Jamie’s breath pushed against the stiff fabric of the new black bandana covering the lower half of his pale face. Steam puffed out the top where his nose pushed the fabric away from his cheeks; it created fog on the inside of his dark Ray Ban sunglasses. A flat-brimmed hat was pushed low on his forehead, and when he wrinkled his face against the cold, the brim touched the rim of his glasses. For three days, he had patrolled this neighborhood, waiting for the right opportunity, and he had dressed up for the occasion.
Behind a hedge at the beginning of a cul-de-sac, Jaime Vidrine, Henry Marshall, and Davey Rainey watched for the brown Escalade to leave the garage of 420 Deepwater Lane. As far as Jamie could tell, this was the only house on the block without a nanny.
At 8:39, the garage door began to slide open, and the three boys, hidden by the suburb’s outstanding horticulture, could see a dark woman loading two children into the van. When she got into the driver’s seat, the three boys ducked behind the hedge and waited for the SUV to pass. By this time, everyone in the neighborhood had left for work, but no gardeners or house cleaners had arrived yet. No one would notice their approach.
At 8:41, when they were sure the woman and her children were around the corner, the three boys vaulted the hedge and sprinted down the block, running easily in their athletic shoes. Jamie was wearing an empty backpack and carrying one of his father’s old pitching wedges in his gloved right hand. Henry and Davey were similarly equipped. If Jamie’s plans were correct, they had until 9:17 before she returned. Until then, the house would be empty, and they would have plenty of time to clear out the valuables.
Jamie reached the fence on the left side of the house, which blocked off the backyard. He jumped over it, his two friends following closely behind. He swept around the side of the house to the sliding glass door. He didn’t even try to open it: he swung his golf club and a spider web of cracks weaved across the glass. He swung again, and this time the head of the club broke cleanly through, shattering the door, and sending thousands of light blue shards spilling across the wood floor. He entered, peering around the dining room that he had just crashed into. Henry and Davey came in behind him.
Jamie pointed at Davey and then toward the staircase that was visible down a short hallway. He’d send Davey up to find the jewelry or, if they were lucky, a gun. To Henry, who was a little brighter, he said, “Living room, den, office, whatever. Electronics. Go.” He was orchestrating the burglary like a seasoned criminal, despite his complete inexperience. But he was driven, and he knew exactly why they were here.
He turned a corner, and as he did, he spotted a vase full of fresh flowers. He swung his golf club like a baseball bat, smashing through the center of the delicate container. Stems and petals spun through the air around him, and water splashed onto the floor.
Jamie quickly jumped away, not wanting to get his shoes wet.
Upstairs, he could hear Davey rummaging through drawers. Off to Jamie’s left, Henry was stuffing a videogame console into his backpack. Jamie lifted a framed photograph off its moorings on the wall and casually dropped it onto the floor, where the frame cracked. He went to kick it when a bang ricocheted around Jamie’s head. Instinctively, he ducked, and then searched for the source of the noise.
“Don’t fucking move!” he heard through the wall.
“Hey, man, come on, come on, come on,” said Henry, stammering.
“The fucking cops are coming, you little piece of shit, don’t you fucking move. Are there others?” asked the voice. Its anger resonated through walls, seeming to make the air vibrate.
Jamie moved silently back through the house toward the back door. He paused in the dining area, and then moved around the wall to his right, where the voice was commanding Henry to get on the ground. Henry was babbling, perhaps crying, telling the man not to hurt him. Jamie could tell the man was facing away from him by the echoes of his voice.
Jamie crept into the room. Henry was lying face down on the carpet, his arms spread wide, his backpack gaping open. The man was pointing a shotgun at Henry’s pitiful face. The man’s dark skin on the back of his bald head gleamed with sweat. Above Henry, a hole in the ceiling indicated the direction of the only warning they would receive from this man.
“Are there others here with you?” screamed the man.
Henry strained to meet his gaze and his eyes widened. Jamie smashed his golf club into the back of the man’s skull. A wet thud emanated from flesh as a dark red gash opened in his skin. Blood poured immediately onto the man’s wool sweater. He bent forward and the barrel of the gun planted into the carpet.
Jamie swung again, this blow landing only centimeters from the original shot, and blood flicked off the man in a rope that traced the path of the club’s head. His knees bent and he fell to the floor, struggling to stay upright. Henry was already on his feet, grabbing his bag, and dashing for the door. Davey’s own footfalls crashed down the stairs and followed Henry. The hallway wall obstructed Jamie’s view but he was confident that Davey’s round, stupid face had the look of a cockroach in a room where someone had just turned on the lights.
The gun sagged in the man’s grip as his torso wobbled. He was kneeling in a position like prayer. Jamie crossed into his line of vision. Feebly, the man raised the gun, but Jamie kicked it away. The gun bounced against the far wall. The man’s eyes were fluttering, like he was struggling just to keep them open. Jamie grabbed his face with his free hand, positioning his thumb on one cheek and his forefinger on the other.
“The cops… are already coming…” whispered the man, barely maintaining consciousness. Jamie didn’t even imagine the approaching sirens. His face burned behind his makeshift mask, his heart throbbed in his chest. He had never felt more excited.
