Sitting in position being invisible had become so comfortable Omari was nodding off. Drowsiness seeped into his will like a fog, gently misting away the vibrant insistence of his purpose. His hovering dreamtime seesawed the plans for the scam, straddling them across the borders of reality: what he had to do was also what he might've done, or what might've been done, or even what he was going to do. Time frame shifted drunkenly, as insensitive to circumstance as his backside was numb to the damp coolness of the new-mown grass.
A smooth transition -- and the giddy had resolved into reassurance. And all was well. He was doing it. He was being the Lookout man. First one in. Last out. His job to divine trouble at the outset, and frustrate it after that. Until the play was done. Most of all, he was the man with the Might, the .38 arm of firepower. As usual, Jangles had assigned him alone that violence option.
He had entered the small East-side Park half an hour ago, so ready and alert he almost twitched through the gate, concentration like a daze around him. His eyes, jackhammer rapid, darted about, wanting to check everywhere at once. The strain was controlling it all down to common sense. So that he could be the Look-see man, and not conspicuous.
What his sweating anticipation had met was an innocent summer's day, ten o'clock peaceful with a morning-airing crowd. Nannies minding lazy babies lolling off in strollers. Some senior ladies brooding close-headed with their histories and who-knows in duos and trios. A bent-over old man carefully testing the pathway as if his third leg of a walking stick had a Seeing Eye. A few other walkers and sitters. All were too well kept or well off or well aged to be the Undercover Man.
Omari had muttered, "Beautiful". And became aware that his palms were wet, his jaw a-droop. He got himself together, then set off to double-check the fortune of their good preparations.
His saunter through the park's morning calm only reassured him it was as harmless to their plans as it was pleasant. So Omari headed for his assigned post to signal and await the rest of the Crew.
The second bench on the path from the entrance gate was the spot, snuggled right next to a dense small-leafed bush sculpted into a man-high teacup. The giant cup-handle touched one of the bench's arms, and the dark green bowl gave shade and color to the intimacy of the seat. Even though it was there in the open, next to the public path, it had the privacy of a nest, except for some watching body being bold and rude.
Jangles had named this as its best advantage, that plain-sight openness with politeness shades. Folks couldn't stare at coziness, he'd said, so this love seat was the perfect lookout for his lieutenant and advance man. It had been great strategy in the meeting. There was one problem now, though. During Omari's brief double-checking circuit, a woman had come in and sat there.
She was dressed straight out of a rich store window, shirt to shoes in shades of wealthy brown. The pocketbook, too, was mahogany suede with a fat gold clasp. The outfit advertised spending bank.
This piece of dead time was clearly expensive to her. Each tick ground her down, taking valuable toll on her patience. Wasting many nerves, making her glance at her watch and, every other minute, at the entrance gate. Whenever someone strayed into her sights, they'd get a blast from her rat-a-tat vigil for her no-show target. And with every disappointment she was building up more heat. Fine-adjusting her temper by re-crossing model legs to models' poses. Unclasping the gold hold to finger tissues from the suede and press the tension out of her makeup.
With all her action, though, it was plain that something more powerful had her in control. Otherwise she would break, flail her arms and scream to the sky with rage red to blue. If she wasn't dressed so chic and proper, she would.
While appraising her -- and not wanting to risk winding her up further -- Omari had chosen an alternative spot some twenty feet over-shoulder to her. From there, feet out long, reclining on rump and elbows, he had eyes both on his job and on the benched busy-Mizzy.
Thus it was that twenty minutes later, with nothing much changed, relaxation began its creep-up assault and the lazybones feeling started undermining his alertness. At first, he took to easing his eyes only a little. Then he had discovered that even with the vision resting, he was still able to maintain his sense of the importance of the watch. The Nods had fully conquered when he found himself time-sliding back to the meeting the night before.
Jangles had laid out this solid plan of a scam, guaranteeing some easy pawnshop cash. It was five minutes' action, no cops, no pain, and no chase. As usual with Jangles, the promise had turned to a neat adventure by the time he ran down the situation. His magic was sweet planning, and how he told it.
