by Bryan Russell
Emilio was nine, but he had a good arm. He could throw. Better than Chris and Juan, and he always had to throw first, otherwise nothing would happen. They never threw until he did.
They had some good stones, and when the cops' car pulled around the corner he was ready. It was unmarked, the car, and they weren’t in uniform, but everybody in the neighborhood knew they were cops.
Emilio threw, yelling as he did so, and Chris and Juan threw after him. His friends missed, but Emilio’s first stone made a metallic chunk sound against the fender, and his second throw hit the windshield, leaving a white mark in the glass.
The cops were jumping out of the car. They had beer bottles in their hands. Emilio ran. He could hear his friends behind him, their breathing, the sound of their shoes hitting the ground. Down the alley they went. The cops were shouting and chasing, all four of them. Chris ran past Emilio. He couldn’t throw worth shit, Chris, but he could always run.
Chris split left down an alley, and Emilo and Juan went straight ahead, and then right down another alley, and then left, and right.
And then they stopped. They’d come this way a thousand times, where an old chain-link gate had once stood to block the alley, but had rusted away years ago. But somebody had put up a new gate, an ugly thing made of old boards. And it was high.
Emilio jumped, tried to climb, but a big hand grabbed him and threw him on the ground. His breath left in a big whoosh. There was pain, and he tried to breathe.
“Hey, fuckers,” one of the cops said. He punched Juan, and Juan fell down.
There was blood all over Juan’s face, and Juan started to cry. Snot smeared down over his mouth.
A hand hauled Emilio up.
“You gonna cry too?”
“Fuck you, cop,” Emilio said.
The cop laughed. He had nice clothes, talked around a cigarette in his mouth. He turned and kicked Juan, who cried even harder. “Your friend’s crying.” The cop looked back at Emilio and then backhanded him across the face.
Emilio staggered, but stayed up. His face went hot. His uncle had hit him like that, once. It was like an iron had been pressed to his face. His Nan’s old steel iron, the one she used to press her Sunday dress. He never thought she was strong enough to lift it, but she always did.
He felt hot and numb, but he didn’t cry.
Emilio watched as two of the cops kicked Juan, and a third one unzipped and pissed on him. Laughter, beer bottles raised in an ironic toast.
The cop that had hit Emilio looked at him closely. He laughed, handed Emilio a half-full beer.
The cops walked away. Emilio drank the beer. Something inside him went as numb as his face. It was a slower numbness, but just as deep.
Juan was crying. He was wet with piss. His lip and chin were covered in snot.
After awhile Chris came down the alley. He looked flushed, but he was breathing easily. “What happened?”
“Juan balled,” Emilio said. He turned and kicked Juan. Then he kicked him harder, and Juan’s crying grew louder. Emilio kept kicking, and Chris joined in. They kicked for awhile, until Juan stopped crying and just whimpered.
Emilio threw the beer bottle at the wall and it exploded. He’d always had a good arm. He looked back down the alley.
Someday he was gonna be a cop.