First published in Powder Burn Flash (2011)
Antoine watched his partner, T-Bone, saunter along Fourth Street as if nothing important was supposed to happen.
"Where you been?" Antoine checked his watch. "We were to meet in the alley thirty minutes ago."
"Momma needed help putting the groceries away."
Antoine threw his hands in the air and turned to look into the window of Ling's Buffet. The smell of garbage oozing from the alley two stores away mingled with the aroma of Thai Chicken and Orange Beef. Antoine inhaled and didn't notice a difference.
"Well now we got to improvise." Antoine removed his glasses and wiped sweat from his eyes.
"That illegal, too?" T-Bone asked.
"What? No, that ain't illegal, too. It means we got to change our plan."
T-Bone removed a cigarette from the pack of Marlboros tucked into the sleeve of his stained t-shirt and lit it. "Want one?" he said, offering the pack to Antoine.
"No way. Those things'll kill you."
"So will Maurice if you don't pay him what you owe him by tomorrow," T-Bone said. He blew a smoke ring and watched it drift away and dissolve.
Antoine scanned the people standing at the corner waiting for the light to change. Everyone one was either reading the paper or talking on a phone. Nobody appeared to be paying attention to them. Still, he dragged T-Bone into the alley.
"That's why we was robbing the jewelry store this morning before any customers showed up. Remember?" Antoine pointed at Finn's Jewelers nestled across the street between Javier's Bodega and Maggie's Alterations.
"Yeah, but I don't need the money no more." T-Bone nudged a brown paper bag with his shoe and winced at the damp blob underneath.
"What do you mean you don't need the money? You owe Maurice, too. We stole his pills together."
"I told momma what I did and how I owed Maurice a bunch of money. She had some stashed away for me to go to college."
"Don't know for sure. Enough to pay off Maurice. Not enough left over for college."
Antoine stared at his partner, his mouth open.
"Only thing is," T-Bone said, "Momma says I can't see you no more. Says I shouldn't be hanging around with guys your age." T-Bone looked toward the street. "Probably a good thing."
Antoine's eyes grew wider.
"Well what am I supposed to do now? It's not like my problem is reversible. Maurice is sure to escalate things."
"I came to tell you I can't talk to you no more." T-Bone's back remained toward Antoine. "Don't know what you're going to do about Maurice. Don't want to know. I learned my lesson." He put his hands in his pants pockets. "See you around, Antoine. Good luck with Maurice."
Antoine watched T-Bone leave the alley and disappear from view. He started to yell something when his cell phone chirped. "Hey, Maurice, just talking about you to T-Bone."
"Yeah, T-Bone told me."
"Sure I'll have the money tomorrow."
"Oh yeah, Maurice, I know what will happen if I don't."
"No, I can't walk far on two broken legs. Don't worry, man. I'll have the money."
"Right. Tomorrow at noon. See you then."
Antoine snapped the phone shut and looked across the street at the jewelers. He checked his watch. 9:43. Late, but what choice did he have? He took a deep breath, shrugged his shoulders, and followed T-Bone's path out of the alley.
He joined the crowd at the corner and crossed the street at the next light change. He paused at the Open sign in the jeweler's window, reached under his denim jacket, and felt the revolver resting in its holster. It wasn't how he'd planned on doing it, but this way might be better. With any luck he'd be arrested. That would give him time to figure what to do about Maurice.