A short story by D. F. Wharton
Nobody could tell Trevor Robinson anything because, for the first time in his life, Trevor had money. Not just a little bit of money. He had stacks. I’m talkin’ ’bout a bankroll. Cash money. He woke up fresh and alive every day with one goal: let’s get this money.
Before he had money, Trevor was miserable. His brothers and sisters were fuck-ups. He showed love, but it was embarrassing. His mom was doing the best she could, but she was a drunk and a user. All the money she got went to getting high. It was like his brothers and sisters didn’t care. They just accepted their reality like there was nothing to be done about it.
Trevor talked to the dope man.
“Terrence,” said Trevor, “put me on. Let’s get this money.”
“I don’t know,” said Terrence. “S’a lotta pressure out in these streets when you holden weight, ’lil nigga.”
“All due respect,” said Trevor, “I’m old enough for you t’sell that shit to my moms, so what the fuck? I mean, respectfully speaking, you all about gettin’ paid, right? So what’s up? I was born for this. Put me on.”
And that was how Trevor, a sixteen-year-old with the cold blood of a hustler flowing through his veins, got his first real chips. Sure, he had run a few errands for the real players here and there, getting some chump-change, but he was never allowed to make real money.
But Terrence didn’t just put somebody on without that man havin’ t’prove himself. There would be a test.
“I hear you, ’lil man,” said Terrence, “if you so hardcore, got over to the Y corner and sick up Darius for his money and any dope he holdin’. Tell’em he out the game and you takin’ his spot.”
“Just like that?” said Trevor.
“Just like that,” said Terrence.
Terrence was a cold-hearted dope dealer with cartel connections. He had served a nickel upstate and had been in and out of jail all his life. But he was smart and could hold his own in prison and the streets. The secret was, according to Terrence, in keeping your mouth shut. Even when he talked, he never said anything, never gave up information.
“I need a piece,” said Trevor.
“You mean t’tell me you got no piece?” said Terrence. “And you want me t’put you on? Get the fuck outta here, ’lil man, you ain’t ready.”
“Say less,” said Trevor.
Trevor was hungry and not just for food. He wanted new clothes on his back, new shoes on his feet, and cash money in his pockets. He wanted to floss, to ball-out. He wanted to walk into a store and walk out with loaded shopping bags and a receipt to crumple up and throw into a cops face. “Yeah, bought that,” he might say. He might be only sixteen, but he was a grown man in spirit.
He was ready for the test.
Trevor stepped off in a march toward the Y corner where Darius was perched like the bird he was. Before, Trevor looked at Darius with envy because Darius got money, but he never thought of him as someone to be afraid of. Fuck that. Darius was a bitch. Who did he think he was? Trevor now looked at Darius like he was the only thing standing between him and his money.
It was time.
As he stepped toward Darius, his eyes scanned the periphery for a weapon of opportunity. There was a rock. That would do. Big people go down just like little ones. It didn’t matter if Darius was twenty-something and bigger and Trevor was smaller and only sixteen. Trevor had heart, confidence, and believed that this was his destiny. He did not fear death. He only feared being stuck in a state of a broke-ass hungry fool dressed like a bum.
A bass-line boomed in the back of his mind as the predator advanced on the prey. The sound of a jackhammer from a construction site sounded off in the distance. Dust from torn concrete clouded the sky. The most endangered kind of prey is the kind that doesn’t realize he is just that—the prey. Darius was slacking. He thought he was untouchable. No way would a kid like Trevor step to him. A car horn blew from an angry driver in the streets beyond. Trevor knelt down in stride and scooped up the rock, keeping his eyes on Darius.
“Yo,” said Trevor.
As Darius turned, Trevor had already made it through the wind-up. The moment he saw Trevor the rock was smashing into his temple. Darius temporarily lost his sight as he went down, the pain like a bolt of lightning through his mind. Trevor grabbed the gun from the back of Darius trousers where he knew it was. It was a 38. Darius checked the load in the cylinder and cocked back the hammer and pointed the weapon at Darius.
“This your one chance for early retirement,” said Trevor. “Empty your pockets right there where your bitchass is layin’ and move the fuck on. You done gettin’ money ’round here.”
But Darius was disoriented. He quickly got it together and realized what was happening. His vision was coming back, but it was blurry. Was that Trevor?
“You out your fucking mind!” said Darius, holding his head and starting to get up.
The sound of the shot was deafening. The bullet slammed into Darius’s knee, shattering his kneecap and tearing bone, cartilage, and tendons to shreds. The bullet did not exit. It traveled up his leg and lodged in his quadriceps. Darius fell back to the ground, screaming. Trevor leaned over and put the gun to his head.
