"Go on. We all get off and you do it."
That's Jimbo talking. The whole buch of us were courted in the back, going to West Charles. Most of us sat diagonal across the lines in the seats, slouched in easy positions. A snarl of legs filled the aisle among some candy wrappers and a beer can. Enough basketball was on the ends of those legs to outfit us as a team, if we wanted to get up a team. Most of the legs kept turning and twisting. They kept on the move.
"Go on. Get your fingers in good then get out. Don't look first or it'll give you away."
The rest of them were within the seat lines, sort of. The tops of them leaned towards the rest and they twitched a little, now and then. Their legs stayed where they were, ahead of them.
Jimbo, the leader with the dark face, reached up and grabbed the rack overhead. He put his head on the side and looked over the boys in the backseats. Muscles twitched in his arms, which were the same color as his shirt. It was has to tell where the shirt ended and the arms got started. Both had worn patches and scuffs, like they'd been rubbed on the concrete for too many years.
He looked over at an empty seat on one side a ways up that somebody had threw up on. Sat there watching it, like he expected it to move or something, then looked down into the pile of legs for a bit. He did a backwards pullup on the rack, lifted and touched the back of his head to the bars and his legs came up with him but there wasn't anything to do with them up there so he dropped them back down again. His shirt was like new concrete, but smudged up with grey dirt.
Jimbo poked Johnny again. Johnny'd been spacing a little, watching the seatback like something was happening there but nothing did.
"Do it when we get there," Jimbo said again. He was looking at the center of Johnny's chest. "Get off in the middle of us and when you walk up get just forward enough so's you'll have time to get your fingers in good and still get back in line nice and even. So's no one can pick you out from us."
Jimbo's eyes moved lazy up to Johnny's face and stayed looking there for awhile. I looked too. Johnny's mouth was open a little and he wasn't looking at Jimbo any more. He was staring out the window, watching. We were starting down the first piece of Charles, past the stores that come and go cause all they sell is stuff no one wants, and the liquor stores that come and go cause they get robbed or burnt out or somebody killed for not payin rent or dues or some such.
I was looking out the window and trying to see down the side streets and alleys, and suddenly for a second I was looking for where that girl lived. Not like I'd know anyhow, I never saw her before and never will again, but I looked anyway.
Girls are how you get into the White Dragons, and about half the time they're how you get out. You get in by doing whatever someone suggests the night before when everyone but you meets at Shakey's Pool and Pizza the night before and thinks it over. We've all seen the cop shows on TV where they talk about how they spot gangs and then they brag a whole bunch about what they do when they find one and what wonderful cops they are. Then there's some commercials, and it happens all over again, but this time it's drugs, and then hookers. Shows like that make us feel a lot better cause we're never on them and neither is anyone else we know, and they're partly how we find out stuff not to do. People at home watch the shows, then they look out their windows at night and see if they recognize everything from the show. So we watch the shows to see what the people are looking for this week, and next week it'll happen all over again.
I wasn't there the day that Johnny hooked up with us, but I was there the next day and Jimbo was already real cool to him and we all saw that he liked him or something about him. Johnny was about the same age they all are, when they come -- the older ones laugh and say we're not worth it, and the younger ones are either scared or we make them scared. Jimbo brings in a new kid every few months and we give him a try, but he'd never seemed to like anyone the way he liked Johnny. Jimbo told us that we didn't need to go after a girl with Johnny, that Johnny was prime and didn't need testing like usual. But everyone was drunk that night and said we had to do it, and so Jimbo rolled the 12-ball around the felt a minute and said fine, Johnny was prime, he could do the girl no problem.
We always say "do the girl" when we talk about it, but that part's not like TV either. Some other gangs you get in when you make it with a girl whether she wants you or not. With others you cut her a little, not too bad, just so you can show the others a little blood. Stephen, who moved away a few years ago, read books a lot. He told us about a group where you get in only after you not only make it with the girl but if she's got a boyfriend you have to kill him, and if they're together when you do it you've got to kill them both. With others it's something simple, like animals or something. But with us it's girls.
