Fourteen waited at the base of the levee beneath a shot-out streetlight marking the corner of McKinley and Cherry. Beyond the huge swell of earth, invisible to the neighborhood houses, the river veered from its southern course for a quarter mile due west. The houses here were clapboard duplexes and small frame cottages with screened porches, moderately run down, small-town-southern-idyllic to someone now dead's imagination circa 1936. In daylight, the oaks and magnolias stood tall, huge, starving yards beneath for sun, the soil dusty and grassless.
Tonight there was someone with Fourteen, a thin look-alike girl in a t-shirt and paisley beret. Mac drove by once, pretending not to notice them. Fourteen waved miserably. The nearby streetlights made an ring of illumination around their huddled figures. Finally he parked several houses down at the curb where the grassy slope ended and waited. They stayed put. He got out, slid a jacket on, made a show of patting the breast pocket and ambled over.
Fourteen wanted immediate delivery but he started to horse around, mussing her hair. The other watched dully, bottom lip protruding like a five year old's. He asked who she was. "This is Little Wing," Fourteen said. He stared at the t-shirt. A solemn face stared back, hair in an exploded stringy Afro. He tapped Little Wing's bony chest, embarrassed to feel the cross of a bra. Her eyes widened slightly and she swayed forward when he let up.
"That's a nigger," he said. "You're wearing a nigger on your chest," he teased. Once said, the words sounded foreign to him, fake. He felt queasy.
The girls looked at each other. "She's a Hendrix freak. That's Jimi Hendrix."
"Oh. Okay. Naw, I'm just messing with you." They stood, watching, looking up at him like defiantly expressionless children. "What I'm saying is you shouldn't let anybody talk like that, use that word. I was testing you. A lot of my friends, they're black."
The girls stared, lips pushing out. Mac was stumped. This thing wasn't flowing. "You know him, he's a friend of yours? Hendrix?" Fourteen looked at Little Wing.
Little Wing said gently to Mac, "I know him."
"Can I get the stuff now? This is only like two blocks from my house, and my Mom might see us." Fourteen grasped her elbows inside the oversize blue jean jacket. She didn't seem to Mac like the same girl at the playground that day. "Come on."
Mac reached into the pocket, pulled a baggy part of the way out. Fourteen watched and reached abruptly; the baggy was opaque, silver and white. "Let me see." He kept her back with an open hand. "That's okay. You'll get to see."
"You said it didn't have to be money," Fourteen reminded Mac.
When Mac stuttered, she headed up the grassy levee, making a path. She stopped halfway up. Mac looked at her and then down the street, half expecting to see her mother watching. Fourteen called to Little Wing: "You can come." Little Wing followed through the knee-high grass.
Fourteen was soon over the top of the levee. Little Wing trudged after, singing squeakily, and disappeared. Mac followed, now panicky, looking all around. When he reached the top, he could see the river, black, sluggish. Post-lights from the flood-plain wasteland on the other side bounced off unambitious waves. Fourteen was down by the waterline, between two willow trees.
Little Wing paused halfway down the levee. Fourteen took her jacket off. "Whoa," Mac said. "Stop."
Fourteen edged into the shadows beneath and began to unbutton. Little Wing glanced between the two of them as though there were some kind of plan to all this she couldn't follow. Mac called, "Wait, wait." Fourteen, still at it.
"No, wait. You don't have to." Mac held the bag out, swinging it from his wrist. "You can have it."
Fourteen finally stopped. Rebuttoned. She and Little Wing darted lightly back up the levee, the black river glistening behind them. The bag was quickly wrested from Mac's hand. She pulled out something stringy and pink; "Hey, this is bubble gum." Fourteen's face was incredulous. "You gypped us man! It's a rip!" Mac began to get a little scared.
Little Wing interrupted, the voice of reason; "But, you didn't, like, pay him anything, man."
"I was just trying to, it's like a joke," Mac stammered. "Kinda making a point. . . ."
"Hey, my mom knows somebody on the better business bureau."
Little Wing: "You really just got some gum for free, didn't you? Isn't it better for everybody to just be peaceful?"
"Stop that shit, Little Wing."
"I mean, have you ever been experienced? I have." Mac watched the back of Little Wing's t-shirt, colors changing as a breeze rippled across it, a weird optical effect, like strobe lights. She went on, speaking strangely. Fourteen told her to can the Hendrix.
"I can't believe this! Some guys ought to take you out, man--go around disappointing people! You could get in real trouble! Like hanging out with me--what if I said something to just the right person? Rape! RAPE! SOMEBODY HELP ME! This guy tried to rape me!"
Mac had already turned and was heading for the Fury.
Little Wing still spoke quietly to Fourteen, the voice of reason: "Maybe now you can't hear them, but you will. Just take hold of my hand."
Mac ran. The engine flooded, his heart pounding, feverishly watching the rear view mirror. Finally he got it going and sped around the curve that follows the levee, barely missing a pickup truck at the yield sign by the corner of Forsythe Park. He avoided the whole north side for the next several nights, Little Wing's voice playing somewhere behind him incessantly.