By: Clifton Tribble
"You ever wonder why life's gotta be so fuckin' psychotic, Ral?" Isaiah asked. He spoke in a voice that was weary both mentally and physically. Mentally due to stress concerning certain activities that may or may not end his life in an excessively violent and immediate fashion. Physically due to his constantly, less-than-legal self-medication of the aforementioned stress.
"Equivalent exchange, Izzy." Raleigh replied without a second of thought as he took a long draw from the cigarette clenched between his lips.
"Say what?" Isaiah asked, clearly skeptical.
"You know the American dream bullshit?" Raleigh asked, "The white picket fence, manicured lawn, apple pie. All that good shit being enjoyed by some sweet little girl in pigtails?" Isaiah gave Raleigh a blank look that demanded an explanation. "Well for all that to happen, bad stuff has to happen to someone else. Like every time someone is born, someone else dies. Or, in this case, we have to beat the shit out of fat Jamaicans."
"You gotta beat the shit out of fat Jamaicans." Isaiah reminded, emphasizing the 'you'. He gave Raleigh a quick pat on the shoulder before walking to the front of the crowd slowly growing around them.
Raleigh took a deep breath and began hopping in place, stretching out his arms and shaking out his limbs as he did so. His eyes drifted around the back of the abandoned Meat Packing plant where he had found himself tonight. There wasn't much there aside from empty boxes, shattered glass, and loose gravel. A few iron barrels stood scattered around the Plant's back-lot, some still containing swiftly dying fires started by the emaciated transients that had quickly vanished when they arrived. His eyes moved back to the ring of people gathering around him. The vast majority wore Rastafarian colors, unnecessary amounts of jewelry, and expensive shoes. He swore to Izzy that there was no way there were that many around when they came here, not that he saw. Now he was starting to genuinely believe they had just blended into the night around them, their skin was more than dark enough.
They were a steady contrast to Raleigh who stood there with tanned skin and fair hair that reached his chin, constantly falling into his eyes and forcing him to whip his head around to move it. Another contrast between the two was their varied heights. While most of Jamaicans, though Raleigh doubted half of them had even been to Jamaica, were over six foot easy, Raleigh was well under average height, at five-four or five-five give or take. He made up for this by being fairly stacked with muscle, featuring a build comparable with professional wrestlers while not appearing slow. His physique was perfectly revealed by the fact that he was shirtless, despite the cold night, and wearing only a pair of blue jeans and cheap shoes. That's the most he ever wore to a fight. When ever someone decided it was time to settle things in a purely physical manner; Raleigh, the crazy, tiny white boy, would pull off his shirt and his father's ring, hand them to his boy: Izzy, and be the first one to rush somebody.
He glanced over to Izzy now, the only black guy there not claiming to be Rasta though he smelled of enough herb to be right at home in that crowd by Raleigh's estimation. He was lighter skinned than the others, as well, with his dark hair buzzed. Brown aviators covered the man's dark eyes. He fairly towered over everyone, standing at six-foot-five but was built like a stick of bamboo: skinny and solid. He was wearing a black Lakers' jersey with his black jeans and black Air Force Ones. He had always placed more priority on his appearance than Raleigh. Though Raleigh couldn't blame him; if his face was that long and thin with features that pointed rather than as ruggedly handsome as it was, he'd try to wrap himself up as nice as possible too. Isaiah didn't join the crowd, he never did. He just paced the length in front of them shouting out incoherent obscenities and waving his arms around, hyping them along with Raleigh. Then he would, of course, take bets on how it all turned out. That was Izzy, always looking for a buck.
Which is what brought them to this ominous Meat Packing plant just a few minutes shy of midnight. And why Raleigh was standing in a circle of disturbingly enthusiastic Jamaicans just waiting for him to get hurt, staring down a giant of the man. He had only ever known him as 'Big Bwai' and Raleigh could never think of anything more applicable than that. He was maybe a few inches shy of Isaiah's height but his weight was what truly earned him the title. Big Bwai was several hundred pounds of what Raleigh considered to be 'all fat and water weight'. He had very blunt, dull features and a wide brow all under his greasy dread locks that went down past his ears. Like Raleigh, he was also shirtless: a fashion choice that presented Raleigh with a combination of fat rolls and body hair that he wouldn't have thought possible before encountering the man. His fists were roughly the size of Raleigh's head and his fat, chapped lips were pulled back in an unsettling grin that had been colored dully by one too many mentholated cigarettes.
