Getting out (Part III)
Carlos didn’t have to tell anyone in prison that he was a gang member. But he told every one; it was one of the things he was proud of in life, that and the fact that he sold hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of drugs.
Only the most heartless could go out and have a laugh with their victims before they killed them.
(Part III) Carlos hooks up with his old homies for a night at the club
By Antonio C. de Baca
The work site was close to the cruise in downtown Stockton. Carlos knew that many former friends of his would be there. After work he waited for his uncle in front of the work site in the shade of a bus stop. He hoped that it wouldn’t be a long wait, not wanting to see anyone he knew, as filthy as he was in his work clothes. But after half an hour he began to doubt whether his uncle was going to pick him up.
The shade from one of the tall old buildings surrounding the work site crept over the street, turning the hot day cool. The shade felt refreshing after the day’s boiling heat. Carlos, enjoying the invigorating breeze, didn’t even notice the new Infinity sedan pull up next to the bus stop with the windows down. Two young Chicanos looked at him with smiles on their faces. They were dressed in sports gear, the type that professional basketball players wear, red ‘Sixer shirts. They were the classic Chicanos one might think of when talking about gang members, bad heads and all, but they were dressed better and drove nicer cars, dealer cars.
“Hey, Puto,” the one in the passenger seat called.
Carlos was not only surprised that someone called him but what they called him, “Bitch.” Carlos jumped up from his seat, a blind fury burning on his face, looking in the direction of the car only to see faces he knew from 10 years ago, before going to prison. It was some of his old friends. His anger turned into a smile.
“Hey Putos, what the fuck you fools doing?” Carlos went to the car window and bent down next to it. Forgetting the 10 years he just done in prison.
“What happened, fool?” the driver said, his face chubbier than Carlos remembered. His name was Boxer, and even with his tattoo teardrop beneath his right eye he still had a baby face for his 30 years. The slim one in the passenger seat was Soldier Boy, a killer he knew mostly by reputation. Carlos had heard that he was one of few words. “I heard you got locked away forever or something like that?”
“No, just ten years,” Carlos said, trying to make it sound as if it was nothing and he could do another stretch like it if he had to, “What are you two doing?” Carlos knew Boxer well, in fact the last time he saw him was weeks before going to Idaho to collect money from a drug deal. Boxer was delivering him a kilo of cocaine to sell. And remembering the last time he saw him he also remembered all the money that went along with that deal. Four thousand dollars profit from just driving that kilo from one place to the next. He then remembered that he had almost $50,000 at his girlfriend’s house the same day he made that deal.
“We’re just riding around. Why? You need a ride somewhere?”
Boxer looked him up and down, mostly at his soiled clothes and face, like he didn’t know if he wanted to be seen with him.
“What the fuck’s up with the way you’re dressed? You turned dope fiend?”
Carlos expected them to question his work clothes. Never before had he dressed so ragged.
“Work clothes, fool.” He looked at the work site behind him. People were coming out dressed similarly. Both of them nodded their heads, knowing that that was where he was working.
“Get in, Puto,” Boxer said. Soldier Boy opened the back door by reaching his hand to the handle from the front seat. Carlos got in.
The car was nicer than any of the cars that Carlos had owned when he was out a decade ago, even Boxer long ago never had had a car like the one he drove now. Boxer must be balling, Carlos thought. The seats were all in different colored leather, custom, like a rainbow. The car’s interior looked like no Infinity commercial he had seen. It was the kind of car Carlos had craved to pick him up the day he got out. Boxer had money to roll.
“Where you going, fool?”
“Just drop me off at my abuelita’s.”
“You’re staying with your grandma?” Boxer asked. “Fool, I got a place for you to stay.” He looked at Soldier Boy then back at Carlos. “We’re going to the club tonight. Come with us.”
Carlos wanted to go and hang out, but he also promised himself that he wouldn’t go with his old friends. His friends were a bad influence on him. Their persuasion was one of the reasons why he had shot a man. That and the fact that the man owed 60,000 dollars. Then again, he couldn’t blame them fully for his own actions. He wasn’t going with them to cause trouble, only to relax and listen to music. And the more he thought about it, the more he realized that he went to prison because of his own choices. Nobody else’s. There’d be no problems that he could get into in one night. Even his crime of shooting someone had built up over months. He kept on telling the guy over and over that he needed to pay his debt and he wasn’t going to like him going to Idaho to collect. “I just got out the pen yesterday. Plus, I ain’t got nothing to wear.”
