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African American Fiction Teens & Young Adult

The senior partner raised his glass for one final toast to the departing 3L, a third-year law student who’d come in for the Christmas Party. He’d just been offered a position to start at the end of the following summer with a salary of $150,000 and a signing bonus of $40,000. It would pay for the kid’s final year at Harvard and give him more than enough funds to travel in style after graduation for a trip he had talked about incessantly, and it would leave him with enough for a “kick-ass” apartment with all the accouterments, one fitting for the launch of his career in the law. “Love the law!” were the senior partner’s words in that final toast. Loving the law with that kind of income at 26 years old, or maybe he was just 25, didn’t seem difficult.

           Kick-ass. That was the term the 3L had used, wasn’t it, mused the senior partner. Kick-ass. He’d thought it was somehow inappropriate. Not just the language but the boast. He wondered if the firm had misjudged the soon-to-be associate. Maybe he was too cocky, too immature. But then weren’t they all that way? Overprivileged and thinking they were owed the life.

           The old partner grimaced at those dollars, but who was he to complain? He’d made a fortune these last 40 odd years. He would joke at his club that it was only a small fortune, which was, he knew, another way of saying it wasn’t small in the least. He earned it, surely. He was worth it. Hadn’t he saved clients their millions, tens of millions, hundreds of millions for god’s sake? As if they needed it. Hadn’t he saved reputations and all that came with them? Only on occasion did he allow himself to wonder if they deserved it.

           An ex-wife—the one now living in, Santa Fe is it?—said he was a smug bastard who had forgotten where he came from. His alcoholic father. His now dead drug addict brother. A stint in the army straightened him up. She was the only one of the exes that he was sorry about.

           She was wrong though. He remembered. He remembered his dad coming filthy drunk to a scout meeting shouting “beer’s on me!” He remembered crying to himself in the backseat of the scoutmaster’s car on the way home. He remembered his father’s sobbing, apologizing for, you name it, losing another job, crashing the car, punching his mother. He remembered his brother in one clinic, coming out clean, then in another. And another. He remembered he couldn’t do a damn thing to help. Every day he remembered. He was proud of his roots. And embarrassed. And ashamed. It was his crutch to justify most of what followed. It was on his mind when he checked that it was his name embroidered inside the coat the hatcheck girl just gave to him. A habit. He calculated how many billable hours that coat had cost him and double-counted. Did it really cost that much? Thirty hours?

           He rolled his eyes at the sum and then reminded himself of how many hours he put in at the firm over the years, billable hours, and the goodwill hours. He deserved that coat and then some. He had ample amounts of the ‘and then some’. “Was it worth all the trouble?” his Santa Fe ex once asked. “Huh,” he replied. “What trouble?”

           One of the firm’s cars was there waiting when he left the club. It was too nice a night for a car and with winter approaching there wouldn’t be many nights left when he could walk home. He’d had just the one martini, plus he wasn’t at all tired. He told the driver to take the rest of the night off and walked up Fifth Avenue to the Park. He’d walk through it to his apartment on Central Park West. Why not? He could use the exercise. He could use the solitude. Take the time to think. Or not to think, for a change. That would be a welcome meditation for the forty-hour weeks he was still putting in, a downshift already from the 60+ he been at for most of his career at Blah, Blah, Blah and Blah. He smiled to himself. Blah, Blah, Blah and Blah. He was the last Blah. He had said the firm’s name so many times over the years it didn’t mean anything. He didn’t think of himself as one of the Blahs, not anymore.

           He entered the Park across from the Plaza and thought about meeting his wife, his first wife, over Mai Tai’s at Trader Vic’s. He looked north to one of the twin towers that was home. He figured 30 minutes. He was in no rush and wanted to take in the night.

           Inside the park, sitting in a dark section near the Dakota, sat a big young man biding his time. He was leaning over, spitting at a patch of gum that had turned black, now a permanent part of the sidewalk. The man, little more than a teenager, kept missing it and laughing at his folly. He tried curling his tongue for better aim, something his younger brother could do, but he couldn’t get though he’d tried for all of his short life. “It’s genetic,” his brother had told him. “It isn’t your fault! You got guns, bro. Look at those arms. That’s your good genes. Yo, I’d take the guns over a curling tongue anytime.”

           Still, he tried to curl his tongue. He sometimes worked out with his brother, trying to help him build his “guns” in the basement of their building, where years of accumulated weights had been abandoned and left to rust in the storage area near the washing machines. They had their privacy. The machines usually were broken anyway, mostly by kids trying to steal the money from inside. They stay busted for weeks at a time, forcing everyone in the building to go to the laundromat owned by the nasty Korean who hardly spoke a word of English and kept a baseball bat behind his counter. His wife and his mother, or sister, they all looked alike to the young man, would sit in the back, working their sewing machines and occasionally looking towards the people at the washers and dryers, chattering to themselves in that chicken language of theirs.

