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May 18, 2020


In many areas of the southern United States, the South, any plant with thorns is referred to as a stickabriar. The blackberry vine is one such plant. Many aspects of life, such as the under belly of the streets, is also a barb-laden place. The blackberry plant can produce very sweet, succulent fruit, while also having some of the most bitter, almost vengeful, tasting berries. It seems the stickabriar will protect its sweetest offering with strong, thorn-laced tentacles. This needled defense is normally enough to deter most people. Life is just as bewildering as the stickabriar, gouging anyone who attempted to pluck the tastiest fruit.

Balye was undaunted by any scrapes or cuts he would possibly endure. He decided Kyla was the sweetest berry of the stickabriar. His love for her would be the salve for any injury he might sustain while harvesting her love. But what he did not consider was Kyla was forbidden fruit. In life, just as with the blackberry plant, its sweetest will not be given easily. The most succulent is sometimes sacrificed by the plant itself, never meaning to be had. When Kyla was taken from him, Balye sought vengeance on those he felt responsible for her death. Even if it meant dying, he was determined to kill the stickabriar.

May 18, 2020

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Stickabriars - Titus Ware


Titus J Ware

Copyright © 2020 Titus J. Ware

All rights reserved

First Edition


320 Broad Street

Red Bank, NJ 07701

First originally published by Newman Springs Publishing 2020

ISBN 978-1-64801-053-8 (Paperback)

ISBN 978-1-64801-054-5 (Digital)

Printed in the United States of America

Table of Contents

Just Want to Be

Being Seen About

Seed to Stalk

Who Run It

No Independent Cultivators

Sometimes Jam, Sometimes Juice

Hell Is Soul Hot

Seasoned Thorn

Who You With

Freaky Accord

The Weed Takes Hold

Sometimes Luck

Vine Pruning

My Eyes, Your Lies

Company for the Dark

Picture This There

Play from Rewind

Prey You Pray

See You Now I See

Faded Images

Who Looking For Who

Patience Come Premium

Berry Thorn Apart

To the ones we’ve lost. We love you and miss you dearly.


Many people like the sweet, and equally tart, taste of the juicy, seedy dark berry of the blackberry vine. In the southeastern part of the United States, below the Mason-Dixon line, simply called the South in many circles, the plant, although cultivated, thrives in the wild and can be found growing just about anywhere. To protect itself from being ravished, the woody plant produces thorns along its tentacle-like vines. Because of this needle-tipped defense, a lot of Southerners refer to the plant simply as a stickabriar. The pricks, scratches, and sometimes gouges delivered by the plant to the careless picker is not a fair-enough trade to many people for a mouthful of the tasty berries. They would prefer to pay for the cultivated ones, thus leaving others to deal with the pain of the harvest. But there are others who do not burden themselves with the wasted worry of the perceived minor, personal pain, so long as they retrieve that perfectly ripened juicy berry. Ofttimes, these risk-takers are injured far worse than they might have imagined after grasping that one succulently decadent berry of the plant.

Whether by natural selection or happenstance, this desired berry is, more times than not, surrounded by the plant’s oldest, strongest, and most unforgiving thorn-laced vines. They lurk unseen by the careless in the thicket of the twisted mesh of briars. The damage they reek is many times more severe than a mere scratch delivered by the younger, greener briars of the plant. Many cultivators of this sought-after berry made efforts to suppress the plant’s natural tendencies to grow in the wild, thus curtailing the ready availability of the desired treat. Their efforts were challenged at times by sporadic, independent cultivators who chose to defy any attempt to control nature. Balyle Lewis, as well as other gathers, irritated the mass cultivators and distributors of the berries; their profits were siphoned by this type of person. For Balyle, life itself was nothing more than a continual stickabriar plant. He decided a person could sit back and allow someone else to pick their life for them, giving them the fruit, the picker felt they should have, thus rendering any complaints of a sour outcome mute.