If Raleigh had teeth that colorful, he certainly wouldn't smile so much. Then again, from where Big Bwai was standing, the big man had plenty to smile about. They were standing in a mostly isolated lot, late at night, with the only witnesses being individuals more on the supply side of crime than the prevention side. Even if someone just so happened to happen upon them, they definitely wouldn't call the police. Raleigh was in the wrong neighborhood, pure and simple. This was his hometown's very own slice of Jamaica: where the weed was just a step above dirt and white folks feared to tread. All white folks except for Raleigh, of course. He had always been the 'crazy white kid' who ran around with the wrong crowd and wrong skin color, getting into all kinds of trouble. Not that he ever considered any of it to be true. He found himself to be quite sane, couldn't afford to be judgmental, and saw the activities he had undertaken in an attempt to improve his situation to be a matter of perspective rather than legality.
It was one of these such activities, masterminded as always by Isaiah, that brought on the attention of Big Bwai's crew. It wasn't much of a secret that the gargantuan Jamaican sold marijuana along with most of the community. He did fairly well for himself from what Raleigh could tell. At least, as good as one could do without moving up to more substantial ventures. From what Raleigh saw he made enough money to keep him and his crew in expensive shoes and cheap beer. That isn't to say he catered well to competition by any means. Not that he could really do something about this competition, of course. Unless it happened to wander into his hood in the form of a couple of nickel-and-dime kids nobody would really miss. Which is where Raleigh and his good pal Izzy came in. Isaiah had a habit of hooking up with people like him: ambitious but not intelligent enough to do something productive with his ambition. One of these such individuals was a guy Raleigh had only ever known as Skeet, who was about as shady as they could get. He wasn't a stone-cold killer or anything close to that extreme but he was very, very dirty.
Every once in a while, Skeet would come shambling back into their lives with a new scam and Isaiah was constantly inclined to go along with it. Raleigh seemed to be the only who noticed that every time one of Skeet's plans failed, the man himself was nowhere to be found. But Izzy never seemed to notice that, he always let himself get wrapped in Skeet's delusional view of the world around him. The latest venture Skeet proposed to Izzy all started on an Ostrich farm in Mexico. Raleigh had to have Izzy repeat that part to him a couple of times before he actually started believing it. This Mexican Ostrich farmer was also quite the grower of marijuana. The plan was fairly complicated by Raleigh's standards. First, the Mexican ostrich farmer filled his ostriches up with a few pounds of his product. Then, he shipped them over to some plant where they slaughtered the big, dumb birds for belts or something like that. The workers would open the birds up, take the grass out, and ship it along with some premium, ostrich-neck belts.
From there a guy working at a store that sold these ostrich belts, though Raleigh had never heard of such a place, would unload the product. Apparently this dude was Skeet's 'boy'. Raleigh had reached the conclusion that Skeet thought everyone was his 'boy' when most couldn't stand him, Raleigh was one such individual. He would pass the product on to Skeet and he would sell it. Of course, Skeet couldn't sell the product himself. Raleigh knew from experience that if anyone ever called him out on any fact like that, Skeet was fully armed with a list of completely inconsequential reasons. The real reason went back to Raleigh's original measure of the man: he was very, very dirty. He constantly ripped people off and rubbed more than a few the wrong ways in the process. As such, no one in their right mind would buy from him but Isaiah was another story entirely. So poor Isaiah went to work selling for Skeet and, as always, brought Raleigh along for the ride with him. Raleigh went along with it, as any good friend would, and began advertising their special breed of 'Ostrich Stomach Bud'.
Isaiah never warmed up to the name. When he first heard about he came to Raleigh and said: 'Yo, why you treating this shit like a joke?' Raleigh responded by telling him it was a complete joke and that Skeet was playing him. Izzy, as per usual, defended his connections with a laundry list of excuses. Raleigh's favorites being: 'Plenty o' spics raise ostriches man, it's like their cow or something' and 'Nigga, I got like ten ostrich belts at my spot right now'. Eventually Raleigh gave up and just went to slinging the dope. Everything went well until he sold bud to a dude who he was fairly sure he was cool with. Guy a few years younger than him by name of Calvin. After Calvin bought his little dime bag off Raleigh, he turned right around, and told Big Bwai and his crew. When Izzy heard about this he was outraged and displayed his outrage by chewing Raleigh out. 'Man, how you going to sell to Calvin?' He said, as if Calvin was the new leprosy. Raleigh responded by saying he thought Cal was cool, that his bad rep was just bullshit. 'Man, why you think we call him bitch-nigga Calvin?' was all Izzy had to say to that.