So we decided that night in the pool hall. Once Jimbo said fine, he didn't talk anymore, just bounced the cue off one side of the table, over and over, until we finished talking it over. There's never any votes or anything -- if we can't decide on something firm, whoever sees the new guy first tells him what they liked, and then somebody else tells him something else, and so on. Sometimes the new guy gets confused and make something up on his own, and that usually works out just fine. It all works out, one way or another.
Like I said, girls are how you get in, but they're also how you get out. That's not any brotherly ritual or anything, it just happens now and then. Abe Schagen, who was with us for a year, met this girl and she hung around with us for awhile. She never minded drinking a little or cruising the buses or dropping a mark or a tag now and then, but she didn't like how you got in with the girls.
So the day Miles Johnson joined up, and Abe brought his girl along, she got freaked at us and yelled and warned the girl just when Miles was coming at her, and the girl ran off before Miles got even close. The last time we saw Abe, he said how his girl was still ragging on him and making him quit the White Dragons cause of it, and that was that, and when we'd see him with his girl on the street after that she'd grab his arm and pull him around the other way.
Anyway, all of us are concerned with girls some way or another. Some days all we do is talk about them, over pool. No one ever really says much, but those are the sorts of days when there's not a lot else to do. Irwin Johnson, who we called Magic of course, went out with this girl for a while who he liked a lot and she liked him, and he'd talk about her sometimes over pool. We all wanted to know what she was like, 'cause when she was around she'd rub herself up against us every chance we got, and wore these old stained skirts which she'd cut little holes in all over with the little knife she always carried.
One night -- after Jimbo sank the eight ball on the break three games in a row and left early -- Magic got kinda quiet over his bottle and told us how he and his girl had made plans to go back into an old part of the library together near closing time. He brought rubbers, of course, and when he was talking about it a few of the Dragons were holding their beers or cues to hide hard-ons. But when she and Magic got in the place they'd planned to go, and he was putting on his rubber and everything, she made him stop and gave him a little silver lighter and told him to burn her just a little, and pointed where she wanted it. Magic told us he didn't want to do it, but she was crying and telling him she loved him and she wanted it so badly, so he burned her a little on one nipple, just for a second, and jerked his hand away. Then she made him do the other one too, and he got scared some more, so she tried to get him into her to make him feel better but his cock had gone soft and he couldn't. Magic didn't tell us any more after that, just held onto his beer a second and then walked off a little, so we left him alone and played some more pool, but we were thinking about it all night and no one was paying attention to the games any more.
When Jimbo told us Johnny was prime, and didn't need to do the girl the way we always do, we all wanted to know why, but wouldn't tell us. We didn't think it was the girl herself particularly, cause we always picked one we didn't know and who didn't know us, and wouldn't remember and probably wouldn't care anyway. We didn't think either that it was Jimbo, cause Jimbo never had a girl when we led the Dragons and didn't seem to care for them anyway. He got to be leader by staying in the longest, so he was also about the oldest. Sometimes we thought he was gay and thought girls just ought to be avoided, but he never acted gay and we didn't really care anyway. He was a good leader, and had a way of getting cops to leave us alone when they came too close, and he planned what to do with the girls just like the rest of us. Johnny we weren't really sure about, cause we hadn't seen him much before, but he was skinny and listless and we couldn't see any girls going for him. So maybe it wasn't that anyone wanted to avoid doing the girl, but just that Jimbo liked Johnny enough not to want to risk it -- there's always a little risk, like maybe the girl's got Mace or there's a cop nearby.
When we met up with Johnny that afternoon, near the burger place we told him to meet us at -- new guys don't get told about the pool hall until afterward -- he was still being slow and listless, but he listened when we told him what to do and where we'd be and what to do afterwards and all that. We told him the bus route we'd be taking, and how we wouldn't decide which girl until we saw one we all liked, and he listened to that too. Jimbo was hanging off to the side when we were filling Johnny in and didn't say much, just reminded us to tell Johnny where to run if the cops came and to keep his mouth shut if he got caught and stuff like that. If you ever get caught, when you do the girl or any other time, you don't talk to the cops, ever. You just tell them your name and where you live and how old you are, and then you don't answer any more questions.