Or, as Balyle chose, a person could risk the possibility of some minor pain while picking their own berries and be content with the results, be they sweet or tart. But, as he would find out, some of the choicest berries were not meant to be picked at all. The pain associated with the gathering of these select fruit was exceedingly greater than minor. And the berry, though grabbed, often, is never destined to be possessed completely by anyone. For the sweetest ones are often caused to be released from the hand gatherer’s clutch by the unseen, flesh-gouging thorns lying in wait. For the mass producer, the berry is often merely overlooked in favor of quantity. Although benefitting from the large numbers of berries gathered, they felt slighted by the loss of even one berry to any hand picker choosing to ignore demanded respect.


Kyla, having dried herself in the bathroom, removed a clear plastic shower cap as she pulled the door open. She slowly danced and lip-synched the song seeping sensually from the radio. The songstress was vowing that she and her lover belonged together. Although this melody lured her into a tranquil reminiscence of herself and her own lover, Kyla did not remember turning the stereo on. The perplexed woman’s brow mashed her face into a curious, mind-searching expression.

Wait a minute, she thought aloud, placing the plastic cap on the pine chest. That’s weird! As she walked toward the portable music box, Kyla was startled by the sound of a man’s voice.

Don’t stop dancing, he insisted. Adjusting the black-and-white mask on his face, the man leaned an elbow onto the mantle of the stone fireplace and suggested the woman continue.

I like that shit. Keep doing that. Kyla recoiled in disgust as she grabbed the used towel from the chair, which her lover had left earlier, and covered her nude body. Worry rushed into the woman’s mind as the man’s silence was interrupted only by his low chuckles at her actions. Kyla seemed to know the voice behind the conflicting mask but was obviously disturbed by him being in the room. She looked to the chest for the pistol, which should have been there but wasn’t. As the man picked at the leather of one of his gloves with the tip of a large knife, Kyla’s feelings went from concern to fear; she offered a warning.

Look, she alerted him, threatening the return of her lover. He’ll be back any minute now. I don’t know what you want, but you don’t want him to see you here. He’ll kill you. So leave!

The man, apparently vexed by the woman’s attempted intimidating announcement, grunted as he raked the thick blade over his gloved palm and shook his head. The disguise hid his scowl. See, the disconcerted man said, his eyes piercing from the slits of the mask and glaring at the ring adorning Kyla’s finger. It’s all about what that nigga wants every time. Huh?

Noticing the man’s admiration of the diamond, Kyla placed her right hand atop the left one, shielding the trinket. This seemed to agitate him more as he continued with his condemnation.

I really wanted to do ya’ll asses last night, he spat, speaking of his desire to kill her and her lover in their sleep during the night. But I needed that nigga to make that kill for me.

The man’s reference to their vulnerability of last night caused Kyla to cringe. Her mouth opened, and brows rose; against the initial protest of her lover, she insisted on leaving the window open last night. While still holding the towel, she squeezed her hands into fists and inwardly cursed herself for not taking the pistol into the bathroom with her and insisting on the opened window.

As menacing as the man’s words were, they were wasted on Kyla, who scanned the area for anything she could use as a weapon. She located the pistol on the sheets of the unmade bed.

Determined to survive, Kyla grabbed the weapon, pointed it at him, and pulled the trigger many times. The man smiled and placed one of his hands into his jacket pocket. The repetitive click of the gun offered no defense; the man pulled his hand from his pocket and opened it, dropping several bullets onto the wooden floor. Kyla threw the useless weapon at the man, who laughed and casually evaded the object as it crashed against the mantel of the fireplace. Her next choice of a survival tactic proved to be dead wrong. The woman’s rush toward the larger man was met with a controlling grab of her hair and a powerful, true plunge of the sharp knife. Hitting its mark, the razor-honed blade pierced easily and deeply into Kyla’s throat, completely severing her windpipe just beneath the collar bones. The initial damage was not immediate.

