Collie got hisself a roomie yesterday. Some white boy. Short, thin, got pretty blonde hair but a big, ugly-ass scar runs jagged cross his face like a thunderbolt. Nearly spoilt his good looks. Only nearly, cause Rudy-T an his gang a’ hussies, well they just don care bout stuff like scars or tats or nothing. All they see is that nest of blonde curls toppin’ that pretty little head and soon some brick-red hand is gonna swoop down into that nest and make it’s home there. Meeger bets two packs a’ smokes that hand will belong ta Rudy-T , Collie, who think mebbe he’d like to keep that fine piece o’ sugar , bet first on hisself with a great whoop, showing a gold front tooth - large as a doggone toenail an just as jagged, then he switches, mebbe - Grotto, yeah he stick with Grotto. Grotto, he somehow get all the pretty ones. He got technique. Be nice one moment like a snake charmer, than blink o'eye, he got that snake round the neck, trapped in Grotto’s basket. Hehheh.
Collie dub him Thunderbolt, heard his real name once , think mebbe it were something watery, a no good name like Alan. But with eyes that hurl through you like a sickle, he need some biblical hammer of a name like Ezekiel - so Thunderbolt will do. Some just call him Goldilocks , or Goldfish or Scar but when those icicle blue-eyes hit them , a name like Goldilocks fade like memory of a woman’s kiss. He be a Thunderbolt. Never mind that he slim , an pretty.
Collie’s sittin’ at the caf table got one arm wrapped round his tray , though nobody stupid enough to steal even a wandering glance from Collie, let alone a fast scoop. He eat kinda dainty. Little spoonfuls , chewing with his huge eyes rolled up like elephant egg marbles , today he be thoughtful.
“I seen me Thunderbolt before , can’t place where. But ooh it buggin’ me. It
stuck in there like a froze movie , with some star grinning his teeth at ya an’ his name is floating away on
a bubble - eh? You know.” Collie say this with mouthful of mashed po-taters. Some slid off his
gold tooth and it look like the sun coming out from behind a cloud.
“Saw him take out an ‘natomy book from the library yesterday. Think that fish like to look a’ naked folk without their skins on?” Collie ‘ad seen that book. Point to the page with the hang dog pecker on it to rile Thunderbolt, den he say “looky here, I see what interest you, now. Hehheh.” But Thunder-B don rile so easy. Collie haf to try harder.
“Here, he comes now. You tell him Collie , no-white ass punk sits at this table. Tell him.” Josiah points his spork at Collie, real serious.
Thunderbolt got his head down , not meek , but watchful, like wary dog , he in lead wit’ other cons winding through the maze of tables, but they fall away , filling empty spaces on benches till there’s only Thunder-B left. Collie waves to Thunderbolt.
“What you want to be so mean for, gotta be friendly. He, my roomie. Might come in handy.” Collie grin an’ give a hearty chuckle. Yeah , mebbe, he could be trading Thunderbolt for a carton of smokes or home brew. Hehheh.
Thunderbolt drops his tray on table, drops hisself down on bench , don look at the cons round ‘im with skin as dark an shiny as shoe-polish. He hook a finger in his mashed taters and put it in his pretty mouth.
“Hol’s Pen?” Collie starts.
“No.” Thunderbolt turns his slice of bread like record to see label , picks it up then takes
big bite. Butter smears on his lips like gloss. Rudy-T takes notice from a table yonder and blows him a lil’ kiss.
“Musta been State , State pen.”
“Never been to jail. I told you that before.”
“How’d you get that nasty scar than whitebread? Hmm?”
“They got knife fights in suburbia now?” Meeger say like he’s talking about cable t.v., his eyes shining with mirth. He’s funny. Hehheh. Everybody laughin. “Lemme guess some volvo-driving, manicure-flashing, big shit catches a little shit like you, humping his platnium-card- carrying wife, and cuts you up.”
“No.” Thunderbolt is one cool cuke.
“C’mon aren’t we roomies. You can tell ole’ Collie. We sharin. ‘Bout all we got. Eh?
Swapping da shit. Heh.heh.”
“It’s shoot the shit.” Thunderbolt corrects.
