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The Problematic Virtue:
Miguel strolled to the checkout at the gas station and slapped down the pack of gum. “A couple of Phillies, too,” he said to the cashier. The older white man with droopy eyes and a gut hanging over the counter between them fetched the cigarettes and the cigars, and then said, “you already pay for your gas?”
“I paid outside with my card. Can’t you see it on your thing there?” Miguel said, pointing to the computer next to the register. The cashier glanced at the computer, and then his eyes drifted towards Miguel while finishing the checkout. He didn’t answer Miguel’s question.
Boulder was the furthest thing from Miguel’s sort of town. He didn’t quite fit in. Possibly due to the teardrop tattoo under his eye or his oversized frame, but these sort of distrustful eyes seemed to follow him everywhere he went. When white people saw a giant Mexican with an expensive truck (albeit a truck that lacked its driver’s side window) and nice clothes but with tattoos on his face… he knew he was an anomaly here, and bound to attract attention.
“I need a couple bags of ice, too,” Miguel said.
The listless man continued his glare and said, “ice is outside. Just two bags.”
Miguel handed him the cash for his purchases, then shook his head at the man while exiting the store. He opened the freezer and considered taking more than two, then decided against it. While tempted to grab as many as he could carry just to show up that racist cashier, he didn’t want the hassle. He walked out to his truck, still parked at the pump. He set down the ice and fixed the sagging duct-tape holding the cellophane that had replaced his driver’s side window.
His sister, the smart one in the family, went to college at CU and fell in love with the little mountain-side city, so she stayed. Since Miguel loved his sister and wanted to be close, he moved from Arizona. Now he just dealt with the cold weather, and the snow and ice, and frat boys in expensive North Face jackets, and all the other quirks of this white-bread town. He’d made the best of it, and now he had a good thing with Wiles and his crew, aside from what happened two days ago. He hadn’t discussed that incident with Wiles yet, but he knew a conversation was coming soon.
He opened the door and threw the bags of ice to his friend Theo, who sat in the passenger-side of the truck. The second bag hit his glove compartment on its way, causing it to pop open, and Miguel’s 9mm pistol to slip out onto a pile of library books on the floor. Theo quickly covered up the pistol with a steel-toed boot, and then returned the gun to the glove compartment while Miguel hopped in and started up the truck. “Careful, homes,” Theo said. “Gotta be careful around here.”
Miguel drove by Boulder High and reminded himself to keep the speedometer under 25, because the gun wasn’t the only thing in the glove box that could land him in trouble. He had just come off paper and wasn’t looking to go back on probation any time soon. Fortunate that braining Ray with the beer bottle hadn’t turned into a visit from the black and whites.
“What happened?” Theo said, pointing at the cellophane window.
“Don’t worry about it,” Miguel said. Miguel had hoped that Theo wouldn’t ask.
“Was it a rock? Rock done that to my cousin’s windshield last month.”
“It wasn’t a rock,” Miguel said.
“It happened at the bridge. I can’t talk about it.”
Two days before, Brian had asked Miguel to meet him in Commerce City, under the bridge that Wiles frequently used for meet-ups. An overpass ran above train tracks, and underneath it, on each end the concrete supports angled up towards the bridge to form something like ramps, offset by giant columns. The low volume of traffic and lack of other nearby buildings ensured seclusion. The area had become so well known among their circles that when you said, “meet me at the Adams County bridge” or just “the Commerce City bridge,” everyone knew exactly where you meant.
“For real? You not going to tell me?” Theo said.
“Brian was going to do a deal, and he was freaked out about it. He asked me to go, so I went, and some shit went wrong. That’s all I can say about it.”
“How long I know you?” Theo said.
“I get it, Theo, but I don’t know if I should,” Miguel said.