Kyla gallantly reached one hand for the man, briefly grabbing his hand; two of her nails were broken as she scratched beneath his glove. Her other hand searched for the wound to her neck. The injured woman appeared disoriented. Kyla seemed unable to locate the exact place of the wound as she pawed at her cheeks, mouth, and then chest. She tried crying out for help, but her voice could not escape. While the confused, injured woman gasped for air, the man cursed and pushed her aside as if tossing away a piece litter. She attempted to seek support from the pine chest, but, disoriented and weakening, she missed her grab for the stout box, instead falling at the foot of it near the bathroom door. Kyla’s heaves were replaced by gurgles as the air she sought could not get past the choking blood filling her lungs. Her eyes seemed to ask why. The man grinned as he walked toward Kyla and knelt. She barely felt the cuts into her breast, mutilating the tattoo declaring her love forever. The blade being plunged onto her heart seemed welcomed. As the heavy flow of blood, from the gaping wound to her throat, pooled around her head, Kyla’s twitching hand and foot attempted to retain the last remnants of life but was unable to; she became still. The satisfied man cursed her for scratching his hand.

Complimenting himself, the man suggested he needed an award for his fine knife use. He knelt and extended Kyla’s finger, donning the ring, and pressed it onto the floor. He forced the tip of the blade intently down onto the digit, severing it at the knuckle joint. The man picked the finger up and removed the ring, being careful not to get any blood on the trinket as he slid it over the nail part of digit. He stabbed a hole between her ribs in the mutilated area of Kyla’s breast where the tattoo was and wedged the finger into the slit. He attempted, to no avail, to force the digit to stand erect in the wound. The masked man chuckled at his failure, adjusted his mask, and offered praised to Kyla’s absent lover for his fine taste in jewelry. He then growled and spat at the dead woman; the saliva sprinkled the coagulating blood. Kyla’s lifeless eyes appeared to stare at the man. He grunted at the woman’s soulless glare, reached for the towel Kyla had used to cover her nudity, and wiped the small amount of blood from the knife. He then pushed the blade into a sheath in his waistband. Kyla’s death glare was covered by the towel as the man dropped it onto her face. The sound of an approaching car startled the man.

Chapter 1

Just Want to Be

Balyle grinned sheepishly as he steered his car into the dirt-packed, dusty driveway of the wood-framed, whitewashed house. His actions were rushed; he slammed the transmission into park. The primer spotted four door Oldsmobile rocked to a sudden halt. Spoon Wheat, Balyle’s first cousin, was riding with the anxious boy; he peered over the top of his thick-framed glasses while questioning his cousin’s treatment of the older car. Balyle smiled and winked at his passenger while nodding toward the house. He told his cousin he had more important things on his mind right now. The thin coating of white paint on the structure attempted, unsuccessfully, to hide years of poor maintenance and plain disregard. The house’s roof seemed to enthrall Spoon. He commented on the tranquility created when raindrops danced atop a metal roof, making a rhythm able to lull you into a very peaceful sleep. Balyle looked curiously at his cousin, then, with a shake of his head, dismissed Spoon’s nostalgic reminiscence. Balyle rocked to the bass-laden music bumping from the car speakers.

Yo, boy, he shouted, his eyes lit with eagerness. Check that shit out right there, fool!

Spoon, noticing the very attractive girl near the mailbox, realized why Balyle was in such a rush. He adjusted the glasses on his dark face, smiled, and nodded his head in complete agreement.

I would be in a hurry to see that fine young thang just as you are, he said. Yes, indeed.

As Balyle pulled the handle to open the car door, he gave Spoon a curious look, shook his head, and mumbled he need not worry about the girl’s appearance and to stop talking funny. He mocked the boy and sarcastically reiterated the words yes indeed dee. While fingering through the envelopes and advertisements, the girl at the mailbox, Kyla, smoothly rocked her curvy body to the rhythm of the melodious beat. She acted as she did not notice the two boys.