“Be friendly, Thunder-B. I’s friendly who tells ya not to walk down past Hurky and his boys on way to the store or he’ll jack yer shit. Who tell ya not to take shower near Rudy-T huh? Who tell ya how he got here, an show ya snaps of my most, beautiful ma - huh? You best be friendly Bolt or I gon sell you to Rudy-T for a carton. Eh? Mighty temptin. Now, you gon tell us , how you got that scar.”
Thunderbolt’s still chewing his veggie-supreme, still sipping his kool-aid. Threats roll off him , like beads a water in the shower , like the whistles followin those beads a water in the shower room , from the likes of Rudy-T.
“I did it misself.”
“Yourself!” Collie a tree knocked by a sudden squall but then he rights himself with both plump hands on table to brace for ‘nother blow. “Why you wanna cut yerself? Mess up that pretty face. You outta yer head, Thunder-B?”
“Some crazy-ass woman.” Meeger mutters. “It’s always a woman. Wouldn’t be in here if it weren’t for that - that lousy, stinkin whore- ” Gobs fall from Meeger’s mouth. He a mess. Collie stop lookin’ a him. Look back at his pretty roomie.
“How come?” Now, Josiah’s looking at Thunderbolt different like. He got mebbe respect, for this white-boy that cut up his own face, an nearly spoilt his looks. Somethin psycho ‘bout that. Josiah got to admire that, they kindred motherfs ,now, cuz psycho be stamped all over his shrink-form. Or so he says. Nobody really see Josiah as psycho , least he no crazier than anyone else you don mess with.
“I was angry.”
“Hhhrmph. Never cut my own face jus cause I’s angry.”Collie stirs the last little bit of mashed taters before scooping em up and putting them in his mouth.“ Cut up fella who made me angry , not misself. Hhhrmph.” He have last say cause he get no argument, most everyone ‘gree with Collie, don nobody understand Thunderbolt. Not a’tall.
Late that night, Collie swing his leg , which resemble huge cut of beef , and thumps his foot under the top bunk where Thunderbolt trying to sleep.
“What?” Thunderbolt sounds miffed n’ muffled. He got that pretty head o’ his under a pillow , agin.
“You don’t sound very friendly Thunder-B. You don know roomie etiquette. You s’poused to say , evening Collie, what’s up.”
“What the hell do you want.”
Now if Collie be a good roomie , he’d pull Thunder-B down off his top bunk and shake ‘im till all those smart-ass comments fly out o his head an never come back. That’d learn ‘im. But Collie, he thinks mebbe ,got to be snake charmer to get his hand round this one.
“Now, now that ain’t friendly like. Someone gonna think you real sourpuss , Thunder-B an give you ‘nother scar to add to your collection. You got ta learn to be sweet n’ sociable. Lets start with how come yer here. I told yous all bout my armed robbery. Now it’s your turn.”
“You didn’t tell me all about it.” Thunder-B was really begging for a smack. He was downright scornful.
“What?! You callin me a liar. You sayin I din’t buy no ski mask at K-mart , you saying I din’t go into the Royal Bank on Eastchester avenue with Harlan and Mack and stick a saw-offed shot gun in that ole lady’s teller’s face and watch the sweat jump out of her pores like I be waving a blow-torch, huh? You sayin I din leave there with twenty grand in a backpack an hop in a green Trino driven by cousin Ernie ,that shit-head, who crash us up on William street , and we spill out o’ there like rats from a garbage heap while them pigs be raining gunfire on our ass.”
Collie shape his fingers into guns, he’s shooting at the top bunk. He need to catch his breath cuz he’s all outta ammo. His lungs heave like bellows.
“You’re pissin’ me off , roomie.” he grumbles.
“Your ever shoot rats in a garbage heap?”
“Betcha you never kill nothing in yer whole life.”
“I’m in for manslaughter.”
“Eh? You! Ha!”
“It’s true. I killed a man. A lawyer.”
“Well, heh heh. A lawyer, eh? In your wet dream, Thunder-B. In your wet dream!” He rolls in his mirth, feeling cozy. His roomie a murderer. Ha. He was the murderer, not Thunder-B.
