“Y’all just lucky Eddie’s on probation.”
The sun was high and melting the distant cement sea. Heatwaves set the vague image to
shimmering as it reflected the harsh afternoon light. I felt the dead soil hot on my hand. Cracked and dried grass broke as I gripped the rough dirt. Through my swollen eye I saw Victor’s cut dripping blood onto the barren land, heard the dull sound as it fell from his cheek to the ground. The air was hazy and oppressive, and all around us they stood.
“I’m saying, y’all some lucky little fuckers,” José said again. He spat and I listened to it smack the ground. “If you asked me, y’all’d be in the hospital by now. Broke in a million places. Motherfucker.” He was looking at Victor.
He turned back, looked. When he faced us again, he wasn’t smiling. “Eddie’s here now. Get ready for Judgment Day, puntos.”
The circle that surrounded us parted as though a curtain, and José stepped back to let Eddie through. Heavy footfalls crunched the brittle, cleat-marked ground. I couldn’t look up at him. Victor’s cut kept drip, drip, dripping. There was no wind and the air was heavy, tense. I kept my eyes down and felt the sun roast my flesh.
“Get up.” His voice was flavored by accent. It was a deep voice, and quiet, a voice used to being obeyed.
“Hey, pendejos, Eddie told y’all to get yo’ asses up,” José said
“Get up,” Eddie said again.
We stood slowly. The pain grew more acute, the temperature more severe. The heat was
layered in that dry, windless bowl, and the air was thick with industry. In the haze we were dwarfed by Eddie, barely ghosts, standing trial on the waste. There was no moisture except for our sweat and blood, falling freely and devoured by the dead earth.
“Like José says, you guys are lucky.” His voice was measured and even, lazily closing shop for the day. “Like José says, I’m on probation. Do you know why?”
Victor hesitated, shook his head.
“Something worse than putting three soplón motherfuckers in a hospital,” he said, a sudden edge to that voice. “This much I will say to you.”
Everyone knew the story.
“What you did to Luis was disrespectful,” he said, staring at Victor. “You and your punto friends here.” He surveyed us, a farmer picking out sick livestock. “You got Luis suspended. And that was one too many, so Luis got kicked out. You got him kicked out.”
Victor said nothing. His cut was running blood down his cheek.
“I can’t do nothin’ right now,” Eddie went on. His voice was quiet and powerful in that dead, dry bowl. “And you lucky, ‘cause I won’t do nothin’ later.” Victor’s shoulders slumped. A rattling sigh escaped my chapped lips. The figures around us looked at each other, muttering. José stared murder at Victor.
“But if you bitches ever fuck with mine again?” Eddie shook his head and clicked his tongue slowly. “If you ever fuck with mine again, you get much worse. This I promise. Probation or no.”
We stood there in the shadow of the crossbar as they walked off back towards the buildings, Eddie and his group fading to wavering specters in the afternoon heat. José was talking, agitated, and he kept looking back at us.
The bell rang, but we couldn’t go back bloody and bruised. Questions would be asked, discipline leveled. I could hardly breathe for the air, and fell to my knees in that dusty bowl. The ground drank my sweat.
“Can you believe it?” Victor was smiling through the red in his mouth. “I mean, can you really believe it?”
Zach never said a word.