They were working through the gate at St. Vincent’s when Bobby said, “Live it up, little bro, ‘cause that could be you knocked out next time.”
“Actually that’s the first fight I’ve ever been in.”
“And he fights dirty. I saw the brass knuckles from a block away,” interrupted Julian Polk coming through the gate behind them.
Now Bobby wasn’t a small man at 5’10”, 215 pounds, but when he hugged Julian Polk, he looked like a little kid compared to Julian’s 6’5” frame.
“I guess they’ll let anybody out of jail these days,” Julian chided.
“Good to see you, too, Julian. What brings you uptown?”
He pointed to a spot across the street where the Prince was engaged in a chess game with New Orleans’ trombone virtuoso Delfayo Marcalus. “Just getting a tarot reading from the Prince.”
“It was good, I hope.”
“Yeah except for the part where I die a horrible death for the King right there,” he said with a laugh, though it wasn’t a joke.
“No greater love is there that for one man to lay down his life for his friends,” Bobby replied.
Bobby’s motorcycle was parked in front of the guest house. Christine was painted across the tank of the chromed-out full-chopped 1969 Highway Patrol Harley Davidson. The bike was powered by a 1600cc motor. Boogie, Rambo, and Guillermo had worked on that bike for two years and everyone in the neighborhood knew Christine.
“Wow, she looks good!” George marveled.
“Yeah. Tex, who seems to have grown a foot since I’ve been gone, and a little pygmy named Fish have been shining her up.”
“At least if the Ice Cream Gangsters turn out to be a bust they can start a detail shop,” Julian joked.
“You seen Jesi yet?” Buddha asked.
“No. Tex said she worked all night and is probably up there asleep. I didn’t want to wake her just yet. I been locked up for three years; she gonna need her strength!”
Tex, Spider, and Fish came walking up with Spider pushing his bike as Boogie finished, “I’m going to go get some flowers and then wake up Jesi. Then I’m gonna be real busy.”
Spider piped up from behind him, “Then what you gonna do after that minute and a half is up?”
Bobby spun around and put Spider in a loving headlock and then rubbed his head with his knuckles.
“Hey, watch out! You’ll scratch the paint.”
“Oh, excuse me.” Bobby laughed.
“By the way, Christine doesn’t park in that spot anymore. That’s where Maggie parks.” He pointed to a street sign Buddha had made that said, ‘If you aren’t Maggy, this isn’t your parking space.’
“How did I miss that?” The boys laughed and reunited with Bobby and he marveled at Spidey’s bike before heading off to the florist.
The boys headed toward the big second floor balcony where they would hang out. The hotel had decorated the platform between the stairs with cushioned patio chairs and tables.
“What happened to you?” asked Max whom the boys now called Fish per his request.
“Did you get hit by a car?” asked Tex.
“Was the car on steroids, and did you lose a front tooth?!” Fish continued.
“I didn’t lose the tooth. It’s right here,” George said, pulling the tooth from his pocket.
While the boys were talking, Bobby passed them on his way up the stairs to finally see Jesi. This was going to be his first time with her in a little more than three years. In that time the Ice Cream Gangsters had grown up, the neighborhood had begun to change, and Boogie was wondering if he’d be able to change with it. Everyone in the neighborhood viewed the Ice Cream Gangsters as their own little projects. Everyone seemed to take pride in their accomplishments and shared their failures and losses. In this respect they embodied the saying that is takes a whole village to raise a child. But if the boys had a nemesis, someone they felt personified evil, it was Justin Aviance. So when Justin came running down the steep concrete stairway, it was almost an unconscious act for Buddha to creep the end of his shell-toe Adidas ever so slightly to collide with Justin’s in-flight Reebok. The drug pusher’s flight had been so frantic, the trip caused him to go end over end with each rotation putting concrete to flesh.
The news would later report that a deadly strain of heroin, called blockbuster, had come into the city, leaving six people dead.
As Justin’s body hit the last step, the boys saw a huge set of wings tattooed across Boogie’s back as he flew down the stairs. For a few moments, Buddha’s eyes were lost in the tattoo. Where George’s were angel wings, Bobby’s were huge bat-like demon wings. At the bottom were the words ‘That which you seek you can never attain – Siddartha’. The boys had seen Bobby smack Justin around before, but this was something different, something horrific, something savage.
Buddha’s cat clawed at his hoodie and said, “Oh my God, Mark, she’s gone!”
Bobby Rothering held the bloodied man with one hand while violently bashing the pusher’s face with a hammer-like fist. His eyes were glazed over with bloodlust and his teeth were clinched so tightly that the boys cringed when one of Bobby’s incisors sheared off from the pressure.
If the level of ultra violence had stayed at that, things might have been different. But the gods were not done with Bobby Rothering.
At the most unfortunate moment, Fahad AlGhamdi, the ice cream vendor and cleared murderer, opened his door unaware of the carnage that awaited him. There must have been some memories in the berserker Bobby’s brain in its current animal instinct mode which calculated that had it not been for the lying, bigoted clerk that stood before him, she might be alive. He might have been home to protect her. He might have been the voice she needed to resist temptation; the voice she needed to live.
Boggie dropped the limp pusher and swarmed the ice cream vendor with the same beating he had inflicted on Justin. A blow downed the clerk, but he pulled from inside his doorway a shiny new 45 ACP Springfield Automatic. The boys’ ears rang and they went numb as a hole appeared in the side of Bobby. It looked, to the stunned boys, like a period at the end of a tattoo that said, ‘All life is suffering – Gautama Buddha’.
Bobby seemed completely unfazed by the shot that racked his body as he snatched the pistol from Fahad. When the crazy man put a bullet into Fahad’s midsection, the gun’s report was deafening. Boogie turned and his knees buckled. He grabbed his side, but before he could fall, he caught sight of Justin how was trying to crawl away. The enraged look took over again and Bobby walked like he wasn’t dying, calmly up to the bloody mess that had been Justin.
CLICHINK – then BEEEP, their ears rang.
CLICHINK – another
Then just out of the boys’ view, Julian Polk hit Bobby between the neck and shoulder with Buddha’s old tee-ball bat trying to make him drop the gun. The blow barely rocked Boogie, whose body was surging on vengeance and adrenaline. Without taking his eyes off Justin, he held the gun out to the side and all the air was sucked out of the boys’ world as Boogie sent a round into the face of Julian Polk at point blank range.
Two more shots rang out and boys turned to see John Bernos firing from the courtyard. Both bullets hit Boogie and rocked him back, still not dropping him. A large exit wound began to pour blood at the end of another tattoo that said, ‘Man is the cause of man’s own suffering – the second noble truth.’
From out of nowhere Mrs. Cara burst into the line of fire and George grabbed Spider who had tried to jump down the stairs towards her.
In slow motion Bernos’ next shot missed its mark but passed through her spun-gold locks sending long strands floating about the carnage. Boogie collapsed into her arms and went limp. When she fell to the ground under his weight his hand opened and dropped George’s rock, the one called the King’s stone. George patted his patted his pocket and that is the first time he noticed it missing.
Paramedics and Spider pulled Mrs. Cara, who was brushing long bloody locks from his face, begging him to stay alive. She was hysterical in a way that made her lose all her bearing. She sobbed that she never got to tell him she loved him.
Buddha’s cat whispered, “He always knew it.”