.DADDY, WATCH THIS.
--Robert Klein Engler
by the slice
A light autumn rain turns the street by Pat's Pizza into a black mirror. In
that mirror, the glare of streetlights mixes with the mud and oil of passing
cars. Any clear reflection of the world is lost in a swirl of bright and dark
After a while, a metallic blue SUV pulls up to the corner. The boy who is
standing with his back to the drive-in parking lot looks up. He nods, "Yes," and
walks towards the SUV. There is a click like the sound of a revolver cocking.
The boy pulls the door wide and gets in. He slams the door with all his
strength. As the driver speeds off, the boy with his wet starter jacket slides down
the leather bucket seat.
In a moment the red tail lights of the SUV join the traffic on 79th Street
and disappear. A steady rain runs down the steamy window of the pizza parlor,
now. The paper sign that says "pizza by the slice" begins to curl with the
dampness. Ask the young man working inside whose hands are white with flour what
just happened outside and he will say he saw nothing. Then, he'll just look at
you and keep chewing his gum.
An hour later, Tony Rodriguez sits in Pat's Pizza and counts out the 5 twenty
dollar bills. After his coke and Italian beef, he'll have more than $90 left.
Not bad for an hour's work. First he let the old guy in the SUV touch him,
then he beat the old guy off. These old guys don't spurt much, but this one
surprised Tony and was a two tissue trick. He wanted Tony to finger his foreskin
just the right way, too. Tony did what he was told, counting out the strokes in
his mind. He rested his arm at 134.
Tony has learned that with older tricks, they want you out of the car as soon
as they are done, so he was grateful this guy at least drove him back to the
parking lot where he picked him up. They talked a little as they drove down
79th Street and Abba played on the stereo. The guy said he wants to see Tony
again. Tony said he will be at the parking lot next week, same time.
"Look for my SUV," the old guy said. "You have soft hands."
Tony was hungry. He hadn't eaten all day. The Italian beef tasted good and
the sport peppers had a nice bite. When it rains, usually you can't score, and
you just stand on the corner and get cold and wet, but tonight Tony was lucky.
He has money, now, for food and can go back to the motel room to sleep.
Everyone will be happy to see him. He can pay the rent.
Tony slurps the last bit of coke from the bottom of his cup. He is almost
full. Still, there is the vague emptiness in his thoughts that never goes away
except when he is high. When he gets to the motel he'll take a shower and smoke
a joint. That'll help him forget.
Soon, Luis will pick Tony up and they will drive to the Double Day Inn, just
off Southwest Highway, near the Chicago suburb of Maple Lawn. They have been
staying there for over a month now, all in the same room. There are two girls,
Maria and Conchita, besides Luis and Tony. There are two older guys as well,
the Jimenez brothers, José and Raúl, who recently arrived from L. A. and are
friends of Luis. They don't seem like brothers to Tony and he doesn't like the
way they glare at him, but they are west coast members of Luis's gang, so they
are welcome. Tony thinks it's odd the Jimenez brothers have the number 13
tattooed on their left forearms, so he asked Luis about it. Luis said it was a
California thing and not to worry, so Tony just stays out of their way. They
don't know about Tony's hustling, and what if they did? Luis will take care of
Tony, just as he always has since they met.
Tony sees the van coming down the street from where he sits by the Pizza
Parlor window. One of the headlights angles off to the left making the van seem
like some crippled behemoth moving through the rain. He knows it is Luis come to
pick him up.
As soon as the van pulls into the parking lot, Tony is out of his seat and
running through the rain. He jerks the van's door open and almost falls into the
seat. Tony looks out the windshield and sees that the wipers are half
working, making a blur of colored lights as they stutter across the wet glass.
"You get the money," Luis asks?
"Here," Tony says, handing Luis the folded bills. Then, Tony grips Luis's
hand and holds it for a second, until Luis pulls away and turns to drive out of
the parking lot.
"Your hand is cold," Luis says with the tone of apology in his voice.
"I had to wait in the rain too long for that asshole," Tony says.
"You did good, kid, now we got a place to stay 'til next week."
"And after that," Tony asks?
"That trick is good for a few hundred more. If not, don't worry. I got a
Tony is silent for the rest of the ride to the motel, almost hypnotized by
the glare of traffic. The broken heater fogs up the windshield, so the world
from where Tony sits becomes lost in a fog. Tony stares straight ahead and thinks
back to the leather seats of the SUV. Then, Tony turns to look at Luis, who
is intent on driving. The colors of the night are soft on Luis's face. Tony
turns and looks again at the windshield wipers as they fan back and forth. They
beat the rain away with a stead rhythm like the rhythm of his heart. Outside,
the rain licks the street clean like a cat licks its paws after eating. Tony
knows now the truth about hunger: it always comes back.