Miguel caved, but decided not to tell him the whole story. The less Theo knew the better. “I was supposed to meet up with him at the bridge at 9, but there was an accident on 287 and I was late. When I got there, shit was already all out of control. I pulled up and Brian was on the ground. I could see him in his headlight, but everything else was dark. Brian was waving his hands in the air, like he was trying to surrender and I didn’t see anyone else, but I knew there was somebody there. I figured they couldn’t see me if I couldn’t see them, though.
“I got out of my truck, a few feet behind Brian. Then I heard the shouting, and I could see five of them, or maybe six, all in dark clothing, standing a ways back from us. Some light– like moonlight, or a headlight, or I don’t know– was shining and I could see one of them holding a pistol. He was pointing it at Brian.
“I wasn’t expecting all this shit. They noticed me, and some of them turned their pieces at me, so I raised my hands too. I told Brian to be cool, that I would take care of it, but he was seriously on the edge, like he was going to lose it. He said they were just talking, and then they all pulled their guns, like from out of nowhere. Then I saw Ray standing there over Brian.”
“For real?” Theo said. “Ray pulled a piece on you. That some bullshit. What the hell’s that guy’s problem?”
“I guess he thought I deserved it, after I split his head open. But I didn’t know; Brian didn’t tell me who he was going to meet. That’s what’s so crazy… I know a lot of these guys, and they got their heaters in my face like I’m some kind of gang banger.”
“I never got why you hung out with those North Siders, anyhow. Bunch of fucking thugs. Now you see. They do whatever Ray says.”
“Yeah, you’re right,” Miguel said. “Anyway, I stepped back, towards my truck. I ducked down and pulled the shotgun out from the space behind the seat. I raised it up and cocked it and came out from behind the door.”
“What did you do?”
Before Miguel could continue, they arrived at the driveway of his house. The front of the house was devoid of people. Strange, because when he left the house, a dozen or more of his friends and acquaintances were drinking and smoking on his porch.
“What did you do?”
“I don’t know, Theo, I can’t tell you about this yet. I’m sorry; it’s all fucked up right now. Just trust me, please.”
Theo grumbled under his breath.
“Why is nobody on the front porch?” Miguel said.
“Yeah, weird. Everybody go home?”
“Can you check around the back and see if the keg’s still there?”
Miguel exited the car with his bags of ice and approached the house. When he stepped onto the porch, instead of music, shouting came from his living room. He opened the front door to see Wiles standing opposite some fat white kid, both of them puffed up like cons in a prison yard.
“Just what the hell is going on here?” Miguel said.
Tyson answered him without taking his eyes off Wiles. “This is none of your business.”
Miguel dropped the bags of ice. “Oh it’s not? That right there,” he said, pointing at Wiles, “is my boy, but I don’t know who you are. And this is my house. I don’t know what you think you’re doing, but if anybody starts any shit in my house, it’s me.”
Tyson faced Miguel for the first time. Miguel had six inches and fifty pounds on him. Tyson’s mouth dropped open and he quickly returned his attention to Wiles.
“I’ll see you outside. We–”
“No you won’t.” Miguel interrupted. “Ain’t gonna be no drama tonight. You can go on and get out.” Miguel positioned himself in between them. He parked like a tree before Tyson, folding his branches across his ample trunk.
“Take it easy, Tyson,” Wiles seethed. “Go on, punk bitch.”
To Wiles, Miguel said, “be cool. I don’t need the cops here right now. Just let him walk out.”
Tyson exited in a huff with his chest still puffed, trying to save whatever face he had left. Miguel scanned the crowd, and noticed Brian giving Miguel a hesitant wave. After what had happened, Miguel wasn’t ready to talk to Brian yet. Miguel pretended he hadn’t seen his friend’s greeting. Miguel instead addressed Wiles now that Tyson was gone, and the message on Wiles’ face wasn’t one of gratitude.
“I could have handled that on my own,” Wiles said. “But besides that, you and me need to talk. I got to holler at my boy here, but then you and me are going to talk about Commerce City.”