Hoodlums  by Leslye PJ Reaves

Competition: Flash Fiction Challenge 2013, 2nd Round

Genre: Mystery  Location: A vegetable garden  Object: A feather

Original Illustration by Yevgenia Nayberg

We roam the neighborhood, an army in the shadows. Street corners, stoops, parking lots, alleys all ours. We make sure everyone knows it.

           

An abandoned lot sits between a crumbling apartment building and a boarded up florist shop. It ain't been nothing long as we can remember rusted chain-link fence, gravel, weeds.  Before Rico got locked up, he used it for target practice. There's dead rats and pigeons scattered around, clumps of rotting fur and feathers. But now it's got a sign: Community Garden Coming Soon! Sign up for your plot today.

 

            Roland writes down the phone number and Petey asks him what for. You gonna take up gardening or some shit? Roland shrugs. We keep it moving.

 

            Over the next few weeks, changes keep coming. Black dirt covers the entire lot and after a while folks are hanging out there on the weekends, building little wood boxes with more dirt in them, laying down mulch pathways, acting excited about the whole thing. A camera crew comes down one day to interview the white lady from the charity that organized it.

 

            Didn't nobody ask us about planting a garden in our neighborhood, but since it's there, it's ours. We don't really do a lot of vegetables except for french fries or some shit like that, but that don't stop us.

 

            The padlock they put on the new fence don't stop us neither. The garden ain't much to look at just some dirt and plants that's barely popped out of the ground yet. When they get bigger and start to look like something, it's a different story. We keep an eye on it, just like everything else around here.

 

            Signs go up talkin' bout some kind of garden party. Free organic food! Music! Prizes! We're not sure what kind of food organic is, but free is free.

 

            A few nights before the party, we're at the gas station, under the broken light, passing around the Mad Dog 20/20 JoJo got off this bum, when Roland's little brother runs up and tells us something's going down at the garden. We head over to check it out. Half the block is out on the sidewalk in front of the fence. When we show up, all eyes on us.     

 

            The new fence is tagged, the entire thing covered in spray paint spelling out the name of our crew. The cops get called and we roll before they show up.

 

            Later that night, we go back and inspect the damage. The shit is sloppy, mad amateurish. Whoever did it didn't know how to keep the paint from running or how to keep an even spray. It's our name, but not our style. Just black, no colors or nothing. Someone's setting us up.

 

            There are two ways we can go, forget about it and play dumb when the cops come around asking questions. It's not like they got any proof. But then everybody will think they can fuck with us. There have to be consequences for slandering our name. Earl asks Roland what slander means.

 

            We try to keep a low profile the next day, hitting up some contacts to find out who saw what.  Nick Cho's parents own the corner store across the street. He says he didn't see shit all night, but heard a car with a nice ass sound system go by just after midnight and then again at twelve-thirty right before he closed up. The bass kicked so hard, it knocked shit off the shelves both times.

 

            Jojo's sister was waiting for the 70 bus to go to her night job; the last pickup is supposed to be 12:07, but it ain't never on time. When it finally came, a kid in a gray hoodie got off carrying a backpack with something clinking inside it. She thought he was about to get his party on, but it could have been paint cans.

 

            We either have a tagger that showed up in a car with a thumpin' system, or a kid who took the bus. And a whole neighborhood full of folks giving us the side-eye thinking we ruined their punk-ass garden.

 

            The day before the party we still have no idea who set us up.  Snow Man he runs the junkyard under the overpass comes up to us outside the carryout and say somebody tossed a backpack full of empty cans over his fence. Nice backpack too. Turns out it has the logo for St. Agatha stitched on the back. Petey's girl go there but she ain't talking to him right now cause of some drama with this hood-rat from Central. We head over anyway, but she won't come out. Her god-sister sticks her head out the window to smoke.

 

            Errybody know y'all ain't tag that garden, she say. I heard Markus and them talkin 'bout how y'all crew ain't shit.

 

            We don't fuck with bamas from St. Agatha, dressing up in fruity ass uniforms to go to school. They call themselves having a crew, but it's just a bunch of bitches trying to act hard. We make plans to handle it.

 

            We skip the party. We was up all night and everybody's muscles is sore. Hands cramping and shit. Markus and them are some suckas for real.

 

            Earl came up on a bottle of Jack and we're getting pretty nice when Roland's brother calls and tells us to turn on the news. The charity lady is back on TV standing in front of the fence as folks from the neighborhood wander around the garden holding paper plates and cups. She talks about the defacement and the good Samaritans who took it upon themselves to beautify the space. They pan over to show the fence: instead of the busted, black bubble lettering, now it's pictures of fruits and vegetables, kids planting shit. A good piece. Colorful.

 

            The TV clicks off. We're not no Samaritans, we just got an image to uphold. After all, this is our neighborhood.

 

---

 

 

Leslye PJ Reaves has been writing fiction since she could hold a pen. Fueled by green tea, her main vices are forgetfulness and lemon cake addiction.



 


 

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