Knowing full well that Big Bwai was more than willing to rid himself of competition, Raleigh decided to go straight to the Lion's Den with Isaiah. They came to the old Plant the Jamaicans had occupied looking for some sort of deal. What they found was a ton of angry Jamaicans intent on working off their buzz by beating them to death. Raleigh managed to convince Big Bwai to keep his boys out of it and settle it between the two of them. Big Bwai had no problem with that, of course, having a foot of height and a couple hundred pounds on Raleigh. He managed to get Izzy out of the whole mess by saying he was selling by himself, that Izzy was only there to have his back. That wasn't to say Raleigh didn't wish someone else had his back. He had all the trust in the world for Isaiah but he knew he wasn't the fairest hand in any fight. And he seriously doubted that Big Bwai's boys would just sit back and watch the proceedings, regardless of what the Jamaicans said. He had heard a lot about Big Bwai, and not just that he was big.
Not a lot of people were willing to fight Big Bwai for a lot of reasons. One being the manner in which he earned his entirely too appropriate nickname. The guy was built like an overweight bear. The second being the angry, stoned circle of troubled youth currently surrounding Raleigh. Everyone knew that if one took issue with Big Bwai, they had an issue with his boys, which was more trouble than it was worth. Also there was the fact that if Big Bwai wouldn't sell a given person weed, that person probably wouldn't be getting any. At least, none of the dirt cheap stuff Big Bwai was pushing. Then there was Big Bwai's family back home. Raleigh hadn't heard much about them and what he had heard he was pretty certain was bullshit but enough people were scared of bullshit nowadays. There were plenty of reasons for Raleigh not to fight Big Bwai and there was only one that made him have to fight him. Unfortunately for him, that one reason was the fact that Big Bwai would do any combination of beat or kill him and his boy if this matter didn't get settled. Of course, there wasn't much stopping him from doing so even after all was said and done.
Except for his word. To most, that was meaningless but not to Raleigh. Raleigh knew the importance of a man's word, especially when it came to settling a dispute. He had already given Big Bwai his word that he wouldn't sell dope to anyone on his turf again but that wasn't enough. The Jamaicans wanted blood, Raleigh's in particular but that was nothing new. Raleigh had won and lost more than his fair share of fights over the years and he knew that's what gave him the edge over Big Bwai. Sure, the Jamaican was bigger. Sure, he had roughly twenty people that had his back. What he didn't have, however, was experience. That wasn't just from what Raleigh had heard, either. He could tell by looking at the man, his massive hands in particular. They were nice and smooth, unlike Raleigh's which were covered in scars, the knuckles swollen from where they been pounded time and again but simply allowed to heal. Big Bwai was a big deal in every sense of the word but he was a talker, not a fighter. Raleigh, on the other hand, had never been much for talk.
Raleigh took one final hit of his cheap cigarette and tossed the butt toward Big Bwai. It landed at his feet to a chorus of 'Oh's, 'Hell No's and 'That White Boy Didn't's. Raleigh only shot Big Bwai a look that said, quite clearly: 'that white boy most certainly did'. Big Bwai shot him a scowl in reply and took a step forward, balling his fists and pumping his arms in a way that made his obese frame jiggle in a disgustingly hypnotizing manner. Raleigh seized the chance to pump himself up even more, jumping side to side and shaking his arms out, before he raised his dukes as well. Big Bwai came at him with his hands out of his face; his left arm extended more than the right and down by his belly, with his right bent over his chest. It was sloppy to say the least and looked downright amateur compared to Raleigh who squared his shoulders, bent his knees, and held his hands up just under his eyes. Raleigh started circling the bigger man as he approached, hopping to the side. Big Bwai pivoted slightly to keep in his field of view and his sluggish movements gave Raleigh an even better idea of his opponent's limited skill level.
Most men thought that if they had weight and reach, they were going to win every fight. Raleigh knew better. He also knew it wasn't all about speed, either. Technique and experience were also vital. All of that was useless, however, without simple awareness. He knew that he needed to know his opponent better than he knew himself so he could predict and react to his movements before he even made them. Raleigh wasn't much of a winner in life but when it came to fighting he was the next best thing to an encyclopedia. That didn't mean much in the real world, the place where people go to achieve their American Dream but in Raleigh's little corner of existence, it got him by. It wasn't the best way to live by any means but if him living this way meant some little girl in pig-tails got to eat her apple pie undisturbed, it was fine by him. Before Big Bwai swung at him, Raleigh thought back to the bit of philosophy he had shared with Izzy. He lived his life by the concept of equivalent exchange; knowing, without a doubt, that bad couldn't happen without some good coming of it. But, as any philosopher would attest, philosophy didn't protect an individual from a fist to the face.
