Mike Watts received an anonymous tip, that the Vineyard gang was about to amicably move drug dealers into Centennial Hill. Rival Skull’s had allowed it simply based on supply and demand. The Vineyard haven was barren of customers, overly patrolled by cops and the clubhouse had been destroyed by fire.
Gangland accountants must have crunched the numbers and determined a significant take would be left on the table, without the extra sales push. Manny’s dealers would show up on Skull turf to supply extra dope and take advantage of the Candyland, the schoolyard had become.
It might come as a shock to the layman but drug addicts used all day every day. Generally once addicts were good and hooked they needed reliable supply, to maintain their habit which gave drug sellers a built-in clientele.
The mid-month surplus would be like goddamned Christmas to addicts. There too was always the risk of losing a few customers, to overdose so dealers needed to keep sharp eyes on filling their pipelines. They needed to attract fresh young users at bus depots and shopping malls.
The posse and Terrence’s crew, gathered late Sunday afternoon for their final huddle before the game plan would be executed. They had voted to proceed with a peace and love approach by inundating the grounds with food, 12 step information, condoms and clean syringes.
Eunice was dismayed but Mike promised her news outlets, were tipped off about their valiant efforts and crews would show up at dusk while activities were in full swing. Handing out condoms and syringes wasn’t exactly the razzle-dazzle she had craved but it could lead to something bigger.
Eunice compromised by keeping the big picture in mind. She could very well wind up as a guest on 60 Minutes or Both Sides Now, with Jesse Jackson. Shows known for social interests and activism.
When they arrived on location at the school, things looked pretty tame, which was a relief to the new guys. There was no sign of Skull squatters in the three abandoned houses on Grove Street either. Not that anyone would know if a world-class drug trip was playing out behind the shuttered windows.
Dealers often claimed, “I never touch the stuff,” which was not altogether true. If they used and sold their existence was worse than just using because they weren’t able to lose control. Riding the crest of a high without letting yourself get off was torture. Maintaining steady inebriation without ever reaching euphoric heights, was like settling for Tang when you had to have freshly squeezed.
Harpo parked the van at the side lot of the main building, so they could unload the donated supply of bagged sandwiches, carrots, apples, and canned tomato juice. They also unloaded condom and clean syringe dispensers.
The posse and Terrence’s crew, had merged to make them a dozen or so, ran supplies out behind the school where the blue tarp shanty town had been erected.
To Eunice the wandering figures looked restless and discontent. Judging by the verbal cues she heard, their high must not last long, since most of them seemed caught in a limbo of wanting more. There were two states of being; this aimlessness moody one and the high itself.
The high was immediate lasting anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes but once the pleasurable effect wore off, the brain demanded more. Crack was cocaine cut with baking soda, so much cheaper. Inhaling the smoke from a pipe gave users a high by flooding the brain’s pleasure pathways with dopamine. The constant chore of maintaining the high was called a crack binge.
The posse crew did their best to navigate and interact with users but other than nonsensical speech and grunts addicts mostly stuck together ignoring their presence. They picked at sandwiches but in their heart of hearts, were motivated by crack and meth. Sadly it felt like walking through a safari theme park.
“Is Sam coming down here Eunice?” Gabrielle asked, in a private moment.
“Naw. I didn’t mention any details. He worries too much about me. He wrote me a poem though,” Eunice said.
“Really, a poem. That’s so nice. Nobody ever wrote me anything, except a post-it note on the door asking me why I was ignoring them,” Gabrielle said.
“It’s about how he is a plant and I don’t water him enough. I think when things settle down, I’m going to make a few changes and water him,” Eunice said.
At the south west corner, were a thatch of trees beyond which a broken frost fence led down a path to the creek and ravine beyond. Eunice remembered sneaking to a spot by the creek to smoke Marlboro lights with Arisbel in high school.
