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The first thing you learn is there’s always a price.

They can tell you that ain’t true but sure as sure it’s true alright. It’s all got a price.  Every damn thing’s got a price.  Now maybe there ain’t no tag tied to it but sure enough it’s still got a price on it.

Everything has a price.

It’s just sometimes you don’t see the price and how much it costs you until you’re ready to check out.

I was still in line at the In-N-Out getting Hopper and MadD some jungle fries and a couple of shakes.  That was my life these last three weeks.  Errand boy.  Stoop and Fetcher.

MadD and Hopper’s boy.

But that was okay.  I knew it wouldn’t be like this forever.  Hell no.  I was made for better in this world and sure and sure soon enough I was gonna be above this town just looking down.

I would be flying.

“Listen here Sniper, how much you got on you after those fries?”

I pulled into my jacket and uncrumpled the bills and worked through the change with my fingers.

“Now don’t go worrying about those quarters, I mean the bills?”  MadD looked down at my hands.  “How much you got?”

“About . . . thirteen.”

“Let me see those bills.”

I didn’t like where this was going.  I was already out for their lunch every day for the last few weeks and had to give them beer money most weekends.  I was down a good hundred and fifty.

“Look, I ain’t got but thirteen left on me.”

“That’s alright, that’s alright” Hopper backed off, “Don’t get all worried and start pissing yourself over change, Sniper, all you need is that ten.”

Hopper reached over and took the ten from my hand and rubbed it against his jacket like it was dirty.  He looked at it real close and then took out his phone and starting tapping.

“Don’t worry, you getting it back”.  MadD explained.

“Now look here,“ Hopper handed me back the bill and leaned in close.  “I say why don’t you take this bill and go throw it down somewhere.  Somewhere, somewhere where someone can find it, you understand?”

“What?”

I did not understand.

“You heard him,” MadD added. “just take that ten and go lay it down  somewhere.”

I didn’t even bother asking.   I already learned that after the first week.  Asking led to getting knocked down and kicked.  I had enough of that and was onto them by now.

I took the bill and laid it down by Hopper’s feet.

“There, okay?”

“No, no, no, not here by us!”  They both started cursing at the same time and pushing at me.    “Over there someplace.  Someplace where we can see but not be by us.  You understand?”

I told them I understood.  Even though I didn’t.

“Go head,” MadD pushed me away from them.  “Over there someplace.”  He pointed to the direction of the school.

I walked over to the crossing and laid the bill down by the corner.  I looked back at them to see if this was okay and they both just laughed and nodded.

I walked back over and asked if we could go now.  I was out for the fries and the shakes and now an extra ten. I didn’t want to stay around and lose more money.

“No, we ain’t going just yet.”  MadD said.

“Not yet, not yet.”  Hopper agreed.  “ Let’s just watch a while and see if we get us any bites.”

It didn’t take long.

Some hunched over black man, maybe fifty, started to cross the street when he saw the ten.  He looked around to see who might have dropped it like he was gonna yell out for them to come and get their money back.  Do his good deed for the day.

A regular Samaritan.

Instead he picked it up and turned it over a few times and crunched it in his hand to make sure it was a real tenner and not one of those stupid advertisement bills for ten dollars off some mattress store or something.

He folded the bill and pushed it into his jacket and crossed the street with an extra step to his walk.  Like it was his lucky day.

“Well, go get him, “MadD pushed me.

“What?”

“You heard him, go get him.” Hopper pushed back a little harder.

“What do you mean?”

“He’s got your money.  That bitch took your money.  You ain’t gonna just let him walk away with what‘s yours, are you?”

“You ain’t gonna let that happen, are you, are you?”  Hopper asked.  “Go get him and get your money back.  Go ahead.  And you teach him for taking what is yours.”

“What is ours.“ MadD corrected.

“What is ours.”  Hopper agreed.

“What do you mean?”  I still did not get it.

“Look, that slum just took our money.  You gotta go get it back and make sure he and everyone else knows not to take what belongs to us.”

“You gotta teach him.”  MadD added. “Teach him so everyone knows what you done.  This way no one will ever try again.”