Big Bwai's first punch was only a punch in the sense that it was a balled fist propelled by physical exertion. It was a sloppy blow, just a swing that was far too wide and that Raleigh saw coming from a mile away. He probably would have had time for a quick nap and still would have been able to avoid the blow but Raleigh settled for leaning back. Despite how poorly executed the blow was, it took up a lot of distance. As such, Raleigh wasn't able to move in quickly enough to capitalize on the fact that Big Bwai threw way too much into the punch. It almost looked like the fat man was going to spin around like a hyperthyroid ballerina but he managed to catch himself before Raleigh could even take a step forward. From there he cleaned up his act slightly, pulling his punches just enough to keep himself under control. They still weren't pretty to look at, nothing but a series of predictable combinations punctuated by wide right hooks. Raleigh gave Big Bwai time to tire himself out, bobbing, weaving and faking all the gargantuan Jamaican, before he moved in.
He waited for Big Bwai to throw another right hook. He ducked the blow and rushed the man, lighting his ribs up with four quick jabs. His fat fairly rippled with each blow, leaving Raleigh to wonder if he even felt anything through the insulation. The smaller man moved to Big Bwai's left side, his weaker side, as the gargantuan Jamaican tried to snatch at him. On the way he hit him with two more jabs in the side, feeling his knuckles pressing through the fat and connecting with bone. Big Bwai let out a shout more of surprise than of pain before he whipped around, driving his elbow into the side of Raleigh's head. It wasn't a strong blow, he hadn't swung the arm back more than he had just turned into it, but it was enough to make Raleigh back off. The crowd was more than willing to show their approval, shouting encouragement to Big Bwai. Raleigh could see the surprise on their faces, however. He was sure they had heard about him, most had around those parts. But it was one thing to hear about the crazy white boy and another to watch slap around someone twice his size.
Big Bwai let out another shout and rushed Raleigh, lowering his head and sticking his arms out like some kind of wild animal. Raleigh had time to utter: "Oh, shit." and brace himself before two-hundred some-odd pounds of angry Jamaican crashed into him. The larger man jammed his shoulder into Raleigh's stomach and wrapped his arms around his waist. Raleigh had seen the scoop coming, however, and wrapped his arm around Big Bwai's neck. Or, he tried to, what he managed to do was put the man's chin and mouth in a vice grip from hell. That was the standard defense for a head lock but it wasn't fool-proof. Raleigh demonstrated this by grinding his arm to the side, pulling Big Bwai's head back and forth with the motion. The Jamaican's neck starting popping loudly and he let out a pained shout into the bend of Raleigh's arm. He started to flail his own arms wildly, landing a few clubbing blows on Raleigh's sides in the process. Raleigh only gritted his teeth and responded in kind, hitting the larger man in the spine with his free hand.
It was at this point that Big Bwai realized that Raleigh did not weigh very much, especially when compared to him. He seized each of Raleigh's hips in his huge hands and levered the smaller man off his feet. Raleigh managed to maintain his grip on Big Bwai's head, wrenching it even tighter and forcing Big Bwai to put him back down. That is until he tried again, this time toughing it through the pain to lift Raleigh a good few feet before slamming him back first into the gravel. Despite bracing for the impact, Raleigh lost his grip on the larger man's head as a veritable cocktail of shattered glass and gravel cut into his back. Before Big Bwai could stand up, however, Raleigh latched onto his left wrist with both hands and pulled him back down, extending his leg to jam his foot into Big Bwai's neck. The Jamaican started gagging as Raleigh pulled on his arm harder and harder, pulling his foe down further and driving his foot deeper into his neck in the process, soliciting more loud cracks and choked gasps. Big Bwai started shaking his head frantically from side to side, managing to slip his neck out from under Raleigh's boot.
In a spectacular reimagining of the 'out of the frying pan into the fire' scenario, Big Bwai found himself once again at the mercy of Raleigh. The smaller man didn't release his foe's wrist or lower his leg but raised his other as well, wrapping both limbs around Big Bwai's shoulder. With the superior hold, Raleigh managed to pull Big Bwai to the ground. He slammed into the gravel with a pained, audible exhalation that turned into a scream of agony as Raleigh wrenched his arm even harder. In any other fight, Raleigh's opponent would have probably quit and Raleigh would have let him. Then the two of them would get up, dust each other off, and call it a night. That's how Raleigh would have liked to end it but he didn't see that happening this time. With that in mind, he started pulling up on Big Bwai's wrist while simultaneously pressing his heels down harder on the man's shoulder. A loud pop sounded as Big Bwai's shoulder was dislocated. It was quickly overtaken by a scream of pure anguish as Big Bwai's arm fell limp at his side.