“You not hearing me,” said Trevor. He pulled back the hammer again. “This how you want it to end?”
Darius got himself under control and quiet. He looked into Trevor’s eyes and saw that it was real. Trevor had blitzed, and he had flinched. It was over. “Nah, man.”
“The money,” said Trevor, “and whatever else is in your pockets.”
Darius emptied his pockets.
“Just money and product,” said Trevor, “I don’t want your fuckin’ keys. This shit ain’t personal. Just business. Whoever was workin’ for you is now workin’ for me. You wanna come back at me? Better be ready to go all the way.”
The pedestrians had scattered. Nobody saw anything. Everybody in that neighborhood knew not to snitch. Especially Darius. He should have fought to the death, but he didn’t. Now it was over. You can’t erase the past. Darius had proved that he didn’t have the heart or mind for the game. He was out.
Not everybody on the scene was a pedestrian. Terrence saw. He looked at Trevor Robinson through a different lens. Ok, so Trevor is a soldier. He would put him to work.
A year later
Terrence saw himself in Trevor and took him under the wing.
“My man,” said Terrence, “you need to keep going to school. Get your education. There’s more to life then these streets.”
“But these streets is all you got and look at you,” said Trevor, not understanding. “You the Don out here.”
“Look, I’m tellin’ you… You jus’ don’t understand,” said Terrence. You never had to stack real time in the joint.”
“Shit,” said Trevor. “I did some time at Horizon. It was light-work.”
“That Horizon shit ain’t no real jail. That shit fuckin’ daycare compared some of the joints upstate. Shit. It’s not even the Island.”
“What you tellin’ me?” said Trevor. “We out here gettin’ money. You tired of gettin’ money?”
Trevor didn’t understand that Terrence was taking advantage of him. Terrence didn’t like it, but that was the game. The more Trevor found out about what the real price on the drugs were, coming out of Mexico, for more Trevor wouldn’t trust Terrence. In the end, there was no real love in the game, and nobody understood that more than Terrence. Although he was tough, Trevor still had some romantic notions about the game, thought that he could be in it and still have friends. Terrence knew that in the game, you can never have friends.
“Just keep going to school,” said Terrence. “Get your education. That’s all I’m tellin’ you.”
So, with a top name-brand shirt, jeans, and sneakers, Trevor walked into his high school like the hustler he was. Even when he wasn’t gettin’ money, he was still gettin’ money because he had a couple of fourteen and fifteen-year-olds under the wing out in the streets hustlin’ product for him.
Trevor didn’t mind school now that he had money and fly gear to wear. Of course, he wasn’t going to school for an education—he was going to get girls. He liked his ELA class because the teacher, Ms. Quan-Lee, let the class rock. She would give an assignment and then turn on the radio and let the class live. There was this one girl in class, Kaala, he was tryin’ to holler at.
“You from Tennessee?” said Trevor.
“What?” said Kaala.
“’Cause you the only ten-I-see,” said Trevor. Your dad must’ve been an artist.”
“Shut up,” said Kaala. She was smiling.
“Look,” said Trevor, “I know this spot up in Pelham. Nice place. We can chill, you know? Watch a movie, maybe smoke a lil’ weed, you know? Just kick it.”
“I don’t know,” said Kaala, “Monique said you ain’t nothin’ but a ho. And she said it wasn’t safe around you, that you was trouble.”
Trevor would talk to Monique later. For now, he would keep his composure. “Hey,” he said, “I’m sure Monique is tryin’ to be helpful and all, but is it constructive to spread rumors about people that aren’t true? To talk nasty about people behind their backs?”
“I guess not,” said Kaala. “But I can’t go wit you today. I gotta be home, or my daddy gonna be lookin’ for me.”
Trevor played it cool by he felt a touch of anger inside him. He wanted her to do what he said to do. For some reason, reasons he didn’t understand, he wanted to slap Kaala in her face right then and there. But at the same time, he didn’t. He liked her. He did know what he was feeling.
“Ain’t nobody wanna talk to you,” said Stefon.
Stefon was a bum. Stefon and his comrades didn’t like Trevor. They had decided to jump him. It was just a matter of time. That’s how it is when you start gettin’ money. Haters start comin’ out of the woodwork like termites.
“Why you talkin’ hot? lil’ man?” said Trevor.
“What you gonna do about it?” said Stefon.
“Gentlemen, please,” said the teacher. “Can we not do this in class?”
“Ok, ah’ight,” said Trevor to Stefon. “Say less.”
