When Jared came strolling out of the abandoned house with a rusty gun swung over his shoulder I knew I shouldn’t have come. He lifted it to eye level and peered down an old sight straight at me.
“Ba-pow,” Jared said then followed it with a laugh as he let the sight fall back toward the ground.
“That’s not funny, Jared,” I said through the half rolled down car window.
“Dat’s not funny,” he mocked, squishing up us face.
I swallowed the ball of fury that was creeping up my throat like a caterpillar. I was always Play-it-Safe Sarah, Stick-In-the-Mud Mary, Get-the-Stick-Out-of-Your-Ass Angela, or the only one to include my actual name Lame Lisa. No really, my brother had called me everyone of those names growing up, and occasionally still did now that I was 25 and he was 22. I was determined not to give him an excuse to call me any of my old nicknames today.
That’s why when he said he and his buddies had a new hobby that was “super cool” as he put it, I said I would join them. Of course, silly me, when I hear the word hobby I think of fishing, or ultimate frisbee, or quilting (not that my brother would ever make a quilt). I do not think of abandoned house hunting. Which is like dumpster diving, only you can fall through the floor and break your leg if you take one wrong step.
So trying to be Chill Chelsea I said, “Is that a real gun?”
“Hell yeah it is!” He opened the trunk of his old Toyota Corolla that used to be Mom’s and tossed the gun in. “I think I can get it to work, too!”
He sounded so excited. I didn’t want to be a Debbie Downer, but I felt the caterpillar coming up. “What if it was used in a crime, and that’s why it’s here? Leave it, or better yet you should call the cops and tell them where you found it.”
He slammed the trunk shut, “Jesus Jumpy Jessica,” (that was a new one), “it’s covered in rust. It’s been here for years. Besides you want me to tell a cop, a freakin’ cop, that I was illegally trespassing and found a weapon?” He glared at me through the window.
“Okay, okay” I said, putting my hands up. Shit, I gained a new name. “Where is everybody else?” I asked to change the subject.
Crash! There was the sound of glass shattering followed by the shards sprinkling on the grass. We both looked up at a second story window to see Chris and Jamal waving at us through the broken glass. On the ground lay a small wooden box busted open. A minute later they were outside and kicked the box before trotting over to us.
“Thought maybe something was locked inside,” Jamal said.
“Nothing,” said Chris opening the passenger door.
“Uh, Jamal you have something in your hair,” I said.
He reached up and felt around his thick black hair and pulled out a piece of old plaster that had been sticking out the back of his head like abstract art. Jamal climbed in the back seat with me as Jared got in and started the car.
“You should have come in!” Jamal said to me.
I forced my gaze to him. I had been staring at Chris and Jared’s seat belts, both of which were unbuckled. The dinging noise ignored as we cruised down the dirt road.
“Yeah, no. I didn’t wear the right shoes,” I lied. When we had pulled up to the house I chickened out thinking about used heroin needles buried in trash, or falling to my death, or breathing in lead paint chips. All rational fears, I think, but a Lame Lisa move if you asked my brother and his friends.
Jared turned down the music. “Dude, guess what I found?”
A list began between Jamal and Chris: blow-up doll, rat skull, cash, valid passport, frozen turkey…
Were these all things they had found before, I wondered.
“A gun,” he said when they were out of ideas.
“What? Like a hand gun?” Chris demanded.
“Old shotgun. It’s in the trunk. It’s jammed up, but I think I might be able to get it to work.”
“Nice, can I check it out?” Jamal asked.
“Pull on the middle seat. It opens to the trunk,” Jared said before turning the music back up.
Jamal wiggled his fingers in between the fabric until he found a small strap and pulled. I felt my stomach clench. I need to trap the caterpillar. I am not Lame Lisa. I’m Badass Brenda, and Badass Brenda isn’t scared of guns. Lame Lisa still squished her body as close to the door as possible, while Badass Brenda carried on a conversation.
“Do you think it’s worth anything?” I asked.
“Not a clue. Maybe,” Jared said from up front.
“How long do you think it will take you to fix it?” I asked, trying my hardest to sound interested instead of nervous.
“Bro! There’s no serial number on here!” Jamal said.
Chris turned back, “What? No way.”
Jamal held the gun up and pointed to the bottom of the action where someone had done some serious filing.
Suddenly, the sound of sirens blared over the music. The flashing blue and red lights reflected off of the rearview mirror.
“Shit,” Jared said slamming the steering wheel with both fists.
“Were you speeding? Please tell me you were speeding, Jared,” I begged.
“Yeah, I was. That’s probably what he’s pulling us over for.”
No one contradicted him. Jamal shoved the gun back through the hole to the trunk. Chris and Jared tried to pull their seat belts on as inconspicuous as possible as the car pulled over.
No one spoke.
I watched the cop approach from the side mirror, refusing to turn my head to watch him for real. The officer’s hand moved slowly to his side. The fingers curled around the metal, but the gun remained in the holster.
“Out of the car,” the voice was commanding, but not loud.
Jared rolled down his window and turned his head back because the officer wasn’t outside his door. He was outside Jamal’s door. “What’s the prob-”
“Out of the car!” The voice made me jump. My heart pounding in my ears almost matched the volume of the shouting cop.
Jamal put both his hands up and very slowly reached one hand to open the car door to get out. The moment his hand went below the window the cop pulled his gun out and pointed it at Jamal. He reached out and ripped the door open the rest of the way.
“Down on the ground!” Jamal did as he was told. Slowly, so very slowly. Every news clip of a black man shot by a cop flashed through my head like an old time movie real. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t speak. I could only feel the blood draining out of my face and collecting into a hot ball in my gut.
“This is bull shit,” Jared said. He kicked open his door. Good, Jared will do something. Leave Jared in charge. It’s his fault.
“Get back in here, idiot,” Chris whisper-yelled at my brother.
The cop was calling for back-up into his radio. One hand still pointing his gun at Jamal on the ground. He was in handcuffs. When was he put in handcuffs?
Chris leaned over the console to pull Jared back in. Jared pushed him back and slammed the car door.
Jared fell back against the car door. Blood coming from a single hole in his t-shirt.
I finally did something. I screamed.
Later, when the ambulance arrived I couldn’t remember what I had heard first. Was the banging of the car door first or the bang of the gun?
I shook my head.
The officer questioning me let her pen and notepad fall by her side.