Most people associate police tape with violence; with dead bodies or drug busts. But I’ve always loved it. My Dad used to come home with rolls of it in his pocket. I used to call it honey-bee tape. Once when I was six, I covered the living room walls in honey-bee tape, meticulously lining up strip after strip. I thought it was pretty. My Dad didn’t even complain about having to repaint the living room walls.
That’s how it always was. He never brought his job home. The murders and drug deals always stayed outside. And I felt safe.
Maybe that was why I decided to walk home that night. I could’ve taken a cab. Or I could’ve spent the night at Crystal’s house. It was almost midnight by the time we shut our chemistry books. She offered to let me stay.
I was proud of it, of being brave enough to walk home by myself. It was my neighborhood. My space. I thought that nothing bad could happen to me, not while I was here, where I belonged.
I stepped out of her front door and I remember she looked worried. I smiled at her, shouldered my backpack and glanced at my watch. It read 12:02. I took a second look at the watch. It was beautiful; real gold. My father had given it to me. It shimmered like honey under the streetlights. On second thought, I took it off and shoved it into my backpack. It wasn’t a good idea to wear something so expensive on the street after midnight.
The streets were well lit, or at least well enough. The air was cool on my face as I walked, keeping my pace brisk and steady. Always walk like you know where you’re going, my Dad told me.
And I knew where I was going.
The streets were empty. I didn’t see anyone or anything, except for the occasional empty cab, which I bravely ignored.
I kept up the swift pace until I got to the park.
It was perfectly safe during the day. I’d grown up on those swings, trying to kick the sky. But I also knew that the park became gang territory at night. I was ready to power walk past it; get by as quickly as possible without running, because running makes you look scared.
Then I heard the voices.
They weren’t loud but the night was practically silent. Two men’s voices were loud and clear over the rattling of the dried up leaves.
“I promise, man. I’ll have the money for you next week.”
The voice was reedy and sounded desperate.
Quietly, I pushed the wrought-iron gate open, grateful that it didn’t squeak. I pulled my cell phone out of my pocket, getting ready to dial 911. I could see the two men’s shadows playing against the trees. The reedy-voice was small and skinny. Even as a shadow, I could see his hands shaking.
“I don’t want the money next week.” The other man’s voice was a growl. “I want it now.”
I shivered, seeing how much bigger the other man was. He was beefy, easily twice the size of the little stick-man.
I crouched behind a tree and held still, watching. I jumped a little as the beefy man burst into movement, shoving the little twig-man into a tree. The two shadows were one now, but I could tell that Mr. Beefy had arm pressed against the little guy’s windpipe.
His voice was quiet, but it was filled with rage. I heard every word.
“We had a deal. I bring you the stuff. You bring me the MONEY.”
The last word felt like a quiet roar and I heard the gaps of pain as the smaller man got punched in the face.
“Do you think this is easy?” The large man’s voice was like poison, but underneath that, it was starting to sound familiar. “Do you think it’s a piece of cake to steal evidence from the cops? Just so you can get your fix?”
Each question was punctuated by another punch and another gasp. I was sure that little man had a broken nose by now. And I recognized the voice.
“You owe me money and you’re damn well going to pay up, you little shithead,” he said. “One way or another.”
My legs were shaky as I stood up from behind the tree. I couldn’t stop myself.
My voice quivered across the night air.
He stepped away from the junky and looked at me.
I imagined I could see the blood on his knuckles.
“Dad. How could you?”
I could feel my face begin to crumple.
The junkie stood behind him, slack-jawed for a moment. Blood poured from his nose as a smile crept onto his face.
My dad turned around just in time to see him pull the handgun out of his trench-coat. The hand that held the gun shook, but that didn’t make it any less of a threat.
“Give me the stuff,” he said. His sunken eyes glittered in a pale face.
My Dad took one long look at me, before looking back at the junkie.
“Just relax,” he said, reaching slowly into his breast pocket and stepping closer to the twig-man.
He leapt at the junkie, forcing him to the ground and knocking the gun out of his hands.
I felt the burning pain before I heard the shot. It echoed like a fire cracker through the quiet night. I lay on the ground, clutching my shoulder. The blood silvered my jacket under the dim streetlight. I heard the sirens, tinny in the distance.
I remember hearing the voices through a fog, telling me to hold on.
They put me on a stretcher, carrying me out through the gate, which was now wrapped in black-and-yellow police caution tape. The tape fluttered in the wind as they shut the doors to the ambulance.
It wasn’t so pretty anymore.
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