"Modified Road King."
"What mods?"
Josh inhaled deeply. "Engine: 88 with oil cooler. Changed the cams to S&S gear drives with 510 lift. Took out the fuel injection and replaced it with an S&S Super E, Yost Power Tube, S&S manifold and Pingle High Flow petcock. S&S Tear Drop air cleaner cover with a K&N filter. Screaming Eagle Hi Performance ignition unit with a 6200 rpm rev limiter. Accell Super Coil, Fire Wire plug wires and spiral wound metal core wires. Accell Platinum tip plugs. Five speed tranny with Barnett kevlar clutch, self-adjusting hydraulic chain tensioner. Screaming Eagle dualies. Progressive springs in front with higher viscosity, Progressives in back. Changed the rear swing arm bushings to "STA BOW" nylon high density. SBS semi-metallic disc brake pads and the brake lines are stainless steel braids. Went to tubeless wheels."
"Lemme see."
Josh got up, took his beer and led the way out front. The Bro followed along with dos bros.
Josh gestured to his bike. Los Bros Diaz oohed and ahed.
"Suavecito," one said.
Ponytail stuck out a fist. "Manny Diaz."
They bumped fists. "Josh Pratt."
"Hey," Josh said. "Anybody hear of Team Anguish? Some MMA wannabes around here?"
"Those fuckers," Manny said. "They think they’re some kinda bad muthafuckas. Come in here on a Saturday night getting in people’s faces."
"Put Robles in the hospital," a bro said. "Fucked him up real bad."
"We had a fuckin’ riot. Had to chase ’em outta here with pool cues, no shit. But they don’t come back no more."
"You know where they’re at?" Josh said.
Manny shrugged. "No se. Fuck ’em."
Josh thanked them and got on his ride. The red dot showed an address on Franklin Street four blocks down. He turned off the electronics and walked. Josh cut over to Byerson, which ran east/west, and would bring him to Franklin. He walked by a house, porch loaded with homies, boom box blasting Fetti Wap, clouds of marijuana drifting into the street. He glanced to his right.
"What you lookin’ at, faggot?" one of them said.
Josh put his head down and walked on.
"That’s right. Run like a little bitch."
Laughing and high fives.
Milwaukee was the most segregated city in the United States.
Josh paused at the corner of Byerson and Franklin. He didn’t need to check his phone. The Team Anguish house was obvious by the six choppers parked in the driveway and on the front yard. Directly across the street from Team Anguish, to Josh’s right, the second house from the corner was a late night drug market with cars pulling in and leaving, a half dozen people on the front porch doing business and passing pipes.
Across the street on the opposite corner, a slight figure in sweats and hoodie slouched against a street lamp that cast no light. None of the street lights worked. They’d all been shot. Some kids went by on low-rider bicycles and skateboards talking loudly. A low-rider slouched by and pulled into the drug market.
Josh crossed the street. The woman shifted. As he approached he saw that she was youngish, wore horn-rimmed glasses, and had a tight ‘fro. Josh stood with hands in pockets.
"What is that, an open-air drug market?"
The woman glanced at him sharply. "Why don’t you go over there and find out?"
"No thanks," Josh said. "Aren’t there any cops around?"
The woman barked mirthlessly. "You’re not from around here, are you?"
"Madison," Josh said. "Came up for Summerfest."
"What you doin’ here, white boy? This ain’t Summerfest."
Josh handed her his card. "I’m on a job."
She looked it over and handed it back. "What kinda job?"
"See that house with the Harleys? You know those guys?"
"Buncha redneck motherfuckers like to beat people up. No offense. Even the Beat Roys leave ’em alone."
"Who the Beat Roys?"
"Local gang. They’re with the Chicago Crips."
"I’m Josh Pratt."
The woman looked at him. "Joan Price. Just got out of the army." She nodded across the street. "My little brother’s over there. Wants to bang. I’m tryin’ to figure a way to get him out."
"How old is he?"
"Twenty. I told him to enlist but he thinks he can do better on the street. But you didn’t answer my question."
"Well you’re not the client, but I’ll tell you. They have an underage girl in there. I was supposed to see her home but her thug boyfriend and his pals got the jump on me. Now I’m trying to figure how to get her out without getting killed."
"You got a piece?" Joan said.
"Nope. I’m an ex-con. Not sposed to."
Joan lifted the lip of her oversized sweatshirt revealing the butt of an automatic. "I know what I’m doing. Served two tours in the sand."
"What branch?"
"Army. I told that fool he ought to enlist. I’ve only been back a week. Soon’s I got in my momma asked me to go find my fool brother and bring him home. Sounds simple, huh? I go over there and he’ll say, ‘Sis! What are you doing here? This is my sister, just got out of the army.’ Someone will offer me a crack pipe. I don’t do that shit. I’m just working up the courage."
"The courage to do what?"
"Go in there and get him out."
"Are they packing?" Josh said.
Joan looked at him funny. "What do you think?"
"Maybe we can help each other. You live around here?"
"Couple blocks."
"Let’s go to your place."
They walked around the corner and up the street behind Team Anguish. Several houses in the middle of the block were boarded up, surrounded with hurricane fencing and marked with NO TRESPASSING signs. Josh paused at a listing gray cottage.
"This is directly behind the fight house," he said.
"Rat’s gotta live someplace too," Joan said.
Joan’s crib was ground floor in an old three-story red brick building that had once housed brewery workers. As she unlocked her deadbolts, bass thumped from above. The living room featured burgundy shag rugs on hardwood, faux zebra-striped sofa and chair, and a framed Abdul Mati Klarwein over the sofa. It was scrupulously clean. Joan pushed a button on the gleaming stereo and Graham Central Station purred. The place smelled of cornbread and patchouli.
"You want some cornbread and coffee?"
"Sure. Cream and sugar."
Josh sat on the sofa willing his muscles to relax, riding the bass, gazing at the wall. Framed black and whites of Joan with her platoon in the sand. Color photo of her in uniform proudly accepting a medal from a white-haired general. A faded photo of a little Joan pushing her little brother in one of those plastic Flintstone cars.
Joan came back with a tray with cornbread, coffee, cream and sugar. She set it on the table in front of the sofa and sat in the zebra-striped chair.
"What’s the plan?"
"Do the white boys and the crack house ever get in a beef?"
"They don’t like each other, if that’s what you mean. I think one of those white boys may have put Chico on his ass a couple times. Chico’s a bad motherfucker. Runs that crack house like a military operation. Used to be in the military, for all the wrong reasons. Got his start smuggling a hundred pounds of H into the country."
"I need a distraction to get my girl out. You need a distraction to get your brother out. What’s his name?"
"Dayshaun. They named me Airwrecka but I had it legally changed. What the fuck, Airwrecka. My momma has no more sense than a crack house rat. What’s the plan?"
"I throw a rock through the crack house window and shout, ‘ALL YOU NIGGERS GOT TO GO!’ I run into Team Anguish’s house. In the imbroglio, we each grab our respective subjects and boogie."
Joan looked dubious. "That’s your plan?"
"It’s not perfect. Got a hoodie I can borrow?"
"Whuffo?"
"Hide my face."
Joan got up, went into one of the bedrooms and returned with a gray pullover and body armor which she dumped in Josh’s lap. Josh picked up the body armor–a vest with a series of hinged plates front and rear.
"I kept that," Joan said.
Josh stood, buckled on the body armor and slipped into the XXL hoodie which turned him into a shapeless lump. "Anybody shoots, call the cops."
"I’ll call ’em, but they don’t like to come out here," Joan said.
As they departed, Joan locked two deadbolts. In their oversize hoodies they ambled up the street. An ’88 LeSabre with iridescent pearl paint riding on 25" rims rolled by thumping. Two kids skated by in the opposite direction. A man and a woman screamed at one another from their sagging front porch.
"I told you not to bring that no-account nigger ’round here!"
"This is my house, bitch! I pay the rent!"
An old guy in a pea coat and watch cap leaned against the lamppost where Josh had found Joan. Joan put an arm around his shoulder.
"You okay, Casey? You need help gettin’ home?"
He turned and grinned, teeth like the crack of dawn. "I’ll make it, sweetie-pie. Thanks for axin’."
They watched him shuffle off down the sidewalk.
"Casey was in the first Gulf War. He’s been waitin’ on the VA for six months for an appointment."
"He should go to the emergency room," Josh said.
"Maybe so. Maybe so. But they’ll come after you. The ER, I mean. They got to get paid."
Competing bass lines emanated from the crack house and Team Anguish. Anguish rocked Angel City. Crack House blasted Li’l Wayne. Josh and Joan faded into the shadows, hands in pockets. They looked at each other. Josh shrugged, stooped, picked up a half brick from the gutter and headed across the street.
Two dudes on the porch ignored him as they jabbered at each other, until he stood in the middle of the yard jiggling the brick in his hand. A sepulchral voice issued.
"Fuck you want?"
Josh hurled the brick at the smeared picture window, through which pale light filtered around drawn blinds. The brick smashed through the glass with a rifle shot and seconds later, Li’l Wayne ceased to bray.
"What the fuck?" issued from inside.
"I WANT YOU NIGGERS OUT OF THE NEIGHBORHOOD!" Josh yelled. "YOU GOT ‘TIL NOON!"
He sauntered across the street leaving a stunned silence in his wake. The dudes on the porch scrambled so hard they ran into each other coming down the steps like the Three Stooges. Josh put his head down and ran. A shot sipped by his ear and slammed into Team Anguish. Josh took the three steps in one leap and kicked in the door. Freight train comin’ through. He ran straight through the house past the stunned faces of two thugs he’d seen at the lakefront, two skinny chicks, straight out the back door, and leaped the fence separating Team Anguish from its back door neighbor.
The abandoned house was dark, quiet, its windows filled with plywood. Josh crouched behind the fence listening to shouts and exhortations and gunfire. He stared over the fence, seeing no one in Team Anguish’s back windows. Boosting himself back over the fence, he crept around the side of the house and peered from ungroomed shrubs.
Men fought in the streets. It was difficult to tell who was who because they were similarly dressed and fought in darkness. Another shot. One of the white boys turned from the melee clutching his stomach. Josh looked across the street and saw two shadowy figures exit the back yard through a gate. Joan had her brother in an iron grip as she marched the big stooge down the block.
Josh crept to where he could see the Team porch. Two girls in panties and tops stood at the rail with drinks in hands like they were at a show. Josh ran around back, entered through the kitchen door, raced through the house, up the stairs to the back bedroom and stepped inside. Brandy sat on the edge of the bed pulling on her jeans. She looked up, her mouth an ‘O.’
"Let’s go. You’re late. Your dad is gonna be pissed."
She rose and thrust herself into him, grinding her pelvis into his. "Fuck me, Josh. It’s you I really want. It was meant to be. We have the same tattoo!"
Josh thrust her harshly back on the bed. He grabbed Brandy by the wrist. "Stop screwing around."
"RAPE!" Brandy shrieked at the top of her lungs, drowning out the sound of approaching feet.
Josh felt the force and half turned as a fist smashed into his temple driving him to the ground. Roloff’s kick lifted him off the hardwood floor. That same damned rib! Couldn’t they pick another spot?
Josh turned on his side and hooked Roloff’s leg with one foot, kicking him backwards with another. Roloff went down hard. Josh was on him like a mad dog, clambering over Roloff’s legs and raining down hard blows with his elbows. Crazy shadows danced. A spontaneous eruption impacted the back of Josh’s head and he rolled to the side. A panting Brandy stood over him holding a shattered porcelain lamp. The bare bulb glowed. Roloff slammed a knee onto Josh’s gut, grabbed the broken lamp from Brandy. As Roloff swung it he pulled the cord. Josh scrambled backwards, his arm going under the bed and closing around the hasp of a baseball bat. Seizing it like a bo, he rammed it into Roloff’s groin, causing the fighter to moan and pull back. Josh scrambled to his feet and kicked Roloff, who was bent over, in the sternum.
Shots and shouts from out front. The faint wail of sirens growing louder. Josh clamped his hand around Brandy’s wrist, thumb and fingers meeting She barely had time to grab her backpack as he pulled her down the hall, down the stairs, through the house, out the back door to the fence and threw her over.
"Ow!" Brandy moaned as she landed on the weedy lawn.
Josh followed her instantly. "Are you going to cooperate?"
"Fuck no! HELP! RAPE!"
Josh clipped her on the point of her pretty little chin. She staggered backwards and landed on her ass.
"You hit me," she said with awe, touching her face.
"That’s right. And I’ll hit you again if you give me any more shit. Get up."
He put out his hand. She took it. They crept through the abandoned property, across the street and down two blocks to Joan’s house. Joan opened the door immediately.
"Get in here."
Josh and Brandy followed her into the living room where Dayshaun sulked on the sofa. He was a big boy, six four at least with enormous hands, but his demeanor was that of a child.
"How’s your bro?"
"Fucked up as usual, but he’ll get over it. Ain’t that right Dayshaun?"
The man/boy curled up into himself. Joan poked him with the toe of her Nikes.
"Ain’t that right?"
Dayshaun shifted. "Yeah, yeah. Ahmina get straight."
Joan folded her arms. "Why you bring this white girl here?"
"No way am I gonna drag her eight blocks to my bike. You got a car?"
"Hells yeah, I got a car. Whatchoo want with it?"
"If you’ll drive Brandy and me back to the client’s place, I’ll give you $500."
Brandy pulled back like a cautious pigeon. "For real?"
"I do what I say I’m gonna do."
"Show me your money."
Josh pulled out his wallet and counted out five C notes.
Joan grinned lop-sidedly. "Y’know, you’re right! Dayshaun, you’re comin’ too."
"Why do I have to go?" Dayshaun whined.
"Because I can’t trust you not to go out looking for some more goddamn crack, that’s why."
