Terminal
better. Just make damn sure you understand the drill. You didn’t get them from me and I never heard of any of you. The serial numbers have been filed down, and I wiped the prints off before I put them in the box. They all yours now.”
    I handed him the money and he handed me the box. For one crazy instant, I wanted to reach out and snatch the money back from him, tell him that I’d changed my mind and it was all just a terrible mistake. But I didn’t. Instead, I accepted the box. It was heavier than I’d thought it would be.
    Wallace counted the money, folded it, and stuffed the wad into his pocket.
    “Pleasure doing business with you.”
    “A’ight, Wallace, we out.” Sherm rapped fists with him and turned to leave. “I’ll catch you next week, yo.”
    “Later, Holmes.”
    He turned to me, presented his fist, and I rapped it.
    “You’re okay, Tommy. For real. It was cool doing business with you. Come on back again sometime and we’ll chill. Maybe play some chess and shit. You play chess?”
    “Yeah— a little. Learned it when I spent a weekend in County for unpaid speeding tickets.”
    “There ya go. Jailhouse chess— the same thing I play. We cool then. Later, dog.”
    “Thanks.”
    I trailed along behind Sherm. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw John stop. Saw him turn to the three of them. Saw him smile. Saw his hand wave slowly. Saw his mouth open and say . . .
    “Later my niggaz. Peace out.”
    I froze, cringing at what I’d just heard.
    Wincing, Sherm whipped around. Still smiling, John turned toward us, saw the horrified expression on our faces, and stopped.
    “What? What are you guys looking at? What did I do wrong?”
    “Say what?” Markus spat. His face was ashen. “What the fuck did you just say?”
    Wallace took a step forward. “Somebody please tell me that this stupid motherfucker did not just drop the N-bomb.”
    “You’re damn straight he did,” Kelvin growled. He reached inside his baggy pants pocket, and I saw him clench something. I knew what it was before he pulled it out. Without thinking, I ripped the lid off the box and reached inside.
    “Hold up!” Sherm stepped between us, hands outstretched. “Just hold up a fucking minute. Let’s not do something stupid, ya’ll.”
    “Stupid? STUPID?” Wallace pulled a gun of his own. “You hear what that racist piece of shit said? How’d you like it if we called you a honky or a wigger? Get your skinny Irish ass out of the way, Sherm!”
    John was terrified. “I’m s-sorry, you guys! I didn’t think it was a big deal. You call each other that all the time on the radio. I was just being friendly.”
    “Oh what, so now you Eminem, you punk-ass bitch?” Kelvin stalked toward him, pistol in hand. I don’t know what kind it was, but it was big, bigger than the one I was holding.
    “Wallace”— Sherm placed his hand on the man’s chest—“he’s retarded, man. Slow. He don’t know what he’s saying. He’s got like a fourth-grade reading level and shit. Let’s just let it drop, okay? You and me are cool, and you seen for yourself that Tommy is cool, right? Do you really think we’d bring a fucking Klansman around?”
    Seething, Wallace glanced from Markus and Kelvin, pointing their guns at John and me, and then to me, pointing my gun at Kelvin. He looked down at Sherm’s hand, and Sherm pulled it away. Slowly, his scowl vanished and Wallace actually grinned.
    “Look’s like we got us a Mexican standoff, boys. Chill out, ya’ll.”
    Kelvin didn’t move. “You heard what this punk-ass, motherfucking, cocksucking wigger said.”
    “And I said chill the fuck out, goddamn it. You step the fuck off right now, Kelvin, or I’ll bust a cap in your ass instead. Don’t you go forgetting who’s in charge here. I’m the one that’s deep in this street. You work for me.”
    Shaking, Kelvin’s eyes never left John’s. Only his nostrils twitched, flaring in the dim light. He seemed frozen with rage.
    Wallace

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