Rudy gets a face full of asphalt when homeboy yanks him clear off his feet and throws him into the sidewalk. His face makes a meaty, grinding sound as it slides against the concrete. Homeboy’s left arm clutches his stomach like somebody just kicked him in the balls and he’s still feeling the aftershocks. He grips a gun against the side of his leg. He looks five years older than me, a bald dude with a goatee, just outta high school and jumped into one of the gangs in Boyle Heights.
Rudy and I were shooting the shit by the mural of the Virgin Mary, painted on the storefront of the Lucky Day Laundromat. The mural’s been there for years, but it was tagged up before the paint dried.
Rudy pulls out a wad of cash.
“Where’d you get that?” I ask. Most I’ve seen is the wad of singles my cousin Liz pulls after a shift at the Blue Rhino strip joint.
“Jacked some LED lights from Home Depot,” Rudy says.
“Your pops is gonna fuck you up,” I warn.
“Asshole ain’t gonna find out.”
Rudy’d sleep over at my pad sometimes. We’d climb up to the roof and smoke. Rudy’d make smoke rings. Says he learned from his pops, but his pops ain’t taught Rudy shit that I know. Except how to take a punch.
Some nights he’d pull out a flask of Jack Daniels and we’d drink. Watch the stars blink out behind a layer of fluorescent lamp light and smog. Rudy’d say shit like how he’s tired of living there. Tired of his old man. Tired of being afraid.
“Besides,” he says, counting his cash, “Tania’s worth it. Bitch is fine. As. Fuck”.
Rudy has a mad crush on the chick behind the counter of Lucky Day, a tall morena from Monterey Park. We was ‘bout to go inside so Rudy could spit his game when the bald mother fucker came barreling around the corner.
Baldy trips over Rudy’s leg and he eats it too. His nose takes most of the blow and I hear it crunch into the pavement, with the sound cereal makes when you grind it down with your teeth. His gun rattles into the gutter. Fires off.
There’s a pang of a bullet striking the stop sign, and Rudy’s up and pushing me against the side of the building. A fat, older dude comes around the corner, points the gun at Baldy, calm as shit.
“Please, man,” Baldy pleads. He puts up his hand as if it’d change the way things would go. “I’ll–”
The gun goes off. First round goes in the throat and Baldy’s pleads turn into a wet, thick sound, like chuckling water.
Gun goes off again.
When the third shot rings out my ears feel like they’re ‘bout to explode. Fat dude’s gone before we know it.
State Street is jammed packed with cars. The people inside are trying to get a look. Baldy’s left arm is still gripping his stomach, legs splayed out underneath him like he was caught praying. His white t-shirt blooms with two fist sized red blotches. A bullet’s gone through the bridge of his nose, puncturing one eye. What’s left looks like milky egg whites.
We hear the sirens, but neither of us moves. Behind us, someone tell us to come inside, but Rudy kneels down and picks up the gun. Holds the nozzle up to the sunlight. His face is a be-shitted mess of asphalt and scars that would never completely go away.
“Still warm,” Rudy says.
Years later Rudy’s head is shaved, and he’s tatted up. Joined some State Street gang I’ve never heard of.
“We’re coming up, man,” he assures me. Asks me to roll with him one night. Be like old times, he says.
We hardly talk, but he comes over sometimes and we still shoot the shit. My Mom watches him out of the corner of her eye. Makes sure Rudy don’t steal nothing. Sometimes, after he’s gone, I noticed he has. I wonder how many guys he’s killed. Wonder if maybe that day changed him.
Like maybe a face full of asphalt is all it takes.