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Glazed in brightness from the twenty-four hour golden arches beaming in from outside sat 8-Ball, a face balancing between hard ass and mellow yellow, his streetwise eyes saying I’m not the kind of person you’d wanna fuck with, the streaks of gray atop his head more like a reassurance that if you came at him with a genuine approach you’d be met with understanding.
8-ball’s reflection in the plate glass window was the first thing Peter had spotted, the transparent image sending a chill down his spine despite looking through eyes of determined vengeance. When they caught sight of the actual hustler they quickly shifted to the tiles down below, the fresh-faced kid making his way over to the table with rather timid steps.
“Have a seat.”
Between the two sat a boxed happy meal, beside it a tray with fries and a drink, 8-Ball taking one more bite of his quarter pounder with cheese before saying another word.
“How much cash did you bring with you?”
Peter went for his pocket.
“No, I didn’t ask you to take it out yet. Just answer the question. How much?”
“Um- all of it. Four hundred dollars.”
8-Ball took a swig of Coke before continuing.
“So why you want it? Someone punk you? Slapped you around a few times?”
“Somethin’ like that.”
“So I sell you the piece, then what? You get your instant gratification, puff out your chest a little, grow a few more hairs on those balls of yours?”
Peter’s shoulders straightened a little more but convinced no one, including himself.
“You know what you’re doing? The proper prep? What to look for? How to set it up? How to finish it clean and simple? Or you just gonna go at it like a fumbling fool and be locked up this time tomorrow?”
Peter’s silence proved the latter.
“Next time you’ll be eating Mickey D’s you’ll be looking like me, aged with your future flushed down the sewer just for some asshole.
“Maybe you’re cool with it. Some dudes out there can go take a life, pick a cherry just before it hits ripe, something that gets him locked up for what feels like forever yet still wake up with a smile across their face, that momentary bliss of feeding desire worth decades long staring at cement walls and iron bars. Some men.
“But you, you done barely stuck a toe into manhood, so you wouldn’t really know, would you?
“Take the crapshoot, up to you. All I’m saying, if it was me, knowing what I know now, I’d take those four hundred bones, jump on a Greyhound and never look back. But hey, that’s just me.”
Peter had a lot to contemplate during the next sixty seconds it took for 8-Ball to take that last bite of quarter pounder, pinch of fries and final slurp of Coke before given the choice of his life.
“Open the happy meal,” 8-Ball instructed.
Inside was a 9 mm gun and one bullet.
“Your choice. If you want both close it back up, slip me the cash under the table, and don’t be a fumbling full when you do it, keep it palmed and quiet. Take the happy meal and get out of here. Or just keep that wad in your pocket, take the bullet, and never look back.”
For the first time their eyes were locked, Peter making his choice, getting up and walking away.
As he looked out from his window seat Peter thought of his family, his hood, the only life he had ever known. All getting farther behind him with every passing moment. All being mentally buried so as to move forward. All while Peter’s thumb stroked the smooth round surface of the bullet.