After class, Trevor slipped out the school and went to his pad. He looked over his 38 special but thought it overkill. He wasn’t tryin’ to catch a body over this bullshit. But he had to do something. He got his taser-gun instead. Back at the school, he slipped the taser-gun onto a platform of the scaffold the construction workers used that surrounded the building. In school, he kept his eye out for Stefon and his comrades.
“There he is,” whispered Trevor to himself. He stepped to him. “It’s time we handle this.”
“So, do somethin’,” said Stefon, feeling big because he had three comrades with him. It would be a four on one fight.
“After school,” said Trevor. “On the corner of 149th.”
“You scared to handle it right here?”
“What, you want school-safety to save you? Fuck that. We gonna get it outside the school, where I can have some time to really fuck you up. That is, unless you scared.”
“So be it.”
Trevor slipped school early made ready for battle. He had the taser tucked in the waistband of his jeans and a bottle of hot sauce that worked like pepper spray on the skin. These fools weren’t real shooters. Trevor was just going to have some fun with them.
As Trevor figured, Stefon and his crew of dummies had told everybody about the fight, so a crowd was forming. Stefon was all sizzle but no steak. Trevor was posted on the corner. The crowd grew more abundant in number and anticipation for a good show.
Trevor spotted Stefon and his three bozo comrades coming down the block. The crowd parted, and Stefon let the group forward. Trevor could tell that they weren’t ready to really fight. They were used to talkin’ a lotta shit and then the victim backing down. They were about to learn about Trevor Robinson.
Before Stefon could release the first word of bullshit out his mouth, Trevor had the taser-gun out and had fired. Stefon’s comrades went into shock as the electricity had Stefon in a seizure on the sidewalk. Trevor pulled out the bottle of hot sauce and flung it on the face of two of the others. They were immediately blinded and yelling. Trevor leaped on the last man and pounded his callused fist into the face of his enemy.
But Stefon had posted the fight on social media, and somebody had alerted the police. The sound of the siren got Trevor’s attention.
“Freeze, Police!” announced the megaphone. “Put your hands in the air.”
Trevor beat feet through the crowd. One of the jakes took off on foot after him but could not keep up. Trevor cut through a back alley, his heart banging in his chest. He moved and maneuvered through the city like a stealth predator. If society wanted to call him an animal, he would be an animal. If his jungle was concrete, he would be a panther of the pavement.
He got low in a construction site. There were materials everywhere. A cement truck was pouring cement into a landing framed by wooden boards.
“Hey!” yelled a worker, “what the hell are you doing!”
“Get outta a’here,” yelled another.
Trevor looked back and didn’t realize he was at the edge of the landing. He tripped and fell about eight feet down onto a pile of gravel. Something in his ankle snapped. He something jabbed his ribs. With his wind knocked out, Trevor kept going. He could barely breathe.
“God. Please help me,” he said. “You get me outta this and I’ll change my ways.”
But then he thought that was a dumb thing to say. Why should God help me? He thought to himself. It was a weird thought, and he dismissed it. He ran through a park and stopped behind the wall of one of the green buildings that have the bathroom and some offices.
He tried to get his thoughts together and come up with a plan. He could barely walk. His side was in so much pain. Taking a deep breath shot pain through his body. He heard a door open. He looked at a big van parked by the sidewalk just ahead of him. USPS. A lady was getting the mail out of a blue dropbox. Wait, was that Ms. King?
“Mr. King?” said Trevor.
“Trevor? Is that you?” said Ms. King. “Good God. What in God’s name are you doing?”
Trevor looked up into the sky and wondered if God had actually heard him. It was a thought that scared him.
“I need help,” said Trevor.
Ms. King was from Trevor’s neighborhood. She knew the deal. She had known Trevor’s mother and all her kids, including Trevor since they were in Pampers.
Ms. King opened the back of the USPS van and looked both ways cautiously. “Get in the back,” she said.
Trevor limped his way into the back of the USPS truck and laid out by the shelves holding the packages. She had Trevor home in an hour. “You need to get your life together and stop playing these games,” she said.
“I hear you, Mr. King. Thanks for helping me.”
“Thank me by turning your life around.”
Trevor didn’t find out there was a warrant out for his arrest until the cops banged on his door, then kicked his door in, wrestled him to the floor, and put his hands behind his back, digging the cuffs into the veins of his wrist.
“Get off me,” said Trevor.
“Stop resisting,” said the cop.
“Suck my D!$&,” said Trevor, and then was hit with something that knocked him dizzy.
