He quit the clunker, keys jangling on a massive steel ring, duffelbag in hand. No shadow. He tipped his sunglasses, briefly surveying the skewed and crumbling rooftops where a host of blacks sat half naked and silent, sweating in the eggwhite pulse of two oclock sun. He nodded grimly but only a few nodded back.
Two dreadlocked handlers in cutoff jeans emerged from a tall pink house at the end of the road, approaching on bare soundless feet. They threw open his shirt and patted him down for weapons and waved a small chirruping wand over his carryon before guiding him down the sidewalk toward the house. There was a rickety chainlink fence and an empty garden and a dog curled up on the porch. The house was cramped, the ceiling low. An old woman sat knitting in the parlor. A television set, a news anchor twittering away in spanish. They hung a right, padding up a creaky flight of stairs and along a creaky hallway, through a narrow door at the end of the hallway.
The room was dark. He clipped his sunglasses to his collar. A desk and a ceiling fan and a couple of chairs. A thin silhouette standing highshouldered at the window.
Say, doc, is that your seventy-seven Chevelle parked on the street down there?
Yes suh, he said. You like it?
The shadow shrugged indifferently. Not bad. Used to own one myself. He turned and waved off the handlers, watching them out into the hallway. What's your name son?
No it's not. I mean your name. What they call you on the street.
Pon de street? He studied his shoetops. Dem a call me Daffy, suh.
Daffy, eh? He took a seat behind his desk. You know what they call me on the street?
I and I, suh. Dem a call ye Bugs Bunny, suh.
That's right. Bugs Bunny. He folded his arms. Then he said: You have a package for me.
Yes suh. He stepped forth and hoisted the bag up onto the rabbit's desk and backed away. Pardon I query, suh, but what ye gwaan do wid jus t'ree kilos?
Bugs unzipped the bag and withdrew the topmost brick. What else, he said. I'm going to snort them. One by one.
Daffy grinned uneasily. Irie, suh. Irie.
What about you, Daffy? Do you indulge?
No suh. Not I. He thumbed the cross that hung about his neck.
Come here. Bugs tore back the plastic overwrap and shook out a small mound of floury white powder and chopped off a line and scooted it across the desk. Go ahead, he said. Indulge.
Daffy stood eyeing him for a long time. Then he bent over the desk, lowered his beak to the line and sniffed. His head whipped back like a golfclub on the upswing. A rush of particulates. He dragged a hand across the crook of his beak and sneezed a long dry sneeze.
Easy now, Bugs said.
Irie, Daffy choked. Irie.
You'll understand. In a minute or two.
In a minute or two Daffy slipped back out into the hallway, taking brief tentative steps, as if treading ice. Everything bathed in white. The staircase gave way beneath him, a sudden severe promontory. No railing. He clung to the wall for support, his heart racing, face numb. At the landing he swung a wide left. The old woman in the parlor got up and switched off the TV and stood watching him in his red and black beanie and his crooked sunglasses, little fool's gold necklaces tangled about his neck. He lifted a finger and slid on. The dog was gone, replaced by a pair of naked children taking turns drinking from a garden hose. Holding to the stepping stones he staggered across the garden and out through the gate. The sun was all awash, the sky a weird greenish blue. Flatbottomed clouds unmoving in their immensity. The same two handlers from before brushed past him lugging small plastic toolboxes, then flopped down on the curb grinning and muttering in patois. He drew up beside his car and unlocked the door and sank in behind the enormous steering wheel. He scratched his head, wondering if he was fit to drive. Through the dustsmoked windshield he could see the handlers, about ten yards out, just sitting there. He turned the ignition.
The engine churned. Outside the handlers stood, fingers sewn together. He remembered reading stories about careless drugrunners who'd washed up dead along the shores of Sandals Beach, bloated and stinking, tourists and little tourists' children prodding their numb white cueball eyes as if to stir up the vanquished spirits within. Too young, he thought. Too smart. His eyes slid down the dashboard, the steering wheel. He studied the gearshift. He tried the radio but it would not come on. He squinted up at the windshield. Then he threw open the door and heaved himself out onto the pavement and scrambled to the curb on his hands and knees. Behind him the car exploded in a towering black fireball, shattering a lane of storefront windows. A great balloon of smoke. Pus streaming from his ears. Thick liquid silence. Red fire blowing in the enginebox. Slowly he rose and threw off his beanie and swung around to survey the scene. His car crashed to the asphalt, a billowing gray skeleton, acidblack smoke peeling from its bones. Rooftops lined with dark and trembling faces, inset with milkwhite eyes. He massaged his forehead with the heel of his hand. The handlers were trotting over bearing machetes.
Fucking devils, he mouthed silently.
The leader hacked at Daffy's throat. He feinted left. They swiveled around. A general grinding and gnashing of teeth. He swept the handler's feet out from under him and dropped a knee into the small of his back and rode him to the glass-strewn pavement. From behind a machete pulled cleanly through his shoulder. He snarled, heart banging in his temples. Then he wheeled around and socked the fucker square in the face and leveled him. A whoop went up from the rooftop spectators. One by one he kicked the handlers' knives away, blood welling from his back. No pain. They did not move.