Jangles had scoped this park for weeks, learning its patterns. It was small, with a private-privileged look from its well-kept lawns and trimmed hedges and fresh-turned beds of varicolored tulips, gladiola, and ornamented bushes. This fitted in with the neighborhood: an East-side pocket of rich society living off the icing on the cake. The park had but one gate open for entrance and exit (the other secured by a two-inch-thick steel chain as if it could break away). That convenient one-door resemblance to a shopping bag was Jangles's final persuasion that the park was easy pickings for the Crew. And it should be worth the while. For its mainstay crowd was an older, better sort. Mostly heirloom conservators with family trees of gold, and jewels around their necks and wrists and fingers.
Yes! There was a cop. His beat took him by about midday. But he had taken up with a pretty nanny, who came with her kid like clockwork to help him with his workload. To synchronize and so on, they always shifted to the park's farthest end, him with his hat in his hand, her glowing like a happy baby.
After this was related, Tari had thrown out the idea of riff-raffing some pussy if it showed up. That set Jangles wild. Like forever didn't matter, he began raining on speeches. Sermons about Selfishness, about Reason, about Stupidity. Then he set to barbecuing the Ta' on a Brotherhood and Discipline grill, using Bitterness and Sarcasm for sauce. What would the cops and 'robbered' say? How would the Media put it? Even an off-color suggestion would be made into a sexual assault. One impetuous fondle would change their Well-coordinated Caper into a Raping Rampage. From Proficient Tacticians, they'd become Heinous Hoodlums, or a Perverse Gang. Jangles might've ranted on, but for Tari screaming, "Time out!" to plead out with forced jokes, play tears, and genuine regret about his mouthed mess.
Jangles quit then, after a final stutter or two of muttered remainders. The rest of the meeting had proceeded smoothly, everyone attentive and serious and mainly avoiding Jangles's word whip. His eloquence was a gift -- his talent instead of science, basketball, or whatever -- and it made him the major man. But it could make him a torture, too!
As if a disco's door had busted open, loud beat music exploded, blowing Omari's idle-minding away. His heart abruptly pounded awareness through him and wrenching his neck about, his shamed glance raked the entrance where Jangles would be waiting. Then he relaxed to find his man absent to his lieutenant's laxness. That anxiety cleared, he turned full-scowl vexation toward the noisy offender.
It was Dolfo and his Jamma-Blasta, posted near the gate between the fence and a tulip patch. Last night he had been insisting and whining and begging with Jangles about bringing the box. The police band on the radio could be used for checking on the law, he'd argued. When he noticed Jangles's interest in this point, he'd needled on with it until Jangles had said okay.
Omari'd been against it all along. To his mind, Dolfo would mess up and, as always, have his excuse afterwards. And just as he'd expected, here was the murf now, louding soul sounds into this elite set-up. Dolfo seemed absolutely into the music. Finger popping the rhythm, rocking his shoulders, boogying his ass where it leaned against the iron spears linking as fence.
Fiercing up his stare, Omari sat up and concentrated disgust thoughts at the asshole. No difference. Dolfo remained deeply into the current top o' the charts.
As far as Omari could judge, the music hadn't affected the folks too much. They didn't show serious alarm. Here and there was a glance at Dolfo, but no one was getting restless. The noise was just a commonplace annoyance to tolerate and ignore. Like air in the guts, it would pass soon. When Omari noticed one of the nannies putting a little hip-hop in her strolling gait, he admitted that the tune wasn't so bad. The number moved (still carrying Dolfo) into its honey-crooning chorus.
This returned to Omari the time somebody'd told Dolfo how he had a black hole in his head. How, any sense from his brain went into another dimension. Dolfo had laughed harder than everyone else. Longer, too. All that evening, again and again, he'd erupted in giggle fits and guffaws. As if it wasn't him the joke was on. As if the joke was that sweet. As if he had tasted it at all. But that was Dolfo; a guy Mr. Spock would've found "fascinating."
Now, as Omari set to heave himself up for a reminding, but casual, saunter over by the Balloon-brained, Dolfo suddenly caught himself and reduced the radio's volume. So soft, Omari couldn't hear it and his mind faltered on the ending part of the tune to which it had been humming a back up.
Dolfo was now casting sly glances around. Probably feeling that he hadn't been noticed, and looking furtive as a mouse in the cheese cupboard. Omari shifted his eyes away from the bother. All at once, his irritation changed to an odd cheerfulness. It was kinda funny, but even the Zero-head had come through in his weird way. It seemed that matters could only get better now.
