I sat Raymond down behind the Bywater hospital dumpsters, out of sight of the street, and asked him about the black eye. He looked at the grease stains on them, not at my badge or scowl. He gave me the dirt.
Dirty 30 had rolled up on his auto body shop. Told him it was Rabid’s shop now. Told him to take their cash and leave his uncle’s legacy to them.
“Can’t do that,” Raymond had said. “Got to care for what’s my family’s.”
They just flashed gold grills at this sixteen-year-old standing up to the five of them.
“You the kid who looks after them cats, frees ‘em from the Chinese place’s traps, right?”
“Them cats is stupid.”
“Animal can’t help where they get trapped.”
“You better help your ass free of this shop, boy.”
They took a pipe to his head. Shut one eye and cost him two teeth. They took the shop from him too.
The seventy-hour work weeks and the money for bills went with it.
“It ain’t the pain, Detective Jurgis” Raymond told me, trying to keep his swollen head high. “I don’t think I can afford the medical bills they’d put me through.”
Raymond had no idea that he’d be seeing the inside of a hospital plenty in the months to come.
Raymond’s mother got diabetes two months after he started working for the Grubs on the corner of Clouet and Industry.
After I the second time I shook him down, turning out his pockets and swatting him upside the head, he read me the roster of her pills.
“Pills for her sugar. Pills for her heart. Pills for tension,” he said, picking up the bunches of cash from where I’d dropped them after my fruitless search for crack. “Then the insulin and doctor’s visits and tests.”
“Must cost a lot,” I said, leaning on the Cruiser, in no real rush to get back to my Narco prowls, hassling high school kids who were way less polite than Raymond.
“Most ain’t covered by Medicaid, neither.”
“Be even worse if you get laid out and she had no one to look after her.”
It didn’t even inspire a shrug. Just a long silence. He started counting his cash.
“That’s what she keeps telling me,” he said. “Wants me to quit the life. Wants me home more. Calls me her hero.”
“You should listen to her.”
He listened to me. Before the next scheduled shakedown a month later, he was working at the Wing Snack.
I had dropped in for an order of extra-spicy Cajun wings when Raymond swooped in from the fryers and intercepted them. The satchel-faced woman working the cashier scowled at him as he told me, “I get you another order, Jari.”
“What was wrong with the last one?” I asked when he came back 10 minutes later, walking a gauntlet of his co-workers’ sneers.
“They been cooked yesterday. We reheat a lot.”
“That’s a health hazard for a place like that.”
“That ain’t the least of the hazards,” Raymond said, shoulders sinking. They glistened with a patina of chicken grease like the rest of him. “Don’t get me started on the fryers and the bathroom.”
“And lose my job?” Raymond smiled, no humor and two gaps in his teeth. “It’s bad enough having to choose between paying Mama’s medical and paying the power and water bill.”
“She doing all right?”
It was the first time I’d seen him frown.
“She’s on me all the time. Says I’m not home enough. But it’s two jobs or else.”
One month and a fight with the boss later, Raymond opted for “or else.”
Raymond—Razor he was called now—tried not to scream as I shoved him into the Cruiser headfirst.
“Just don’t tell my Mama.” His begging came out a whispery whine, like a kettle about to split. “Just don’t tell her.”
“It’s not up to me, Razor.”
It wasn’t. He’d been pegged as a level-2 distributor. The order came from Ops and three patrols helped me with the surveillance.
“She’ll kick me out.”
I held the Cruiser door a moment. “She needs you.”
“I mean she’ll get me out of the gang,” he said, weeping onto his white tank top. “How will we make it?”
“Worse things can happen,” I told him as I shut him in.
Was I ever right.
“So tell me how it happened,” I told Raymond as he stared up at me from the abandoned parking lot, just a big, shocked kid lost in the billow of his janitor coveralls. “You try to be a hero?”
I rubbed my finger to my thumb.
“Cash, right? One last big score for you and Mama?”
I looked at the skinny Grub kid sprawled with half a head beside him.
“Or was it protecting this guy from getting pushed around by the 30 like you did?”
I shrugged for the both of us. Raymond just stared, eyes round as the two bullet holes in his brow.
I wanted to tell him he got stupid. Wanted to believe he shouldn’t have tried to save people. Wanted to imagine there’d been hope for him.
I left him to the meat wagon, another used-up hero.