You can get away with a lot when you're 17. Tony knows that and pushes the
limit. Today, he is at the mall with Maria, one of the girls who stays at the
motel with the gang. Maria needs some new clothes, so Tony sits and waits for
her to try on some jeans at J. C. Penny's. They will go to the music store next
and see what's happening. Maybe Tony will buy the new Rappin' Aztec Posse CD.
Maybe he will steal it.
Shoplifting is easy for Tony. He has fast hands and wears big clothes. He
started doing shoplifting back in San Antonio when he was 13. When his father
came home drunk and there was no money for food, he could always sell whatever he
lifted for hot-dogs and a soda. His little sister was so happy when he
brought her home an ice cream cone paid for by that money.
Tony hated high school in San Antonio. He was a bright kid and knew how to
read but was bored with the rules and conformity school demanded. One day, when
he was just over 15, he got up in the morning and said to himself, fuck this
shit, I'm leaving.
He took the bus to Houston, then to New Orleans, and finally to Chicago. All
along the way Tony hooked up with other Latino kids who followed their
favorite urban artists. Tony then fell in with some comanchos and the crew that
follow the Rappin' Aztec Posse from concert to concert and city to city. By day
these kids would wander the shopping malls, hustle for money, and at night all
fall into the same motel room on the city's fringe. That was Tony's life and it
was way better than boring days in high school. Eventually, he met Luis, and
now they live together at the Double Day Inn.
Tony survives in the underground because he is smart and does not mind
selling his body. He is cute and young and thin, just the type of young man some
older guys want. With his tan skin, these tricks see Tony as the perfect youth
preserved in amber. Besides, Tony makes more money hustling then the girls who
are prostitutes, but waste their money on drugs. Tony never did that much
drugs. Maybe marijuana from time to time, but never crack or even meth.
When he met Luis a few months ago, he realized that Luis was into selling
drugs, but Tony overlooked that because Luis had a power like a magnet and it
drew Tony to him. Tony likes the excitement of that electric power, and the money
he sees Luis make, but more importantly to Tony are Luis's rugged looks and
hard body. Tony would like to be strong like that someday. Tony is not ready to
say it out loud yet, but he knows that when Luis is next to him, the
emptiness he feels inside goes away.
Waiting in the mall for Maria, Tony sits on a mall bench and thinks about
Luis. He wonders why he can have the body of Luis but not the man. Then, Tony
watches a boy about 6 years old play with a remote controlled car in the toy
store across from where he sits. The boy makes the car spin and then go fast. Tony
wonders what it would be like to be as fortunate as that boy. Someone cared
for him from the start. "Daddy, watch this," the boy shouts as the toy car hits
the door, flips over and then lands on its back, wheels still spinning in the
Detective Chester Jablonski puts his face right up to Tony's face and says
sternly, "Look, kid, either you work for us, or your going down on hustling
charges." Tony smells the spearmint gum the detective is chewing to mask his heavy
smokers breath. Tony thinks of an old trick who stiffed him back when he
first started hustling in San Antonio who smelled just like that.
Tony looks around. He feels the dominating presence of detective Jablonski
even when the man is standing behind him. The small interrogation room in the
Maple Lawn police station needs to be painted. What looks like a two-way mirror
is on the wall to Tony's left. The odor of too many cigarettes and too many
sweaty bodies seems to be everywhere.
"OK," Tony says reluctantly. "I'll do it, but you gotta get me outa here and
a good job when it's all over." Tony rocks back on the metal chair and folds
his hands in his lap. He looks at the detective. This is just another kind of
hustling Tony thinks.
"Don't worry kid," Jablonski says, "we'll take care of you."
"Yeah, right," Tony says sarcastically. "So, just what do you want me to do?"
"Keep your eyes open. Then, tell me what you see. We believe there is a
shipment of meth coming into Illinois from Texas soon, and we would like to know
just what those creeps the Jimenez brothers know about it.
"What about Luis," Tony asks cautiously?
"That's your business, kid, not ours. Just keep working that corner by the
pizza place. From time to time, I'll drive by in the SUV, you get in and we
talk. It's simple.
"Simple." Tony echoes. "You gona pay me, like the last time when we TALKED in
"Of course, but we'll sweeten the deal. How's about $150?"
"That's cool," Tony says, looking around the room and pretending to be
indifferent. Then he adds, "But one other thing."
"What's that," Jablonski wonders almost innocently?