Miles got caught once. It was late and summer and too hot to stay indoors so we made a few tags and threw bottles off a roof for a while. The cops picked him up on his way home, but he wouldn't talk so they just put him in the Drunk Tank for the night, then let him go. A few hookers were in the Tank with him, hanging out on a bench at one end. They fixed each other's eye makeup and yelled at the guards and talked about the johns who came to them. Over pool the next night, Miles told us all that he remembered of what they talked about. One had told the others about a clean-cut man in a business suit whose money was fine and whose cock worked right, but how he had no balls. She said he liked it all right and everything else was the same as usual, but he couldn't come, so when his time was over she pushed him out even though he wasn't done. We all laughed at that and said how it was strange, and so Miles told us another of their stories, and then another, and then the pool hall closed for the night and we got tired and went home.
After Miles spent the night in the Tank, we talked a couple times about following a hooker with her John or something, just for kicks, to see what happened, but we never actually did -- hooker territory and gang territory don't mix much, and we let it slide. We didn't really find out much about hookers until Phil's dad got him one for his eighteenth birthday, and Phil told us a little about it. Phil's family had some money at the time, so his family rented a boat for the day and went sailing. When they got out a ways on the boat and dropped the anchor to fish a while, Phil's dad told him to go down to one of the cabins where a surprise would be waiting. She was a five-hundred dollar call girl, and wore red stockings, the kind with straps, and wore the kind of a bra with lace all over and velcro flaps that you could peel off. When we heard that, over a game of snooker, we though it was funny, and wanted Phil to tell us whether she peeled them off or he did. He told us that they each did, she took one off and him peel the other. He wouldn't tell us much about what happened after that. But we kept at him, and he said he'd answer one more question.
So we asked what her snatch was like, which was what we mostly wanted to know anyway, and he said it wasn't really shaped like a taco like you heard sometimes. In fact, he said, the thing it most resembled was one of those coin-holder keyrings like you get at gas stations with a tank of high-test. After that we didn't ask him any more questions for a while. We just turned it over in our heads a little, thinking it over. Snatch. Cooze. Almeja. You can say it like a song: Hair pie, honeypot, poontang, con. Cono cooch, coozy crack, cherry bowl on.
We cruised the bus routes with Johnny most of that day, looking for the right girl. We never plan what sort of girl to go after, and as usual there was a lot of arguing. Several times that day we saw one that was just right -- nice skin, sexy curves, that sort of thing -- but not sitting right, or too alert, or sleeping. We were looking for slightly fat ones, so they couldn't move too quick, which could be important if things went wrong, and sitting next to a couple of people that they obviously didn't know. All the time we were looking, Johnny just sat there, looking out the window. Just as well. You can't pick your own girl.
Jimbo didn't help out either, even though he usually does. When one of us would point out a girl that looked about right, he'd look up at her, and look back down, or over at Johnny.
The girl we picked was on a side-bench on the bus to West Charles Street. There wasn't anything particular about her -- the girls we pick never are, so long as they're the right shape and in the right place. Wide shoulders, but you could tell she wasn't wearing pads. She had on this thin pink sweater that pulled tight over the shoulders and ended in the middle of her forearms, which were a bloated fleshy version of pink. There was a thick paperback in her lap that she was reading from, and her lips moved a little as she read, like she was forming the words or something. Part of the reason we chose her, too, was the way she was holding the book, her arms underneath her tits and pushing them up, which Phil liked. We all agreed she'd be fine. She didn't look up once, to see us checking her out, just turned the page every few blocks and kept her lips moving.
Like I said, I never saw her before. I'll never see her again -- none of us will. In the city it's like that, and when a new member is doing a girl we go a few buses away from our usual hangouts anyway, just in case. So when I was looking down the streets looking for where she lived, it didn't really matter what place I picked. I decided that she lived in an apartment down a little ways on Sixty-Fifth, that I saw with these pink flowers in pots and fat roly-poly kids playing on the balcony. I suppose the kids made those animal cutouts in the window, cut them out of colored paper and decorated them with chalk and crayon. Maybe they were the girl's brothers and sisters, since she looked too young for them to be her own kids. Maybe they were cousins. Inside their mother probably poured them juice in little plastic cups and let them watch TV and tried to shut them up for when Daddy came home. The girl probably had her own room, if the apartment was big enough -- one of those girl rooms like some of our sisters had, with lacy pillows and pink curtains and her flowered underwear in rows in a drawer. She hid her love letters in that drawer, and kept one or two of the things some of us had found going through our own sisters' drawers, closets, or hidden under their mattresses and pillows.