Right then the woman halfway stood up to briefly arrange skirt creases at her bottom. Then, readied for whatever, she sat again, looking straight ahead. His instant check of the gate told Omari why. A man had entered and was approaching in a rush. And once more Omari was seized by tension, while his heartbeat started its own jam session in his chest.
But the man had eyes only for the woman in brown. He hurried straight to her like a late schoolboy with his upset mama whip-waiting. Omari thought, "Punk!" and his muscles and mind went mellow again, his heart quieting to relief.
The Punk might've been a model, too. Or maybe they dressed from the same store windows. He looked to be a diet-watcher who probably worked out, yet still remained a slight-weight. A one to whom even karate couldn't pass on aggression. A vulgar belch would blow him right away.
As he neared his date he commenced an elaborate arm-stretching, wrist-bending, and elbow-jerking action, which ended in a studied glance at his watch. Although practiced and smooth, still it was a punkish move, not hiding the wimp behind it. He had to have known he was late. And worse, he had done his glance act and it missed his audience. For the woman never gave him eye. She had remained looking frustrated at her morning, as if the piece of day was behaving unmanageably.
Standing his distance like a Boy Scout, the Punk hailed her, and maybe got the permission to sit. Or perhaps it was a manners understanding. She still wasn't looking at him.
Now Omari saw that time-checking wasn't his only gimmick. The Punk was elaborate at sitting down, too. He had to pinch hold the front pleats of his pants legs just so, and throw a glance behind to guide his ass to sit. Then he did a softness test before committing the sensitive backside. He ended by crossing the gentleman's legs.
All this, and not yet a play from the woman.
With all their motions and gestures, Omari couldn't but notice the Punk's hands. He would've never recognized him by them. They looked real, foreign to the magazine ad man they serviced. The right one showed a fresh-healed scar. They had fat veins, and long, strong, knobby fingers. Big enough to palm a basketball, they looked man's hands.
Omari realized that the woman had been fussing at the Punk while still gazing away. He heard some as the off and on breezes allowed her voice to reach him. A bit about him demeaning reality. Something else about winter and discontent. It was speechy complaining, sounding prepared, poor-felt, and distant. Omari relaxed out of their hassle. They couldn't be trouble, not with that quarreling like no-longer lovers. They weren't the undercover police trap he was wary about, only coupled rabbits setting up as prey.
He was thinking in terms of another Jangles' idea: his Natural Survival theory. When he'd dropped out of college, Jangles had kept up his self-education, reading majorly in biology. This he used as basis for interpreting Life's systems.
By his Survival theory, Out Here was a great human-species natural park. It had available for every want by everybody. No one ever had to go hungry. The catch was that each one was the food for another. Whether dog eat dog, or wolf eat rabbit, or worm eat wolf, one guy had to depend on that one other for food.
Jangles saw that as a problem, this depending on one special food. As he said it, "If your burger joint closed down, you're starving!" According to him, the rats had found a solution: eat anything, live anywhere, adjust with instinct, and stay hungry. Using that plan, they owned everywhere man lived. And they never made a weapon.
Hear Jangles expound about rats, and they became most admirable. Their strength, intelligence, family ties, patience, and success against human oppression all gave them underdog glamour and heroic stature. From vermin they were changed to sophisticated social survivors. And this is how he wanted the Crew to see themselves: as a gang of rats with hands, the ultimate candidates for the One Life Handicap Derby.
Something had made the Punk exert his voice. Maybe it was a squeezed ball, for he calmed down again after a fidget. But he was still talking back to her. With the breezes on hold, Omari could hear quite plainly, the Punk speaking each word FM perfect, from its beginning through to its end, extra-working his lips and tongue as if the language had bubble-gum in it.
"I'm aware of my responsibilities in this. I am. Really I am. But there are other considerations." He managed two notes into "are." "The market is dull. We aren't selling a thing. The work isn't moving. The agency promised to get rid of the "Moonlight" piece, but I regard it as . . . it's a favorite, if not the best . . . I'm reluctant . . ."