Fucking devils, he spat. His sound was gradually returning to him. The whip of the flames, the long black bands of smoke clogging the streetway. He cracked his neck and slumped down on the curb, eyes flitting from face to face, tracing the slow curve of the rooftops. After a while an old black man emerged from the alley opposite, offering him a blunt and a twelve gauge. Daffy set the gun aside and nodded thanks and lit up and sat smoking. He watched with pacified interest as the rooftops slowly began to clear, spectators spilling out into the street to observe the firelogged wreckage. He finished his smoke and flicked the ashes downwind and hefted the shotgun in his left hand and rose and set off down the sidewalk toward the tall pink house.
Along the fence the children kept watch like caged animals. He flashed them twin barrels and together they turned and fled up the sloping garden and disappeared behind the house. He passed through the gate and over the stepping stones and across the porch, porchslats creaking and chacking under his boots. He eased through the old screendoor, the tremendous outer din of the street sucking away into nothing.
Hijo de puta, shrieked the old woman in the parlor, dropping her needle and thread and spitting feverishly at Daffy's feet. He clocked her on the chin with the butt of his gun and at once she fell silent, sprawling stupidly against the side of the refrigerator.
He turned in before the stairwell and paused at the landing. A door slammed in the hallway above. A flurry of footsteps. Leveling the shotgun he slowly toe-heeled his way up the long narrow flight, floorboards trembling weakly. One by one his eyes crested the topmost step, blood heavy in the veins of his neck. The far end of the hallway slid into view. Bugs Bunny raised the barrel of a silver .357 and dropped the hammer. No hesitation. A loud acoustic crack that vibrated deep in the pit of Daffy's throat, a bullet the size of a D battery. He tumbled backward, rolling barrel-like, head smacking everywhichway.
When he came to his ears were ringing and his colors were all screwed up. He shook his head and felt around for the twelve gauge but only one arm would cooperate. Blood irising darkly through his shirt, just beneath the collarbone. He coughed, dabbing at the blood. He coughed again. Then he dragged himself to his feet and gloved the enormous shotgun off the floor and clambered up the steps to the empty hallway above. The door to Bugs's office stood cracked and light pouring through. He limped along holding to the wall, slipped clumsily through the door and hung there for a moment, combing the room with his eyes. The desk and the chairs and the ceiling fan were all as before. He stood the shotgun in the floor and leaned on it clutching his side and looking some more. The window had been sent up and thrown wide, the screen kicked in, the shutters all disturbed. He threaded his way across the room and tented the shutters and peered out at the still green garden below. Then he turned and went out.
The old man had Bugs in a headlock, a mesh of steel wool cinched over his mouth, eyes huge and white. Stripped down to his boxershorts. Hopelessly surrounded by a crowd of dark and tired faces. Daffy emerged from the house, pausing at the edge of the porch. The old man smiled through bare pink gums and tightened the wiry mesh over Bugs's mouth. Daffy hobbled down from the porch, shotgun dragging in the grass. The old man peeled back the mesh and shoved his prisoner to the ground. Bugs gasped and choked and wiped the blood from his face. He got shakily to his feet and stood bent and panting and holding his knees.
I'll pay you one million dollars if you give me that gun, he said.
Daffy squared the huge round barrels up under Bugs's chin.
That would be a mistake, he gulped. A grave mistake.
Daffy just stared.
Any family? Mom? Dad? Brothers or sisters? You wouldnt want to jeopardize their futures. I'll be candid, doc. You pull that trigger and poof… in the blink of an eye. Believe it. I've got that kind of power. I've got that kind of influence.
The crowd was murmuring now. A cool breeze pulling through the garden.
It was nothing personal. You know that. You've got to watch your back in this chickenshit business. I like you, Daffy. Honestly, I do. But you… you saw my house, my office, my associates. What choice did I have?
Even the children had wandered down the hill to watch.
Go on, doc, Bugs grinned. Let it go. It's all water near a bridge now. Besides, you wouldnt want to get yourself all caught up in something bigger than you. Think about your folks. Think about your mom, your dad, your
His head came apart in a glowing livewire of red. Brains spewing out the back of his skull like jelly. Sun everywhere. Eyes agog like giant white sperms, ejecting from their sockets. Once the goop had settled together with the crowd's startled yelps, the faceless corpse tensed and toppled back like a slim shadow and nestled in the grass, bleeding all down the hill, a naked and useless bag, utterly disparaged.
Daffy looked at it for a while. Then he pitched the shotgun to the old man and sank down in the grass and folded his legs up under him and just sat there thinking about everything.
He imagined washing up on the shore of Sandals Beach, the smooth raindark sand pimpling his cheeks, his eyes as sparse and white as fisheggs, bulletwounds in his chest and forehead streaming dark and brown and inching out to sea, binding him forever to the endless pushpull of the tide, the foam, the silent eaters gorging on his stagnant pig's blood. Overhead the sky wheeled slow and blue. By morning he might be gone, sucked back out to sea. Then again, he might rise and turn with all his bloated weight and trudge along the giving-taking shore in delaced shoes filled with mud and sand, trailing dark affectual lines. He might negotiate that great sprawling resort, reserve a room there and sleep in a trembling enterprise among the silent and the stupid and the petty, the unreal. Then, come morning, he might be gone again, a thin black threadlike ghost off to burn his next bridge, off to do what ghosts do best.
Praise ye Jah. Amen.