"Relax, Severson. I didn't clip him. He was just, you know" shrugs Melo, "sorta screaming when I punched him. I cut my hand on his teeth. Not a biggie. Relax, partner."
And I look at Melo. He looks relaxed. Normal. Just another day. I shudder, light a smoke and think about what I can use to scoop a little H out of the dime bag to calm down. A Bic pen cap would be perfect because I don't have Kym's disco, coke-snorting, party nails. I inhale a lungful of soothing tobacco and slowly exhale towards the crumbling sky. Gathering clouds with the promise of rain. And my ancestor's footprints walked through this story 1,000 times. Just another day.
Ring. Ring. Ring.
"Babe, get the phone."
Sigh. Rub face.
The voice is scratchy, but familiar.
"Yeah. Hi Lover. I have a favor to ask..."
And so it begins. Dev's voice is shredded. Sore throat. Some sort of flu or virus. A favor for Devika.
"Can you pick up Melo? You'll need a car because he has our backpacks stashed in a Honda somewhere."
Jail. Some shit I never think too much about. It's another world to me. And not my world. Plus, Melo gets locked up periodically. This is not odd. But Dev is sick. And I love Dev.
"Of course. What time?"
Division of labor. Dev is in her tent at the park with a fever. Totally sick and without Melo. At this point, Kym and I debate over who needs who. Dev is crazy. But maybe Melo is crazier. Maybe. Kym will take the Muni down to the park and get Dev. Only Kym can bully Dev into leaving her tent to go to the free clinic for her throat. I'll use Kym's car to pick up Melo and their stuff. Jason will sit here and play video games.
"Hey! Leave me out of this one!" laughs Jason. "I told you I'm taking today off to finish Super Metroid!"
~~~~~~~~~~~~~The entrance of the jail is a fortified place where safety and police presence keep everything orderly. At least you would think that. I flick my smoke into traffic and walk past a huge black man pissing against the building. I wait for cops to come out and beat his ass. But nothing happens. Either the cameras are fake or the cops don't care a dude is pissing on their house. I look at my watch because Melo was supposed to be out an hour ago. Man, I wish I had a beer. Then he walks out the door, sees me and grins.
"Just you?" Melo asks.
"Sick. Kym went to get her at the park."
"Good" nods Melo smiling and looking at me sideways. "I need a favor, dude."
"Anything" I respond automatically. I mean, hell it's Melo. This is a man that once fought two guys who were kicking my ass outside of Slims. As long as I live, I'll never forget how good it felt to look up and see Melo walking up the street. He pulled his t-shirt off while still smoking and never broke his stride. My attackers froze as he walked up bare chested and started punching.
It's Melo. He needs a favor. What could possibly go wrong?
I look up at Melo but he's not looking at me. His hawk eyes study my hand. Though we are warm and aptly clothed for this climate, I realize I am shaking uncontrollably. So I ash my cigarette, inhale deeply and nod.
"Yeah," I answer. "I'm good."
He studies me and sees my soul beneath the silly, punk fashions. Melo possesses the power to see the world for what it is. He knows I'm lying. That I am definitely not ok. That was some totally fucked up, not normal, crazy ass shit. But Melo merely nods and goes back to his taco.
"Damn, these are good. I get tired of jail bologna and cheese real fast. Hey look, man" he says evenly. "That was just part of the game. Wouldn't have had to happen if he never mentioned Dev to the cops. But he did. So fuck him."
"No worries," I nod to Melo and pick up my beer. It seems like the manly thing to do. Besides, I have no appetite for lunch. But Melo eats like an apex predator. This world is his carcass. A carnitas taco, a carne asada torta, rice, beans and a pitcher of Dos Equis.
I may not be good at punching people or getting punched, but I can drink a beer. I suck it down as Melo watches. He smiles slightly and I feel silly. This man killed people in a war that doesn't even make the news anymore. And me? Some soft, suburban kid who saw some shit this morning.
"Here man" he says passing me some nickel bags. "Some powder H from Florida, good shit. The yellow bag is pure MDMA for Kym. I have some liquid acid with Dev you gotta try too. Ok, park up there. Behind that Lincoln. But turn around. Yup, back it in. Cool."