Balyle quickly exited the sedan; the loose mounting allowed the mirror to shake as he slammed the door shut. His intentions of intercepting Kyla before she got back to the house worked. Balyle stepped into the girl’s path as she neared the front porch. The downtrodden grass of the yard seemed to have finally given up its fight for existence. Only stubborn, segregated clumps remained, lining a trail from the house to the sidewalk. Balyle bobbed and swayed in front of the petite girl. Kyla, attempting to act annoyed, stopped and glanced up from her postal thumbing. She tossed her head to one side and pushed the long blonde braids from her enchanting face. Her arched brow pressed curiously down upon hypnotic brown eyes.

Kyla’s smooth caramel-colored cheeks rose, pulling her fleshy lips into a smile. Balyle, a brawny boy of average height, mockingly danced with her. His jerky actions were well out of flow with the music. Balyle pressed his upper teeth down upon his bottom lip, the thin hair on his chin protruded outward. His movements closely resembled a strutting chicken. A glaze of sweat caused Balyle’s brown skin to glisten in the summer sun. The girl momentarily dipped and bounced with him as she offered encouragement to the laboring boy. His cousin laughed, as did the girl at the dancing boy’s comical boogying.

Go, Balyle, Kyla said in rhythm with the pulsating music. Go, go.

Determined to impress her, Balyle stroked his shaved head as he attempted to show off his best moves. Dust plumes swirled from the dirt path at his feet. Oblivious to his clumsy appearance, mentally, Balyle was feeling his groove. Spoon loudly joked about his cousin’s awkward dancing and acted as if he was choking from the sun-dried cloud of dust created by Balyle’s graceless movements. Kyla giggled as she tapped Balyle’s shoulder with the mail. He looked inquisitively at her and hunched his broad shoulders, giving her a look as if to ask what? They both laughed as the song ended.

Balyle embraced Kyla in a playful hug. The music from the car changed to a ballet; the singer was trying to encourage a woman be his lover. Kyla, noticing the immerging bulge in the boy’s pants, pointed the mail toward his crotch and declined Balyle’s request to dance to the sultry romantic song. Feeling somewhat embarrassed by this exposure, he shifted the attention to Spoon. He ragged the boy about his earlier comments concerning his dancing skills.

Yeah, kid, he quipped, slowly rocking his head. You just mad ’cause you ain’t smoove like that. And hey, that wasn’t dust fool. I was just so hot I was smoking.

The trio laughed. Their spirited fun was interrupted by a seemingly angry voice from the house.

Hey, the voice asked. What the hell is this shit here? Soul Train or something?

The loosely hinged, dust and spider web crusted screened door was pushed open. Teeco, Kyla’s younger brother emerged from the house, lifting the loose door close behind him. The boy’s cracking voice betrayed his tough front. He wore a scowl on his narrow freckle-dotted face. His sandy red skin seemed as if it had been splattered with brown paint. The sun’s glare caused his honey brown-colored eyes, dotted with black pupils, to appear reptilian. The tiny nappy braids, pointing from his small head, were like miniature, wooly spikes. Teeco casually tossed some peanut hulls in the direction of the gleeful trio and flipped some of the nuts into his mouth. His large feet seemed out of place on his lanky body. He repeated his question about the yard being a dance show and patted one of the big white sneakers on his feet, waiting for an answer.

Kyla and Balyle both waved an ignoring hand at him. Teeco, noticing Spoon had nodded a greeting, responded with a nod of his own, and then redirected his question to the other two. Spoon rubbed his dark pimple-spotted face and displayed a look of indifference. Teeco hooked his thumbs into two of the belt loops of the large jeans sagging off his skinny waist. Balyle frowned at the boy and questioned his concern of business that was not his.