Trevor got booked and then sent to Horizon. There was a video of the tasing and Stefon had snitched.
“Where did you get the taser,” asked a cop.
“It wasn’t me.”
“You’re on video, dickhead,” said the cop.
“That wasn’t me on the video. You got it wrong.”
“You think you’re getting out of this?” said the cop.
“That’s what he told me,” said Trevor.
“Who told you?” said the cop.
“Deez Nuts told me,” said Trevor. “That’s who.”
At Horizon. The CO woke Trevor up with a bang on the door.
“Wake up,” said the CO.
“Why you wake us up so early?” said Trevor.
“You gotta go to school,” said the CO.
“This is jail,” said Trevor, “and I gotta go to school?”
“ACS policy,” said the CO. “This ain’t Rikers.”
Trevor was tired. All the residents on X Hall had stuck it up the night before, and nobody had locked in until after one a.m. It was like one second he was awake and staring at the ceiling and thinking about life, locked in his cell and next the door was open, and it was time to move.
He looked out across the dayroom and noticed Jaylquan walking toward the bathroom and knew what was up. Jaylquan was about to wake-and-bake, as in, smoke some weed. There was a vent in the ceiling that sucked the smoke out of the room leaving little to smell in the way of evidence.
Trevor slid into his slippers and shuffled across the room. Jaylquan saw him and nodded his head in accent, and they went into the bathroom.
Trevor took a deep pull from the joint and held the smoke deep in his lungs. There hadn’t been any rolling paper, and the make-shift pipe Jaylquan had was recently taken in a search, so last night they had torn a page from the Bible to roll up the weed. Trevor looked at the paper and was reminded about the time he was gettin’ low from the fuzz and had asked God for help, and Ms. King had shown up. Trevor told God that day that if He would intervene and help him get away, he, Trevor Robinson, would change his ways.
“What’s wrong wit you?” said Jaylquan.
“Nothin’, jus’ thinkin’ ’bout some things,” said Trevor.
“Look like you got the thousand-yard stare,” said Jaylquan.
“Once I told God that if he helped me, I would change my ways. Well, he helped me, but not only did I not change my ways, but I’m also tearing pages from the Bible and burnin’em.”
“Shit,” said Jaylquan. “You exaggerating on that. We ain’t have nothin’ t’smoke with? What we ’pose to do? Besides, the part we tore ain’t have no words on it, so it’s all good. It only bad if you burn the words.”
On the school floor. Trevor wasn’t really tryin’ t’hear nothin’ those teachers were saying. But he wasn’t tryin’ t’hear nothin’ the residents were sayin’ either. Everybody was talkin’ bullshit.
“If you want credit,” said the teacher, “you have to do the work. We don’t give out grades. You have to do some work for it.”
“Fuck credits,” said a resident.
“Watch your language, please,” said the teacher.
“Yeah,” said another resident, mockingly, “watch your language.”
“We also have the regent’s exam coming up,” said the teacher. “Who is going to take that?”
“Fuck the regent’s test too,” said the same resident as before.
“Language, please,” said the teacher.
The CO opened the door, and the librarian came into the room with the library cart. The residents checked the books.
“You need some hood books,” said Trevor.
“We have some good books,” said the librarian.
“I can’t wait to get home, said another resident, randomly. “I got to get outta here.”
Trevor was still smacked from the weed. Jaylquan was looking at a book filled with pictures of sneakers. The Deputy Warden came in the classroom to check the CO’s log-book. Everybody quickly hid du-rags, headphones, and playing cards.
“I know we don’t have anything we not supposed to have on the school-floor,” said the woman who was always angry.
Nobody said anything. It was best to stay quiet. She would leave faster.
Trevor looked at the books available for check-out. He picked one up that looked interesting and talked with the librarian about it. It was a novel about a teenager who gets kidnapped and has to fight her way to freedom. The librarian told him it was interesting and that he should read it.
Trevor opened the book to page one, and amid the noise and clatter, Trevor’s mind slipped into the story. It was amazing how a book could do that—just take your mind away from the world for a moment. Sometimes you needed a break from reality; some time to think about something different, expand your thoughts. Books allowed Trevor to do that.
So he read. He stopped worrying about what was going to happen in court, and he would just read his book. Some things were just out of his control. He didn’t know what the future was going to bring him. He wasn’t going to dwell on it. He decided he was going to read more books. That was it. That was the change he would make for now. Every day he would read. That was all the change he felt he could make. Every day, he would turn another page. He would still do what he had to do, but every day he would read. You can’t change the past, he said to himself, but the future?…
That remains to be seen.