Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Last Moments Of A Street Hustler

", no, no, no, no, no, no..."

Those were Butch's final words as he looked up at me with his eyes saying, "Tell me this is not happening." I don't think I'll ever be the same.

Nobody ever dies like in the movies where it's all nice and neat and the person's at peace, uttering a few last sage words before departing. No, Butch knew he'd fucked up. Not just the moment that got him fatally stabbed in the back, but his whole damn life. He needed the impossible now if to survive: to stop the endless bleeding. It had always been that way for Butch.

This is a hard tale to tell. Butch always brought me a good feeling, carrying a natural high. I never not looked forward to seeing him and there was no lying between us. Maybe we didn't always speak the whole truth but if we couldn't speak honest words we'd speak nothing at all. So I could only suspect when the final straw had broken his back. If you get beat up once, you get over it and go on. But when it happens every day you reach a point of no return. But the world only notices your last beating, not the five thousand fucking nightmares that went on before.

In the streets there's a code: never question another man's pain. We all slip up and do it at times but if you hold on to it you're out. That's how we identify friends from enemies. We hear you cocksuckers on the radio and TV mouthing off from your comfy homes proclaiming your bitter hearts, calling us bums and lazy and other things not of your business. Trust me when I tell you I anticipate your death very greatly.

Butch was beloved - but still a fuck-up like all the rest of us. And on this job he went too far. I begged him not to get back into the drug scene, that it was like playing Russian roulette. But as I look back on things now, I can see that's exactly what Butch wanted: to get out one way or the other. Something had died in Butch, like a man who'd lost his way in the desert, time had run out. That's why he went back to doing a "hard job".

I was furious as he dragged me into this mess but would it have made a difference had I been more adamant in my refusal? Butch could be a wildly frustrating guy - we all are. So maybe my own guilt held me back somewhat in my due chastisement. Strong people are rare in the streets. Plus I did not want to violate the code though something told me this rip-off he'd planned was driven by a need only Butch could see. In the end, I told myself that he and his compadre Derrick were pros and knew what they were doing. Not like they hadn't done it before.

Maybe Butch thought this would be easier because it was at a dentist's office - even if it was on the oh-so-harsh Martin Luther King Boulevard. Fuming, I sat in the car as both driver and backup. "Goddam idiots better know what they're doing!" I seethed as I watched them surgically disable with military precision the two heavys standing out back. I'd always been proud of Butch and Derrick's cold-blooded steeliness in executing their plans. Maybe this would work out after all and my inner alarm a false one.

Surely it's staged.

But Butch had gone soft. It was like sitting on an ant hill waiting for them that Saturday afternoon where the sun was warm and the streets blowing dirty dust. I remember noting the piles of trash as if they were modern art statements on the lives of the people who lived here. Want a life changing experience? Go to the free clinic on MLK and see up and front and personal the faces of human misery thrown into the clutches of an indifferent society only handing out as much help as needed to save face.

These were the thoughts going through my mind, painful images flashing back as I peered up into the sun from Butch's piece of junk car. I couldn't deny it: death was in the air. I bolted up in my seat and grabbed the pump action when I heard the German Sheppard barking. The dealing dentist kept him inside the office as another layer of projection. Obviously, Butch did not know this. He must have scouted it out during the week not realizing the dog would be there on weekends. You see, Butch was a notorious animal lover and could never kill a dog.

I could hear take-no-prisoners Derrick's voice urging him to kill the dog barking through the screen door. Derrick was scared and frustrated as he saw Butch freeze, unable to pull the trigger. And it was in that moment of hesitation where clarity was lost that some crazy guy - probably alerted by the dog - came rushing out a side door and suicidally lunged a knife into Butch's back. Derrick and his Fu Manchu moustache shot him down cold with one precise shot. I grabbed the shotgun and rushed over - too late.

Not the way to freedom

People do die, I remember thinking as tears streamed down my cheeks. Derrick was yelling at me to get the hell out but I couldn't hear a thing. All I could see was the Butch of old, charming the pants off everyone, our Cool Hand Luke hero. His high point had been getting in with ex baseball player Rafael Palmeiro who was partly financing a gigantic real estate project in Grapevine. Butch had won him over and was going to be in charge of security for the site. To a man, all of us in the gang were proud as hell: Butch making legit money, off the streets at last!

But the 2008 crash put the project on indefinite hold (now dead) which put Butch back with us on the streets again, hustling our way day-to-day for food and shelter. Life on the street is hard but it's the last free place in the world. Put Butch in a suit and he'd be just another asshole choking on his own bullshit. His charm laid in the fact of his anchoring belief, "Life is fun! Come along for the ride!" We marvelled at his ability to sway even the most hardened of souls. But he needed the base of the streets to keep his soul alive. Yes, his star was never born.

When I looked up Derrick was gone, having taken off in the car. My instincts for survival took over and I started running away, dumping the gun in a predetermined safe spot (I always find one before any hard job) but my head was spinning in this surreal daymare. Time warped into another dimension and the colors started to bleed and slip, nothing was real as I was running into nothingness that could only return me to where I was before, torn between two worlds. My spirit was back there with Butch. We were laughing like old times because both knew it would never end. We were forever friends. This wasn't supposed to happen.

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