Nigga what, he asked before offering him some advice. You don’t need to worry about what’s going on out here. What you need to worry about is them twisted ass naps on your head, ass walking around here, looking like a polka-dot Buckwheat and shit. Spoon and Kyla laughed loudly. Teeco, taking exception to the joke about his freckles and his hair being compared to the character from The Little Rascals, searched for a verbal jab of his own. He seemed frustrated he could not respond quickly and quirkily enough with an appropriate quip.

Fuck you, punk was the best he could muster, raising his middle finger.

Balyle waved his hand toward Teeco, dismissing his retort as weak; Kyla agreed. Teeco twisted his face into a grimace as he eyed his sister who was slapping Balyle’s hand in a congratulatory fashion. The two seemed to confuse Teeco; he did not know which to confront first. Assuming his sister was the more vulnerable of his two pesters, he chose to attack her instead of the more imposing Balyle, who appeared to be daring him to insult him.

Hoe, he smirked. Don’t make me pimp slap your stanking ass like I’m Ashy Fitz!

Kyla, laughing with Balyle, was caught off guard by the insults hurled at her by Teeco, especially when he called her a prostitute and suggested she was treated as a piece of property by her boyfriend, who was a small-time drug dealer and self-proclaimed fledgling pimp.

Kyla’s brow pressed angrily down upon her piercing eyes; her chest swollen with anger, she placed her hands on her hips and balled her fist. The girl glared at the laughing boy. Nigga, she hissed, snaking her head from side to side. I ain’t no damn whore! And Ashburn Fitzgerald don’t hardly own me, you bony ass bean pole you! Amused by Kyla’s boyfriend’s real name, as they always were, the three boys repeated the name in humorous unison.

Ashburn Fitzgerald, they said while looking at one another. Spoon stumbled against the car and almost fell to the ground, roaring with laughter. Balyle and Teeco eyed one another and then joined Spoon with loud crackles of their own. The antics of Balyle, placing his hand on his chest and attempting to look distinguished, while repeating the name, caused Kyla to giggle as well; she playfully hit him on the shoulder and told him to stop it. Her ire shifted back toward Teeco, who was attempting to mock Balyle’s regal antics.

You puny little ‘wanting to be’ the man, she snorted, dismissing the boy’s desired to have street credibility. You’ll never be shit! Staring at his sister with his hands still on his chest as if thumbing invisible lapels, trying to act stately, Teeco frowned at her.

Really, he questioned, continuing with the prostitution taunts. I am the man! Besides shawty, if Ashy Fitz knew you was trying to give away some free tail, ooh we, he would beat that ass. You know how he kicks his bitches’ asses. Kyla stared at her brother, mouth opened, and eyes widened; she could not believe he disrespected her in this way, especially suggestion she gets battered by Ashy Fitz. Kyla, although angry about the boy’s charges, softened her voice and questioned Teeco’s sexuality.

You must be some kind bitch yourself, she chuckled while questioning his association. You always talking about Ashburn, like you might be one of his whores. Ya’ll cutting or sum? Balyle and Spoon laughed at the accusation of subservience. Kyla rubbed her hand on Balyle’s lower back and rear as she walked toward the house. Balyle watched Kyla’s tight rear roll as she twisted her hips. Spoon licked his lips. Kyla punched Teeco in the shoulder as she stormed past him and reached for the door. Teeco rubbed his shoulder and threatened Kyla.

See, he said. I was just playing, but you gonna make fuck you up for real though!

He held his hand up extending his thumb and forefinger about an inch apart and assured Kyla his patience was thin, and he was to the point of relieving her of the auburn-colored hair extensions interwoven with her real hair.

I’m this close, he continued. To slapping them Korean weaves off your damn head! As Kyla’s voice faded into the house, she shouted obscenities back to her brother. Spoon, laughing at the hair quip Teeco had made, wiped his hand across his forehead as if moving hair from his face. He slapped the boy’s hand and told him the joke was so funny, it made his side hurt. Balyle stared at his dark-skinned cousin and frowned at the boy’s comical enjoyment.