My mind grasps with the sudden boon of free shit. Why? Probably not good when your homeless, tent dwelling friend who just got out of jail, tells you to park facing the street and hands you a couple hundred dollars worth of drugs. But I flip Kym's car and back it into the spot. A typical gray city day, I muse. Seagulls swirl in the sky above the street. Then I look over at Melo who is quietly engrossed with something in his hands. I hear a sharp click. A black handgun constructed out of plastic. Ok...
"Insurance" says Melo sliding it into his jacket. "But don't worry. This will be easy..."
Friends. We blindly follow our hearts. I trail behind Melo who looks around and leads me to one of the numerous, cloned public, housing buildings.
"Just knock and ask for Omar. When he asks who you are, say Tio sent you here."
I could ask Why? But would that matter? It's like the Universe shoved me here. I walk up the stairs and knock on the door. After a moment someone shouts, "Yeah?"
"Looking for Omar" I say while Melo squares his back against the wall to avoid being seen through the peephole. I can't help but notice Melo slipping a chunk of rebar into his fist.
"Who are you, man?"
"Theo sent me" I answer.
"Tio" whispers Melo.
"Theo?! Man who-"
I hear latches being released, chains being withdrawn. The door opens.
"Step back" advises Melo. I stand aside as the door opens. A Mexican guy I never saw before stands there in a Rage Against the Machine t-shirt. He stares me down.
"Who the fuck are-" he starts.
Melo appears. He punches the man three times in the face so fast he has to lunge inside to get in the last blow.
"I got you!" yells Melo. "You one-two motherfucker!"
An aluminum baseball bat squirts out of the man's hands as he stumbles backwards from the heavy, iron blows. I stand paralyzed by the doorframe as Melo storms inside. Melo yells something in Spanish and then viciously kicks the guy in the face. A crunchy, grinding sound.
"It's not what you thinHoomph!"
But the words are cut off as Melo drops a knee into his chest and straddles the helpless man. Melo cracks him three more times while yelling, "RAT! MOTHER! FUCKER!" Then he shoves a forearm into the man's throat. In bold, black gangster cursive is a tattoo that reads, 'I am the Darkness'. The man gasps but no longer struggles. He just lays there. Melo pulls out the gun. This forearm reads, 'I am Death'. Jesus. My body urges me to RUN! But I just stand there like a fool watching the train scream towards me. I'm from the fucking suburbs. I am totally tripping out. Melo turns around and looks at me. Dead eyes.
"Go back to the car" he says calmly. "Start it."
"Yeah" I say as the spell breaks. "Ok."
I turn and walk down the stairs. When I reach the sidewalk I hear, "Thorry! I'm thorry! Pleathe! I'm thorry man! C'mon!"
I walk over a stained and cracked sidewalk. Still a gray day in the city. Traffic. People. I walk to the car and unlock it. Looking up, I see Melo guided me into a handicap spot. Beneath the wheelchair symbol is a familiar graffiti tag I see all over the Mission and Tenderloin: DevL. I get inside and start the engine. Should I leave? Yes! says the sensible bit still left inside me. When I met Melo, I didn't know that was a nickname for Michelangelo. I thought his name was Mellow because he was so mellow. But there were hints. The Gulf War for one. Plus the man clearly has a vision of right and wrong. All the park kids know you don't want to be on Melo's wrong side. Naively, I always thought the park peace was Dev's doing.
But in my defense, Melo has always acted mellow. Party fist fights, asshole bouncers, Kym throwing bottles at people. This never phased him. I've seen Jason lose it a few times. I've seen Kym lose it a lot. But when Melo dropped his knee on that man's chest and shoved the gun in his face, I thought, This is it.
I look around, turn down the stereo, and think of lighting a cigarette or snorting the heroin. Nope. Not enough time. Keep your hands on the steering wheel, foot on the gas. What is going on back there? No fucking way. I won't be a part of this...then I see Melo. He casually walks back to the car. No expression, no hurry. He opens the door and tosses a McDonald's bag on the floor. I can see blood sprayed across the corporate logo. Melo smiles at me. He looks sleepy. He looks mellow. He takes off his Oakland Raider's cap and smooths his greasy ponytail. He looks over at me and casually asks, "You gotta light? They pulled my matches at the station."
It's Tuesday in the city of San Francisco. Just another day.