a 2 piece it knocked my shoes off and the rock flew clean out of my pocket. Forget baseball, Bama should have been a boxer. You know what sucks the most about it?”
“What’s that?”
“I was down bad for that. He came to my house the next day wrapped up like a mummy. Turns out he had torn a rotator cup. That’s why he wouldn’t pitch me his fast ball. He didn’t have one! He pitched the whole game with a messed up arm and still won the state championship 6 weeks later.”
“Did ya’ll become friends?”
“Of course. We were always friends. And me and Clown got a rematch. We played against each other in the prison softball league. I was at Winnfield and he was at David Wade. He won that one, too. But I didn’t get knocked out afterward.”
George laughed and then winched, “Oh, that hurts.”
They laughed at him.
Buddha remembered, “Hey, hold on.” He fished the ice pack out of the backpack and handed it to George.
“Lemme guess, the Prince gave it to you?”