“There wasn’t supposed to be anyone here,” Jamie said, matching the man’s quiet tones. “Why? Why are you here?”
The man’s eyes, filled intermittently with panic and confusion, opened and closed twice. “I… I work from home,” he said, regaining some of the timber in his deep voice. If he had been on his feet, he would have made Jamie look like a child, but on his knees, Jamie’s small frame towered above him.
Jamie uncontrollably sputtered a syllable of laughter, a mocking, self-indulgent, ecstatic kind of exclamation that betrayed his joy at the circumstances. You make your own luck, I suppose.
Jamie kicked the man in the stomach, and he folded over, placing his forehead on the carpet. Jamie lifted him back up so he was kneeling again. He kicked him again, and lifted him again. The blood from the man’s head wound streamed down his back, soaking the man’s shorts.
Jamie put both hands back on his golf club and wound up. He split the man’s cheekbone like a vase.
He jogged away from the house, crossing the backyard, until he reached the fence, which he jumped over. He made his way back to his family’s house three blocks away by variably climbing over and vaulting fences. When he reached his destination, he slid through the ground-floor window into his basement bedroom. Henry and Davey were already waiting for him. Henry was shaking slightly and Davey was sitting with his back against the wall, lightly tapping the back of his head against the plaster. They both seemed surprised to see him.
“What the fuck, Jay?” Davey blurted. “That was your score and you didn’t see the guy with the gun?”
“I handled it,” was Jamie’s response. He turned to Henry, and said it a soothing voice, “Hey, H-bomb, come on, I took care of you, didn’t I?” Henry didn’t look back. He just stared unblinkingly at the floor. His hands were clenched.
“You guys, we’re fine, look at us! Davey, you scored the jewelry?” Davey nodded. “And I can see a new game console in there, and a shitload of games,” said Jamie, motioning to Henry’s backpack, which he was still wearing. “We are fine, no one’s hurt, and I handled it. Chill out.”
Henry and Davey left. Henry would swap the jewelry and console for pills, and they’d sell the pills to tweakers and high school kids. It was the easiest money they’d ever made. Jamie bought a new television. He put it next to his old television and used them both at the same time.
A week later, Jamie’s mother Abigail came into his bedroom. She sat down on his couch next to him, in front of his new TV. Jamie glanced at her and he knew what was coming. She looked troubled, like she had to ask him a question she didn’t want to ask.
“What is it?” he asked bitterly.
“It’s been six months since you graduated. Don’t you think it’s time you got a job and moved out? Or maybe you should enroll in the college. We’d be happy to pay rent for you if you were in school. Tuition too.” Abigail’s words seemed to stick in her mouth, like she was hesitant, holding them inside, chewing on them. She had practiced her little speech, thinking of ways to make it seem enticing to him, but in her delivery, she lacked confidence.
Jamie instantly became enraged, but he masked his feelings behind a veneer of sarcasm. “Sure, mom, love to. I’ll head on down to their office and sign up for classes today.” Before she could answer, he had sprung from the couch and was moving toward the door. His small frame moved nimbly across the room. He grabbed a jacket out of his closet as he went.
Abigail remained seated, wounded. Every week, it seemed, was a new sarcastic flourish, a hurtful turn of phrase, a stormy departure. Jamie was gone.
Jamie’s feet thumped against the sidewalk as he tore away from his family’s house. Insulted, powerless, emasculated. His mother treated him like a child, but he had convinced himself that he was his own man. The events on Deepwater Lane had satisfied a sublimated belief that his heart was bigger than his outward appearance. That day, he had taken something that belonged to him.
He marched toward the mall, his feet pounding a discordant rhythm along the road. His footfalls were so loud they distracted him from the sounds of distress in the park ahead of him. When he reached the grass, and the pavement stopped resisting the forceful falls of his shoes, he looked up. On the basketball court fifty feet in front of him, a boy, perhaps thirteen or fourteen, was sitting on the chest of a much smaller boy. The bully’s knees had the other’s arms pinned against the smooth pavement and he was using his hands to slap the young boy mercilessly. A shriek of terrified panic cut through Jamie’s furious haze.
Jamie didn’t stop to think. He broke into a sprint, closing the distance in seconds. He speared the older boy, peeling him cleanly off the other child. The bully’s look of gleeful dominance transformed into a horrified expression before turning into a defiant scowl. He pushed against Jamie, his considerable girth generating force under Jamie’s slight figure. But the boy couldn’t resist Jamie’s ferocity. With two quick moves, Jamie had positioned himself on top of the boy’s shoulders, pinning him like this boy had pinned the other. But he didn’t start slapping.
He balled his small hand into a fist and punched the bully on the bridge of the nose. It cracked under the force, painfully relocating to the left of its original position. Jamie struck the same spot again, and blood spurted out of the boy’s nostrils, splashing Jamie’s knuckles in a thin red coat. Jamie reached back into the air as if to grab something to strike him with, clenched his fingers around nothing, and brought the fist back down onto the boy’s cheek.
Jamie sat there, pinning the now wilted boy helplessly to the ground, extracting the only kind of power he’d ever felt. Every punch opened new wounds until blood splattered on Jamie’s face with each fresh strike. He stood and walked away, feeling alive.