I’ve got a lot to say. I don’t know why the hell I’m deciding to do it now, but . . . I might not get another chance in the future, so here I am. Before I say anything, I need you all to know I’m not a bad person. I don’t think I am, anyway. I’ve been telling myself that a lot lately–guess I’m not so sure anymore.
It all started a year ago, when she–it–first approached me.
It was mid-July, middle of a nasty heatwave, and I was sitting in the shaded alley between two buildings. I had a little stand of bootlegged DVDs set up by the sidewalk, but business was bad. Most people were inside–still sweating their asses off, I’m sure, since A/C isn’t something most of us here can afford.
A middle-aged woman came around the corner, walking fast like she had places to be. Weird thing was, she was beelining it to me. I knew right away that something was off about her. She had a scarf wrapped around her neck and was in baggy sweats. I was wearing shorts and a wife-beater, and was still sweating my balls off, so you can imagine my surprise. Her face was the next thing I noticed. It was . . . gaunt? I think that’s the right word. She looked like she hadn’t eaten anything for weeks. Her cheeks were real shallow, and her eyes looked like they were gonna fall right into her skull. I assumed she was just a druggie looking for her next fix.
“Buzz off lady. I ain’t selling,” I told her.
She stopped a few feet from my DVD stand and looked me over. I’ll tell ya, it was spooky. It was like . . . like no one was home. Her eyes were looking at me, but they weren’t seeing me. You guys get what I’m saying? She was just looking in my direction.
I tried waving her away. “Get outta here. People are gonna get the wrong idea about the kind of stuff I’m selling.”
But she ignored me and posted up against the wall, looking to the street like she was waiting for something.
“I’m not gonna tell you again lady. Fuck off, I’m trying to make some money here.”
Without looking at me, she said, “Quiet, Clarence.”
I hate it when people call me by my real name.
Clarence was the name my mom gave me. Every time someone says it, I can only remember those nights when she’d drunkenly call for me from her bedroom, slurring her words together while she begged me to go out for some smokes. Roach is the name I prefer. I got it when I joined my first gang. The guy who gave me the name said it suited me because you just couldn’t get rid of me. I was resilient. I liked that.
Anyway, like I was saying: I hate my real name. I hate it so much that I didn’t even think it was a little weird a complete stranger knew it. That should’ve tipped me off, but instead I shoved her back; I felt a little guilty watching her trip over herself and fall on her ass, though.
“My name’s Roach. Nobody calls me Clar–”
That was when I noticed the smell on her. It wasn’t like piss or shit, or that sharp stink you usually catch when walking by the homeless. Nah, this was like rotting meat, like someone had left a steak sitting out in the sun too damn long. I backed off real quick and pinched my nose as the woman got back up.
“I’m going to excuse that outburst this time, but don’t do it again, Clarence,” she said.
I was getting real heated at this point. Where I’m from, the only thing worth more than money is respect. Respect is sometimes the only thing stopping a guy from pulling a piece on you during a fight.
I pointed my finger at her and put a look on my face I probably thought was intimidating. “Look here, you dumb bitch. I fucking told you my name’s Roach.”
The woman did that look-at-me-but-not-really thing again. “I called the cops on you.”
“Y-you did what? What the fuck would you do that for?” I looked at everything I had laid out, nice and orderly. There was at least 400 dollars worth of merch, and I couldn’t afford to leave any of it behind. So I put my ass in gear and started packing it all up, all the while calling the woman every cuss word I knew.
She just stood there, taking the abuse, quietly watching the street while I hurried to put everything into a box. I wasn’t even halfway done when I heard that familiar whoop whoop. I spun around and watched a police car turn onto the street.
“Fuck me!” I dropped everything in my arms and ran deeper into the alley. A foot race on an open street was going to end badly, so my only hope was a back exit through the alley way. It went pretty far back and looped behind one of the buildings, but dead ended at a brick wall. Behind me, I heard a car door open and close.
“Shit, shit, shit!” I started panicking and tried the only door I could see, but of course it was locked. I’ve always had shitty luck.
“Afternoon, ma’am,” a man said. “That guy who went running in there . . . is that the one selling these movies?”
“Yes, officer,” the woman replied.
I heard a radio beep and the cop calling for backup.
This wasn’t about to be the first time I got picked up by the cops. Selling pirated shit was probably going to get me jail time, and I am not a man made for jail.
The cop came around the corner with one hand on his gun. “Sir, put your hands where I can see them.”
“Hello, officer. What’s the problem here?” I didn’t have anything better to say. I was never any good at thinking on my feet.
The cop approached me, slowly. “Turn to the wall behind you and keep your hands up.”
I did as he said, accepting I was about to get fucked by the law. “Come on, man. You don’t have to do this. I’m not hurting anybody–I’m just trying to make this month’s rent.”
“Ma’am, what’re you–”
I heard the officer stop in his tracks, but didn’t want to turn around and give him a reason to taze me or something.
The cop shouted, and then his voice got muffled. I peeked over my shoulder and couldn’t see the cop anymore, but heard a commotion from around the corner. I’ve witnessed enough fights in my life to know something like that was happening. The struggle didn’t last long, and the frantic sounds eventually quieted down to nothing.
“Uhh, hello? What’s going on over there?” I walked forward just enough to see into the main alley.
The cop’s back was to me as he marched back to his car, smoothing out his shirt and pants. Before getting into the car he tilted his mouth to the radio on his shirt. “Cancel the request for backup,” he said. “There’s nothing here. I’m coming back to the station.”
I realized my arms were still up and let them drop to my side, confused out of my fucking mind. The cop sped off, and I was beginning to think I was off the hook until I saw the body on the ground.
It was the weird woman, face down in the concrete, her scarf thrown aside.
“Hey, you okay?” I asked.
She didn’t respond.
There was a part of me saying to just get the hell out of there, but I couldn’t leave her there like that. What if she was hurt? I kneeled beside the woman and turned her body over with some effort.
Her neck was the first thing I saw. There was a nasty cut across the side, and I could see the skin falling off like a loose flap.
I ran off to the side and puked my goddamn guts out.
When I got control of myself I looked back at her. That was when I noticed something weird. There wasn’t any blood. I mean, there was blood, but it wasn’t like, fresh. The blood was mostly crusty and black against her white skin. I took a closer look and saw that the exposed part of her neck wasn’t red inside either. It looked dried out and black in there, too. I didn’t know what was going on.
Whatever happened to her, though, she was dead now. That much was for sure. I thought maybe the cop had done it. That would explain why he ran off so suddenly. I took anything that could link me to the crime scene and got out of there as fast as I could.
I didn’t sleep that night. Not a fucking wink. I was worried I was going to be blamed for that murder somehow. Maybe the cop was going to frame me for it. It wouldn’t have been unheard of in my city; some of the cops are just as crooked as the guys on the streets.
You know, it’s funny thinking back on that day now. Being framed for murder seemed like such a big deal back then . . . but things only got shittier after that.