           He met an older woman from his floor there, a grandmother taking care of three or four kids—depending on who was left off at her apartment—doing laundry like him when the basement machines were down. She stared at the Koreans jabbering away and said to the young man, “Just lookee there. Right off the goddamn boat they are and got their own business. Cash business, too. How do they do it?”

           The young man shrugged his massive shoulders.

           “Gotta be something. Every little store here they got, selling fruits and vegetables, and charging an arm and a leg. How they do it I wish I knew.”

           The young man stared at the Korean owner, wondering too. The Korean noticed the look and leaned over to put a hand below his counter.

           The young man’s brother was at home hard at it, studying for the entrance exam to the city’s select schools. He was smart, the brother, had always been. He got bullied by some of the kids in the building, but not too much. Those kids had their own dreams—basketball, hip-hop—hoping they’d make it out. A few were in gangs, it was said. They left him pretty much alone, not because they liked him but because he had that big brother and there was no cause to mess with him around. He had a job, too, the big brother, security at the fancy hospital near the East River, so he had a uniform and a big-ass flashlight with its five-D cells. He didn’t look for trouble, but he didn’t run if it was in front of him. The older one knew to leave well enough alone and well enough left him alone, too.

           “Boy, you always got your head in all those books. What are you reading about now?”

           “Big test prep, bro. Still at it. Big test. If I do good I can get into Stuyvesant, maybe Lehman, and then, woo baby, I’ll be set. College scholarship comes next. You just wait and see.”

           “When’s that test? I’ll cook and all. You just keep your head in those books.”

           The brother pushed himself away from the small table in what their mother used to call their one-ass kitchen. “You’d better cook a lot! And make it chow mein.” He said he was smart in his school, but all those Indians, Chinese, Jews, Catholics from the parochials, and Koreans, especially Koreans, would eat his lunch. “They’ve been studying for this their whole life my man. I don’t stand much of a chance. Hell, they got tutors and courses, you know.”

           “Koreans too, huh? What’s with that all?” his big brother asked. His mind was in a laundromat.

           “Oh, yeah. Money, dude. They can pay. Test practice and practice and practice and they’ll pass in their sleep. Me? I just got me. And you ‘bro.”

           “So how much are these tests, the tutors, and all that?”

           The little brother got up laughing and walked to the bathroom. He continued laughing as a long stream of pee hit the water.

           “You laughing at what’s in your hand, my man?”

           “No, this baseball bat would scare most folks. I’m laughing at you!”|

           He flushed and returned to the table. “Brother of mine, I figure it’ll cost $3,000 for a sure shot. That’s for a tutor who gets 90% in. 90%! Best in the city. My guidance counselor said if…if I could, I’d be a shoo-in. Man, I’d get in with him. For sure and for sure.”

           His older brother’s eyes widened and he shook his head. “Three-thousand dollars? Where are we going to get that sort of cash?!? You check in the sofa. I found a quarter under the pillow last week. Maybe we got three grand in there somewhere.”

           “Just saying it out loud. It’s off my chest. Let me get back to my books.”

           The alarm buzzed at 12:30 AM for the older boy to get up for the early shift that was usually covered by his friend Pete. Pete’s wife was ill so the young man was happy to take the shift and the extra hours. His younger brother was still at the kitchen table.

|          “I’m off to Pete’s shift. Go get some rest.”  

           “I’ll rest when I’m done with this stupid exam.”

           That night the young man couldn’t focus on his walk to work. He was getting honked at as he crossed the street at green lights. His brother deserved a break, like those Koreans. Imagine, Stuyvesant or the Bronx Science one. Best of the best. Man, he thought, he’d have it made; the kid who didn’t have much of a chance would get one with a school like that.

           Once he had been walking down First Avenue when a car, a BMW, zigged towards the sidewalk and stopped. The window went down and a young woman no older than him, looking like she’d been partying too long, yelled over, “Hey, officer…” He moved to the car when the young lady turned to her friend, the driver, a young man in a suit, and said, “It’s just a rental cop.” Turning back to the young man, she added, “Never mind.” He heard them laugh as the driver zagged back into the middle lane.

           He spit again at the blackened spot of gum, hitting it this time. “Bingo,” he said, smiling at his achievement, deciding it was a good sign, an omen, and got up to wade deeper into the park. He walked off the paved paths, not on them, keeping to the trees and shadows, watching out for people. There were a few groups out, small, young folks laughing, giggling, swaying, and banging into each other. One guy was holding a girl’s shoulders as she vomited on the path while her friends eeked, “Oooh, gross,” and laughed some more.

           They didn’t notice him edging back deeper into the trees, his dark hoodie and black jeans blending well with the night. He kept an eye on that group as they tumbled over towards the West Side, maybe another party, and wondered who they were, how they got there. He moved back, into the shadows, and sat on a rock outcropping to ask himself, what the hell he was doing there?