Oh, he asked a chuckling Spoon. I guess you think that shit was hilarious, huh?

Spoon, momentarily donning a serious expression, paused and responded with a gurgle. Yep, he snickered, crossing his hands over his stomach. Ha ha, ha ha, oh man.

Balyle eyed the boy then, with a smile, shook his head; he thought the crack was kind of funny as well. He forced himself not to laugh; he accused Spoon of ogling Kyla’s rear.

Hey, man, he said, pointing at his cousin. Don’t be looking at my girl’s ass! Spoon frowned, looked at Teeco, who was shaking his head, and pointed his thumb at Balyle who was peering into the house, hoping Kyla heard him lay claim to her as his girlfriend. She gonna be my wife one day, he promised. You two punks watch and see niggas.

The other two boys laughed at Balyle’s assertion; Teeco made a prediction of his own. Nah, nigga, he assured, shaking his head. Ashy Fitz ain’t gonna go for no shit like that. Besides, you niggas is my boys, my sister ain’t for neither one of you mufugahs.

Balyle shook his head and frowned; he dismissed Teeco’s idea of what would be. Look, he huffed, defending his statement and Kyla’s honor while dismissing the absent man. Fuck Ashy Feets, man, he ain’t nobody. Besides, Kyla’s only with that fool because he’s stupid with his money, and she is spending the hell out of it. But for real though, Teeco, you need to stop dissing her and shit. For real, for real thought.

Assuming his friend was delusional, Teeco shook his head and shrugged. Whatever, man, he suggested, offering what he thought was an honest view of it all. First, Ashy Fitz ain’t never gonna let Kyla leave him. Second, a hoe is a hoe, no less, no more. So don’t get mad at me for calling it like it is. I’m just keeping it real, my nigga.

Balyle told him to think whatever he liked, but he would respect Kyla, at least while in his presence. Spoon, sensing the seriousness of the boys’ voices, stood up from leaning on the car and walked toward the two boys. Teeco, although confident in his view, must have sensed the change of feeling with Balyle as well, but he did not want to have a physical altercation with the bigger boy; he suggested they stop their petty bickering and go do the job they were paid to do.

Balyle, certain he had made his point with Teeco, agreed. Spoon shrugged.

The boys had been paid five hundred dollars by Ashy Fitz to beat up a storeowner who was a crack cocaine dealer as well. Ashy Fitz was the supplier, and the man had been credited fifteen hundred dollars’ worth of the product, which he was very late paying for. He needed to send a message to all the people who dealt with him. Teeco was eager to do Ashy Fitz’s bidding; he admired the young man and aspires of one day being a pimp himself. Balyle simply wanted the money. Spoon was aware of the deal and was offered a part in the assault but declined. He said he was not in need of money badly enough to make him want to cause bodily harm to the man, suggesting if Ashy Fitz was so tough, he would handle the deadbeat himself.

Teeco and Balyle did not make any attempt to change his mind, other than Balyle calling him soft. Spoon rubbed his chin and shrugged, suggesting he would not have to worry about going to jail if they were caught. Teeco emphasized the word if. As the three boys walked toward the car, Balyle asked Spoon where he wanted to be dropped off. The boy told him he needed to go home. Balyle nodded. Teeco pulled a marijuana-filled cigar wrapper, called a blunt, and a lighter from his pocket; he lit the blunt and inhaled deeply as the boys got into the car. Spoon momentarily argued with Teeco, who had claimed the front seat by declaring he would ride shotgun, before opening the rear door and climbing into the back seat. Balyle started the engine and glanced toward the house; he hoped Kyla was looking. As he put the car into reverse, he pressed the horn, signaling a goodbye to the girl. Teeco coughed as he passed the blunt.

Here, my nigga, he said to Balyle, suggesting the marijuana was good quality. Hit this loud. That’s some fire ass weed right there! Teeco attempted to retain most of the smoke in his lungs but coughed from the strong intoxicating smoke. Balyle took the blunt from his friend and placed it to his lips; he took a deep drag of the piney weed. The smoke caused him to cough too.