“Even more reason to ride with us. I got chingos of clothes you can wear.” Boxer pulled the car around the corner to Carlos’s grandma’s house. “I’ll pick you up at eight.” Boxer wrote down a number and handed it to him. “Call me.” Carlos got out of the car. He felt committed to him now even though he knew that he didn’t have to call.
Boxer peeled out the tires of the new car, causing them to smoke. Carlos was surprised that Boxer had remembered to park around the corner from his grandma’s house. But he had been there dozens of times, how could he forget? They had fought together, sold drugs together, were questioned by the police together, and gang-banged together. He’d even witness Boxer kill someone, and in the gangster world that was close. But if they were tight why didn’t Boxer send him money when he was locked away and needed it most?
Carlos walked up to his grandma’s door. She opened it, her hair more gray than he remembered the night before. “Where’s your tio?” she asked. Carlos shrugged his shoulders and walked into the kitchen. The food was still on the stove, ready to be eaten. The aroma hit him like a force field as he walked in. Beans and rice, but it always had some type of meat and New Mexico chili toga with it. Grandma was always proud of her home state of New Mexico’s chili. He knew that after eating food made by the Idaho state prison system for so long he could never get tired of his grandma’s meals.
Carlos didn’t wait for her to serve him; his stomach was too empty for waiting. He ate like it was his first meal as his grandma watched from the other side of the table with a smile on her face. It was the first meal that he fed himself as a free man.
Carlos jumped into the shower after he was done with his food. He wanted to be ready to leave with Boxer when the time came to call him. He went looking through his old clothes but couldn’t find anything that looked right. He knew that his best bet would be the prison blues he got out with. At least with those clothes the people who knew him would know where he had been and not question why he dressed so shabbily. No questions about whether he was a crack head or if he was broke, everything would be answered with one look at his blues. His blues would say, “I was in prison, that’s why you haven’t seen me, fool!”
He combed his hair back and put on some cheap aftershave he found in one of the drawers. He was ready to call Boxer, who had been gone from his life for so long. His friend who didn’t write him one letter while he was inside that living beast of a dungeon. But Carlos knew it was no big deal, nobody forced him to commit the crime he did to get there. Nobody told him he had to show off his gang colors in prison, which is how the majority of his problems in prison evolved. Carlos didn’t have to tell anyone in prison that he was a gang member. But he told every one, it was one of the things he was proud of in life, that and the fact that he sold hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of drugs. Carlos wore his gang colors proudly the whole time he was in prison even though sometimes his enemies out-numbered him and were just as dangerous as he was. Nobody told him to do any of the things he did, it was all his choice. He could have done every day of prison pretending that he didn’t belong to a gang; it would have saved him so much drama, but that wasn’t Carlos.
He could forget about all that was in the past. He could forget about the letters he so badly wanted, because now he just wanted the one thing that all humans need—companions, friends. He dialed the number without having to convince himself more.
Boxer answered at the first ring. “Who be this?”
“It’s me, Carlos,” he said almost wishing he hadn’t called, knowing his family, especially his abuelita, wouldn’t approve of him going with Boxer.
“I’ll be right over.”
“Hey, meet me at the store,” Carlos said. Boxer said yes and hung up. Carlos didn’t want his grandmother to see him leaving with anyone. He knew what she’d think, she’d think that he was up to the same things that got him to prison the first time. She’d think that the devil had gotten hold of him. All of this causing her to pray to the midnight hours. No, she didn’t need to see him leave with a bunch of his old friends. He’d tell her that he was going to the store and just not come back. That would probably be his best bet.
“Grandma, I’m going to the store.” She looked at him with sad eyes, as if she already saw demons flying around Carlos’s soul like vultures.
“Ten cuidad” be careful, she said, with a worried frown coming to her face, like she expected the worst.
Carlos smiled and left. He walked the two blocks to the store. It was always better at night in the valley. The temperature was at least livable. Not like the days when the heat would radiate from the ground, as if hell was just a few feet underneath you. §
Antonio C. de Baca is the recipient of an honorable mention for fiction from the PEN American Center. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Read "Getting out (Part I and II) here: