A couple years ago, the Giants had owned the neighborhood. Street corners, front stoops, the drive-in, the drug-store, the YMCA; wherever you went in the West Side, if you saw a fella coming in black and orange, you stepped lively out of his way. Buster had moved in then, in those glory days, and by the time he’d been there two months his girl was wearing a black leather jacket and his beat-up old jalopy had Giants spray-painted on the hood. He didn’t so much fit in as take over, and even if he wasn’t exactly the leader by name, everyone knew he was the guy. Someone had to be the guy, and Buster was it.
Even the rumble with the Fish didn’t really stop him. Sure, it was an ugly year on the West Side; Buster was in and out of the doc’s while one by one, the guys who’d welcomed him into the gang dropped off the face of the earth. It got too hot around the neighborhood for Cody’s old man or Andres’s girl, and Pat shocked them all by going off to college (though the word was he had a social disease and just wanted a new pool of girls). Aubrey hung around, but he was kind of a mess, too old to rumble and too young to really figure out his life. So when Buster finally got off his crutches and came back to the block, it was just him and the lifers – Timmy pushing tea on the corners, cool-headed Matt who was in charge if anyone was, Madison still daring people to ask him if he had a girl’s name, and the rest.
Buster and Matt put their heads together, and made nice with old Brian who owned the drugstore and Officer Bochy who was walking the West Side beat, and really before you knew it the Giants were going again, I mean, really rolling. New kids in the neighborhood got picked over by all the gangs, like usual, but the Giants made out good – and nowhere better than Melky. Melky had a weird name and he didn’t talk much, but when he did it counted. He was big, and he was fast, and he learned real fast what it was to live and own turf on the West Side. When he did things, he did ‘em with style.
It got so good that when the prep-school kids came through town, for that big dance in July, everyone on the West Side – everyone in the city who owned a street – got behind Melky. He made those kids look bad on the dance floor, and he made ‘em look bad in the back streets outside when things got testy, and he walked off with one of their switchblades in his pocket and two of their girls on his arm. He was Melky, and he was a bad sonofa, and he was a Giant.
Officer Bochy broke it to them himself, in Old Man Brian’s drugstore. They’d all been in and out of the station house, often enough to know most of the coppers by name; Boch was the only one still treated ‘em like they was human beings. He picked up Melky for loitering and smoking, just routine; trying to make numbers, make some small talk in the station, make sure the kid wasn’t in no real, actual trouble, and get him out. They all knew the score.
Then the FBI man showed up.
Officer Bochy didn’t know what the kid had done, and the Fed wasn’t about to tell him. Talked to his sergeant, who talked to his captain, and Melky with his swagger and his big grin and his stolen cigarettes got put in a big black FBI van and taken out of the city. Maybe up to the capital. It was silent while Officer Bochy talked about it, and silence greeted him when he said “Maybe you kids oughta think about this. This is real stuff. The park? The dance hall? The drugstore – no offense, old man,” he told Brian, who was pretending to be deaf and blind, “But that ain’t real. Not like whatever your little pal did. Might be time you took a step back.”
They thanked him for his time, with excruciating politeness, and when they started drifting outside there were East Side kids waiting for ‘em, the Nationals who owned more streets than anyone in town. It wasn’t really a rumble. Rumbles had two sides fighting back and forth, and most usually everyone could compare cuts and scabs and bruises back on their turf and come up with a way their side had won. This was a beating, and everyone knew it, and it only stopped when it did ‘cause someone heard sirens.
The Giants went home, one by one. Hey old man. Hey moms. Big sis, little brother. Thought, each in their own way, about a different sort of life. Maybe snuck out after curfew and talked to their girls, or each other, about it. Or about something else entirely. And while they did that, word started getting out around town.
Couple days later, things were quiet on the West Side. So quiet that when the Padres, the kids who claimed the streets around the Church of Saint James, crept into the Cove and opened up their spray cans to start putting their name on Giants turf, they could all hear the hiss of paint, loud as hell in the still air. It was unsettling, but soon enough they got into what they were doing. Nobody came to stop them.
Ross was standing on watch. He was probably the smartest kid in the West Side, but it wasn’t the kind of smart that made you a success in a gang; he was in fact, thinking about what a bad idea this all it was and how he could get out of it when he heard the roar of the engine. Buster’s beat-up old jalopy, still running, GIANTS painted in orange on its black hood, came screaming down the dead-end street, tires squealing, and swivelled as it stopped, turning sideways to block the mouth of the alley.
He turned to scream an alert, and realized it was too late. The Giants were swimming up out of the waters of their precious Cove, falling on his unaware gang, and just like he’d heard about the other night, it wasn’t a rumble. It was a beating, a West Side ass-kicking, and all he could do was stand there and watch. Ross turned around and Buster was coming up out of his car, his own can of orange spray-paint in hand.
“Guess what, daddy-o?” he said, cool and composed as anything, like he hadn’t just done fifty down a blind alley and leaped out while his buddies were conducting a serious manners lesson not forty feet away. He just reached out and put the orange spraypaint in Ross’s hand. “You’re a workin’ man today.”
Ross swallowed, turned around, and tried not to look at his Padres whimpering and wincing on the pavement by the Cove while he got down to business erasing all their hard work. They’d heard that the Giants were done with turf on the West Side, and so they’d showed up to bite theirs off early. Turned out, the neighborhood was still very much in question.