The well-worn path was trampled down to cemented clay and decorated with bonfire remains, syringes, broken glass pipes, cigarette butts and other debris. This was where the hardcore addicts were. Many spent their days in various states of drugged inebriation, or sedation while others looked unconscious and dead.
Every so often the atmosphere changed amongst the crowd, caused by frenzied verbal sparring between two addicts. The ultraviolent sounds upset the quieter ones, making them cry like children. These guys were beyond being satisfied, by the prospect of a sandwich or a bag of carrot sticks.
“Oh dear,” Gabrielle said, as she twist tied the condom and needle dispenser to a tree.
“That’s probably not really an argument. In their minds. they might be best friends using together, or at least they used to,” Mike said.
It was dusk.
“Eunice, you seem distracted,” Mike said.
“It’s near dark, are you sure the reporters got the message about what we are doing, for these people?” she asked.
“As far as I know yes,” Mike said.
“I’m going up there to take a gander,” Eunice said. She headed out front to where Harpo’s truck was parked.
Eunice watched as a rented U-Haul van pull in to the lot.
Her first thought was the reporters had arrived, to do the story on them. What the hell? Reporters in U-Haul’s?
As if they’d been waiting for the right time Lil Red and five of her own black clad camouflage geared army, got out of the van. They looked less like freedom fighting vigilantes and more like assassins, with yellow arm bands.
“Red, what’s all this?” Eunice asked, alarmed.
She saw Lil Red’s, Napoleon motivation through her hardened stare. She didn’t seem allied with the posse crew anymore. This bunch didn’t look intent on treating junkies like charity cases.
Lil Red had turned on them.
“Lil Red why? Where’d you get these guys? My God,” Eunice said.
“Can’t stop the train Eunice, can’t stop progress,” she said, waving her army forward.
The assassins quickly inhabited player positions straight out of a gamer’s playbook and spread out around the perimeter.
This was a true ambush. The blindsided Skull gang members, dealers and Manny’s Vineyard gangbangers wouldn’t have time to retaliate.
The gangs must have been on watching, as they emerged from one of the Grove houses fully armed and ready to rumble. By the looks of things they had an arsenal of guns and ammo stockpiled inside.
Eunice thought the sky was going to fall down around her. She had no reference point, for what she had gotten herself into. She’d already surrendered in her mind.
She ran back to where most of the posse crew were still scouting beyond the thatch of trees and saw Terrence.
“Terrence, what the fuck is happening? Lil Red’s got an army with real guns,” Eunice yelled.
She saw two Skulls near the basketball courts.
She lost all sense of what they were doing there, shooting up their own high school in the first place. She wasn’t drunk with power. This was not supposed to be happening. Some other plan was being enacted.
“FIRE!” she heard Lil Red call out.
“No! Oh God. Terrence?” Eunice screamed.
They shot random rounds, into the crowd of transient civilians and dealers alike. Jonesing addicts and vagabond carcasses, fell to the ground in tandem fast, fast, bang, bang.
The pace then quickened to PlayStation Thrill Kill proportions, in a real life video game with units firing on all cylinders, without discretion.
“You wanted to make a statement Eunice. It was your father. It was Curtis who got me those goons. They fought in Iraq okay so you all are fucked! Just remember I did it for Sara!” Lil Red said. Tears rolled down her cheeks, as shots popped from her rifle picking off junkies.
Sirens could be heard in the distance but no law were on site. Where the heck were her people? What happened to Jax, Gabrielle, Patty?
Terrence yanked Eunice toward him and managed to get her into a rough headlock, before she could react.
“What are we doing?” she asked, thinking it was all some phony role-play to deceive the police, who had begun to arrive.
“Shut the fuck up, I’m trying to think,” he commanded.
“What the… no Terrence,” she was alarmed, “You and Red planned this? It’s sick!”
“Red’s got her own fucked up issues,” Terrence said. “Listen beautiful, I ain’t going down because of you,” he put the pistol to her temple, “think about it!”