“Did I eva tell you Roomie ‘bout my mama. How she believe God’ll throw thunderbolts,
javelin style, at anyone who gets ‘way with murder. Law don getcha , God will.” Collie got smirk in his voice. He laugh now, it come up from deep down like a roll a thunder, isself. Considering Collie been in jail four times and one for manslaughter already, Collie thinks this big pile a hooey. Don care what Thunderbolt think.
But Thunder-B he offer anyhow, “Mebbe he will, Mebbe he won’t.”
“You got a pretty voice Bolt, Betcha you wer’ one of them - whatchacallim? Them boys in church carrying candles and wearing nightgowns.”
Thunderbolt likes music, plays the guitar , dabbles with this n’ that- can play anything, Collie believe this like gospel. He worked in a music store ‘fore he get his stretch. Collie believe this too. He made hisself a ukelele from a kleenex box and a bunch rubber bands. Kid stuff, but he can pluck a tune and nine times outta ten , if Collie knows the song, he guess right away what is it. Call Thunderbolt his canary bird. Collie play picture in head of music-store Thunder-B wearing three button shirt that hug his long , fine torso. Show off that sea-foam of chest hair. Oh, an a belt. Collie, be generous. Looped through his jeans, no slacks, cause he got legs like a swimmer. Ass like the bongo drum that somehow show up in Collie’s picture. But Thunder-B is cradling a gleaming guitar. Long fingers wrapped around the neck, pressing cords like they veins, a pulse waitin to throb , he pluck it, gives it life - hear it throb, looks up, like he know he star of Collie’s behind-eye movie. He smiles that only-spotted-once-before smile when Vito got stabbed in the yard. He plucked another cord. Collie felt the hum. Between Thunder-B’s lips, Collie see plastic pick, protruding like wee valentine heart.
“Sing me sumtin.”
“What am I, hit parade?”
“I could tell you to do sumtin else, Thunder-B.” Collie’s words crackle with coy menace. He no joking now.
So, Thunderbolt sings, what else can he do.
Under him , that fat vulture be grinning.
Morning rings, jarring loud. Con’s grumble.
Thunder-B already up pissing in the toilet , Collie grinning cause he can stop the flow like a foot on a sprinkler hose , just by looking over Thunder-B’s shoulder.
“Quit it.” Why Thunder-B never think anything funny?
A moth flew in between the bars an circle round the caged bulb like an ‘lectron round a nucleus.
“Leave it alone , only innocent thing in this hole.” Thunder-B mutters as Collie track the moth with his eye. Mebbe if Thunder-B had axed him pretty , mebbe, but he order Collie. Collie don take no orders from no white boy. His huge hands come together like a thunderclap.
“Got im.” he opens them to show Thunder-B, a veiny wing like a dab a tissue paper and a bit of gray ash. Collie rubs his hands together in all-finish manner. Smug. Dares, Thunder-B to say anything. Thunder-B say nothing.
Weeks later Thunderbolt gets a letter. Collie yanks it out of his hand. Thunderbolt still holding the envelope , watches as Collie lifts the letter up to his face but it’s upside down. He fakes disinterest and tosses it. Now, Thunderbolt know for sure. Collie can’t read. In the bottom of the envelope is sumtin that Thunderbolt shakes out, a picture of young girl with curly blonde hair jus like Thunderbolt. Got skin like cream, jus like Thunderbolt, too - no scar though. Her eyes is blue, only they not cut like sickle , they warm as summer sky.
“Who’s that little girl?”
“Youse got a kid? Get da fuck out!” Collie’s amazed. He never quite believe Thunder-B all that old. Why Rudy-T wanna pant after a thirty year old for? That hag usually got his tongue hanging out after all them boys that squeak in here, cuz they a fart too old for juvi. Maybe, he’d cool his slacks once he learn Thunder-B’s a papa.
Thunderbolt gets the tape to stick up his picture.
“Whats ‘er name -Betcha she’s an Amy - youse whitebread got no imagination. Eh, not like my most beautiful ma ...Collingsworth. Hehheh.”
“Laurel.” He brings his lips to his daughters smiling face. Give it a kiss.
“Laurel...Laurel.” Collie snaps his fingers , pace like a tiger in it’s cell. He got that feelin again that movie-star-name-won’t-form feelin. And I knows it, he thinks.
Later Collie groaning in bunk , he swear , and sweat and accuse.