Joan double-locked her front door and added a steel brace. They went out through the back of the shotgun shack, two deadbolts, to a separate, listing, single-car garage. Joan unlocked the garage door and lifted it up by hand revealing the snout of an old Mercedes sedan. She got behind the wheel. The starter cranked. She pumped the gas and scrunched her face. The old Mercedes belched to life with a thick gray cloud from which it emerged like the opening shot of Taxi Driver.
Josh lowered the garage door and heard it click. The right passenger window rolled down with a faint whirr. "Well?"
Josh got the shotgun seat. There was plenty of room in the backseat to accommodate the lanky Dayshaun, who slumped in one corner with a sneaker on the center console. Brandy sat sullenly looking out the window.
Joan drove north. "Where we going?"
"Delafield. Get on I-90 going west."
Joan lifted her right pinkie where she clutched the wheel. "You sure they won’t shoot a sister?"
"I’ll vouch for you."
They rode in silence for several blocks. Joan turned onto Blunt St. and headed south until they came to the interstate hook-up. She pulled onto the Interstate and accelerated to match the flow.
Joan turned on the radio. Donna Summer singing "Looking Up."
"This is your classic soul station," Joan said. "WSOL, yessir. They don’t play no rap, no country and blues, no young white girls that look like boys."
"Amen," Josh said.
"You dig Donna Summer?"
"That record in particular. It was produced by Georgio Moroder. It’s her best album."
Joan looked over. "You’re an interesting man."
Josh looked backwards and lunged, galvanized like a frog leg, seizing Brandy’s phone, half hidden in her backpack where she’d been texting. He looked at the text.
"In a black Mercedes sedan heading west on I-90."
"Fuck," Josh said twisting around in the seat and looking anxiously through the back light.
"What?" Joan said.
"Brandy texted her boyfriend. Fuck it. He’s not going anywhere. The cops probably have him cuffed on the sidewalk by now."
Josh turned around again and peered through the backlight. Two, no three single headlight vehicles were coming up fast, splitting lanes. Josh glanced at the speedo. They were already doing seventy.
"Take the next exit," he said. "Here they come."
"Here who come?" Joan said looking anxiously in the rear view.
"Brandy’s idiot boyfriend and his pals. I don’t know what they think they’re gonna do. We’re in a car. "
Joan turned right onto Watertown Road. The headlamps followed. Someone stood behind the rider and squeezed off three shots that kerranged off the pavement. The big sedan wobbled, flipped rubber, and skidded off the road into a grassy ditch, coming to an abrupt halt with its fender against a rock, driver’s door sealed shut by a berm. Airbags deployed, pinning Josh and Joan to their seats. Josh took out his pen knife and slashed the bags. Four bikes turned into the Park and Ride a hundred feet down and kicked out.
Josh saw the shooter was one of the girls on the porch.
"Give me your gun!" he said, scrambling out the door.
"I left it at home."
"Pop the trunk. Keep Brandy in the car."
Josh lifted the lid and grabbed the tire iron as the four bikers descended the grassy slope toward him. The girl stayed on top. The four goons wore hoodies: TapOut, Dethrone, Affliction, Rumblewear.
Josh hefted the tire iron. "Boys, you shoot me you’re gonna have to shoot the witnesses in the car."
Roloff handed his auto to the goon on his right. "Hold this for me."
Josh dropped the tire iron as Roloff strode to within striking range. They circled Roloff tried a leg kick.
Josh checked it.
Joan crawled out the passenger side and held up her phone. "I just called the police. Now I’m filming."
With superb timing Roloff darted forward and kicked Josh in the gut, bending him forward. Josh instinctively smashed his elbow down as Roloff closed, striking the fighter on the cheek. Josh grabbed Roloff by the neck and threw a hard knee into his ribs, hooked Roloff’s leg and put him down. Josh landed on the Team Anguish leader, his knee in Roloff’s gut. Roloff groaned.
A pistol shot cracked the sky. Josh looked up. The thug pointed the gun.
"Get up or omma fuck you up, man."
Two shots erupted from behind Josh and the grass jerked at the thug’s feet. Josh turned. Dayshaun stood beside the car in a shooter’s crouch holding an automatic trained on the thug. Joan stared at him open-mouthed.
"All you crackers need to leave. Right now."
Roloff got an elbow under him and got to his feet holding his gut.
"Let’s go," he said.
Halfway up the hill he turned around and pointed. "See you later."
They waited until the vee-twin roar faded into the distance. Joan rounded on Dayshaun.
"Are you crazy! Where’d you get that gun?"
"I was sitting on the sofa at Chico’s and I feel sumpin’ pokin’ me in the ass. I reach down and there it was. Maybe it a good thing I got, huh?"
Joan looked from Dayshaun to Josh and back again.
"Get in the car," she said.
Twenty minutes later they turned in at Kaushaar’s place.
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