Sirens, gunshots and walkie-talkies static gurgles, made for an eclectic soundtrack. Overhead stadium spotlights went on, flooding the grounds with light.
Of the shots fired, a policeman’s bullet caught Lil Red in the clavicle, without much effort. The beautiful rabble rouser lay on the ground dead, along with several others. Her trademark cherry red hair extensions would make identification obvious.
Eunice realized Terrence was desperate, seeing himself as the fall guy and leader. They weren’t going to pin this on Eunice, having been a bit of a town darling due to Vineyards last year.
Horrified, she felt tiny vibrations shooting through her nervous system. Being held tight under his arm opened up her adrenal valves, making her body rigid and strong.
“Weapons Terrence? When did we get into heavy artillery?” She didn’t think he had the brains for planning this and must have been clouded by her goal of making the news.
“You thought you were better than the rest of us, with your daddy’s connections. You’re charm will only get you so far. Your white Eunice. This ain’t about you anymore,” he said.
“No Terrence don’t say that,” she said.
“I didn’t want to do this, help me get us out of here. We’ll go down to Mexico. Then I know guys in Argentina,” Terrence said, rambling incoherent. His true colors on full display for her to see.
Eunice scanned the vicinity for her next move. Her eyes following the fence running along the walkway, that lead to the half-moon bus zone. In disbelief, she saw a big ole orange school bus swerve into the loopety-loop, squealing on two wheels. Eunice swore the vehicle was commandeered by a super-sized Tina Turner from Mad Max.
It was fight or flight. She was in shock as she tried reconciling her love for Terrence.
“Drop the weapon. Put your hands up!” the officer commanded, through megaphone. Three other cops had pistols trained on them, “I repeat. Drop the weapon and let the woman go.”
Her head was still wedged under Terrence’s arm as he took one step backward, closer to the path. Then another. She suspected his plan was to run down to the ravine but then what? She couldn’t allow him to take her down there.
Officers stepped forward, mimicking his position.
Eunice made herself a dead weight.
“Terrence you gotta turn us in. They’ll shoot us dead!” she pleaded.
“Can’t do it,” he said.
“What did you do?” she asked.
“Eunice you have to help me out here. Listen they want me to be the fall guy. Manny is my cousin. I’m a member of the Skulls. I’m the bridge between the rival gangs. I never agreed with Manny on pushing drugs on kids,” he hissed the words in her ear.
“Terrence how can you say this to me?” she asked. With adrenalin charged, she became a generator ball of energy, concentrated in the center of her chest.
One, two, three. Kapow!
She broke free of his grip and hurled herself into midair, then threw her bodyweight backward into him, knocking him to the ground under her. She’d seen the move watching WWF wrestling with her dad. Free of Terrence, she rolled to one side just out of his reach and lay with the wind knocked out of her.
The police shooter got a clear shot at Terrence with a bullet striking his shoulder, precisely where her head had been.
She prayed for Aunt Angela’s spitfire determination, as she rolled and rolled herself until her body halted at the gate post of the metal fence.
Terrence stood in silhouette, holding his injured shoulder about to attempt, a final dash for the ravine.
“You fucking cunt!” Terrence roared, his neck veins bulged.
Eunice ran toward the orange school bus, now parked in the dark lot on the quiet side, of the school. Police attention was on Terrence so they lost sight of her. Behind her gunshots went off but it was too late to think about Terrence now. He was a Skull. Manny was his cousin.
Where were the girls, the posse crew? Dead? She fucked this all up.
Sam I need you.
It was dark now.
She reached the bus lot and found the rogue school bus. She rushed to the door, “Tina are you in there? Help it’s Eunice,” she banged the door.
Her head swirled. She couldn’t get arrested before finding out Daddy’s involvement.
“Come on let’s go! We’ve always got room for one more!” a voice said. She looked up recognizing Todd smiling.
He pulled her up the bus steps.
