Otis stood on the same corner as ever, eyes like a man lost in a whole new city.
I watched him from the roof of the Mini-Mart. His feet shuffled into empty spaces, looking for friends in the cement cracks with the lost coins.
I watched him and traced my handcuffs. His ear found an odd angle, listened to the strange tone of silence.
I watched a car pull up and Otis came to life long enough to take the crisp bills. He handed over the rock. The first sale he did openly, in years of slinging.
Then Otis slouched. His hands were slack for lack of a bus ticket or some way back to days before.
I didn’t need my directional mike to hear what he was wondering:
Whether Doom and Knowshown would be back.
Whether they had been the ones who left or if he had.
How he could be in their same spot, but it was no longer the same place.
Otis met Doom in 2000.
Otis hid him under Otis’ shotgun house from Doom’s abusive father for a month. Snuck him cold cans of Dinty Moore. Slipped comic books through the floorboards.
Doom’s bloody-knuckled daddy got sent up to Angola for growing weed. Doom got sent into state custody.
Otis got letters, X-mas cards and wood-shop sculptures from Doom.
They grew. Bent, but strong.
Otis grew alongside Knowshown.
Otis and Knowshown got sent to the Carver High principal for setting separate fires on the same day. They never did anything separate since. If one was in the back of my cruiser for a crack bust, the other was inches away.
Knowshown showed Otis how to spin a web of corner drug sales that even veteran Narco like me couldn’t see, and Otis showed Knowshown how to take a business to the top while standing in place on that corner.
Otis got guns, bling and a taste for foreign DVDs from Knowshown.
They grew big.
When Doom got out of the state, they all got together.
Their names together on my Hot Sheet read like a bomb recipe. I thought I had a problem.
Turns out, I wasn’t the one with the problem.
About three months before it happened, I shook down Otis.
He had no rock. Just a bad day, courtesy of me. And a bruise on his cheek that I asked about.
“Old Crows give you that?”
“Nah, Miss Jari.”
He looked away. I knew silence wouldn’t last long. Otis was rare among criminals; a kind that thought talking actually helped things.
“Knowshown tagged me.”
“Said I stuck up for Doom too much.”
“Since when were you all rivals?”
“We ain’t. They just fight.”
“Whenever they get together, they brawl.”
“Whatever. Everything. I try to smooth it over.”
“So why’re you getting hit?”
Otis looked away again. I waited. He had no answer. Or maybe he’d already said.
These things settle themselves.
I watched it come down like images of cruise missiles hitting Baghdad on CNN.
Sudden flashes in haze:
Knowshown beating Otis for Doom pinching rock. Doom smashing Knowshown’s headlights for beating Otis. Otis drifting between the two them like smoke, bribing, coaxing, hugging it out.
These things only go one way.
One Monday, I hear Doom is up in Bywater with a broken neck.
Thursday, Texas tells us our fugitive person-of-interest, Knowshown, is locked up in Dallas for felony distribution.
Friday, Otis is on the corner. It’s the same corner, but it’ll never be the same again.
He’s reaching into his pocket before he realizes there’s no one left to call.
He’s looking for someone to smile with but his lips only go down.
He’s selling like he doesn’t care who sees.
I watch him sell. I consider putting him out of his misery. Jail is many bad things, but it’s not a lonely place.
And after all, friendships in Desire only end up one place: Lost.