Balyle agreed with Teeco’s view of the drug. He offered it to Spoon, who declined. As Balyle backed the Oldsmobile out of the driveway and onto the street, he did not notice Kyla watching them; the dirty window and sheer curtain hid her. He placed the gear shifter into drive and mashed the accelerator, pushing the sedan away from the house. Teeco joked that his friend should not drive so aggressively on the balding mixed-matched tires. He called the odd lettered rubber maypops and warned of impending flats they would have. Balyle glared, turned up the radio, and echoed the blaring song; he asked not to be pushed because he was close to the edge.

Rocking their heads to the beat of the music, the three boys mouthed the words of the song. A light plume of smoke escaped from the car’s tailpipe and trailed the Oldsmobile down Dooley Avenue. A few of the people on the street danced to the music resounding from the car as the boys passed. Teeco was still bragging about how good the weed was and pressed the button on the passenger side to raise the power window. Balyle, the white of his eyes reddening, nodded in agreement and raised the driver side window as well. Spoon tried to lower the rear window, but the power button did not work; his cousin’s oh well attitude to his discomfort was annoying. He shook his head and hoped the ride would be short; the other boys’ arrogantly swollen attitude made him feel spiteful, he chose to allow despair to breeze by like the passing images through the window out of which he stared.

Chapter 2

Being Seen About

As Balyle steered the car onto Cooper Avenue, Teeco offered him the remainder of the joint, the roach. He declined, stating he did not want to burn his mouth or fingers with the tiny butt. Teeco shrugged, held the roach tightly between his brown-stained thumb and forefinger and placed the remnant to his lips; he took a final puff and quickly pulled the hot butt away. Spoon waved his hand in front of his face, attempting to fan away the annoying smoke. Balyle knew Spoon did not indulge in the drug anymore. Most of the times they hung out together, he would not smoke around the boy. But on the occasions when he did smoke some weed, especially with Teeco, he would offer to share with Spoon, knowing it would not be accepted. Teeco on the other hand could care less about whether Spoon smoked or not as long as he got the high he was looking for. Spoon, unable to lower the window, or escape the irritating odor, and had taken as much of the choking smoke as he could stand, spoke up. Man, he coughed. Ya’ll need to put those windows down. That junk stinks.

Teeco, rubbing his slightly burnt lip, turned and exhaled the remaining smoke in the complaining boy’s direction. Spoon glared at Teeco and threatened to beat him if he did that again. Teeco laughed and told him he could not do it again, there was no more of the roach left. He held the balled-up remnant between his finger and thumb, as he showed it to Spoon, and suggested the boy hold his breath if the smoke bothered him. The frowning boy angrily demanded Balyle hurry him home; he was sick of their disrespectful company. The orders given by Spoon did not sit well with Balyle; he turned the stereo down and looked in the rearview mirror.

Nigga what? he questioned, assuring Spoon they were near his neighborhood.

I said I’ll drop your ass off! Besides, we right here in Large Quarters anyway! Damn!

Spoon stared into the mirror at Balyle and shook his head; he was glad they had reached his neighborhood. Teeco coughed as he laughed, expressing his joy of arriving as well.

Balyle accused Spoon of being out of his mind as well as being a killjoy. Man, you be tripping, he charged, turning the music back up. Blowing my high and shit!

Spoon, confident his point was made, did not respond to the accusations; he leaned back into the seat, looked out the window, and attempted to enjoy the song that was playing on the stereo.