Todd and his supporters were unrecognizable in garish drag. They had created a diversion just as police arrived, responding to gunfire complaints in Centennial Hill.
“Honey, there’s nothing like a gaggle of drag queens to create mischief. Come on quick-sticks,” Todd said, trying to sound lighthearted, given the chaos outside.
Eunice couldn’t believe her eyes. Inside the bus, amongst the painted men in drag were Gabrielle, Patty, Lindsay and Jaxon too! Relieved, she had instant proof miracles could happen, without her planning everything.
Thunderdome Tina drove the five or so miles, to the district school bus lot. They were still ahead of an area wide lockdown. The big orange school bus slid easily into its spot, like the final gold bar in the complete set. No one would be the wiser.
“Where to now?” Tina asked.
“Fuck me! I haven’t thought that far ahead. Give me a minute to process,” she said.
Daddy, why did you give me a way out?
“Can you get me a car?” Eunice asked.
Eunice had a bad feeling and sensed a frame up. Curtis had covertly shown up at Blue Ridge, the other night with a half-baked plan to get her out of town in case she ever needed to.
Curtis was convinced she’d need to sink below the eyes of the law. How was he so sure, unless he was a part of it? The betrayal had been too outlandish, so she hadn’t questioned him.
“Baby if you’re ever in trouble and have nowhere to turn heed my advice. You got to play it safe. Once a black man or black woman is in custody, the law gets real murky. Assumed innocence flies out the window,” Curtis said, looking crushed.
“Daddy, you’re scaring me. We’re planning to make a splash but we changed our tune. We decided to bring food and aid, instead of making a bold statement. Blame the newbies in the crew. I won’t need to run from the law?” she said.
“Back in my day, the law was back seat. You didn’t snitch. Goddamnit nobody snitched. Things have changed. Not gotten better but changed. If Sam or Terrence get arrested they’re as good as gone,” Curtis said.
“Oh my God Daddy, if I went underground I wouldn’t be able to contact anyone and what about money?” she asked. She didn’t know what else to say. He made her thinking irrational. Her head was throbbing with a headache. She had never seen her father looking sketchy. Why was he saying this?
“Baby it’s okay. I’ve thought of all that. You’ll see. Eunice everything will be okay with Doug…” Curtis said.
“I know you can’t tell me what I really want to know. Let’s simmer down. Give me specific instructions and I’ll memorize them,” she said, taking a breath. “If anything were to happen to me, what’s my next move Dad?” Eunice asked, speaking slower.
“You’d get to Memphis. Just get there discrete somehow. Start out new. Where nobody knows you. The man is Dougie, Doug Barnes. He’ll get you all set,” Curtis said.
“I know the what and the why but this place ain’t ready, may never be ready, for equal rights the way you kids are talkin.’ And Eunice don’t tell Sam a thing. He don’t have the survival skills like you and me. Don’t make him have to lie, the boy ain’t a liar,” Curtis said. He hugged her tight, like he used to when she was his princess.
“Daddy what are you saying? Me and Sam. Is Sam in danger? I kept him outta this,” Eunice was flustered.
“You and Sam nothing. You think that klan attack was coincidence? Somebody going to lynch that boy, if he’s anywhere near ya!” Curtis said, without sugarcoating.
Eunice was horrified. She was doing this for Sam and for the injustice. How could she think he wouldn’t be a target by association.
Curtis handed her Dougie’s address, “Memorize and destroy,” he said.
“Alright Daddy,” she said. A thought came to her, like a revelation. Her father had always been the voice of reason. His was the only voice she recognized as truth.
“Eunice we scored a car for you,” Todd said, looking concerned.
“Oh thank you, Todd. There are literally no words in my brain to use right now. So I’ll just say, ‘you never saw me okay,’”
She got in the 1969 mini Austin Cooper.
What was left of the posse crew and several brave drag queens, crowded around the car. They watched and waved as Eunice drove away into pitch darkness.