I met Ryan Bedlam at the wrong end of a bat.
I’d had other plans that day in the Spring before the storm. The weather was like good body oil. The sun didn’t have fangs. I’d planned on getting some poboys at the Louisa Mini Mart and hitting Pontchartain beach with my partner, Hakk.
Dirty-30 had other plans: A bona fide gang brawl against the Grubs outside the Mart, straight off the stage of Westside Story, bike chains and switchblades and everything.
Hakk stepped in to break it up, fried-oyster sandwiches in his pockets. I stepped in to back up Hakk.
It was three-on-one odds. As stupid as it gets. But we do stupid better than just about anybody in Desire, and that’s a mark of pride.
Hakk’s half Kodiak. He laid into the mob like a scene from the Discovery Channel. I spotted a runner. I hate it when they run.
I actually brought him down for once. Dude had a limp, lucky for me.
My luck runs out a minute later as I catch a Toy Drive bat to the crown.
I’m down like a popped balloon, July 4 in my head.
The fireworks cleared in time to see a kid had clocked me—looked to be pushing fourteen at most, clad in the kind of clothes you buy by the pound.
The kid’s belt was in one of Hakk’s hands, his neck in the other. Kid doesn’t even seem scared. Just pissed.
Right up to when Hakk tossed him through the plate-glass window of the Chinese Food & Poboy joint.
That was Hakk’s first brutality charge. It was the first time we met Ryan “Rabid” Bedlam.
Rabid was an F student that never lacked ambition.
When it came to being bad, he scored highest honors. Thumped me with a bat. Lit Patrolman Willis on fire with a spray can and a lighter. Stole more police cruisers than he had years.
They tried to cement Rabid into Juvenile. He always got out clean. Probably because as bad as he was to the cops, he was worse to potential witnesses.
We had a pink folder we called The Rabid Files. It was filled with suspicions and shots of faces like crushed grapes. Every Grub and Old Crow and sorry civilian who wouldn’t cop to who worked them over with a bat went in there.
The folder was pink because we thought that’d piss Rabid off. We didn’t have another way to get at him. Stopping him was like trying to cure cancer.
So it was month after month of seeing Rabid nearby the crack houses we raided, by the AK-47s we pulled out of abandoned basements, by the bodies we dragged from the weeds.
He was always damn polite to me and Hakk.
“No, Ma’am,” he’d go, “I don’t know two shits and a nickel about who left Luke Bender and his boys in pieces last night.”
“Really, Rabid,” I could only say. “Really.”
He was as contagious a madness as they come.
Then Katrina came, Rabid stayed, and the storm washed him away.
The quiet was so strong, you could smell it.
After Katrina, Desire made Beirut seem like Baton Rogue: Houses in the street. Streets ground to swamp. A bayou dressed as a graveyard. But you could tell Rabid was gone.
There were less fires, less maimings, less fearful looks. There was pride. Business was done in the construction yards, not the corners.
Then the Dirty-30 diaspora ended, and the war returned to the war zone.
I wasn’t surprised to see Rabid reading a comic on the steps of the Missionary Baptist come Summer ‘06.
Other kids played cards nearby. Not Rabid. Rabid never played.
“Hey, Detective.” He gave me his solid gold grin. He had a cellphone clipped to his belt and cologne on his skin. He had the bat.
“Hey, Rabid. How you keeping?”
“Tight. Got me a job.”
“For sure. Doing demolition.”
Rabid played to his strengths.
As I left, I took a look over my shoulder at his demo crew: Disposable heroes with brown bags. I figured I’d check what he had in those lunch bags soon enough.
I figured I wouldn’t find anything on him. Only more bodies in the weeds.