She cut in, "Still the sentimental you, huh, always and forever? You'd sell this, but you like it too much. That one's too good for the money. Your pieces're like your children. You make them from stone, or mud, and sweat. And you love them so." Here she stopped and turned to give him the full-faced eye. "May I remind you that you have a flesh-and-blood creation that, this year, needs ten thousand for tuition, three thousand for clothes, and more for food and doctors . . ."
She paused for breath and the Punk made to slip in some speech, but she hammered him down with, "And I cannot ask my agent to get rid of her. You understand that? Whether she's my favorite piece or not!"
The Punk eased his tie's knot with the active fingers and swallowed some explanations. He tried another tack, changing his tone from explain to complain. "Well, what am I to do? You know my extent, my resources. Father refuses to come across. What am I supposed to do? You don't expect me to steal, do you?"
Eye to eye with him, the woman surveyed his seated stature. Up, then down, her formed eyebrows assessed him. Then, weighted with scorn, her voice fell from proper to common louding as she wiped him out.
"You don't have the balls!"
Omari didn't get to see the Punk's response. The distraction was Jangles strolling into his field of vision. His major-man was smiling and relaxed, signaling all was well, and the action would be getting on.
Putting his concentration together, Omari examined the pair on his bench and decided what items he'd be having. The pocketbook, of course. He'd clean it out. And the Punk should have a wallet. Counting the visibles, there were also two watches, bracelet(s?), earrings, and at least one neck-chain. Not too bad. He could evaluate maybe four, five hundred in dollars. Plus, Luck might have the Punk carrying a stash despite his crying poor pockets.
Omari looked round at the other guys. They had all cut out their posing and seemed ready for business. Emark and Tari had grounded their Frisbee. Dolfo was in his position near the fence. Jangles was heading back to the gate after his quick overlook of the situation. When he got to where he could monitor the street, it would begin.
Briefly Omari wondered how the fine folks in the park couldn't see it coming. It seemed as obvious as rain-clouds in a clear, blue sky.
Jangles reached the gate and pulled its iron wings shut with a bang. Ten guys who watched it happen moved into action as one. Omari quicked over to his bench and stood close over the couple. The woman, still working the Punk, didn't notice him.
Omari wasn't loud, but his voice was hard: "Shut up!"
She looked up at his command with bigging eyes, mouth agape. The hanging jaws sagged her cheeks, giving her a fish-mouth.
"Gimme what yu'got!" Omari told her.
In response she slumped down on the bench, propping her head up against the back rest.
The Punk took it much better. It was the startled look, then immediate understanding. He folded his arms and didn't try a word.
"Okay, okay. It's a take-off, " Omari continued quickly. "You don't panic and yu'don't bleed. So nothing fancy, okay? Mi' man there at the fence could blow yu'fuckin' heads off anytime. Yu'got it? So relax, okay?"
The woman's eyes wanted to look behind him at the fence, but they couldn't break the magnet of Omari's face. She had closed her mouth. Now a tic of a smile kept tugging it on one side only. Omari hoped she'd stay in shock and checked the Punk. He had closed his eyes and was shaking his head as if he didn't believe it was really happening to him.
She made a fart when Omari reached down and grabbed her mahogany suede pocketbook. Chuckling, he demanded her watch and earrings. Meantime he searched the pocketbook with half his eyes and five fingers. It had a checkbook, a small fold of bills, a change purse, some credit cards, and other pure feminine stuff. A second pass of his fingers found nothing but a pen. He kept the bills and chucked the suede back on the bench.
She was taking her time with the watch, slowly peeling it off like it was wrist skin, wasting time and hoping.
"Give it here! Bitch!" Omari growled and snatched at it.
That was enough grease. The watch slid off immediately. Without urging the earrings followed, offered from shaking, long-nailed fingers. Her neck chain, Omari saw, was a thin, delicate rope with a tiny pendant. As his pawnshop man bought gold by weight, he passed on it. So with the woman finished, he turned to the Punk.
"Aw'right, let's have it. And don't fuck up now."
The Punk took off his watch quickly. Next came a heavy gold ID band Omari hadn't even seen. Then the Punk hesitated.
"Your pockets, sucker!" Omari urged. He added a meaningful look at the Punk's jacket pockets. But turned insides out, they didn't yield the wallet Omari sought. He was growing impatient.
"I want your wallet, Fuckhead!" he said.