His work done, Raleigh relinquished his grip and rolled backward onto his feet. The crowd around him was deathly quiet, staring at the scene in awe. Here was Big Bwai, the guy who had earned their respect with a rep as large as his rap sheet, crying on the ground after a fight with some short white boy. Raleigh didn't look at them but he could feel their eyes on him as he stared at his downed opponent. Unsurprisingly, Big Bwai started pushing himself up.
"Just give up, dude." Raleigh said over a labored breath, fairly dripping with sweat.
"F-f-fuck you." Big Bwai said, his voice shaking as he moved up to his knees and one hand.
"Fuck me?" Raleigh grinned and shook his head, looking away from Big Bwai. "Yeah, fuck me. Hear that guys?!" He shouted, addressing the crowd. "You all get to fuck me!" Raleigh punctuated his statement by jumping forward into a violent kick, his leg slamming into the side of Big Bwai's head.
The gargantuan Jamaican's head whipped suddenly to the side as a mixture of blood, saliva, and possibly a few teeth exploded from his mouth. Big Bwai's eyes glazed over as he collapsed once again, his mouth agape and his face expressionless. Raleigh took a deep, shaking breath, closing his eyes as he savored it.
"Hell yeah!" Isaiah shouted, stepping into the center of the circle with Raleigh's green t-shirt in one hand and a thick wad of bills in the other. "That's right my niggas, his fat ass just got whooped by this white boy." He tossed the shirt back to Raleigh under handed and the fighter used it to wipe the sweat from his face before pulling it on. Izzy then handed him his only possession that was worth anything: his father's ring. It was a thick band of gold with a wide, rectangular front covered in small diamonds. Isaiah told Raleigh constantly that he should wear the thing when he fought, to mess up the other guy even worse but Raleigh wasn't like that. He didn't want to scuff up the ring in the process, at any rate.
Raleigh was pulled from this thought when he realized that Izzy had stopped talking, a very rare occasion. All Raleigh had to do was look up to see why. All the Jamaicans had gathered around the unconscious Big Bwai and were staring at the pair with hate in their eyes.
"Shit." Raleigh breathed, taking his ring off once again and reaching to do the same with his shirt. Izzy held a hand up to stop him.
"Yo niggas, we had a deal. Raleigh beat that fat shit fair and square so we get to go." Isaiah said, placing a hand on Raleigh's stomach and pushing his boy back as he took a step.
"No, no bumba clot," Said one of the Jamaicans, a scrawny man in a Rastafarian skull cap with a wiry goatee, "Big Bwai say you beat him, he leave you be. But now we wanna fuck ya up, seen?"
"Shiiiit." Raleigh repeated, once again reaching for his shirt. He stopped as he pulled the shirt over his head and heard the unmistakable sound of a gun cocking. He was more than somewhat surprised to see Izzy, his oldest friend, holding the Jamaicans at bay with a thirty-eight revolver in his hand. The hammer had already been pulled back and Isaiah's finger was resting on the trigger. "Yo, Izzy, what the fuck?!"
"I got this, Ral." Izzy said, trying to keep his voice even. "Now all of y'all take a step back!" None of the Jamaicans made a move. "You heard me?!" For what felt like an eternity, the Jamaicans simply stared at the two until the man with the goatee took a step back and the rest followed suit. "Yeah, that's right!" Izzy shouted, waving the gun in an overly animated motion. The Jamaicans moved along with the motion, leaning away from Izzy's general line of fire in a manner that Raleigh may have found comedic in any other situation.
"C'mon, Izzy." Raleigh said, stepping back. "Let's go."
The two backpedaled away from the group; Isaiah keeping his gun trained on the closest Jamaican, the one with the goatee, until they were at a safe distance and took off at a run.
"Izzy, what the fuck?!" Raleigh repeated as they ran. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a pack of Riversides, the only cigarettes he could afford. He slipped one into his mouth but didn't light it until they came to a stop by the rusted old Pinto that Izzy somehow managed to keep running.
"You think I was coming up here without a piece?" Izzy asked, grinning broadly. He had started shaking now as the adrenaline and fear caught up with him, the gun in his hand shook along with him.
"Fuck," Raleigh said through an exhale of smoke, "this ain't gonna end well for us, man."
"Man, fuck those niggas." Izzy replied, pressing the hammer back down and shoving the revolver back into the waistline of his pants. "They wanna fuck with us; they got get through you, right?"
"Right." Raleigh said through his teeth, blowing twin tendrils of smoke from his nostrils.
As the two drove off Raleigh could only hope that that little girl with the pigtails was really enjoying that apple pie.