           A fat rat ran past him, close enough that he could have kicked it. “Rats don’t worry about school,” he thought to himself. “Just me and the little dude is all.”

           The young man had never done anything really wrong. Not really. He lifted some scrubs that no one would miss from the hospital to use as pajamas. He’d taken an apple or two from the Korean grocers when he walked past, but that was when he was a kid. And, yeah, he used his mother’s food stamps for a while until they caught up with what happened to her. He still felt funny about that.

           This was wrong. It was wrong. It wasn’t fair about the exam, all the Korean kids getting help, and the Jews, and Indians, and everyone else. No, it wasn’t fair to his brother, but that didn’t justify waiting in the dark for someone. People didn’t bother him or his brother, so who was he to start bothering people?

           He shook his head and got up to cross the Park. A chilly wind came in from the north where he was heading, and he put his hood back up, bringing it low over his face. “There’s got to be a better way,” he thought. “I can maybe borrow some cash. Maybe the guys at work.” Pete had some money. Maybe Pete could lend him some.

           The senior partner saw a big man leave the dark of the trees and walk up the path towards him. He hadn’t been concerned. This wasn’t the 1970s after all, but he didn’t like how the big man pulled his hood over his head.

           The older man had been mugged once before, brutally beaten, in this very park. It must have been 40 years ago, and it was during a time when he was in far better shape. He fought with the mugger, thought he was capable of handling himself. But 25 stitches and a broken jaw and ribs proved him wrong. He should have handed over his wallet then. He wasn’t going to chance it now.

           The big man with the hoodie walked slowly down the path talking to himself and shaking his head. The senior partner figured he might be crazy. Or was he talking to him? Was he saying, “don’t be stupid?” There was no one else about. All the more reason to give him what he wanted, no questions asked, and just get out of there. He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a large wad of cash he’d taken from the bank. It was a lot of money, a good score, as they would say. He only hoped that it would be enough, that he wouldn’t have to hand over his wallet. That would be a pain, having to cancel all the credit cards and get a new license. His wallet must have been two inches thick. It contained his life. It would be worth losing the cash to keep onto that.

           The big man was in the middle of the path, moving towards him, about to run him over.

           He stopped short. “Hey, what’s up?” said the big man, startled when he looked up to find the senior partner in front of him.

           “Here,” said the old man. “Here, take it. It’s a lot of cash. All yours.”

           His arm reached forward with the bundle. The young man stared at it, and then at the old man, before looking up to the sky, the clouds now clearing away to allow the full moon to lighten some of the darkness.

           “For real?” he asked.

           “Just take it. It’s yours. We’ve got no problems here. We’re good.”

           “Thank you. Thank you so much. Thank you. God bless you, Mister. God bless you!” 

           He walked ahead, quickly, and started to run. He couldn’t wait to get home and tell his brother.

           He turned to watch the big guy run off. Had he seen tears in his eyes?

           The old man patted his wallet and smiled to himself. Money well spent, he thought. Money well spent.

August 12, 2022 21:45

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6 comments

Tommy Goround
05:23 May 22, 2023

Pet peeves on the alchy dads. Second story of yours with this backdrop. I'll try again but it's just such a damn cliche I am sick of seeing s***** dads.

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David Ader
20:26 May 22, 2023

I think you're right; too much of that alchy dad bit. I suppose it's sort of revenge thing for me, getting back. But it is a cliche and I thank you for pointing it out. Sober dads from now on!

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Tommy Goround
23:41 May 22, 2023

Well.... The problem is I just read a nonfict with the same item (for the 10th time this week)... And it was probably true. Me? I just tried to write a biography about my fun little dad...totally exchanged the 1980s alcoholism for sexist Punching mafia wannabe guy that got replaced by a tall drag queen. It seemed to work. :( Ha Your stuff is good so please don't let me intrude.

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21:55 Aug 13, 2022

Hi David, another good story from you. It kept me reading because of the interesting characters, such different people with such different stories to tell and such different perspectives on the final scene. The structure of the piece could do with a little tweaking for clarity. I found myself a bit confused about which character is acting where. If you're interested I can try to leave more details? Best, Katharine

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David Ader
20:31 Aug 19, 2022

I would very much appreciate your feedback. Here is my email, dader1776@gmail.com. I also have a silly blog if interested in more about me...iratestrategist.com

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19:58 Oct 24, 2022

Hi David, I'm sorry I have been quiet for a while. It's been a combination of personal life taking time away from Reedsy life and (though it is difficult to admit) I am terrible with names and forgot yours - sorry. I knew you were out there somewhere though so I trawled through comments til I found you. I'm going to have a sneaky look around your profile now and see if you have written anything more recent - I do like your style and I'm happy to crit for you. All the best, K

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