When the bus stopped at West Charles, the girl looked up, just for a second, in our direction. She turned a page. We were all standing up. The tangled legs in the center got straightened out again, and we started forward. I wound up just behind Johnny, and Jimbo, as leader, was just ahead. As he walked, Jimbo was bumping the shoulders of everyone on the right side with one hand, but when they'd turn to glare he'd be ahead of them and they'd look at Johnny, but he was watching his feet and they'd look confused and give up. Every time we passed a pole for hanging onto when there aren't any seats, Jimbo would kick it, and it would make a little rattle or ring if it was screwed down tight or not, or if someone was hanging onto it they'd turn and see Johnny going by. The driver, looking in the mirror impatient, wanting us off his bus.
Johnny walked a little quicker, and I walked a little slower, clearing a little bit of space, like always. Past the guy in the wheelchair with the red lights, drooling on himself. Jimbo up ahead, slapping another shoulder, juiced. All of us were juiced, juiced and seeing things go by slow, getting ready. Basketball shoes stepping past seats all the same with people all different, and... there. Left seat, facing her book, tits held out just perfect. All up and down the seatbacks with the words scratched in tags and trash in the aisle... green can and crackerjack box with red and white. Yellow tube above flicking on and off over a torn clinic poster about condoms and cancer and mammograms and AIDS and death... past the last seat facing forward past the last standbar... get ahead enough get in quick do it then get back in... do it then get back in line get yourself in do it now get back in get in do it to her now now now
And then the doors slamming shut tight on her one small squeal and a roar of diesel and done. The way it always is. Leftover juice in your stomach making you strong as you've ever been, wanting to run or jump or fuck or bash someone's head into the sidewalk. You could do anything you wanted and no one would stop you. The girl's gone, behind the exhaust of the driver pissed at you. You'll never see her again.
That's the way it always goes. Johnny was jumping around just like the rest of us, all getting gawked at by people on the sidewalk. Everyone settles down after a minute and thinks of all you could have done if you wanted to, especially Johnny, who we let walk in the center, still full of juice. We ran down Seventy-Second, running to burn it off to keep Johnny from doing anything else until he wound down a little.
We went to Shakey's that night, of course, and had pizza and drank beer till none of us could hit the cue. We told Johnny our stories, and he told us his, and we thought up things about Johnny's girl to go with what she looked like and the way she squealed when Johnny did her. We talked about the girls we'd done when we joined up, who got better every time we talked about them to a new guy. They rode buses with their shirts undone, sat in libraries topless, shopped in stores wearing stockings and heels, took the trash out stark naked.
We heard a new story from Jimbo that night. His girl had changed. He'd been a Dragon longer than any of us, so his girl was the best. We saw her in our sleep sometimes, woke up with the sheets sticky. Jimbo was drunk, of course. We all were.
I come from Alexandria, Virginia. My family lived there. My sister was ten, I was eight. We played office in my father's desk, filling out papers and stamping and stapling them. We found magazines in his bottom drawer. Porn mags, men and women doing all kinds of things. Penises in holes between the women's lags and the women looking very happy. I took my sister's underpants off, and mine too, and placed my penis which was hard from all the magazines in her vagina, but it didn't make her happy and she cried and my father came in. He took me down into his workshop and burned me with his lighter from the Marine Corps. He told me if he caught me with his little girl again he'd burn it all the way off. Then he gave me some ointment and sent me away.
He watched Johnny the whole time he was talking, and Johnny watched the floor, or the bubbles in his beer, or the balls rolling around the pool table. We all did. Jimbo finished talking, and we drank some more beer, and then we could joke a little, and laugh about Jimbo being a Dragon back when he was eight.
We didn't talk much more that night. We stayed drunk, and played pool until late, and got comfortable having Johnny around. A newly made White Dragon with the feel of her still on his fingers.