Balyle, feeling a tiny bit of remorse for treating his cousin so rudely, pressed the power buttons on the driver side door and lowered the two front windows slightly and looked in the rearview mirror. Spoon smiled and nodded his head. As Balyle steered the car onto Twenty-Second Street, Teeco complained that putting the windows down allowed the smoke to escape from the car, wasting the opportunity for a carry-on effect of the weed. Balyle shook his head and turned the music down; he had reached Spoon’s house and pulled to the curb. Before the car came to a complete stop, Spoon had grabbed the handle and was pushing the door open. Teeco compared Spoon’s eager exit to that of an Alex Haley’s character from his book Roots.

Damn it, Toby, he warned. If you keep running like that, we gonna have to cut off your foot, maybe both of them. He roared with laughter. Balyle joined in.

My name is Kunta, Balyle mock proudly. Kunta Kente! Spoon, quite possibly feeling the effect of the marijuana, found the muse funny also; he laughed and acted as if he was running.

Teeco, shocked Spoon was not offended by the joke, noticed his wooziness also. Look at that, he said, nudging Balyle. That nigga got a damn contact. That’s bananas.

Balyle, agreeing to the craziness of the man not defending himself from the jibe, eyed his cousin. Spoon, still laughing, closed the door and threw his hand into the air, waving goodbye. Balyle pressed the horn two quick times and told Spoon to tell his mother he said hello. Teeco shot a quick wave to the boy, reached for the stereo, and turned the music volume up.

As Balyle mashed the accelerator, the Oldsmobile pushed away from the curb and down the street. Teeco questioned whether Balyle thought Spoon secretly did drugs. Man, he wondered. Your boy probably be getting high anyway, know what I mean?

Balyle disagreed; he was certain Spoon hated illegal drugs and most of the people that used them. Turning the music down, Balyle continued with his analytical view of Spoon. Check it out, he guessed. His daddy is a preacher, and his momma is a missionary. I ain’t no psychic or prophet, but he’ll probably be just like them and shit. He’s corny.

After a few moments of consideration, Teeco accepted Balyle’s reasoning. His concerns, minor concerns, were wasted; he decided the rigors of the ruthlessness required by the habitants of the streets did not seem to appeal to Spoon, whom he deemed a momma’s boy. The weed seemed to have pushed the boys over a philosophical edge, as their conversation grew more profound. Teeco questioned whether the terror attack on the World Trade Centers, the war in the Middle East, and illegal immigration was all just a scheme used to panic the people. He surmised this would force everyone to be blind to the money-hoarding agenda of the wealthy politicians. The ticking of the old worn engine of the car replaced the music; the conversation was enthralling enough to force Balyle to turn the stereo off completely. He was shocked Teeco had given any thought to social issues at all. The boys bounced theories between one another as Balyle piloted the car toward the store and their unannounced appointment with its owner.

As Balyle steered on to Bergen Avenue and parked down the street from the store, the boys were still engaged in their discussion. Balyle seemed to have lost interest. Teeco had speculated that the overall reason for the scares were to force the poor, uneducated people, especially Blacks, deeper into poverty. Making these people take the minimum wage jobs, thereby reinstating a sort of regulated slavery. Balyle did not agree with him. He felt that if people wanted to better themselves, no matter their color, the opportunities were there for the taking. He blamed Black people for hurting each other. Teeco stared at Balyle and shook his head.

You are tripping, he surmised. Man, them fools ain’t gonna let no nigga have shit! Huh!

Balyle insisted his friend think whatever he felt comfortable with; just know he strongly disagreed on this theory. The conversation floated back to the mission at hand.

Teeco pulled a knife from his pocket and opened it, exposing a six-inch blade and held it in his palm. What do you think? he asked, showing it to Balyle. We might need this shit, right?

Balyle, admiring the weapon for a moment, reminded Teeco of a very important fact. Now you are tripping, he suggested, reaching for the glove box of the car and opening it.

This mufugah here sells crack. What the hell you gonna take a knife to a gun fight for?

Teeco contemplated his friend’s reasoning, then folded the knife, and put it away.

Now, Balyle smiled, pulling a black revolver pistol from the glove box. "You know that fool has got some type of heat in

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