Episode 3 – Out and About

I stand in the open doorway, unsure of my plan of attack. Finally, knock on the door frame, uncertain how Uncle Henry will react.

“Yeah, what?” He says without looking.

I venture a few steps. “Got a minute?”

He stays hunched over the computer. “Yes…Derrick, but I can’t talk long. Events are unfolding quickly.” He’s obviously annoyed it’s me…no big surprise.

“Sure, I understand,” I tell him, inching closer. Scan his desk for a cell. “So, what’s going on?”

“There’s been a drive-by shooting on the East Side. Six people were killed with an assault rifle!”

“Oh, wow!” I exclaim, checking out his base of operations. It’s a big plywood work-space built in the corner of his room…two laptops, an old monitor, three calculators, books, papers, and magazines crammed with bookmarks. Suddenly, I spy a cell peeping from the papers next to him. How the fuck’ll I get it?

Have a brainstorm! He’s oblivious…totally glued to his shit…so, from behind, I engulf him in a humongous bear hug. “Thanks for taking care of us!”

He’s unbelievably freaked! Jumps up, knocks me backward, but as I fall, manage to pull the cell and a wad of papers to the floor. Slap my hand over it so he doesn’t see.

“Derrick!” He yells, “don’t ever do that again! You know I hate to be touched.”

“Oh, right,” I say slipping the phone in my pocket. “I’m really sorry.”

He brushes himself off and scoops up his papers…hold my breath, hoping he doesn’t look for the cell, but he’s too flustered to notice. “Don’t surprise me like that again. You’re getting too big…so, what did you want to talk about?”

“Nothing really. Just want to hear the latest.”

“Well, the city’s preparing for the worst. You’re lucky to be safe at home. I’m installing metal bars on the door next week. You can’t be too careful.”

I chuckle. “Yeah, definitely.” If he only knew his kids were scheming against him!

I say goodbye. Scoot to the bedroom where Amy’s on the bed slipping on her flip flops.

“Find one?” She asks eagerly.

I whip out the cell. “Ta dah!”

She grabs it. “You found one? I can’t believe it.”

“Does a bear shit in the woods?”

She gives me a puzzled look. “What does that mean? You have some of the weirdest expressions…where was it?”

“Mixed with his papers. I hugged him and he nearly shit. Affection’s definitely not his thing.”

“Duh. Would somebody live like this if they craved affection?”

“No. Has he ever hugged you?”

“No way.”

“Amy, come on. Let’s blow this clambake and alert our allies. I can’t fucking believe we have a cell! We’ll live normal lives for a day at least.”

She gives me an anxious glance. “What if Uncle Henry’s right and it’s really bad outside?”

“It can’t be,” I say pointing out the window. “Does it look crazy? Do you see smoke or hear gunshots?”

As we look out, a fleet of police cars whizzes by.

Amy gives me a look. “Maybe we shouldn’t go. I don’t see anyone on the sidewalk.”

“Amy, chill. It’s a weekend…and Uncle Henry said the only problem’s on the East Side. Nobody gives a shit about the Upper West, and we can meet in Central Park. That’ll be totally safe.”

“God, he’ll be s-o-o-o pissed when he sees we’re gone.”

“Look, if you’re worried, stay, but not me. If it’s really bad, we’ll come back. Uncle Henry never checks us anyway, especially today.”

Amy nods. “Okay, but let’s be really careful. Promise?”

“Of course.” We take off our flip-flops and tiptoe to the door. Snatch the keys on the hall table, and slowly undo the locks. One clicks pretty loud, and we wait for shit to hit the fan, but nothing happens…so we slip out. Feel a mixture of nerves, anticipation and daring. The hall is quieter than usual, and I wonder if the elevator’s even working, but the minute I press the button, it springs to life.

We hop in and ride down non-stop. Usually there’s a doorman on duty, but not today. The lobby’s empty. “That’s weird,” I say, “nobody’s around.”

“Let’s go back.”

“Hell, no. We’ve come this far. You really want to go back to that gloomy apartment? Look, it’s fucking beautiful out.” We step to the door…the world is bathed in sunshine. Just looking out makes me excited. “Let’s call our friends.” I punch in Tara’s number…can’t wait to hear her voice.

She answers suspiciously. “Who’s this?” It’s the first time I’ve called her from Uncle Henry’s cell.

“Me, Derrick. You wanna hang out?”

“Hi! Yeah! Where are you?”

“In front of our building. I’ve got my uncle’s cell.”

“Have you been watching TV? They’re warning everybody to stay off the streets.”

My confidence dwindles, but I charge ahead. “Yeah, of course, but the West Side’s fine, right? And we’ll hang in the park. Nobody’ll fuck with us there.”

She sighs. “I know, but my parents are listening to everything. They’ll never let me go.”

“Tell ’em it’s a bunch of us, and only three blocks. We’ll find a secluded spot. Amy’s inviting a bunch of friends.”

“Derrick, I want to s-o-o-o bad, but I’ve gotta handle this carefully. Let me call you back.”

Amy checks with all her friends and gets only one taker, Kadeem Donofrio, the tallest kid in her class. He’s eleven, but could pass for thirteen or fourteen…plays basketball with high school kids.

Tara calls back, except it’s not Tara, it’s her dad. “Derrick?”

“Yes, sir.”

“What are you planning? I don’t want you guys going out.”

I assure him up and down we’re staying close to home. Explain it’s the four of us, and Kadeem’ll be along. We’re going to the park for an hour or so…total bullshit. I figure on making a day of it. Gotta hang with my girlfriend.