“But he didn’t know it was mine.”

“That don’t matter,” Hopper slapped my head. “It’s yours.  That’s all that matters.  That rook took what belongs to you.  Now you go get it back and make sure he don’t ever do it again.”

Hopper reached into his pocket and pushed his knife into my jacket pocket.

“You make sure you teach him so everyone knows. And look, I know maybe some, not you, but some other white slums before, they think they don’t wanna do it and they just bring us back any old ten and say they got it back.  Acting all tough.  Like they think they got one over on us.   Like they did what we told them to do but then they didn’t.  But look,” Hopper held up his phone to my face. ”I got the last four of the digits from the bill.  If they don’t match, if they don’t match, we know you didn’t do it.  So the numbers gotta match, you get me?”

“The numbers gotta match”  MadD repeated. “Look, follow him home if you like.  That’s usually the best way.  Get them in their homes.  Just knock on the door like your delivering something. Just a local asking for directions. All nice and smiley like.    And then when they open the door, you stick him.  Make sure you dig it in deep a few times so they know better than taking from us again.”

“We’ll be listening for you on the eleven tonight.”

“You better be on the eleven.”  MadD added.

I didn’t even bother asking anymore or trying to understand.  I just started walking and following the man.

I stayed back a half block just close enough to see him but not have him or anyone else see.  He crossed over the street and entered a neighborhood behind the school.

I looked back at MadD and Hopper but they were already gone from the parking lot.  I figured with them knowing the numbers on the bill they didn’t have to follow or wait for me.  All I knew was I had to get the bill back.  I thought of just asking for it or even trading him out for another one, if I had one.  Or maybe just knocking his old ass to the ground and grabbing whatever he had.  But I knew none of that would make the eleven.  I had to stick him or do something bad enough that he’d call the police and the cameras would roll.

I was less than a block from him now and figured this was as good a place as any when he suddenly turned into a yard.  Some old beater of a house.  There was a kid on the porch painting some pot looking thing with a woman helping along.

I walked by the house and they waved at me like we were all friendly.  All nice and smiley.

Neighborly.

I walked to the end of the block and thought of just leaving but knew better.  This was the final test from MadD and Hopper.  If I passed then I started to earn.

I would be flying.

If I came back with nothing, I got nothing.

I walked back to the house and they were all still there painting away at whatever the hell it was.

The old man looked up at me when I came back.

“You okay?”

He yelled over to me like he wanted to help.  All nice and friendly.  I reached in my pocket and kept working the knife around.

“Are you okay, son?”

He stood up and started liked he was gonna walk to me.

I had the knife ready and figured I would just do it.  Not the best place in front of his wife and kid and all but what was I gonna do?  I walked to the porch when my phone rang.  I started to let it go when I thought maybe it was Hopper or MadD calling the whole thing off.

Maybe all of this was just for foolin.

I waved at the man on the porch like I’d be there as soon as I took the call.

“Yeah?”

“Michael?”

I looked down at the phone and knew the number right off.

“Michael?”

I thought about just hanging it up.

“Michael?”

“I can’t talk right now.  Can I call you back.”

“Where are you? “

“I’m out.”

“What does that mean?  Out?  Out where?  What are you doing?”

“I ain’t doing nothing.”

“Don’t say ain’t.”

“Okay, okay, look, I’ll call you in a few minutes, okay?”

“When will you be home?

“I’m almost done, I’ll be home in a half hour at most.  Okay?”

“Okay,” She was still trying to keep me on the phone like she always did.  “Did you have a good day at school?”

“Yes, Mom,”  I had to hurry this up, but there was a routine to her.   “I had a good day. Did you have a good day?”

“I had a great day.  You won’t believe this, but today, on the way home from the market, I found a ten dollar bill on the street.”

“What? What did you say?”

“I said, I found a ten dollar bill on the ground. Just sitting and . . . oh wait, there’s someone ringing at the door.”

And then the phone died.

I tried calling back over and over but nothing.

The man on the porch started to walk over to me but I turned and made my way home.  I ran as fast as I could go.

I ran and I ran and I ran.

I was flying.

 

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