“They tryin ta kill me. Soap chips..they’re trying to poison me.” he don reach the toilet.
He spew on floor. Thunder-B blows out the scent from his nostrils but it come back in next breath. No use. They two kennel dogs crammed in same cage. Thunder-B write this on wall - Collie shout like dog -arf arf , Collie
on knees like dog - barf... What a larf.
Days later Collie make plan -We get ‘em. He glowers. Whoever they be.
Thunder-B want a weapon.
Collie puff like Santa , show Thunder-B how he make his magic sack o’ toys.
Thunderb’s smoothing plastic, wrapped round his toothbrush bristles. He borrows
Collie’s lighter to melt it.
He’s hovered over Thunderb’s work.
“Not too much.”
Thunderb’s thumb is near burnt.
“I’ll kiss it an make it better. Hehheh.”
Thunderbolt yanks his thumb out of Collie’s huge paw never knowing if it’s true joke.
Thunderb and Collie both wait a’ fore Thunderb starts to file the lump of plastic against the concrete floor. That raspin’ sound coming out o’ the dark is a real shiver-maker. Cause them smart cons be knowing that sound and be wonderin’ whose sharping they’re shiv , smarter one be wondering whose gonna taste the edge o’ that shiv.
Collie beach himself like whale, in supply closet , off the laundry room. He snoring , no, he waking now. He feel sumptin’...mebbe a heaviness. Thunder-B’s straddling his lap. Oh! He feel burst of sunlight flood the prison, flood him. It be Christmas, to-day.
“Think I’m pretty?” Thunder-B ask, an there, he got that rare-smile on.
“Shoor.” Collie say. He play it cool. Don wanna come ‘cross totally interested.
Collie shivering now. Oh , it too good. Jus’ the idea that he were wanted. He look again in case his angel dissolve into air , but he still spot lit in shaft of fluorescent light. A pale scarred beauty. Laundry machines be churning , thumping , bumping , no louder than Collie’s heart.
“Shoor.” Collie say.
“I’ve been wanting you for some time. Wanting you so bad.” Thunder-B lean in, an low his voice to pour the rest - “So bad I could taste it.” down into Collie’s ear.
Collie moaned then his eyelids swallow them orbs up. And then Thunder-B shifts. His hand come up. Collie don’t see. His eyes, they still close , swirling in rapture of hope. Been here five years , ain’t had no roomie like this before. He don’t see the toothbrush come up - oh no, it no toothbrush, no more , it’s the shiv.
But he feel the slash and his eyeslids pop open, his huge hands come trembling, feel his own blood, wet on his neck.
“Do you know what I just did Collie? Roomie.” Thunder-B’s voice not so charming, now.
Collie’s eyes blurred wit puddles, they watch Thunder-B with the horror of a snake charmer who jus got bit. “I just cut your vocal cords. You can’t say nothing, no more. ”Thunder-B’s slashing his own arms like he’s painting wounds on ‘em. It don seem to hurt none. “They’ll come fix you and me up and eventually we’ll be together again. You and me. And we’ll relive why I’m here. That crash on William street , and all that gunfire. My little girl Laurel was walking home from school an got killed by one of those bullets - wasn’t yours, so you don’t get charged. I tried to make the judge listen to me , the prosecutor. But nobody would listen.”
Oh! And now the movie unfroze - Collie see , he see ‘is pretty roomie in the courtroom. His face not scarred then, but his look was more wounded, those blue eyes near swoll shut with yesterday’s tears, today’s tears , tomorrow’s tears. He cryin ‘em all at once. A flood. He be holding his daughters picture - he say listen to me! But Thunder-B right nobody listen.
“You’re going to listen now, though cause that’s all you can do. You got no voice. Nobody cares about you. Oh, how you’ll pay. I’ll make you pay. Cuz we got all the time in the world.” Thunder-B’s voice cut with fury , cut deeper than the shiv, jus as deep as those eyes, his hand digs into Collie’s throat, stoppin up the blood.
Collie feel like blown-out egg. Fear whip around his innards and howl at his edges. He couldn’t scream though. Mama was right - thunderbolt’s do come and take care of the wicked.
Thunderbolt say like he know - “I’ll call for you.... Help.” He screams.
“Help! Help , God help us!”
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