Loyalty is a funny thing. For the world at large, it’s widely lauded, considered a virtue, something to be proud of.
Except this is the Gutter. Remaining true blue don’t matter much when you live on a dead end street....
Fists and Friendships by Chris Wilkensen
The cops already drove around the block once. They’d do it again. They saw us. They were predictable.
“Get out of my car, man. Come on.” I lit up a cigarette, looked at the clock on my dash. 12:05. He’d been sitting in the passenger seat for twenty minutes while a Johnny Cash playlist drained my phone battery.
“I’m high,” Ed said. “I don’t know how to act normal.”
He smoked around 9 p.m. I went outside for a cigarette while the two friends “bonded,” as they called it.
Whatever Ed and Carl smoked, they shared it in the bathroom with the vent on and sprayed Axe over it. I told myself it was grass, hoped it was, at least. I reminded myself that their decisions were their lives, not mine.
The cops turned around, driving slowly. I nudged Ed to wake up, to no avail.
Normally, that word, “cops,” elicited a flight response in him: he would run away. He’d been running from the cops since he was a sophomore in high school, when he dropped out. As his friend, I didn’t ask about what he did when I wasn’t around.
“I’m too high for this shit.” Ed closed his eyes.
The cops put their bright lights on us. Ed jumped out of the car and onto his curb.
The cops jumped out of their car, yelling at him to get on the ground. Rookie cops.
“Why? This is my house. I’m not doing anything wrong.” He stepped toward them, but the momentum tripped him forward and down on the street. Somehow, he maintained his balance, but the cops weren’t impressed.
They tazed Ed right in front of me for no real reason. He screamed in pain. The cops scrambled around, unsure what to do. Ed tried to stand up, so they tazed him again. Ed was down for the count.
One threw Ed in the backseat, the other talked to me.
“Why are you friends with this idiot?” the cop asked.
“I knew him before he was like this.” I didn’t look at him directly, hoping he wouldn’t find out Carl’s Jack and Cokes surpassed the state alcohol limit.
He looked me over. I could feel his eyes’ heat as bright as the cop’s searchlight.
“Don’t drive.” He walked away.
“Why am I friends with him?” I muttered under my breath. “Why are you an asshole?”
They stuffed Ed in the backseat and drove off.
I touched the ground where he was tazed. Maybe he hung out with some thugs and schmucks, but he wasn’t a bad guy. Maybe those cops weren’t bad people, just scared and inexperienced. The cops made a mistake, but it was our word against theirs. And they had the badges.
Ed’s parents hadn’t woken up during the commotion. He didn’t break any crimes. No dealing, no stealing, none of the secrets he kept from me that his parents found out about. If he just would’ve gotten out of the car when I told him, he would be in bed now, not on his way to get booked for falling down.
His folks would need energy for the long day that awaited them tomorrow. I let them sleep and walked away, my car watching me. It wasn’t their fault as much as it was someone else’s.
I didn’t walk home, like the officer instructed.
My headphones poured out Springsteen. My battery was low and died twenty minutes later. Ed wouldn’t be able to reach me, if he were even given a phone call, and after what I saw, I wasn’t sure of that.
Carl’s door was unlocked. I stepped on a glass pipe, cracking it in the dark. I cursed silently. I could have used it to break Carl’s face. Instead, I had to use my hands. Afterward, I would wash my hands of Ed and Carl.