He thinks about it a long time. Finally says, “if your uncle’s okay with it, it’s okay with me, but no more than an hour, and get to the park as fast as you can…come straight home if you see anything suspicious or unusual.”

I agree to everything. Think how weird things are. It’s fucking New York City, but we’re supposed to freak out if we see anything unusual. Fuck, everything’s unusual!

We agree to meet at the corner of 96th and Amsterdam. Plans firmed, Amy and I head out. By the time we’ve walked half a block, we realize it’s not a normal Saturday. Except for an occasional taxi, the streets are totally deserted. It’s mind-boggling…people are taking the warnings so fucking seriously…normally, a bunch of people ignore threats, but I guess with all the shootings and terrorist alerts, they’re not taking any chances. Still, it’s eerie as shit…like everybody’s expecting an alien invasion, zombie attack, asteroid impact, bubonic plague…whatever.

We get to Broadway and it’s a little better…some buses running, and some pedestrians out, but cops are everywhere, patrolling in riot gear, plus there’s the constant whoop of sirens and emergency vehicles, some with loudspeakers announcing a curfew. Everybody’s supposed be off the streets by 9:00 PM. Where do they think this is? Indianapolis?

For some reason, the cops seem particularly interested in us…I suddenly realize we’re the only kids out. Wonder if we’re violating some emergency regulation or something???

At the corner of 96th and Amsterdam, my spirits…plus other things…rise the minute I see Tara. Damn, she’s so fucking amazing….standing there with Kadeem, right on time as usual. That’s one thing I totally love about her. When we make a date, she’s always there…right on the dot..never makes me wait, and I do likewise. When you want to see somebody, being on time confirms the feeling’s mutual.

I sprint to her, grinning from ear to ear. Give her a huge hug…don’t let her go until she squeals with delight, frustration, whatever. Amy and Kadeem are shy, but it’s obvious they’re really happy together. He’s a great looking guy, part African and part Italian…the ideal combo according to Amy.

We all immediately start bullshitting about how fucked up things are, and how the grown-ups want everyone inside like caged animals. “You’d think we live in a fucking zoo!” I exclaim, and all agree. Tara says she had a humongous fight with her dad before he’d let her go. I’m listening, but at the same time totally staring at Tara who looks cooler than shit…pig tails, black derby, and little plaid mini-skirt that shows her long legs. I see her incredible dark eyes gauging my reaction. “God, you look great!” I tell her and she’s pleased. Hooks my arm, like I’m personal property…which I definitely am, and vice versa.

We agree the park’s the safest spot. Not that we see anything dangerous, but there’s so much police activity, it’s a little intimidating. Do they know something we don’t? At the next corner, a cop asks where we’re going, and when we tell him, he warns us to stay alert.

“What’s all the commotion?” Kadeem asks, maybe a little too sarcastic.

The cop glares at him. “Don’t you watch the news, son?”

They exchange testy glances. “Yeah, I do,” Kadeem says, “but you must know a lot of shit we don’t.”

“We keep the media fully informed.”

Kadeem rolls his eyes and stomps off. “Okay, fine. Sorry I asked.”

“Hey, watch yourself, kid,” the cop yells. “This violence is no joke!”

“Whatever,” Kadeem yells over his shoulder. Everybody freezes.

“Hey, kid, stop right there!”

Kadeem halts, turns casually.

“Come back here! I don’t like your attitude.”

Tara, Amy and I look at each other, freaked. I think: Uh oh, we’re in for a shit show. Kadeem’s unpredictable. Got an edge from hanging with older guys.

He shuffles to the cop, who pats him down. Kadeem acts like it’s the most pointless thing ever.

“So,” the cop asks, “how old are you, son…thirteen, fourteen.”

“Eleven.”

The cop’s surprised. “Eleven? You’re pretty big for eleven.”

“Can’t help it, That’s what I am.”

We all chime in. “It’s true. He’s eleven.”

The cop’s not finished. “Turn out your pockets.”

“Why?”

“Because I said so. Take my advice, kid. Tone it down a notch. Everybody’s trigger happy these days.”

“You think I’m trigger happy…no way.” Kadeem stares at the cop. His saggy jeans are super low…halfway down his boxers.

“Empty those pockets,” the cop says sharply.

Kadeem does like he’s told…but in no hurry. Comes up with so much crap, we can’t help giggling…wallet, 3 sets of keys, two packs of gum, empty gum wrappers, coins, a few dollars, and loose pistachio nuts. “Want one?” He asks the cop.

The cops shakes his head in disgust. “Okay, you can go, but keep your mouth under control.”

“Got it, chief,” Kadeem mumbles.

We reach Central Park West as a black limo comes down the street. It’s moving so slowly, we wonder if it’s an official car or something…maybe the mayor checking things out.

“It’s just a fucking livery,” Kadeem says. “Ignore it,” but the limo pulls alongside us and sits there. The windows are tinted so we can’t see a fucking thing except two shadowy heads…definitely spooky.

Tara grabs my arm.”This is too weird. Come on!” We sprint toward the park gate, but immediately, hear a squeal of tires as the limo hurtles backward alongside us.

We duck through the gate…flatten against the wall out of sight. “What the fuck was that?” I whisper. Everybody’s wide-eyed, totally freaked.

“Where’s the fucking cop when you need him?” Kadeem asks.

To be continued…Read next episode!