The Punk stammered, "I . . . I, er, don't carry a, er, wallet, sir!"
Omari almost grinned. The Punk had called him "sir" like he meant it. Mentally cursing the Luck of No Wallet, Omari was about to demand the Punk's finger ring when the woman's voice cut in.
"For God's sake, give him the damned wallet and stop trying to be a hero."
Omari shot a look at her. Her hand was reaching for her throat but wasn't quite there. It crouched nearer to her shoulder like a little animal caught undecided whether to stand or run. Her eyes slid away from his like a traitor and he felt a strong disgust at her. She shouldn't have blown the Punk's try. It wasn't her place to. A man had to try. But he reined in his vexation at her and turned his rage on the Punk.
"So, what's it goin' to be? huh, Asshole? You want to see yuh blood? Gimme it! Now!"
Omari pounced smelling-close to the Punk, staring right into the clean-shaven face, ready to break it with his fist as the anger roused by the woman's betrayal recharged from the man's attempted resistance. The combined under-handedness offended him so. He tensed himself to punch -- just as the Punk gave in.
Lifting his foot to his lap, he reached inside his sock and pulled out a wallet. Loaded up to strike, breathing hard, Omari barely could hold back the energy. He kept his blow poised and said, "Just gimme the cash, man."
With deliberate speed the Punk emptied his wallet and handed over the cash.
As Omari took the money, from the corner of his eye, he glimpsed the woman's crouching hand still fluttering near her throat. It suddenly occurred to him that the gesture held a suspicious stealth. He studied her face; her eyes scurrying about wildly like cockroaches trapped in a light cage.
"What you got there?" he asked softly, gesturing toward her hand.
Her answer was to make a fist over what she concealed.
The stupid defiance of the little fist slacked the bonds of his control. The silly back-squeezing bitch! His time was almost up, and here she was playing her greedy ways with him. Furious, he stooped and hissed in her face, "Gimme! Here, here. Give it up!"
She was so out of line. And he, near out-of-bounds of Jangles's rule, he wanted to punch the shit out of her. His fist was up, the blood charging through him.
The woman broke and sobbed, "O my God. . ." and she removed her hand.
It was a brooch. A golden, pinky-sized butterfly with spread wings and bulging eyes of ruby red; it was a big, beautiful, classy treasure on her chest. Now Omari realized why she had betrayed the Punk's wallet. It was to buy some opportunity to hide her fancy brooch.
As he discovered her fault, Omari beheld a crumpling of her made-up face. Cracks between where was paint and where was pallor had made a gap into her, like it was an earthquake. And he could see her greedy core. Not greedy from need, but from just wanting more. Automatic greedy, like a worm eating shit. Which was why he felt he could squash her face.
"You greedy bitch!" he snarled and snatched at the jewel.
But it was well pinned to the beige cashmere collar, so the grab only yanked her shoulder sideways, making her scream out fright and cower down.
"Don't," the Punk chimed in, "Please don't. It's not her fault. . ."
Omari looked at him. He had raised his big, veiny hands, palms up and open, certainly not to attack. More forcing of a pause, like a guy wanting fairness, not fights. He continued talking into Omari's hesitation.
"It's my family's. An heirloom. I gave it to her as a wedding present. It's really for my daughter. . . a tradition. It's our way, sir."
He was explaining it strong-voiced, as if this was a Western and he was the hero. He was being reasonable, until he got to the "Sir." Only then it became appeal. The whole speech so surprised Omari that he met the fellow's eyes. And in that odd consternation -- exchanging shocked, re-seeing stares -- they formed a wordless bargain.
Omari straightened up. "Okay, mi' man. You got it.
Right then he heard the scam being called. "Time! Time's out!" He stepped back onto the pavement.
"Don't move till the gate bangs, okay?" he warned them. "You're still lined up. So don't spoil it now."
Just before turning away, he jumped close and faked a violent cuff at the woman. She made a retching, asthma-attack sound and threw her arms up over her hairdo. The guy didn't even flinch at the empty gesture, just sat there testing an ambiguous half-smile.
As Omari split with the gang, his parting image was of the man comforting the woman, holding her head on his chest, stroking it slowly. Omari imagined him years hence telling the daughter how he'd saved the family heirloom. He hoped the guy would tell it like a hero.