"Get some more tissues."
on the floor
Tony curls up on the motel room floor below the half open window, using a few
blankets as a makeshift mattress. He hears the rush of traffic from the
highway that the room faces. Maria and Conchita are asleep in the bed. Tony cannot
sleep. He feels anxious. He knows he is growing into something, but he is not
sure what it is. T
As Tony turns on his side to become more comfortable, he hears the sound of
Luis's van pull into the parking lot. Luis has finally come back with the
Jimenez brothers. Tony half smiles. He feels safe when Luis is around.
Tony follows in his mind's eye the footsteps of the three men as they climb
the concrete steps to the second floor motel room. Tony hears the keys jangle
and then the lock click open, followed by a brightening of the room as the
three young men come through the doorway, trying to be quiet, but laughing and
talking in Spanish all the same.
"Esta chingada puerta," Luis says in a muffled voice, as the three men
shuffle into the motel room.
Then, there is the sound of piss hitting the water in the toilet bowl, more
water running in the sink and then Tony feels Luis lay down beside him on the
floor by the window. One of Jimenez brothers moves to sleep on the couch and
the other crawls into the bed. Tony remembers it's José's turn to sleep with
the chicks tonight.
Tony feels Luis's warm legs on his legs as they both share the same blanket.
They don't talk, but Tony knows what Luis wants. Tony wishes they would talk,
say something nice to each other, but they don't. Still, Tony likes the warmth
between them. Tony always gives himself freely to Luis and does what Luis
asks. He learns a lot just hanging around him. He hopes that maybe someday Luis
will teach him how to shoot the pistol Luis keeps in the van's glove
compartment. That would make a bond between them.
Once the room is silent and Luis is assured everyone is asleep, he slips off
his boxer shorts and forces Tony's head down between his legs. Tony feels the
strong hands of Luis running through his black hair. They are firm hands, and
they move the way a man would run his fingers through the silken hair of a
woman. Tony takes Luis into his mouth. After a few moments, Luis turns on his
side and falls off to sleep. Tony swallows all the words he wishes he could
out for a ride
"Is this the spot," Tony asks nervously?
"Just up the trail a bit," Luis says, as the van rattles down the Cook County
forest preserve side road.
The Jimenez brothers sit silently in the back seat nodding their heads up and
down to the beat of rap music. The Jimenez brother have arranged for a
shipment to be passed on, so Tony has to pay attention.
"Keep a look out, kid," Luis says to Tony as he pulls over to the side of the
The trees are dropping their leaves now, and their bare top branches make a
soft line of lace between the forest preserve and sky. Above the tree line Tony
sees the far off lights of the city cast a halo into the darkening sky. All
that heaped up confusion from millions of people isn't so far away, Tony
thinks, but here, just waiting, with bushes to his right going down into darkness,
they could be in the middle of nowhere.
Luis takes the pistol from his jacket pocket and points it at Tony's head. It
happens so fast Tony doesn't have time to say a word. Without a pause in his
motion, Luis pulls the trigger. Tony slumps over suddenly when the 22 cal.
bullet slams into him just above his left ear. Tony's head hits the dashboard of
the van with a thud. His body is strangely motionless, the way a puppet flops
down when its strings are cut. The Jimenez brothers bend forward, surprised.
"Damn!" José says to Luis. "You cold, dude."
"Get him out of the van," Luis yells. "I don't want the mother fucker
bleeding over everything."
The Jimenez brothers rush out of the van and fling open the passenger side
door. They then drag Tony from his seat and down into the bushes away from the
forest preserve trail.
"You gotta finish 'la rata' off," José says to Luis, pointing to Tony who
lies motionless, and face down in a mat of dry leaves and twigs.
Luis aims the pistol and fires off more shots. Bam. Bam. Bam. They hit Tony
in the head and neck over and over again. Tony's shiny black hair is now a mass
of blood and red tissue. No more faggots for me, Luis thinks. He keeps firing
until José says, "Fuck, that's enough, man."
José bends down and empties Tony's pockets. Then, he rips the gold chain that
Tony wares from his neck. The night deepens now, eating all the remaining
twilight. With the darkness comes a deep silence, too, until the sound of a car
engine is heard. The men hold still for a moment, as if a viewer above the
world clicked his remote and freeze framed a video. Slowly, the headlights of a
car appear, then pass indifferently down the gravel road to vanish behind a
stand of trees.
Robert Klein Engler lives in Chicago. Born on the southwest side of the city,
Robert taught many years at the City Colleges of Chicago. After resolving a
Chicago Commission on Human Relations complaint against the City Colleges,
which he wrote about in his book A WINTER OF WORDS, Robert went on to become an
adjunct professor at Roosevelt University. Robert holds degrees from the
University of Illinois at Urbana and the University of Chicago Divinity School. He
has received 2 Illinois Arts Council awards for his poetry. Just google his name
or click the links below to find his writing on the Internet.