Lil’ Mike had skills. That’s why he was running this primo corner north of the Ike, couple blocks west of the Stadium. Knew how to spot the five-0, knew how to work the suburban white breads that didn’t like to wander too far into the hood to score, Lil’ Mike giving ‘em a mix of charm and menace that had them paying twice per bag what the crews a quarter mile south were getting from the brothers and the pipe whores.
The Escalade rolling up looked like a solid score. Wasn’t no tricked-out ride with thousand-dollar spinners, type of sled that might get Lil’ Mike’s drive-by alarm dinging, ‘cause that was the other thing you had to watch out for when you ran a ripe-ass corner like this, especially north of the Ike where you started bumping into to crews from other gangs. No, this was a stock white-guy Caddy, Notre Dame license plate holder, some soccer-dad-looking guy driving, slowing down, powering down his window and dangling his hand out with a little wiggle, some bills threaded through his fingers.
Lil’ Mike waved back to his holder, new kid they called Marlboro on account of the kid was always boosting smokes at the dump them Koreans run a couple blocks east, Marlboro jogging up with the goods now that Lil’ Mike had scoped out the buyer.
That’s when soccer dad came up with the bitchin’ looking gun, not no 9mm, but some kind of Navy SEAL shit, like that Jack Bauer guy would use on that 24 show, soccer dad squeezing off a quick burst, shooting right past Lil’ Mike, hitting Marlboro dead center, dropping the kid straight down. Funny how slow it all seemed, Lil’ Mike understanding it all, his brain working way faster than his feet. Knew how the guy had shot past him and taken Marlboro first ‘cause that kid was still like ten yards back, and if the guy had shot Lil’ Mike first, then maybe Marlboro was far enough back to have a chance, Lil’ Mike knowing he had no time to run, thinking his best shot was to make a grab for the gun, knowing that wasn’t gonna work either, not after the guy had brought it up so smooth and quick and nailed Marlboro so clean, but taking the shot anyway ‘cause it’s what you do, then thinking maybe he was gonna make it because the guy was swinging the gun at him so slow and easy, Lil’ Mike thinking he needed just one more step, but then he saw the flash and he was down on his back wondering why he hadn’t heard anything, why he hadn’t felt himself fall, and he was looking up at the sky seeing just one star, straight up over his head, must be one bright mother fuckin’ star ‘cause here in the city, you look up at night you usually don’t see shit, Lil’ Mike thinking back to when he was seven and that church group took him up to that camp in Wisconsin for a couple of days, freezing his ass of sleeping in a tent, cooking crap in a campfire, fuckin’ preacher trying to Jesus him up all day, none of that shit taking, but he remembered looking up at night, the whole sky lit up and blinking like downtown at Christmas time, Lil’ Mike wishing he could see those stars now instead of just this one, weird feeling like that would make a difference somehow, then remembering the story his grandma used to tell him after he’d moved in with her, after his mom died from the AIDS she picked up hooking, story about her great-grandfather escaping out of Mississippi, how he had to walk north at night, how he’d feel for moss on trees and shit, but mostly how he’d find this one star, the North Star, and how he would follow that star, just like them Wise Men fucks had followed their star, because that one star would show them the way to freedom, Lil’ Mike wondering if maybe this was that one star, hoping it was all of a sudden, hoping maybe he keeps his eyes on it, maybe it would show him the way somewhere, but there were some clouds blowing around, clouds low enough he could see them on account of the light from the city bouncing off them, one of them clouds heading toward his star, Lil’ Mike feeling the blood filling up his mouth now, gagging trying to breathe that shit, knowing he was dying, watching that cloud oozing toward his star, wishing he could remember some prayer he could say to hold that cloud back just for a second, just ‘till he was dead, Lil’ Mike sure now that that one star was his only chance, the one place in all eternity where he could put his feet, and if he missed it he was just gonna fall in that black forever and never know or see anything else ever again, but he couldn’t remember no prayers, not any at all, and the cloud covered up his star and Lil’ Mike lay on his back making gurgling noises, staring up into a black sky scabbed over with clouds soaked in the city’s dirty light.